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Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. V. Wood Jr to Charles Lyell   27 September 1873

Brentwood, Essex.

Sept 27. 1873

Dear Sir Charles

I return you Mr Darwins letter & thank you for the offer of the loan of your copy of his “Variation under domestication” but as I have read it, and we are in the muddle of moving house, I will not accept it.1 Perhaps Miss Buckley would copy the few lines Mr Darwin refers to in his letter & inclose them when you write further on the Crag subjects.2 I have read all Mr Darwins works except that on the fertilization of orchids but I was an enthusiastic believer in Evolution a dozen years before the first of these “Origin of Species” appeared. The study of Carpenters Dictionary of Physiology3 (I think it is so called for it is years since I saw it) led me to that belief although the author of it did not at that time adopt any theory of the Origin of species.

I am surprised, at Mr Darwins surprise about the sterility of seedling apples, as I thought that the tendency of most apple seedlings to sterility had been fully observed. Were this not the case we should get many more new apples than we do, but it is useless to introduce new varieties into the market unless they are fruitful   I had noticed this sterility before I began to plant pips— When we lived in the Market Garden Country at Twickenham4 I noticed several fences of seedling apples & a blossom on these was the exception rather than the rule. This sterility was no doubt augmented by the Wood being cut occasionally to keep it down to a fence size, but as this was only done once in 3 or 4 years that could have had but a little effect in checking the blossoming

When we came here also I found what appeared from the leaf to be a seedling apple in a fence & this was a high tree 20 years old or more & during some three or four years after I first saw it until it was cut down it put forth no blossoms

As the three trees of which I sent you the fruits & sprays were just left by chance ungrafted out of fifty or so, & as they are absolutely true to their parents, it is reasonable to infer that had the whole fifty been preserved ungrafted they would have displayed similar characters   You will observe that Mr Darwin in his letter says that he is well aware that reversions to the Crabstate are exceptional. This is pretty much what I contend but very different from what you have quoted from Dr Hooker5

When we consider, what a multitude of blossoms an apple tree puts forth it does not seem to me remarkable, as Mr Darwin suggests it to be, that they should not be intercrossed with other varieties

Such an intercrossing must be quite the exception I mean very few of the blossoms can get so crossed & perhaps had I preserved all my fifty or so of plants ungrafted an instance or two of such a cross might have appeared. Perhaps the occasional tendency to revert to the Crab may be induced by such occasional crosses.

I well recollect that all the young apple trees before I grafted them possessed the large & soft leaf which distinguishes the apple from the small & harder leaved wild Crab but of course they were all too young to have borne fruit.

I shall have no opportunity of carrying my experiments further as in leaving this place I leave my trees behind me6

I am sorry to see from Mr Darwins letter that his health is again suffering, but it is consolatory to remember that invalids are far from being short lived. My father was an invalid from the age of 36 to that of 50 but though he is now approaching the end of his 76th. year I am most thankful to say he is strong active & well though in the natural course of things he cannot look forward to much extension of that blessing even if his years are prolonged.7

Mr Whitaker tells me that he has found the Crag at Sudbury.8 If so it escaped my examinations but that is not surprising as I had so large an area to work out that I could not help missing some sections. I should not however admit it to be crag unless I saw the fossils which I have asked him, but without response, to send me. Mere redness & the presence of shell fragments is as likely to be Glacial as Crag. He does not say what what crag it is, whether Coralline, Red, or fluvio-marine. From the position of it in a narrow preglacial valley at Sudbury it ought, if Crag, to be fluvio-marine. I however withold belief in it until I see some good evidence   It is very far west of any Crag yet known in East Anglia.

I am Dear Sir Charles | Yours faithfully | Searles V Wood Jn

Sir Chas Lyell.

P.S. At Polstead in Suffolk (Near the Stour) Cherry trees are very common in the hedges & of very large size. I have always understood that Polstead was celebrated for Cherries of a small black kind & I think that it must be these wild trees which yield them & if so they must be established species or permanent varieties to spread among the hedges & woods as they have done


Lyell evidently forwarded CD’s letter to him of 24 September 1873; in this letter CD referred to apples that Lyell had received from Wood and forwarded to CD. Wood was moving to Suffolk (see n. 6, below).
Wood had sent Lyell proof-sheets of the second supplement to the Crag Mollusca (see letter from S. V. Wood to Charles Lyell, 19 September 1873 and n. 1). Arabella Burton Buckley was Lyell’s secretary. 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.
William Benjamin Carpenter does not appear to have published a work with this title, but his Principles of general and comparative physiology (Carpenter 1839) had gone though four editions by 1854. CD recorded reading the 1854 edition in his reading notebook for 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV).
Twickenham, Middlesex, was an important centre for commercial market gardening from the late eighteenth century (see Urwin 1982).
See letter to Charles Lyell, 24 September 1873. Hooker claimed that the seedling products of garden apples produced crab states of their own (rather than the original wild crab-apple), while Wood stated that garden apples grown from seed remained true to their kind and did not revert to a crab state but became barren (see letter from S. V. Wood Jr to Charles Lyell, 19 September 1873).
Wood was moving from Essex to Suffolk (see letter from S. V. Wood Jr to Charles Lyell, 19 September 1873 and n. 10).
Searles Valentine Wood Sr died in 1880.
William Whitaker published his discovery of the crag at Sudbury, Suffolk, in 1874 (see Whitaker 1874).


Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1839. Principles of general and comparative physiology. London: John Churchill.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Urwin, A. C. B. 1982. Commercial nurseries and market gardens. Paper number 50. Twickenham: Twickenham Local History Society.

Whitaker, William. 1874. On the occurrence of thanet beds and of crag at Sudbury, Suffolk. [Read 10 June 1874.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 30: 401–5.


Returns CD’s books and discusses apples and Crags at Sudbury.

Letter details

Letter no.
Searles Valentine Wood
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Brentwood, Essex
Source of text
Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collections (Gen.117/6330-1)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9075F,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

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