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Darwin Correspondence Project

To M. T. Masters   13 April [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 13th.

My dear Sir

I thank you very sincerely for your two kind notes. The next time you write to your Father I beg you to give him from me my best thanks, but I am sorry that he should have had the trouble of writing when ill. I have been much interested by the facts given by him.2 If you think he would in the least care to hear the result of an artificial cross of two Sweet Peas; you can send the enclosed;3 if it will only trouble him, tear it up. There seems to me so much parallelism in the kind of variation from my experiment which was certainly a cross and what Mr. Masters has observed, that I cannot help suspecting that his Peas were crossed by Bees, which I have seen well dusted with the pollen of the Sweet Pea; but then I wish this, and how hard it is to prevent one’s wish biassing one’s judgment!

I was struck with your remark about the Compositæ &c.—4 I do not see that it bears much against me, and whether it does or not is of course of not the slightest importance. Although I fully agree that no definition can be drawn between monstrosities and slight variations (such as my theory requires) yet I suspect there is some distinction. Some facts lead me to think that monstrosities supervene generally at an early age; and after attending to the subject I have great doubts whether species in a state of nature ever become modified by such sudden jumps, as would result from the natural selection of monstrosities. You cannot do me a greater service than by pointing out errors. I sincerely hope that your work on monstrosities will soon appear, for I am sure it will be highly instructive.—5

Now for your notes, for which let me again thank you.—6

(1) Your conclusion about parts developed &c. &c: not being extra variable agrees with Hooker’s: You will see that I have stated that the rule apparently does not hold with plants, though it ought, if true, to hold good with them.7

(2) I cannot now remember in what work I saw the statement about Peloria affecting the axis;8 but I know it was one which I thought might be trusted. I consulted also Dr. Falconer9 and I think that he agreed to the truth of it; but I cannot now tell where to look for my notes.— I had been much struck with finding a Laburnum tree with the terminal flowers alone in each raceme peloric though not perfectly regular.10 The Pelargonium case in the “Origin” seems to point in the same direction.11

(3) Thanks for the correction about furze; I found the seedlings just sprouting, and was so much surprised at their appearance that I sent them to Hooker; but I never plainly asked myself whether they were cotyledons or first leaves.12

(4) That is a curious fact about the seeds of the furze,—the more curious as I found with some Leguminosæ that immersion in plain cold water for a very few days killed some kinds.—13

If at any time anything should occur to you illustrating or opposing my notions, and you have leisure to inform me, I should be truly grateful, for I can plainly see that you have wealth of knowledge.

My dear Sir | Yours truly obliged | C. Darwin

With respect to advancement or retrogression in organisation in monstrosities of the Compositæ &c. do you not find it very difficult to define which is which.

Anyhow most Botanists seem to differ as widely as possible on this head.

CD note:14

April 13 1860 to Mr Masters

[del ‘The’] I know the 6 kinds of Sweet Peas named by Mr Masters. I castrated 2 flowers of the Purple & fertilised with pollen of Painted Lady: one pod produced seedlings [interl] all closely [interl] like the Painted Lady; the other had produced some [above del ‘one’ pencil] plants [' added pencil] not distinguished from the mother or Purple, & [above del ‘all’] the other peas in the [interl] same pod produced plants like Painted Lady. The early flowers were indistinguishable from *those of [interl] the Painted Lady; but later in season the wing-petals became slightly streaked & blotched with *dark or pale [above del ‘pale purplish’] Pink.—

I raised many [del ‘grandchild’] children from these latter mongrels (ie grandchildren of the Purple ♀ Painted Lady ♂) & one single plant most closely resembled the Purple with a mere [interl] trace of paler streaks on the [ interl] patch.15 All the other many plants were *more or less intermediate between the [interl above del ‘like’] Painted Lady, *& Scarlet in tint, but were all more or less [interl above del ‘but varying in intensity of colour & more or less blotched’] blotched & streaked [del but none [del ‘were’] had any purple on them.—'] with darker or lighter pink, but not with true purple.— see p. 69 for gr. grandchildren


Dated by the relationship to the letter to M. T. Masters, 7 April [1860].
The enclosure has not been found, but it was probably a fair copy of a note in DAR 77: 27 (see CD note transcribed following the letter).
Masters had stated that there seemed to be limits to variation, citing as evidence the fact that malformations of complex, specialised plants like the Compositae did not alter or improve the type. In simple plants, however, malformations appeared to make the organism more advanced (Masters 1860, p. 226).
Masters 1869. There is a copy in the Darwin Library–CUL.
The notes from M. T. Masters have not been found.
Origin, p. 150.
Origin, p. 145. CD cited Moquin-Tandon 1841 on this point in Variation. There is a copy of the work in the Darwin Library–CUL.
See Correspondence vol. 4, letters to J. D. Hooker, [2 June 1847], [10 June 1847], and [12 June 1847].
In Origin, p. 439, CD called the early leaves of the furze ‘embryonic leaves’. The sentence was changed in the third edition to read: ‘first leaves’.
For CD’s work on the immersion of seeds and plants in salt-water, see Correspondence vols. 5 and 6. He was experimenting on the ability of plants to be transported over long stretches of ocean. The topic was discussed in Origin, pp. 356–65.
The note is in DAR 77: 27. CD also wrote on it in pencil: ‘So there may be crossing’.
CD scored this sentence twice in the margin in red crayon and underlined ‘trace’ twice in red crayon.


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

Masters, Maxwell Tylden. 1860. On the relation between the abnormal and normal formations in plants. [Read 16 March 1860.] Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 3 (1858–62): 223–7.

Masters, Maxwell Tylden. 1869. Vegetable teratology, an account of the principal deviations from the usual construction of plants. London: Ray Society.

Moquin-Tandon, Horace Bénédict Alfred. 1841. Eléments de tératologie végétale, ou, histoire abrégée des anomalies de l’organisation dans les végétaux. Paris: P.-J. Loss.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Discusses crosses in sweetpeas and the difference between monstrosities and slight variations. Discusses peloric flowers.

Thanks for correction about furze.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Maxwell Tylden Masters
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146
Physical description
C 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2759,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8