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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   24 March 1874

Royal Gardens Kew

March 24/74

Dear Darwin

Here is half an answer to your query respecting the visit of Sphinxes to Hedychium Gardnerianum1

I should much like to have gone down to you last week, but a multiplicity of Engagements keeps me from Down, & what with the Royal Society, Linnean Society & Athenæum Elections & Brit. Mus. Trusteeship, & all my duties here, I am pulled about in far too many directions.2

I go to Torquay on Friday to see my sister, who continues as much of an invalid as ever & seems to me to be threatened with melancholia3—& next week I had hoped to have got clean away with Mrs Hooker & Harriette4 to Paris for 10 days change of every-thing! Ill-luck has however dogged us & we doubt if we shall get away for Harriette & the 2 youngest, who we sent to St Leonards,5 have taken Whooping Cough there; & to mend matters, Brian, who we intended to have sent there for his Easter holidays, & who has had Whooping cough, has taken measles at Weybridge!6 & as we neither want his measles at home nor at St Leonards we are in a fix. Happily all the cases are mild.

Allman will I think succeed Bentham in the chair of the Linnean & we could not have a better man, as Busk refuses positively. I hope the Malcontents are coming to their right mind, but it is rash to forecast. Meanwhile they have lost us President, Presidential Address & Soirée at one swoop!7

Huxley is really marvellously well   I have been staying in the country over Sunday with Sir Stafford Northcote, & have thoroughly indoctrinated him with Huxley’s merits I hope.8

Lyell seems very frail, & Sabine is I hear dying.9 I saw old J E Gray today who goes on publishing!10

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker

Is not Belt splendid!11

How good Croll’s answer to Carpenter is. & how well put, never giving way to a single disparaging remark—12 What a contrast to Carter’s “showing up” of the Foraminiferous nature of Eozoon in the Annals, which is quite savage, & has annoyed C. terribly.13

Herbert Spenser’s answer to Moulton’s seemed to me to be extraordinarily able; What does George say to it?14

I read for the first time F. Galtons article in Frazer (Jany 1873) on the advisability of securing a race of intellectual & physical athletes who were to marry inter se—15 I thought it the weakest thing of his that I had seen.

This is the sum of a Sundays reading in the country.— The Gardener there (Lady Dorothy Nevilles) told me that he had fed a Dionaea with raw meat & that it beat all others of same age hollow in growth & dimensions.16

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Do not think he answered all the objections on Physical grounds & cannot judge on the points’17 pencil


Hooker probably enclosed the letter from J. A. Gammie, 16 February 1874. He had probably written to Gammie of Darjeeling on CD’s behalf to ask him to observe the sphinx moths that visited the Kahili ginger or Kahila garland-lily, Hedychium gardnerianum. Later in 1874, Gammie sent information direct to CD on the visits of sphinx moths to the butterfly-lily or ginger lily, Hedychium coronarium (see letter from J. A. Gammie, 28 August 1874).
Hooker, in addition to his duties at Kew, was serving as president of the Royal Society of London, attempting to resolve disputes at the Linnean Society (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 March 1874 and n. 2), probably participating in the election of new members to the Athenaeum Club (see letter to George Bentham, 9 March [1874] and n. 3), and dealing with the distribution of botanical specimens between the British Museum and Kew (see Drayton 2000, p. 219).
Elizabeth Evans-Lombe, who had been ill from her early twenties, lived in Bemerton near Torquay in Devon, where her husband had a medical practice (Allan 1967, pp. 106, 224).
Hooker refers to his wife, Frances Harriet Hooker, and his daughter Harriet Anne Hooker.
Hooker’s youngest children were Reginald Hawthorn Hooker and Grace Ellen Hooker. St Leonards was a holiday resort on the East Sussex coast.
Brian Harvey Hodgson Hooker was at preparatory school at Weybridge (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 182).
George Bentham had been ousted from his position as president of the Linnean Society (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 March 1874 and n. 2); there was therefore no-one to give the presidential address at the anniversary meeting of the society. George James Allman was elected president for the coming year at the anniversary meeting on 25 May 1874 (Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1873–4): xxxii), but did not give the presidential address until 1875. George Busk was a vice-president of the society.
Stafford Northcote, the chancellor of the Exchequer, had an estate in Devon (ODNB). Following Thomas Henry Huxley’s breakdown in health in 1873, his friends had presented him with a sum of money to take a recuperative holiday (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter to J. D. Hooker, [6 April 1873]; L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 390–6).
Charles Lyell died in 1875; Edward Sabine died in 1883, at the age of 94 (ODNB).
John Edward Gray, although incapacitated by a stroke, was still keeper of the zoological department of the British Museum; the Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers lists forty-five articles by Gray in 1873.
Hooker refers to Thomas Belt’s The naturalist in Nicaragua (Belt 1874).
James Croll had just published a continuation of his article on ocean currents (Croll 1870–4). In an earlier section of the paper (October 1871), Croll had criticised William Benjamin Carpenter’s theory of a general oceanic circulation (Carpenter 1871). Carpenter had responded in a report on the researches carried out on the surveying ship ‘Shearwater’ (Carpenter 1872); Croll’s latest part, pp. 168–77, was a reply to Carpenter. For the dispute between Croll and Carpenter, see Finnegan 2012, pp. 76–8.
Henry John Carter had stated in Carter 1874, p. 193, that it was ‘wild conjecture’ to consider the Eozoon canadense as having a foraminiferous structure. Carpenter responded by reiterating that this was the probable structure of the organism (see Carpenter 1874). The Eozoon canadense had first been described as a foraminifer by the Canadian geologist John William Dawson (J. W. Dawson 1864; see also Correspondence vol. 18, letter from Joachim Barrande, 19 June 1870 and n. 3). Although once thought to be the first sign of life on earth, the Eozoon canadense was later discovered to be a metamorphic rock.
Herbert Spencer’s article (Spencer 1873) was a reply to an anonymous review by John Fletcher Moulton ([Moulton] 1873) of the second edition of Spencer’s First principles (Spencer 1867), Principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7), and the second edition of Principles of psychology (Spencer 1870–2). Moulton had challenged Spencer’s claim to have given a priori proof of the laws of motion ([Moulton] 1873, pp. 448–501; see also Harman ed. 1990–2002, 3: 94 and n. 9). George Howard Darwin had been second wrangler at Cambridge (that is, second in the mathematical honours examination); Moulton had been first wrangler (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 31 January 1868 and nn. 1 and 3).
Francis Galton’s article on hereditary improvement (Galton 1873) was published in Frazer’s Magazine in January 1873. For CD’s opinion of this article, see Correspondence vol. 21, letter to Francis Galton, 4 January [1873].
Dorothy Fanny Nevill employed thirty-four gardeners to tend her garden at Dangstein in West Sussex; she cultivated Dionaea (Venus fly trap) and many other tropical plants (ODNB). Her head gardener was James Vair.
CD made this note for his reply to Hooker; see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 March [1874] and n. 5.


Allan, Mea. 1967. The Hookers of Kew, 1785–1911. London: Michael Joseph.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1871. On the Gibraltar current, the Gulf Stream, and the general oceanic circulation. [Read 9 January 1871.] Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society 15: 54–91.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1872. Report on scientific researches carried on during the months of August, September, and October, 1871, in H.M. Surveying ship ‘Shearwater’. [Read 13 June 1872.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 20 (1871–2): 535–644.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1874. Remarks on Mr. H. J. Carter’s letter to Prof. King on the structure of the so-called Eozoon canadense. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 13: 277–84.

Carter, Henry John. 1874. On the structure called Eozoon canadense in the Laurentian limestone of Canada. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 13: 189–93.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Croll, James. 1870–4. On ocean-currents.– Part I. Philosophical Magazine 4th ser. 39 (February 1870): 81–106; Part II. Philosophical Magazine 4th ser. 39 (March 1870): 180–94; Part III. Philosophical Magazine 4th ser. 40 (October 1870): 233–59; 42 (October 1871): 241–80; 47 (February 1874): 94–122, (March 1874): 168–90.

Dawson, John William. 1864. On the structure of certain organic remains in the Laurentian limestones of Canada. [Read 23 November 1864.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 21 (1865): 51–9.

Drayton, Richard. 2000. Nature’s government: science, imperial Britain, and the ‘improvement’ of the world. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Finnegan, Diarmid A. 2012. James Croll, metaphysical geologist. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 66: 69–88.

[Moulton, John Fletcher.] 1873. Herbert Spencer. British Quarterly Review 58: 472–504.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers: Catalogue of scientific papers (1800–1900). Compiled and published by the Royal Society of London. 19 vols. and index (3 vols.). London: Royal Society of London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1867–1925.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Spencer, Herbert. 1867. First principles. 2d edition. London: Williams & Norgate.

Spencer, Herbert. 1870–2. The principles of psychology. 2d edition. 2 vols. London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate.


"Half an answer" to CD’s query on visit of Sphinx to Hedychium gardnerianum.

Business affairs and family ill health keep him busy.

G. J. Allman will succeed Bentham as President of Linnean Society. Busk has refused.

Huxley is well.

JDH has indoctrinated Sir Stafford Northcote with his merits.

Lyell frail.

Old J. E. Gray goes on publishing.

"Is not [Thomas] Belt splendid!"

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 195–7
Physical description
6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9371,” accessed on 28 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22