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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [1 April 1864]


My dear Hooker

I shall not at present allude to your very interesting letter,1 (which as yet has been read to me only twice!!) for I am full of a project, which I much want you to consider.—

You will have seen Scott’s note.2 He tells me he has no plans for the future. Thinking over all his letters I believe he is a truly remarkable man.— He is willing to follow suggestions, but has much originality in varying his Experiments.—3 I believe years may pass before another man appears fitted to investigate certain difficult & tedious points—viz relative fertility of varieties of plants—including peloric & other monsters (already Scott has done excellent work on this head)4   And secondly whether a plant’s own pollen is less effective than that of another individual.5

Now if Scott is moderate in his wishes I would pay him for a year or two to work & publish on these or other such subjects which might arise.— But I dare not have him here, for it wd quite overwork me. There wd not be plants sufficient for his work, & it wd probably be an injury to himself as it wd put him out of the way of getting a good situation. Now I believe you have gardeners at Kew who work & learn there without pay.6 What do you think of having Scott there for a year or two to work & experiment?

I can see enormous difficulties. In the 1st place you will not perhaps think the points indicated so highly important as I do. 2ndly He wd require ground in some out of the way place where the plants cd be covered by net which wd be unsightly. On the other hand I presume you wd like a series of memoirs published on work done at Kew which I am fully convinced wd have permanent value. It wd of course I conceive be absolutely necessary that Scott shd be under the regular orders of the superintendant.7 The only way I can fancy that it cd be done wd be to explain to the superintendant that I temporarily supported Scott solely for the sake of Science, & appeal to his kindness to assist him. If you approved of having him (which I can see is improbable) & you simply ordered the superintendant to assist him I believe every thing wd go to loggerheads. As for Scott himself it wd be of course be an advantage to him to study the cultivation at Kew. You wd get to know him & if he really is a good man you cd perhaps be able to recommend him to some situation at home or abroad.

Pray turn this in your mind. I have no idea whether Scott wd like the place but I can see that he has a burning zeal for science. He told me that his parents were in better circumstances & that he chose a gardener’s life solely as the best way of following science8   I may just add that in his last letter he gives me the results of many ex— on difft individuals of the same sp. of orchid shewing the most remarkable diversity in their sexual condition.9 It seems to me a grievous loss that such a man shd have all his work cut short. Please remember that I know nothing of him excepting from his letters; these shew remarkable talent, astonishing perseverance much modesty & what I admire determined difference from me on many points.

Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin

What will Sir William say?10


Letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864.
CD probably sent Hooker John Scott’s postscript to his letter of 28 March 1864 (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 31 March [1864]).
Scott had first written to CD about his experiments with Acropera pollination (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862); since then Scott had been corresponding with CD about other botanical experiments (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 19 December [1862], and Correspondence vol. 11).
CD had begun his own series of crossing experiments with peloric flowers of different varieties of pelargonium in May 1862, with the object of discovering whether changes in the structure of flowers affected their fertility (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Isaac Anderson-Henry, 20 January [1863] and nn. 12–14). Scott’s experiments on the fertility of peloric flowers were undertaken at CD’s suggestion (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 19 December [1862]). Scott mentioned his work on peloric Antirrhinum to CD and eventually sent CD the results of his crossing experiments (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 21 September [1863], and this volume, letter from John Scott, 19 March 1864, and first letter from John Scott, 10 June [1864]; see also letter from John Scott, 20 June [1864]). Scott did not publish this research, nor was it cited in CD’s discussions of peloric and monstrous flowers in Variation 2: 166–7 or Cross and self fertilisation, p. 363.
Scott’s work with Primulaceae involved experiments on self-sterility (see Scott 1864a); CD and Scott discussed these experiments at length (see, for example, letter from John Scott, 7 January [1864]). Scott also discussed his results on the self-sterility of orchids in his letter of 28 March 1864; he published these in Scott 1864b (see also Scott 1863a). His experiments on the relative sterility of species of Passiflora, Disemma, and Tacsonia were described in Scott 1864d, and his work on self-sterility in Verbascum was published in Scott 1867 (see letter from John Scott, 19 March 1864 and n. 21).
On educational opportunities for gardeners at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, see Desmond and Hepper 1993, pp. 10–11, and R. Desmond 1995, p. 221. All the gardeners at Kew were paid, but salaries were small (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 April 1864; Desmond and Hepper 1993, pp. 6–7; and R. Desmond 1995, pp. 283–4).
At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the post equivalent to superintendent was that of curator. At the beginning of April 1864, this post was held by John Smith (1798–1888).
See Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863 and nn. 23 and 24; ML 1: 217–18; and J. W. Kennedy 1908.
William Jackson Hooker was Hooker’s father and director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Proposes to support John Scott in research on relative fertility and self-incompatibility of plants. CD would pay him for a year or two but wants JDH to give him research facilities at Kew.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 226a–b
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4444,” accessed on 26 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12