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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   24 September 1873

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sep. 24. 1873

My dear Lyell

I was very glad to get your note, as only a few days ago I was much wishing to hear where & how you were.1 I received the apples only today, as they were directed to Beckenham instead of to Orpington Station; & I have been very glad carefully to compare them.2

The seedlings from the same parent are wonderfully alike in the fruit & apparently in their now withered leaves. I forget what Hooker says; but I have long been well aware that reversions to the crab-state are exceptional & far from close.3 Indeed the wild crabs themselves are very perplexing & differ much. If you care to see what I have said very briefly on the subject, you will find a passage in my Var. under Dom. Vol. 2. p. 350 & a line or 2 in Vol 1. p 31—4 I do not believe that inheritance is so general with apple trees, as Mr Wood thinks. Many have tried, but no one has raised a new Ribstone or Golden Pippin; tho’ one of Andrew Knight’s seedlings makes an approach to the latter.5 The most surprising statement in Mr Wood’s letter seems to me to be about the sterility of his seedlings, as I suppose they must now be several years old.6 It is still more remarkable that his parent trees were not intercrossed, as probably many kinds were in flower at the same time. As I can hardly doubt that bees must carry pollen from tree to tree (which cd be easily proved by cutting off the stamens of several flowers before they opened, & afterwards examining the stigmas) it really looks as if the pollen of the above named vars. was prepotent over that of other vars; & if so they certainly have the character of species.7 It wd be a grand experiment to fertilize some flowers of the Hawthornden with pollen from a distinct plant or best a seedling of the same var. & with pollen of some other & very different var., & see the character of the seedlings thus produced; but I am too old for such a work.

I have been rather bad of late, & am now under very strict orders by Dr A. Clark;8 but I very much hope that later in the autumn, if a little change wd do you any good, that you will pay us a visit together with Miss Lyell. Her name vividly recalls many delightful evenings in Hart St.9

Believe me, my dear Lyell | Your old & affectionate pupil | Ch. Darwin


Lyell’s letter has not been found.
Lyell apparently forwarded specimens of seedling apples and wild crab-apples that had been sent to him by S. V. Wood Jr (see letter from S. V. Wood Jr to Charles Lyell, 19 September 1873).
In J. D. Hooker 1859, p. ix, quoted in C. Lyell 1872, 2: 306–7, Joseph Dalton Hooker had stated that apples, if grown from seed or left uncultivated, did not revert to the original wild crab-apple but produced crab states of the varieties to which they belonged. CD wrote ‘good’ beside this point in his copy of J. D. Hooker 1859; the page on which Lyell quoted Hooker is uncut in CD’s copy of C. Lyell 1872.
CD evidently intended to refer to Variation 1: 350 and 2: 31.
Thomas Andrew Knight had produced the Downton Pippin from a cross between a male Golden Pippin and a female Orange Pippin (see Knight 1809).
Wood held that seedling garden apples did not produce crab forms but true apples of their own kind; these, however, were so lacking in vigour as to be nearly sterile and therefore unable to become wild species. See letter from S. V. Wood Jr to Charles Lyell, 19 September 1873.
In Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 391–2, 464, CD discussed the prepotency of pollen from the same species over that from different species.
CD was being treated by Andrew Clark after falling severely ill at the end of August (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 September [1873] and n. 5).
Lyell does not appear to have visited Down, but he did call on CD on 10 November 1873, when the Darwins were in London (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Lyell lived at 16 Hart Street in 1836, when CD first benefited from his advice and friendship after the Beagle voyage (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Catherine Darwin, 7 December [1836], and letter from Charles Lyell, 26 December 1836). Marianne Lyell was Lyell’s sister.


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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

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.

Knight, Thomas Andrew. 1809. A short account of a new apple, called the Downton Pippin. [Read 7 March 1809.] Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 1 (1805–12): 145–6.

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.

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


Discusses apple specimens received from CL; reversion to crab state. Cites passage on subject in Variation.

Comments on letter from Mr Wood on inheritance in fruit-trees.

Would like to cross flowers of "Hawthornden" with many distinct varieties.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.432)
Physical description
LS(A) 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9065,” accessed on 30 March 2023,

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