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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   25 and 28 May [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 25th

Dear Sir

Now for a few words on Science.— I do not think I could be mistaken about stigma of Bolbophyllum; I had the plant alive from Kew & watched many flowers.2 That is a most remarkable observation on foreign pollen emitting tubes, but not causing orifice to close: it would have been interesting to have observed how close an alliance of form would have acted on orifice of stigma.—3 It will probably be so many years, if ever, that I work up my observations on Drosera, that I will not trouble you to send your paper;4 for I could not now find time to read it.—

If you have spare copy of your Orchid paper, please send it;5 but do not get a copy of the Journal, for I can get one, & you must often want to buy Books.— Let me know when it is published.—

I have been glad to hear about Mercurialis;6 but I will not accept your offer of seed on account of time, time, time, & weak health. For same reason I must give up Primula matter. What a wonderful indefatigable worker you are! You seem to have made a famous lot of interesting experiments. D. Beaton once wrote that no man could cross any species of Primula, you have apparently proved the contrary with a vengeance.—7 Your numerous experiments seem very well selected, & you will exhaust the subject.— Now when you have completed your work, you should draw up a paper well worth publishing & give a list of all the dimorphic & non-dimorphic forms.8 I can give you on authority of Prof. Treviranus in Bot. Zeitung case of P. longiflora non-dimorphic.—9 I am surprised at your Cowslips in this state.10 Is it a common yellow cowslip? I have seen Oxlips (which from some experiments I now look at as certainly natural hybrids) in same state.11 If you think Bot. Soc. of Edinburgh would not do justice & publish your paper; send it to me to be communicated to the Linnean Socy.— I will delay my paper on successive dimorphic generations in Primula till yours appear; so as in no way to interfere with your paper.— Possibly my results may be hardly worth publishing; but I think they will; the seedlings from two successive homomorphic generations seem excessively sterile.—12

I will keep this letter till I hear from Dr. Hooker.—

I shall be very glad if you try Passiflora.—13

Your experiments on Primula seem so well chosen that whatever the result is; they will be of value. But always remember that not one naturalist out of a dozen cares for really philosophical experiments.

May 28th | I now enclose Dr. Hooker’s answer which will console you for refusing the situation.—14 Dr. H. permits me to forward his letter, but I think you had better not mention it to Dr. Balfour or Mr. Macnab, as it might make ill-will, his offering advice to an Edinburgh man.—15

Dr. Hooker in another note remarked that he had always heard a very good character for kindness in Mr. Macnab, so permit me to suggest to you to do all you can to please him. Dr. H. truly remarks that experiments take up much time, & that he knows himself that a superintendent is bound to see that the ordinary work is fully done.—16 So pray do all you can to please & satisfy Mr. Macnab.

Dear Sir In Haste | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from John Scott, 21 May [1863] and 22 May 1863.
Scott had enclosed a note from his manuscript on orchid pollination (published as Scott 1863a) with his letter to CD of 21 May [1863]. Scott’s study had led him to suspect that CD’s observations on Bolbophyllum rhizophorae were anomalous. In Orchids, p. 170, CD had described how the stigma of B. rhizophorae would close after some time, even if not pollinated, something he had seen in no other orchid; the observation is repeated in Orchids 2d ed., p. 137. Joseph Dalton Hooker had sent CD a specimen from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in November 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letters to J. D. Hooker, 5 [November 1861] and 25 November [1861]).
Scott read a paper, ‘On the propagation and irritability of Drosera and Dionaea’, before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 11 December 1862; only an abstract was published (Scott 1862b; see letter to John Scott, 2 May [1863] and n. 10, and letter from John Scott, 21 May [1863]). CD had carried out a series of experiments on Drosera and Dionaea between 1860 and 1862 (see Correspondence vols. 8–10); however, he decided to postpone this line of research until after Variation was completed (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Edward Cresy, 15 September [1862]). CD resumed his research on these plants in 1872, and Insectivorous plants was published in 1875; Scott’s work on Drosera is cited on pp. 1–2 n. See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862] and n. 10.
Scott sent CD an abstract of his paper on orchids with his letter of 28 May [1863]. The paper, which was read before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 May 1863, was later published in full as Scott 1863a. Scott sent a copy of Scott 1863a in July (see letter to John Scott, 1 and 3 August [1863]); it is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Scott apparently sent observations on Mercurialis in the missing section of his letter to CD of 21 May [1863].
Probably a reference to Donald Beaton’s statement that polyanthuses (a member of the genus Primula) could not be crossed (Cottage Gardener, 5 June 1860, p. 150, and 3 July 1860, pp. 200–11). CD marked the statement in his unbound copy of the Cottage Gardener, which is in the Darwin Library–CUL. Beaton was a gardener and regular contributor to the journal (R. Desmond 1994). See also Appendix V. Scott discussed his crossing experiments with Primula in his letter to CD of 21 May [1863]. Scott had been corresponding with CD on Primula since November 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10).
CD communicated Scott’s observations on dimorphic and ‘non-dimorphic’ species of Primula to the Linnean Society (Scott 1864a). The paper, which was read on 4 February 1864, contained lists of dimorphic, short-styled, long-styled, and ‘non-dimorphic species’ (Scott 1864a, p. 80).
In his review of ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula (Treviranus 1863a, p. 4), Ludolph Christian Treviranus stated that Primula longiflora (a synonym of P. halleri) was non-dimorphic. Treviranus sent this review to CD in February (see letter from L. C. Treviranus, 12 February 1863). CD’s annotated copy of Treviranus 1863a is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL; at the head of the fourth page, CD noted that according to Treviranus, P. longiflora was found ‘alone’ and that it was ‘nondimorphic’ and ‘shortstyled’. However, see the letter to John Scott, 25 [July 1863]. See also letter to Daniel Oliver, 20 [February 1863], and letter from Daniel Oliver, 27 February 1863.
The oxlips referred to are apparently those described in DAR 108: 24b. CD’s experiments with cowslips and primroses (Primula veris and P. vulgaris) had led him to conclude that the common oxlip was a hybrid produced as a result of cross-pollination between these two species (‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, pp. 93–4, Collected papers 2: 60–1). See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 14 [October 1862] and n. 14, letter to John Scott, 3 December [1862] and nn. 13–15, and this volume, letter to John Scott, 25 [July 1863]. CD published his results, based on experiments performed between 1862 and 1867, in ‘Specific difference in Primula, pp. 443–8. See also Forms of flowers, pp. 63–71.
CD’s experiments on the fertility of successive generations of Primula raised from homomorphic crosses were made with P. sinensis, P. vulgaris (acaulis), and P. veris (officinalis), and were carried out between 1862 and 1865. On the 1862 experiments, see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 17 June [1862] and n. 2, letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 June [1862] and n. 4, and letter to John Scott, 3 December [1862] and n. 6. CD’s notes on homomorphic crosses of P. sinensis and P. vulgaris, dated March–June 1863, are in DAR 108: 50–5 and 165–7. CD eventually concluded that successive generations of long-styled and short-styled forms of these species, when pollinated with own-form pollen, showed variable changes in fertility, from slightly lessened fertility to absolute sterility. The results were published in ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 410–37, which was read before the Linnean Society on 20 February 1868.
Scott told CD of his intention to experiment on Passiflora in his letter of 21 May [1863]. CD, wishing to corroborate statements that some species of Passiflora could be fertilised more readily by different species than by their own pollen, suggested these experiments in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to John Scott, 19 November [1862] and 11 December [1862] and n. 21). Scott’s experiments were published in Scott 1864d.
The enclosure has not been found, but an indication of its contents is given in the letter from J. D. Hooker, [23–7 May 1863]. Scott had asked CD’s advice on an appointment he had been offered in Darjeeling, India (see letter from John Scott, 22 May 1863, and letter to John Scott 23 May [1863]).
John Hutton Balfour was the keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh; James McNab was the curator (R. Desmond 1994).


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

‘Specific difference in Primula’: On the specific difference between Primula veris, Brit. Fl. (var. officinalis of Linn.), P. vulgaris, Brit. Fl. (var. acaulis, Linn.), and P. elatior, Jacq.; and on the hybrid nature of the common oxlip. With supplementary remarks on naturally produced hybrids in the genus Verbascum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 19 March 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 437–54.

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


CD does not think he could be wrong about the stigma of Bolbophyllum.

Will not write up Drosera for years.

Praises JS’s experiments. Invites him to send a paper to Linnean Society.

L. C. Treviranus says all species of Primula present two forms except P. longiflora.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B41–4
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4185,” accessed on 19 September 2023,

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