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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. C. Watson to George Gordon 27 June 1861

Thames Ditton | London— S.W.

27 June 1861.

Dear Dr. Gordon

I have not a botanical correspondent in Edinburgh now. Doubtless Prof. Balfour could readily get roots of Corallorhiza, through some student of his class, or by sending a gardener from the Botc. Garden.—1 I will suggest this course to Mr. Darwin.2

I fear that Mr. D. gives much valuable time to minor matters. Instead of resting his theory on the broad general facts that tend to support it, & admitting much of difficulty & uncertainty in detail,—he seems to delight in singling out the difficulties, & trying to solve or explain them away. This adds weakness, rather than strength, to a theory that I think will turn out true in the main;—although the more I cogitate on it, the less do I see the necessity of tracing back all existent species to one or to one dozen originals.—3

My dear Sir | Yours Very truly | Hewett C. Watson

The revd. George Gordon D. D.


John Hutton Balfour was regius keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. CD had asked Gordon for help in obtaining a specimen of the orchid Corallorhiza (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to George Gordon, 17 June [1861]).
No letter from Watson to CD containing this suggestion has been found; see, however, Correspondence vol. 9, letter to George Gordon, 4 July [1861].
Watson, a believer in the transmutation of species since 1845, had responded enthusiastically to Origin (see Watson 1845 and Correspondence vol. 7, letter from H. C. Watson, 21 November [1859]). Watson corresponded with CD on various aspects of CD’s transmutation theory, and promoted the idea of a principle of convergence, which, he argued, was necessary to limit the large number of specific types which would proliferate under CD’s principle of divergence (see, for example, this volume, Supplement, letter from H. C. Watson to J. D. Hooker, 4 January 1861, and Correspondence vol. 9, letter to H. C. Watson, [17 July 1861] and n. 3).


Regrets he cannot assist the fulfilment of CD’s request for a specimen of the orchid Corallorhiza.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hewett Cottrell Watson
George Gordon
Sent from
Thames Ditton, Surrey
Source of text
Elgin Museum (Gordon Archive 61.9)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3197F,” accessed on 27 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)