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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. P. Ayres   8 June 1873

June 8th. 1873

C. Darwin Esq


Discussing the subject of spontanious generation when last in London with my friend Mr Robinson of the Garden,1 I related to him a circumstance which occurred here last autumn, and which he requested I would communicate to you. In the north of England, you are no doubt aware, it is a custom, at Eastertide to boil Eggs quite hard colouring the shells in the process, and with these the young folks amuse themselves

Two of these Eggs my daughter who was on a visit to her brother at Kirby-Stephen, brought home for her younger sister2   One of these was eate〈n〉 and the other was placed on the 〈m〉a〈r〉ble shelf as an or〈nam〉ent, where it remained until October.

At that time it was broken when to the disgust of the children it was found to be one moving mass of grubs, each the size of a small grain of rice. I regret to say I did not see them myself, but I have reason to believe the shell of the Egg was perfectly sound, and as the contents had been boiled quite hard the question arises how came they there?—3

I have two more of the Eggs by me boiled this Easter, and if you will accept it shall be glad to place one of them at your disposal for investigation.

Craving your indulgence for this trespass upon your valuable time; I beg to remain | Sir | Your very Obt Servant | William P. Ayres.


William Robinson, founder of Garden magazine, had corresponded with CD about climbing plants and crossing experiments with waterlilies (see Correspondence vols. 12 and 14).
Ayres’s children were Mica Mary de Tomanzie (the elder sister), Philip Port Ayres, and Clara Alice Ayres.
CD had been interested in recent debates about spontaneous generation, including claims by Henry Charlton Bastian to have observed living organisms in solutions that had been boiled for an extended period (see Correspondence vol. 20, letters to A. R. Wallace, 28 August [1872] and [2 September 1872]).


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


Has been discussing spontaneous generation with William Robinson of the Garden. Reports having found grubs that developed in an undamaged, hard-boiled egg. Has similarly treated eggs if CD wants to investigate.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Port Ayres
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 159: 137
Physical description
2pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8939,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21