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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lawson Tait   27 March [1875]1

7, Great Charles St. | Birmingham.

March 27

Dear Sir,

It would not be fair in me to intrude when you are at rest in London, so that I would rather visit you after your return to Down, say on the 11th. 18th. or 25th.2

For years I have been working at details of the great scheme you have sketched out and of course the more I get in to it, the more vast & intricate it becomes yet the more universally applicable seem the laws.

As I am not hampered by wordly exigencies, I do not devote myself to the drudgery of medical life and therefore have time for science. I am at present preparing a paper for the Royal Society on the Umbilical cord, and some of the conclusions to which I am led have so startled me that I merely hint at them in this preliminary note (to the R.S.).3 Thus the spiral form of the cord, which has been passed by as a mere anatomical curiosity seems to me to bear strongly on the evidence of the descent of man & here I want your advice & assistance. It has further led me to a hypothesis for the spiral growth of plants—and therefore the spiral growth of everything, which I wish to submit to your criticism

I shall endeavour not to weary you.

Please do not answer this note, save to fix one of these Sundays or some still later on, at Down.

Yours faithfully, | Lawson Tait

CD annotations

Top of p. 2: ‘5o, 2′’ pencil
End of letter: ‘am 10° 30′ | 3o. 17′ | arrive at 4° | Leave Orping 8° 32’4 pencil


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Lawson Tait, 25 March 1875.
Tait visited CD on Saturday 17 April 1875 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Tait’s paper, ‘Preliminary note on the anatomy of the umbilical cord’ (Tait 1876), was received on 28 April 1875 and read at the 17 June 1875 meeting of the Royal Society of London. CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD’s annotations refer to train times at Orpington station (the closest to CD’s home in Down), and may relate to Tait’s planned visit.


Is preparing a paper on the umbilical cord ["On the anatomy of the umbilical cord", Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 23 (1875): 498–501; 24 (1876): 417–40] of which he sends a preliminary note [missing]. Believes spiral growth of the umbilical cord is important evidence of the descent of man; speculates on spiral growth in general.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 5
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9904,” accessed on 18 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23