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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. A. Leighton   25 November [1844?–6]1

Down near Bromley | Kent

Nov 25th.

My dear Sir

I trouble you with a line to thank you for the trouble you have kindly taken in procuring me cuttings of the weeping yew, which my Father’s gardener will take great care of & I hope in future years to have a fine tree to remind me of Shropshire.—2 I have often thought of that curious case of the Heath in the stone-quarry & the more I think, the greater the pity appears, that it shd not be well made out & published.— Have you ever written about it?3 do you know the owner sufficiently well to ask for a cutting,— I ask this, because near here Miss Traill of Hayes Place lives whose Gardener (Mr Hunt) is famous for winning prizes at the Hort. Soc. for Heaths; & I am sure Miss Traill, wd have any cutting, which I forwarded to her, taken care of.—4 And if the Heath flowered I could send specimens to you to describe & publish.—

If you do know the individual & if you like to make this request, you had better ask the person to put a bit of clay to the end of the cutting, & send it direct in a letter to me, & I wd not lose a day in forwarding it to Hayes Place.—5 Pray do not think a moment more about this, if your relation to the individual shd make it appear to you a liberty.

Believe me | yours vy faithfully | C. Darwin

P.S. It wd be necessary of course to know whether the Heath has hitherto lived out of doors through the winters


The year range is conjectured from the reference to cuttings of the weeping yew and from CD’s assumption that an account of the heath in the stone quarry had not been published (see nn. 2 and 3, below). Parts of this letter (dated 25 November [1840–6]) were published in Correspondence vol. 18, Supplement; the complete letter has been transcribed from a facsimile in Fraser’s Autographs catalogue. The original footnotes have been altered.
CD’s father, Robert Waring Darwin, lived near Leighton in Shrewsbury, Shropshire; his gardener was John Abberley. CD may have requested cuttings of a weeping yew after making a note on 20 April 1844 concerning the discovery of the Irish yew; CD wrote of its propagation by cuttings and seeds: ‘Species will turn out (N.B Leighton says there is difference in leaves of weeping yew??) made by jumps’ (DAR 163). CD later stated that the weeping yew, like all recorded tree varieties, was produced by a single act of variation and not by the accumulation of successive modifications (Variation 1: 361).
Leighton had evidently told CD that Joseph Sidebotham had sent him a sprig from an eight to ten-foot-long branch with heath-like foliage that was found growing out of a fossil tree in a quarry at Tintwistle, Derbyshire. In 1847, Sidebotham published a note about the discovery, stating that it had been made six or seven years previously, and that Leighton had identified the sample as the tree heath Erica arborea (Sidebotham 1847).
Wilhelmina Barbara Traill lived at Hayes Place, Hayes, Kent, about three miles from Down House; her gardener was William Hunt.
No letter from Sidebotham to CD has been found.


Thanks for procuring cuttings of weeping yew.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Allport Leighton
Source of text
Fraser’s Autographs (dealer) (May 2013)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 653F,” accessed on 14 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement) and 24 (Supplement)