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Darwin Correspondence Project

To M. T. Masters   25 April [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 25

My dear Sir

I beg you not to speak of “apologies for intruding”, when you are doing me the greatest kindness in giving me valuable information.2

I am heartily glad to hear of the papers in Linn: Journal, & then I shall see about peloria: I hope you will give any information which you may possess on the power of reproduction in peloria & other monsters.3 Of course you will naturally compare monstrous to normal structures: as far as I have seen, such comparisons have generally to be instituted between members of distinct groups, which to my mind greatly destroys the value of such parallelism in relation to the origin of species.4

Unless your Father5 actually experimentised on mixed pollen it is curious how he discovered the truth, which Gärtner has shown without doubt, namely that the stigma does select its own kind of pollen out of others; & more than that, for if the plant’s own pollen be put on stigma within a certain number (forgotten by me) of hours after foreign pollen, all influence from that foreign pollen is completely eliminated.6 But then no facts are known showing that this holds with the pollen of different varieties: on the contrary some facts lead to the suspicion that the pollen of a distinct variety has a prepotent effect over a plant’s own pollen.—7 In the case of Hollyhocks, I have suspected from some facts that each variety preferred its own pollen; & I have in vain been searching for information, from those who have raised many hollyhocks whether they found it necessary, in order to get the varieties pretty true by seed, to keep the several varieties in different parts of the garden. Has your Father raised with care, many seedling Hollyhocks.?8

I observe that your Father is a strong believer in the rule that when variation has once commenced it goes on.9

If at any time you were staying with your Father it would be a grand thing to get his reasons for this belief.—

That is a curious case about the yellow Hyacinths.10 The laws of inheritance seem to be determined to puzzle everyone.

With sincere thanks | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from William Masters, 8 May 1860 (Correspondence vol. 8); see n. 8, below.
The letter from Masters from which CD quotes has not been found. CD had invited Masters to let him know if anything occurred to him in support of or opposing CD’s theories in his letter to Masters of 13 April [1860] (Correspondence vol. 8).
In the missing letter, Masters may have discussed the work on peloric orchids that he later published in Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) (Masters 1864). He also published an article on peloria in the Natural History Review in 1863 (Masters 1863c). Masters may also have mentioned his work on prolification, a type of floral monstrosity; two of these papers were published in Transactions of the Linnean Society, and one in Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany), but they did not concern what CD had called peloria in Origin, p. 145 (see Masters 1861, 1862b, and 1863a, and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to M. T. Masters, 24 July [1862] and n. 4).
Since many monstrosities resembled other species in distinct and fairly remote groups, CD suspected that the resemblances were accidental, and he doubted that the monstrous forms could develop into new species (see Natural selection, pp. 318–21, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 18 [and 19 February 1860]; see also Origin, pp. 44, 150–70). Masters was developing a specialty in plant teratology, or the study of malformations and abnormal growth (see n. 3, above, and Masters 1860). For CD’s interest in peloria, see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. D. Hooker, [12 June 1847], Correspondence vol. 8, letter to M. T. Masters, 13 April [1860], and Origin, p. 145. CD would soon seek to establish whether peloria in flowers resulted in changes in fertility (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 9, letters to Journal of Horticulture, [before 18 June 1861] and [before 9 July 1861], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862]).
William Masters.
See Origin, p. 98. CD refers to the experiments described by Karl Friedrich von Gärtner in Gärtner 1849, pp. 35, 38–46, 46–58. CD’s heavily annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 248–98). There is also an abstract of Gärtner 1849 in DAR 116. The reference to William Masters’s observations confirming Gärtner’s experiments has not been identified, but it may have been included in the missing letter from M. T. Masters (see n. 2, above). See also CD’s most recent letter to M. T. Masters, in which he included notes for William Masters on his own experiments in crossing different varieties of sweet peas (Correspondence vol. 8, letter to M. T. Masters, 13 April [1860] and CD note).
See Origin, p. 99. See also Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Asa Gray, 11 August [1858], and Correspondence vol. 8, first letter to Andrew Murray, 28 April [1860].
For CD’s queries on hollyhocks, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 [August 1855], and letter to J. S. Henslow, 10 November [1855]; see also Correspondence vol. 2, letter from William Herbert to J. S. Henslow, 5 April 1839. William Masters replied to CD’s query in his letter of 8 May 1860 (Correspondence vol. 8), and evidently provided further information on the cultivation of hollyhocks (see Variation 2: 107–8).
Masters may have included information from his father in his missing letter (see nn. 2 and 6, above); however, see also the letter from William Masters, [after 7 April 1860] (Correspondence vol. 8).
In his missing letter (see n. 2, above), Masters may have reported his father’s finding that yellow hyacinths, unlike other coloured varieties, reproduce their colour. Since the blue varieties were not nearly so true in their transmission of colour to offspring plants, William Masters remarked, ‘we see that a garden variety may acquire a more permanent habit than a natural species’ (see Variation 2: 20). No letter in which William Masters made this remark to CD has been found.


Glad to hear of MTM’s papers [? "On a peloria and semidouble flower of Ophrys aranifera, Huds.", J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Bot.) 8 (1865): 207–11 and "Observations on the morphology and anatomy of the genus Restio, Linn.", J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Bot.) 8 (1865): 211–55].

CD doubts the value, for origin of species, of parallels between peloria in "distinct groups".

Gärtner proved the stigma can select its own pollen from a mixture of foreign pollens. But much evidence shows varieties of same species are prepotent over a plant’s own pollen.

MTM’s father [William] believes that variation goes on for a long time once it has commenced.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Maxwell Tylden Masters
Sent from
Source of text
Shrewsbury School Archives, SR/Darwin box 1
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4818,” accessed on 27 April 2017,

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