Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of CYRIL DEAN DARLINGTON, FRS (1903-1981)

This record is held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections

Details of CSAC106.3.85
Reference: CSAC106.3.85
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of CYRIL DEAN DARLINGTON, FRS (1903-1981)



A.1 -A.16 Autobiographical and bibliographical


A.17 -A.98 Diaries and jotters


A.99 -A.118 School and university


A.119-A.138 Personal correspondence and material


A.139-A.199 Family correspondence and material


A.200-A.207 Photographs and press-cuttings




B.1 -B.18 Darlington's career at John Innes, 1923-40


B.19-B.50 General administration and organisation, 1930-53


B.51-B.79 Later correspondence and papers, 1954-80


B.80-B.92 Minutes and reports


B.93-B.98 Lectures and summer courses




C.1 -C.11 Darlington's career at Oxford


C.12-C.82 Botany Department


Lectures and teaching


General administration


Botanic and Genetic Gardens


Nuneham Courtenay Arboretum


C.83 -C.109 Oxford reform


C.110-C.115 Magdalen College


C.116-C.121 Oxford colleges and societies


C.122-C.125 Historical miscellany




List of topics




E.1 -E.653 Publications and drafts


E.654-E.675 Miscellaneous and unpublished material


E.676-E.710 Editorial correspondence and material




F.1 -F.66 Lectures


F.67-F.120 Broadcasts








The material, which fully documents all aspects of Darlington's career, is presented in the order shown in the List of Contents; additional explanatory notes accompany many of the Sections, sub-sections and individual entries in the catalogue. The following paragraphs aim only to draw attention to matters of particular substance or interest.


The division into Section, though real enough, is no more than convenient, and introduces a sense of linear development particularly artificial in the case of Darlington who interwove past and present, friendships and controversy, research and personality into a deliberate dialectic throughout his career. Cross-references have been provided where possible to link topics or correspondents between Sections, but these are no more than pointers and it remains essential to view the collection as an entity.


Darlington never wrote, or at least never completed, an autobiography (see E.471 for a statement of his intention to do so). In another sense, his whole life could be seen as an autobiography, seen through his diaries and jotters, the many historical accounts - published and unpublished - of episodes in his career and of friends or enemies made and cherished, or in the more extended narratives compiled for the Royal Society and other organisations. To these must be added the innumerable comments and reflections added in manuscript and at various dates to virtually every document that passed through his hands - not excepting earlier stages of his own work and certainly not sparing letters and papers received from others. Viewed in this manner, few can have revealed themselves more fully, or more deliberately, for Darlington was among the most self-conscious of men, aware of himself as an actor in his own life, aware of the value of his work, and aware of the many interlocking factors and influences of nature and nurture, heredity and circumstance which constituted his person and his role.


Section A contains the greatest number of overtly autobiographical and personal material in the form of narratives, diaries and jotters. Darlington's own career is more fully documented in Sections B (John Innes) and C (Oxford) and there are relatively few honours, awards or records of public life, for Darlington was far removed from an establishment figure. On the other hand, the family correspondence is of some general interest as well as illuminating several aspects of Darlington's early career. The letters and cards exchanged with his parents 1920-49 (A.169-A.195) are revealing of the seriousness, even austerity, of the Darlington family ambience and the seemingly affectionate and easy relations between parents and son. Mrs. Darlington especially, who writes to both her sons as 'My dear old' Alfred or Cyril, has a spontaneous charm of expression as well as, when required, a forthrightness worthy of Cyril. Also in Section A are records of Darlington's extreme care for his own publications, their progress and incorporation in an ongoing bibliography, and his lasting resentment of any tampering with them (or, as he put it, 'censorship' or 'suppression').


Section B includes material relating to Darlington's own career at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, its uneasy constitution, the move to Bayfordbury, and the problems of the organisation of a research establishment high-lighted by Darlington's departure for Oxford. There are Annual Reports and Minutes - liberally annotated - going back to the earliest days of the Institution in 1910. Section C records Darlington's career at Oxford, both in its embattled aspects of 'Oxford Reform' (C.83-C.109) and its gentler features such as the building-up of the Botanic and Genetic Gardens, and the interest in Oxford history and topography.


Section D (Research) corresponds to Darlington's own description of the material and includes his own early notebooks and observations. A substantial portion (D.31-D.122) is devoted to history of science and scientists, notably William Bateson, and to N.I. Vavilov, Russian genetics and the Lysenko controversy. This is an obvious area of overlap with other Sections such as E (Publications) and J (Correspondence) made inevitable by Darlington's own ordering of his papers which has been respected. The 'background information' in this Section not only chronicles the development of Darlington's thinking but also provides a useful assemblage of contemporary ideas and publications on various topics.


The most substantial Section in the collection is E (Publications), which enforces respect as much for Darlington's painstaking search for fluency and elegance of expression as for his prolific output as researcher, polemicist and reviewer. The material includes scientific papers of all periods and technical range, as also the drafts and publishing history of two of the major books on evolution produced in his later years - The evolution of man and society, 1969, and The little universe of man, 1978. It is interesting to note Darlington's friendly relations with his long-term publishers, his conscientious setting and keeping of deadlines, and the attention to detail which can be seen to extend to the exact layout and colour-scheme for the dustjackets of his books. Darlington's writing methods were lavish of time and effort (his own and other people's), involving multiple drafts, mostly dated but written on confusing and diverse media such as old proofs or company reports, annotated in black, blue, red or green ink, pencil and ballpoint; these were fittingly described as a 'palimpsest' by his publisher (E.466), but they document significant changes in substance or emphasis as well as Darlington's sense of style. There is a remarkable number of papers and writings additional to the official bibliography, and some unpublished material; these are listed in the Introduction to Section E.


Section F (Lectures and broadcasts) covers a wide span of Darlington's career, including his major lectures (the Conway, Herbert Spencer, Woodhull and Gregynog Lectures) and many shorter talks. The broadcasts, often on such controversial topics as evolution, heredity, Russian genetics and the relations between politics and science, regularly elicited press comment and correspondence.


Section G (Societies and organisations) is not extensive, partly because of Darlington's abrasive individualism and impatience with officialdom. There is, however, a full account of the journal Heredity founded and owned by Darlington and R.A. Fisher, and its connection with and eventual transfer to the Genetical Society (G.19-G.65) and the immense effort Darlington invested in his responsibilities as editor and reviewer.


Section H (Visits and conferences) extends widely in time (1927-81) and space, including especially the formative early visits to Persia, America and Japan, the Klampenborg meeting in 1938 and various International Genetics Conferences in which Russian colleagues were involved, or forbidden to be involved. There are also records of the International Chromosome Conferences which Darlington considered as one of his most important tasks at Oxford. The first three of these were held in Oxford in 1964, 1967 and 1970, as was the last which Darlington attended in 1980.


Section J (Correspondence) contains some extended exchanges with colleagues over a period of time (e.g. J.B.S. Haldane, J.S. Huxley, E.K. Janaki-Ammal, P.C.Koller, H.J. Muller). Most, however, are relatively brief, but embellished with notes and comments often of scientific, historical or personal interest. These may be co-terminous with receipt of the letter or document, or added later when Darlington went through many of his papers with autobiographical or archival purposes in mind.


Deposited in the Department of Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford




We are grateful to Mrs. G. Darlington and to Professor P.D.A. Harvey for making the material available and for providing some information, in particular about the family correspondence, and for their comments on the draft catalogue. We thank Dr. O.F. Darlington for making available his family letters.


Sincere thanks are due to Mrs. J.R. Knowles (Radcliffe College Archivist) who did much of the preliminary sorting during sabbatical leave in Oxford.


As always, we thank Mrs. M.M. Edwards for typing various drafts of the catalogue.

Date: 1879-1981
Related material:

Some records of Darlington's career, and taped interviews conducted by B.J. Harrison, are held at the John Innes Institute.


At the time of his death, Darlington was working on a book, A diagram of evolution, for publication by Oxford University Press; correspondence, notes and a partial draft are currently held by his literary executor, P.D.A. Harvey.


A little correspondence is retained in family hands.


The war memoirs of Alfred Darlington (brother) are deposited in the Imperial War Museum, London.


The papers of John Harvey (cousin) which include further correspondence of the Darlington family, particularly in the period 1895-1912, are deposited at the Royal Institute of British Architects, London.

Held by: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Darlington, Cyril Dean, 1903-1981, scientist, botanist and geneticist

Physical description: 247 boxes
Access conditions:




Custodial history:

The material, which is very extensive, was assembled at various dates between August 1981 and March 1985, from Darlington's room at the Department of Botany, Oxford, and his home at South Hinksey, Oxford, through the courtesy of his widow, Mrs. Gwendolen Darlington, and of Professor P.D.A. Harvey, his stepson and literary executor.

  • Botany
Administrative / biographical background:

Darlington was born in 1903, in Chorley, Lancashire, the second son of a serious-minded and hard-working family. His father was a schoolmaster until ill health obliged him to adopt a new career as private secretary to the distinguished German chemist K.E. Markell and to move with his family to Ealing. Darlington was educated at Mercer's School, Holborn, 1912-17, St. Paul's School, 1917-20 and Wye College, Ashford, 1920-23. In 1923 he began an association of more than thirty years with the John Innes Horticultural Institution which he entered as a 'volunteer unpaid worker', later becoming head of the Cytology Department (1937) and Director (1939). Here much of his most important work on cytology and chromosome theory was done, augmented by expeditions and work abroad and by contacts with many distinguished British, American and Russian workers in the field.


In 1953 Darlington resigned from the Institution, which had removed in 1949 from its original home at Merton to a new site at Bayfordbury near Hertford, and accepted the Sherardian Professorship of Botany at Oxford. Here, in addition to the 'routine' work of teaching, research and publication, he took a keen interest in the Botanic Garden, created the Genetic Garden, played an active part in the acquisition of Nuneham Courtenay Arboretum, and espoused the cause of extending the teaching of genetics in particular and science in general in the University. A lasting result was the new School of Human Sciences, which he had encouraged. On retirement in 1971 Darlington remained in Oxford where he continued to study and publish extensively until his death in 1981.


An account of Darlington's life and work by D. Lewis can be found in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 29, 1983, pp.113-157, to which reference is made in some of the catalogue entries.

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