skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Antonio Mendola1   29 December 1879

Sicilia. Provincia di Girgenti, | Favara.

29. Dicbr 1879.

Egregio Sig Darwin,

Credo utile alla scienza, ed a voi forse non dispiacevole, palesarvi due fatti, che mi sembrano di molto rilievo.

Concimai nel 1877 (Ottobre) alcune mie terre cogli avanzi del publico macello, tra i quali eranvi corni di diverse bestie. L’inverno 1878 fu piovosissimo. Un corno di giovine vitello seppellito a circa 13. centimetri di profondità, mise grosse e numerose radici della forma e grossezza dello asparagio. Nell’ultima aratura di Maggio 1878 mi accorsi dello strano fenomeno per la resistenza incontrata dall’aratro, peroché io seguivo il bifolco per diletto. Raccolsi subito il corno radicato, che conservo integro.

Chiedo il permesso d’inviarlo a voi. Qui alcuni professori reputano sia un caso di parasitismo. Io penso che nò. Deciderete voi, se mi ordinate di spedirvelo.

Durante la convalescenza d’una mia lunga e penosa malattia per caduta di carrozza, per ingannare i miei forzati ozi e per mezzo d’un mio amico scopersi un altro fatto che è verissimo e che mi pare meraviglioso.

Alcuni peli di vario colore, strappati con tutti i rispettivi bulbi dalla coda di alcuni asini muli e cavalli, furono posti dentro un gran bicchiere d’acqua comune, che si mutava in parti quasi ogni settimana. La temperatura della stanza addetta a questo sperimento oscillava da 10 a 12. grd. Reàmur—2 Questi peli senza perdere il rispettivo colore andavano ingrossando. Dopo circa 15. giorni cominciavano a muoversi. In capo a 34 giorni divennero animali perfetti, semoventi, individuati, con muso nero.3 Adesso mentre scrivo guizzano sul mio tavolo, spesso escono la testa e porzione del corpo fuor dell’acqua e aderiscono alla liscie pareti del bicchiere, o per respirare o per trastullarsi. La notte riposano e intorpidiscono a sera tardi. Trovo sporchezze ogni due o tre giorni come di limo nel fondo del vaso, forse sono dejezioni o trasudamenti. Sono questi nuovi esseri sensibili alla luce ed al calore. Accostandoli alla vivida luce d’una lampada di petrolio, o circondando il bicchiere di ca⁠⟨⁠r⁠⟩⁠ta nera, bucata in un punto per dove si faccia entrare un raggio di sole, corrono dalla parte opposta. Perseguitati poi col raggio di sole concentrato da una lente (luce e calorico) sfuggono celeremente a seconda la intensità della concentrazione.

Non chiedo il permesso di spedirvi questi animati, perché da per voi stesso potete facilmente ripetere l’esperimento studiarlo in tutte le sue fasi, e produrre animalacci meglio fatti di questi chi io possiedo.

Da 10. giorni ho messo nell’acqua capelli e peli di barba e di pudende, umani— Sinoggi nulla vedo di movimento. Vanno pero ingrossandosi, segnatamente quelli della barba.

Scrissi questi fatti al Prof. Canestrini4 in Padova per notificarveli e siccome no⁠⟨⁠n⁠⟩⁠ ho avuto risposta, mi sono azzardato ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠o non scienziato, e che non ho l’onore di conoscervi personalmente, a volgermi direttamente a voi.

Scusate se scrivo italiano. La mia ignoranza dell’inglese mi ci obliga.

Scrissi da qualche giorno a mio figlio studente del Politecnico di Stuttgart a a scrivervi in inglese questi fatti, peroche mio figlio conosse molte lingue anche orientali. Forse ricevereto il suo scritto quasi insieme alla presente5

Perdonate alla mia arditezza.

Attendo vostri ordini ed il vostro preciso indirizzo per spedirvi la cassetta col corno radicato.

Accettate i miei ossequi e creditemi | Devotissimo | Barone Antonio Mendola

Il mio indirizzo in caso di risposta è il seguenti

Sicilia—Prov.ia di Girgenti | Favara

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
12.5 to 15°C.
For recent debates about spontaneous generation, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 25, letter to G. J. Romanes, 23 May 1877 and n. 2.
Mendola’s son was Giuseppe Benedetto Mendola. No other correspondence about this case has been found.

Translation

From Antonio Mendola1   29 December 1879

Sicily. Province of Agrigento, | Favara.

29. Decber 1879.

Dear Mr Darwin,

I believe it useful to science, and perhaps not displeasing to you, to disclose to you two facts, which seem to me very relevant.

In 1877 (October) I was fertilising some of my lands with remains of local butchers’ refuse, including horns of various animals. The winter of 1878 was very wet. A horn of a young calf buried about 13 centimetres deep had put out numerous thick roots of the shape and size of asparagus. In the last ploughing in May 1878 I was alerted to the strange phenomenon through the resistance met by the plough, because I followed the ploughman for my own pleasure. I immediately collected the horn with roots, which I am keeping intact.

I beg permission to send it to you. Some professors here consider it may be a case of parasitism. I think not. Decide for yourself, if you instruct me to dispatch it to you.

During my convalescence from a long and painful illness as a result of a fall from a carriage, in order to while away my enforced idleness and by means of a friend I discovered another fact that is absolutely true and that appears marvellous to me.

Some hairs of various colours, pulled out with all their respective roots from the tails of some donkeys mules and horses, were put in a big glass of ordinary water, which was changed in part nearly every week. The temperature of the room assigned to this experiment varied from 10 to 12 degrees Réaumur—2 These hairs without losing their individual colour became swollen. After about 15 days they began to move. Within 34 days they became complete creatures, self-propelled, individuated, with black snouts.3 Now as I write they are darting around on my table, often they put their heads and parts of their bodies out of the water and they stick to the smooth sides of the glass, either for breathing or for amusement. At night they rest and become sluggish by late evening. Every two or three days I find a small amount of dirt like slime at the bottom of the vase, perhaps waste or droppings. These new beings are sensitive to light and to heat. Bringing them close to the bright light of a paraffin lamp, or surrounding the glass with black paper, perforated in one place where a sunbeam can come through, they rush from the side opposite. Then pursued by the sunbeam concentrated with a lens (light and heat) they quickly escape following the intensity of the concentration.

I do not seek permission to dispatch these creatures to you, since it is possible for you to easily repeat the experiment again to study it in all its phases, and to produce little creatures better made than those which I possess.

For 10 days I have put into water hair and beard-hair and pubic hair, human ones— Up to today I have seen no movement. But they go on getting bigger, particularly those from the beard.

I have written down these facts for Prof. Canestrini4 in Padua to inform you of them and since I have not had a reply, I presume because I am not a scientist, and although I do not have the honour of knowing you personally, I am turning directly to you.

Excuse me writing in Italian. My ignorance of English forces it on me.

I wrote a few days ago to my son studying at the Polytechnic in Stuttgart to write these facts to you in English, since my son knows many languages including oriental ones. Perhaps you will receive his writing almost together with the enclosed5

Pardon my boldness.

I await your instructions and your exact address to dispatch the package with the horn with roots to you.

Accept my regards and believe me | Most devoted | Barone Antonio Mendola

My address in case of reply is the following

Sicily—Province of Agrigento | Favara

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original Italian, see pp. 542–3.
12.5 to 15°C.
For recent debates about spontaneous generation, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 25, letter to G. J. Romanes, 23 May 1877 and n. 2.
Mendola’s son was Giuseppe Benedetto Mendola. No other correspondence about this case has been found.

Summary

Reports from an Italian baron that a calf’s horn that was buried in a field set roots; mule’s hairs incubated in water come alive.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-12375
From
Antonio Mendola
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Favara
Source of text
DAR 171: 150
Physical description
ALS 4pp (Italian)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12375,” accessed on 31 January 2023, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-12375.xml

letter