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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Darwin   [28 October 1877?]1

My dear Father,

We sent yr proofs because we are not certain whether you are coming tomorrow or not.2

I have done Ricinus which certainly nutates when bent into a knuckle.3 I failed with Maize. I am doing a hazel which has come up & which is certainly moving & I think it is real nutation. The blackened oats have sent out leaves but they are broad & short.4

Bernard is all right & very jolly.5 Horace is rather languid but working at the wormograph. Yesterday no power could extract the bar but he has had a clamp made by Reeves.6 How is Richard going on?7

Yr affec son | Frank Darwin

Many thanks for Nature which I have sent off8


The date is conjectured from the reference to CD’s return to Down, and from Horace Darwin’s work on the worm stone (see nn. 2 and 6, below).
CD was in London from 26 to 29 October 1877 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). The proofs have not been identified.
CD had received a specimen of Ricinus communis (castor-oil plant), along with other plants, from Kew on 3 July 1877 (letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 9 July [1877] and n. 2). Nutation is the term used to describe the revolving movement made by the tip of various parts of a plant as it grows; in Movement in plants, pp. 1–4, CD expressed his preference for the term circumnutation to describe this movement.
CD was attempting to test the effect of light on plant leaves by blocking it (see letter from Leonard Darwin, 28 November 1877 and n. 2), probably in order to distinguish between circumnutation and heliotropism. For the results of CD’s experiments with blackened oats (Avena sativa), see Movement in plants, pp. 167–8.
Bernard Darwin, Francis Darwin’s son, was just over a year old.
Horace Darwin was building an apparatus to measure the rate at which stones on the surface of the soil are buried by the action of earthworms; it was set up under a large Spanish chestnut tree in the garden at Down House. Horace later reported that in order to construct a fixed point from which the displacement could be measured, a 2.63 metre iron rod was first driven into the ground before being replaced by a copper rod of slightly larger diameter (H. Darwin 1901, p. 253). Horace purchased a copper rod in London around 24 October 1877 (see letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [c. 25 October 1877] (DAR 219.9: 167). Evidently, the iron rod proved difficult to extract without the aid of the clamp made by the Down blacksmith, William Reeves.
Richard Buckley Litchfield had fallen seriously ill while travelling in Switzerland, owing to inept treatment for acute appendicitis (Litchfield 1910, p. 150).
Possibly the issue of Nature that contained both a sketch of Joseph Dalton Hooker and a paper by him (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [26 October 1877] and n. 4).


Darwin, Horace. 1901. On the small vertical movements of a stone laid on the surface of the ground. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 68: 253–61.

Litchfield, Henrietta Emma. 1910. Richard Buckley Litchfield: a memoir written for his friends by his wife. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.


FD has sent proofs; nutating of Ricinus; Horace Darwin and the wormograph.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
DAR 274.1: 45

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11302F,” accessed on 27 November 2020,