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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   13 October 1869

Abinger Hall, | Dorking.

13 Oct /69

My dear Mr Darwin

At Albury—near this,—there is house full of Tacsonias and Passifloras—1 All the Tacsonias are pendent, have no crown & very long styles and filaments— They never—so the gardener says—fertilize themselves—but are readily & constantly fertilized by him with each other and with the Passifloras— The Passifloras turn their flowers upwards, though themselves pendent: their styles & filaments are short: and they have a corona. And they fertilize themselves—i.e. they are fertilized without the gardeners help— This certainly looks as if in this country the bees could manage the Passiflora—but not the Tacsonia: and as if for the latter humming birds or big moths were needed—which can suck without alighting. The bees are as a fact very fond of Passiflora—and I think when raised on the Corona—easily reach anthers & stigma.

It is a funny notion that a humming birds tail should do the business for Tacsonia.2

Many thanks for your kind note.3 It has long seemed to me, in the business of my own shop, that claims to have originated any thing that is true or successful, are idle ignes fatui: things to be avoided & put aside as soon as possible—like patents.

Your books open up a new field. Old Sprengel is delightful— But where is it to end—and what is to become of Merchant Shipping Bills and Maritime Codes?4

I could not help revenging myself on Delpinos philosophy during a sleepless hour one night—and I inclose you the result. What a strange mental phenomenon, that an able man of science should think he he has saved any thing worth saving, by reserving one portion of plant life to the regions of the arbitrary & the unknown!5

Very sincerely yours | T H Farrer

The paper on “Martha” arrived quite safely.6


The Biological Teleologist.

Highest of living Creatures, Man,

Exhibits clearly “Will and Plan:

The animal can comprehend A purpose, and attain an end:

Whilst in its turn the humbler plant Can feel and satisfy a want—

And thus we find throughout the line

Freedom and Will and High Design—

But here we pause. No living Mind

Informs the mass that lies behind;

And Earth, and Air, and Sun and Sky,

Come—God knows how, and God knows why:

Brute Matter all: whilst we inherit,

With beast and plant, Free will and Spirit;

And carry on with noisy clatter

A ceaseless strife twixt Mind and Matter—


Strange Creed! For me, Creations Soul

Part seen, part guessed, informs the Whole.


Albury, Surrey, was about two miles west of Abinger Hall. Tacsonia, the genus of banana passion fruit (family Passifloraceae), is now subsumed within the genus Passiflora, but is still often referred to as a subgenus.
For more on pollination in Passiflora, see Janzen 1968.
Farrer refers to the fact that CD’s approach to floral morphology in works such as Orchids treated morphological features as adaptations that revealed information about agents and methods of fertilisation. Farrer had borrowed CD’s copy of Christian Konrad Sprengel’s Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen (The secret of nature discovered in the structure and fertilisation of flowers; Sprengel 1793). Farrer also alludes to his position as permanent secretary in the Board of Trade and his special interest in marine matters (ODNB).
Farrer refers to Federico Delpino’s teleological interpretation of fertilisation mechanisms (for more on the differences between CD and Delpino on this topic, see Pancaldi 1991, pp. 117–36). CD had sent several works by Delpino to Farrer (see letter from T. H. Farrer, 9 October 1869 and n. 2).


Janzen, Daniel H. 1968. Reproductive behavior in the Passifloraceae and some of its pollinators in Central America. Behaviour 32: 33–48.

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.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Pancaldi, Giuliano. 1991. Darwin in Italy. Science across cultural frontiers. Translated by Ruey Brodine Morelli. Updated and expanded edition. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana University Press.

Sprengel, Christian Konrad. 1793. Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen. Berlin: Friedrich Vieweg.


On the fertilisation of Tacsonia and Passiflora.

Encloses a poem, "The Biological Teleologist", written after reading Delpino.

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: 57
Physical description
ALS 4pp, encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6935,” accessed on 14 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17