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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gardeners’ Chronicle   9 May [1869]1

May 9.

As Mr. Fish asks me in so obliging a manner whether I continue of the same opinion as formerly in regard to the efficiency of worms in bringing up within their intestines fine soil from below, I must answer in the affirmative.2 I have made no more actual measurements, but I have watched during the last 25 years the gradual, and at last complete, disappearance of innumerable large flints on the surface of a field with very poor soil after it had been laid down as pasture. I have also purposely covered a few yards square of a grass-field with fine chalk, so as to observe the worms borrowing up through it, and leaving their castings on the surface, which were soon spread out by the rain. The Regent’s Park in early autumn is a capital place to observe the wonderful amount of work effected under favourable circumstances by worms, even in the course of a week or two. My observations in Staffordshire were chiefly made on poor, sandy grass-land, and I think that Mr. Fish will find that the proportion by weight or measure of carbon in poor soil is but small, and that the decay of the Grass will account for but a small proportion of the matter successfully deposited on the surface.3 Except when peat or peaty soil is forming, the carbon-compounds seem soon to be decomposed and disappear. Judging from the quick rate at which I have proved that the surface becomes covered with fine soil, if the mere decay of the Grass were as effective as Mr. Fish thinks, many feet in thickness would be formed in the course of a few centuries—a result which would be as surprising as delightful to the dwellers on poor land, or indeed on any land, which is never overflowed by mud-bearing water. In ordinary soils the worms do not burrow down to great depths, consequently fine vegetable soil is not accumulated to any inordinate thickness. Charles Darwin.


The year is established by the publication date of the letter in Gardeners’ Chronicle, 15 May 1869.
The reference is to David Taylor Fish. See letter from D. T. Fish to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 8 May 1869.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

‘Formation of mould’: On the formation of mould. [Read 1 November 1837.] Transactions of the Geological Society of London 2d ser. 5 (1840): 505–9. [Shorter publications, pp. 124–7.]


In response to a query from a Mr D. T. Fish, CD reaffirms his view of the efficiency of worms in bringing up in their intestines fine soil from below the surface. Reports on observations, during the past 25 years, which confirm his views.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Gardeners’ Chronicle
Sent from
Source of text
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (1869): 530

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6738,” accessed on 22 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17