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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   15 April [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 15th

Dear Oliver

How can you doubt about publishing your paper?2 I may be, but I do not think I am, blinded by the too much praise you give me.— Why the lowest merit of the paper, the number of references, would alone make it worth publishing. Why do you not attach your name; pray remember it more than doubles the value of every remark?— It is just the paper, with your original remarks & suggestions, to set men observing. Your observation of possible tendency to hermaphroditism is quite new to me & on ancient prevalence of diœcious forms.—3

It is, as I now see, certainly quite possible; but I cannot call to mind, at present, any case supporting this view. Yet we entirely agree, I see, in probable function of the imperfect flowers of Viola &c, ie to make sure of a stock of seed.— I am almost certain that the Frenchmen are wrong about the perfect flowers not producing seed;4 but I have not time to hunt up my notes. I shd not be surprised that they observed plants in pots in greenhouse or in chamber! As number of seeds is different in 2 forms of Primula, you have a right to put this case in your first class;5 but I doubt (I say only in my paper possibly tending to diœcious condition) whether the tendency is real—whether the difference in number of seed is not merely some odd case of correlation like size of pollen-grains.— Would it not be well to keep your hypothetical or rather possible class of dimorphism altogether in the note: the sentence at present is not clear.—6

I have been looking at ovules again; one case seemed to agree with you, but others did not.7 Had you not better have one more look; the case, as you put it seems probable, but certainly in some buds of apparently exact same age, did not hold; I got one of my Boys to look, as you did, & he gave verdict, without knowing which with me.—8

I am forced to write in great hurry.— For Heaven sake publish & append your name: if you do not publish, pray let me make M.S. copy of your paper.— The time will come I suspect, when all animals & plants will have to be viewed as primordially hermaphrodite; though confervæ are opposed to this.—

I am disgusted that your pretty discovery about Campanula has been forestalled;9 you are quite right about insects & Campanula— C. K. Sprengel long ago observed & proved same fact, ie on necessity of insects in this genus.10 Do not forget to look at Corydalis lutea; it will interest you: Vaucher observed the fact, but blundered greatly about all the details.—11

It makes me laugh at myself hearing you say that migration into N. America so manifestly depends on old warmer period;12 I believe I meditated for four years on the whole case before this occurred to me!!! I then wrote to Asa Gray who used it in his paper.—13

Farewell— I hope to Heaven my vile hand-writing does not break your heart—

Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

I return your paper by this same Post.—


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from Daniel Oliver, 14 April 1862.
In considering the apparent tendency in Primula towards a separation of the sexes, Oliver raised the question, ‘why did they ever become hermaphrodite?’ He went on to say ([Oliver] 1862c, p. 238): While we may … suggest that certain species are tending to a separation of the sexes, we must not forget that arguments may be advanced to shew that it is not impossible but that they may be striving towards more perfect hermaphroditism, especially if we bring to mind the evidence … furnished by the ‘Geological Record.’ This evidence does certainly appear in favour of a greater predominance of unisexual forms at an early period than obtains at the present day.
In his discussion of the fertility of Violaceae, Oliver cited Gingins-La-Sarra 1823, Monnier 1833, Müller 1857, and Michalet 1860 ([Oliver] 1862c, pp. 238–9).
Oliver apparently followed CD’s suggestion (see letter from Daniel Oliver, 14 April 1862, n. 9, and letter from Daniel Oliver, 23 April 1862). The note in the published paper reads ([Oliver] 1862c, p. 236 n.): ‘This second group we have not framed to include a dimorphic condition of the male flower, or of the female flower, of a unisexual plant. We are not aware, however, that such exist. If there be none, the circumstance is worth noticing.’
C. K. Sprengel 1793, pp. 110–11. There is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 774–85).
Vaucher 1841, 1: 151. There is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 812–15).


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

Gingins-La-Sarra, Frédéric Charles Jean de. 1823. Mémoire sur la famille des violacées. Geneva.

Gray, Asa. 1858–9. Diagnostic characters of new species of phænogamous plants, collected in Japan by Charles Wright, botanist of the US North Pacific Exploring Expedition … With observations upon the relations of the Japanese flora to that of North America, and of other parts of the northern temperate zone. [Read 14 December 1858 and 11 January 1859.] Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 6: 377–452.

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.

Michalet, Louis Eugène. 1860. Sur la floraison des Viola de la section Nomimium, de l’Oxalis acetosella et du Linaria spuria. Bulletin de la Société botanique de France 7: 465–9.

Monnier, Auguste. 1833. Note sur quelques espèces du genre Viola. Archives de Botanique 1: 412–15.

Sprengel, Christian Konrad. 1793. Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen. Berlin: Friedrich Vieweg.

Vaucher, Jean Pierre Etienne. 1841. Histoire physiologique des plantes d’Europe ou exposition des phénomènes qu’elles présentent dans les diverses périodes de leur développement. 4 vols. Paris: Marc Aurel Frères.


Encourages DO to publish his paper and put his name to it. [Paper apparently not published.] Concurs with his views on primordial nature of hermaphroditism.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 45 (EH 88206028)
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4097,” accessed on 20 March 2023,

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