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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   11 July 1875

Abinger Hall, | Wotton. Surrey


My dear Mr Darwin,

Staying with my friend Rothery one day this week we amused ourselves with watching Drosera, abundant on the common close by.1 It struck us that it would be interesting to try whether when fed with animal food it does better than when without it— The experiment is so obvious that it must have occurred to you, and you have very likely found difficulties.2

We thought we might put some plants into wet bog-earth or sand: covering some so as to keep insects from them: and leaving others uncovered. Then of the covered some might be artificially fed with white of egg &c: and some left without.

Then one must see how much to give—call in Andrew Clark in fact, so as not to encourage gout: since I see they can be overfed by your experiments.3

Then ought they not to flower & fruit. The animal food may have to do with the maturing seed, may it not?

Then will it do to take plants from the common—or ought one to gather seed and grow them from it?

These and other questions occurred to us. But I thought first of all I would write and ask whether you think the experiment possible and worth trying at all.

It is curious—after all the cruelty in Nature—to find that one feels a pang at seeing a wretched fly struggling for hours in the unfeeling remorseless grasp of this harmless looking plant. If Drosera is fertilized by insects it is the most depraved creature in existence adding ingratitude to cruelty

You have left us in good time.4 It is almost wintry here today— so windy cold & ungenial. Noel & Miss W. have found the house dull after your departure—but Effie & Ida will be back in a week from tomorrow5

Sincerely yours | T H Farrer


Henry Cadogan Rothery lived at Oak Leigh, Sunninghill, Berkshire (Post Office directory of Northamptonshire, etc.).
CD had investigated the digestive powers of Drosera (the sundew), feeding it many different substances (see Insectivorous plants).
Andrew Clark was CD’s physician; his treatment involved a strict diet (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from Andrew Clark, 3 September 1873, and Correspondence vol. 24, memorandum from Andrew Clark, 8 July 1876). In the Victorian period, gout was often attributed to a rich diet or overindulgent lifestyle (Porter and Rousseau 1998). CD found that certain substances injured the glands of Drosera if administered in too large a quantity, and remarked that the leaves seemed ‘to suffer, like animals, from a surfeit’ (Insectivorous plants, pp. 119, 130).
CD stayed at Farrer’s house, Abinger Hall, from 3 June to 6 July 1875 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Noel Maitland Farrer was Farrer’s youngest child. Miss W.: Katherine Elizabeth Sophy Wedgwood. Ida was Farrer’s daughter, Emma Cecilia Farrer. Effie was Katherine Euphemia, his wife.


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

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


Asks CD’s opinion of an experiment on Drosera.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 164: 79
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10058,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23