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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. J. Romanes   23 May 1877

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

May 23d. 77

Dear Romanes

Pray thank Mr Grant Allen for his kindness in having sent me his Work. The subject is a very difficult & interesting one, & I shall be very glad to read the passages which you have so kindly marked, & indeed, if I can find time, other parts.1 But good Heavens what a lot of books there is to read.—

I have heard nothing about the “rub” at the R. Soc; & I wish you had told me more. I suppose it refers to “spontaneous Generation” & I shall be glad of anything which helps to settle that question for the present. Huxley recently told me that he thought Tyndall’s recent work about old germs withstanding long-continued boiling was most important & apparently decisive.2 The Council have refused to print Frank’s paper on the Teazle glands—on what grounds I know not. I have not been so much mortified for many a year; but he does not care much, all such things being mere trifles to him. My opinion about the value of his work remains quite unchanged & I care not who the referees may have been. But it is foolish in me to speak thus.—3

I wish that any of my sons could have attended your lecture, but it is not possible.4 When I last saw you I remember I wished you all good luck with your grafting experiment, & ill-luck with spiritualism; & in one sense my wishes seem to have come true, though in another sense your negative results are highly pleasing,—delightful to me, for I felt convinced that Williams was a very clever rogue.—5

Many thanks for your pleasant letter | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Romanes had marked passages in Allen’s Physiological aesthetics (G. Allen 1877). CD’s copy is in the Darwin Library–Down (Marginalia 1: 15).
John Tyndall had read his paper ‘Further researches on the deportment and vital persistence of putrefactive and infective organisms from a physical point of view’ (Tyndall 1877) on 17 May 1877 at the Royal Society of London. Tyndall had been repeating Henry Charlton Bastian’s experiments on spontaneous generation and pointing out errors in Bastian’s methodology and reasoning since 1876 (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter from John Tyndall, 2 February 1876). Tyndall had communicated his early results to the Royal Society on 18 January 1877 (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 25: 503–6). In February 1877, after hearing of Thomas Henry Huxley’s favourable opinion, Tyndall wrote to Huxley about further experiments; the letter was published as ‘On heat as a germicide when discontinuously applied’ in ibid., pp. 569–70. For more on the debate about spontaneous generation and Tyndall’s role in it, see Strick 2000, pp. 157–82.
Francis Darwin had delivered his paper on the teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) at the Royal Society on 1 March 1877; an abstract was published in the society’s Proceedings (F. Darwin 1877a). The full paper was published in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (F. Darwin 1877b).
Romanes was to deliver a lecture, ‘Evolution of nerves and nervous systems’, at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 25 May 1877. It was published in three parts in Nature (G. J. Romanes 1877b).
CD had lunch with Romanes in London on 8 January 1877 (see letter to G. J. Romanes, 4 January 1877 and n. 2, and letter from G. J. Romanes, [after 8 January 1877]). Romanes was carrying out experiments on graft hybrids to test CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis (see letter from G. J. Romanes, [after 8 January 1877] and n. 5). Romanes had begun investigating spiritualist phenomena in 1876 (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter from G. J. Romanes, [after 23 September 1876], and Oppenheim 1985, pp. 281–2). For details of his investigations at his home with the medium Charles E. Williams, see A. R. Wallace 1905, 2: 317–26. Williams had been hired by George Howard Darwin for a séance at Erasmus Alvey Darwin’s house in 1874 (see Correspondence vol. 22, letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 January [1874]). Thomas Henry Huxley had attended a later séance hosted by Hensleigh Wedgwood and sent a long report to CD about Williams’s trickery (see ibid., letter from T. H. Huxley, 27 January 1874, and letter to T. H. Huxley, 29 January [1874]).


Allen, Grant. 1877. Physiological aesthetics. London: Henry S. King & Co.

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

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Oppenheim, Janet. 1985. The other world: spiritualism and psychic research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Tyndall, John. 1877. Further researches on the deportment and vital persistence of putrefactive and infective organisms from a physical point of view. [Read 17 May 1877.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 167: 149–206.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall.


Thanks him for book by Grant Allen [Physiological aesthetics (1877)].

Comments on dispute over spontaneous generation.

The Council [of the Royal Society] will not print Frank Darwin’s paper on Dipsacus [in Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond.].

Mentions GJR’s grafting experiments

and his investigation of spiritualism.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George John Romanes
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.513)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10971,” accessed on 2 December 2021,