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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William and Julius Fairbeard1   [October 1855 – May 1856]2


I hope that you will excuse the liberty I take in addressing you.— Mr Cattell, from whom I procure the seeds for my garden,3 has told me that I might use his name as an introduction to you, & that he thinks you wd be so very kind as take the trouble to answer me a few questions.— I devote all my time to Nat. History; & am employed on a work on the Variation of species chiefly of animals, but am very anxious to illustrate it, by cases drawn from plants.— I have this past summer planted a few Peas of as many kinds as I cd procure,4 to see the amount of their difference & I know that you have raised several new kinds, & I am extremely anxious to obtain a little information on a few points, & I have thought that perhaps, you could find a leisure some time eveg. & would be so very kind, & take the trouble to confer a great favour on me, though a stranger by answering as far as lies in power these included questions—

I am well aware that I here cannot apologise for thus intruding on you, & hoping that you will excuse me I remain, Sir | Your obliged servant | Charles Darwin | F.R.S.5 diag Peas (2) Whether any vars. have kept true during many years: some of Knights6

varieties must be old, but have you reason to believe that they have not

altered their character.— (1) Whether to get seed true it is necessary to raise the different varieties

separately, (as in the case of cabbages)—& if you grow different [kinds

near by] in masses adjoining each other whether you have ever suspected

that those rows adjoining another variety come less true, than rows than in

middle of the bed. (4) Whether in selecting any new variety, whether at first very many come false

& whether after several successive generations or sowings they come more &

more true, or on other hand whether the degree of variability keeps much the

same. (3) Whether there is more difference in the variability in the

different kinds of Peas. ie whether you have found some new kinds more

difficult to get true than other kinds.7 ramme W. & J. Fairbeard Teynham | Sittingbourne. Kent


William and Julius Fairbeard were nurserymen in Teynham, Sittingbourne, Kent (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1855).
Dated by CD’s reference to having planted peas ‘this past summer’, which indicates that the letter was written in the autumn of 1855 or the months preceding spring 1856. For CD’s experimental work on peas, see letter to M. J. Berkeley, 7 April [1855], and subsequent letters.
John Cattell, nurseryman of Westerham, Kent (Freeman 1978). CD’s Account book (Down House MS) has several records of payments in the 1850s to Cattell for seeds and plants.
See letter to M. J. Berkeley, 7 April [1855].
The entire letter has been crossed in pencil. The questions, written on the verso of the letter, have not been crossed.
Thomas Andrew Knight.
For the answer to these questions, see Natural selection, p. 70, where CD stated: ‘I applied to Messrs. [space left blank in manuscript] great raisers of seed-peas & they do not believe that their varieties cross, & they take no especial precautions to prevent it’.


Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.


Five questions on variability in peas.

W & JF recommended to CD by Mr Cattell.

CD planted an experimental pea garden this summer.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William & Julius Fairbeard
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 206: 38
Physical description
AdraftS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1467,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5