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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   17 October 1872

Abinger Hall, | Reigate. (Post Town) | Gomshall (Station) S.E.R.

17 Oct /72

My dear Mr Darwin

Many thanks for your very kind note.1 It would need very little to set me again on flowers— But I am afraid of it; it is so fascinating.— What with Railway Reports: Shipping Laws; housebuilding; guests; & perhaps above all—children who now depend wholly on me, I have a thoroughly occupied life, and can scarcely find time or brains for what would be a very great pleasure.2

Still I should like to see if one might not do something with Pisum & Lathyrus in the way of experiments— I must come to you for some hints before next spring. Might not a comparison of Lathyrus Odoratus, with L. sylvestris, (of which in its natural state I have some seeds) be interesting. The latter must have survived here in a natural way. How strange if after all the generations of L. odor. & of Pisum this now useless apparatus should survive in its original elaborate form—3

Before I had your note I had read the two articles you speak of twice over, with great interest.4 That doctrine of inherited qualities—mental & corporeal—is surely one of the most fertile, both in the region of physiology & in that of mental & moral philosophy—5 It brings together so many different & primâfacie opposite truths

Sincerely Yours | T H Farrer


See letter to T. H. Farrer, 13 October [1872] and n. 7. Farrer’s wife, Frances Farrer, had died in 1870, leaving four children (ODNB).
For Farrer’s observations on Lathyrus odoratus (sweetpea) and L. sylvestris, see Farrer 1872, p. 480. In his paper, Farrer referred to ‘Lathyrus sylvestris or latifolius’ as the everlasting pea; they are now considered to be separate species. Farrer had discussed the floral morphology of different peas, noting how the structure promoted fertilisation by insects. Sweetpeas were known to be self-fertile, however, so Farrer evidently wondered why the floral adaptations for crossing remained. CD had also considered the problem (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. T. Moggridge, 13 November [1866] and n. 3).
In his article on instinct, Douglas Alexander Spalding had proposed a theory of ‘inherited association’, arguing that frequently repeated actions would establish nervous connections in the brain that could be inherited by offspring as instincts (Spalding 1872, p. 486).


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.

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.


Suggests possible experiments with Pisum and Lathyrus.

Has read the article CD spoke of; the doctrine of inherited mental and corporeal qualities is most fertile.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st baronet and 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 164: 73
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8563,” accessed on 2 June 2023,

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