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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   22 May 1863

Botanic Gardens [Edinburgh]

May 22d. 1863.


Prof. Balfour has just offered me a situation in India;1 regarding which I would very much like to have your advice. Before stating particulars in regard to this, however, I will now,—from the kind interest you have expressed in my behalf—state that I have not at all a pleasant situation under Mr. Mc.Nab here.2 I formerly used to regard him, as, indeed, a friend, now however, I plainly see that he is doing as much as he rightly can to place obstacles in the way to my advancement. In illustration of this I may state the following. He ought to have allowed me to attend the Botanical Classes this season which he has not. Now; the time it is in, is only an hour daily, and there is not a single thing, in regard to my duties, which he could mention, to prevent my attendance.3 There is this, however, he knows that I am interested in the place; engaged in numerous experiments which will induce me to submit to him, otherwise, I feel assured he would not have treated me thus, simply because I am of service to him, and might put him to a little inconvenience by leaving him. This and other little acts which I could mention if it were worth while, plainly show me his feelings towards me. I would much rather that I had not to mention these; but the kind interest you have manifested towards me has induced me to state a few particulars regarding my present situation. And I sincerely trust you will excuse me for so doing.

In respect to the Indian situation Prof. Balfour has given me the following information. Dr Anderson of Calcutta has written him that a few of his friends are desirous to get an intelligent young man to take charge of a Chinchona nursery, which they intend forming at Darjiling.4 They purpose giving £.100 the first year and £.120 for the three subsequent years—as they wish to have an engagement of 4 years. On finding that, if I accepted it, I should have to leave here in latter end of August or beginning of September, I told Prof. Balfour that being engaged with a variety of very interesting experiments, I really could not think of entering into any such engagement this season: being anxious to get results.5 He, however, remarked that I should think a little more over it before giving up what he thinks is a nice opening: he also said—for I suppose he understands that a number of my experiments have been proposed by you6—that I might be of greater service to you in that respect in the above place, and advised me to write you and mention the offer he had made.

I will therefore be greatly obliged if you will kindly favour me with your advice, for I do not know well what to do. In respect to the place itself, I really think it offers no great encouragement, the engagement is certainly long for the remuneration offered, more especially upon such an important product.7 All things considered, I have certainly a strong inclination to give it up, even though by so doing, I should give a little offence to the Professor. Might I in the event of so doing take advantage of your kind offer in last letter,8 and ask you if you could in anyway aid me in getting some foreign or colonial appointment. I should certainly regard it as a great favour

In the meantime | I remain | Sir | Yours very respectfully | J. Scott

CD annotations

1.2 Before … doing. 1.18] crossed pencil


John Hutton Balfour was professor of botany at Edinburgh University and regius keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (DNB).
James McNab was the curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, where Scott was foreman of the propagating department (R. Desmond 1994).
Balfour ran botany classes in a purpose-built classroom at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh; lectures for students of the University were held annually at 8 A.M. on weekdays from the beginning of May to the end of July (Fletcher and Brown 1970, pp. 141–2, 146; Transactions and Proceedings of the Botanical Society [of Edinburgh] 14 (1883): 160; Birse 1994, p. 65).
Thomas Anderson was superintendent of the Calcutta botanic gardens (R. Desmond 1994). On the history of Cinchona plantations in Darjeeling, India, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [23–7 May 1863], nn. 3 and 5.
In 1863, Scott performed a series of crossing experiments with Passiflora, Disemma, and Tacsonia, with dimorphic and non-dimorphic species of Primula, and with species of Oncidium (see letters from John Scott, 3 March 1863, 21 March [1863], [1–11] April [1863], and 21 May [1863], and Scott 1864a, 1864b, and 1864d). These experiments were intended to throw light on three common problems: the relative fertility of crosses between individuals of the same and of different species; the relative fertility of crosses between different varieties of the same species; and the relative fertility of homomorphic and heteromorphic crosses in the same species. In a set of related experiments, Scott also attempted to make bi-generic crosses (see letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863 and n. 10).
For CD’s encouragement of Scott’s experimental work, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 10, letters to John Scott, 19 November [1862] and 11 December [1862], and this volume, letters to John Scott, 12 April [1863] and 25 and 28 May [1863]. Scott’s work was relevant to CD’s work on the causes of cross and hybrid sterility (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI).
Cinchona trees were valued for their bark, which was the source of quinine, an effective febrifuge or antipyretic medicine widely used in the tropics (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to G. H. K. Thwaites, 15 June [1862], n. 4).


Birse, Ronald M. 1994. Science at the University of Edinburgh, 1583–1993. An illustrated history to mark the centenary of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, 1893–1993. Edinburgh: Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh.

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

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.


J. H. Balfour has arranged a position for him at a Cinchona nursery. Reluctant to take this position in part because of his experiments for CD.

Asks CD’s advice and solicits his aid in finding a better colonial position. James McNab mistreats him.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
Source of text
DAR 177: 90
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4177,” accessed on 8 June 2023,

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