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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Rivers   11 January [1863]1

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

Jany. 11th

My dear Sir

How rich & valuable a letter you have most kindly sent me.2 The case of Baronne Prevost with its different shoots, foliage, spines & flowers will be grand to quote.3 I am extremely glad to hear about the seedling moss-roses.4 That case of seedling like Scotch Rose, unless you are sure that no Scotch rose grew near (& it is unlikely that you can remember) must, one would think, have been a cross.—

I have little compunction for being so troublesome,—not more than a grand Inquisitor has in torturing a Heretic—for am I not doing a real good public service in screwing crumbs of knowledge out of your wealth of information?

Believe me | Yours cordially obliged | Ch. Darwin

P.S. Since the above was written I have read your paper in G. Chron:5 it is admirable & will, I know, be a treasure to me: I did not at all know how strictly the character of so many plums is inherited.6

On my honour when I began this note I had no thought of troubling you with a question, but you mention one point so interesting & which I have had occasion to notice that I must supplicate for a few more facts to quote on your authority. You say that you have one or two seedling peaches approaching very nearly to thick-fleshed Almonds.7 (I know about A. Knight & the Italian Hybrid cases.)8 Now did any Almond grow near your mother Peach? But especially I want to know whether you remember what shape the stone was, whether flattened like that of an almond; this Botanically seems the most important distinction. I earnestly wish to quote this.—9 Was the flesh at all sweet? Forgive if you can.—

Have you kept these seedling Peaches; if you would give me next summer a fruit, I would have it engraved.10

P.S. 2d. | I know that I am quite unreasonable; but I cannot resist asking one other question, for the chance of information as a guide for experiment. The varieties of most plants, if grown close to other varieties, yield seed which does not come all true; but shows the influence of a cross.— Have you ever observed any varieties of any plants (except papilionaceous plants) which can safely be grown close to other varieties for several generations, & yet are not affected by crossing?—11


The year is established by the reference to Rivers’s letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle (see n. 5, below).
Rivers’s reply to CD’s letter of 7 January [1863] has not been found.
In his letter to Rivers of 7 January [1863], CD asked specifically about bud-variation in roses. The Baronne Prevost case was described in Variation 1: 381.
In his letter to Rivers of 7 January [1863], CD asked whether Rivers had ‘sown seed of any Moss Roses, & whether the seedlings were moss roses’. He also wondered whether ‘a common Rose produced by seed a moss-rose’. In Variation 1: 380, CD reported Rivers’s information that ‘his seedlings from the old single moss-rose almost always produced moss-roses’, and also that he raised two or three roses of the Provence class from the seed of the old single moss-rose.
Rivers’s article on seedling plums appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 10 January 1863, p. 27.
CD scored portions of Rivers’s article in his copy of the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 10 January 1863, p. 27. Rivers described the Common Damson plum from Kent, the Quetsche Plum, and the Petite Mirabelle; the seedlings of these varieties deviated only slightly from the parents. His note that some Damson seedlings reverted to the Sloe Plum, from which he thought the Damson originated, is also scored in CD’s copy (see also Variation 1: 345); CD was also interested in Rivers’s comment that the Saint Catherine Plum ‘reproduces itself from seed without the slightest variation in habit, so that one would think it a species.’ CD’s annotated copy of this number of the Gardeners’ Chronicle is in the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden. This letter is cited in Variation 1: 347.
In his article, Rivers had cited the example of seedling peaches retaining the appearance of ‘thick-fleshed almonds’ as evidence in support of his hypothesis that ‘if left to a state of nature’, domesticated fruits would return to their ‘normal [i.e., original] state’ (Gardeners’ Chronicle, 10 January 1863, p. 27). See also Variation 1: 338 n. 24.
Thomas Andrew Knight had raised, from a sweet almond pollinated by a peach, a tree that produced fruit like that of a peach tree; he suggested that the peach tree was a modified almond (see Knight 1817 and 1821, and Variation 1: 338).
In Variation 1: 338–9, CD acknowledged Rivers’s information, and described ‘several varieties which connect the almond and the peach’.
Rivers sent CD two peach seedlings (see letter from Thomas Rivers, 21 January 1863); prior to the publication of Variation, he sent peach fruits. Drawings of a series of peach and almond stones were reproduced in Variation 1: 337; CD acknowledged Rivers’s help in providing some of the specimens illustrated (p. 338).
CD had already determined that different varieties of peas rarely crossed (see Natural selection, pp. 67–71, and Variation 1: 329–30). He continued to question whether varieties of other plants were restricted to self-pollination (see, for instance, Correspondence vol. 9, letters to Journal of Horticulture, [before 14 May 1861] and [17 May 1861]). See also Variation 2: 91, 104–9, and Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 8, 382.


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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Knight, Thomas Andrew. 1817. An account of a peach tree, produced from the seed of the almond tree, with some observations on the origin of the peach tree. [Read 7 October 1817.] Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 3 (1820): 1–5.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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


Thanks for "rich and valuable" letter [missing].

Has read TR’s paper in Gardeners’ Chronicle ["Seedling fruits – plums", (1863): 27] – "a treasure to me".

Questions about seedling peaches that approach almonds.

Asks whether TR has ever observed varieties of plants growing close to other varieties for several generations without being affected by crossing.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Rivers
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 185: 82
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3910,” accessed on 14 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11