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Darwin Correspondence Project

From I. L. Roberti   24 January 1874

92. Malpas Road. Lewisham High Road. New Cross | London.

January 24. 1874

Much esteemed & respected Sir,

As an enthusiastic lover of Nature & Science, following with eagerness & thirst for knowledge the researches of men like you, Tyndall, Lyell, Huxley as I have done those of Humbold, Liebig & others,1 I take the liberty to write to you, & I do so with full confidence.

No one could read your valuable works without becoming wiser & feeling he has increased 10 fold his stock of knowledge & thirsting for more: it is certainly the case with me.

In the “Origin of Species” you mention that Haricots have never been acclimatised in England, & recommend trials to be made & repeated.2 This advice struck my eyes in March 1873 & at the end of April, I sowed some imported from France; they ripened in September & October (I enclose some with a few indian ones I grew last year) I firmly believe they will not only germinate, but grow & bear ripe seeds (some at least), for they look perfectly healthy. The way I intend to treat them this year is the following:

I will add lime to the soil (chiefly in the shape of phosphate), soak the seeds for 24 hours in diluted liquid manure before planting; & when the young plant peeps out of the ground; I will then broadcast a mixture of soot, salt & gypsum lightly all over them; I intend moreover to plant them at different times, (beginning at the end of March) & in different positions. By these means, I feel confident that I will secure the coming to maturity of most of my seeds; & if the experiment is carried for 2 or 3 years (each time with the seeds of the preceding year), they will, I believe, become acclimatised. I enclose some of my seeds so that you may carry out the experiment at the same time with me, if you think it worth while; for my part, I will give it great attention.

Allow me to say that I should deem it a great favour to be permitted to see you; & should you honour me one day with a call, I shall be glad to show you my collection of fossils.

One of them is represented on the enclosed rough sketch. Among some rare specimens, I have pieces of wood which appear to have been charred on one side before they were petrified; were they perhaps the embers of a fire made by our remote ancestors, during the Green Sand Period of the Cretaceous times?3 A small piece of sandy limestone from same formation looks uncommonly like a broken piece of thick coarse earthenware it is 13 of an inch in thickness & is glazed & ribbed on one side   As for me, I believe that man (perhaps in an animal state) existed during the Wealden & Green Sand Systems; were it only for the fact that all nations, even the most ancients have records, & traditions of hugh monsters & dragons (flying) the like we know to have existed during the Upper Oolite & Wealden Times.—4

I could not better finish my letter than by quoting a splendid stropha of Lefranc de Pompignan on J. B. Rousseau (who had many calumniators); as it applies to you & your few fellow-workers who dare to own truth & proclaim it without fear:5 Le Nil a vu sur ses rivages Les noirs habitants des déserts Insulter par leurs cris sauvages L’astre éclatant de l’Univers. Cris impuissants, fureurs bizarres!, Tandis que ces monstres barbares Poussaient d’insolentes clameurs, Le Dieu poursuivant sa carrière, Jetait des torrents de lumière Sur ses obscurs blasphémateurs. *

Like the sun which throws torrents of light on its blasphemers, you have boldly placed your light not under a bushel but on the table; & even your calumniators benefit by it; at all events it shows them the depth of their darkness.

A friend of mine A. Preville6 said once in an oration

“Common people cannot judge of great men by looking at them; for the great light of the latter dazzles the former; they can only judge of their size by their shadow.”

I am afraid it is so with you;

Ignorant & weak minded people who will not be desabused have eyes so formed that any great light dazzles them & they swear that everything is darkness; it is why so many will not or cannot understand you.

As for me, I am not dazzled by your powerful light, it does me good; the bright & warm rays (“Great luminary of science”) which emanate from you give me the light I seek & the warmth I long for; they send through my very nerves an inexpressible thrill of joy & happiness, & I feel I live a happy intellectual life.

My enclosed testimonials will tell you who & what I am;7 I am exceedingly fond of teaching & feel competent to impart my knowledge & my views (as well as those I borrow); I have taught French & Geology to over 1000 students in England during the last 10 years; & I can say I never let an opportunity pass away to destroy whatever superstitions & false ideas on Scientific subjects did exist in the minds of my pupils.—

Hoping you will allow me to call on you, I remain, | My dear & highly respected sir, | your sincere & enthusiastic admirer | Isaac Louis Roberti

Mr. Darwin.

[Enclosure]

[DIAG HERE]

Right side of Lower Jaw of Cervus Megacerus?8 (with 5 molars), length about 1 foot: which would give for the length of the head of the animal when alive about 1 foot 6 to 1 foot 8.?

Found by Isaac Louis Roberti at Brancaster (Norfolk Coast) in the Forest Beds commonly called “the Scruves’. in Summer 1872.9

N.B: The left side of that jaw is in my possession & is as complete as the right side.

Footnotes

John Tyndall, Charles Lyell, Thomas Henry Huxley, Alexander von Humboldt, Justus von Liebig.
Roberti had probably read the most recent French edition translated from the fifth and sixth editions of Origin (Moulinié trans. 1873). In Origin 5th ed., p. 177, CD had noted that the kidney-bean had never been cultivated from seed in England but suggested that until someone sowed them for several generations and selected seeds from the few survivors, it was not possible to say that the experiment in acclimatisation had been tried. In the French edition, ‘kidney-bean’ had been translated as ‘haricot’ (see Moulinié trans. 1873, p. 160).
Greensand is a stratum associated with the early Cretaceous period in Britain.
In Britain, oolitic limestone dates from the Jurassic period; the oldest parts of the Weald (an area in south-east England between the North and South Downs) date from the late Jurassic. Human ancestors are generally thought to have appeared much later, during the early Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age.
The quotation is the ninth stanza from the ode, ‘La mort de Rousseau’ by Jean-Jacques Lefranc de Pompignan (Lefranc de Pompignan 1784, 2: 91). Roberti has modernised some of the spelling of the original and changed the words ‘crimes’ to ‘cris’ (cries) and ‘versoit’ (poured) to ‘jetait’ (thrown), but aside from this the transcription is accurate. The passage as given is translated as: The Nile has seen on its banks The black desert dwellers Insulting with their savage cries The shining day-star of the Universe. Feeble cries, blind fury! While these barbarian monsters Were clamouring insolently, The God pursuing his destiny (course) Was throwing rivers of light On these dark blasphemers.
A. Preville has not been identified.
The testimonials have not been found.
Cervus megaceros is a synomym of Megaloceros giganteus. Megalocerus giganteus was a giant deer that became extinct about ten thousand years ago (see Lister 1994).
Roberti refers to Pleistocene deposits in a submerged forest or peat bog at Brancaster, Norfolk (see S. P. Woodward 1833, p. 9).

Summary

Has grown haricots in England following CD’s suggestion in the Origin that this had never been done.

Wishes to see CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-9254
From
Isaac Louis Roberti
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
New Cross
Source of text
DAR 176: 183, 183/1
Physical description
4pp sketch

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9254,” accessed on 18 August 2019, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-9254

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22

letter