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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Darwin   14 May 1881

May 14./81

My dear Father,

I got your proofs and sent off a post-card to say so. I will have a good go at them tomorrow, & I have done some this morning—1 I like de Bary very much & I can see that he hasn’t any of the touchiness of Sachs—2 I have got a very nice lodging at a bootmakers looking N over a little square called the Stephan-Platz; it is close to the river and only about 4 minutes from the laboratory

The laboratory seems to consist of a very long room with a row of tables where people are microscoping all day; then de Bary’s room which is not large & with a small table with a Hartnack3 on it & an awful mess of glasses watch glasses &c on it. Then comes my room and I have a separate door & key of my own. De Bary suggested the anatomy of roots as having some connection with the root work in the Movements of P. which he called “sehr interessant”.4 So I have begun with Equisetum roots; and he snipped a lot of little roots from a great plant in the laboratory which he knocked out of its pot for the purpose— I cut longitudinal sections and saw the things in Sachs like this;5 diagram he said some of my prepns were “ganz gut so gar”, but the shine was taken off by his saying afterwards that it was “furchtbar leicht”.6 Today I have been cutting transverse sections of the same roots which is much more difficult; I havn’t shown him any of the good ones yet

I am partly disgusted to find that de Bary’s assistant Wortmann (whom I knew at Würzburg) has found circumnutation in the mycelium of some fungus which grows an awful pace, he will show it me, & then I can tell you more about it—7 I will send you a few addresses, & if you will send the Bramble papers off I shall be much obliged.8 I forget whether I told you that Stahl is now professor at Jena, this is a horrid bore for me, as he would have been society for me;9 being in a room by myself is rather bad for getting to know the people but I dare say I shall.

I think I should like Dandy, he might be turned out almost at once, and if I found I didn’t ride enough to make it worth while I suppose the Leith Hill vet would find a home for him—I will write to Aunt Caroline at once.10

Please thank Bessy & Mother for letters11 I am very glad poor Dubs12 cheered up so soon Your affec | F. D.

I have met Oscar Schmidt & given him herzlichen Gruss from you—13 I will tell you about him


Francis was correcting proof-sheets of Earthworms, which was published on 10 October 1881 (Freeman 1977). The postcard has not been found.
Francis was working in the laboratory of Anton de Bary in Straßburg (Strasbourg). In the summers of 1878 and 1879, Francis had worked in the laboratory of Julius Sachs at the Botanical Institute in Würzburg (see Correspondence vols. 26 and 27).
Edmund Hartnack was a German microscope maker.
Francis had assisted CD in the research for Movement in plants. One of their principal areas of research had been the study of movements in the radicle, or embryonic root. The work that De Bary found ‘sehr interessant’ (very interesting) was their study of sensitivity in the apex of the root (see Movement in plants, pp. 129–200).
Equisetum is the genus of horsetails. In Sachs’s Text-book of botany (Sachs 1875, p. 122, fig. 101) sections of the stems of two species of Equisetum were illustrated. In ibid., p. 123, fig. 102B, a longitudinal section of a fern root was figured; Sachs noted it was representative of most cryptogams (plants that reproduce by spores).
Ganz gut so gar: really quite good; furchtbar leicht: frightfully easy (German).
Julius Wortmann had completed his doctorate under Sachs in Würzburg in 1879 and was De Bary’s assistant from October 1880 to the summer of 1883 (Muth 1926). Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, characterised by fine branching threads or hyphae. Francis had also been working on circumnutation in a fungus, and published his results in Botanische Zeitung (F. Darwin 1881b).
Ernst Stahl had been Sachs’s assistant when Francis was in Würzburg in 1879; he became professor extraordinarius of botany at Straßburg (Strasbourg) in 1880. He moved to Jena as full professor of botany in 1881. (NDB.)
A horse named Dandy is mentioned in a letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Darwin, [13 April 1868] (DAR 219.9: 51). Caroline Wedgwood was CD’s sister. The veterinary surgeon has not been identified.
The letters to Francis from Elizabeth Darwin and Emma Darwin have not been found.
Dubs: Bernard Darwin, Francis’s son, who had stayed behind with Emma and CD at Down House.
Oskar Schmidt was professor of zoology at Straßburg (Strasbourg); he had been an early supporter of Darwinism (ADB). Herzlichen Gruss: hearty greetings.


Darwin, Francis. 1880c. The theory of the growth of cuttings; illustrated by observations on the bramble, Rubus fruticosus. [Read 16 December 1880.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 18 (1881): 406–19.

Darwin, Francis. 1881b. Ueber Circumnutation bei einem einzelligen Organe. Botanische Zeitung, 29 July 1881, pp. 473–80.

Earthworms: The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms: with observations on their habits. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1881.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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

Muth, Franz. 1926. Julius Wortmann. [Obituary.] Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft 43 (1925–6): 112–42.

Sachs, Julius. 1875a. Text-book of botany: morphological and physiological. Translated and annotated by Alfred W. Bennett, assisted by W. T. Thiselton-Dyer. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


News from the laboratory at Strasbourg; is working on Equisetum roots. Wortmann has found circumnutation in the mycelium of a fast-growing fungus. Please send papers (see 13155).

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
DAR 274.1: 70
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13155F,” accessed on 19 May 2024,