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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Stewardson Brady   19 March 1865

22 Fawcett St, | Sunderland;

March 19. 1865.

Dear Sir,

You will, I feel sure, forgive my encroaching upon your leisure by asking for a little information on a subject mentioned in your book on the “Origin of Species”.—

In a paragraph about the fertilization of clover by the humble-bee you mention that no other insect is so constructed as to be able to get at the nectar, and that consequently, but for its agency, the clover would probably become extinct.1 A good while ago I quoted this passage in a lecture delivered to the Natural History Society at Newcastle;2 and afterwards a friend of mine (Mr Howse)3 laughed the whole thing to scorn, saying that he had often seen the tubes of the corolla of the Clover pierced halfway down by other insects for the sake of getting at the nectar. I should much like to know whether you can give any explanation of this, or whether these punctures, supposing them to exist can be made by any other creatures or for other purposes.—4 After all it is a matter of no consequence to your theory, nor do I see that it even much affects your assertion as to the fertilization of the clover, for I fancy that by the operation of piercing the corolla, any pollen adhering to the proboscis of an insect must be rubbed off before getting even inside the tube, so that fertilization would still be left to be effected by the longer proboscis of the bee.

It is due to you to mention why I should like an answer from you on this question. I have engaged to read a paper to our Geological Society at Sunderland on the “Origin of Species”, and I know that my friend, who is a virulent Anti-Darwinian, intends to be there; and as I again quote this passage he will certainly attack it.

So that I shall esteem it a great favour if you will kindly give me something to say about it.

Believe me, | very truly yours | George S. Brady.

P.S. | I forward, for your acceptance a copy of a short paper of mine on Marine Entomostraca.5


CD made these observations in Origin, pp. 73–4 and 94–5. Information received from Charles Hardy in 1860 had already led CD to doubt the truth of these statements and prompted him to make further observations on bees (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter from Charles Hardy, 23 July 1860, and letter to Charles Hardy, 27 July [1860], and Correspondence vol. 10, letters to John Lubbock, 2 September [1862] and [3 September 1862], letter to W. E. Darwin, [2–3 September 1862] and n. 5, and letter to Asa Gray, [3–]4 September [1862]). CD modified his statements in the third and fourth editions of Origin (see Peckham ed. 1959, pp. 183–4), but retained his overall conclusion that the humble-bee (Bombus) was the main pollinator of red clover and that most species of hive-bee were unable to reach the nectar of this plant in normal circumstances.
Brady refers to the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
CD’s reply has not been found. In Origin 4th ed. (1866), p. 107, CD noted that he had observed hive-bees sucking at the holes made by humble-bees at the base of the corollas of red clover. CD’s notes on this subject are in DAR 49: 149.
Brady 1865. This article has not been found in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


Brady, George Stewardson. 1865. Report on the pelagic Entomostraca [dredged off the coast of Northumberland and Durham 1862–4]. Natural History Transactions of Northumberland and Durham 1 (1865–7): 29–40.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.


CD’s statement in Origin that clover is utterly dependent on humble-bee for fertilisation has been questioned by his friend’s evidence of visits by other insects. Asks CD’s opinion.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Stewardson Brady
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 276
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4790,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13