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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   16 and 17 May 1881

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

May 16th Evening 1881.

My dear Frank.

Thanks for card about M.S. I am sorry that you shd. be bothered with such work at Strasburg. The confounded printers have sent me no more slips & I am despondently idle.1 Having nothing better to do I have been writing out all that I can remember about all the eminent men whom I have ever seen.—2

I suppose that your mother told you that your copies of your paper have come. No; I believe that I sent a P. card to this effect.—3 A copy of Kosmos has come for you with your paper on Climbing Plants, which looks very nicely got up.4

Also the younger De Candolle has sent you a long memoir,, chiefly mathematical, on Phyllotaxy: I suspect from few closing sentences that he has thrown light on this everlasting question.—5

I was at first rather dismayed in the 2d Part of Tieghem to find how well known it is that all substances in solution in a plant come out of it by exosmose, when they are immersed in water; but he says nothing about potash & is strong that substances in combination within a plant do not come out by exosmose; so that your observations remain as curious as ever, in as much as no one, I suppose, would ever have expected that much of so precious a substance as potash was in a free & useless state in many plants.—6 Tieghem is very contemptuous about nectar & is evidently guided by Bonnier.7 He hints, also, that there is nothing remarkable about carnivorous plants— he quotes your observations about feeding Drosera, but does not consider them conclusive & does not even allude to the well-adapted movements of Drosera for capturing insects. He speaks of leaves of Dionæa as secreting before they are stimulated by animal matter! so he evidently knows nothing of whole subject.—8

I have had a curious little essay from a Yankee dentist, in which I am inclined to believe, viz that excessively rapid breathing (viz. about 90 inspirations in a minute) for a minute deadens the sense of pain, but not of touch, so that he has drawn ever so many teeth without causing patient the least pain!9

The visit of Leslie Stephen went off well & Miss Lock is a nice girl. L.S. was very pleasant while in company with several persons, but both George & Leonard found him difficult as a solo. I thought him very agreeable. I have asked him to bring his “Sunday Tramp. Soc.” here on some Sunday.10

Bernard is very jolly & his little face beamed with happiness when he told me that Nanna was coming to tea & to put him to bed tomorrow.— I am sure that he thought your letter about the soldiers one of the most agreeable ever written. How curious it was about the sinking of the ship occuring to his dear little affectionate soul.—11

Poor Mrs Dixon keeps very ill. We have not heard of the death of Mc.Lennan12

Good Bye my dear old fellow, | Your affectte. Father, | C. Darwin

If you can naturally do so, give my best respects to De Bary.

May 17th P.S. Do you know where my horn semicircle for measuring angles is: I cannot find it anywhere in my study?—

It is a very bad job for you Stahl being absent. Has he got Strasbürger’s place; if so is not this grand promotion for him? I wish that you could have seen Strasburger.—13

I have had a remarkably nice & grateful letter from Holmgren, who thinks that my letter will do good in Sweden. A bothering, but very civil antiviv: has written me an awfully long letter from Baden.— I suppose that you do not want. Bot. Zeitung sent you.—14

Your letter just arrived, which I have been glad to get. Confound the man with the circumnutating mould—15 You must somehow make Caroline clearly understand that we must have the power of shooting Dandy, if you find that you do not care about having him; for we have one old Horse on our hands already   horses do cost money & labour.16

Abba-dubba is very flourishing he says he has no particular message for you but sends his love.—

Mother is starting for a day in London to see Ellen Tollet.17

Farewell. | C. D.


The postcard has not been found, but see the letter from Francis Darwin, 14 May 1881 and n. 1. CD was waiting for more proof-sheets of Earthworms from the printers, William Clowes & Sons. Francis was working in the laboratory of Anton de Bary in Straßburg (Strasbourg).
CD added material on eminent scientific men to his ‘Recollections’ (see J. A. Secord ed. 2008, pp. 399–407).
See postcard to Francis Darwin, 12 May [1881] and n. 1. The paper was ‘The theory of the growth of cuttings’ (F. Darwin 1880b).
The paper, ‘Kletterpflanzen. Eine populäre Vorlesung’ (Climbing plants. A popular lecture; F. Darwin 1881a), was a German translation of a lecture Francis gave in 1880 (see letter from Ernst Krause, 15 May 1881 and n. 5).
A copy of Casimir de Candolle’s memoir ‘Considérations sur l’étude de la phyllotaxie’ (Considerations on the study of phyllotaxy; C. de Candolle 1881) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD had evidently just received the second fascicule of Philippe van Tieghem’s Traité de botanique (Treatise on botany; Tieghem 1884); only the first four (of eight) parts, all undated, are in the Darwin Library–CUL. For Tieghem’s remarks on exosmosis, see ibid., pp. 208–9. Francis had investigated the exudation of potash (potassium permanganate, KMnO4) from leaves when he was working at the laboratory of Julius Sachs in Würzburg (see, for example, Correspondence vol 26, letter from Francis Darwin, [4–7 August 1878]).
Gaston Bonnier had tried to show that nectar was of no direct advantage to plants in Les nectaires: étude critique, anatomique et physiologique (Nectaries: a critical anatomical and physiological study; Bonnier 1879). Tieghem had cited Bonnier in support of his statement that the formation of nectar was only a special case of a more general phenomenon, the emission of liquid in transpiration (see Tieghem 1884, p. 204 and n. 1).
See Tieghem 1884, p. 207 and n. 3. Drosera is the genus of sundews; Dionaea muscipula is the Venus fly trap.
No essay on rapid breathing for pain relief has been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL; however, an article written by an American dentist, William Gibson Arlington Bonwill, ‘Rapid breathing as a pain obtunder in minor surgery, obstetrics, the general practice of medicine and of dentistry’ (Bonwill 1880) appeared in Scientific American Supplement, 9 April 1881. Obtund: blunt, deaden (OED).
Leslie Stephen visited Down from 14 to 17 May 1881; Emily Elizabeth Loch visited from 14 to 18 May 1881; no visit by George Howard Darwin and Leonard Darwin is recorded (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Stephen was a founder member of the Sunday Tramps, a society for vigorous rural walking within convenient railway distance from London (ODNB s.v. Sunday Tramps). They visited Down on 8 January 1882 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Bernard Darwin was Francis’s son; Francis’s letter to him has not been found. Mary Ann Westwood had been Bernard’s nurse until her marriage in April 1881 to Arthur Parslow. The incident regarding a ship sinking has not been identified.
Augusta Dickson, Emma Darwin's maid, had been taken ill at the beginning of May (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [3 May 1881]; DAR 219.9: 263). John Ferguson McLennan died at Hayes Common, Kent, on 16 June 1881 (ODNB); George had visited him in Davos, Switzerland, in 1880 (letter from Elizabeth Darwin to G. H. Darwin, 3 February 1880; DAR 251: 1412).
See letter from Francis Darwin, 14 May 1881 and n. 9. Ernst Stahl had replaced Eduard Strasburger as professor of botany at Jena.
See letter from Frithiof Holmgren, 8 May 1881, and letter from W. von Voigts-Rhetz, [after 18 April 1881]. CD subscribed to Botanische Zeitung, a bi-weekly German botanical journal.
See letter from Francis Darwin, 14 May 1881 and n. 7; Francis had mentioned that Julius Wortmann had found circumnutation in the mycelium (vegetative part) of a fungus.
Abba-dubba was a pet name for Francis’s son Bernard Darwin. Emma Darwin visited Ellen Harriet Tollet on 17 May 1881 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).


Bonnier, Gaston. 1879a. Les nectaires: étude critique, anatomique et physiologique. Paris: G. Masson.

Bonwill, William Gibson Arlington. 1880. Rapid breathing as a pain obtunder in minor surgery, obstetrics, the general practice of medicine and of dentistry. [Read before the Philadelphia County Medical Society, 12 May 1880.] Scientific American Supplement no. 275 (9 April 1881).

Candolle, Casimir de. 1881. Considérations sur l’étude de la phyllotaxie. Archives des sciences physiques et naturelles 3d ser. 5: 260–87; 358–96.

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. 1881a. Kletterpflanzen. Eine populäre Vorlesung. Kosmos 9: 101–16.

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

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Secord, James Andrew, ed. 2008. Charles Darwin: evolutionary writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tieghem, Philippe van. 1884. Traité de botanique. Paris: F. Savy.


Some papers have arrived for FD.

Comments on the work of Phillipe van Tieghem who evidently knows nothing of insectivorous plants.

Leslie Stephen’s visit to Down went off well.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 211: 73
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13159,” accessed on 9 February 2023,