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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. C. Tait   11 July 1869


July 11th. 1869.

Charles Darwin Esqr.

Dear Sir,

I went to Coimbra a few days ago and met at the botanical gardens there a german gardener at the head of the establishment a Mr. Edmund Goetze.1

He most obligingly showed us over the gardens and conservatories and in course of conversation I asked him whether he knew the Drosophyllum Lusitanicum as I had seen mentioned in a book that it grew near Coimbra— He said that he had sent some plants to Dr. Hooker at Kew Botanical Gardens where Mr. Goetze had been for some time and that Dr. Hooker wanted them for you to experimentalize upon but that all the plants he sent died, further that Dr. Hooker had written that you had already received some plants from Portugal which plants were looking very sickly—2

Mr. Goetze had sent some seed also to Dr. Hooker and these had germinated. Mr. Goetze told me that he had always experienced great difficulty in growing the Drosophyllum Lusitanicum which in a short time after transplantation invariably died   he thinks the best mode of cultivating it is by seed, What however may interest you more is that he suspects this species has spontaneous movements of the leaves moving with the sun—3

I did not notice this but now the last of my plants is dead after flowering and producing 3 seeds— A colony of ants had established themselves at the roots and seemed to attend to some aphides which the also appeared to have placed on the stalk and some of the leaves. By the aid of a hand lens I have noticed a great resemblance between the glands of the Drosophyllum and those of many other plants such as the rose and on the calix(?) of the moss rose I have actually seen a gnat which had been caught by the secreted fluid— No answer have I received from the portuguese paper about the rate of development of sheep’s horns and I have not yet been able to meet the only person who I think could give me reliable information on this subject.4 I keep it before me and sooner or later shall send you an answer—

In the Geranium I have noticed a contrivance for crossing analogous to that of the orchis   No doubt you have observed it already but if not the enclosed rough sketch will explain what I mean.5

In the earlier stage of the flower the stigmas are over the pistil and this latter is still up, but shortly after the stigmas bend down and the ends containing the pollen fall, the pistil now being over the stigmas opens out like an umbrella and is ready to receive the pollen brought by bees from other flowers— I have taken great interest in this case—

I am trying to make as complete as possible a list of all the endemic species in Portugal and also of those which are found only in Spain and Portugal and I expect to find that the endemic ones have little adaptability for long journeys and for crossing with idividuals at a distance.

There is here a variety of the fox, as I see by a Portuguese Pamphlet.6 I have never compared the skin with the English species and I should like to exchange a skin. A friend of mine here would give me a young fox cub—

It must be a great satisfaction to you to see your theory now becoming more and more generally accepted   I think that what makes people most prejudiced against it is that it must apply to man in common with other animals— Their pride and preconcieved opinions receive a smart shock and it is not always that truth is sought for its own sake and in an unprejudiced or unbiassed manner, Max Müller seems to have given natural selection a kind of application to language7 but I do not see why it should not be applied also to customs, instincts, opinions, politics, social institutions, competition in commerce and professions, and why in fact it should not be an universal law.

I see that you are about to publish a work on instinct   this is to me a most interesting subject of observation and on which I might perhaps gather together a few curious instances.

I have an idea that reason is a kind of consciousness–super-consciousness and receives its value from a knowledge or consciousness of the laws of nature.

An uncle of mine in Lisbon many years ago found on the bank of the habour the carcase of an animal in a species of grey mud   it was quite soft but in a beautiful state of preservation   This was a kind of petrifaction and he feels almost sure that it was an extinct species; Unfortunately he kept only a small portion which is now a hard petrifaction— My uncle remembers that it was a mammal.

Believe me to remain | Dear Sir, | Yours very truly, | William C. Tait.


Edmund Goeze was the director of the Coimbra botanic garden (GEPB).
In Movement in plants, p. 450, CD discussed the unusual lack of heliotropism in Drosera rotundifolia, which he believed belonged to the same family as Drosophyllum, but did not mention the phenomenon in Drosophyllum lusitanicum.
See letters from W. C. Tait, 13 April 1869 and 10 May 1869.
The enclosure has not been found.
The fox variety referred to has not been identified. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is common throughout Europe and the British Isles.
Tait refers to Friedrich Max Müller. For Max Müller’s theory of the origin of language, see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 4 and 13 October 1862 and n. 2. See also Max Müller 1861 and 1864.


Drosophyllum lusitanicum.

Believes principle of natural selection can be more widely applied.

Flower structure of Geranium.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Chester Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 48
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6825,” accessed on 24 April 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17