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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   17 September 1868

Eashing Park

17 Sept /68

My dear Mr Darwin,

When I shewed my wife the Scarlet Runner her observation was—“Do you think nobody has seen that before”!—an observation in which she was, as usual, and in which I at once admitted she was—perfectly right—1

Really it is a ten times greater pleasure to find that one has seen something accurately, and has not found a mare’s nest,2 than to think one has seen something which nobody has seen before—a thought which certainly never entered my mind.

You dont know how kind I think your note.3 This encouragement given to what is of real interest to oneself, though it never be more than an amusement, is no slight gain

But your kindness is repaid by the infliction of another paper on the blue Lobelia, which to an amateur botanical friend of mine, who is here—Rothery—a great ally of Hookers, is as interesting as the Bean.4 No doubt you have recorded this also.

In case you really think them worth sending to the Gardeners Chronicle or other paper, I have as you suggest added a few words—with a sentence or two which you did not suggest, but which I trust you will let stand. It is the simple truth as far as I am concerned and I often think we are not half grateful enough to those who have given us ideas, & above all who have given us something to do & to think of.5

You hit a weak place in the paper I sent you. Before I got your note Rothery & I had found it out—and the note I have added was written yesterday before yours was received. But I have not seen the hive bee do more than look at the front of the flower.6

I will certainly look at the Salvia. Is there any book or paper which puts these facts together. Surely—the Labiates—the Scropulareæ—and the Campanulaceæ—besides others offer a wide field for observation & for speculation.7 Is there any book about “dichogams”? Is C K Sprengel’s Endeckte Geheimniss worth my getting and reading?8 Is there any book about the habits of bees and other insects in sucking flowers?.

I am ashamed of my catechism—but you bring it on yourself

Believe me with sincere thanks | Very truly yours | T H Farrer

Charles Darwin Esq FRS


See letter to T. H. Farrer, 15 September [1868]. Farrer’s wife, Frances Farrer, was distantly related to CD and Emma Darwin.
Mare’s nest: ‘an illusory discovery, esp. one that is much vaunted and betrays foolish credulity’ (OED).
Farrer evidently enclosed a manuscript on the mechanism for fertilisation in common blue lobelia, which, together with a manuscript describing a similar mechanism in the scarlet runner-bean, was published as Farrer 1868 (see letter from T. H. Farrer, 10 September 1868). CD cited Farrer 1868 with regard to Lobelia in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 176 n. 23. Farrer refers to Henry Cadogan Rothery and Joseph Dalton Hooker.
For the preface that Farrer added to the manuscript of Farrer 1868, see the letter to T. H. Farrer, 15 September [1868] and n. 7.
In his letter of 15 September [1868], CD had suggested that Farrer look at Salvia, which was in the former order Labiatae (Lindley 1859). Farrer also refers to the former order variously known as Scrophulariae, Scrophulariaceae, and Scrophularineae (figworts: Lindley 1853, 1859): now the family Scrophulariaceae. Lobelia was, to some authorities, a member of the order Campanulaceae; others placed it in its own order, the Lobeliaceae (Lindley 1853, p. 692). It is now in the family Campanulaceae.
Dichogamous plants have stamens and stigmas ripening at different times. Farrer also refers to Christian Konrad Sprengel’s Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen (Sprengel 1793).


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

Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1868. On the manner of fertilization of the scarlet runner and blue lobelia. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 2: 255–63.

Lindley, John. 1853. The vegetable kingdom; or, the structure, classification, and uses of plants, illustrated upon the natural system. 3d edition with corrections and additional genera. London: Bradbury & Evans.

Lindley, John. 1859. A synopsis of the British flora arranged according to the natural orders. Containing vasculares or flowering plants. 3d edition. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Sprengel, Christian Konrad. 1793. Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen. Berlin: Friedrich Vieweg.


Encouraged by CD’s reply. Sends another paper, on blue Lobelia.

Asks advice on books.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Eashing Park, Godalming
Source of text
DAR 164: 44
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6373,” accessed on 20 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16