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Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. V. Wood Jr to Charles Lyell   19 September 1873

Brentwood Essex

Sept 19th. 1873.

Dear Sir Charles.

You will have received from Miss Buckley proofs of the concluding remarks Synoptical list and analysis of the Supplemt to the Crag Mollusca.—1 In that list reference is made in the column of Remarks to all occurrences of shells in the deep sea dredgings so far as they are mentioned in the “Depths of the Sea”2 which you were kind enough to send me. Although these were added, I think that only one or two crosses had to be added in the columns from information thus supplied, & these not important. No addition was made necessarily by it to the number of species known as living; & altogether, so far as the mollusca of the Upper Tertiaries of East Anglia are concerned, the dredging of the deep sea has had an almost infinitesimal result; & indeed except in disclosing new forms of Sponges and crustacea,—animals that are preserved fossil only under very exceptional circumstances—the whole affair seems to me only another instance of “a great cry & but little Wool”;3 &, so far as the reports of the Challengers discoveries have appeared in Nature, the same remark applies to the proceedings of that expedition also.4 I have made some notes (with a pencil lightly so as to allow of their easy removal with india rubber) in the margin of the Copy of “Depths of the Sea” which you lent me, as I could not easily notice in any other way what I thought worth your attention; & particularly I have so noted all the mollusca there mentioned which are Crag or newer tertiary species

I am much obliged to you for the loan of the book which my father has also read and I have today sent it to 73 Harley Street by Railway parcel   I have taken the opportunity of putting with it a box of specimens of seedling apples & wild Crabs & of the leaves &c of each & these I hope will reach you before you leave town as otherwise they may decay & the means of comparison be injured5

You will remember that sometime since I wrote you of the experiments I commenced in 1859 on the subject of the popular idea that the seedling products of the Garden apple were crabs; & that I told you that the opinion of Dr Hooker, quoted by you in your Principles, that Garden apples produced a crab form of their own was in my opinion erroneous; & that they produce true apples of their own kinds in all cases, except those rare instances in which a new variety resulted.6 I also mention that the progeny of the Garden apple, although true to the parent, was, in almost all cases so feeble in its reproductive power that it could never sustain itself in the battle of life as a wild species. I told you also, I think, that of three trees which were left ungrafted by me out of a considerable number of seedlings, one only had borne some years ago, & then only two apples which are true to the parents & that the few feeble blossoms which these three trees put forth did not set; & consequently, altho’ presenting in the character of their leaves the appearance of their parents, they were barren of fruit. You sent my letter to Mr Darwin, & he replied that he thought that if they had been planted in a favourable place they would not have been barren.7

I did not think it worth while to reply to this remark, but it was not applicable to the case, because in the same clump in which these apple trees were planted was a grafted peartree (of the Gigantic baking kind), and this has every year been so laden with fruit as to necessitate the removal of part to prevent the branches from breaking: now these seedling apples enjoyed equal freedom of air sky & sun as this exuberantly productive pear, but though of similar age & size they continued barren. This year, however, is with us a most productive apple season, every blossom nearly having set in the spring; & the branches of the grafted apples are consequently bowed to the ground with the weight of their fruits. Now the same favourable circumstances which caused this large crop on the grafted trees caused the few feeble blossoms which my seedlings put forth to set & the result is that the tree which bore two apples some years ago has again borne two this year. The others, which had never borne before have also now borne—one of them of similar kind to the first mentioned has borne two apples only & the other fourteen— The pips I planted were those of the stone pippin (a hard sour winter apple that keeps the twelve months round) those of the Hawthornden (a moderately early eating apple) & those of an eating apple called the Cockle pippin

I remember when living at Twickenham (where I planted my pips & where I shewed the late Dr Woodward8 the peculiar trifurcate condition of the leaves of the Cockle pippin seedlings) that there was a large hedge of seedling apples which were similarly barren and put forth only a blossom here & there

I mentioned to you that the progeny of the Cocklepippin all dwindled away after the first year & died, having put forth trifurcate leaves like those of the Hawthorn (or wild may) & that I thought it possible this might have resulted from the parent apple having been grafted (as is sometimes done) on the wild thorn (white thorn)—I have pears in good productive condition grafted by myself in 1860 on a Hawthorn i.e. white thorn hedge— The plants from the other pips however (Hawthornden & Stone pippin) throve & grew very strongly & I grafted all but these three to which I have been referring & they have borne abundant fruit for several years past— The three ungrafted examples however I retained as experiments & fortunately (as we are now leaving this place) they have borne this year.— I have put labels to each specm & have also sent you some specimens of the wild crab for comparison. The two Stone pippin seedlings are as true to their parents as the progeny of any species can be but they are not yet full grown & would increase somewhat in size if they had been left on the trees for 3 or 4 weeks longer.— These are respectively one out of the two apples which each of these two trees have borne. The three Hawthorndens in the box are equally true to their parents as you may satisfy yourself by getting a Hawthornden from Covent Garden & I have sent three out of the fourteen that you may cut one up & taste it & you will find it sweet & good flavoured & if you have the courage to cut up & taste one of the ripe specimens of wild Crab you will fully realize the difference. The Stone pippins are not eating, but pudding apples, when ripe & are not usually consumed until the following spring & being furthermore not quite full grown & therefore immature their taste would be no criterion but if you cook one you would find at once that it was a genuine apple & no Crab.

You might perhaps get a specimen of the Stone pippin (French Crab it is sometimes called) from Covent Garden but not until November as they would not be picked till the end of October. They are however not a market gardeners fruit—& very likely not to be obtained at market9

I shod add that the Stone pippin is a shy bearer, & the Hawthornden a very free bearer, & the two apples from the seedling tree of the Stone pippin kind, & the 14 from the seedling tree of the Hawthornden, represent about the proportional fecundity of the parent apples   each parent tree of the same size as these seedling trees would this year bear, about a hundredfold (certainly fifty fold) of the quantity which their feebly fertile progeny have produced—

I think that you will agree with me that these instances prove that the Garden apple is as good a species as any wild tree (indeed I go further & say that each cultivated variety of apple is a good species that does not like the varieties of the Brassica intermingle with other varieties) & that it shews that feebleness of reproductive power, or the reverse, are important factors in the problem of the production of wild species—

My father has with myself watched these trees from the pips & will confirm all I have said & we are both convinced that the statement you have quoted from Dr Hooker is erroneous.— I mentioned in my letter to Miss Buckley (which she informs me she has sent you) that we are leaving this place for Suffolk to reside next month.—10

I am glad to hear that you have had a successful tour in Switzerland11 & am, Dear Sir Charles | faithfully yours Searles V. Wood Jn

PS. Do not return the apple specimens

Sir Chas Lyell Bart FRS &c


Arabella Burton Buckley was Lyell’s secretary. Wood’s father, Searles Valentine Wood Sr, had published A monograph of the crag Mollusca (Wood 1848–61); the second part of the supplement to this work was completed in 1873 and published the following February (Wood 1873). Crag is the geological term given to the Pliocene and Miocene strata to which deposits of shelly sand found in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex belong.
Thomson 1873a.
‘Great cry and little wool, as the devil said when he sheared the hogs’: much palaver and little result.
Charles Wyville Thomson, author of Depths of the sea (Thomson 1873a) and head of the civilian scientists on board the oceanographic survey ship HMS Challenger, had begun reporting on the findings of the expedition in ‘Notes from the Challenger’ in Nature, 8 May 1873, pp. 28–30, and 15 May 1873, pp. 51–3. He had earlier noted the scarcity of molluscs in deep water (see Nature, 20 March 1873, pp. 385–8).
Seventy-three Harley Street was Lyell’s London address. Lyell forwarded the apple specimens to CD (see letter to Charles Lyell, 24 September 1873).
Lyell had forwarded this letter to CD (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter to Charles Lyell, 1 June 1872 and enclosure). Joseph Dalton Hooker’s view had been expressed in J. D. Hooker 1859, p. ix, and quoted in C. Lyell 1872, 2: 306–7.
Samuel Pickworth Woodward.
Covent Garden was London’s fruit, vegetable, and flower market.
The Wood family came from Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk.
Lyell had visited Switzerland in August 1873 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 30 June 1873 and n. 10).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1859. On the flora of Australia, its origin, affinities, and distribution; being an introductory essay to the flora of Tasmania. London: Lovell Reeve.

Lyell, Charles. 1872. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 11th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Wood, Searles Valentine. 1848–61. A monograph of the crag Mollusca, with descriptions of shells from the upper Tertiaries of the British Isles. 2 vols. London: Palaeontographical Society.

Wood, Searles Valentine. 1873. Supplement to the crag Mollusca, Part II (bivalves). Monograph of the Palaeontographical Society 27: 99–231.


Thanks for proofs of the Supplement to Crag Mollusca. Sends crab apples.

Letter details

Letter no.
Searles Valentine Wood
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Brentwood, Essex
Source of text
Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collections (Gen.117/6327-9)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9059G,” accessed on 21 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21