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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Holland   [c. April 1862]1

Brook Street


My dear Charles

I write a few lines to thank you for your letter of this mg. & to express my satisfaction in the account you give me of your little boy. Pray let me hear of his progress from time to time2

Pasteur’s Memoir, to which you allude, is a very able & convincing one—3 He completely pushes Pouchet from the field.4 I am rather surprized that he does not refer (or, I think, does not) to Ehrenberg’s papers in the Transs. of the Berlin Academy 10 or 12 years ago; cataloguing some 250 to 300 forms of organic life, which he found at different altitudes in the atmosphere above Berlin.5 If I recollect rightly, he collected these matters by processes analogous in kind to those employed by Pasteur. He sent me his Memoirs at the time, but I scarcely know what has become of them; as I keep very few papers

Ever yours very sincerely | H Holland


The date is conjectured on the basis of the references to Pasteur 1861 and to Horace Darwin’s health (see nn. 2–4, below).
CD’s letter has not been found. Horace Darwin had been ill since the beginning of 1862, but showed signs of improvement in April (see Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). CD wrote to Holland, with a description of Horace’s symptoms, on 25 March 1862 (see letter from Henry Holland, 26 March [1862]).
In 1858, Félix Archimède Pouchet revived the French debate regarding spontaneous generation with a paper in which he described the appearance of micro-organisms in boiled hay infusions, kept under mercury, after the introduction of artificially produced oxygen (Pouchet 1858). Pouchet expanded his claims in a major work on the subject (Pouchet 1859), but his conclusions were opposed by Louis Pasteur in a series of five notes presented to the Académie des Sciences Naturelles, and subsequently brought together in his prize-winning essay, ‘Mémoir sur les corpuscules organisés qui existent dans l’atmosphère’ (Pasteur 1861). Pasteur argued that contaminated mercury was the source of error in Pouchet’s work (Pasteur 1861, p. 79). For an account of the French debate about spontaneous generation, see Farley 1977.
Holland probably refers to Ehrenberg 1848 and 1849.


Ehrenberg, Christian Gottfried. 1848. Beobachtungen über das gewöhnlich in der Atmosphäre unsichtbar getragene formenreiche Leben. Bericht über die zur Bekanntmachung geeigneten Verhandlungen der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1848): 325–45, 349–62, 370–81.

Farley, John. 1977. The spontaneous generation controversy from Descartes to Oparin. Baltimore, Md., and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Pasteur, Louis. 1861. Mémoire sur les corpuscules organisés qui existent dans l’atmosphère, examen de la doctrine des générations spontanées. Annales des Sciences Naturelles (Zoologie) 4th ser. 16: 5–98. [Vols. 10,11]

Pouchet, Félix Archimède. 1858. Note sur des proto-organismes végétaux et animaux, nés spontanément dans l’air artificiel et dans le gaz oxygène. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences 47: 979–84. [Vols. 10,11]

Pouchet, Félix Archimède. 1859. Hétérogénie ou traité de la génération spontanée. Paris: J. B. Baillière.


Louis Pasteur’s memoir "is a very able and convincing one" ["Mémoire sur les corpuscles organisés qui existent dans l’atmosphère", Ann. Sci. Nat. (Zool.) 3d ser. 16 (1861): 5–98].

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Holland, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Brook St
Source of text
DAR 166.2: 237
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3490,” accessed on 1 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10