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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Spence Bate   6 January 1864

8, Mulgrave Place | Plymouth

Jany 6th. 1864

My dear Sir.

Some time since I read in the newspaper that it had been clearly demonstrated that Rye Barly & wheat were but different varieties of the same species.1

In an address that I gave as President of the “Devonshire association of Science” I mentioned this as Corroborative of your views “On species”2

At the Meeting of the British Association at Newcastle I heard a member state this “to have been a hoax of the papers:3

As my address has been requested for publication I should like to have my mind relieved upon this point.4

As I know no better authority than you, I am sure you will not think it too much of a trouble to let me know your opinion on the subject5

Wishing you the compliments of the season   Believe me, as ever | Yours sincerely | C. Spence Bate


Bate may refer to a letter from William Cowper in the Berkshire Chronicle that was referred to in The Times, 10 December 1862, p. 7. The Times article reported that Cowper and his neighbours had grown wheat from oats and barley.
Bate read his speech at the 29 July 1863 meeting of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art (Bate 1863). In replying to objections to CD’s theory that species were not immutable, he noted that ‘certain plants that we have long been accustomed to consider as undoubtedly distinct as species, are now known to have been derived from the same’ (Bate 1863, p. 22). In the published version of the lecture, he cited the cowslip and primrose as examples but did not mention rye, barley, or wheat.
In 1863, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Newcastle from 26 August to 2 September (Report of the thirty-third meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 1863). The member of the British Association to whom Bate refers has not been identified.
Bate 1863. See n. 2, above.
No other correspondence between CD and Bate on this point has been found. However, when John Brodie Innes asked CD whether he believed that wheat could be grown from oats, CD answered that he did not believe ‘the wheat story’, which had been repeated at intervals for over a century (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. B. Innes, 22 December [1862] and n. 9).


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


Asks CD’s opinion on the accuracy of stating that barley and wheat are different varieties of the same species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Spence Bate
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 53
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4380,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12