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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   6 May [1869]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

May 6th

My dear Mr Farrer

Thanks for your note. I doubted about degradation, & had not slightest objection to gradation, because I did not like the idea, & knew nothing about the facts.

I disliked & still dislike the idea because I can see no reason for it. V. cornuta (I believe) & certainly V. canina & odorata produce perfect flowers adapted for a cross, & small closed flowers to insure a stock of seed through self-fertilisation. V. tricolor which it seems stands near one end of the series does not produce the small closed flowers, & is only very moderately fertile when the visits of insects are prevented.2 Hence I can see no meaning in degradation, but every step in progress wd be advantageous.

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

—But to invert a saying of Agassiz “Nature often lies” & does things quite contrary to theory.—3


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Farrer, 5 May 1869.
See letter from T. H. Farrer, 5 May 1869 and n. 1. CD refers to different species of Viola.
Louis Agassiz, responding to reports of observations opposed to his theory about when saurians were first created, claimed he did not believe them, ‘for Nature never lied’ (See Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Asa Gray, 1 January [1857]).


Dislikes the use of the term "degradation" as applied to the closed flowers of Viola species. Species with such self-fertilising flowers also have flowers adapted for crossing. The development of closed flowers adapted to ensure a sufficient stock of seed is progressive.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Farrer, T. H.
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (LS Ms 299/1)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6730,” accessed on 16 January 2017,