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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. J. Romanes   1 June 1876

Dunskaith, Nigg, Ross-shire, N.B.:

June 1, 1876.

Many thanks for your long and kind letter. Also for the accompanying essay.1 It seems to me, from your epitome of the latter, that if Pangenesis is ‘airy,’ Perigenesis must be almost vacuous. However, I anticipate much pleasure in reading the work, for anything by Häckel on such a subject cannot fail to be interesting.

I am sorry to hear that you ‘much needed rest,’ and also about Frank.2 I had hoped, too, that you would have mentioned Mrs. Litchfield.3

Having been away from London for several weeks, I cannot say anything about the feeling with regard to the Bill.4 Sanderson and Foster5 think it ‘stringent,’ and so I suppose will all the Physiologists. The former wants me to write articles in the ‘Fortnightly,’ ‘to make people take more sensible views on vivisection:’ but I cannot see that it would be of any use.6 The heat of battle is not the time for us to expect fanatics to listen to ‘sense.’ Do you not think so?

I am sure the Physiological Society will be very pleased that you like being an hon. member, for it was on your account that honorary membership was instituted.7 At the committee meeting which was called to frame the constitution of the Society, the chairman (Dr. Foster) ejaculated with reference to you—‘Let us pile on him all the honour we possibly can,’ a sentiment which was heartily enough responded to by all present; but when it came to considering what form the expression of it was to take, it was found that a nascent society could do nothing further than make honorary members. Accordingly you were made an hon. member all by yourself; but later on it was thought, on the one hand, that you might feel lonely, and on the other that in a Physiological Society the most suitable companion for you was Dr. Sharpey.8

Perhaps a ‘secretary’ ought not to be giving all the details about committee meetings, but if not, I know you will take it in confidence. It seems to me that you never fully realise the height of your pedestal, so that I am glad of any little opportunity of this kind to show you the angle at which the upturned faces are inclined. I am glad, too, to see from the inscription in Häckel’s essay, that he is still doing his best to show that in Germany this angle is fast being lost in horizontality.9

As this spring was so backward, the plants at Kew were too small to graft before I had to leave for the Medusæ. But this does not much matter, as I had a lot of vegetables planted down here also, which are doing well. Pangenesis I always expected would require a good deal of patience, and one year’s work on such a subject only counts for apprenticeship.10 If, by the time I am a skilled workman, I am not able to send anything to the international exhibitions, I shall not envy any one else who may resolve to enter the same trade.

I am working hard at the jelly-fish just now, and have succeeded in extracting several new confessions. The nerve-plexus theory, in particular, is coming out with greater clearness. The new poisons, too, are giving very interesting results.11 I suppose you do not happen to know where I could get any snake poison. The ‘Phil. Trans.’ seem very long in coming out. I have not yet got the proofs of my paper.12


See letter to G. J. Romanes, 29 May [1876]. CD sent a copy of Ernst Haeckel’s Die Perigenesis der Plastidule (Haeckel 1876a). There is an annotated copy of Haeckel 1876a in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In his letter of 29 May [1876], CD had written that he had gone to Hopedene in Surrey for some rest, and also that his son Francis Darwin had a feverish cold.
Henrietta Emma Litchfield, CD’s eldest daughter, had been ill (letter to C. S. Wedgwood, 20 April 1876).
A bill to regulate vivisection was introduced into the House of Lords on 15 May 1876 (Hansard Parliamentary Debates 3d ser. vol. 229 col. 665). CD and Romanes had drafted a vivisection bill in 1875, but it had not become law (see Correspondence vol. 23).
John Scott Burdon Sanderson and Michael Foster.
Romanes did not write on vivisection for the Fortnightly Review.
The Physiological Society was founded in response to the anti-vivisection movement; its inaugural dinner took place on 26 May 1876 (see Sharpey-Schafer 1927, p. 15).
William Sharpey.
Inside the front cover of Haeckel 1876a, Haeckel wrote, ‘Seinem hochverehrten Freunde und Meister Charles Darwin in unveränderlichen Treue und bewundernden Verehrung’ (To his revered friend and master Charles Darwin in unchanging faithfulness and admiring respect).
Romanes was testing CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis in a series of plant-grafting experiments; CD had asked Joseph Dalton Hooker to give Romanes research facilities at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see Correspondence vol. 23, letter from G. J. Romanes, 14 January 1875 and nn. 2 and 4). Romanes had also worked on medusae (see G. J. Romanes 1875, G. J. Romanes 1876, and G. J. Romanes 1876–7).
See G. J. Romanes 1876, p. 171. Romanes was investigating whether the nerve tissue of medusae responded to poisons in the same way as that of more complex animals. His experiments led him to infer the existence of a fine plexus of nerve fibres, in which the constituent threads crossed and recrossed one another without coalescing (E. D. Romanes 1896, p. 18).
Romanes’s paper ‘Preliminary observations on the locomotor system of medusae’ (G. J. Romanes 1875) was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. It was read on 16 December 1875, and published in 1877.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Romanes, Ethel Duncan. 1896. The life and letters of George John Romanes M.A., LL.D., F.R.S. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Romanes, George John. 1876–7. An account of some new species, varieties, and monstrous forms of medusæ. [Read 6 April 1876 and 18 January 1877.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Zoology) 12 (1876): 524–31; 13 (1878): 190–4.

Romanes, George John. 1876. The physiology of the nervous system of medusae. [Read 28 April 1876.] Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 8 (1875–8): 166–77.

Sharpey-Schafer, Edward Albert. 1927. History of the Physiological Society during its first fifty years, 1876–1926. London: Cambridge University Press.


Anticipates reading Haeckel’s Perigenesis der Plastidule [1876].

Physiologists will think vivisection bill stringent.

Honorary memberships of Physiological Society created expressly to honour CD.

Working hard at jellyfish just now. Needs snake poison.

Letter details

Letter no.
George John Romanes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
E. D. Romanes 1896, pp. 52–4

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10524,” accessed on 6 June 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24