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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener   [before 3 February 1863]1

In my last communication I said that Gärtner had proved that the colour of the Pea in one variety of the garden Pea may be changed by the direct action of the pollen of another differently-coloured variety.2 Mr. Beaton3 authoritatively remarks on this: “Gärtner never found that—he only asserted it; and when he was pushed to the proof he lowered his sails, made a second edition of his great work, and confessed many of his errors.”4 He adds, “No cross-breeder of any practice in England at the present day would like to have his name associated with that of Gärtner for or against any exploit in crossing.”

I should have taken no notice of this, although I should be sorry to lie under the imputation of having made an entirely incorrect statement, and although it is not pleasant to be flatly contradicted; but I wish much to be allowed to endeavour to vindicate the memory of one of the most laborious lovers of truth who ever lived. It is painful to see a long life of honest labour repaid by contumely from a fellow-experimentalist, who, I suppose—anyhow I hope—never read one page of the great original work—namely, the “Bastarderzeugung,” published in 1849, a mine of wealth to all who will explore it.5

Gärtner, when young, and at the very commencement of his long work, committed a very foolish action; he crossed a number of plants belonging to distinct genera without having taken due precaution to exclude insects, and when he found their capsules full of seed, he thought that he had succeeded in crossing them. With the enthusiasm of a beginner he most unwisely published the result, and to this first paper Dr. Herbert has alluded with proper blame.6 When Gärtner found his seedlings came up pure, he, like an honest and excellent man (as all who knew anything of his life will admit that he was), publicly confessed his error.7

Gärtner’s great and last work, entitled “Versuche über die Bastarderzeugung,”8 contains in 790 closely-printed pages the detailed results of nine thousand distinct experiments in crossing, together with admirable observations on the whole subject of hybridisation. This is a greater number of experiments than, as I believe, have ever been published by any other man, even by Kölreuter,9 and a far greater number than those published by Dr. Herbert.10 One great superiority in Gärtner’s work over those of Kölreuter, Herbert, and others consists in his having actually taken the trouble to count the seeds in the capsules of every cross and hybrid which he made. He kept an exact record at the time of making each experiment; and this I have reason to believe was not done by Herbert, and certainly has been very far from the case with other English experimentalists.

I cannot resist here mentioning—as some who honour, as I do, the memory of Dr. Herbert, might like to hear the fact—that I have reason to believe that the last words ever uttered by Herbert were on his favourite subject of crossing. I called on him in London, and saw that he was very feeble. I wished to leave him, but he stopped me, and talked with much interest on this subject. An hour or two afterwards, as far as I could judge by the published account, he was found dead in the chair in which I left him.11

But to return to the Pea-question. An account of the various crosses made by Gärtner (he selected the most constant varieties) between differently coloured Peas, with the results given in detail, will be found at page 81 to 85 in his “Bastarderzeugung.” Gärtner was led to try these experiments from doubting the accuracy of Wiegmann’s statements,12 and he found many of them incorrect; but he was compelled to believe in the Pea case;13 not that Peas can be crossed with Vetches, to which other statement of Wiegmann Mr. Beaton alludes. I may add that Gärtner knew of the account, published in vol. v., pages 234, 237 of the “Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London,” on the influence of pollen on Peas.14 In an old volume of the “Philosophical Transactions,” vol. xliii., page 525, there is a full account, with every appearance of truth, of Peas in adjoining rows affecting each other.15 The Rev. M. J. Berkeley has, as I have been informed, subsequently to the publication of Gärtner’s book, tried again the Pea-experiment with the same result.16

—Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent.


The letter was published in the issue of 3 February 1863, under the heading ‘Vindication of Gärtner—effect of crossing peas’.
See letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 27 January 1863]. The reference is to the German botanist Karl Friedrich von Gärtner and his experiments on the crossing of different varieties of peas in Gärtner 1849. See also n. 4, below.
Donald Beaton was a gardener with expertise in hybrid plants, and editor of ‘The flower garden’ section of the Journal of Horticulture; his replies to CD’s letter to the Journal of Horticulture, [before 27 January 1863], are reproduced in Appendix V.
It is not clear to which of Gärtner’s publications Beaton refers. Gärtner’s experiments on the direct action of pollen in varieties of peas were published in Gärtner 1826 and 1849; he had originally argued that foreign pollen never affected the appearance of the seed in the female parent (Gärtner 1826, pp. 36, 61), but in Gärtner 1849, he revised this opinion, and conceded that in one variety of garden pea the direct action of foreign pollen on the female parent had been observed (Gärtner 1849, p. 84). Beaton’s assessment of the value of Gärtner’s work appears to have been derived largely from William Herbert’s discussion of Gärtner’s experiments in Herbert 1837, pp. 348–52. See also Appendix V, ‘Beaton’s first response to the letter from Charles Darwin to the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, [before 27 January 1863]’, nn. 3 and 7).
There is a heavily annotated copy of Gärtner 1849 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 256–98). CD had earlier referred to Beaton’s repeated criticisms of Gärtner in the Journal of Horticulture, telling Joseph Dalton Hooker: ‘He has made me indignant by the way he speaks of Gärtner, evidently knowing nothing of his work’ (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 May [1861]).
The references are to Gärtner 1826 and Herbert 1837, pp. 348–52. See also Appendix V, ‘Beaton’s first response to the letter from Charles Darwin to the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, [before 27 January 1863]’, n. 5.
Gärtner 1827, pp. 74–5.
Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter’s major work on plant sexuality and hybridisation, Vorläufige Nachricht (Kölreuter 1761–6), was frequently cited by CD in Variation and in the manuscript of his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection); there is a heavily annotated copy of Kölreuter 1761–6 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 458–71).
William Herbert published most of the results of his experimental work on plant hybridisation in the transactions and journal of the Horticultural Society (Herbert 1818, 1819, and 1846) and in Herbert 1837, pp. 335–80. Annotated copies of Herbert 1837 and part of Herbert 1846 are preserved in the Darwin Library–CUL (for Herbert 1837, see Marginalia 1: 372–6). CD’s 1855 memorandum on the experimental work of Kölreuter, Herbert, and Gärtner is in DAR 116.
CD refers to his visit to Herbert’s house in Hereford Street, Park Lane, London, on 28 May 1847 (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to J. D. Hooker, [2 June 1847]).
CD refers to Arend Friedrich Wiegmann’s statement that pollen of a foreign variety exerted an immediate effect upon the colour and other characters of the fruit and seeds of the female parent in some varieties of legumes (Wiegmann 1828, pp. 23, 29). Gärtner later substantiated the claim regarding the effect of foreign pollen on varieties of peas, but not Wiegmann’s claim to have crossed peas and vetches (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix V, ‘Beaton’s first response to the letter from Charles Darwin to the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, [before 27 January 1863]’, n. 6).
CD refers to a note by Cromwell Mortimer reporting Thomas Henchman’s observation to the effect that blue- and white-seeded peas grown separately but near one another produced pods containing the two pea forms. Mortimer’s note appears as a footnote to Cooke 1745, p. 526 n., in which the effect of the pollen of one form of apple tree on a neighbouring different form is discussed. CD provided a summary of this and other evidence for the direct influence or immediate action of foreign pollen on the female parent in Variation 1: 397–401.
Miles Joseph Berkeley described the effect of pollen on the seed-coats of peas in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 24 June 1854, p. 404. CD had corresponded with Berkeley on the topic (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to M. J. Berkeley, 7 April [1855], and Correspondence vol. 6, letter to M. J. Berkeley, 29 February [1856]).


Cooke, Benjamin. 1745. Extract of a letter from Mr Benj. Cooke, FRS, to Mr Peter Collinson, FRS, concerning the effect which the farina of the blossoms of different sorts of apple-trees had on the fruit of a neighbouring tree. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 43 (1744–5): 525–6.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1826. Nachricht über Versuche, die Befruchtung einiger Gewächse betreffend. Naturwissenschaftliche Abhandlungen. Herausgegeben von eine gesellschaft in Würtemberg 1: 35–66.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1827. Correspondenz. Flora 10: 74–80.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Goss, John. 1822. On the variation in the colour of peas, occasioned by cross impregnation. [Read 15 October 1822.] Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 5 (1824): 234–7.

Herbert, William. 1818. Instructions for the treatment of the Amaryllis longifolia, as a hardy aquatic, with some observations on the production of hybrid plants, and the treatment of the bulbs of the genera Crinum and Amaryllis. [Read 7 July 1818.] Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 3 (1820): 187–96.

Herbert, William. 1837. Amaryllidaceæ; preceded by an attempt to arrange the monocotyledonous orders, and followed by a treatise on cross-bred vegetables, and supplement. London: James Ridgway & Sons.

Kölreuter, Joseph Gottlieb. 1761–6. Vorläufige Nachricht von einigen das Geschlecht der Pflanzen betreffenden Versuchen und Beobachtungen. Leipzig: Gleditschischen Handlung.

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.

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.

Wiegmann, Arend Friedrich. 1828. Über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreiche. Eine von der königl. Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin gekrönte Preisschrift. Brunswick: Friedrich Vieweg.


Answers D. Beaton’s criticism of Gärtner’s work, defending his results in crossing experiments and vindicating the memory of "one of the most laborious lovers of truth who ever lived".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Journal of Horticulture
Sent from
Source of text
Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener n.s. 4 (1863): 93

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3966,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

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