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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   1 and 3 August [1863]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Aug 1st.

Dear Sir

I am rather overwhelmed with letters to answer, but I must thank you for the copy of your Orchid paper.—2 I can with entire truth say it has greatly interested me.— Every naturalist who cares for anything besides naming species, will, I believe, be interested by it.— I am pleased by the notice you take of my papers; but you take almost too much notice of them.3 My sole criticism is, as you know, that some parts might have been written in a4 simpler style,5 like your letters. I shall hereafter read your paper to Dr. Hooker,6 so that he shall see it; but for about 3 weeks he is terribly overworked owing to the absence and illness of several of the officers at Kew.7 I congratulated you on the printing of your Paper and now must wish you good night for I am very tired.

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | C. Darwin.

Aug 3d. P.S.—8 | I have kept back my note, owing to receipt of yours,9 which as usual contained much to me very valuable matter.— I shall give all your new facts on sterility of orchids; as you have established the case far better than anyone.—10

Your argument on coloured primroses not being hybrids seems to me good, & ought to be just mentioned in your paper—11 It is a good thought of yours to sow seed of the coloured primroses & so perhaps discover parentage. I begin to think more & more that perhaps you had better keep back this subject for separate paper.12

Many thanks for seed of the red Cowslip— it is a very remarkable case.—13

I suppose I understand rightly that the seed of white & red Primrose are self- fertilised seed—if I am wrong please tell me.—14

I am very glad that I sent the result of crosses of Primrose & Cowslip:15 I doubted whether worth sending; as I thought the non result of the heteromorphic union of cowslip & primrose was mere accident.—16 I wish I had made more crosses, but I was then so busy.—

I have no more evidence about L. Lewisii: Asa Gray considers it only as var.—17 L. corymbiferum is dimorphic.— I was right about fertility of L. flavum.—18 I believe I once saw a lot of L. monogynum & they were all same form. Can seed of L. monogynum be purchased?? What you say about long-styled is curious.19

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully & obliged | C. Darwin


Possibly Dr Hildebrand of Bonn would notice your paper in Bot. Zeitung— if you have spare copy & like; I will forward one to him—21


The year is established by the reference to Scott 1863a; see n. 2, below.
The reference is to Scott 1863a, which was published in the Transactions of the Botanical Society [of Edinburgh]. There is a copy of Scott 1863a in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Scott had originally expected that a full version of the paper would be published in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal in July (see letters from John Scott, 21 May [1863] and 23 July [1863]); however, the journal only published an abstract.
In Scott 1863a, pp. 544–5, Scott prefaced the discussion of his experiments on Oncidium with a commentary on the theoretical points raised by Origin and ‘Dimorphic species in Primula’. See also letter from John Scott, 21 May [1863] and nn. 10–11.
The original manuscript of the portion of the letter written on 1 August 1863 is missing from this point, and the text is taken from a copy made for Francis Darwin in DAR 147: 455. The copyist apparently mistranscribed ‘read’ for ‘send’, and ‘congratulated’ for ‘congratulate’.
Joseph Dalton Hooker.
See letters from J. D. Hooker, [21 July 1863] and [31 July 1863]. Hooker was assistant director at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (R. Desmond 1994).
The text from this point is transcribed from the original manuscript in DAR 93: B27–8.
CD cited Scott 1863a on the self-sterility of species of Oncidium and species of Maxillaria in Variation 2: 133, Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 330–1, and Orchids 2d ed., p. 289.
See letter from John Scott, [26 July – 2 August 1863]. CD refers to Scott’s argument against Primula vulgaris var. rubra and P. vulgaris var. alba being hybrids of the cowslip and primrose (P. veris and P. vulgaris). Scott rejected this suggestion on the grounds that while he found that both the purple and white varieties of P. vulgaris were perfectly fertile inter se, crossing with the common yellow primrose resulted in decreased fertility; he argued that the purple and white varieties of P. vulgaris were therefore modified descendants of the yellow primrose. See also letter from John Scott, 23 July [1863], and Scott 1864a, pp. 98–9 n. In his letter of 25 [July 1863] CD urged Scott to repeat the experiments. CD discussed Scott’s experiments with differently coloured varieties of primrose in Variation 2: 109, n. 25, ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 420, and Forms of flowers, pp. 224–5. CD reported that he had been unable to corroborate Scott’s results.
Scott published his observations on the Primulaceae in Scott 1864a; there is an annotated copy of the paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Scott discussed the equal-stamened and -styled cowslip in his letter of 21 May [1863], and enclosed the seed with his letter of [26 July – 2 August 1863]. CD discussed Scott’s crossing experiments with a red equal-styled Primula veris in Variation, 2: 109 n., ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 426–7, and Forms of flowers, pp. 234–5. CD’s subsequent experiments with the seedlings confirmed the high degree of self-fertility of this form of P. veris, but did not corroborate Scott’s finding that the form exhibited a high degree of sterility when crossed with other forms. See also n. 11, above.
See letter from John Scott, [26 July – 2 August 1863]. Scott’s reply has not been found, but in Variation 2: 21, CD stated that the seeds of the purple (red) variety came from self-pollinated plants. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from John Scott, 16 May [1864].
CD sent the results of his crosses of Primula vulgaris and P. veris with the letter to John Scott, 25 [July 1863], and Scott published them in his paper on the Primulaceae (Scott 1864a, p. 103). CD undertook a series of crossing experiments with primroses and cowslips from April 1862 to 1867 (see DAR 157a, pp. 76–7, and DAR 108). Some of the results of the heteromorphic crosses made before August 1863 are recorded in DAR 108: 67, 69–70. CD published his conclusions in ‘Specific difference in Primula, pp. 439–40.
Scott’s experiments confirmed the observation that heteromorphic crosses between Primula vulgaris and P. veris were infertile (see letter from John Scott, [26 July – 2 August 1863], and n. 15, above).
CD was seeking confirmation of Jules Emile Planchon’s statement that Linum lewisii was trimorphic (Planchon 1847–8, p. 175). CD cited this statement in ‘Two forms in species of Linum, pp. 82–3 (Collected papers 2: 104–5). The occurrence in L. lewisii of three forms of flower (short-styled, long-styled, and equal-styled) all appearing on the same individual plant was regarded by CD as ‘unique’, and he was seeking to obtain specimens for further experiments (see letters to Asa Gray, 2 January [1863], and 19 January [1863], letter to John Scott, 6 June [1863], and letter from John Scott, [26 July – 2 August 1863]). Asa Gray thought that L. lewisii was merely a variety of L. perenne (see letter from Asa Gray, 27 January 1863). See also Forms of flowers, p. 101.
Apparently a reference to the reciprocal infertility of the two forms of Linum flavum (see ‘Two forms in species of Linum, p. 81 (Collected papers 2: 104)). See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Daniel Oliver, 13 October [1862] and n. 3.
Scott reported a seed-forming long-styled L. monogynum when no short-styled form was nearby (see letter from John Scott, [26 July – 2 August 1863]).
The enclosure has been attached to this letter on the basis of its relationship to the letter from John Scott, 21 September [1863] (see n. 21, below).
Friedrich Hildebrand was a lecturer in botany at the University of Bonn (Correns 1916, Junker 1989). He was one of the first botanists in Germany to publish in support of CD’s theory (Hildebrand 1861); in 1862 he wrote to CD offering to help produce a German edition of Orchids (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Friedrich Hildebrand, 14 July 1862). Hildebrand regularly contributed to Botanische Zeitung, a weekly botanical magazine published in Leipzig (Correns 1916, Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers). In his letter of 21 September [1863], Scott stated that he had sent two copies of Scott 1863a ‘a few weeks ago’; however, the paper was not reviewed in Botanische Zeitung.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correns, C. 1916. Friedrich Hildebrand. Berichte der deutschen botanischen Gesellschaft 34 (pt 2): 28–49.

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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Hildebrand, Friedrich. 1861. Die Verbreitung der Coniferen in der Jetztzeit und in den früheren geologischen Perioden. Verhandlungen des naturhistorischen Vereines der preussischen Rheinlande und Westphalens 18: 199–384.

‘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.

Junker, Thomas. 1989. Darwinismus und Botanik. Rezeption, Kritik und theoretische Alternativen im Deutschland des 19. Jahrhunderts. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

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.

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.

Planchon, Jules Emile. 1847–8. Sur la famille des Linnes. London Journal of Botany 6 (1847): 588–603; 7 (1848): 165–86, 473–501, 507–28.

Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers: Catalogue of scientific papers (1800–1900). Compiled and published by the Royal Society of London. 19 vols. and index (3 vols.). London: Royal Society of London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1867–1925.

‘Specific difference in Primula’: On the specific difference between Primula veris, Brit. Fl. (var. officinalis of Linn.), P. vulgaris, Brit. Fl. (var. acaulis, Linn.), and P. elatior, Jacq.; and on the hybrid nature of the common oxlip. With supplementary remarks on naturally produced hybrids in the genus Verbascum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 19 March 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 437–54.

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]

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


Thanks JS for orchid paper [Trans. Bot. Soc. Edinburgh 7 (1863): 543–50]. JS presents excellent new facts on sterility of orchids.

His argument that coloured primroses are not hybrids is good, as is idea of discovering primrose parentage by breeding for colours.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B24, B27–8, B70; DAR 147: 455
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4260,” accessed on 29 November 2021,

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