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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Alexander Johns   13 August [1868?]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E. [Freshwater]

Aug 13.

Dear Sir

I am much obliged for your note; but I am sorry to say that I am not botanist sufficient to form a judgment on the specimen which you have sent.2 I do not quite understand whether you suppose that the variety is the result of hybridism or of the present peculiar summer, but in any case I shd think it wd be well worth observing.

The thought had not occurred to me, but I dare say this very hot summer will have a marked effect on some British plants in their struggle for life. I am aware that this is a subject to which you have for many years attended, for I remember quoting from you a statement regarding the number, chiefly I think of leguminous plants, which you were able to cover under the circumference of your hat.3

With my thanks for your kindness in writing to me, I remain Dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin


The year is conjectured from the headed notepaper, which CD used between May 1861 and April 1869, and the reference to a hot summer; the summer of 1868 was unusually hot and dry (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 23 July [1868] and n. 4).
The letter from Johns has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL. The specimen has not been identified.
In the Phytologist 2 (1845): 908, Johns said that species of leguminous plants grew so closely together at a spot near Land’s End that he could cover growing specimens of eight of them with his hat. CD referred to Johns’s observation in the manuscript of his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, p. 230), as an exception to his rule that large numbers of closely allied forms did not tend to occupy the same area.


Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.


CD not a good enough botanist to form a judgment of specimen. Does not understand whether CAJ supposes the variety to be a result of hybridism or of the present very hot summer, which CD cannot doubt will have an effect on some British plants in their struggle for life.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
C. A Johns
Sent from
Freshwater Down letterhead
Source of text
Mitchell Library, Sydney (A27 p. 60)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6312,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

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