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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Rivers   28 December [1862]1

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

Dec. 28th

My dear Sir

Permit me to thank you cordially for your most kind letter.2 For years I have read with interest every scrap which you have written in Periodical & abstracted in M.S. your book on Roses,3 & several times I thought I would write to you, but did not know whether you would think me too intrusive. I shall indeed be truly obliged for any information you can supply me on bud-variation or sports.4 When any extra difficult point occurs to me in my present subject (which is a mass of difficulties), I will apply to you; but I will not be unreasonable. It is most true what you say that any one to study well the physiology of the life of plants, ought to have under his eye a multitude of plants. I have endeavoured to do what I can by comparing statements by many writers & observing what I could myself. Unfortunately few have observed like you have done. As you are so kind I will mention one other point on which I am collecting facts, namely the effect produced on the stock by the graft; thus it is said that the purple-leaved Filbert affects the leaves of the common hazel on which it is grafted (I have just procured a plant to try) so variegated Jessamine is said to affect its stock.5 I want these facts partly to throw light on the marvellous Laburnum Adami—Trifacial oranges &c. That Laburnum case seems one of the strangest in physiology: I have now growing splendid, fertile yellow Laburnums (with long racemes like the so-called Waterer’s Laburnum) from seed of yellow flowers on the L. adami.—6

I do so wish I could accept your invitation; I will see in Spring what I can do; but I suffer severely from ill-health of a very peculiar kind, which prevents me from all mental excitement, which is always followed by spasmodic sickness, & I do not think I could stand conversation with you, which to me would be so full of enjoyment. I send a little pamphet on a subject on which I am at work, & on which I shall soon publish some much more striking cases.— These cases show how little we yet know on fertilisation.—7

To a man like myself who is compelled to live a solitary life & sees few persons, it is no slight satisfaction to hear that I have been able at all interest by my books, observers like yourself.—

As I shall publish on my present subject, I presume within a year, it will be of no use your sending me the shoots of Peaches & nectarines which you so kindly offer; I have recorded your facts.—8

Permit me again to thank you cordially; I have not often in my life received a kinder letter.— | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship to the letter to Thomas Rivers, 23 December [1862].
Rivers’s letter has not been found.
CD’s reading notebooks record that he read Rivers 1837 in 1840 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *119: 22v and 119: 8a); however, his abstract of the work has not been found. Rivers regularly contributed to horticultural journals like the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette and Journal of Horticulture (DNB). There is also a copy of Rivers 1848 in the Darwin Library–CUL.
See letter to Thomas Rivers, 23 December [1862]. Rivers’s answer to this letter has not been found; however, see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Thomas Rivers, 7 January [1863].
Rivers’s reply has not been found. However, his observations on the cases described by CD, and on one other case of this type, are cited in Variation 1: 394–5. See also Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Thomas Rivers, 7 January [1863].
CD had for many years been interested in the origin of the hybrid laburnum, Cytisus Adami, branches of which had reportedly been found to bear the leaves and flowers of both the parent species (C. purpureus and C. laburnum, the common laburnum) in addition to those of the hybrid form (see Correspondence vols. 4–6). In Variation 1: 387–97, CD discussed at length the evidence for and against the different theories that had been advanced to account for the hybrid form, dwelling particularly on the possibility that it was either an ordinary hybrid, formed by seed, or that it was what he called a ‘graft-hybrid’. He cited the observations referred to here in Variation 1: 388. The analogous case of the trifacial orange is discussed in Variation 1: 391.
CD refers to ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, although Rivers’s name does not appear on CD’s presentation list for this paper (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III). CD also refers to his experiments in 1862 on dimorphism in species of Linum and trimorphism in Lythrum salicaria, and to his further experiments with dimorphic species of Primula. His results from these experiments were given in ‘Two forms in species of Linum’, and ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’, which were published in 1863 and 1864, respectively, and ‘Illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, which was not published until 1868 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society, p. vi).
In his letter to Rivers of 23 December [1862], CD had asked for accounts of what he called ‘bud-variations’, citing in particular the example of a nectarine appearing on a peach tree. CD discussed such examples in Variation 1: 374–5, but he did not cite information from Rivers; however, he did include a number of observations by Rivers on the relationship between almonds, peaches, and nectarines in Variation 1: 338–40 (see also Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Thomas Rivers, 11 January [1863], 15 January [1863], and 17 [January 1863]). Variation was not published until 1868.


Thanks for letter [missing] and help.

Asks about the effect said to be produced on the stock by a graft.

Health prevents accepting TR’s invitation.

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. 3879,” accessed on 24 January 2017,