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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. A. Leighton   21 November [1858]1

Down, Bromley, Kent

Nov. 21

My dear Sir

It is remarkably kind of you to take such great trouble in sending me the specimens & so full & precise an account of your observations. I have been particularly glad to see your specimens. I am utterly perplexed at present whether to put the graduated changes in your specimens to simple variation or to crossing. Your specimens have recalled to my mind some statements of Gärtner of the great amount of difference in purchased seed of Leguminous plants reported to be pure.2 I have received from a Gardener some very curious specimens of common Beans apparently crossed.3 There is an article, I see, in today’s Chronicle.—4

Thank you much for your permission to use anyhow your information. I hardly know what I shall do, & shall anyhow wait at present & see if any other cases turn up. I am so busy that I rather grudge the time for another article in the Chronicle. But your information will not be wasted, as I shall have ultimately to come to some conclusion on the subject, which has long perplexed me.5

How many years have rolled over our heads since we were at school together, & how little we then thought we should correspond on scientific subjects!

With my cordial thanks, pray believe me | my dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin.


Dated by the relationship to the letter from W. A. Leighton, 19 November 1858. The text of the letter has been taken from a copy in Leighton’s hand that was made at Francis Darwin’s request.
A response to CD’s inquiry was published in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 20 November 1858, p. 845. See also letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 November 1858], n. 21, and letter from Samuel Wells, 17 November 1858, n. 5.
CD did not use Leighton’s information until 1876, when he published Cross and self-fertilisation. He there cited Leighton’s letter of 19 November 1858 in his discussion of the fertilisation of the scarlet runner-bean. After stating that he could not himself give any direct evidence that individuals of the same variety or different varieties growing near one another would intercross, he added: ‘I have, however, received an account from the Rev. W. A. Leighton, that plants raised by him from ordinary seed produced seeds differing in an extraordinary manner in colour and shape, leading to the belief that their parents must have been crossed’ (p. 151).


Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.


Thanks WAL for specimens and observations [on scarlet runner beans]. CD is perplexed whether to account for the changes as due to simple variation or to crossing. The information will be used when he finally comes to a conclusion on the subject [see Cross and self-fertilisation, p. 151].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Allport Leighton
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 112: B97–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2368,” accessed on 18 February 2020,

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