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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Goodsir   21 August [1863]1

South Cottage. Wardie— | Edinburgh

Augst. 21th

Dear Sir.

As I am living at present in the country, your letter of the 18th reached me too late for an answer by return of post.2

I will most willingly examine the slide; or if not giving you too much trouble, a small quantity of the fluid with the flocculent & tenacious matter sent in a tube or small phial.3

The spherical bodies are probably the cells of Torula, or spores of Penicillium.4 If Sarcina be present, it will be at once detected by its square form and peculiar segmentation. Sarcina and Torula often occur together.5

Sarcina has been the object of much observation in this country and on the continent. Mr. Busk has paid much attention to the subject.6 Dr. Jenner,7 I believe recommends the use of Hyposulphite of Soda in those cases of irritable stomach in which Sarcina occurs. If your medical adviser has no objection you might try Creosote. In the case in which Sarcina was first detected, one drop of Creosote was taken at bed-time, and afterwards two drops in the forenoon, and two drops at bedtime with complete success—

You will find this in full detail, with a chemical analysis of the fluid ejected from the stomach, in the Edin. Medical and Surgical Journal—April 1842—page 430—8 I am sorry I have no separate copy to send to you. I will transmit, if you desire it, a list of references to authorities on the subject.

Here I must in⁠⟨⁠fo⁠⟩⁠rm you that the ⁠⟨⁠cur⁠⟩⁠rent opinion of ⁠⟨⁠t⁠⟩⁠he medical profession appears to be that these vegetable forms are not immediate agents in the morbid action. Sarcina has been found in the healthy stomach, and in other parts of the body. A perverted and weakened action of the stomach would appear to supply the conditions for the rapid multiplication of these vegetable forms. But if not the cause or source of your distress, they may, assuming them to be present, very much increase your discomfort—

I think therefore you do well to inquire into this matter, and to make use of such means, as without taxing your strength, may relieve your more urgent symptoms.

Accept of this expression of my sympathy, and believe me | very faithfully yours

John Goodsir.

Charles Darwin Esq

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Mr W. mentioned Dr. Harley of U. College—’9 ink, circled ink


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [August 1863].
The letter to Goodsir has not been found.
Goodsir was professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh; CD had evidently written regarding the cause of his vomiting (see also letters from John Goodsir, 27 August [1863] and 28 August [1863]). In the middle of August 1863, CD began vomiting every morning (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [August 1863]). For a summary account of CD’s health during 1863, see Bowlby 1990, pp. 370–4.
Torula and Penicillium were both genera of fungi; in the early nineteenth century, Torula was used as the generic term for yeasts (Barnett et al. 1990, p. 20).
Sarcina is a genus of acid-tolerant bacteria; S. ventriculi is common in human intestinal tracts. Torula was a genus of fungi, now represented by several modern genera (see n. 4, above).
George Busk was a leading figure in the Royal College of Surgeons (Plarr 1930); while a naval surgeon on the hospital ship at Greenwich, he published a paper on the occurrence of Sarcina in the human stomach (Busk 1842).
The London physician William Jenner was professor of medicine at University College and practised at the University College Hospital (Medical directory 1863); CD consulted Jenner in 1864 (CD’s Classed account books (Down House MS)).
Apparently a reference to the University College Hospital physician George Harley, a liver specialist. Harley was also professor of medical jurisprudence and a lecturer on physiology and histology at University College, London (Medical directory 1863). ‘Mr W.’ may be the family dentist Alfred J. Woodhouse, whom George had visited on 18 August 1863 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).


Bowlby, John. 1990. Charles Darwin: a biography. London: Hutchinson.

Busk, George. 1842. On the occurrence of Sarcina ventriculi in the human stomach. Microscopic Journal 2: 321–3.

Goodsir, John. 1842. History of a case in which a fluid periodically ejected from the stomach contained vegetable organisms of an undescribed form, with a chemical analysis of the fluid by George Wilson. Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 57: 430–43.

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.

Plarr, Victor Gustave. 1930. Plarr’s lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Revised by Sir D’Arcy Power. 2 vols. London: Simpkin Marshall.


Agrees to examine a slide preparation of fluid [from CD’s vomit] to determine presence of Sarcina as a possible cause of his stomach ailment. Sends some authoritative references on it. Warns CD that Sarcina has been found in healthy stomachs.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Goodsir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 73
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4272,” accessed on 20 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11