skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   13 October [1862]1

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

Oct. 13th

Dear Oliver

You must be a clair-voyant or something of that kind to have sent me such useful plants. Twenty-five years ago I described in my Father’s garden 2 forms of L. flavum (thinking it case of mere variation);2 from that day to this I have several times looked, but never saw the 2d form till it arrived from Kew.— Virtue is never its own reward: I took paper this summer to write to you to ask you to send me flowers, that I might beg plants of this Linum, if you had the other form, & refrained from not wishing to trouble you.3 But I am now sorry I did; for I have hardly any doubt that L. flavum never seeds in any garden that I have seen, because one form alone is cultivated by slips.—

Secondly I raised a lot of plants from Kew seed marked “L. Austriacum”, but certainly different from the flowers you sent, which no doubt, as Lecoq says,4 are dimorphic. The Kew seedlings 112 in number were not dimorphic & were all self-fertile & I strongly suspect were L. usitatissimum: now it would be of great use to me to know whether you keep seed at Kew of any other blue Linums,, besides L. perenne, Austriacum & usitatissimum; for my plants were not the two former, & I could thus perhaps know what they were.—5

Many thanks for your caution about stigmas of long-styled L. perenne: I knew & think I said that position was due to twisting of style; but I will look more carefully at what period twisting takes place.—6

You sent me some most curious plants: what in name of Heaven is name of the genus of which you sent me 3 species, & especially of pinkish-purple flower with long thin nectary: I suppose you sent them from seeing their relation like in orchids to visits of insects.7 If a greenhouse plant I will get this plant.—

I certainly thought that you were author of the excellent review of the orchid book, especially from passage about unisexuality in high plants.8 The Reviewer (is it a secret, who?) I daresay is quite right about arrangement of Book; but I hardly know with my materials that I could have made it better.9 I wish he would criticize the last chapter; I shd like to hear what a good hand would say to it.—10

I have not yet had time to examine Lythrum flowers; most cordial thanks for them—11 | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin12


The year is established by the reference to [J. D. Hooker] 1862d (see nn. 8–10, below).
There is a note in CD’s ‘Questions & Experiments’ notebook, under the heading ‘Shrewsbury’, which states ‘Linum flavum *put in spirits [interl] which plant seeds?’ (DAR 206: 14; see also Notebooks, p. 505); this notebook was probably opened in mid-1839 (Notebooks, p. 487). CD’s father, Robert Waring Darwin, had resided at The Mount, Shrewsbury. CD had referred to this case in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, p. 96 (Collected papers 2: 62–3).
Having discovered in 1861 that certain species of Linum were dimorphic, CD carried out crossing experiments in the summer of 1862 on L. perenne and L. grandiflorum; the results from these experiments are given in ‘Two forms in species of Linum’, which was read before the Linnean Society of London on 5 February 1863. Oliver had probably either read or heard about CD’s letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 October [1862] (see nn. 6, 8, and 11, below), in which CD referred to his research on Linum. CD described L. flavum in ‘Two forms in species of Linum’, p. 81 (Collected papers 2: 104), noting: ‘I have not been able to try any experiments on this species’.
Lecoq 1854–8, 5: 325. There is a heavily annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 488–95).
In ‘Two forms in species of Linum’, p. 82 (Collected papers 2: 104), CD noted that not all species of Linum were dimorphic, and described his experiments on plants raised from seed sent from Kew, ‘incorrectly named L. Austriacum’; he did not, however, identify the species.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 October [1862] and n. 12. No letter from Oliver discussing this point has been found.
CD apparently refers to the flowers of two species of Impatiens that had in fact been sent at his own request by Joseph Dalton Hooker, together with some flowers of a species of Loasaceae (see letters from J. D. Hooker, [12 October 1862] and [18 October 1862]). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 [October 1862].
In his letter to Oliver of 24 July [1862], CD had suggested that Oliver should write a review of Orchids for the Natural History Review (see also letter from Oliver, 28 July 1862); CD had subsequently asked Hooker to thank Oliver ‘for his clear & favourable notice’ (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 October [1862]). However, it was Hooker who wrote the review ([J. D. Hooker] 1862d; see letter from J. D. Hooker, 7 November 1862). The review began with a statement that one of the ‘prominent differences between the animal and plant kingdoms’ was that ‘whereas unisexuality is the rule amongst the highest orders of animals, and hermaphroditism becomes more frequent as we descend in the scale, the contrary is the case with plants’ (p. 371). CD’s work, Hooker continued, had shown that ‘amongst many plants apparent and real hermaphroditism are totally different things’, and that ‘before reasoning further on the subject, we must begin again not only to observe, but also to experiment.’
In his review of Orchids ([J. D. Hooker] 1862d, p. 373), Hooker argued that the book suffered from a lack of concise headings and from a degree of arbitrariness in the division of the chapters; it was, he stated, as if ‘the conception of putting forth the treatise as a separate work was an after-thought’. He also noted that it was an arrangement that would ‘not recommend itself to the general reader, who thus loses sight of the grand divisions of the Order as well as of the subject.’
In chapter 7 of Orchids, CD discussed the homologies of orchid flowers, and concluded with remarks on natural selection and on the importance of cross-fertilisation (Orchids, pp. 286–360). Hooker concluded his review ([J. D. Hooker 1862d], p. 376) by noting that he had preferred giving an extended synopsis of CD’s observations on British orchids to ‘reviewing the very extensive and intricate chapters devoted to foreign Orchids, the homologies of Orchid flowers, and general considerations’; this, Hooker stated, was because CD’s observations on British orchids could be ‘repeated by any observer and extended by many’, and because such a procedure gave ‘a better idea of the completeness of the work’, in spite of the fact that the ‘other chapters’ were ‘by far the more interesting and important’.
In the letter to J. D. Hooker, 6 October [1862], CD had asked Hooker for dried flowers of Lythrum Graefferi and L. thymifolia, if they were readily available in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Oliver was an assistant in the herbarium. In ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’, p. 190 (Collected papers 2: 124), CD referred to his having seen two dried flowers of L. thymifolia from Kew.
No reply to this letter has been found. However, on the reverse of the letter Oliver noted: ‘Seed of Linums dib. | L. hyssopifolia dib. if riper’. In his letter to CD of 13 September 1862, Oliver reported that he had ‘given directions about saving seed of Lythrum hyssopifolium’.


Requests Linum, for dimorphism study.

Reviewer of Orchids [Nat. Hist. Rev. n.s. 2 (1862): 371–6]is correct about the organisation of the book; he wonders who the reviewer is.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 66, 37 (EH 88206049, EH 88206020)
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3758,” accessed on 25 April 2019,

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