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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Tyndall   2 February 1876

Royal Institution of Great Britain

2nd. Feby 1876.

My dear Darwin

I hope I am not wrong in counting on such a fraction of your sympathy as will justify me on making known to you myself the contemplated change in my life.

Rumour has probably already told you that Louisa, eldest daughter of Lord Claud Hamilton, has chosen to forsake her own beautiful home and share my modest rooms here at the Royal Institution.1 This simple fact yields an indication of her character— That I have learned to know under every variety of circumstance. On Alp and glacier; in mountain huts; by the sea margin, among the fair fields of England, and in her own home. Strong, tender, entirely womanly, utterly selfrenouncing—these are what I have seen her to be long before a dream of our present relation crossed my thoughts. She is a noble and capable worker, and I firmly hope that she and I will do some good work here together.

My investigation has been a little broken in upon by this matter. But I have one great section of it fairly rounded off. I am resuming it. To my regret I shall be forced to go into the whole history of Bastian’s work, dealing with his logic as well as with his experiments.2 I was disposed to deal with him in the tenderest manner; but his recent exhibition in the Times shows me that a far different treatment will be needed.3

The change in the Medical Journals is radical— They see that the end of the nonsense which they have so long countenanced is nigh.4

Give my kindest regards to Mrs. Darwin & to your sons & daughters | and believe me ever | Yours faithfully | John Tyndall


Tyndall married Louisa Charlotte Hamilton on 29 February 1876 (ODNB). Her family home was at 19 Eaton Square, London (Post Office London directory 1875). For more on Tyndall’s marriage, see G. Dawson 2007, pp. 105–9.
Tyndall was engaged in a series of experiments on spontaneous generation and had enlisted a number of prominent observers including CD to confirm his results. For CD’s interest in the debates over spontaneous generation, see Correspondence vol. 20, letters to A. R. Wallace, 28 August [1872] and [2 September 1872]. Tyndall’s results were presented to the Royal Society of London on 13 January 1876 and published in the society’s transactions (Tyndall 1876a). Having repeated several of Henry Charlton Bastian’s experiments, he pointed out flaws in Bastian’s methodology and reasoning and concluded, ‘here, as elsewhere, Dr. Bastian has allowed the gravest errors to invade his experimental work’ (Tyndall 1876a, p. 56). Tyndall also reported confirmation of his own conclusions by John Scott Burdon Sanderson, who had earlier confirmed some of Bastian’s experimental work (Tyndall 1876a, pp. 57ff.).
Bastian had written a letter to The Times, 25 January 1876, p. 11, in which he argued that Tyndall’s experiments did not demonstrate any new facts, while his interpretation went ‘beyond his evidence’ and ignored the verification that Bastian’s own experiments had received from other workers in the field. Tyndall replied in a letter to The Times, 28 January 1876, p. 12, which was followed by another from Bastian (The Times, 29 January 1876, p. 14), and another from Tyndall (The Times, 4 February 1876, p. 11).
The medical profession had been generally supportive of Bastian’s work on spontaneous generation (see Strick 2000, pp. 144–56, 162–7).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dawson, Gowan. 2007. Darwin, literature and Victorian respectability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Strick, James. 2000. Sparks of life: Darwinism and the Victorian debates over spontaneous generation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


Tells CD of his engagement to Louisa, eldest daughter of Lord Claud Hamilton.

His investigations [into spontaneous generation] continue. He will deal with Bastian’s work [The modes of origin of lowest organisms (1871)].

The medical journals see that the end of the nonsense they have so long countenanced is nigh.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Tyndall
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Royal Institution
Source of text
DAR 106: C20–1
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10377,” accessed on 19 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24