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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   11 December [1862]1

Down Bromley Kent

Decr. 11th.—

Dear Sir

I have read your paper with much interest.2 You ask for remarks on matter, which is alone really important, shall you think me impertinent (I am sure I do not mean to be so) if I hazard a remark on style, which is of more importance than some think? In my opinion (whether or no worth much) your paper would have been much better if written more simply & less elaborated,—more like your letters. It is a golden rule always to use, if possible, a short old Saxon word. Such a sentence as “so purely dependent is the incipient plant on the specific morphological tendency”3—does not sound to my ears like good mother English—it wants translating.—

Here & there you might, I think, have condensed some sentences: I go on plan of thinking every single word which can be omitted without actual loss of sense as a decided gain.— Now perhaps you will think me a muddling intruder; Anyhow it is the advice of an old hackneyed writer who sincerely wishes you well.—

Your remarks on the two sexes counteracting variability in product of the one is new to me.4 But I cannot avoid thinking that there is something unknown & deeper in seminal generation. Reflect on the long succession of embryological changes in every animal. Does a bud ever produce cotyledons or embryonic leaves? I have been much interested by your remarks on inheritance at corresponding ages; I hope you will, as you say, continue to attend to this.5 Is it true that female plants always produce female by parthenogenesis?6 If you can answer this I shd. be glad; it bears on my Primula work: I thought on subject but gave up investigating what had been observed, because female Bee by parthenogenesis produces males alone. Your paper has told me much that in my ignorance was quite new to me.—

Thanks about P. Scotica. If any important criticisms are made on Primula to Bot. Soc. I shd. be glad to hear them.7 If you think fit, you may state that I repeated the crossing experiments on P. Sinensis & Cowslip with the same result this Spring as last year—indeed with rather more marked difference in fertility of the two crosses.8 In fact had I then proved Linum case I would not have wasted time in repetition.— I am determined I will at once publish on Linum.—9

We seem predestined to work on same subjects: for 3 or 4 summers I have worked hard at Drosera & Dionæa & have almost a volume of materials, which I suppose some day I shall publish; ie if ever I have time to work my materials into shape.10 Irritability of plants has been a hobby-horse to me. I suspect it will turn out that irritability of same nature, only intensified in Dionæa &c. is very common with plants.—11 If your paper on Drosera is published, I shd. be grateful for a copy.—12 Two German papers have been written on subject, but I now forget where; & there is good French paper on Structure, which I daresay you know13   I was right to be cautious in supposing you in error about Siphocampylus (no flowers were enclosed):14 I hope that you will make out whether the pistil presents two definite lengths; I shall be astounded if it does.—

I do not fully understand your objections to N. Selection;15 if I do, I presume they would apply with full force to, for instance, Birds. Reflect on modification of Arab-Turk Horse with our English Race-Horse.—16

I have had satisfaction to tell my publisher to send my Journal & Origin to your address.—17

I suspect with your fertile mind, you would find it far better to experiment on your own choice; but if on reflection you would like to try some which interest me, I shd. be truly delighted, & in this case would write in some detail.18 If you have means, to repeat Gärtners experiments on vars. of Verbascum or on Maize (see Origin) such experiments would be preeminently important.—19 I could never get vars. of Verbascum.20 I could suggest experiments on Potatoes analogous with case of Passiflora; even this case of Passiflora,, often as it has been repeated, might be with advantage repeated.21

I have worked like a slave (having counted about 9000 seeds) on Melastomas on meaning of the two sets of very different stamens, & as yet have been shamefully beaten, & I now cry for aid.—22

I could suggest what I believe very good scheme (at least Dr. Hooker thought so) for systematic degeneration of culinary plants & so find out their origin; but this would be laborious & work of years.—23

I am tired, so pray believe me, yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I have been thinking that if you do not complete your beginning on the non-dimorphic Primula, I should like extremely to do so & would of course fully acknowledge your work.24 What I shd. do would be to fertilise a dozen or score of flowers with own pollen & another score of flowers with pollen of others, the most different, & count the seed of each capsule.—

Now could you aid me (unless you resolve to do the work yourself) & procure me from any Edinburgh nursery-garden 12 a dozen plants (or fewer, if so many could not be got) & 12 dozen of any of the other non-dimorphic species. They could be sent in pots in box addressed. “C. Darwin care of Down Postman, Bromley Kent” & I could pay by P.O.— They give or lend me all plants at Kew; but they are very weak in Primulas. I am sick of ordering plants at London nurseries; I so often get wrong thing. Could you aid me in this?—


The year is provided by the relationship to the letter from John Scott, 6 December [1862].
Scott 1862a. See letter from John Scott, 6 December [1862]. CD’s annotated copy of this paper is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Scott 1862a, p. 216.
In his paper, Scott aimed, by analysing the nature of fern spores, to shed new light on their ‘apparently anomalous properties’, and particularly on ‘that peculiar facility afforded by spores for the reproduction and perpetuation of any accidental variation of the parts upon which they originate’ (Scott 1862a, p. 210). Scott contrasted the reproductive organs in ferns with those in higher plants. Since in the latter the embryo was ‘the modified resultant of two originally distinct organs’ (p. 214), there would, he claimed, ‘necessarily be a greater tendency to efface any individual peculiarities of these than would have been the case, had the embryo been the product of a single organ.’ See also letter from John Scott, 6 December [1862] and n. 15.
Scott 1862a, pp. 217–8. Scott prefaced his remarks by quoting CD’s statement (Origin, p. 13): ‘That at whatever period a peculiarity first appears, it tends to appear in the offspring at a corresponding age, though sometimes earlier.
Scott 1862a, p. 219.
CD refers to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (see letters from John Scott, 6 December [1862] and 17 December [1862]).
Having discovered in 1861 that certain species of Linum were dimorphic, CD carried out crossing experiments in the summer of 1862 on L. perenne and L. grandiflorum. According to his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), CD wrote his paper, ‘Two forms in species of Linum, between 11 and 21 December 1862.
See letter from John Scott, 6 December [1862]. In 1860, CD began to experiment on the sensitivity to various substances of the insectivorous plants, Drosera rotundifolia and Dionaea muscipula (see Correspondence vol. 8). He had hoped to continue and complete the experiments in the summer of 1861, but subsequently decided to postpone them (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 February [1861], and letter to Daniel Oliver, 11 September [1861]). He carried out further experiments in May and September 1862 (see DAR 54: 29–49, 74–5). However, he did not again work extensively on this subject until 1872 (LL 3: 322); his findings were published in 1875 as Insectivorous plants.
Scott read his paper on Drosera and Dionaea (Scott 1862b) before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 11 December 1862. CD cited Scott’s paper in Insectivorous plants, pp. 1 n.–2 n.
In a brief overview of the literature on insectivorous plants in Insectivorous plants, p. 1 n., CD referred to five papers on Drosera rotundifolia published by German and French writers before 1862: Milde 1852 and Nitschke 1861a and 1861b (in Botanische Zeitung), and Grönland 1855 and Trécul 1855 (in Annales des Sciences Naturelles (Botanique)).
CD apparently refers to the fact that an objection to natural selection based on the effect of blending inheritance on incipient varieties, would be particularly telling in cases where individuals paired for life (as with birds). CD had cited the gradual improvement of ‘the whole body of English racehorses’ by selection and training in Origin p. 35, noting that they had come to surpass the parent Arab stock. See also Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI.
The references are to Origin, pp. 269–71, and Gärtner 1844 and 1849; CD’s extensively annotated copies of the latter works are in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 248–98). CD considered the experiments particularly important because of their bearing on an objection raised against natural selection by Thomas Henry Huxley (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 18 December [1862] and nn. 8–12, and Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI).
See, for example, Correspondence vol. 9, letters to J. D. Hooker, 28 September [1861], 18 October [1861], 23 October [1861], and 1 November [1861], and this volume, letter to C. C. Babington, 20 January [1862], and letter to W. E. Darwin, 4 [July 1862] and n. 4.
The reference is to the fact that in Passiflora it had been found that plants could be ‘much more easily fertilised by the pollen of a distinct species, than with its own’ (Natural selection, p. 400; see also Origin, p. 251). Scott reported the results from a series of experiments on sterility and hybridisation in Passiflora, begun in 1863, in Scott 1864b.
Hooker discussed this project with CD during a visit to Down House in April 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Asa Gray, 25 April [1860]). See also letter from C. W. Crocker, 31 October 1862 and n. 12.
Scott had apparently sent CD an account of his experiments on Primula in the missing portion of his letter of [20 November – 2 December 1862]). After further research, Scott wrote a paper on the subject (Scott 1864c), which CD later cited in Forms of flowers.


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

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1844. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Befruchtungsorgane der vollkommeneren Gewächse und über die natürliche und künstliche Befruchtung durch den eigenen Pollen. Pt 1 of Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Befruchtung der vollkommeneren Gewächse. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Grönland, Johannes. 1855. Note sur les organes glanduleux du genre Drosera. Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 4th ser. 3: 297–303.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Milde, Karl August Julius. 1852. Ueber die Reizbarkeit der Blätter von Drosera rotundifolia. Botanische Zeitung 10: 540. [Vols. 8,10]

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Trécul, Auguste. 1855. Organisation des glandes pédicellées des feuilles du Drosera rotundifolia. Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 4th ser. 3: 303–11.

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


Criticises style of JS’s fern paper [Edinburgh New Philos. J. 2d ser. 16 (1862): 209–27].

JS’s remark on "the two sexes counteracting variability in the product of the one" is new to CD.

Does the female [fern?] plant always produce female by parthenogenesis?

They seem to work on same subjects; CD has much material on Drosera.

Does not understand JS’s objections to natural selection.

Offers to suggest experiments.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B37, B49–52
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3853,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10