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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   [3 June 1863]1

Botanic Gardens [Edinburgh]



I duly received your letter of the 20th.2 I am greatly indebted for trouble in my behalf: and favourable impression you have made upon Dr. Hooker; as shown by his kind & encouraging letter.3 I can only express my most cordial thanks, and a hope that if through your influence with Dr. Hooker; he obtains for me a colonial appointment, you will have no cause to regret having exercised your influence in behalf of one, of whom you know so little. I will do my best to give satisfaction: In respect to Dr. Hookers letter permit me to ask you for a few hints—at some future time—as to mental qualifications required; that I may apply myself more directly to the cultivation of such. I am painfully alive to the defects of an imperfect education; circumstances, having compelled me to finish it just at that period, when I was beginning to acquire a taste for learning.4

Prof. Balfour seems to be not a little offended with me, for refusing the Darjeling situation.5 I hope, however, he will soon forget it. I feel assured he would have given me an excellent recommendation to Dr. Anderson:6 and I shall certainly make it my earnest endeavour to merit it no less in the future. I thank you for judicious counsel respecting duties to Mr. Mc.Nab.7 I have always been very careful that my experiments do not in the least interfere with my other duties; and I am glad to say—that—so far as I am aware—he is perfectly satisfied with me in this respect, and would I believe readily recommend me. If ever he had given me the slightest grounds for supposing that experiments were interfering with my duties to him, I would at once have restricted them, but he has given me no cause for such suspicions. It was very natural, however, for Dr. Hooker to suppose such. I cannot say what is the exact cause of his colder and less encouraging treatment: but for some months back there has been clearly a great change, in bestowal of voluntary privileges. I was—and am—much grieved at observing this; as I previously thought that he had a kindly interest in my advancement. Rest assured, however, that though, unfortunately—working in perfect ignorance of the real cause of his changed demeanour, I will do my utmost to please him as to performance of duties. At present—I am sorry to say for him—I have more opportunities for doing so than ever: nearly all his duties in connection with Botanic Class having devolved upon me—he being unable to attend to them.8

I will have a care that neither Dr. Balfour nor Mr. Mc.Nab know anything respecting Dr. Hooker’s letter: as I much fear your suspicion would otherwise be immediately verified.9

In conclusion, I would beg you to excuse this long detail of personal matters: they have interfered unpleasantly with our other correspondence. I would also again acknowledge how deeply I feel indebted for the kind and active interest you have taken in me. It would afford me a pleasure to be able to make you any return: for I have no right to trouble you with such matters. The experiments which you have already suggested, I will attend to: if there are any others which you would like me to try—if within my power—I will gladly undertake them.10

I will now turn to the scientific part of letter. In respect to closing of stigma in Orchids: I will yet attend to your hint, as to affinities required.11 From observations on closing of orifice it occurred to me on reading Bolbolophyllum case, that foreign pollen might possibly induce it;12 I had, however, at the time I performed experiments on this point, my Cypripedium Oncidium & the Trichopilia in flower: so that my observations are not at all numerous. I feel perfectly satisfied, however that they are correct: having applied pollen to a few flowers, and extracted a little of it a few days after, when I distinctly saw pollen-tubes. I did not observe—as I ought—the depth these penetrated: the flowers were allowed to remain until quite withered: orifice likewise remaining open.

I thank you for kind offer respecting Primula work. I will draw up a paper, when I have seen results of present experiments, and forward. I will be glad indeed if you consider it worthy of communicating to the Linn. Soc. I do not think such papers are much cared for here.13 I am rather afraid now that the abstract of Orchid paper sent you, will be all that is published of it in Proceedings of Bot. Soc.14 From the great interest & importance which your works & correspondence has attached to such questions in my mind, I have often wondered at the low estimate in which they appear to be held here. Your remarks in late letters enlighten me: and here of course anything that savours of the “Origin” is not at all palatable!15 Nevertheless, I, having a strong conviction of its truthful teachings, would not on account of such dogmatic prejudices—for I cannot think they are aught else—sacrifice the “integrity of my own mind”. As Emerson has expressed it;— “Bravely let us speak the utmost syllable of our confession .... nor be ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents”16— so would I did my qualifications permit.

Thanks for corroboration of P. longiflora, you will observe it with a note mentioned in list formerly transmitted as non-dimorphic.17 P. verticillata is peculiar. In my list you will find it approaching the non-dimorphic state. The majority of flowers upon a plant which I am experimenting upon at present, have Stamens & Styles equal: both being included within corolla tubes: the others have styles slightly exserted beyond tubes. In a specimen which I have lately examined in the University Herbarium I find a truly long-styled form—anthers near the middle styles reaching the mouth of corolla-tube.18

P. floribunda appears to present similar peculiarities. In list you will find it referred to short-styled form, with note on the occurrence of a non-dimorphic form. This I have again found presented by another specimen, while another, has presented one with the long-styled condition. Of P. floribunda I have no plants for experiments, and of P. verticillata I have only the non-dimorphic form; which appears to be perfectly self-fertile.19 I believe I have been successful in application of its pollen to long & short-styled P. Auricula.20 I am extremely curious to see results of this from a case which I will presently refer to, and on account of which I should have liked much to have tested the reciprocal sexual relations of these apparently trimorphic species.

The sexual relations of the non-dimorphic Cowslip referred to in late letter, appear to be very different from what I expected!21 It seems to have undergone a special differentiation: being all but inert in its action as male on long & short-styled forms—capsules being very small—as female, pollen being applied from the latter form it promises to be more productive—capsules being larger. The size of respective capsules farther illustrates, I think a fact which you have already pointed out, viz that short-styled form is more feminine in nature &c &c.22 Capsules on short-styled plants are larger than those on long-styled—both being fertilised with non-dimorphic form. Again those flowers on the latter fertilised with long-styled pollen have larger capsules than those fertilised with short-styled! I did not at all anticipate such results: and I am now sorry that I did not make more numerous experiments with these forms. They have surprised me much; indeed, perplexed me. Since you have mentioned case of Linum Lewisii—which is much like a case of mere variability—there will be no harm I think in giving the above case.23 I am inclined to regard such cases as somewhat discordant with your views that these qualities have been slowly acquired. Analogous cases have been already passed by your numerous critics so I may be wrong.

Another curious fact which I have lately discovered respecting non-dimorphic Auriculas— will I think interest you. The few plants which I have observed in this state, agree with that mentioned by you in Primula paper, in having even smaller pollen-grains than the normal long-styled form: differing in this respect from the above Cowslip.24 In crossing with the long & short styled forms, I find that with the former the capsules are very small: larger & finer with the latter: which is favourable to your opinion that it is a case of abnormal developement of anthers. The self-fertilised capsules on non-dimorphic form are larger than those produced by homomorphic crosses!

I am glad to find that the abstract of my Orchid paper interests you.25 I am also greatly obliged for the few critical remarks you have made.26 I now see that I would have rendered the case of O. sphacelatum much more striking if I had stated it as you have done. I wished to state it in as forcible a manner as possible but you see how signally I have failed! I have had so little experience. Your analysis of sentence on self-impotence, shows me how unfortunately I have expressed myself. It appears now so self-evident that I cannot help wondering how it escaped me! I thank you most sincerely for these criticisms: I will do my best to improve style, which is one of the greatest difficulties I have to contend with. I have no command of language, no power of expression; and I am afraid from the little knowledge I have of mental phenomena, that I will never overcome this; which I fear will eventually give me quite a distaste for writing. I often wonder at and envy you for that happy faculty of expressing the most recondite ideas in language which a child might almost understand

I have made no experiments on Lobelia fulgens. I forgot when I wrote last your experiments on this plant in “Origin” and was writing under the impression that Gartner regarded it as absolutely sterile with own-pollen. while a friend of mine had succeeded in seeding it by fertilising it with own-pollen.27 I see, however, that I have misapprehended this case.

Are you making any experiments in Linum Lewisii? It will be interesting from above case of Cowslip to test the reciprocal sexual relations. We have plants in the Gardens; if you think it worth while, and are not already engaged with it, I will make a few experiments: if plants present the trimorphic condition.

You ask if non-dimorphic Cowslip be the common yellow?28 It is a red variety of this approaching the form generally known as rubra.

I have not yet succeeded in experiments on self-fertilisation of Orchids, by preventing expansion of perianth.29 I have seen pollen-tubes however developed by such means in a flower of Bletia Tankervillia: but all the others which I had thus treat dropped off, the capsules giving no indications of swelling. As there have been few species in flower, however, in the Gardens since the idea occurred to me, I have not been able to make my experiments: but I have no doubt that I will yet be able to demonstrate it.

I remain | Sir | Yours very respectfully | John Scott

P.S. I intended sending corrected copy of “Orchid paper to Gard. Chron.30 Before doing so I went to Prof. Balfour thinking that he might not have sent the copy off. I was too late however, and, being busy he said he would look it over after, and see whether it would be worth while sending it. My astonishment was great next morning when his assistant told me that he considered the corrections unnecessary. I of course was silent; though I thought it strange that the Prof. could so express himself. I am pleased to find that you have a different opinion in respect to this. | J. Scott.

CD annotations

1.7 In respect … such. 1.9] scored brown crayon
5.1 I will now … be wrong. 9.17] crossed pencil


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter to John Scott, 31 May [1863], and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 [June 1863]; the Wednesday between 31 May and 8 June 1863 was 3 June.
Scott wrote ‘20th’ in error; the reference is to the letter to John Scott, 25 and 28 May [1863] (see n. 3, below).
John Hutton Balfour was keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, where Scott was foreman of the propagating department (R. Desmond 1994). Scott had declined a position in charge of a Cinchona plantation in India for which Balfour had offered to recommend him (see letters from John Scott, 22 May 1863 and 26 May [1863], and n. 6, below).
Thomas Anderson, superintendent of the Calcutta botanic garden, was a leading figure in a project to introduce species of Cinchona to India for the production of quinine (Balfour 1873, DNB). He planned to establish a plantation for the cultivation of Cinchona calisaya near Darjeeling, and had written to Balfour, his former professor at the University of Edinburgh, asking for recommendations for the post of plantation overseer (see letters from John Scott, 22 May 1863 and 26 May [1863]).
As curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, James McNab was Scott’s immediate superior. See letter from John Scott, 22 May 1863, letter from J. D. Hooker, [23–7 May 1863], and letter to John Scott, 25 and 28 May [1863].
In December 1862, CD had, at Scott’s request, suggested numerous experiments for Scott to attempt (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from John Scott, 6 December [1862] and 17 December [1862], and letters to John Scott, 11 December [1862] and 19 December [1862]).
See the enclosure to the letter from John Scott, 21 May [1863], and letter to John Scott, 25 and 28 May [1863] and n. 2; Scott’s observations were published in Scott 1863a, pp. 545–6 n.
In his letter to Scott of 25 and 28 May [1863], CD offered to communicate an account of Scott’s work on dimorphism in Primula to the Linnean Society, when finished, if Scott considered that it would not be adequately noticed by the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. Scott’s paper on Primula (Scott 1864a) was read before the Linnean Society on 4 February 1864, and published in the society’s Journal for September 1864 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society).
Scott read his paper on the pollination of orchids before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 May 1863 (Scott 1863a); he enclosed an abstract of the paper, which appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Courant on 28 May 1863, p. 8, with his letter to CD of 28 May [1863]. Scott’s paper was subsequently published in full in the Transactions of the Botanical Society [of Edinburgh] (Scott 1863a; see letter from John Scott, 16 June [1863]).
See letters to John Scott, 23 May [1863] and 25 and 28 May [1863].
Scott paraphrases Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay ‘Self-reliance’, where Emerson states: ‘Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind’ (Emerson 1841, p. 50), and: ‘Bravely let him speak the utmost syllable of his confession. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents’ (ibid., p. 47).
See letter to John Scott, 25 and 28 May [1863]. Scott sent CD a list of dimorphic and non-dimorphic species of Primula at the end of 1862, but this list has not been found (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 3 December [1862] and n. 2). A similar list appeared in Scott 1864a, p. 80.
In Scott 1864a, pp. 80 and 82, Scott treated Primula verticillata as non-dimorphic, but described the length of the style as ‘slightly variable’.
In Scott 1864a, pp. 80–2, Scott treated Primula floribunda as a short-styled species, but explained that it occasionally presented individuals with a non-dimorphic structure.
See Scott 1864a, pp. 92–7.
See letter from John Scott, 21 May [1863], and Scott 1864a, pp. 105–10.
This is implied, although not explicitly stated, in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, pp. 92–3 (Collected papers 2: 59–60).
In ‘Two forms in species of Linum, pp. 82–3 (Collected papers 2: 104–5), CD described the occurrence in Linum lewisii of three forms of flower (short-styled, long-styled, and equal-styled) appearing on the same plant, a case that he believed to be ‘unique’.
See ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 80 (Collected papers 2: 48). Scott described his observations and experiments on the dimorphic Primula auricula in Scott 1864a, pp. 91–2.
See letter from John Scott, 28 May [1863], and letter to John Scott, 31 May [1863]. In Origin, p. 98, CD cited his observations of dichogamy in Lobelia fulgens (a synonym of L. cardinalis) as evidence that there were ‘special contrivances’ in many plants that prevented the stigma ‘receiving pollen from its own flower’. See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 3 December [1862]. Scott may have been confused by CD’s additional reference in Origin, p. 250, to ‘certain species of Lobelia’ being ‘far more easily fertilised by the pollen of another and distinct species, than by their own pollen’. See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 19 November [1862]. Scott refers to Karl Friedrich von Gärtner.
See n. 14, above, and letter to John Scott, 31 May [1863]. The abstract of Scott 1863a published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 June 1863, p. 558, has a number of minor from the abstract published in the Edinburgh Evening Courant, 28 May 1863, p. 8.


Balfour, John Hutton. 1873. Obituary notice of Thomas Anderson, MD, FLS. Transactions of the Botanical Society [of Edinburgh] 11: 41–5.

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.]

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.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1841. Essays. With preface by Thomas Carlyle. London: James Fraser.

General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society: General index to the first twenty volumes of the Journal (Botany), and the botanical portion of the Proceedings, November 1838 to June 1886, of the Linnean Society. London: Linnean Society of London. 1888.

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.

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


Thanks CD for influence used with Hooker to obtain a colonial position. Has offended J. H. Balfour by refusing the Darjeeling post and James McNab has become unfriendly, although his experiments do not detract from his garden work.

Will write Primula paper for Linnean Society as CD suggests.

His Darwinism is unpalatable at Edinburgh Botanic Garden.

Describes results with non-dimorphic Primula species. Such cases do not accord with CD’s view that characters are slowly acquired.

Thanks for criticism of his writing style.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
Source of text
DAR 177: 93
Physical description
ALS 10pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4202,” accessed on 4 June 2023,

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