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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   7 September 1869

Royal Gardens Kew

Sept. 7. 69

Dear Darwin

At last I sit down to write to you—after a fortnight of the West country, one week of restless excitement at Exeter, & another of quiet in country houses, 1st. Sir Thos Acland, 2 Symonds of Pendock, 3d. Douglas Galtons Mothers near Droitwich—1

Exeter was a very good meeting & Stokes made a first rate President,—whereby he agreeably disappointed his friends.2 The “punctum saliens”3 of the whole meeting was decidedly Huxley’s answer to Dr McCann. he literally poured boiling oil over the bumptious man— you have read it of course.— McCann’s was the most conceited dogmatic sermon you ever heard preached, & was delivered with a sort of swagger that rendered it offensive to Huxley in the last degree.—4 Next in point of interest was Lubbock’s answer to the D. of Argyll, which I thought uncommonly good, but the bird was hardly worth the shot, & the discussion was singularly poor.5 & unsuggestive considering who the speaker was. Stokes address was very sound science for the most part; but no approach to novelty or originality in matter & very little in dealing with it— the last part was singularly weak—& mindless.6 All had expected an address on his own special pursuits in science.

Phillips lecture on Vesuvius I thought very poor, both in manner matter & style. Lockyers was far better, but he tried too much, & became obscure.7 There were few foreigners & fewer nobs. & the whole meeting was a very quiet one, except at the end, when the struggle between Edinburgh & Liverpool took place—a struggle which bodes no good to the Association, as showing how little the General Committee regards the matured opinion of the Council in grave matters that require calm & unprejudiced consideration8

I had hoped to have asked whether I could have spent a Sunday with you soon, but Prof Miquel of Utrecht is coming tomorrow to stay a fortnight with us, bringing 2 of his daughters—very nice (& pretty!) girls whose acquaintance we made in Holland— he is an old friend & has been twice in England before9

At Mr Galton’s I met your connections (or relations) Mrs & Miss Wheler, the latter of whom I met at your house last winter or Autumn I think.10

Do not bother to answer this, but by a line saying how you are.

Ever affec Yrs | J D Hooker


Hooker had attended the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was held at Exeter from 18 to 25 August 1869. He refers to Thomas Dyke Acland, William Samuel Symonds, and Douglas Strutt Galton and his mother, Isabella Galton, of Hadzor House, Droitwich.
George Gabriel Stokes was president of the British Association in 1869. Hooker had remarked on Stokes’s upcoming presidency in his letter to CD of 30 August 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16).
Punctum saliens: the central or most important point (OED).
James McCann delivered a paper titled ‘Philosophical objections to Darwinism or evolutionism’ in the biology section of the British Association meeting. It was followed by remarks from Thomas Henry Huxley. McCann’s paper was particularly critical of claims made in Huxley’s 1868 address, ‘The physical basis of life’ (later printed as T. H. Huxley 1869a). A report of McCann’s paper and Huxley’s reply was printed in the Athenæum, 4 September 1869, p. 309. McCann’s paper was published under the title Anti-Darwinism, together with Huxley’s reply, and a rejoinder from McCann (McCann 1869). A copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
John Lubbock delivered a paper that responded to criticisms by George Douglas Campbell, the duke of Argyll (Lubbock 1869b). Campbell had published four articles in Good Words that took issue with Lubbock’s address, ‘On the origin of civilization and the primitive condition of mankind’ (G. D. Campbell 1868, Lubbock 1867). A report of the discussion appeared in the Athenæum, 4 September 1869, pp. 309–10.
In the conclusion of his presidential address, Stokes remarked on the ‘profound mystery’ of the phenomena of life and mind (Stokes 1869, pp. civ–cv).
Hooker refers to John Phillips and Joseph Norman Lockyer. Lockyer spoke on the ‘Physical constitution of the stars and nebulæ’ (Report of the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Exeter in 1869, lxxxvii–lxxxviii).
Hooker alludes to a dispute over the proposed location of the 1870 British Association meeting. In the event, the meeting was held in Liverpool (Report of the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Exeter in 1869, p. lxxxviii).
Hooker refers to Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel; his daughters have not been identified.
Hooker refers to Elizabeth Ann Wheler and Lucy Elizabeth Wheler. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Lucy Wheler visited Down from 27 to 31 October 1868.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

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

McCann, James. 1869. Anti-Darwinism. Glasgow: David Bryce & Co.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Stokes, George Gabriel. 1869. Presidential address. Report of the thirty-ninth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; held at Exeter in August 1869, lxxxix–cv.


Reports on events at Exeter [BAAS] meeting. G. G. Stokes made a first-rate President.

Huxley "poured boiling oil" over James McCann in answer to his "conceited dogmatic sermon".

F. A. W. Miquel is coming to stay.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 30–1
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6879,” accessed on 24 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17