From John Crawfurd to E. A. Darwin 7 August 1863
August 7th. 1863.
My dear Darwin/
I was requested by Archdeacon Sinclair to send the enclosed to your brother.1 It contains a remarkable prophecy of your grandfather which long anticipated the opinion of Libig & well deserves attention.2
Will you forward with my kind regards | very sinly yours | J Crawfurd
Erasmus Darwin Esq
Nor did the Board confine their efforts to the Collection & diffusion of agricultural Knowledge;3 they endeavoured also to arrange it—to connect husbandry with philosophy or as the Founder of the institution frequently expressed himself “to raise agriculture from the level of an art to the dignity of a science.” They wished its process no longer to be carried on blindly or empirically, but to be formed into a regular system & conducted upon rational & experimental principles. The two branches of science from which the greatest aid might be expected were vegetable physiology & chemistry; the Board therefore endeavoured to prevail on men of eminence in these departments to employ their scientific attainments in arranging & combining theoretically the miscellaneous facts & loose notions of which agricultural knowledge at that time exclusively consisted. Among the most valuable results were Darwin’s Phytologia & Davy’s Lectures on Agricultural Chemistry.4
The Phytologia or Philosophy of Agriculture & Gardening was dedicated by the Author in the most cordial terms of friendship & esteem to Sir John Sinclair as a work “begun at his instigation, & forwarded by his encouragement.” Dr Darwin entered warmly into Sir John’s feeling of indignation that husbandry had till then been so much neglected by the learned, & that at a time when many branches of knowledge far inferior in importance had been carefully arranged & digested into sciences agriculture & gardening though of such great utility in producing the nutriment of mankind continued to be only arts. The work comprises three parts of which the first explains the physiology of vegetation; the second describes the economy of vegetation & the third applies the principles thus established to agricultural & horticultural productions. Among the casual discoveries which this ingenious work had the merit of bringing forward was the use of bone dust as a manure. Having mentioned phosphorus as an element under different forms, existing universally in vegetables, & not before sufficiently attended to, the Doctor specifies the different substances from which this essential food of plants may be obtained & which therefore might be advantageously employed as manure; he then proceeds— “and, lastly, the use of recent shells, or bones ground into powder, or of bone ashes may be deduced as they consist almost entirely of phosphorus & calcareous earth.”5 The fertilizing properties of this manure had been previously noticed by Hunter,6 but they were first theoretically explained & brought forward with authority by Dr. Darwin. Perhaps no modern discovery has contributed so powerfully to improve the fertility & increase the produce of the soil, as the use of bone dust.7 Nothing but experience would render credible the strong & lasting effects produced by even small quantities of this active Substance.—
Life of Sir John Sinclair Bart. | vol II. p. 83–5.
Forwards an enclosure for CD, at Archdeacon John Sinclair’s request [extract from J. Sinclair’s Life and works of Sir John Sinclair (1837) 2: 83–5], showing how Dr Erasmus Darwin anticipated Justus von Liebig [in recognising the importance of phosphorus-rich manures].
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4880,” accessed on 29 April 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4880
Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)