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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edward Frankland   6 June [1876]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R. [Hopedene, Surrey.]

June 6th

My dear Dr. Frankland

Very many thanks for your invaluable assistance to us. I am sure that I do not underrate the trouble which the analysis must have cost, for I only marvel how such small quantities of potash & soda can be made out.2 I am writing this away from home, but shall return in a few days, & then my son & self will consult what to do.—3 I am disappointed that the natural soil is richer than the burnt soil.

From what you say I think we shall have to make some preliminary trials with plants & see if they will grow in the burnt soil, taking care that no additional potash is given them. We will try whether will grow in “silver sand” (sold for cleaning harness) which looks like pure silica.—4 I fear it wd. be impossible to get chemically prepared soil in sufficient quantity, as we shd require 12 or 13 of a wheel-barrow full.— We will find out from Dr Gilbert whether he wd. consider our burnt soil as agriculturally very poor.—5

Yours very gratefully | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Francis Darwin to J. H. Gilbert, 8 June 1876.
The Darwins left Hopedene for Hollycombe in Hampshire on 7 June; they returned to Down on 10 June (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Francis Darwin assisted CD with botanical experiments.
CD was interested in producing soil free from nutrients usually absorbed by plants so that he could control the substances they received and assess the effect this had on their variation (see letter to J. H. Gilbert, 16 February 1876). In LL 3: 342, Francis Darwin stated that the experiments ‘were to some extent planned out, and some preliminary work was begun … but the research was ultimately abandoned.’


LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.


Gratitude for the invaluable assistance. Is disappointed that natural soil is richer than burnt. Problem of securing sufficient chemically pure soil to test growth of plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Frankland
Sent from
Source of text
The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10534A,” accessed on 5 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24