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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. J. Romanes   4 June [1876]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R. [Hopedene, Surrey.]

June 4th

Dear Romanes

Sir ..... Fayrer supplied me with cobra poison.— It is very precious, but I have no doubt that by explaining your motive he wd. give you a little, & your best plan of applying wd. be through Lauder Brunton.—2

Your letter has made me as proud & conceited as ten peacocks.3 I am inclined to think that writing against the bigots about vivisection is as hopeless as stemming a torrent with a reed. Frank who has just come here & who sputters with indignation on subject takes an opposite line, & perhaps he is right; anyhow he had the best of an argument with me on the subject.—4 By the way I think F. has made a fine discovery, but I won’t say what for fear it shd. break down.—5 It seems to me that physiologists are now in the position of a persecuted religious sect, & they must grin & bear the persecution,, however cruel & unjust, as well as they can.—

I shall be very glad to hear what you think about Häckel: perhaps I have shamefully misrepresented him.6 About the other subject (never mentioned to a human being) I shall be glad to hear, but I fear that I am a wretched bigot on the subject.7

Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

The rest has done me much good— We return on the 10th—first visiting the Hawkshaws.8

My daughter is certainly better a good deal but not up to her former poor standard.9


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. J. Romanes, 1 June 1876.
CD had tested the effects of various poisons on Drosera (sundew) and Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap; see Insectivorous plants). He obtained cobra poison from Joseph Fayrer via Thomas Lauder Brunton in 1874 (see Correspondence vol. 22, letter from Joseph Fayrer, 17 June 1874). Romanes had asked for poison for his work on the nerve plexus of medusae (see letter from G. J. Romanes, 1 June 1876 and n. 11).
A bill to regulate vivisection had begun its passage through Parliament (French 1975, p. 114). In March 1875, Francis Darwin had written a letter to Nature on the subject (see letter to Francis Darwin, [1 May 1876] and n. 2).
Francis had discovered protoplasmic filaments protruding from the glandular hairs in the cups of the common or fuller’s teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris, now D. fullonum; see letter from Francis Darwin, [28 May 1876]). Francis thought that the filaments might enable the plant to absorb nitrogenous matter dissolved in the water in the cups formed by some of the leaves (see F. Darwin 1877b).
CD had sent a copy of Ernst Haeckel’s work on perigenesis (Haeckel 1876a) with some sceptical remarks (see letter to G. J. Romanes, 29 May [1876]).
See also letters to G. J. Romanes, [before 26 April 1876], 26 April [1876], and 29 April [1876]. According to E. D. Romanes 1896, p. 61, CD was referring to spiritualism.
The Darwins stayed at Hopedene, Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, from 24 May to 7 June 1875; they were at Hollycombe, the home of John and Ann Hawkshaw, from 7 to 10 June (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). John and Ann’s son Clarke had married Cicely Mary Wedgwood, Emma Darwin’s niece.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

French, Richard D. 1975. Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian society. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

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

Romanes, Ethel Duncan. 1896. The life and letters of George John Romanes M.A., LL.D., F.R.S. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co.


Joseph Fayrer can supply cobra poison.

Discusses vivisection.

Mentions visit to the John Hawkshaws.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George John Romanes
Sent from
Hopedene Down letterhead
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.494)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10529,” accessed on 5 March 2024,

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