RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1876. [Letters to J. Torbitt on potato propagation]. In Torbitt, James, Cras credemus. A treatise on the cultivation of the potato from the seed, having for proposed results the extinction of the disease, and a yield of thirty, forty or more tons of tubers per statute acre. Belfast: Alexander Mayne. [Single page addendum to some copies.]
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe. RN1
NOTE: With thanks to Rosemary Clarkson of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin project for kindly providing a photocopy of this item and other assistance.
DOWN, BECKENHAM, KENT, April 4th, 1876.
Dear Sir,—I thank you for your very obliging letter, and present of the Essay and seeds.
I cannot but think that the principle on which you are acting is right, and if you succeed you will have conferred an enormous benefit on the public. I am sorry that I was compelled to decline my answer being published, for I cannot to the present hour remember what I said.
Dear Sir, yours faithfully,
J. Torbitt, Esq., Belfast.
The "principle on which I am acting" is growth of the potato from the seed and propagation of those varieties only, which do not become diseased. The answer referred to was a reply, which Mr. Darwin was good enough to make to my question: What is an individual? The following telegrams require no explanation:—
BELFAST, 6th April, 1876.
From James Torbitt to Ch. Darwin, Esq.
Letter received with profound thanks. I can make it suppress the potato-disease five years sooner, if published. May I?
DOWN, 6th April, 1876.
From Ch. Darwin to J. Torbitt.
You may publish what I have said.
BELFAST, 7th April, 1876.
CHARLES DARWIN, Esq.,
DOWN, BECKENHAM, KENT.,
DEAR SIR,—With profound respect, I duly received your letter of 4th inst., and liberty to publish it. The matter is so grave that I required a night's rest before replying; and to-day I find no alteration in my opinion of yesterday, and I see no reason why I should not express that opinion to you, and to the world.
My opinion, then is, that that letter is the turning point in the game which I have been playing, and I believe it to be worth some Fifty Millions Sterling to England alone. And I believe so, because I believe it will enable me to suppress the Potato Disease several years sooner than would have been otherwise possible.
I beg leave to return for your perusal (but please let me have it back) the answer you did me the honour to give to my question: What is an individual? If you can permit it, I think it would be of great importance to have it published, as it leaves every man free to form his own opinion.
I am, dear Sir,
With the most profound respect,
1 This single sheet was presumably inserted in some copies of Torbitt's 1876 pamphlet Cras credemus ('tomorrow we believe'), which, as the title page declared, was 'Sent, accompanied by a Packet of Seed, to each Member of the House of Lords; each Member of the House of Commons; and the Principal Landlords of Ulster.' The addendum is not in the BL or National Herbarium of Ireland, Dublin copies. It was printed some time before 22 April. See the correspondence between Torbitt and Darwin in Calendar. The items of correspondence reproduced on this sheet correspond to Calendar numbers 10440, 20267, 20268 and 20269 respectively.
James Torbitt, a wealthy wine merchant and grocer in Belfast, believed he could produce potatoes that would be impervious to potato blight by breeding selectively from those seedlings which best resisted the disease and repeating the process over multiple generations. See also Darwin 1878 and Darwin 1879.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
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