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Darwin Correspondence Project

To M. T. Masters   24 July [1862]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

July 24th

My dear Sir

My poor Boy rallied last night & is now out of danger. He had recurrent scarlet-fever with every sort of mischief in the glands; & this followed by dreadful erysipelas of head with typhoid symptoms.2 The Doctors never saw such a complication of illness. But thank God Port-wine every 34 of hour, night & day, seems to have saved him.

I thank you cordially for taking the trouble of writing at such length: your letter is in many ways of great value to me.3 The distinction of the two sorts of Peloria, though so excessively obvious when pointed out, never occurred to me.—4 I shall now know what flowers to look to. It is quite likely I may make nothing of these peloric gentlemen; but I am contented if I get any result once out of four or five sets of experiments.5

Pray give my compliments & best thanks to your Father for his kind information.6 The seeds are not ripe, but apparently I have got some few from a few of the peloric Pelargoniums; but perhaps the seed will prove bad.—7 Many thanks for references to Bull. Bot. Soc;8 as until within a few weeks I did not see that Peloric flowers would have any bearing on my subjects, I never attended to them. That is a curious case of hereditariness, which you mention: I think Prosper Lucas gives an analogous case.9

I am glad to hear that you are continuing your work on malconformations in Plants.10

With sincere thanks for your valuable aid. Believe me, my dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to Leonard Darwin’s illness (see n. 2, below).
CD had written to Masters requesting information on peloric flowers (letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862]); in the letter from M. T. Masters, 12 July 1862, Masters promised to send ‘a few memoranda’ on the subject when he had more time, but no such correspondence has been found.
Masters published an account of his observations on two forms of peloric flowers the following year (Masters 1863); he classified the apparent malformations as follows (Masters 1863, p. 260): As the word Peloria itself merely signifies something strange and out of the common way, there can be no objection, I think, to the introduction of the terms Regular and Irregular Peloria. “Regular or Congenital Peloria” would include those flowers which, contrary to their usual habit, retain throughout the whole of their growth their primordial regularity of form and equality of proportion. “Irregular or Acquired Peloria”, on the other hand, would include those flowers in which the irregularity of growth that ordinarily characterizes some portions of the corolla is manifested in all of them. CD cited Masters 1863 in his discussion of this point in Variation 2: 58; his annotated copy of the number of the Natural History Review in which the article appeared is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
In the letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862], CD had asked for suggestions as to what plants he might grow for experimentation the following season, with an expectation of their producing peloric flowers. CD described crossing experiments on the peloric form of Antirrhinum majus in Variation 2: 70; his notes from these experiments, dated 1863–5, are in DAR 51 (ser. 2): 18–23.
In the letter from M. T. Masters, 12 July 1862, Masters told CD that he had written to his father, the nurseryman William Masters, to ask for information on the fertility of the peloric flowers in Gloxinia and other cultivated plants. In Variation 2: 167, CD noted William Masters’s observations on the sterility of peloric flowers in pelargoniums; CD had told M. T. Masters of his interest in this question in the letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862].
CD refers to the crossing experiments with the normally sterile peloric flowers of pelargoniums that he had begun in May 1862 (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 8 June [1862], letter to Asa Gray, 1 July [1862], and letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862]). CD’s notes from these experiments are in DAR 51 (ser. 2): 4–9, 12–13. In Variation 2: 167, CD reported that he had made ‘many vain attempts’ to set seed from these peloric flowers, but that he had ‘sometimes succeeded in fertilising them with pollen from a normal flower of another variety’ and, conversely, had ‘several times fertilised ordinary flowers with peloric pollen.’ Only once, he reported, had he ‘succeeded in raising a plant from a peloric flower fertilised by pollen from a peloric flower borne by another variety’.
The references have not been identified, but may have included an article on peloric flowers in the genus Zingiber by Arthur Gris, in the Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France (Gris 1859), cited by Masters in his article on peloric flowers (Masters 1863, p. 262).
The reference has not been traced. The work of the French physician Prosper Lucas on inheritance (Lucas 1847–50) is extensively cited in Variation; there is a heavily annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 513–23).
Masters was making a special study of plant morphology and teratology, and, in 1869, published Vegetable teratology (Masters 1869).


Gris, Arthur. 1859. Note sur quelques cas remarquables de pélorie dans le genre Zingiber. Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France 6: 346–8.

Lucas, Prosper. 1847–50. Traité philosophique et physiologique de l’hérédité naturelle dans les états de santé et de maladie du système nerveux: avec l’application méthodique des lois de la procréation au traitement général des affections dont elle est le principe. 2 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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

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


CD grateful to have had the distinction of the two sorts of peloria pointed out to him.

His very sick son rallied; is out of danger, thanks to port wine.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Maxwell Tylden Masters
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3663,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

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