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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Rivers   23 December [1862]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Dec. 23d


I do not know whether you will forgive a stranger addressing you. My name may possibly be known to you.— I am now writing a book on the Variation of Animals & Plants under domestication; & there is one little piece of information, which it is more likely that you could give me, than any man in the world, if you can spare half an hour from your professional labours & are inclined to be so kind.2 I am collecting all accounts of what some call “Sports”, that is, of what I shall call “bud-variations”,3 ie a moss-rose suddenly appearing on a provence rose—a nectarine on a peach &c &c.— Now what I want to know, & which is not likely to be recorded in print, is whether very slight difference, too slight to be worth propagating, thus appear suddenly by buds. As every one knows in raising seedlings you may have every gradation from individuals identical with the parent, to slight varieties, to strongly marked varieties.— Now does this occur with buds? Or do only rather strongly marked varieties thus appear at rare intervals of time by buds? I shd. be most grateful for information.—4

I may add that if you have observed in your enormous experience any remarkable “bud-variations” & could spare time to inform me, & allow me to quote them on your authority, it would be the greatest favour. I feel sure that these “bud-variations” are most interesting to anyone endeavouring to make out, what little can be made out on the obscure subject of variation.

I hope that you will forgive the liberty which I have taken, & I remain, with much respect, Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin

P.S. I have read with greatest interest your communication in the last G. Chron; & venture to express an earnest hope that they will be followed by others.—5


The year is established by the reference to Rivers 1862 (see n. 5, below).
Rivers, who was a nurseryman, was the author of several books on the cultivation of roses and fruit-trees, and a regular contributor to gardening journals (DNB).
According to his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), CD began working on a draft of chapter 11 of Variation, ‘On bud-variation, and on certain anomalous modes of reproduction and variation’ (Variation 1: 373–411), on 21 December 1862.
Rivers’s reply has not been found; however, see the letter to Thomas Rivers, 28 December [1862].
Rivers 1862. Rivers concluded his article (p. 1196): I have thus far given a portion of my experience in raising seedling fruits; if I have not carried the subject to a satiating length, I will continue a relation of my experiments with seedling Apples, Plums, Cherries, Strawberries, Rasberries, and Currants. Further articles by Rivers on seedling fruits appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle for 1863 (pp. 27, 76, 244–5, and 364); CD kept the relevant numbers of the journal in separate parcels (see DAR 222 and DAR 75: 1–12; CD’s annotated copy of the Gardeners’ Chronicle is at the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden).


CD is collecting [for Variation] all accounts of what some call "sports" and what he calls "bud-variations". He asks whether very slight variations in fruit appear suddenly by buds, or whether only rather strongly marked varieties thus appear.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Rivers, Thomas
Sent from
Source of text
Sotheby Sale (23–4 July 1987)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3874,” accessed on 22 January 2017,