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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Torbitt   12 December 1878

58 North Street | Belfast

12 Decr 1878

Charles Darwin Esqr | Down

My dear Sir,

with profound respect, I have now to report that I have finished the tuber by tuber inspection of the potatoes, about 20 tons of 1875s, about 1,000 varieties of 1877s and about two thousand varieties of 1878.1

The sound and diseased tubers of each variety, are lying side by side, and so soon as this frost passes I intend to weigh them and note the exact proportions of each.

Meantime I may say that, looking at them as they lie, even some of the self-fertilized 1875s appear to me to be more valuable than the best of the old varieties under cultivation here, and the 77s and 78s also (both crossed) are really beautiful and many of them perfectly sound in every tuber.

And notwithstanding my knowledge of your extreme goodness, I am afraid to trespass on your time with detailed reports of my observations as to the behaviour of the plant. I would therefore ask you to kindly say will a summary be sufficient or shall I write in full?—if the latter it will be a labour of love to me.

As to the flowers of last summer your most kind letter of 28th June last enabled me to see the maturity of the stigma and to effect the crosses without much risk of self-fertilization.2 I selected the most vigorous seedlings of the most dissimilar characters and applied the pollen each second or third day until the fruit set or the flower dropped off. Of the seed, I selected the heaviest by suspending it repeatedly in water, and of that I selected the largest by passing it through sieves, and hope to continue our experiments next season.

Business continues to get worse, and only for your support I should at the least, suspend the prosecution of these experiments. probably I should give them up, altogether.3

I remain My dear Sir | most respectfully & faithfully | James Torbitt

CD annotations

4.3 summary] underl red crayon
5.5 I selected … sieves 5.6] scored blue and red crayon


Torbitt had been conducting a series of experiments over a number of years with the goal of developing a blight-resistant variety of potato. He corresponded with CD on the topic from 1876 (see Correspondence vols. 24 and 25, and this volume).
Torbitt was a wine merchant and grocer. CD had offered to help Torbitt get government funding and contributed financially himself (see, for example, letter to T. H. Farrer 26 March [1878], and letter from James Torbitt, 3 April 1878).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Has examined this year’s crop, which looks good; will prepare a report.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Torbitt
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 150
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11787,” accessed on 16 June 2024,