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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [13 March 1846]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

It is quite curious how our opinions agree about Forbes views; I was very glad to have your last letter, which was even more valuable to me than most of yours are & that is saying, I assure you, a great deal.— I had written to Forbes to object about the Azores on the same grounds, as you had, & he made me some answer, which partially satisfied me, but really I am so stupid I cannot remember it. He insisted strongly on the fewness of the species absolutely peculiar to the Azores—most of the non-Europæan species being common to Madeira: I had thought that a good sprinkling were absolutely peculiar.— Till I saw him last Wednesday2 I thought he had not a leg to stand on in his geology about his post-miocene land; & his reasons upon reflection seem rather weak; the main one is that there are no deposits (more recent than the miocene age), on the miocene strata of Malta &c, but I feel pretty sure that this cannot be trusted as evidence that Malta must have been above water during all the post-miocene period. He had one other reason, to my mind still less trust worthy.— I had also written to Forbes,3 before your letter, objecting to the Sargassum, but apparently on wrong grounds; for I could see no reason, on the common view of absolute creations, why one Fucus shd not have been created for the ocean, as well as several confervæ for the same end. It is really a pity that Forbes is quite so speculative: he will injure his reputation, anyhow on the Continent; & thus will do less good.— I find this is the opinion of Falconer, who was with us on Sunday & was extremely agreeable: it is wonderful how much heterogeneous information he has about all sorts of things— I the more regret Forbes cannot more satisfactorily prove his views, as I heartily wish they were established, & to a limited extent I fully believe they are true: but his boldness is astounding.—

Do I understand your letter right, that W. Africa & Java belong to the same Botan: region, ie that they have many non-littoral species in common; if so, it is a sickening fact; think of the distance with the Indian Ocean interposed! Do some time answer me this.—

With respect to Polymorphism, which you have been so very kind as to give me so much information on, I am quite convinced must be given up in the sense you have discussed in: but from such cases as the Galapagos birds & from hypothetical notions on variation, I shd be very glad to know whether it must be given up in a slightly different point of view, that is whether the peculiar insular species are generally well & strongly distinguishable from the species on the nearest continent (where there is a continent near): the Galapagos, Canary islds & Madeira ought to answer this: I shd have hypothetically expected that a good many species would have been fine ones, like some of the Galapagos birds, & still more so on the different islands of such groups.—

I am going to ask you some questions, but I shd really sometimes almost be glad if you did not answer me for a long time or not at all, for in honest truth I am often ashamed at, & marvel at, your kindness in writing such long letters to me. So I beg you to mind, never to write to me, when it bores you.— Do you know “Éléments de Teratologie (on “monsters I believe?) Végétable par A. Moquin-Tandon”—4 is it good book & will it treat on hereditary malconformations or varieties?— I have almost finished the tremendous task of 850 pages of A. St. Hilaire’s Lectures,5 which you set me, & very glad I am you told me to read it, for I have been much interested with parts.— Certain expressions which run through the whole work put me in a passion: thus I take, at hazard,—“la plante n’etait pas tout à fait assez affaiblie pour produire de veritable carpelles”:6 Every organ or part concerned in reproduction,—that highest end of all lower organisms,—is according to this man, produced by a lesser or greater degree of “affaiblissment”; & if that is not an affaiblissement of language, I don’t know what is.—

I have used an expression here, which leads me to ask another question: on what sort of grounds do Botanists make one family of plants higher than another: I can see that the simplest cryptogamia are lowest & I suppose from their relations, the monocotyledenous come next; but how in the different families of the Dicotyled: The point seems to me equally obscure in many races of animals, & I know not how to tell whether a Bee or Cicindela is highest: I see Au. Hilaires uses a multiplicity of parts—several circles of stamens &c, as evidence of the highness of the Ranunculaceæ:7 now Owen has truly, as I believe, used the same argument to show the lowness of some animals & has established the proposition, that the fewer the number of any organ, as legs or wings or teeth, by which the same end is gained, the higher the animal.8

One other question. Hilaire says (p. 572) that “chez une foule de plantes c’est dans le bouton”, that impregnation takes place: he instances only Goodenia & Falconer cannot recollect any cases.— Do you know any of this “foule” of plants? From reasons, little better than hypothetical, I greatly misdoubt the accuracy of this, presumptuous as it is: that plants shed their pollen in the bud is, of course, quite a different story. Can you illuminate me?

Henslow will send the Galapagos scraps to you.9 I direct this to Kew, as I suppose after your sister’s marriage (on which I beg to send you my congratulations) you will return home.

Ever yours truly | C. Darwin

There are great fears that Falconer will have to go out to India—10 this will be a grievous loss to palæntology.—


The first Friday after CD’s trip to London on 11 March, see n. 2, below.
Charles James Fox Bunbury recorded that he met both CD and Edward Forbes at the Geological Society council meeting of 11 March 1846, where Bunbury and Forbes discussed E. Forbes 1846 (F. J. Bunbury ed. 1891–3, Middle life 1: 124–5). The expenses of CD’s trip to London are recorded in his Account Book (Down House MS).
The letter has not been found, but see letter from Edward Forbes, [25 February 1846], which is the reply.
Saint-Hilaire 1841. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Saint-Hilaire 1841, p. 480. This sentence is marked with pencil quotation marks in CD’s copy (Darwin Library–CUL).
Saint-Hilaire 1841, p. 617. Beside this passage CD has written: ‘If most complicated & altered form is to be highest— no for worm from fish-origin might then be highest.—’ (Darwin Library–CUL).
R. Owen 1843a, p. 365.
Hugh Falconer was appointed superintendent of the botanic gardens in Calcutta in 1848.


Forbes, Edward. 1846. On the connexion between the distribution of the existing fauna and flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern Drift. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London 1: 336–432.

Moquin-Tandon, Horace Bénédict Alfred. 1841. Eléments de tératologie végétale, ou, histoire abrégée des anomalies de l’organisation dans les végétaux. Paris: P.-J. Loss.


Agrees with JDH about Forbes’s views.

Discusses A. Saint-Hilaire’s lectures and asks on what grounds botanists judge the relative "highness" of plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 56
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 961,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3