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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Niven to Francis Darwin   12 March 1882

Nellcot Villa | Queens Road | Albert Park | Didsbury | Manchester

March 12/82

Dear Sir

In reading your father’s wonderful book on Worms, I was very much struck with the account of the intelligence shown by worms. You will remember the part where the worms block their burrows with double spines of fir, dragging them in by the part where the two leaves join and persist in doing so after the tips have been fastened together.1

In the species most common about here the spines are rough on one side diagram when rubbed from tip to the junction of the two, comparatively smooth when rubbed from the junction to the tip. Whether this is so generally or not I dont know, but with these spines the tactile sensibility of worms; and their experience in locomotion might determine the choice to some extent. This is scarcely worth mentioning and I have little doubt it has been noticed and considered insufficient. However I thought that on the new principle of de minimis lex curat2 I shd mention it to you

Yours truly | J. Niven


See Earthworms, pp. 70–1.
De minimis lex curat: the law concerns itself with small things (Latin; Niven alludes to the legal phrase, de minimis non curat lex: the law does not concern itself with trifles).


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


Sends [for CD’s possible use] his observations on spines of fir used by worms to block burrows.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Niven
Francis Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 64.2: 101–2
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13726,” accessed on 21 February 2024,