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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   26 October 1868

26 Oct | 68

My dear Mr Darwin

Hildebrands book, which I have just got, is exactly what I want.1 But I dont think I should have been impertinent enough to send you the paper—of which I inclose the print—if I had seen the book.2

I found a Salvia, the last Salvia of summer—a few days since on the banks of the Moselle and was delighted with its mechanism.3 But hardly more so than with that of Viola— How any one could compare the wonderfully perfect & efficient contrivances of Viola Cornuta with the same structures but degraded & functionless, in the common Violet,4 & still suppose the two species to be separate creations, passes belief.

During an idle three weeks abroad I have been struggling to take in your second volume, and am still in the struggle.5 With my ignorance of nine tenths of the facts known—with the admitted limitation of what anybody knows—with the excessive caution with which you admit general propositions—and with the astounding vastness of the speculations, it is like straining to catch the dim perspectives of a sunless forest by the light of a farthing candle— N.B. the farthing candle means my brains, not your book—

I cannot yet quite take in the gemmules.6 There is a difficulty about the conception something like that one feels about the conception of ultimate atoms of matter. But I mean to have another try—

Believe me | Sincerely yours | T H Farrer

C Darwin Esqr

Thank you very much for putting down your name for me at the Linnean7

CD annotations8

Top of letter: ‘Your earlier to me— (vide Comte)’ pencil
Margin of 1st page: ‘My vanity was most pleased by yr compliment | Asa Gray—’ pencil


CD had recommended Hildebrand 1867a to Farrer (see letter to T. H. Farrer, 19 September [1868]).
Farrer had sent CD the manuscript of Farrer 1868, and CD assisted him in its publication (see letters from T. H. Farrer, 10 September 1868 and 17 September 1868, and letter to the Editor of Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 22 September [1868]).
CD had mentioned the structure of Salvia in regard to its pollination in his letter to Farrer of 15 September [1868]. The Moselle is a river flowing through France, Luxembourg, and Germany.
Viola cornuta is the horned violet. Farrer had mentioned the structure of the Viola genus in his letter of 24 September 1868.
Farrer refers to the second volume of Variation.
In chapter 27 of Variation, ‘Provisional hypothesis of pangenesis’, CD outlined his ideas regarding heredity; he suggested that minute particles, or gemmules, circulated in the bodily fluids and were capable of generating new cells, remaining dormant until required.
On Farrer’s membership of the Linnean Society, see the letter from George Bentham, [after 29 September 1868].
CD’s annotations are notes for his letter to T. H. Farrer, 29 October [1868]. CD presumably also refers to Auguste Comte.


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.

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


Delighted with mechanisms of Salvia and Viola. How can anyone who compares structure of Viola cornuta and common violet still suppose them to be separate creations?

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 47
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6432,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

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