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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   8 January [1863]1

Down, Bromley,

Jan. 8th.

Dear Sir,—

What an indomitable worker you are and what a number of interesting experiments you are trying! I thank you for telling me about yourself; I felt respect for you before, and now this is sincerely increased.2

With your tastes, the fall in your circumstances must have been severely felt; but you have acted like a real man in making the best of things, and most truly do I wish you success in all your endeavours. I daresay a foreign appointment will be best in every way, and will be sure to offer a field for new observations; but I cannot avoid being sorry for it. Only imagine how grand it would be to see an insect at work at a Gongora, &c.3

Very sincere thanks for all your great trouble taken about the primulas, which I received this morning.4 I have put them in my green-house, which is warmed at night; whether this is wise I know not. Your remarks on Gongora have interested me much, and I never saw a fresh specimen before. The labellum beats that of acropera. Do the tips of the basal inturned horns secrete any fluid? In one specimen, to the mouth of the stigmatis5 cavity there adhered a large protuberant drop of very slightly viscid fluid, evidently in excess, but it supports your idea about acropera.6 I have put specimens in spirits, (for I am too busy now) and some day will look at ovates. I am quite confused about their genera.7 Can the plants be kept too dry and so cause stigma not to secrete enough? I can keep pod of acropera till whatever time I get one of other germs for comparison.8 I shall be quite nervous when I first look at seeds. I must write briefly.

[…] Never trouble yourself to answer my letters unless inclined to do so, and pray believe me with every good wish,—Dear Sir, | Yours sincerely, | Charles Darwin.

Have you not been put to some little expense about primulas? If so, I beg you to have kindness to inform me.

What say you to cross a primrose (heteromorphic) with pollen of wild cowslip and of a highly cultivated polyanthus, and see which in, say, ten pods of each, yielded most seed.9

I am going immediately to build small hothouse, but whether my two rather ignorant men will succeed with the plants I know not.10


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11).
For Scott’s discussion of his various experiments with orchids, and of his personal circumstances, see his letter to CD of 6 January 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11).
Scott was hoping to move from his position as the foreman of the propagating department at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden to a foreign appointment (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863). He and CD were interested in the pollination of orchids, including the tropical orchid Gongora (see Correspondence vol. 10, and Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863).
In his letter of 6 January 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11), Scott wrote that he was sending CD three plants each of Primula scotica and P. farinosa for his observations and experiments on dimorphism.
Probably a mistranscription for ‘stigmatic’.
Scott had sent CD Gongora atropurpurea specimens (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863 and CD note). CD had examined the allied Acropera luteola, which he called the ‘opprobrium’ of his work on orchids, as all the parts seemed ‘determinately contrived’ so that the plant should never be pollinated (Orchids, p. 203). However, Scott had succeeded in pollinating Acropera loddigesii, despite a stigmatic chamber as narrow as that of A. luteola; he suggested that when out of its native habitat the stigmatic orifice might grow too dry, losing the viscid fluid that would aid pollination (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [November 1862]). CD discussed Gongora in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 154 (Collected papers 2: 150) and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 168–70, 276.
‘Ovates’ is probably a mistranscription for ‘ovules’ and ‘genera’ a mistranscription for ‘genitalia’; in his note describing Scott’s Gongora specimens, CD mentioned that he would put the ovarium in spirits to examine it (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863 and CD note).
‘Germs’ is probably a mistranscription for ‘genera’. Scott had earlier offered to send CD his rapidly swelling Acropera ovary, and continued to report on its growth (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 15 November [1862], and Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863; see also ibid., letter to John Scott, 20 [February 1863]).
Scott conducted crosses with species of Primulaceae on the advice of CD from 1862 (see Correspondence vols. 10–12, and Scott 1864). Following publication of ‘Dimorphic condition of Primula’, CD continued making crosses of Primula species. For his work comparing crosses of primroses with cowslips and with polyanthus, see ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, ‘Specific difference in Primula’, Forms of flowers, and his notes in DAR 108.
The construction of CD’s hothouse was completed by mid-February 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VI). CD also refers to his servants William Brooks and Henry Lettington (see Correspondence vols. 11 and 12).


CD’s respect for JS’s indomitable work and interesting experiments increases steadily.

His gratitude for the primulas and the astonishing Gongora specimen.

Asks JS’s opinion about crossing a primrose with the pollen of a wild cowslip and of a cultivated polyanthus.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Scott, John
Sent from
Source of text
Transactions of the Hawick Archæological Society (1908): 67

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3908F,” accessed on 19 January 2017,