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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   6 June [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 6th.

Dear Sir

I fear that you think that I have done more than I have with respect to Dr. Hooker.2 I did not feel that I had any right to ask him to remember you for a Colonial appointment: all that I have done is to speak most highly of your scientific merits.3 Of course this may hereafter fructify.— I really think you cannot go on better for educational purposes than you are now doing, observing, thinking & some reading beat, in my opinion, all systematic education. Do not despair about your style: your letters are excellently written; your scientific style is a little too ambitious. I never study style: all that I do is to try to get subject clear as I can in my own head, & express it in the commonest language which occurs to me.— But I generally have to think a good deal before simplest arrangement & words occur to me.— Even with most of our best English writers, writing is slow work: it is a great evil but there is no help for it— I am sure you have no cause to despair.—

I hope & suppose your sending a paper to Linn. Socy will not offend your Edinburgh friends;4 you might truly say that you sent the paper to me, & that (if it turns out so) I thought it worth communicating to Linn. Socy.—

I shall feel great interest in studying all your facts on Primula, when they are worked out & seed counted. Size of capsules is often very deceptive. I am astonished how you can find time to make so many experiments.

If you like to send me your paper tolerably well written, I would look it over & suggest any criticisms; but then this would cause you extra copying. Remember, however, that Ld. Brougham habitually wrote everything important three times over.—5

The cases of the Primulæ which lose by variation their dimorphic character seem to me very interesting. I find that the mid-styled (by variation) P. Sinensis is more fertile with own pollen even than a heteromorphic union!6

If you have time it will be very good to experiment on Linum Lewisii: I wrote formerly to Asa Gray begging for seed.—7 If you have time I think experiments on any peloric flowers would be useful.—8

I shall be sorry (& I am certain it is a mistake on part of the Society) if your Orchid paper is not printed in extenso.9 I am now at work compiling all such cases, & shall give a very full abstract of your observations.10 I hope to add in autumn some from you on Passiflora—11 I would suggest to you the advantage at present of being very sparing in introducing theory in your papers (I formerly erred much in geology in that way):12 let theory guide your observations, but till your reputation is well established be sparing in publishing theory. It makes persons doubt your observations.— How rarely R. Brown13 ever indulged in theory, too seldom perhaps.— Do not work too hard, & do not be discouraged because your work is not appreciated by the majority.—

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from John Scott, [3 June 1863].
Joseph Dalton Hooker. See letter from John Scott, [3 June 1863].
Scott had been elected an associate of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 10 July 1862 (Transactions and Proceedings of the Botanical Society [of Edinburgh] 14 (1883): 160), and, to date, had read all his papers there (Scott 1862a, 1862b, 1862c, 1862d, and 1863a). However, CD had offered to communicate an account of Scott’s work on dimorphism in Primula to the Linnean Society, when finished, if Scott thought it would not be adequately noticed by the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (Scott 1864a; see letter from John Scott, 3 March 1863 and n. 19).
Henry Peter Brougham, Baron Brougham and Vaux.
In the spring of 1862, having written ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, CD discovered an equal-styled form of Primula sinensis, and found that the flowers were ‘abnormally fertile in comparison with those of ordinary long-styled plants when self-fertilized’ (‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 415). In 1863, CD carried out a similar experiment on some equal-styled plants of P. sinensis. The flowers produced a higher average number of seeds than CD had observed in any legitimate union, and CD considered that they had not only lost ‘their proper dimorphic structure and peculiar functional power’, but had acquired ‘an abnormal grade of fertility’ (ibid., pp. 416–17).
CD refers to Scott’s paper on the pollination of orchids (Scott 1863a), which was read before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 May 1863. An abstract of the paper was published in the Edinburgh Evening Courant, 28 May 1863, p. 8; however, Scott was concerned that it would not be published in full in the society’s Transactions (see letter from John Scott, [3 June 1863] and n. 14).
CD wrote a draft of the section of Variation on ‘Crossing & Sterility’ between 1 April and 16 June 1863 (Variation 2: 85–191; see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). Scott 1863a is discussed in Variation 2: 133.
In Origin, pp. 250–1, CD listed Passiflora among those genera in which individual plants had been found to be ‘far more easily fertilised by the pollen of another and distinct species, than by their own pollen.’ In his letter to Scott of 11 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD suggested that Scott carry out further experiments on this subject, which Scott had indicated he would do (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 17 December [1862], and this volume, letters from John Scott, [1–11] April [1863] and 21 May [1863]). Scott’s article on the sterility and hybridisation of species of Passiflora was communicated to the Linnean Society by CD in 1864 (Scott 1864d); CD discussed this paper in Variation 2: 137–8.
In 1861, CD had concluded that one of his earliest geological papers, ‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’, was ‘one long gigantic blunder’, and that his theory to account for the geological phenomena described in it was completely erroneous (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to T. F. Jamieson, 6 September [1861]).
Robert Brown (1773–1858).


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

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

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.

‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’: Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and of other parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an attempt to prove that they are of marine origin. By Charles Darwin. [Read 7 February 1839.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 129: 39–81. [Shorter publications, pp. 50–88.]

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD has spoken to Hooker of JS’s scientific merit, but has not suggested him for a colonial appointment.

Advice on style of writing.

Making extensive extract of JS’s orchid paper to communicate to Linnean Society [J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Bot.) 8 (1865): 162–7].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B38–40
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4206,” accessed on 2 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11