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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Maw   28 February [1863]1

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

Feb. 28th

My dear Sir

I am much obliged for the curious Lily: I do not think it comes under my case, for I suppose it is not capable of propagation by bulbs.—2

When Dr Hooker comes here next he shall see it, so it shall be made best use of.—3 I am glad you stick to your view, though I think ultimately you will have to give it up.4 It is an old theory of mine, that no one can be a good & original observer unless he forms a multitude of theories & destroys a multitude of theories. Publication of theories is another question.

Almost the best papers I have ever read on Coal are some lately published in late numbers of Sillimans American Journal by Lesquereux.—5 They would be worth your reading & you will like them all the better, as they give the “Origin of Species” a few little unpleasant kicks.—6

I have the pleasure of knowing Mr Crotch only by a little correspondence.7 I am told he is a bold advocate of mutability of Species.—

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from George Maw, 25 February 1863.
With his letter of 25 February 1863, George Maw enclosed a specimen of Lilium candidum. CD did not consider it a case of bud-variation because ‘modifications which arise through bud-variation can generally be propagated . . . by grafting, budding, cuttings, bulbs, &c., and occasionally even by seed’ (Variation, 1: 373), and this was not the case with the aberrant flowers of L. candidum.
Joseph Dalton Hooker visited CD at Down House on 22 March 1863 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863]).
CD refers to Maw’s theory of the deposition of coal (see letters from George Maw, 19 February 1863 and 25 February 1863).
Lesquereux 1859–63. The Swiss bryologist and palaeontologist Leo Lesquereux sent CD the second and third parts of his seven-part series of articles on the coal formations of the United States, published in the American Journal of Science and Arts, founded and edited by Benjamin Silliman. The annotated copies are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Maw had published a review of Origin ([Maw] 1861) in which he made a number of criticisms that CD thought were ‘capitally & very originally’ put (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to George Maw, 19 July [1861]). Lesquereux had argued (Lesquereux 1859–63, pt 3, pp. 380–1) that the coal formations of North America did not provide evidence of evolutionary change in plant species.


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

Lesquereux, Leo. 1859–63. On some questions concerning the coal formations of North America. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 28 (1859): 21–37; 30 (1860): 63–74, 367–84; 32 (1861): 15–25, 193–205; 33 (1862): 206–16; 35 (1863): 375–86.

[Maw, George.] 1861. [Review of Origin & other works.] Zoologist 19: 7577–611.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

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


Thanks GM for a curious lily.

Recommends some papers on coal.

Gives his opinion on the importance of forming theories if one is to be a good and original observer.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Maw
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library (MAW/1/9)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4018,” accessed on 21 July 2024,

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