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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Kemp   1 November [1843]

Down, near Bro〈m〉ley, | Kent

Nov. 1st.

Dear Sir

I have been detained from home, otherwise I shd have sooner answered your last communication.—1

I am sorry to say that Mr Babington (who from the te〈s〉timony of several Botanists, is a first-rate judge in the genus Atriplex) pronounces the plant reared at the Hort. Soc. to be A. angustifolium; I enclose his le〈t〉ter, as you might like to see it.—2 I am quite p〈u〉zzled what to recommend you about publication,—b〈u〉t first let me say, that, from what I have seen 〈of〉 your ardent love of natural science, I would as soon believe myself capable of playing a hoax o〈n〉 the public, as I would believe you to be so.— T〈h〉e most sceptical of the public wd only su〈s〉pect an accidental error. For myself I believe the seeds had been deposited, as you describe & that they produced the plants, you sent to Prof. H〈e〉nslow.— and I think I have shown by my 〈co〉rrespondence, that I do not underrate the interest of the3most of line missing〉 seeds were sown, & with you, two species of Polygonum. P. aviculare & P. convolvulus (as Henslow informs me) & one of Atriplex came up,4 whereas at the Hort. Soc. another species or variety of Atriplex (for I shd have told you, that the Atriplex reared by you is undoubtedly according to Henslow the A. patula) & a Rumex R. acetosella:5 therefore 3. genera, and 4 or 5 species have come up from 2 kind of seeds.— Moreover unfortunately the plants are just those, which might be expected to come up from garden soil. If the Atriplex had turned out a new species that alone wd have been good evidence; or even if the same variety of this genus had come up with you and at the Hort. Soc, there wd have been some evidence. I daresay the Rumex at the Hort. Soc was from a seed in the soil, but the Public (when all the facts are stated, which of c〈our〉se you would, wou〈ld〉 I fear, say it is more probable that the seeds of all these plants were contained in the soil, than that such ancient seeds shd retain their vitality.— I believe differently myself; but I declare I do not see, how you can make your case sufficiently clear, to justify its publication.— I take great blame to myself that I did not urge Prof. Lindley to plant the seeds in a circle or in a perfectly straight line, for in that case, or had you done so, the evidence wd have been good for the majority of the plants which came up, though even then not for every individual one.

Let me hear what you think of what I have said.— I have all your papers safe & wd return them to you at anytime—6 I assure you, I feel extremely disappointed at the prospect 〈of〉 your trouble being thrown away, & of so curious (& as I believe real) 〈a〉 fact being lost— I trust you will credit me, when I say, that I have done as much in endeavouring to obtain information for you, as I could if I had discovered the seeds myself; & that I have advised you to the best of my judgment.—

Believe me, dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin


See this volume, Supplement, letter to William Kemp, [14 October 1843], n. 2, and Correspondence vol. 2, letter from William Kemp, 17 October 1843.
See Correspondence vol. 2, letter from C. C. Babington, 26 October 1843. The specimen of Atriplex angustifolia had been sent to John Lindley, who had not been able to identify it (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter from John Lindley, [before 2 September 1843]). CD refers to Charles Cardale Babington.
Kemp had written to CD to ask whether or not to publish an account of his discovery of seeds twenty-five feet deep in a sand pit (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter from William Kemp, 17 October 1843). CD refers to John Stevens Henslow.
The plants grown by Kemp were identified by Henslow as Polygonum convolvulus, P. aviculare, and Atriplex patula (see Correspondence vol. 2, letters from J. S. Henslow, 9 October 1843 and 17 October 1843).
John Lindley had identified one of the seeds sent to him as Rumex acetosella. See Correspondence vol. 2, letter from John Lindley, [before 2 September 1843]. The Atriplex was identified by Babington as Atriplex angustifolia (see above n. 3).
Kemp’s accounts of the discovery of the seeds were included in his letters to CD. See Correspondence vol. 2, letters from William Kemp, 2 October 1843 and 17 October 1843.


J. S. Henslow’s and C. C. Babington’s opinions on WK’s seeds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Kemp
Sent from
1 NO 1843
Source of text
Ruth Cramond and David Cramond (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 710F,” accessed on 7 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement)