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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. S. Wilson   29 April [1878]1

Bassett | Southampton

April 29

My dear Sir.

Your kind note and specimens have been forwarded to me here, where I am staying at my son’s house for a fortnight’s complete rest, which I required from rather too hard work.2 For this reason I will not now examine the seeds, but will wait till returning home, when with my son Francis’ aid I will look to them.

I always felt, though without any good reason, rather sceptical about Prof. Buckman’s experiment, and I afterwards heard that a most wicked and cruel trick had been played on him by some of the agricultural students at Cirencester, who had sown seeds unknown to him in his experimental beds.—3 Whether he ever knew this I did not hear.

I am exceedingly glad that you are willing to look into the Russian wheat case.4 It may turn out a mare’s nest, but I have often incidentally observed curious facts when making what I call “a fool’s experiment”.

My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to A. S. Wilson, 24 April 1878.
Wilson’s note has not been found. CD visited William Erasmus Darwin in Southampton from 27 April to 13 May 1878 (‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
James Buckman had been professor of geology and botany at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, Gloucestershire; he retired in 1863. In Origin, p. 10, CD described an ‘extremely valuable’ experiment by Buckman that appeared to show that species of the same genus that differed greatly in appearance in their natural habitat were indistinguishable when grown under the same conditions in experimental plots. In 1863, he learned that a student who bore Buckman a grudge had mixed the seeds that were used in the experiment (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from S. P. Woodward, 14 February 1863). CD removed the reference from Origin 4th ed. and all subsequent editions.
CD had sent Wilson specimens of Russian wheat varieties that he had received from Mikhail Nikolaevich Galkin-Vraskoi, the governor of Saratov province (see letter to A. S. Wilson, 24 April 1878 and n. 1).


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

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.


Thanks for specimen.

Always was sceptical of James Buckman’s experiment; heard afterwards that cruel trick was played on him.

Glad ASW is willing to look into Russian wheat case.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alexander Stephen Wilson
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 148: 365
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11489,” accessed on 20 September 2021,