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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Darwin to Emma Darwin   30 June 1879

Bot. Institut | Würzburg

June 30. /79

My dear Mother,

I hope you have had a successful lark at Hackhurst,1 I don’t suppose one can prophecy English weather from this but it has now begun to be baking hot; the hot-houses are kept so dark that they say when it is too hot to exist in the laboratory they go & cool in the hot-house. Last night was the most tremendous thunderstorm I ever saw   one continuous growl & flash & such rain that the windows looked as if one was inside a waterfall, my street had a torrent running down it in a few minutes, it only lasted about 10 minutes I think. It was worse than the rain in Norway which G & I saw & of which the American said “They’re not stopping to put it up in drops”.2 I must disburthen myself of some axles, & then I will return to my senses. I have asked several people about proshelismus (a proshelite would be a nice word too) & aphelismus & they say they would be all right, but I will ask Goebel (who has been away) he is the “philolog” to the Institut.3

I did some beans extended horizontally in damp earth some causticed above others below & the difference was very striking 2 of those causticed above being more geotropic than the control beans, while the under caustic were only faintly geotropic (tho’ they were somewhat bent).4 I have today started gold beaters skin & black grease on Monstera which are growing well & turn from light.5 I will see after Porliera, it is very late in growing well but now it looks healthy—I think the pot plants are no use for as I said I dried one till it withered.6 Lastly I will try the point touching a hair here7   I am microscoping nearly every afternoon & could do it quite well. I did the caustic beans to show Sachs & he appeared rather staggered; also I explained to him how the root might grow down a sloping surface & he seemed to have glimmers of sense & said it was quite possible. There was once a ridiculous personal row between De Vries & a german named Meyer:8 Meyer wanted a post in Amsterdam & De Vries wrote a furious attack on him saying he was a perfect duffer in everything. Meyer & everybody else thought De Vries wanted the place himself though I hope he didn’t. Any how Meyer wrote a very severe reply which rather squashed De Vries & made Sachs furious: Meyer got the place   it said that he lived on the crumbs that fall from his rich masters (Sachs) table; it said that he saw what he was told to see & refuted (or contradicted) what he was told to & so on. I am very sorry De Vries is such a wonner for personalities, he pitches into Frank in the same way.9 Please tell me Bessy’s address so calculated that I can write to her when I hear from you again. S. Mary seems to have missed her letters which were sent to Villars.10

I have got to know a nice Englishman called Purdy at least rather a nice Englishman with a very nice wife & I go in to their lodgings & hear her play sometimes: he was assistant to Frankland & knew Leo when he was working there; he is now working Chemistry here.11 I have quite given up bicycling & go & bathe nearly every night with the Finlander.12 What tremendous discoveries of G’s about the cavalier ancestors13   I am snob enough to like it. Please tell Ubbadubba that I should like very much to see some of Dor’s soldiers & I will promise to send them back.14

Goodbye dear Mother | Yr affec | F. D.

CD annotations

2.2 the … geotropic 2.4] double scored pencil
Top of first page: ‘See 2d Page—very good Apex of root like gland of Drosera or Hair of Dionæa specialized points for receiving certain stimulants. But apex of radicle seems brain like, as curve naturally in opposite directions.’15 ink


The Darwins stayed at the home of Laura Mary Forster, West Hackhurst, Abinger Hammer, near Dorking, Surrey, from 28 June until 1 July 1879 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Francis and his brother George Howard Darwin visited Norway in August 1866 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). The American has not been identified.
‘Axles’ was evidently a family word used to refer to unresolved work-related issues (see also Correspondence vol. 26, letter from G. H. Darwin, 7 November 1878). CD wanted to find terminology for referring to movement towards and away from the sun (see letter to Francis Darwin, 25 June [1879] and n. 6). Karl Goebel, although not a philologist, had studied theology and philosophy before switching to botany (NDB).
Francis was experimenting with Phaseolus (wild bean) and Vicia (vetch; see letter from Francis Darwin, [before 26 June 1879]). He was using lunar caustic (silver nitrate) to kill cells on the apex of the radicle.
On the use of gold-beater’s skin, see letter to ?, 23 January [1879?], nn. 1 and 2. Monstera is a genus in the family Araceae (arums).
On Francis’s recent work on Porliera (a synonym of Porlieria), see letter to Francis Darwin, 16 June [1879] and n. 3.
See letter to Francis Darwin, 24 June [1879]. CD had asked Francis to touch a cell (of the tip of a radicle) in order to see whether it influenced the current of protoplasm.
Hugo de Vries was professor extraordinarius of botany at Amsterdam and a former student of Julius Sachs. Meyer has not been identified.
‘Wonner’: variant form of ‘oner’, a slang word for a person who is particularly keen on or expert at something (OED). For Francis’s earlier assessment of Albert Bernhard Frank, see the letter from Francis Darwin, 29 May 1879.
Elizabeth Darwin and Mary Elizabeth Atkin had travelled to Switzerland on 17 June 1879; they returned to Down on 18 July 1879 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Villars-sur-Ollon is a village in the western Swiss Vaud Alps.
Thomas Purdie had been demonstrator in chemistry for Edward Frankland at the Royal College of Science at South Kensington from 1875 until 1878 (Complete dictionary of scientific biography). Purdie’s wife was Mary Anne Purdie. Leonard Darwin became instructor in chemistry and photography at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham, in 1877 (ODNB; see also Correspondence vol. 25, letter to Leonard Darwin, 31 March 1877).
The Finnish botanist Fredrik Elfving was a student in Sachs’s laboratory (see letter from Francis Darwin, [after 2 June 1879] and n. 3).
George Howard Darwin had been researching the Darwin family tree and discovered an ancestor had been in the service of James VI and I and Charles I (see letter from G. H. Darwin, 24 June 1879 and nn. 2 and 3).
Ubbadubba was a pet name for Francis’s son, Bernard Darwin. Dor was Walter Stewart George Davenport Atkin (see letter from Francis Darwin, [after 16 June 1879] and n. 6).
See n. 7, above. CD had noted that the glands of Drosera rotundifolia (common or round-leaved sundew) did not bend, even when touched with considerable force, if touched momentarily, but bent to the slightest prolonged pressure, while a filament of Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap) was highly sensitive to momentary touch but less to prolonged pressure (Insectivorous plants, p. 289). CD noted that the tips of radicles (embryonic roots) exhibited sensitivity to several different stimuli with different reactions determined by the nature of the stimulus (Movement in plants, pp. 572–3).


Complete dictionary of scientific biography. By Charles Coulston Gillispie, Frederic Lawrence Holmes, and Noretta Koertge. Electronic publication. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 2008.

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

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

NDB: Neue deutsche Biographie. Under the auspices of the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. 27 vols. (A–Wettiner) to date. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1953–.


Last night had tremendous thunderstorm. Will ask Goebel about proshelismus. Describes experiments on beans. Please send Bessy’s address. Has got to know nice Englishman named Purdy and his wife. Bathes nearly every night with the Finlander.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Darwin
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Source of text
DAR 274.1: 49
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12128F,” accessed on 27 May 2022,