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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   21 July 1865

Royal Botanic Gardens | Calcutta

July 21st. 1865.

To, C. Darwin Esq.


I would have written you long ago in answer to yours of March 11th.1 but I have always deferred doing so in hopes of having something or other of scientific interest to communicate. Disappointed in this—as I have never got fairly settled to work since I arrived in India2—I will write a few notes by way of informing you, to whom I owe all—how it fares with me here.

I left Rungbee—as I think I mentioned in my last letter I had hopes of doing—in the latter end of May for Calcutta.3 Dr. Anderson kindly giving me the choice of remaining in charge of the Cinchona, or going down as Curator of the Botanic Gardens, Calcutta.4 I accepted the latter, glad to embrace the opportunity of being again in a situation where I might advantageously follow out those subjects—in my spare moments—which had previously engaged much of my time & attention:5 though with a free conscience I think I may justly say that certain of the Edinburgh folk falsely charged me with allowing these subjects to engage my time to the sacrifice of my proper work. I think Mr. Mc.Nab, innerly at least—will be inclined now to give me this much credit—as I know that much more work has devolved upon him since I left the gardens, & further the person who succeeded me though not having all the duties to attend to that I had; has nevertheless failed to perform even these as he has been dismissed … I will not trouble you however with further details on these matters, and I have merely noticed them by way of vindicating myself to you, my best benefactor.6

I see plainly that my Verbascum paper is wholly unfit in its present state for publication7   I was afraid of this when I sent it you, as I stated in a letter** which I had posted in time for the same mail as that by which I despatched the registered papers of Verbascum.8 I would not have posted these latter so hurriedly, as I was fully aware that they would require much correction, having drawn them up from my notes in the course of my voyage, and while suffering almost unremittingly from sea-sickness. I really thought that I was never going to get free it—the slightest breeze was sufficient to upset me, & I did not get fairly free of this sensation until we had a second time crossed the line & were getting well up for the Sunderbunds.9 As I said on this account I would not have posted the papers until I had time to examine them—though I can’t understand how I have made such singular blunderings in my calculations. I am truly sorry and ashamed that I should have taken up your valuable time with such, as also that of Drs. Hooker & Thomson10—but as I had Dr. Andersons orders to get ready at once to go to Rungbee, I thought that it might be long ere I had time to look over it, & correct it, so I sent it thinking that should it be unfit for publication you might extract any matter from it you thought fit for your own use. As you had often said you were anxious to see results of further experimentation amongst varieties of Verbascums .....11 Just now I will not attempt to do anything with it: but whenever I have time to spare I will commence work a fresh on these subjects as well as on that of the other kinds of dimorphism manifested in the vegetable Kingdom & perhaps I will get material worthy of publication.12

In talking of this matter, might I take the liberty of asking, if you could spare me a few seeds of Leersia oryzoides.13 I should like to make experiments on fertilisation in closed flowers.14 We have here one Leersia—aristata— I have not seen it flower yet, so I am not aware whether it presents the above phenomena.

I was somewhat astonished to find that all the plants of Lagerstroemia, elegans; Indica & var alba, are what may be termed long-styled, this organ projecting beyond the longest stamen— the number of the latter organs are very variable especially in the first named species .... All the plants of both species in the gardens are sterile.15 I have by way of experimenting tried a few flowers by artificial fertilisation on L. Indica, & var alba but with no success— As for L. elegans, I have never found good pollen on it— from deformity of anthers, conjoined with its sterility, I am inclined to regard it as a hybrid. When I have time however, I will have a little work on these. You will be interested to hear that the L. Regineæ, though I have seen only one form in the garden—a long-styled also—produces an abundance of fruit, the capsules well filled with good seed.16

In your last letter you say that though still weak your health was improving,17 earnestly do I wish that you have since had no relapse, and are now enjoying an ordinary share at least, of that, perhaps one of the most desirable of Nature’s boons.

I remain | Sir | Very respectfully yours | John Scott

**This letter seems never to have come to hand. I had it posted by one of the hotel servants— But this I understand now is an insecure mode. As these beings often take the stamps from the letter & destroy the latter.

CD annotations

3.9 As I … flowers. 4.3] crossed pencil


This letter has not been found (see n. 10, below).
Scott arrived in Calcutta on 21 December 1864 (see letter from John Scott, 20 January 1865).
Scott had been working on a Cinchona plantation near Darjeeling since his arrival in India (see letters from John Scott, 20 January 1865 and n. 7, and 10 April 1865).
Thomas Anderson was superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Gardens. Joseph Dalton Hooker had written to Anderson to ask for assistance in finding employment for Scott (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [26 January 1865], n. 4).
Scott had undertaken a number of experiments at CD’s suggestion when he was foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. See Correspondence vols. 10, 11, and 12.
James McNab was curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and had been Scott’s immediate supervisor. McNab had found fault with Scott for spending too much time on his own experiments to the detriment of his regular duties (see Correspondence vol. 11, letters from John Scott, 22 May 1863 and [3 June 1863]). Scott left his post in Edinburgh in March 1864 because he felt he had been treated unfairly by his superiors (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from John Scott, 28 March 1864). Hooker had written to John Hutton Balfour, the keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, asking for a reference for Scott, which he sent on to CD. Balfour praised Scott’s industriousness and research abilities but repeated McNab’s complaint about Scott’s neglect of his garden work (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters from J. D. Hooker, [4 April 1864], and 6 April 1864 and enclosure).
Hooker and Thomas Thomson had gone over Scott’s manuscript and found fault with some of his calculations. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [10 March 1865] and nn. 4, 6, and 8, and letter to J. D. Hooker 16 [March 1865].
Scott’s letter has not been found (see letter from John Scott, 10 April 1865 and n. 10).
Scott refers to the Sundarbans, the seaward fringe of the Ganges delta in India (EB).
In his letter to Scott of 11 March 1865, CD had forwarded Hooker’s and Thomas Thomson’s criticisms of Scott’s manuscript (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 16 [March 1865]). The letter to Scott has not been found.
CD first encouraged Scott to repeat Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments on the relative fertility of varieties of Verbascum in 1862 (see letter from John Scott, 20 January 1865, n. 2).
The results of Scott’s experiments on Verbascum were summarised by CD in Variation 2: 106–7. Scott published his results in Scott 1867. For a discussion of the significance of the experiments, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to John Scott, 20 May [1864] and n. 5.
Leersia oryzoides was of interest to CD as an example of a self-fertilising unopened flower (later called cleistogamic). He read about the plant in a paper by Daniel Oliver ([Oliver] 1864) and asked Hooker about obtaining seeds; he later procured specimens with the help of William Bennett (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 April [1864] and nn. 9 and 10, and letter from William Bennett, 29 April 1864 and nn. 2 and 4). CD’s observations were published in ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria, pp. 191–2 n. (Collected papers 2: 131). CD had probably written to Scott about his observations on Leersia, but the letter has not been found (see annotations to letter from John Scott, 10 April 1865 and n. 18). See letter from B. D. Walsh, 1 March 1865 and n. 13.
Scott received seeds of Leersia oryzoides from CD and reported the preliminary results of his experiments early in 1867 (see letter from John Scott, 22 January 1867, Calendar no. 5376). In Forms of flowers, p. 335, CD mentioned Scott’s work on Leersia. Scott did not publish on Leersia.
CD had acquired Lagerstroemia indica, a member of the Lythraceae, from Hooker in 1863 because he thought it would be a good subject for his research on dimorphism (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 and 22 May [1863] and n. 13, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [31 July 1863], and Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, [15 May 1864] and n. 4). CD’s annotations to Scott’s letter of 10 April 1865 indicate he had earlier asked about Lagerstroemia, and still wanted an answer. CD’s notes on L. indica are in DAR 109: B116–17 and DAR 27.2: A17 v.
CD cited Scott’s comments on the sterility of long-styled Lagerstroemia indica in Forms of flowers, pp. 167–8. He concluded that the evidence for heterostyly in L. indica was ‘curiously conflicting’, and also cited Scott’s comments on L. reginae (Forms of flowers, p. 168).
See n. 1, above.


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 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–.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

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

[Oliver, Daniel.] 1864a. Dimorphic flowers. Natural History Review n.s. 4: 243–8.

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.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

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


JS has now taken post of Curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta.

Wishes to vindicate himself of the charge that he pursued his experiments at Edinburgh to the detriment of his work.

Apologises for poor quality of his Verbascum paper, which was written from his notes during the passage to India [J. Asiat. Soc. Bengal 36 (1865) pt 2: 145–74].

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
R. Bot. Gard., Calcutta
Source of text
DAR 109: B120a–b
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4876,” accessed on 27 March 2023,

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