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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. J. Romanes   9 August [1877]1

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

Augt. 9th

My dear Romanes

I have read your two articles in Nature, & nothing can be clearer or more interesting, though I had gathered your conclusions clearly from your other papers.2 It seems to me that unless you can show that your muslin (in your simile) is rather coarse the transmission may be considered as passing in every direction from cell or unit of structure to cell or unit; & in this case the transmission would be as in Dionæa; but more easily effected in certain lines or directions than in others.3 It is splendid work & I hope you are getting on well in all respects. The Mr Lawless to whom you refer is the Honble Miss Lawless; as I know for she sent me a very good M.S. about the fertilisation of plants, which I have recommended her to send to Nature.4

As for myself Frank & I have been working like slaves on the bloom on plants, with very poor success: as usual almost everything goes differently to what I had anticipated5   But I have been absolutely delighted at two things: Cohn of Breslau has seen all the phenomena described by Frank in Dipsacus & thinks it a very remarkable discovery, & is going to work with all reagents on the filaments, as Frank did, but no doubt he will know much better how to do it.6 He will not pronounce whether the filaments are some colloid substance or living protoplasm; I think he rather leans to latter, & he quite sees that Frank does not pronounce dogmatically on the question.—

The second point which delights me, seeing that half-a-score of Botanists throughout Europe have published that the digestion of meat by plants is of no use to them, (—a mere pathological phenomenon as one man says!—)7 is that Frank has been feeding under exactly similar conditions a large number of plants of Drosera, & the effect is wonderful. On the fed side the leaves much larger, differently coloured & more numerous— Flower-stalks taller & more numerous & I believe far more seed-capsules, but these not yet counted. It is particularly interesting that the leaves fed on meat contain very many more starch granules, (—no doubt owing to more protoplasm being first formed) ie so that sections stained with iodine of fed & unfed leaves are to naked eye of very different colour.—8

There, I have boasted to my heart’s content; & do you do the same & tell me what you have been doing.—

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. J. Romanes, 11 August 1877.
An abstract of a lecture by Romanes, ‘Evolution of nerves and nervous systems’, delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 25 May 1877, was published in three parts in Nature, 19 July, 2 and 9 August 1877 (G. J. Romanes 1877b). CD refers to the first two parts of the article. For Romanes’s earlier papers on the nervous system of medusae, see G. J. Romanes 1875, 1876, and 1877a.
See G. J. Romanes 1877b, p. 271. Romanes suggested that the nervous plexus of medusae could be compared to a sheet of muslin. CD had discussed the direction of the motor impulse in leaves of Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap) in Insectivorous plants, p. 366.
Romanes’s letter, printed in Nature, 26 July 1877, p. 248, referred to a letter from Emily Lawless that had appeared in Nature, 19 July 1877, p. 227. The letter was signed E. Lawless and in his letter Romanes referred to the writer as Mr Lawless. No correspondence between CD and Lawless has been found, but in an article written in 1899, Lawless referred to a letter she received from ‘a great, nay the greatest zoologist’ more than twenty years earlier. She described having written about a particular burnet moth (probably Zygaena purpuralis ssp. sabulosa, the transparent burnet) fertilising flowers in the Burren, a karst landscape in county Clare, Ireland, where bees were scarce; she received a reply asking for further details on her interesting observation (see Lawless 1899, pp. 605–6). Lawless did not send her article to Nature.
For the work on bloom carried out by CD and Francis Darwin, see the letter to Fritz Müller, 14 May 1877 and n. 2.
See letter from F. J. Cohn, 5 August 1877. Francis’s paper ‘On the protrusion of protoplasmic filaments from the glandular hairs on the leaves of the common teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris)’ appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, April 1877 (F. Darwin 1877b). Dipsacus sylvestris is a synonym of D. fullonum.
In his published lecture on insectivorous plants, Carl Cramer had mentioned the belief of the physiologist Hermann Munk that the digestive process in such plants was pathological (Cramer 1877, pp. 33–4). Two copies of Cramer 1877 are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL; in one copy, CD scored the section where Cramer discussed Munk’s view (see also F. Darwin 1878a, p. 19).
Francis published his research on the effects of feeding Drosera rotundifolia (common sundew) in 1878 (F. Darwin 1878a).


Cramer, Carl. 1877. Ueber die Insektenfressenden Pflanzen. Zurich: Schmidt.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Lawless, Emily. 1899. North Clare—leaves from a diary. Nineteenth Century 46: 603–12.


Comments on GJR’s papers in Nature [see 11103].

Mentions manuscript by Miss Lawless on fertilisation in plants.

Discusses work of Francis Darwin on Dipsacus

and his own experiments on Drosera.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George John Romanes
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.518)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11096,” accessed on 6 July 2022,