Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. Based on Materials Collected and Arranged by Lady Hooker.

Naturalist (and assistant surgeon) on James Clark Ross’s Erebus and Terror expedition in 1839. As erudite a traveler as one can imagine, his passion was botany and he was a considerable bookman in that field and well beyond, as illustrated in these volumes which cover Hooker’s entire life, including many reflections on reading throughout his life.

Volume I:

p. 6: When still a child, I was very fond of Voyages and Travels; and my great delight was to sit on my grandfather’s knee and look at the pictures in Cook’s ‘Voyages.’ The one that took my fancy the most was the plate of Christmas Harbour, Kerguélen Land, with the arched rock standing out to sea, and the sailors killing penguins; and I thought I should be the happiest boy alive if ever I would see that arched rock, and knock penguins on the head. By a singular coincidence, Christmas Harbour, Kerguélen Land, was one of the very first places of interest visited by me, in the Antarctic Expedition under Sir James Ross.

p. 24, on Hooker’s love for “The Boy’s Own Book’ given him in 1829.

p. 28-29, Hooker to his aunt, Mary Turner, on April 18, 1843:

You remind me of the times when we used to sit in the study (where probably you now are and where this note may reach you some two months hence) reading Tacitus: and least you and my grandfather reading it and I looking on.

Alas, I never had much taste for Latin and or any of the dead languages; and (except that I should have the satisfaction of knowing that my father’s money was not so much thrown away) I greatly doubt if my having been a good scholar would give me now so much pleasure as you might imagine. What I do really regret is the little attention I paid to Ancient and especially to Modern History. In half the time spent on the Classics had been devoted to those subjects, the knowledge of them would prove a far more agreeable companion than Horace, Virgil or even Homer.

… I had no taste for them, though ample time and opportunity for all. As it is, I attempt to rub them up, but I enjoy nothing so much as Hume and Smollett [History of England]. A love of poetry is also a sad deficiency in me…. Crabbe’s Poems are my favorites (laugh at me as you will), because I can go with him everywhere. As for Thomson, ‘void of rhyme as well as reason,’ he is quite too lackadaisical for me. To the Southward, in bad weather, I used to spend a great deal of time in reading, chiefly books on Scientific subjects, which are of most importance too me now that I have to work for my bread.

p. 29: With German, also he was conversant enough to tackle German books on botany; but it was a labour to him. Hence the zest of his repartee to Darwin, of whom it is told (‘Life,’ i. 126): ‘When he began German long ago, he boasted of the fact (as he used to tell) to Sir J. Hooker, who replied: “Ah, my dear fellow, that’s nothing; I’ve begun it many times.” ’

p 46-8: Of books also I have a good store & some of general reading: Constable’s’ Miscellany’ for instance. The rest are chiefly Botanical with a few on Zoology and Geology…. My messmates are all readers and careful of books: they are delighted we have lots of Cook’s and Weddells.

… I was further, through the kindness of my friends [i.e., his father], equipped with Botanical books, microscopes, etc., to the value of about £50, besides a few volumes of Natural History and general literature.

p. 47-8: Except some drying papers for plants, I had not a single instrument or book supplied to me as a naturalist—all were given to me by my father. I had, however, the use of [James Clark Ross’s library, and you may hardly credit it, but it is a fact that not a single glass bottle was supplied for collecting purposes, empty pickle battles were all we had, and rum as a preservative from the ship’s stores.

p. 56-7, in 1909 Bruce sent his Invertebrates of the Scotia Expedition to Hooker, who replied on Feb. 14, 1909: I have again to thank you for a magnificent addition to my Antarctic library. It is really a noble work, and I find in the several articles a great deal that interests me very much, especially in the subject of the geographical distribution of the various orders and genera so graphically and scientifically treated….

p.58, Hooker to his father March 17, 1840: The library of Natural History that you fitted me out with is to me worth any money. Blainville’s Actinologie and Edwardes’ Crustaceae are particularly useful, as by them I can name many old species and detect the wonderful new forms I meet with. My collection amounts to about 200 drawings done from nature under the microscope.

p. 66, Hooker received a copy of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle for the trip: Darwin’s own ‘Voyage of the Beagle,’ indeed, was the most recent of the various travel books that inspired him. It was in the press while he was approaching his M.D. examinations, and the old friend of his family, and of Darwin himself, Mr [Charles] Lyell of Kinnordy, sent him a set of proofs that had come from Darwin. Time was short: Hooker slept with the proofs under his pillow, and devoured them eagerly the moment he woke in the mornings. Before he sailed Mr. Lyell sent him a copy of the book, a gift most gratefully and enthusiastically acknowledged. As the voyage continues he tells Mr. Lyell, ‘Your kind present is indeed now a well-thumbed book for all the officers sent to me for it.’

If Darwin’s was the last of the travel books that inspired him, Cook’s voyage was the first. As has been noted already, it fired him at a far earlier age than Darwin himself was stirred by Humboldt’s ‘ Personal Narrative,’ a fact on which he dwells again when writing to James Hamilton, his old college friend, after he had sat on the very spot on Kerguelen’s Land from which the view of the Arch Rock was taken, and the picture of the men killing penguins.

p. 66, footnote 1: Thus J. E. Davis, second master of the Terror, later thanking Hooker for the ‘young library’ sent to him, writes: ‘I like Darwin’s Journal much: he has accomplished what Old Jonson said of Goldsmith when he heard he was going to write a Natural History: “he will make it as interesting as a Persian tale” ’

p. 73, Hooker writing on March 17, 1840, on the tedium of sea voyages: I have heard naturalists complain of the tedium of a sea voyage; such cannot be naturalists or must be sea-sick (which I have never been for an hour). I do not mean to say I would not be better employed and happier perhaps studying Botany ashore, with more comforts around me, but I assure you my weeks fly, though from my slow working I have not much to show, and unaccountable as it may appear to you, when we draw near shore I feel quite thrown out of my usual routine of employment.

p. 107, literature and books in van Diemen’s Land: Literature, however, is at a low ebb, and except a few English families, there are none who take the better periodicals, or would comprehend them if they did.

There are lots of splendid Pianos and Harps, and few who can use them. Three hundred copies of Gould’s most extravagant book are purchased by these colonists, solely for the pleasure of seeing the show of it on their tables.

p. 115, excerpt from the diary of Cornelius Sullivan: Such an ‘inglorious Milton’ was the blacksmith of the Erebus, a lively Irishman named Cornelius Sullivan. He first wrote down an account of their joint adventures on the second voyage from the dictation of his friend, James Savage, a seaman who had joined the ship at Tasmania. But this half story was obviously inadequate. He was moved to add the wonders of the first voyage.

My friend James [his exordium runs] before I begin to give you anything Like a correct acct. of our dangers and discoveries, it is but justice to this My first voyage to the South, to give you an acct. of our Discoveries, before you joined the Expedition—this is the most Sublime but not the most dangerous. [Sullivan goes on with a passage of what Hooker calls “pictorial effects”

p. 126: March 12, 1842. Crash of the two ships, “…a blessing of Providence, albeit rudely administered.”

p. 131, Hooker’s reading and botanical studies. during the 3rd winter of the expedition in the Falklands during 1842: I often spend a day there [the Governor’s mansion in the Falklands] and afterwards take on board with me any of his books that please me. Those I have been lately reading are Pope’s Homer’s Iliad, Mrs. Hemans’ Poems, Daniell’s Chemical Philosophy and Pugin’s Christian Architecture, a very miscellaneous selection, but even from the last; with all his faults and bigoted Roman Catholicism, I have gained much good. Keith’s Evidence (of Prophecy) and Pollock’s Course of Time I had read long before without appreciating them as I do now, — Stephens’s Travels in the East pleased me much and Milner’s Church History, what I have seen of it, for it is too much for me to get through here. (To Lady Hooker, August 24, 1842.)

p. 131, writing his father on August 25, 1842: It was foolish in me to have brought so few books on Cryptogamic plants, having nothing but Loudon’s Encyclopædia and the miserable Sprengel to help me…. Your parcel to me, when it comes! Will be a great catch, if it is only for the Journal, to which Berkeley no doubt still contributes.

p. 132, November 25, 1842: The books you send out are capital. Lindley’s Elements seems a most valuable work to me and the very one I wanted, for I have a very high opinion of him as a Nat. Order man—though he makes too many it is impossible not to admire the thorough knowledge he has of the subject….

p. 141ff: Admiralty rules on collection, journals, and charts being handed over to the Department

p. 148-9, Cape Town: contains a Library of 30,000 volumes, all in most excellent order, with the tables covered with magazines….

p. 150, visiting Baron C.F.H. Ludwig in Cape Town: I found ‘Peter Schlemihl’ in his Library and could not help reading part of it for old acquaintance sake; it was the very copy my Grandfather gave him…. I think I was more pleased to have found that book of my dear Grandfather’s than with anything else in Cape Town. I had a great mind to steal it.

p. 244-45, writing from India in 1848: You have no idea how many people in this country have been reading Ross’s work; I am better received in India for having accompanied that voyage, than ever I was on that account in England. Every individual with whom I have stayed, on my way up and down the Ganges, has read it! and knows me through it!… On this table in this house [of Dr. Grant of Bhagulpore] lies the N. British Review, containing an article on Ross’s Voyage, written, I suspect, by Sir. D. Brewster. There is the most flaming flattery in it of my share in the book—especially the chapter on Cattle Hunting. Pray tell my mother of this: (I suspect I must be a sort of humbug after all).

p. 495, Leonard Huxley: Unfailing also is his information about books to be consulted or papers in scientific journals dealing with special points. Many were not procurable even from the Linnean Library, where Hooker arranged that Darwin could take out what volumes he wanted. Many he lent to his friend from his own botanical library to be studied and lightly marked on the margins for the purposes of his analysis, sometimes to be borrowed afresh that the marked passages might be consulted anew when some better scheme of analysis had presented itself or some flaw had been detected in the previous scheme. ‘I never cease begging favours of you,’ writes Darwin in August 1855, when asking for the loan of the copy he had before of Asa Gray’s Manual….

Once, when Hooker had a fair copy of one of Darwin’s MSS. to read, a misfortune happened which recalls, though it happily did not equal, the catastrophe to the sole MS. of Carlyle’s ‘French Revolution’ in J. S. Mill’s house. The bundle ‘by some screaming accident’ had got transferred to the drawer where Mrs. Hooker kept paper for the children to draw upon—and they ‘of course had a drawing fit ever since.’ Nearly a quarter of the MS. had vanished when Hooker prepared to read; it at the end of a busy week.

Volume II:

p. 69ff: The enforced leisure of convalescence afforded much opportunity for miscellaneous reading. From time to time the letters which passed between Darwin and Hooker contain references to novels, for Darwin, as we know, constantly had novels read to him when unable to work, and Hooker, from his wife’s and his own reading, would offer suggestions or criticisms. Thus in 1863 Hooker Hooker recommends ‘The Admiral’s Daughter’ by the author of ‘Emilia Wyndham,’ which on re-reading he had found as deeply interesting as on his first reading twenty-five years before; but this was barred as ending too sadly. Next year ‘Quits’ is more successful; on a return recommendation, Hooker at Bath cannot get ‘Beppo,’ but borrows ‘Romola,’ ‘which is ponderous.’ In April 1865, having received from Darwin the serial numbers of Wilkie Collins’ novel, Hooker replies, ‘I have nearly finished “Can you Forgive Her?” and have made up my mind that I cannot at all do so, and don’t care whether she minds it or no.’ [A good deal follows on their reading, including novels of George Eliot, Fielding, and Richardson.]

p. 75, footnote on Darwin: The same spirit of happy banter occurs in a note of 1865, when Darwin had been, as it were, reading the Origin for the first time, as he was collecting material for a second French edition, and, laughingly declared ‘Upon my life, my dear fellow, it is a very good book, but oh my goodness, it is tough reading.’ Thereupon Hooker retorted: “I am egregiously delighted with your calm judgment on the Origin. Do you know I have re-read some of my papers with the same result, and never was wrong once in my opinion.’

p. 337: Dec. 29, 1893. I have just finished Huxley’s last volume. The Essay on the ‘Evolution of Religion’ is most remarkable and gives an astonishing idea of his grasp of mind, powerful reasoning, and admirable style. Certainly no one, theologian or other has brought the subject before the ordinary reader in anything like the persuasive manner and rhetorical power he displays. It goes to Darwin to-day.

p. 337: February 18, 1897. Your letter has interested me much, if only by the contrast it affords to our readings. I have been going through a long course of Boswell’s Johnson, and of Boswelliana. I had already long ago read the Tour in the Hebrides, and Madame Piozzi, so I am pretty well up in the old Hero, whom one cannot help admiring (and disliking rather). But he had great nobility of character….

p. 452, Hooker to Mrs. Paisley, October 7, 1903: I have just finished reading Sidney Lee’s ‘Life of Queen Victoria.’ It is most interesting, but depressing. She was indeed a good woman though with many imperfections. From a political point of view it is very difficult to judge her on Sidney Lee’s showing, one sways backwards and forwards in estimation or the contrary. Her indifference to all the great discoveries in Science during her reign, and especially the Medical and Surgical, strikes me as abnormal. This is not pointed out, and must go with her neglect of Ireland, as being under my view the great drawbacks to a warm appreciation of her reign.

p. 479, Hooker to William Spiers Bruce, May 6, 1911: ‘Polar Exploration’ has reached me and I have read it with great interest and pleasure, greatly heightened by its kindly and flattering dedication to myself, for which I cordially thank you. It is an excellent digest of our knowledge of the Polar; region, and was much wanted. As the precursor to your forthcoming ‘History of Polar Exploration,’ it will be widely welcomed. …

The only serious omission that I notice (if I have not carelessly overlooked it) is that of the marvellous retrocession of the Barrier since Ross napped it. To me this appears the most momentous change known to be brought about in the Antarctic in little more than half century.

[Other passages on Hooker’s reading, unrelated to the polar regions, are in Volume II on p. 26, 41, 98, 113, 126, 129, 201, 225, 305, 320, 327-28, 351,433-34, 475.]