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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lydia Ernestine Becker   22 December 1866

10 Grove st | Ardwick. Manchester

Dec. 22. 1866.

My dear Mr. Darwin

Before proceeding to the object of my letter I must try to recall my name to your recollection. I scarcely dare flatter myself, that I can do this successfully, though the remembrance of your great kindness and courtesy to me will never fade from my mind and is a constant source of pride and pleasure.

In the summer of 1863 I ventured to send you some flowers of Lychnis diurna which seemed to present some curious characteristics, and though they proved on examination not to possess the interest you at first thought they might have with respect to your own investigations you were good enough to write me several notes about them.1 You also did me the honour to send me a copy of a paper you had read to the Linnæan Society on two forms in the genus Linum and I had the greatest pleasure in immediately procuring a pot of seedlings of crimson flax—and watching the appearances you had recorded2

At first the plants which bloomed had long styled flowers only, and at this point my correspondence with you came to a natural close, leaving you under the impression that there had been a failure in my observations. I have often since wished that I could have expressed to you the admiration and delight with which I perceived how, when the short styled flowers at last made their appearance, the capsules which till then, had withered away with the petals, seemed to start into life—how they grew and they swelled and rapidly became vigorous and healthy fruits— But I had no pretext for troubling you with any further communication and I feared I had already trespassed too much on your attention.

I have not been able to pursue my study of the Lychis flowers nor my endeavours to penetrate the mystery of their alteration in form, for since then we have ceased to reside in the country and now, surrounded by acres of bricks and mortar—and an atmosphere laden with coal smoke, I have no opportunity of watching living plants.3

But living in a town has its advantages, among others it makes possible such societies as that indicated in the circular I have taken the liberty to enclose. A few ladies have joined together hoping for much pleasure and instruction from their little society, which is quite in its infancy and needs a helping hand. Am I altogether too presumptuous in seeking this help from you? Our petition is—would you be so very good as to send us a paper to be read at our first meeting4   Of course we are not so unreasonable as to desire that you should write anything specially for us, but I think it possible you may have by you a copy of some paper such as that on the Linum which you have communicated to the learned societies but which is unknown and inaccessible to us unless through your kindness. In your paper on the Linum you mention your experiments on Primula 5 which greatly excite my interest and curiosity, for last spring as I was gathering primroses I was forcibly struck with the difference between the “pin eyed” flowers, and those in which the stigma was concealed beneath the anthers. I have known of this difference in the Polyanthus6 from childhood, but not until I read your paper was I aware of its interest or importance and now I have just enough information to excite and tantalise, but not to satisfy, a strong desire for more. If you will pardon the presumption of the request, I would beg that your goodness might prompt you to send something you may have on hand in the form of pamphet or paper which would help us to learn the meaning of these curious differences in the flowers, and as we may all hope during the coming spring for the pleasure of luxuriating on a primrose bank we should indeed be grateful for the kindness that had guided us to look more closely into the beautiful things we were enjoying.

I send this with much misgiving lest you may be displeased at the liberty I have taken   if I have a hope of pardon it rests entirely on your goodness.

Believe me always | yours much obliged | Lydia E. Becker.


Becker and CD had corresponded in the spring and summer of 1863, but only one of CD’s letters to Becker has been found (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to L. E. Becker, 2 August [1863]). Becker’s observations on the flowers of Lychnis diurna (she had earlier referred to it as L. dioica) suggested that the species might be dimorphic, but the apparent differences were the result of a parasitic fungus (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from L. E. Becker, 28 May [1863]; see also Becker’s later paper on the topic, Becker 1869).
CD had sent Becker a copy of ‘Two forms in species of Linum, inspiring her to make her own observations (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from L. E. Becker, 31 July [1863]). Crimson flax, Linum grandiflorum, was one of the species discussed in ‘Two forms in species of Linum (see pp. 69–75; Collected papers 2: 93–8).
In 1865 Becker had moved from Altham, Lancashire, to Manchester (Blackburn 1902, pp. 28–9).
The enclosure has not been found. Becker was the president of the Manchester Ladies’ Literary Society, whose inaugural meeting was held at the Royal Institution, Manchester, on 30 January 1867 (Blackburn 1902, p. 31). Becker presented CD’s ‘Climbing plants’ at the meeting (see Correspondence vol 15, letter from L. E. Becker, 6 February 1867).
See ‘Two forms in species of Linum, p. 70 (Collected papers 2: 94). CD was referring to the experiments published in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula.
Polyanthus is the common name of a hybrid group derived from some species of the genus Primula.


Blackburn, Helen. 1902. Women’s suffrage: a record of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the British Isles with biographical sketches of Miss Becker. London: Williams & Norgate.

‘Climbing plants’: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 2 February 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 1–118.

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–.

‘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.]

‘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 previous communications. Asks him to send a paper relating to flowers to be read at first meeting of her ladies’ literary and scientific society.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lydia Ernestine Becker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 113
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5316,” accessed on 3 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14