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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   17 October 1881

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

Oct 17th 1881

My dear Frank

I have not written before, because you said you wanted to forget Science, & I had nothing else to tell you.— I will now report progress.— I have read about 80 pages of Wiesner.1 It is an excellent book, but he vivisects me in the most gracious terms, but most effectively.— I wish that the confounded book had never been published.— I think that he proves (by the way he found most of our facts true, but my explanations wrong) that the transmission of heliotropism to the lower part of the stem is a mistake. He maintains that the weight of the upper part, which bends first, compresses one side & stretches the opposite side & this leads to growth of the same kind as heliotropic growth.2 I think it can hardly be the weight, but that the tensions are transmitted. He gives a beautiful experiment to prove the above.3 By Jove, I felt like Charles Lamb, when he hissed his own play.—4

His animus is against Light acting as a “reiz” or stimulus; but I am not yet inclined to give this up.5 He says my experiment with the seedlings at different distances from the lamp, not bending at all proportionally to the amount of light received, can be easily explained on physical laws; but unfortunately I cannot translate.6 The worst of all is (though I have not yet come to that of the book) that he strenuously denies that all growing parts circumnutate. I shall be anxious if he names the plants for you to test them under the microscope with your new dodge.—7 Confound the book, but there never was a more gracious controversialist.—

I have gone on trying about aggregation of chlorophyll; but no more evidence, except in Dionæa, in which it takes place in a very conspicuous manner.—8 I have wasted much time over this, but my time is worth nothing.

I have now begun again on roots of Euphorbia.9 By the way I am much pleased by my recent success in cutting sections, which success depends on my placing one finger on the razor & pressing it down while I slice.

I have had a letter this morning from F. Müller with a most extraordinary case of Crotolaria (Leguminosæ) the leaves of which sleep in an endlessly diversified manner, so that no two leaves on a young plant occupy the same position.10 This depends chiefly on all of those that can see the setting sun turning their faces to it & retaining this position all night. He is going to publish an account of this plant in Kosmos.11

Good Bye dear old fellow. I hope that you will get well rested. We start on Thursday for Cambridge.12

Your affect Father | C. Darwin

Leonard comes to night to settle & pay for the Land & arrange with Laslett about the wall.13 Fanny Hensleigh & her maids are astonished at Bernard’s goodness.14


Francis was in Wales, visiting his deceased wife’s family (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [9 October 1881] (DAR 219.9: 275)). CD was reading Julius Wiesner’s Das Bewegungsvermögen der Pflanzen (The power of movement in plants; Wiesner 1881).
See Wiesner 1881, pp. 70–1.
See Wiesner 1881, pp. 66–70; in his experiment, he used a rotating apparatus so that the stem of a seedling moved like the hands of a suspended pocket-watch while the same side of the stem was exposed to light.
CD refers to Charles Lamb’s experience while attending the only performance of his play Mr. H. on 10 December 1806 (for more on the event, see Kendall 1971, p. 86).
See Wiesner 1881, p. 72. Wiesner argued that heliotropic bending was not a stimulus-response phenomenon, but rather a stress phenomenon caused by uneven growth.
See Wiesner 1881, pp. 47–50.
See Wiesner 1881, pp. 157–202. Francis’s ‘dodge’ probably involved one of the new microscopic techniques that he had learned the previous summer while working in the laboratory of Anton de Bary (see, for example, letter from Francis Darwin, 17 June 1881).
CD’s notes on aggregation of chlorophyll in Dionaea (Venus fly trap), dated between 8 and 12 October 1881, are in DAR 52: F73–83.
CD’s notes on aggregation in roots of Euphorbia peplus (petty spurge), dated between 12 August and 5 November 1881, are in DAR 62: 6–11.
See letter from Fritz Müller, 6, 7, and 9 September 1881 and n. 2. Crotalaria is the genus of rattlebox (misspelled by CD as Crotolaria).
Müller’s article on Crotalaria cajanaefolia (a misspelling of C. cajanifolia) appeared in Kosmos, December 1881 (F. Müller 1881c).
The Darwins visited Cambridge from 20 to 27 October 1881 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Frances Emma Elizabeth Wedgwood visited the Darwins from 6 to 17 October 1881 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Bernard Darwin, Francis’s son, was supposed to have accompanied his father to Wales, but at the last minute was not taken because his grandmother Mary Anne Ruck telegraphed to say there were reports of scarlet fever in the village (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [9 October 1881] (DAR 219.9: 275)).


Kendall, Kenneth E. 1971. Leigh Hunt’s Reflector. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.

Müller, Fritz. 1881f. Eine Pflanze, welche bei Nacht die Himmelsgegenden anzeigt. Kosmos 10: 212–14.

Wiesner, Julius. 1881. Das Bewegungsvermögen der Pflanzen. Eine kritische Studie über das gleichnamige Werk von Charles Darwin nebst neuen Untersuchungen. Vienna: Alfred Hölder.


Has been reading Julius von Wiesner’s book [Das Bewegungsvermögen der Pflanzen (1881)]. Comments that it is "an excellent book, but he vivisects me in the most grievous terms, but most effectively".

Has been experimenting on aggregation of chlorophyll but with little success.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 211: 86
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13411,” accessed on 9 February 2023,