skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Bentham   1 May [1868]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 1st.

Dear Bentham

I am particularly obliged to you for telling me a little about Delpino, as it would have broken my wife’s heart to have made out so good an abstract of his notions.2

I will send tomorrow by railway Haeckel’s Morphol: as you can then return all the books together & it will cost you no more trouble.3

I think highly of what little I have read, as does Huxley who has read more. He is dreadful in inventing new terms.4 I also send Sprengel which is a wonderful book, tho’ here and there fanciful. I know R. Brown thought highly of it. It is really curious that he missed the chief key viz. the crossing of distinct individuals.5 Reading the book with this in one’s mind makes many points far clearer than he perceived. I have also remembered & sent a short paper on Martha which is really worth reading.6 With respect to Viola see p. 191 of my Lythrum paper, likewise sent. With respect to the closed flowers I can hardly doubt that they play the same part as detached bulbs.7 Under the unnatural conditions of cultivation Ononis columnæ produces with me only the closed flowers, whilst O. minutissima produces both kinds.8 With some plants, as Lathyrus nissolia, flowers are produced in a state intermediate between perfect & closed flowers.9 When you return all the books & pamphlets (but do not hurry) please direct them exactly as follows

Ch. Darwin Esq.

Bromley Station

Per Rail          Kent

(to be left till called for)

As you seem a little interested at present about the descent theory, I cannot resist telling you that two of the best paleontologs in Europe viz. A. Gaudry & Rutimeyer have declared more or less completely in favour of my views.10

Believe me dear Bentham | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from George Bentham, 30 April 1868.
See letter from George Bentham, 30 April 1868. CD refers to Federico Delpino.
CD refers to Ernst Haeckel’s Generelle Morphologie (Haeckel 1866), which Bentham had enquired about in his letter of 30 April 1868.
CD refers to Thomas Henry Huxley. For CD’s and Huxley’s opinions of Haeckel 1866, see also Correspondence vol. 15. CD’s annotated copy of Haeckel 1866 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 355–7).
CD refers to Sprengel 1793, which Bentham had enquired about in his letter of 30 April 1868. An annotated copy of Sprengel 1793 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (Marginalia 1: 774–85). CD first recorded reading Sprengel 1793 in 1841 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV), and cited it a number of times in Orchids and Cross and self fertilisation. CD mentioned Robert Brown’s high opinion of Sprengel 1793 in Orchids, p. 340 n. In Cross and self fertilisation, p. 455, CD wrote, ‘Sprengel … only occasionally saw that the object for which so many curious and beautiful adapatations have been acquired, was the cross-fertilisation of distinct plants; and he knew nothing of the benefits which the offspring thus receive in growth, vigour, and fertility.’
CD refers to F. Müller 1866. Uncertain whether the plant discussed in this paper was a species of Posoqueria, Fritz Müller named it Martha (posoqueria?) fragrans. The species is now known as Posoqueria densiflora. See also Correspondence vol. 14, letters to Fritz Müller, [9 and] 15 April [1866] and n. 3, and [before 10 December 1866] and n. 9. There is an annotated copy of F. Müller 1866 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See letter from George Bentham, 30 April 1868. In ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’, pp. 191–2 n. (Collected papers 2: 130–1 n. 15), CD argued that the existence of closed, self-fertile flowers did not invalidate his proposition that no species was perpetually self-fertilised. He added that his experiments indicated that the production of seed in perfect (opening) flowers of Viola was dependent exclusively on their being visited by bees, and was not ‘capricious and accidental’, as some thought, and suggested that the existence of opening flowers could be explained by the necessity of an ‘occasional cross with a distinct individual of the same species’.
CD received seeds of Ononis columnae and O. minutissima from John Traherne Moggridge in Mentone, a French town near the Italian border, in 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letters from J. T. Moggridge, 5 and 6 July [1866] and n. 7, and 9 November [1866]); in Forms of flowers, p. 326, he recorded that in 1867, no perfect (opening) flowers of O. columnae were produced, but that in the following year, both perfect and cleistogamic (closed) flowers were produced. CD’s notes on the plants are in DAR 111: A21.
See Forms of flowers, pp. 326–7.
CD refers to Albert Gaudry of France and Ludwig Rütimeyer of Switzerland. See also letter from Albert Gaudry, 11 January 1868, and letter from W. B. Dawkins, 31 January 1868 and n. 4.


Sends Ernst Haeckel’s [Generelle] Morphologie [1866] and C. K. Sprengel’s book [Entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur (1793)].

A. Gaudry and L. Rütimeyer have declared in favour of CD’s views.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Bentham
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (GEB/1/3 f. 702)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6154,” accessed on 22 July 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16