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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   [11 May 1878]1

My dear old F.

It has only just occurred to me that you never gave in Nature the result of weighing the 2 lots of Drosera.2 This is a great pity & I hope that you will do so as soon as you can, & you can then add a few words on paper in Bot. Zeitung, of which I have now received a copy. The author seems rather injured that you fed the plants so much more carefully than he did.—3

Will you send to Down, as soon as you can spare it, the Part on Radicles by Sachs which you have, for I have read the other two Parts.—4 It is a magnificent piece of work. He will swear & curse when he finds out that he missed sensitiveness of apex.—5 I have been putting together my notes & the case is conclusive; but I have not nearly finished & my account will be abominably long. Yet there are several points to ascertain.

It was a great misfortune that you threw away the notes about the failures; failures often prove as useful as successes.—

We go back on Monday & have had a most prosperous visit.6 They are all here very kind & sweet.— I often catch myself thinking of Bernard & his pretty ways.7 It is dreadful to think of the orange which he was prevented from eating, & I do hope it has been made up to him by many others.

Your affect Father | C. Darwin

Saturday 10th. Basset.


The date is established by the reference to Francis Darwin’s paper (see nn. 2 and 3, below) and by the address; CD was at Bassett, Southampton from 27 April to 13 May 1878 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Saturday fell on 11 May 1878, not 10 as CD wrote.
An article in Nature, 17 January 1878, pp. 222–3, titled ‘Insectivorous plants’, summarised the paper that Francis Darwin read before the Linnean Society on that day. The full paper, published in Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany), contained data on the weight of fed and starved plants of Drosera rotundifolia (common or round-leaved sundew; F. Darwin 1878a, pp. 26–30).
Francis added a memorandum, dated 6 May 1878, at the end of his published paper, referring to results corroborating his findings in Botanische Zeitung (Kellermann and Raumer 1878; see F. Darwin 1878a, p. 32).
Julius Sachs’s paper ‘Ueber das Wachsthum der Haupt- und Nebenwurzeln’ (On the growth of primary and adventitious roots; Sachs 1873–4) had been published in two issues of the first volume of Arbeiten des Botanischen Instituts in Würzburg. The first part, on radicles, or embryonic roots, appeared in issue 3 (1873); the second part, on taproots and adventitious roots, was published in issue 4 (1874). CD evidently considered Sachs’s earlier paper ‘Ablenkung der Wurzel von ihrer normalen Wachsthumsrichtung durch feuchte Körper’ (Deflection of the root from its normal direction of growth by moisture; Sachs 1872), published in issue 2 (1872) of the same volume, to be part of the same work.
Sachs had reviewed earlier results on root sensitivity that suggested sensitivity was located in the apex, but dismissed these as having been an artifact of a methodological error (see Sachs 1873–4, pp. 432–4; see also Ciesielski 1872).
The Darwins were visiting their son William Erasmus Darwin and his wife, Sara; they were at Bassett, Southampton, from 27 April to Monday 13 May 1878 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Bernard Darwin was Francis’s son.


Ciesielski, Theophil. 1872. Untersuchungen über die Abwärtskrümmung der Wurzel. Beiträge zur Biologie der Pflanzen 1 (1870–5) Heft 2: 1–30.

Sachs, Julius. 1873–4. Ueber das Wachsthum der Haupt- und Nebenwurzeln. Arbeiten des Botanischen Instituts in Würzburg 1 (1871–4): 385–474, 584–634.


Julius von Sachs will "swear & curse" when he finds out he has missed sensitiveness of root apex. Has been putting his notes together and the case is conclusive. [Dated "Saturday 10th" by CD.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 211: 23
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11504,” accessed on 17 May 2021,