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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   20 September [1876]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Sept. 20th

My dear Frank

I doubt whether Sprengel wd. be worth the labour. I do not see what use a translation could be.— H. Muller’s Befruchtung is now a much more valuable book. Not a page of Sprengel is intelligible without his rough & crowded Plates. He is also wrong in his theory.2

If you wish to practice on Translation, I wd suggest J. von. Fishers paper (which is very curious) on apes which show their hinder ends as a greeting—or his paper on the inheritance of colour in crossed Rodents.—3 I think that you cd make the former one quite decent, & I guess that Dr. Lawson wd. gladly publish a Translation of either in the Pop. Science Review.4 If you thought about it, I cd send the essays & a German Dicty.—

My dear boy you are very wise to exert yourself to the utmost but I pray you to take care of your health & take plenty of exercise. I feel sure that the habit of close mental attention will grow on you, & it is your one chance of forgetting for short times your dreadful loss.5 Your teazle paper wd. be the best of all, if you can do it, which is of course very doubtful.—6

You have worked excellently at my Proof-sheets, but I have gone through (for it is hard work) only about a quarter of them, & as yet have accepted all, though some slightly modified.7

I am glad that you have gone into Wales, & the kindness of Mrs. Ruck & Arthur must do you some good.8 It is delightful to hear of such tender & thoughtful kindness.

My very dear son | Your affectionate Father | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Francis Darwin, 16 September [1876].
CD’s heavily annotated copy of Christian Konrad Sprengel’s Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen (The secret of nature discovered in the structure and fertilisation of flowers; Sprengel 1793) reveals that although CD admired Sprengel’s descriptive account, he often disagreed with Sprengel’s interpretation of the reasons for complex floral structures (see Marginalia 1: 774–85). For CD’s admiration of Hermann Müller’s Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten (The fertilisation of plants by means of insects; H. Müller 1873), see Correspondence vol. 21, letter to Hermann Müller, 30 May 1873).
Johann von Fischer probably sent several of his articles from Der Zoologische Garten. Zeitschrift für Beobachtung, Pflege und Zucht der Tiere (The zoological garden. A magazine for the observation, care, and breeding of animals), but none have been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL (see letters from Johann von Fischer, [before 15 September 1876] and 15 September 1876). The articles CD recommended are ‘Aus dem Leben eines jungen Mandril (Cynocephalus mormon); seine Erkrankung und sein Tod’ (From the life of a young mandrill (Cynocephalus mormon); his illness and death; Fischer 1876a), and ‘Beobachtungen über Kreuzungen verschiedener Farbenspielarten innerhalb einer Species’ (Observations on crosses of various colour types within a species; Fischer 1874b).
Henry Lawson was the editor of Popular Science Review.
Francis’s wife, Amy Darwin, had died a few days after the birth of her son, Bernard Darwin (see letter to W. E. Darwin, 11 September [1876]).
Francis’s paper ‘On the protrusion of protoplasmic filaments from the glandular hairs of the common teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris)’ was read in March 1877 and published later in the year (F. Darwin 1877a, 1877b).
See letter to Francis Darwin, 16 September [1876] and n. 1. CD was correcting proof-sheets of Cross and self fertilisation.
Mary Anne Ruck was Amy Darwin’s mother; Arthur Ashley Ruck was Amy’s brother. Francis had told Emma Darwin, ‘the love & care of Mrs Ruck & Atty are beautiful’ (quoted in the letter from Emma Darwin to Leonard Darwin, [26 September 1876] (DAR 239.23: 1.50)).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Müller, Hermann. 1873. Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider. Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der organischen Natur. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

Sprengel, Christian Konrad. 1793. Das entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen. Berlin: Friedrich Vieweg.


Suggests German works worth translating.

Is glad FD is keeping busy; he has worked excellently on proof-sheets [of Orchids (1877)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 211: 11
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10611,” accessed on 27 May 2022,

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