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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Federico Delpino1   18 June 1873

Vallombrosa

18. giugno 1873

Onorevole Signore!

La prego a volermi perdonare se ho tardato tanto a rispondere alla sua lettera ultima. Il fatto è che io sperava di darle più esatte e complete notizie intorno ai quesiti che si piacque di propormi.2 Disgraziatamente ho potuto raccogliere pochissimo.

Il Lathyrus odoratus è una pianta che nell’Italia media è poco coltivata e poco ricercata, massime in questi ultimi anni, dacchè essa è attaccata grandemente dall’Oidium.3 Nei giardinieri di Firenze è invalsa l’opinione che succeda incrociamento tra un individuo e l’altro, e che perciò non si possano conservar pure le varietà, se non che seminando separatamente gl’individui delle varie razze.4 Un giardiniere botanico molto esperto, certo Sig. Paolo Baroni,5 mi assicurò che senza veruna cura per molti anni di seguito ebbe nella stessa ajuola sempre una stessa varietà; ma egli crede fermamente che non si sia propagata ivi per semi, bensi per gemme radicali perennanti (possibilmente per quei tubercoletti che si scorgono nelle radici de molti Lathyrus).

Quanto poi al Phaseolus multiflorus lo stesso giardiniere è nella più ferma convinzione, che per ottenere la varietà pura bisogni impedire del tutto l’incrociamento per mezzo degl’insetti.6

Quanto al Pisum sativum è una pianta che da noi si coltiva soltanto negli orti e nelle campagne, per comestibile. Ve ne sono parecchie varietà, e si conservano generalmente pure perchè da per tutto si coltivano in grandi masse separate. Del resto io non ho mai osservato insetti sul Pisum; per cui credo che in mancanza d’insetti si possa perfettamente fecondare omogamicamente7

La ringrazio delle cortesi espessioni a mio riguardo contenute nella sua lettera. Gl’incoraggiamenti d’una persona tanto autorevole mi sono di grande conforto; tanto più che vedo troppo spesso come le mie idee trovano avversarii che mi sembrano meno giusti. Per esempio ultimamente io ricevetti una memoria di G. Bentham sulle Composte, nella quale mi vengono fatte delle critiche ben poco fondate. O non ha ben compreso la forza delle mie ragioni o ha dato una lettura troppo superficiale del mio scritto sulle artemisiacee.8 Credo che sarò in dovere di rispondergli, non per me ma per i principii che sostengo. Scientificamente parlando noi oggidì ci troviamo in una brutta crisi; vi ha tutta una vecchia scuola che non ha il coraggio di accettare in tutta la sua estensione la dottrina della trasformazione degli organismi. Ora per me questa dottrina è dottrina di fatto, non già ipotesi. Adunque si deve cominciare a farne applicazione alla tassonomia. Ma come mai i tassonomi dell’antica scuola potranno piegarsi alle nuove forme della tassonomia genealogica?

Ho avuto il libro del Dr. E. Müller.9 È un libro prezioso sotto molti aspetti, e dovrà servire di punto di partenza alle numerose ricerche che dovranno essere fatte secondo la stessa direzione. Per altro in molte idee fondamentali non mi trovo punto d’accordo. E. Müller, con pazienza e precisione veramente germanica, ha annoverato le visite degl’insetti, ma non le ha pesate. Cosicchè in molti punti dovremo essere di diverso parere. Per esempio, secondo le di Lei osservazioni e secondo le mie, i fiori di trifoglio sono esclusivamente designati per le apiarie (è una pianta melittofila10); ma per caso vi si poserà una farfalla; ora di questa visita E. Müller terrà stretto conto, mentre io non credo farne il minimo caso, giacchè la reputo un accidentalità destituita di ogni funzione. Del resto mi sembra un opera utile e conscienziosa in grado insigne.

Gradisca, Uomo celeberrimo, gli attestati della mia profondissima stima ed ossequio. | Suo devotissimo discepolo | Federico Delpino

CD annotations

2.1 Il … Lathyrus). 2.10] ‘not much [ink over pencil] cultivated; but firm [ink over pencil] belief in Florence that vars. must [ink over pencil] be separated [‘se’ ink over pencil]’
3.1 Quanto … degl’insetti 3.3] scored red crayon; ‘same gardener [interl] believes it necessary to prevent crossing by insects’ pencil; ‘Ph. multiflorus note’ ink
4.1 Quanto … omogamicamente 4.5] ‘Does not know about Pisum’ ink
5.1 La … Delpino. 7.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Sweet Peas’ red crayon
Bottom of letter pencil:11

“Kerner {H. Muller} {Moths} Bentham Lathyrus Pisum sativum} Bees visit} explanationQQQQ}

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
CD had asked whether different coloured varieties of Lathyrus odoratus (sweetpeas), Pisum sativum (garden peas), and Phaseolus multiflorus (now Phaseolus coccineus; runner-beans), intercrossed when left unprotected from insects (see letter to Federico Delpino, 1 May 1873).
Oidium is a genus of fungi that causes powdery mildew.
CD quoted Delpino’s remarks in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 156. He was unable to account for the fact that varieties of Lathyrus odoratus never intercrossed in England but did so in northern Italy (ibid., pp. 168–9).
Baroni was head gardener of the Giardino dei Semplici in Florence (Gardeners’ Chronicle, 5 January 1878, p. 22).
In Cross and self fertilisation, p. 168, CD remarked of Phaseolus multiflorus: ‘there is reason to believe that varieties growing near one another intercross’.
CD concluded that the many varieties of Pisum sativum, though growing in close proximity, very seldom intercrossed (Cross and self fertilisation, p. 169).
George Bentham criticised Delpino’s classification of the Artemisiaceae (Delpino 1871) for relying too exclusively on different pollination mechanisms (Bentham 1873a, pp. 342–3). CD had received Delpino’s paper in 1871 and suggested that he send it to Bentham (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Federico Delpino, 22 November 1871). The family Artemisiaceae is now subsumed within the family Asteraceae (sunflowers).
CD had remarked on the excellence of Herman Müller’s Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen Beider (The fertilisation of flowers by means of insects and their mutual adaptations; H. Müller 1873) in his letter to Delpino of 1 May 1873.
‘Melittophilous’ refers to plants that rely on bees for pollination; from ‘melitta’: bee (Greek). For CD’s interest in the pollination of Trifolium (clover) by bees, see Correspondence vol. 7 and Origin, pp. 94–5.
CD’s annotation is a note for his letter to Delpino of 25 June [1873].

Translation

From Federico Delpino1   18 June 1873

Vallombrosa

18. June 1873

Esteemed Sir!

I beg you to forgive the long delay in replying to your recent letter. You see, I had hoped to be able to give you more precise and more complete information regarding the questions that you deigned put to me.2 Most unfortunately I could gather only very little information.

The Lathyrus odoratus is a plant that in central Italy is cultivated hardly at all and researched only a little, above all in recent years, because it has been greatly attacked by Oidium.3 Among the gardeners of Florence the view prevails that crossing between one individual race and another may occur, and that consequently the varieties cannot be preserved, unless one sows them separately.4 A very experienced plant breeder, a certain Sig. Paolo Baroni,5 assured me that after many successive years during which they had not been attended to, there was always the same variety in the same flower bed; he firmly believes, however, that it did not propagate there through seeds, but rather through perennial root buds (possibly through these little tubercules one can see in the roots of many Lathyrus).

Regarding Phaseolus multiflorus, then, the same gardener is absolutely convinced that in order to obtain the pure variety one must above all prevent crossing by means of insects.6

Regarding Pisum sativum, over here this plant is grown only in kitchen gardens and in the country, as foodstuff. There are quite a few varieties of it, and they generally remain pure because they are mostly grown in great separate masses. Apart from that, I have never observed insects on Pisum, and I therefore believe that in the absence of insects homogamic fertilisation is perfectly possible.7

I thank you for the courteous words about myself in your letter. To receive encouragement from such an authority is a great comfort to me; all the more so since far too often I see my ideas find critics who strike me as less fair. Most recently, for example, I received a note by G. Bentham on composites, in which I suffered fairly unfounded criticism. Either he has not understood the force of my argument, or he must have given my work on Artemisiaceae a too superficial reading.8 I believe I owe him a response, not on my account but for the principles that I uphold. Scientifically speaking we find ourselves in a nasty crisis these days; there is this whole old school here, which consists entirely of people who lack the courage fully to accept the doctrine of the transformation of organisms. Now for me, this doctrine is factual truth, not just a hypothesis. Well, then we must apply it to taxonomy. But how could the taxonomists of the ancient school ever bow to the new forms of genealogical taxonomy?

I have received Dr. H. Müller’s book.9 It is very valuable in many respects, and it surely must serve as the starting point for numerous investigations that must be undertaken in the same direction. Having said that, I don’t find myself wholly in agreement with quite a number of fundamental points in it. H. Müller, with truly Germanic patience and precision, has counted the visits of insects, but he has not weighed them. As a result, he and I must differ on many points. For example, according to your observations and mine, clover flowers are designed exclusively for bees (it is a melittophilous plant);10 by accident, however, a butterfly might land on it; now, such a visit H. Müller will count strictly, while I would not make anything of it, since I would regard it as an accident without the slightest function. Apart from this, the book seems to me very useful to me and conscientious in the highest degree.

Most distinguished man, allow me to assure you of my most profound esteem and regard | Your most devoted disciple | Federico Delpino

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original Italian, see pp. 258–9.
CD had asked whether different coloured varieties of Lathyrus odoratus (sweetpeas), Pisum sativum (garden peas), and Phaseolus multiflorus (now Phaseolus coccineus; runner-beans), intercrossed when left unprotected from insects (see letter to Federico Delpino, 1 May 1873).
Oidium is a genus of fungi that causes powdery mildew.
CD quoted Delpino’s remarks in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 156. He was unable to account for the fact that varieties of Lathyrus odoratus never intercrossed in England but did so in northern Italy (ibid., pp. 168–9).
Baroni was head gardener of the Giardino dei Semplici in Florence (Gardeners’ Chronicle, 5 January 1878, p. 22).
In Cross and self fertilisation, p. 168, CD remarked of Phaseolus multiflorus: ‘there is reason to believe that varieties growing near one another intercross’.
CD concluded that the many varieties of Pisum sativum, though growing in close proximity, very seldom intercrossed (Cross and self fertilisation, p. 169).
George Bentham criticised Delpino’s classification of the Artemisiaceae (Delpino 1871) for relying too exclusively on different pollination mechanisms (Bentham 1873a, pp. 342–3). CD had received Delpino’s paper in 1871 and suggested that he send it to Bentham (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Federico Delpino, 22 November 1871). The family Artemisiaceae is now subsumed within the family Asteraceae (sunflowers).
CD had remarked on the excellence of Herman Müller’s Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen Beider (The fertilisation of flowers by means of insects and their mutual adaptations; H. Müller 1873) in his letter to Delpino of 1 May 1873.
‘Melittophilous’ refers to plants that rely on bees for pollination; from ‘melitta’: bee (Greek). For CD’s interest in the pollination of Trifolium (clover) by bees, see Correspondence vol. 7 and Origin, pp. 94–5.

Summary

Sends information on Lathyrus odoratus, Phaseolus multiflorus and Pisum sativum.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8945
From
Federico Delpino
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Vallombrosa
Source of text
DAR 77: 152–3
Physical description
4pp (Italian) †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8945,” accessed on 13 December 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-8945

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21

letter