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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   9 November [1881]1

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

Nov. 9th evening

My dear Frank

Your splendid fish (1412 lb.) arrived this morning.2 What a grand fisherman you are, it will spoil you for poor botany.— Your mother intends to keep a very small slice for us two solitary mortals, & send the rest from you & as caught by you to Mr Forrest & Teesdale.3 The house is awfully quiet without Abbadubbahs dear little voice.4

I enclose a letter from Pfeffer, which I cannot quite understand even with aid of Camilla’s translation.— I have of course refused his generous offer of not working.5 I thought that you wd. perhaps like to read it. To day another letter, even more unintelligible, has arrived which has been despatched to Camilla.6 Your mother made out that he has corresponded with Wiesner about his book V. Darwin & he thinks he is wrong on the general view of light &c acting directly on plants; & this comes to our view.—7

I am driven almost frantic by the number of letters about worms; but amidst much rubbish there are some good facts & suggestions. So I have sent for clean sheets & shall make an amended edition. It is laughable the enthusiasm with which the book has been received. Murray has sold 3500 copies & only 3000 have been printed.8

I have been working very hard at Euphorbia roots, but make no good progress. If I were wise I shd. throw up the job; but I cannot endure to do this. Yesterday I examined radicles of germinating seeds of Euphorbia myrsinites, to which nothing had been done & was utterly confounded, by finding what I call aggregated matter in the tubes! I come to the conclusion that the whole case was a myth, so this morning I had fresh plant of E. peplus dug up, & most carefully examined 2 rootlets, of which every cell was alike & beautifully transparent, & then added a few drops of C. of Ammonia, & in 3′ the alternate rows of exterior cells were clouded with brown granules.9 So the main fact is true enough.— My difficulty is that I cannot cut longitudinal sections of their roots between pith. I have seen what appears to me like short milk-tubes with both ends pointed in the midst of the tissue of the radicle, & then tubes sometimes appear to become divided by transverse partitions. If so the starting of milk-tubes is not confined to the embryo, as in De Bary’s most interesting account.10 There is nothing like patience, but I doubt much whether I shall make out much.— Anyhow my time does not now signify. The box with the Dischidia in spirits has come from Dr. King.—11

I have thought of 3 good experiments v. Wiesner,—two of which will be difficult. Goodbye.— I wish that I. could write ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠12


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Wilhelm Pfeffer, 6 November 1881.
Francis had been salmon fishing in Wales (see letter from Francis Darwin, [21 October 1881]).
CD enclosed the letter from Wilhelm Pfeffer, 24 October 1881; it had been translated from the German by Camilla Pattrick. Wilhelm Pfeffer said that he would do no further research on plant movement if CD was planning to continue work on the subject.
Pfeffer had commented on Julius Wiesner’s recent book (Wiesner 1881), including his experiments on the response of plants to light (see letter from Wilhelm Pfeffer, 6 November 1881 and n. 4).
Earthworms was published on 10 October 1881 (Freeman 1977); two additional printings of 1000 copies each had been ordered by John Murray (see letter from R. F. Cooke, 25 October 1881). Two further printings were made in 1881; the fifth thousand contained small additions (see letter to R. F. Cooke, 6 November 1881 and n. 2).
CD had found differences in reaction to carbonate of ammonia in alternate rows of cells in the roots of Euphorbia myrsinites (myrtle spurge) and E. peplus (petty spurge). See letter to Francis Darwin, 28 [October 1881] and n. 12. His notes on the subject made on 9 November are in DAR 62: 25.
Anton de Bary discussed milk-tubes in Euphorbia in Bary 1877 (see letter to S. H. Vines, 4 November 1881 and n. 3).
CD had received a specimen of Dischidia rafflesiana, later known as the ant plant, from George King in Calcutta (see letter from George King, 13 September 1881, and letter to George King, 24 October 1881). Dischidia rafflesiana is a synonym of Dischidia major.
The letter is written on four sides of a standard sheet of folded notepaper, and on two sides of a torn loose sheet. The bottom of the loose sheet has been cut off, presumably to remove the signature, and the text cut off on the other side of the page (‘De Bary’s … I shall’) has been added in the margin by an unknown hand.


Bary, Anton de. 1877. Vergleichende Anatomie der Vegetationsorgane der Phanerogamen und Farne. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

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.

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


Comments on two letters received from W. F. P. Pfeffer [13425, 13464] who thinks Julius Wiesner’s view that light, etc. acts directly on plants is wrong.

Is frantic over the number of letters received about worms; feels the enthusiasm of the reception of Earthworms is laughable.

Is confounded by Euphorbia rootlets and has re-examined the effect of carbonate of ammonia.

Has thought of three good experiments to oppose Wiesner.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 211: 70, DAR 211: 89
Physical description
AL 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13476,” accessed on 12 April 2024,