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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Federico Delpino1   11 September 1875

Vallombrosa

addì 11. 7bre 1875

Venerato e celeberrimo maestro!

Debbo esternarle la mia profonda gratitudine per la squisita gentilezza, di cui Ella volle far prova verso di me nel mandarmi l’interessante libro di Belt “The naturalist in Nicaragua” e il classico lavoro della S.V. sulle piante insettivore.2 Questa bell’opera che è degna di stare a fianco delle antecedenti numerose publicazioni colle quali la S.V. ha saputo rivocare e ricondurre sulla via della verità la Storia naturale, fuorviata da molti pregiudizii scolastici, quantunque da molto tempo fossi persuaso della vera natura e funzione degli organi entomoctoni di dette piante, la lessi con mio grande profitto ed istruzione, ed ebbi occasione di ammirare il talento nella esperimentazione dalla S.V. spiegato in questo lavoro.

Ultimamente spedii alla S.V. una mia breve memoria sui “rapporti tra gl’insetti e i nettarii che nelle piante non servono alla dicogamia”.3

Ora è stato un grande piacere per me il vedere come Belt, con osservazioni affatto indipendenti dalle mie e fatte in località dall’Italia tanto distante, sia venuto a conclusioni molto analoghe.

Così anche ebbi la soddisfazione di vedere confermata da Belt la mia congettura concernente la fecondazione delle Marcgravie mediate i trochilidi.4

Oramai quella interessante parte della Botanica che studia gli adattamenti di vita esteriore delle piante, ossia i rapporti tra le piante e gli agenti esterni, mediante il vigoroso impulso dato dalla S.V. col mirabile lavoro sulla fecondazione delle Orchidee,5 ha preso un grandioso sviloppo, e domanda urgentemente che uno spirito paziente ed accurato raduni tutte le osservazioni, esperimenti, studii fatti in proposito, e ne formi un trattato completo, il quale riuscirebbe interessante al più alto grado.

A questa parte della Botanica che vanta per genitori la S.V. e C. C. Sprengel, io diedi il nome di biologia. Forse il nome non è appropriato, ma io non ne trovai nessun altro migliore. Credo per altro, se non sono in errore, che da qualche autore in Inghilterra sia stato accettato il temine “biologia” nello stesso preciso significato di “scienza dei rapporti esterni ossia della vita esteriore.6

Godo assai dello sviluppo che la dottrina darwiniana va di giorno in giorno prendendo nella dotta Germania; ma mi rincresce che la stessa cosa non si possa dire per l’Italia.7 Troppi interessi contrarii vi sono, ed io, nella mia piccola sfera, ho avuto ed avrò non poche contrarietà a superare. Ma coi principii non si transige.

Mi dichiaro della S. V. | Ossequentissimo discepolo | F. Delpino

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
Delpino refers to Thomas Belt and Belt 1874a. Delpino’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Insectivorous plants (Appendix IV).
No article with this exact title (Relations between insects and nectaries that do not serve dichogamy in plants) has been found. A summary of Delpino’s article ‘Rapporti tra insetti e tra nettarii estranunziali in alcuni piante’ (Illegitimate relations between insects and nectaries in some plants appeared in Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali in 1875 (Delpino 1875). There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL; CD wrote ‘9 Sept 1875’ on the back.
See Belt 1874a, pp. 128–30. Delpino’s conjectures on the fertilisation of the Marcgraviaceae were published in Delpino 1869.
The term biology had been in use in English since at least 1799, but was still controversial in some quarters (Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863 and n. 9; OED). Herbert Spencer in his Principles of biology had defined life as the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations (Spencer 1864–7, 1: 80). Sprengel was one of the earliest to study the interrelatedness of flowers and insects, and CD studied the morphology of orchids as it related to the insects that aided in their fertilisation.
On the reception of Darwinism in Germany and Italy, see Corsi and Weindling 1985 and Brömer 2008.

Bibliography

Brömer, Rainer. 2008. Many Darwinisms by many names: Darwinism and nature in the kingdom of Italy. In The reception of Charles Darwin in Europe, edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas F. Glick. London: Continuum.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Delpino, Federico. 1875. Rapporti tra insetti e tra nettarii estranuziali in alcuni piante. Bulletino della Società Entomologica Italiana 7: 69–90.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

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.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Translation

From Federico Delpino1   11 September 1875

Vallombrosa

11. Sept 1875

Venerated and most distinguished master!

I must offer you my profound thanks for the exquisite kindness that you chose to show towards me by sending me the interesting book by Belt, “The naturalist in Nicaragua”, and the classical book by your honour on insectivorous plants.2 This beautiful book deserves its place next to all the numerous other publications with which your honour successfully conducted back to the path towards truth the field of natural history, which had been misguided by so many scholastic prejudices. I have for a long time been convinced of the true nature and function of the insect-killing organs of the plants in question, but even so, I read your book to my great profit and instruction. I also had occasion to admire the talent at experimentation of your honour that has been manifested in this work.

Recently I sent your honour a short essay of mine on “rapporti tra gl’insetti e i nettarii che nelle piante non servono alla dicogamia”.3

Now, it has been a great pleasure for me to see how Belt, through observations that are quite independent of mine and that have been carried out in a locality so distant from Italy, should have arrived at very analogous conclusions.

Thus I also had the satisfaction of seeing my conjecture regarding the fertilisation of the Marcgraviae through the Trochilidae confirmed by Belt.4

This interesting part of Botany, the study of the adaptations of the external life of plants, that is, of the relations between plants and external agents, has now taken off magnificently, through the vigorous impulse your honour has given it with the marvellous work on the fertilisation of Orchids.5 It urgently requires a patient and precise mind to gather all the observations, experiments and research undertaken regarding it, and to produce a complete treatise, which would be of interest in the highest degree.

This part of Botany which boasts your honour and C. C. Sprengel as its founding fathers, I gave the name biology. Perhaps this name is not appropriate, but I was unable to find a better one. I believe, however, unless I am mistaken, that some author in England has accepted the expression “biology” with precisely the same meaning, “science of the external relations, or of external life”.6

I am so very delighted by the progress that the Darwinian doctrine is making day by day among educated circles in Germany, but it pains me that the same can’t be said for Italy.7 There are too many adverse interests, and I, in my tiny province, have had and will continue to have quite a few obstacles to overcome. But to compromise principles won’t do.

I remain your honour’s | Most faithful disciple | F. Delpino

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original Italian, see pp. 355–7.
Delpino refers to Thomas Belt and Belt 1874a. Delpino’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Insectivorous plants (Appendix IV).
No article with this exact title (Relations between insects and nectaries that do not serve dichogamy in plants) has been found. A summary of Delpino’s article ‘Rapporti tra insetti e tra nettarii estranunziali in alcuni piante’ (Illegitimate relations between insects and nectaries in some plants appeared in Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali in 1875 (Delpino 1875). There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL; CD wrote ‘9 Sept 1875’ on the back.
See Belt 1874a, pp. 128–30. Delpino’s conjectures on the fertilisation of the Marcgraviaceae were published in Delpino 1869.
The term biology had been in use in English since at least 1799, but was still controversial in some quarters (Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Asa Gray to J. D. Hooker, 6 July 1863 and n. 9; OED). Herbert Spencer in his Principles of biology had defined life as the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations (Spencer 1864–7, 1: 80). Sprengel was one of the earliest to study the interrelatedness of flowers and insects, and CD studied the morphology of orchids as it related to the insects that aided in their fertilisation.
On the reception of Darwinism in Germany and Italy, see Corsi and Weindling 1985 and Brömer 2008.

Bibliography

Brömer, Rainer. 2008. Many Darwinisms by many names: Darwinism and nature in the kingdom of Italy. In The reception of Charles Darwin in Europe, edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas F. Glick. London: Continuum.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Delpino, Federico. 1875. Rapporti tra insetti e tra nettarii estranuziali in alcuni piante. Bulletino della Società Entomologica Italiana 7: 69–90.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

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.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Summary

Thanks for Thomas Belt’s Naturalist in Nicaragua [1874], which confirms some of his observations,

and for Insectivorous plants, which he praises.

Suggests that a book integrating knowledge of plant–animal interactions be written by a Darwinist.

Defines biology as the science of external interactions.

German reception is far more positive than Italian.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10155
From
Federico Delpino
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Vallombrosa
Source of text
DAR 162: 154
Physical description
4pp (Italian)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10155,” accessed on 28 January 2020, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-10155.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23

letter