More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1

Author: Charles Darwin

Letter 19. To J.D. Hooker.

(19/1. Sir J.D. Hooker’s letters to Mr. Darwin seem to fix the date as 1845, while the reference to Forbes’ paper indicates 1846.)

Down [1845-1846].

I am particularly obliged for your facts about solitary islands having several species of peculiar genera; it knocks on the head some analogies of mine; the point stupidly never occurred to me to ask about. I am amused at your anathemas against variation and co.; whatever you may be pleased to say, you will never be content with simple species, "as they are." I defy you to steel your mind to technicalities, like so many of our brother naturalists. I am much pleased that I thought of sending you Forbes’ article. (19/2. E. Forbes’ celebrated paper "Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain," Volume I., page 336, 1846. In Lyell’s "Principles," 7th Edition, 1847, page 676, he makes a temperate claim of priority, as he had already done in a private letter of October 14th, 1846, to Forbes ("Life of Sir Charles Lyell," 1881, Volume II., page 106) both as regards the Sicilian flora and the barrier effect of mountain-chains. See Letter 20 for a note on Forbes.) I confess I cannot make out the evidence of his time-notions in distribution, and I cannot help suspecting that they are rather vague. Lyell preceded Forbes in one class of speculation of this kind: for instance, in his explaining the identity of the Sicily Flora with that of South Italy, by its having been wholly upraised within the recent period; and, so I believe, with mountain-chains separating floras. I do not remember Humboldt’s fact about the heath regions. Very curious the case of the broom; I can tell you something analogous on a small scale. My father, when he built his house, sowed many broom-seeds on a wild bank, which did not come up, owing, as it was thought, to much earth having been thrown over them. About thirty-five years afterwards, in cutting a terrace, all this earth was thrown up, and now the bank is one mass of broom. I see we were in some degree talking to cross-purposes; when I said I did [not] much believe in hybridising to any extent, I did not mean at all to exclude crossing. It has long been a hobby of mine to see in how many flowers such crossing is probable; it was, I believe, Knight’s view, originally, that every plant must be occasionally crossed. (19/3. See an article on "The Knight-Darwin law" by Francis Darwin in "Nature," October 27th, 1898, page 630.) I find, however, plenty of difficulty in showing even a vague probability of this; especially in the Leguminosae, though their [structure?] is inimitably adapted to favour crossing, I have never yet met with but one instance of a NATURAL MONGREL (nor mule?) in this family.

I shall be particularly curious to hear some account of the appearance and origin of the Ayrshire Irish Yew. And now for the main object of my letter: it is to ask whether you would just run your eye over the proof of my Galapagos chapter (19/4. In the second edition of the "Naturalist’s Voyage."), where I mention the plants, to see that I have made no blunders, or spelt any of the scientific names wrongly. As I daresay you will so far oblige me, will you let me know a few days before, when you leave Edinburgh and how long you stay at Kinnordy, so that my letter might catch you. I am not surprised at my collection from James Island differing from others, as the damp upland district (where I slept two nights) is six miles from the coast, and no naturalist except myself probably ever ascended to it. Cuming had never even heard of it. Cuming tells me that he was on Charles, James, and Albemarle Islands, and that he cannot remember from my description the Scalesia, but thinks he could if he saw a specimen. I have no idea of the origin of the distribution of the Galapagos shells, about which you ask. I presume (after Forbes’ excellent remarks on the facilities by which embryo-shells are transported) that the Pacific shells have been borne thither by currents; but the currents all run the other way.

(PLATE: EDWARD FORBES 1844? From a photograph by Hill & Adamson.)


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Chicago: Charles Darwin, "Letter 19. To J.D. Hooker.," More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, ed. Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941 and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in More Letters of Charles Darwin Original Sources, accessed June 4, 2023,

MLA: Darwin, Charles. "Letter 19. To J.D. Hooker." More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, edited by Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, Original Sources. 4 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Darwin, C, 'Letter 19. To J.D. Hooker.' in More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, ed. and trans. . cited in , More Letters of Charles Darwin. Original Sources, retrieved 4 June 2023, from