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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Darwin to W. M. Moorsom   29 October 1877

Down | Beckenham Kent

Dear Sir,

My father directs me to thank you for the letter containing the details about the elephant case.1 If the story is true it appears to my father to be far more probable that the fruit contains some alkaloid such as that in indian hemp.2 This would equally well agree with the natives making a drink from it for similar cases are known e.g. the intoxicating (not alcoholic) liquor brewed from agaricus muscarius by certain steppe tribes (Tartars I believe)3

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Francis Darwin

Oct 29. 1877.


In 1876, Vasily Preobrazhensky had asserted that the active principle of Indian hemp (Cannabis sativa) was an alkaloid, which he identified as nicotine (Watt 1889–93, 2: 125).
William Benjamin Carpenter had reported that the Tartars, who lived a nomadic life on the steppes of Russia, used the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria, a synonym of Agaricus muscarius) for the purposes of intoxication (Carpenter 1873, p. 316). The natives of Kamchatka in Russia were also famed for producing an inebriating liquor from Agaricus muscarius (W. J. Hooker 1821, pt 2: 19).


Watt, George. 1889–93. A dictionary of the economic plants of India. 6 vols. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing.


His father thanks WMM for his letter about the elephant case [see 11214]. If the story is true, CD thinks that the fruit must contain some alkaloid such as that in Indian hemp.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Darwin
Warren Maude Moorsom
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 385b
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11216A,” accessed on 25 January 2021,