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Darwin Correspondence Project


To George Henry Kendrick Thwaites   8 March 1856

Down Bromley Kent

March 8th /56

My dear Sir

Though I have nothing very particular to say I must thank you cordially for the extremely kind manner with which you have received my letter.1 I remember at Oxford that you had attended to many of the points on which I was then & am now so much interested.2 I hope that you will publish some of the facts on variation to which you allude: I shd be particularly glad to see in print or M.S. some particulars in regard to the species from different elevations, which show different degrees of capacity for cultivation at a new level: Hooker has published a similar case in regard to the Himmalaya Rhododendrums.3

As you have received my letter in so very friendly a spirit, I will mention one or two other points on which I am much interested; viz in regard to the distribution of alpine plants; have you collected at the greater heights in Ceylon, & is there anything new in relation to the vegetation at these heights in comparison with the Himmalaya, Neilgherries or other mountains? Again have you observed whether the introduced & perfectly naturalised plants tend to vary much in Ceylon? The courrse of my work makes me more & more sceptical on the eternal immutability of species; yet the difficulties on the other theory of common descent seem to me frightfully great. In my work, which I shall not publish for 2 or 3 or perhaps more years; it is my intention to give, as far as I can & that will be very imperfectly, all the arguments & facts on both sides of the case, stating which side seems to me to preponderate.—

You cannot possibly render me more material assistance than by getting me any skins of Indian or Ceylon (or any breed except English) breeds of Pigeons;4 for I have concluded it would be better to work carefully at the varieties of a few animals, than compile brief notices on all our domestic animals. I have now all English breeds of Pigeons alive, & am carefully observing them, making skeletons & crossing them. There are some remarkable Tumblers in India.—5 Have you any domestic Ducks? or Rabbits These I mean to work at, as well as at Poultry. Any skeleton of Ducks wd be very valuable.— Dr Kellaart has offered to help me in regard to Poultry, for I met him accidentally at Brit. Museum, after writing to you;6 but I do not know how far he will be so kind as to take trouble for me.—

When I began, I meant merely to thank you; but when a beggar once begins to beg he never knows when to stop!7

Pray accept my very cordial thanks & good wishes & believe me, My dear Sir | Your’s very sincerely | Ch. Darwin.


See Correspondence vol. 5, letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 10 December 1855. Thwaites’s reply has not been found.
CD had attended the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford in 1847 at which Thwaites read a paper announcing his discovery of conjugation in the Diatomaceae (Thwaites 1847).
Probably J. D. Hooker 1852, pp. 69–71. CD quoted Thwaites’s observations on the cultivation of varieties from different elevations in Natural selection, p. 286: ‘Mr. Thwaites, the curator of the Botanic Garden at Ceylon, … writes to me, that he finds “that individuals of the same species are acclimatised to different elevations,—being more & more impatient of cultivation at any station, according as they have been transported to it, from stations of greater & greater altitude.” ’ See also Correspondence vol. 7, letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 7 February [1858].
Thwaites’s name is not among those in Natural selection or Variation who provided CD with specimens of birds or rabbits from Ceylon.
See letter to Walter Elliot, 23 January 1856.
Edward Frederick Kelaart is described in Variation 1: 259, where his name is spelled ‘Kellaert’, as one who had ‘closely studied the birds of Ceylon’ and is cited on the native fowl of that island (Variation 1: 234).
That CD wrote more than he intended is indicated by the fact that the last page was written on the verso of the first. To clarify the order, he headed it ‘Last Page’.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Thwaites, G. H. K.
Sent from
Physical description


Hopes GHKT will publish on variations in plant species at different elevations. Asks about variations among plants on heights of Ceylon.

Promises to publish on the species question.

Asks for pigeons’ skins from India or Ceylon, and for ducks’ skeletons. Mentions help promised by E. F. Kelaart.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1837,” accessed on 12 February 2016,