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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. S. Wilson   28 February 1878

North Kinmundy | Summerhill | by Aberdeen

28 Feby. 1878.

Charles Darwin, Esq. F.R.S. | Down | Beckenham. | Kent.

Dear Sir,

your very kindly letter was to me a source of great gratification.1

I have much pleasure in sending you a box of AEgilops ovata2 but there is one drawback; last season was so wet, and enlivened with so little sunshine, that the majority of these seeds which I have planted, or decorticated, and laid down in saucers to germinate, have failed to germinate   I merely suggest the nature of the season as the cause of death in so many of the embryos. The stock from which they were grown was procured partly from Mr. W. T. Thiselton Dyer, of Kew, and partly from Carter the Seedsman;3 and the central seeds were almost all alive. The spikelet consists of usually four florets, frequently all fertile; but I found that while the one or two central seeds were almost invariably alive and germinated, by far the greater number of the two lateral seeds never germinated, even though decorticated. These side seeds are very much compressed, apparently by the pressure of the strong glumes; perhaps this pressure kills the embryo— a slight pressure of the fingers will kill the embryo of a barley and prevent it from malting—

I shall feel very much obliged by a look at Herr Rimpau’s papers and shall duly return them to you.4 So far as my observations went, I did not find the different wheats fertilising in different ways, but there may be one or two forms I have not observed, although I have grown all the ordinary forms, also the spelts, compositum, Polish &c. for the purpose of observing— The AEgilops also seems to me to fertilise in the same way as wheat; opening the pales and glumes for about 30 minutes and then closing.5 I attached the loop of a thread to a newly closed glume, and found that it took a weight of two ounc⁠⟨⁠es⁠⟩⁠ to open the floret to the width it had been open for fertilisation. A great force must therefore be brought into temporary action for fertilisation; is there not something analogous in animal fertilisation?

I take the liberty of stating that my convictions are in favour of the Theory of Evolution, to which your labours have given form, and beg your acceptance of a small work which bears on some points of this theory— Tho’ published more than twenty years ago, I have not seen reason to ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠den the two main contentions: that light, instead of being an isolated medium, is one of the forms of ordinary matter; and that the “creation” of the earth (and other planets) is the very work which is going on here before us at this moment.6 The decomposing materials of the sun are being transferred to the planets and built up into their structures— This is what the system keeps going for the purpose of performing— The motions of the planets are no dead motions, but living, organic evolutions. The unmaking of suns and the making of planets is the very work that is on hand. What do we want with nebular hypotheses, till we explain what it is which is being done at this moment?7 This view, gives force and cogency to all minor evolution   People look away to the past and the distant for what is at their doors.

I am | Dear Sir, | yours most sincerely | A. Stephen Wilson.

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Send Rimpau & need not write’ pencil


CD had asked for a dozen grains in their husks in his letter of 23 February 1878. Aegilops ovata is a synonym of A. geniculata, ovate goatgrass.
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer was assistant director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; James Carter & Company was a London firm of seedsmen.
CD had offered to lend Wilson the papers in which Wilhelm Rimpau discussed varying degrees of self-sterility in different varieties of wheat and rye (Rimpau 1877a and 1877b); see letter to A. S. Wilson, 23 February 1878 and n. 7.
The pale or palea is one of the two inner bracts surrounding the floret in grasses; the middle bract is the lemma and the lowermost bract at the base of the spikelet is the glume (OED).
In 1855, Wilson had published The unity of matter; in it, he argued that light was derived from ordinary matter and that the dynamics of our solar system depended upon physical evolution (Wilson 1855, pp. 45–53 and pp. 74–8).
The nebular hypothesis is a theory, originally formulated by Immanuel Kant and Pierre Simon Laplace, about the formation and evolution of planetary systems from nebulous material; for more on its history in the mid nineteenth century, see Schaffer 1989.


OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Schaffer, Simon. 1989. The nebular hypothesis and the science of progress. In History, humanity, and evolution: essays for John C. Greene, edited by James R. Moore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Fertilisation of wheat.

Would like to borrow Wilhelm Rimpau’s papers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alexander Stephen Wilson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Summerhill, Aberdeen
Source of text
DAR 181: 112
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11381,” accessed on 21 October 2021,