skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. C. Oxenden   26 May 1862

Broome | Canterbury

May 26. 1862.

Dear Sir

Each fresh page of the beautiful Book you sent to me does but humble me more & more—supplying, as it does, the true measure of my own ignorance1

—And you yourself, far-seeing as you are, do you not constantly feel humbled & abashed, before the awful Analogies of Creation?

—Mr Knight (so long President of the Hort: Soc:) told me that he was once speaking to Sir Humphry Davy of our own very narrow insight into the mysteries of Creation2 “Aye (said Davy) it reminds one of the Nursery song

”I, said the Fly,

With my little Eye!—

I used to spend much of my life with Andrew Knight, at Downton Castle—3 he, then an old Man, & I about 18—&c &c & wonderfully he used to amuse & astonish me— In regard to “Sexualism”, I well remember hearing him say once that he had known an instance of a Male Yew Tree going 2 Miles to find a female—

—He once said to me “Mr Oxenden, you are a young Man, & fond of Horticulture— take the White Currant as your Starting Point— keep on breeding from the very largest White Currant you can grow—and in twenty years you will have them as large as Grapes & as sweet”—

I began this experiment—but the accidents of existence cast it aside—

—Do forgive me, in the past, for having often thrust upon you my own most crude views— I see & feel now that the seeing, finding, comparing, such things as meet my bodily Eyes, constitute my “Speciality”—& that I have no business with aught beyond—& for this mere “Eye-knowledge”, strong walking powers & a boundless range of wild country especially adapt me— I will not fail to send you good blossoms of “Lizard Orchis”—nor aught else that you will trust me to get for you—4 Can you send me either a coloured Drawing, or a dried specimen, of “Malaxis paludosa”—?5 I have discovered the peculiarity which governs the “habitat” of the “Lizard”—

Believe me heartily & truly yours | G. Chichester Oxenden


Oxenden’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Orchids (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV). See also letter from G. C. Oxenden, 15 May 1862.
Oxenden refers to Thomas Andrew Knight, president of the Horticultural Society between 1811 and 1838, and Humphry Davy, president of the Royal Society between 1820 and 1827.
In 1809, Knight took over the management of his brother’s estate at Downton Castle, Herefordshire, where he raised new varieties of cultivated plants (DNB).
Malaxis paludosa (a synonym of Hammarbya paludosa, the bog orchid) is discussed in Orchids, pp. 130–9, and illustrated in ibid., p. 132.


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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Reminisces about Andrew Knight, whom he knew as a young man.

Praises Orchids for its "analogies of Creation".

Will send lizard orchid.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Chichester Oxenden
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Broome, Canterbury
Source of text
DAR 173.2: 49
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3572,” accessed on 1 April 2023,

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