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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. C. Watson   3 January 1858

Thames Ditton | Kingston— Surrey. S.W.

Jany 3. 1858

My dear Sir

It seems hardly worth while to trouble you with the remark drawn forth by your own,—that I do not recollect any definite opinion or statement, as a general view or real generalisation, that both varieties are more restricted in their areas,or have different areas from their (presumed) type species.—1 A running notion seems to pervade botanical works to this effect. For instance, a botanist will argue that two forms are two distinct species, because they occur intermingled, & are thus proved not to be vars. consequent on situation. Almost always, too, botanists treat vars. as rarer than their alleged species or type forms. And here & there remarks are made, that such a form is a vary. caused by difference of situation.

You seem to expect something from the concluding volume of Cybele,2 —& will thus be disappointed. It will simply be like a block of stone, cut & fashioned in a particular manner, but by itself of little or no use;—yet adapted to constitute part of an edifice where other blocks are prepared in like manner, to be built up along with it. I can in some measure see or guess what ought to be done,—but am unable to do it, because the like materials do not elsewhere exist, for comparison & generalisation.

Very truly | Hewett C. Watson3


CD had consulted Watson on many occasions about botanical problems relating to his work on species (see Correspondence vols. 5 and 6). At the end of 1857, CD had asked Watson to comment on a list of species and varieties copied out from Watson and Syme 1853; Watson had found it difficult to supply precisely the information that CD requested (Correspondence vol. 6, letter from H. C. Watson, 20 December [1857]). CD evidently wrote again with questions about the ranges of varieties as compared with species.
The fourth volume of Watson 1847–59 was published in 1859. CD’s copies of all four volumes, presented to him by Watson, are in the Darwin Library–CUL. Volume four is annotated by CD. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, [26 May 1859].
It is possible that Watson added a postscript to this letter. The rest of the page after the signature has been excised.


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

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1847–59. Cybele Britannica; or British plants and their geographical relations. 4 vols. London: Longman.


Discusses the ranges and distribution of varieties relative to the type species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hewett Cottrell Watson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Thames Ditton
Source of text
DAR 98: A19–20
Physical description
ALS 3pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2199,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7