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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   20 May [1864]1

Down, Bromley, Kent,

May 20th.

Dear Sir,—

I must correct my former account; perhaps one flower varied, anyhow one of the red cowslips cannot be called long-styled. Yet the style is rather longer than in the common short styled cowslip.2 With respect to your primula paper, I dare say the Journal was full and that your paper has stood over,3 at least this happened once with me. I am extremely glad to hear that you experimented on the Verbascums.4 Although having almost unbounded faith in Gästner, yet I could hardly believe his statements; but now I shall, and shall be able to quote with unbounded satisfaction your confirmation.5 I think you might make the mark you propose, but I would do it with great caution, as the basis of the generalization is certainly scanty.6 I am extremely sorry you cannot hear of any suitable situation. Try and keep up your spirits. Pray do not thank me for merely offers of assistance which I heartily wish you would accept, for in that case you might write your papers in comfort and I should aid in doing good work for science.—7

Believe me, Dear Sir, | Your sincere well-wisher, | Charles Darwin.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from John Scott, 16 May [1864], and by the reference to Scott’s Primula paper (Scott 1864a). See n. 3, below.
CD had sent Scott an account of non-dimorphic red cowslip seedlings in a letter dated 8 May 1864; the letter has not been found (see letter from John Scott, 16 May [1864] and n. 4).
The reference is to Scott 1864a, which was published in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) in September 1864 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society, p. vi).
CD refers to Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments on Verbascum (Gärtner 1844, pp. 137–8, and Gärtner 1849, pp. 92, 100–1, 724–8), in which crosses between differently coloured varieties of the same or of different species were found to be less fertile than parallel crosses between similarly coloured varieties (see Origin, pp. 270–1). There are heavily annotated copies of Gärtner 1844 and 1849 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 248–98). These experiments were of interest to CD because he believed that they demonstrated that sterility was not a universal and infallible criterion of species. CD cited Scott’s experiments with Verbascum in Variation 2: 106–7. When Scott published his experiments, he incorporated a digest of Gärtner’s results supplied by CD (Scott 1867, p. 164).
Scott had formulated a hypothesis relating degrees of sterility in Verbascum crosses to affinities in colour (see letter from John Scott, 16 May [1864] and n. 10).
CD had offered Scott financial assistance on several occasions (see letter to John Scott, 9 April 1864, and letter from John Scott, 5 May [1864]). See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864] and n. 4.


Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1844. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Befruchtungsorgane der vollkommeneren Gewächse und über die natürliche und künstliche Befruchtung durch den eigenen Pollen. Pt 1 of Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Befruchtung der vollkommeneren Gewächse. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Scott, John. 1867. On the reproductive functional relations of several species and varieties of Verbasca. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 36 (pt 2): 145–74.

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


Corrects his former account of cowslips.

The delay in the publication of JS’s Primula paper.

Delights in JS’s experimentation on Verbascum which confirms [C. F.] Gärtner’s statements.

Should be pleased if JS would accept offer of help.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
Transactions of the Hawick Archæological Society (1908): 67
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4504G,” accessed on 26 February 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12