skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edouard Bornet   1 December 1866

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

Dec 1st. 1866


Absence from home has prevented me from sooner thanking you most sincerely for your very great kindness in sending me the seeds of Papaver with the sketches & for your obliging letter.1 I have long wished to see some of these closely allied sub-species, & I hope to make some experiments in crossing them.2

The subject seems to me extremely curious, & is closely parallel with Brehm’s observations on the sub-species of several European birds.3 I am much obliged for your permission to make use of the abstract of your very interesting experiments on hybrid Cisti:4 at present I am not writing on hybridism, but incidentally I much wish to allude to one of your observations. I hope that you will soon publish your experiments in full detail.5 I beg that you will present my most respectful compliments to M. Thuret; I feel that his message to me is a great honour, for during many years I have much admired his admirable observations on Algæ.6

Pray accept my thanks & with sincere respect believe me, dear Sir, | yours truly obliged | Charles Darwin

P.S. I do not know whether you feel any interest with respect to Climbing Plants, but I venture to send you by this post a paper on this subject, the last which I have published.7


Bornet’s letter and the sketches have not been found. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), CD was in London from 22 to 29 November 1866. CD had asked John Traherne Moggridge to find out whether Bornet or Gustave Adolphe Thuret could spare him some poppy seeds (letter to J. T. Moggridge, 13 November [1866]).
CD was interested in the work of Alexis Jordan, who had argued that there was a group of poppies similar to Papaver dubium that ought to be classed as separate species because they bred true even when grown together for several years (Jordan 1860, pp. 467–8; see letter to J. T. Moggridge, 13 November [1866] and n. 4). CD mentioned experimenting with seeds of P. vagum, P. depressum, P. lecoqii, and P. pinnatifidum the next year (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Edouard Bornet, 20 August [1867]). In Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 108–9, CD reported the results of his experiments with P. vagum, and thanked Bornet for providing the seeds. Papaver vagum, P. depressum, and P. lecoqii are now considered to be varieties of P. dubium.
The reference is to Christian Ludwig Brehm’s study of German birds (Brehm 1831). In the manuscript of his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, p. 114), CD had observed that Brehm’s classification created 576 new German bird species and commented that while it might be proper to ignore ‘fine differences as specific’, such variations certainly existed.
The abstract that Bornet sent to CD has not been found, but in Variation 2: 140, CD wrote, ‘I have heard from Dr. E. Bornet, of Antibes, who has made numerous experiments in crossing the species of Cistus, but has not yet published the results, that, when any of these hybrids are fertile, they may be said to be, in regard to function, diœcious; “for the flowers are always sterile when the pistil is fertilised by pollen taken from the same flower or from flowers on the same plant. But they are often fertile if pollen be employed from a distinct individual of the same hybrid nature, or from a hybrid made by a reciprocal cross.’” CD also referred to information received from Bornet via John Traherne Moggridge (Variation 1: 389; see letter from J. T. Moggridge, 21 May [1866] and n. 6).
No publication by Bornet on Cistus has been found.
CD had read Thuret’s study of the fertilisation of Fucus in 1857 (Thuret 1854–5; see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1857) and had cited his observations on reciprocal crosses in species of Fucus in Origin, p. 258.
CD refers to ‘Climbing plants’. The paper first appeared in June 1865 in a double issue of the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany), and offprints of the paper were produced in August 1865. For more on the publication history of the paper, see Correspondence vol. 13.


Thanks JBEB for Papaver seeds. Has long wished to see some of the closely allied subspecies and hopes to make some crossing experiments with them.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5292,” accessed on 26 May 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14