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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Boott   27 January 1862


Jany 27. 1862

My Dear Darwin

I have sent what I have published of my Work to Your Brother for Your acceptance & only wish it were more worthy.1 If I live, & the American War does not ruin the Country, & what I have in it, I hope to give about 200 additional figures, & a general view of the genus.2 This last portion of the work is above my powers, & I often wish I had never attempted that which every one has failed in. Willdenow, Wahlenberg, Kunth, Sprengel Torrey, Tuckerman have left abortive attempts, & mine will be of no other value than shewing their short coming—3

The old observation that “there is nothing stabile but change”,4 is especially true in Carex—& it is the absence of any fixed character that renders the definition of groups so perplexing. Carey & Drejer insist on the orifice of the perigynium, as entire, bidentate—or bicuspidate,5 but I find in plants otherwise affiliated the orifice exhibiting each form, & no selection of words is adequate to express clearly specific (so called) differences. If you take groups or parts of a large group as variable species, the definition is equally embarassing, & I think no general clavis is possible—that is, affording a ready means for ascertaining a species. I believe the more satisfactory way will be to give first a view of the species of different countries, & then to write the whole as intelligibly as may be, giving indications of such variations as may be found in species widely diffused over the world.

With a view to geographical distribution we want an arrangement of Countries. I have thrown the 600 odd species into such an arrangement—first into the 5 quarters of the World Europe, Asia, Africa America Australia—& the different groups into more definite portions of these large divisions of the world— Asia for instance alone means nothing definite— Then Islands sometimes puzzle me.

I sent Grays note to Hooker, & trust he has returned it to you.6 You seem to have conciliated Dear Gray. I send The Times & Saturday Review to my sister who is a neighbour of Grays & I come into the disgrace of those Journals.7 I see no issue to the war & can only lament the animosity against England—to me unaccountable—

Yrs sincerely | F. Boott

C. Darwin Esq—


The reference is to Boott’s study of the sedge genus Carex (Boott 1858–67). There are unannotated copies of the first two parts of this work, published in 1858 and 1860, in the Darwin Library–Down; the third part was published in 1862. CD’s brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, lived at 6 Queen Anne Street, London.
Boott, who was the son of a wealthy New England merchant, had inherited money and was financing the publication of Boott 1858–67 himself, including the drawing and engraving of the many plates, which cost him ‘a very large sum of money’ (Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London 8 (1865): xxv). His health had long been poor and he died in December 1863, before the completion of his work; the fourth and final part, containing 189 plates, was prepared for publication by Joseph Dalton Hooker. The volume contained no general discussion of the genus.
Karl Ludwig Willdenow, Göran Wahlenberg, Karl Sigismund Kunth, Kurt Polycarp Joachim Sprengel, John Torrey, and Edward Tuckerman all wrote extensively on the genus Carex. See Willdenow 1805 and Willdenow ed. 1797–1824, Wahlenberg 1802–3, Kunth 1815 and Kunth 1833–50, K. P. J. Sprengel ed. 1825–8, Torrey 1836 and Torrey ed. 1824, and Tuckerman 1843.
The phrase is an American proverb (see Mieder et al. eds. 1992, p. 90).
John Carey had written the section on Carex for Asa Gray’s Manual of the botany of the northern United States (A. Gray 1848). Salomon Thomas Nicolai Drejer wrote two important papers on the genus (Drejer 1840–1 and Drejer 1844).
Both The Times and the Saturday Review attacked the Union cause in the American Civil War. Boott was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but left the United States for England after completing his education at Harvard University (DAB).


Boott, Francis. 1858–67. Illustrations of the genus Carex. 4 pts. London: William Pamplin (pts 1, 2, and 3), L. Reeve & Co. (pt 4).

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

Drejer, Salomon Thomas Nicolai. 1840–1. Revisio critica Caricum borealium in terris sub imperio Danico jacentibus inventarum. Naturhistorisck Tidsskrift 3: 423–80.

Drejer, Salomon Thomas Nicolai. 1844. Symbolae Caricologicæ ad synonymiam Caricum extricandam stabiliendamque et affinitates naturales eruendas. Hafniæ.

Gray, Asa. 1848. A manual of the botany of the northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and south to Ohio and Pennsylvania inclusive. Boston and Cambridge: James Monroe and Company. London: John Chapman.

Kunth, Karl Sigismund. 1815. Considérations générales sur la famille des Cypéracées. Mémoires du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle 2: 147–53.

Kunth, Karl Sigismund. 1833–50. Enumeratio plantarum omnium hucusque cognitarum, secundum familias naturales disposita, adjectis characteribus, differentiis et synonymis. 5 vols. Stuttgart and Tübingen.

Torrey, John. 1836. Monograph of North American Cyperaceæ. Annals of the Lyceum of Natural History of New-York 3 (1828–36): 239–448.

Tuckerman, Edward. 1843. Enumeratio methodica Caricum quarundam. Species recensuit et secundum habitum pro viribus disponere tentavit. Schenectadiæ.

Wahlenberg, Göran. 1802–3. Inledning til Caricographien. Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens nya Handlingar 23 (1802): 225–47, 301–29; 24 (1803): 66–98, 138–70. [Partly translated as: A monograph of the genus Carex. Annals of Botany 2 (1806): 182–44.]

Willdenow, Karl Ludwig. 1805. Caricologia, sive descriptiones omnium specierum Carici, in usum excursionum botanicarum pro amicis seorsim impressa … Berlin.


Has sent CD the published part of his work on Carex [Illustrations of the genus Carex (1858–67)]. Hopes to add 200 more figures. Comments on great variability among the 600–odd species, and on their geographical distribution.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Boott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160.2: 252
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3418,” accessed on 8 March 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10