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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Erasmus Darwin   [15 March 1864]1



My Dear Father,

I came back from the Atherleys2 yesterday & found the primroses; I have drawn all three forms again with same result.3 The middle-styled seems very imperfect in its pollen, but if any thing is the least bit bigger than the Long styled4   I am not at all sure of this. It is an odd chance I had just got a pot of the Middle Styled & was going to examine it, & had even begun before your flowers came, and I thought one flower of the middle seemed to have pollen not unlike Short styled but it was so very imperfect that I could not be sure.

I am going to look again.5

On looking through a good many plants at a green-house, I could not find a single pink variety with middle style, & I see the one you sent me is white

I am very glad you are going to have Dr Jenner6

Your affect son | W E D



CD annotations

top of left column: ‘Cattell’7 pencil
top of centre column: ‘Horwood’8 pencil
top of right column: ‘Cattell’ pencil
below sketch in centre column: ‘This was a white long-styled plant in stamen, only with a short pistil’9 pencil


The date is established by the reference to the forthcoming visit of William Jenner (see n. 6, below), and by the implicit reference to earlier sketches of Primula pollen (see n. 3, below). The Tuesday between Jenner’s visit (20 March 1864) and the date of what are probably the earlier sketches (12 March 1864) was 15 March.
The reference is to the family of George Atherley, William Erasmus Darwin’s partner in the Southampton and Hampshire Bank.
See enclosure; the drawings, which are reproduced here at 45 per cent of their original size, are apparently of pollen from the Chinese primrose (P. sinensis) (see letter from W. E. Darwin, 22 March [1864]). CD had experimented with the Chinese primrose every year since 1861 (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1862] and n. 10), and discussed it in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, pp. 87–9 (Collected papers 2: 54–6). The earlier sketches William made are probably those in DAR 108: 88, dated 12 March 1864. These are of pollen from short-styled and long-styled forms only, but tear-marks indicate that a sketch of a third form may have been removed. William labelled them ‘O. sinensis’, probably confusing the genus with the trimorphic Oxalis. No letter from CD to W. E. Darwin requesting the drawings has been found. CD’s experimental notes on P. sinensis are in DAR 108.
CD called the middle-styled form of P. sinensis an ‘equal-styled variety’, later arguing that the species was dimorphic with the equal-styled plants possibly representing a reversion to an earlier non-dimorphic form (see n. 9, below, ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 418, 434–5, and Forms of flowers, pp. 222–3, 273–4; see also Correspondence vol. 11, letter to John Scott, 6 June [1863] and n. 6, this volume, letter from John Scott, 7 January [1864] and nn. 6, 7, 9–11, and CD’s notes in DAR 108: 29–31). In ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 416, and Forms of flowers, p. 220, CD acknowledged William’s drawings of the pollen of one of the equal-styled plants, adding that the pollen resembled, in the small size of the grains, that of the long-styled form. For CD’s experimental notes on the equal-styled form of the Chinese primrose, see DAR 108.
William may have made sketches of pollen from the pot of Chinese primrose he had already acquired, sending them with others, with his letter of 22 March [1864].
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), William Jenner’s first visit to CD was on 20 March 1864.
CD often purchased plants from the nurseryman and seedsman John Cattell.
In ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 415–16, CD mentioned that John Horwood, a neighbour’s gardener, raised four plants of P. sinensis that were allowed to self-pollinate. CD experimented with the offspring, which were all equal-styled. See also n. 4, above, and Forms of flowers, pp. 219–20.
In ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 414, CD described the equal-styled form, writing that in 1862 he first noticed a P. sinensis ‘with some of its flowers in an anomalous state, namely, with the stamens placed low down in the corolla as in the ordinary long-styled form, but with the pistils so short that the stigmas stood on a level with the anthers’. See also Forms of flowers, p. 218.


Has drawn all three forms of primroses CD sent "with same result". Has found no pink variety with middle style.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 108: 85, 173–4
Physical description
4pp, sketch †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4416,” accessed on 20 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12