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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   16 January 1866


Jany 16/66

Dear Darwin

I have mislaid your note,1 from which you may guess what a mess of correspondence I am in. Letters come in like hail here, & I may whistle for any assistance I will get before April 1. (the financial year)—2

Certainly I have not & never saw the French book you ask about.3 I do hope it will turn up. Rereading a book in any such a case is a disgusting bore: & in your case is simply purgatorial. Can you read to yourself now?4

I have been wondering how you go on, & hoping to get down to see you—but Smith is now away for a fortnight,5 & when he returns I expect to have to run down to Staffordshire with my Cousin R. Palgrave who is designing a pretty monument to my father, chiefly of slabs of Wedgwood ware—for Kew G.6 I have not settled to go yet. If I could manage to return to Town in time on Saturday 27th I might run down that night to Down.7 I will let you know in good time.

In tossing over old Geological mss the other day I found a prophecy of your’s. You bet 5 to 1, that in 20 years, it would be generally admitted, that Coal was formed by submarine plants,—this was I suppose in 1846— What odds will you take now in 1866?—8

Would you believe it, I have in cold blood, accepted an invitation to deliver an evening address on the Darwinian theory at Nottingham.9 I am utterly disgusted with my bravado. The fact is that Grove asked me, & I feel that I ought to make amends for hateing him so heartily as I did once.—10 Also as I must do something at Nottingham I am one of those who would rather be hung for a sheep than a lamb—a very long way— Also the difficulty of the subject & impossibility of my doing it justice had charms for me. The Lord have mercy on your bantling in my hand— this strictly private at present.

Do you read Pall-Mall Gazette?11 it is so good.—

Ever Yrs affec | J D Hooker

CD annotations

6.1 Do you … so good.—] scored pencil


Letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 [January 1866].
Hooker succeeded his father as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 1 November 1865 (R. Desmond 1999, p. 221). He had previously commented on the volume of work associated with his post (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. D. Hooker, [3 November 1865] and n. 3).
The reference is to Verlot 1865 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 [January 1866] and n. 2).
In 1865, CD had complained that reading made his head ‘sing violently’ (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865], and Appendix IV and n. 3). His wife and daughters often read to him, but usually not on scientific matters (see Autobiography, pp. 138–9, Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Asa Gray, 29 October [1864], and Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865]).
John Smith (1821–88) was the curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (R. Desmond 1995, p. 430).
William Jackson Hooker died in August 1865 (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 16 August [1865] and n. 1). Reginald Francis Douce Palgrave was an amateur sculptor and W. J. Hooker’s nephew (DNB, L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 18–19). Palgrave designed the stone surround to the memorial in St Anne’s Church, Kew, the centrepiece of which is a ‘white on jasper’ Wedgwood medallion of W. J. Hooker, sculpted by Thomas Woolner (Allan 1967, p. 216, and plate facing p. 241). The carved fern fronds designed by Palgrave commemorate W. J. Hooker’s fame as a pteridologist. The Wedgwood works were at Etruria, Staffordshire.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Hooker next visited Down from 24 to 26 March.
In his letter to J. D. Hooker, [1 May 1847] (Correspondence vol. 4), CD wrote: ‘I am delighted to hear that … Binney considers coal a sort of submarine peat. I wd. bet 5 to 1 that in 20 years this will be generally admitted.’ Edward William Binney was the author of On the origin of coal (Binney 1846), a lightly annotated copy of which is in the Darwin Pamphlet collection–CUL. The origin of coal had long been a subject of difference between CD and Hooker (see Correspondence vols. 3 and 4; see also Autobiography, p. 105, and Affolter 1980, pp. 4–5). Worthen 1866, pp. 68–9, states: It is now generally admitted and believed that coal is the carbonized residuum of vegetable matter that grew upon a low, swampy surface, during the coal measure epoch; and being subsequently submerged and covered by deposits of sand and clay, the vegetable accumulation underwent the necessary chemical change and was transformed into coal, while above the coal, sandstones, shales and limestones were slowly accumulating. Subsequently these marine formations were raised above the ocean’s level, and another growth of vegetable matter accumulated to form another bed of coal; and this process must have been repeated as often as successive seams of coal and the intervening marine deposits were found. For a contemporary summary of successive theories of the origin of coal, see Smyth 1867, chapter 3, especially pp. 41–4.
On the evening of 27 August 1866, Hooker delivered a lecture to an audience of about 2000 at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Nottingham. The text was published under the title ‘Insular floras’ in Gardeners’ Chronicle (1867): 6–7, 27, 50–1, 75–76 (see also Journal of Botany 5 (1867): 23–31, and L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 98–105, 498). The address did not appear in the Report of the thirty-sixth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
William Robert Grove was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1866. For Hooker’s and CD’s attitudes to Grove, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1860].
The Pall Mall Gazette was an evening newspaper; it first appeared on 7 February 1865 (Reader, 11 February 1865, p. 167). It featured articles on political and social questions by well-known writers (Ellegârcurbr;rd 1990, p. 379, North 1997, pp. 3716–17).


Affolter, James. 1980. The ‘antarctic’ flora: researches of Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker. Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium 14: 1–9.

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

Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

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

Desmond, Ray. 1995. Kew: the history of the Royal Botanic Gardens. London: Harvill Press with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Desmond, Ray. 1999. Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, traveller and plant collector. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Ellegârcurbr;rd, Alvar. 1990. Darwin and the general reader: the reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the British periodical press, 1859–1872. Reprint edition. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

North, John S. 1997. The Waterloo directory of English newspapers and periodicals, 1800–1900. 10 vols. Waterloo, Ontario: North Waterloo Academic Press.

Smyth, Warington W. 1867. A treatise on coal and coal-mining. London: Virtue Brothers & Co.

Verlot, Bernard. 1865. Sur la production et la fixation des variétés dans les plantes d’ornement. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

Worthen, A. H. 1866. Geological survey of Illinois. Vol. 1, Geology. [Illinois]: by authority of the legislature of Illinois.


Is in a mess with his correspondence and will get no assistance before 1 April.

Has agreed to give an address on the Darwinian theory at Nottingham [meeting of BAAS].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 53–4
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4978,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14