skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   13 October [1872]1

at Miss Woodington’s | The Common | Sevenoaks

Oct 13th

My dear Mr Farrer

I must send you a line to say how extremely good your article appears to me to be.2 It is even better than I thought, & I remember thinking it very good.3 I am particularly glad of the excellent summary of evidence about the common pea, as it will do for me hereafter to quote.4

Nocturnal insects will not do.5 I suspect that the aboriginal parent had bluish flowers. I have seen several times Bees visiting common & Sweet peas, & yet vars., purposely grown close together, hardly ever intercross. This is a point which for years has half driven me mad, & I have discussed it in my Var. of Animals & Plants under Dom:.—6 I now suspect (& I wish I had strength to experimentise next Spring) that from changed climate both species are prematurely fertilised & therefore hardly ever cross. When artificially crossed by removal of own pollen in bud, the offspring are very vigorous.

Farewell,— I wish I could compel you to go on working at fertilisation instead of so insignificant a subject as the commerce of the country!7 You pay me a very pretty compliment at the beginning of your paper.8 | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin.

Have you read the very curious article on Instinct in the same Nature?9 That on parthenogenesis is also very good.—10 It is a wonderful number.—


The year is established by the address. CD stayed in Sevenoaks from 5 to 26 October 1872 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
CD refers to the first part of Farrer’s article ‘On the fertilisation of a few common papilionaceous flowers’, which appeared in Nature, 10 and 17 October 1872 (Farrer 1872). CD’s annotated copy of the second part of the article is in DAR 77: 175–7.
Farrer had sent a manuscript version of his paper to CD in 1869, but CD informed him that many of his observations had already been published by Federico Delpino (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter from T. H. Farrer, 18 September 1869 and n. 3, and letter to T. H. Farrer, 10 October [1869]).
See Farrer 1872, pp. 478–80.
See Farrer 1872, p. 480. Farrer had not seen bees or other insects visiting common pea (Pisum sativum) flowers and wondered whether white pea-blossoms might attract night-flying insects.
See Variation 1: 329–30.
Farrer was permanent secretary of the Board of Trade (ODNB).
See Farrer 1872, p. 478. Farrer had referred to CD’s kindness and encouragement in advising him on his work.
The article was ‘On instinct’ by Douglas Alexander Spalding (Spalding 1872).
CD refers to the first part of an article, ‘Siebold’s new researches in parthenogenesis’, by Edwin Ray Lankester (Lankester 1872).


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

Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1872. On the fertilisation of a few common papilionaceous flowers. Nature, 10 October 1872, pp. 478–80, and 17 October 1872, pp. 498–501.

Lankester, Edwin Ray. 1872. Siebold’s new researches in parthenogenesis. Nature, 10 October 1872, pp. 483–5, and 24 October 1872, pp. 523–5.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


THF’s article in Nature ["The fertilisation of a few papilionaceous flowers", 6 (1872): 478–80, 498–501] is extremely good.

Suspects he now has answer to why common peas and sweetpeas hardly ever intercross, a point which half drove CD mad for years.

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 299/18)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8557,” accessed on 29 May 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20