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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   15 September [1868]1

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

Sept. 15

My dear Mr Farrer

I grieve to say that the main features of your case are known. I am the sinner & described them some 10 years ago.2 But I over looked many details, as appendage to single stamen, & several other points.3 I send my notes, but I must beg for their return, as I have no other copy.4 I quite agree the facts are most striking, especially as you put them.— Are you sure that the Hive-Bee is the cutter: it is against my experience.— If sure, make the point more prominent or if not sure erase it.—5 I do not think that the subject is quite new enough for Linn. Socy.; but I daresay the Annals & Mag. of Nat. History or Gardeners’ Chronicle would gladly publish your observations, & it is a great pity they shd. be lost.6 If you like I wd send your paper to either quarter with a note. In this case you must give title & your name, & perhaps it wd be well to premise your remarks with a line of reference to my papers stating that you had observed independently & more fully.—7

I have read my own papers over after an interval of several years, & am amused at the caution at which I put the case that the final end was for crossing distinct individuals, of which I was then as fully convinced as now, but knew that the doctrine would shock all botanists. Now the opinion is becoming familiar.—

To see penetration of pollen-tubes is not difficult, but in most cases requires some practice with dissecting under a 110 th of inch focal distance single lens; & just at first this will seem to you extremely difficult.8

What a capital observer you are—a first rate naturalist has been sacrificed or partly sacrificed to Public life.—9

Believe me, Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. If you come across any large Salvia, look at it—the contrivance is admirable.

It went to my heart to tell a man who came here a few weeks ago with splendid drawings & M.S. on Salvia, that the work had been all done in Germany.—10


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Farrer, 10 September 1868.
Farrer had sent CD a manuscript of his paper on the fertilisation mechanisms of the scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) (see letter from T. H. Farrer, 10 September 1868 and n. 1). CD observed bees and papilionaceous flowers in 1857 and 1858, including the flower of the kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), which is similar to the flower of the scarlet runner. He published these observations as letters in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 24 October 1857 and 14 November 1858 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 18 October [1857], and Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 November 1858 and n. 1).
See Farrer 1868, p. 258; CD refers to Farrer’s discussion of the scarlet runner. CD mentioned Farrer 1868 and discussed the appendage to the extra stamen in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 134 n. 4.
According to the preface of Farrer 1868, p. 255, CD sent him his two letters to the Gardeners’ Chronicle cited in n. 2, above. CD’s notes on his experiments are in DAR 49, and in his Experimental notebook (DAR 157a), pp. 36–8.
In his published paper, Farrer wrote that the smaller hive-bees often went behind the flowers and inserted their proboscides into a hole bored through the lower flower, though he had never seen them cut the holes. He did, however, observe a humble-bee ‘bore or, rather, nip these holes’ (Farrer 1868, p. 258). CD had observed humble-bees cutting the holes in kidney-bean flowers, and had seen both hive-bees and humble-bees sucking nectar through the holes (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 18 October [1857]). See also CD’s observations of bees boring flowers in Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [16 August 1841].
Farrer 1868 was published in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History. CD also refers to the Linnean Society.
Farrer’s preface mentioned three of CD’s papers, and also noted that CD had sent him his two letters to the Gardeners’ Chronicle on the kidney bean (see n. 2, above). Farrer praised CD’s work, and described CD’s papers as having set ‘wonderful and stimulating examples’ (Farrer 1868, pp. 255–6). CD cited Farrer 1868 in regard to what he called Phaseolus multiflorus (a synonym of P. coccineus) in Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 150, 434.
See letter from T. H. Farrer, 10 September 1868. CD used a simple microscope designed to his own specifications by the instrument makers Smith, Beck & Beck; the model was later produced by the company for general sale as ‘Darwin’s Single Microscope’ (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 [August 1862] and n. 13). CD gave more detailed instructions on viewing pollen tubes, including the use of the compound microscope, in Correspondence vol. 12, letter to P. H. Gosse, 7 April [1864]. On CD’s use of microscopes, see Burnett 1992.
Farrer was secretary of the Board of Trade.
CD refers to William Ogle and his work on Salvia, and to Hildebrand 1866b (see letter from William Ogle, 2 September 1868). No record of Ogle’s visit to Down has been found.


Burnett, William A. S. 1992. Darwin’s microscopes. Microscopy: the Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club 36: 604–27.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1868. On the manner of fertilization of the scarlet runner and blue lobelia. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 2: 255–63.


Comments on THF’s MS [on fertilisation of scarlet runners]. Suggests publication, though CD anticipated main features ten years before. Is amused at the caution with which THF put his case that the final end [of the contrivances] was crossing distinct individuals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st baronet and 1st Baron Farrer
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (LS Ms 299/4)
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6365,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

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