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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Burdon Sanderson   16 July 1875

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

July 16. 75

My dear Sanderson

I have read your essays with the greatest interest & am much obliged to Mrs Sanderson for having sent them.1 I had no idea that so much light had been thrown on the subject. If Dr Bastian knew of these articles he has not written quite fairly in his recent articles.2 I wish your essay had been longer & that you had said something about Mr Lister’s observations.3 I remember being astonished at the cool way in which Dr Bastian spoke of life being always destroyed at 150o F, with organisms living in hot springs staring him in the face.4 Some little time ago Mr Simon sent me the last Report, & your statements about contagion deeply interested me.5

By the way if you see Mr Simon, & can remember it, will you thank him for me, I was so busy at the time that I did not write. Having been in correspondence with Paget lately on another subject, I mentioned to him an analogy which has struck me much, now that we know that sheep-pox is fungoid; & this analogy pleased him. It is that of fairy rings, which are believed to spread from a centre & when they intersect the intersecting portion dies out, as the mycelium cannot grow where it has grown during previous years.6 So again I have never seen a ring within a ring this seems to me parallel case to a man commonly having the smallpox only once. I imagine that in both cases the mycelium must consume all the matter on which it can subsist.

With respect to Drosera I will modify the passages about globulin &c, but I thought I had made it pretty clear that these substances were not pure; & they to a certain extent answered my purpose in showing that they were acted on in the same manner by Drosera & gastric juice.7 I did not know Dr Moore was dead otherwise I should have spoken more plainly.8 I do not know anyone who could attempt to separate the ferment, & I suppose there would be the greatest difficulty in doing so, as all my observations lead me to believe that the ferment is not secreted until some nitrogenous matter has been absorbed; & would not the addition of such matter make the separation extremely difficult?

I feel a good deal of anxiety to know what competent critics may say about my chapter on digestion.

my dear Sanderson | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The essays sent by Ghetal Burdon Sanderson have not been identified.
Burdon Sanderson and Henry Charlton Bastian had recently engaged in a debate about the germ theory of disease and its implications for the origins of life from inanimate matter (see Transactions of the Pathological Society of London 26 (1875): 255–89). CD was familiar with some earlier experiments by Burdon Sanderson that raised questions about Bastian’s claims to have observed spontaneous generation (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 24 June 1873). For more on the controversies surrounding Bastian’s work, see Strick 2000.
Joseph Lister had published several articles on bacteria and germ theory that were highly critical of the theory of spontaneous generation (Lister 1873a, 1873b, and 1873c). CD subscribed to the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in which one of Lister’s articles appeared (Lister 1873a).
Bastian had described numerous experiments in which sealed flasks with organic infusions were subjected to high temperatures and later found to contain living organisms (see Bastian 1872). For CD’s reservations about Bastian’s work, see Correspondence vol. 20, letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 August [1872]).
John Simon was the medical officer of the Privy Council. CD may refer to his twelfth report (House of Commons Parliamentary Papers: Public Health. Twelfth report of the medical officer of the Privy Council; 1870 (c. 208) XXXVIII.591), which contained a report by Burdon Sanderson in the appendix, ‘On the intimate pathology of contagion’ (Burdon Sanderson 1870). A copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
On fairy-rings, see the letter from James Paget, 7 July 1875 and n. 2.
Burdon Sanderson had carried out experiments on the digestibility of globulin, a type of serum protein found in animals (see Correspondence vol. 22, letter from J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 30 March [1874]). The experiments are described in Insectivorous plants, pp. 120–1.
Samuel William Moore had supplied CD with globulin (see Correspondence vol. 21, letter from S. W. Moore, 7 October 1873, and Correspondence vol. 22, letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 14 May 1874). He died on 15 May 1875 (Medical directory 1876).


Bastian, Henry Charlton. 1872. The beginnings of life: being some account of the nature, modes of origin and transformations of lower organisms. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Burdon Sanderson, John. 1870. On the intimate pathology of contagion. Twelfth report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council, Appendix 11. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

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.

Medical directory: The London medical directory … every physician, surgeon, and general practitioner resident in London. London: C. Mitchell. 1845. The London and provincial medical directory. London: John Churchill. 1848–60. The London & provincial medical directory, inclusive of the medical directory for Scotland, and the medical directory for Ireland, and general medical register. London: John Churchill. 1861–9. The medical directory … including the London and provincial medical directory, the medical directory for Scotland, the medical directory for Ireland. London: J. & A. Churchill. 1870–1905.

Strick, James. 2000. Sparks of life: Darwinism and the Victorian debates over spontaneous generation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


Thanks for JSBS’s essays; wishes he had said something on Lister’s observations. Speculates on the fungoid nature of smallpox and why there is seldom re-infection.

Discusses digestion by Drosera, the action of its secretion being the same as that of gastric juice.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10070,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

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