skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Herbert   26 June 1839

June 26th. 1839—

W Herbert1


I hope you will excuse me taking the liberty of sending you a copy of my Journal, during the voyage of the Beagle— knowing that you have interested yourself in the Natural History of S America, I have ventured to hope that some few parts of my volume might interest you, although it contains no botanical information.— I feel extremely grateful for your kindness in writing so long a letter to Professor Henslow in answer to the questions I sent him— I can hardly hope you will excuse me troubling you once again—but you mention new facts, which have much interests me. You say “ ”2 are the two hybrid Hippeastra referred to from the same or different parents? I am anxious to know whether the greater efficacious of the pollen was due to some difference in character of its producer, or simply to the fact of its coming from another flower & plant although of the same variety.?— You also observe in your letter, on the difficulty of crossing Crocuses, & in an early paper in the Hort. Transact you also allude to this & couple the case with that of Europæan Heaths;3 & if I understand rightly explain it by the pollen becoming ripe before the flower opens.— Might I beg the favour of your opinion, whether in these & other such flower you are decidedly of opinion that neither insects (by using force with their jaws) or other cause could carry the pollen from one to another flower of the same species being in blossom at the same time, & close together.—

I ask because I have been led to believe, that amongst organic being producing seminal offspring there exist no such thing as a true permanent hermaphrodite—ie. that every individual occasionally, though perhaps very rarely, after long intervals is fecundated by a other indiv, in short that almost plant is occasionally fecundated as in as in diœcious genera— I am fully aware how presumptuous I must appear, to speculate on subjects on which I have made no experiments, & still more so in taking the liberty of addressing you but, if when at leisure in the country you will ever so briefly answer me these questions, I shall feel extremely grateful.— Might I also ask, whether you have ever known a hybrid (or mongrel), which in its successive generations (impregnation from other quarter not being suspected) has reverted to either parent, or varied in manner different, or in a greater degree, than you would have anticipated as probable from the effects of soil &c as in ordinary variation—

I have the honour to remain with the greatest respect | Your obliged servant | Charles Darwin


The name and date were added in ink by CD. The rest of the text is in pencil.
In the final version these quotation marks presumably enclosed a transcription of the concluding part of Herbert’s letter dealing with Hippeastrum, around which CD had placed quotation marks (see CD’s annotations to paragraph 12 of the letter from William Herbert to J. S. Henslow, 5 April 1839).


Herbert, William. 1822. On the production of hybrid vegetables; with the result of many experiments made in the investigation of the subject. Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 4: 15–50. [vols. 2,5,8]


CD is led to believe there are no true permanently inbreeding, sexually reproducing beings. Thanks for replies to breeding questions.

Asks for clarification of Hippeastrum crosses: is selfing or crossing with individual of same species intended and was increased fertility due to constitution of foreign parent or due to the pollen coming from another plant? Has WH known any hybrid or mongrel to revert or to vary in a manner unlikely to be effect of soil?

Sends Journal of researches.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Herbert, dean of Manchester
Sent from
London, Upper Gower St, 12
Source of text
DAR 185: 65–6
Physical description
AdraftS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 523,” accessed on 3 August 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2