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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   9 May 1869

3 Gloucester Terrace | R.P.

9 May /69

My dear Mr Darwin.

Many thanks for your lesson—1 I think I see what you mean—that each plant lives as it best can, and survives because it has organs which suit it best; and consequently it is wrong to call any plant which lives & thrives “degrade⁠⟨⁠d”—⁠⟩⁠ Still when one finds an organ in one species fully developed & in full function: and the same organ with a similar structure in another species half developed & functionless, may one not (passing over the question whether the less perfect form is derived from the more perfect—or vice versâ, or both from some other form) say that the less perfect “organ” is “degraded?

I think that the poor Cephalanthera comes in for the term more than once in the book which is my great delight2

Very truly yours | T H Farrer


Farrer alludes to CD’s description of Cephalanthera as a degraded form of Epipactis, in which he described the abortion of the rostellum as a ‘degradation of structure’ (see Orchids, pp. 93–4, 106).


Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Thanks CD for lesson that it is wrong to call any plant which lives and thrives "degraded".

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st baronet and 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Gloucester Terrace, 3
Source of text
DAR 164: 52
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6739,” accessed on 26 November 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17