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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   31 May [1863]1


May 31st

Dear Sir

I am unwell & must write briefly.—

I am very much obliged for the Courant.—2 The facts will be of highest use to me: I feel convinced that your paper will have permanent value.—3 Your case seems excellently & carefully worked out.— I agree that alteration of Title was unfortunate; but after all title does not signify very much.—4 So few have attended to such points, that I do not expect any criticisms: but if so, I shd. think you had much better reply; but I would if you wished it much.— I quite understand about the cases being individual sterility; so Gärtner states it was with him.—5

Would it be worth while to send a corrected copy of Courant to Gard. Chron.?6 I did not know that you had tried Lobelia fulgens: can you give me any particulars, on number of plants & kinds used &c that I may quote, as in few days I shall be writing on this whole subject.—7 No one will ever convince me that it is not a very important subject to Philosophical naturalists. The Hibiscus seems very curious case & I agree with your remarks.—8

You say you are glad of criticisms9 (by the way avoid “former & latter,” the reader is always forced to go back to look): I think you would have made case more striking if you had first showed that pollen of O. sphacelatum was good; secondly that ovules were capable of fertilisation, & lastly shown that the plant was impotent with own pollen.— “impotence of organs capable of elimination”—capable here strictly refers to organs, you mean to impotence— To eliminate impotence is a curious expression. it is removing a non-existence quality.— But style is a trifle compared with facts, & you are capable of writing well. I find it a good rule to imagine that I want to explain the case in as few & simple words as possible to one who knows nothing of subject.— I am tired— In my opinion you are an excellent observer.—

Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863].
See letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863]; Scott had sent a copy of a report of the meeting of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 May 1863 (Edinburgh Evening Courant, 28 May 1863, p. 8).
The report in the Edinburgh Evening Courant (see n. 2, above) contained an abstract of Scott’s paper on orchid pollination, which was subsequently published in full as Scott 1863a. See also letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863] and nn. 3–6.
The title of Scott’s paper on orchid pollination (see n. 3, above) had been changed from ‘Individual sterility of orchids’ to ‘Experiments on the fertilisation of orchids in the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh’. See letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863] and n. 5.
See letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863]. CD refers to Gärtner 1849, pp. 64 and 357, which gave details of a number of crossing experiments with Lobelia and Verbascum. The experiments demonstrated the sterility of some individual plants when crossed with other plants of the same species; these same plants could be pollinated readily by pollen from a distinct species (see also Variation 2: 136–7).
The abstract of Scott’s paper on orchid pollination that appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Courant (see n. 3, above) was also due to be reprinted in the Gardeners’ Chronicle. Scott had complained to CD that errors had been introduced into the abstract by Robert Kaye Greville, honorary secretary of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (see letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863]). A revised version of the abstract appeared in Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 June 1863, p. 558.
See letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863] and n. 7. CD was writing a draft chapter on crossing and sterility for Variation (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). CD refers to a section that was published under the subtitle: ‘On certain plants which either normally or abnormally are self-impotent, but are fertile, both on the male and the female side, when crossed with distinct individuals either of the same or another species’ (Variation 2: 114, 131–40). CD cited Scott’s experiments on orchid pollination and Gärtner’s experiments on Lobelia and Verbascum (see n. 5, above), but did not mention Scott in connection with L. fulgens.
CD’s criticisms relate to the abstract of Scott’s paper on orchid pollination that appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Courant (see n. 3, above).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

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


Thanks JS for abstract of orchid sterility paper from Edinburgh Courant. His case of individual sterility will be of highest use to CD. Criticises JS’s writing. Points out weaknesses in the organisation of his argument and the use of inflated, imprecise language.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B47–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4197,” accessed on 23 January 2021,

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