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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hubert Airy   10 [December] 18711

Down. Beckenham. | Kent

Nov. 10. 1871.

My dear Sir.

I am much obliged for your letter which has interested me; & the latter part has amused me much—2 I did not know that Lowe was an Evolutionist; though he called here once & was very agreeable—3

Though the action of the Platysma is not really of much importance to me, yet out of a sort of obstinacy I am disappointed that I cannot find out whether it contracts during a shivering fit, which is the point about which I am most curious— I have lately had letters from 2 medical men in hospitals who have been looking out & never once had an opportunity for observation—4

With respect to Phyllotaxy I formerly wasted some time on the subject, but found I had not mathematical knowledge enough for the work. Your view of the form of the bud being an important element is new to me—5 A trustworthy observer, Nägeli, has made one important statement that in the bud the position of the young leaves is not fixed with accuracy,—but is subsequently determined as the shoot elongates a little.— Not long ago I hunted in vain for the reference to Nägeli, to give to Mr Chauncey Wright, who has read in the U. States & will soon publish a paper on this subject.— He is a mathematician, & thinks he has solved the problem—6 Whenever I receive his paper I will lend it you— The Rev. G. Henslow not very long ago published a paper on the subject, but as I had already given it up in despair, I cannot give you a reference— It could easily be obtained at the Linn: Soc:7

Believe me my dear Sir with thanks. | Yours sincerely. | Ch Darwin.


The month is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Hubert Airy, 9 December 1871. The copyist presumably misread the date on the original letter.
Robert Lowe had visited Down House on 15 January 1871, with John Lubbock, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff (Grant Duff 1897–1905, 2: 188).
See letter from Hubert Airy, 9 December 1871 and n. 1. CD refers James Crichton-Browne, whom he had asked to observe the operation of the platysma during shivering (see letter to James Crichton-Browne, 2 November [1871]), and probably to William Ogle (see letter to William Ogle, 13 April [1871]). See also letter from John Wood, 11 April 1871, and letter from Charles Langstaff, 3 May 1871.
Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli’s observation on the location of buds appeared in Nägeli 1858–68, 1: 41–2; it is mentioned in CD’s letter to Chauncey Wright, 13 and 14 July [1871]. Wright discussed his paper on phyllotaxy (Wright 1871c) in his letter of 11 October 1871. See also letter from Chauncey Wright, 1 August 1871 and n. 15.
George Henslow’s paper was published in the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London (Henslow 1868a; see Correspondence vol. 17, letter from George Henslow, 25 September 1869).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Grant Duff, Mountstuart E. 1897–1905. Notes from a diary. 14 vols. London: John Murray.

Nägeli, Carl Wilhelm von. 1858–68. Beiträge zur Wissenschaftlichen Botanik. 4 pts in 1 vol. Leipzig: Wilhelm Englemann.


Discusses movement of ears and contraction of the platysma.

Discusses phyllotaxy, citing work of Carl Nägeli and Chauncey Wright.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hubert Airy
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 16
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8060,” accessed on 22 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19