Discourse to the Plinian Society

An introduction by R. B. Freeman

The Plinian Society was a student natural history society in the University of Edinburgh, founded by Professor Robert Jameson in 1823. Darwin was elected a member on November 28, 1826. Its minute book, in the University Library, shows that he attended eighteen out of nineteen possible meetings and took part in discussions. He addressed the Society once, on March 27, 1827, on two observations on sea-shore animals.—1. That the ova of Flustra possess organs of motion, 2. that the small black globular body hitherto mistaken for the young of Fucus loreus is in reality the ovum of Pontobdella muricata.

He had been in the habit of examining shore animals, particularly in the company of Robert Edmond Grant, and the discourse was the result of this work. Grant published papers on both these animals, that on the polyzoan in the Edinburgh new Philosophical Journal, Vol. 3, pp. 107-118, 337-342, 1827, and that on the leech in the Edinburgh Journal of Science, Vol. 7, pp. 161-162,1827, in which he acknowledges Darwin. The ova of Flustra are not in fact eggs but pilidium larvae, and those of Pontobdella are cocoons full of eggs. The second observation was not new; Sir John Dalyell had illustrated the life cycle in a fine water colour dated July 1823 which is reproduced, as Plate 1, in the second volume of The powers of the Creator displayed in the creation, (3 vols, 1851-58).

The Society did not print its communications, but it is noticed by Sir Walter Elliot in a presidential address of 1870. Darwin's own annotated copy of this notice is at Cambridge. It is mentioned in his Autobiography, and can be found, with two photographs of holograph from Darwin's notebook, in a paper by J. H. Ashworth (Nos 1570 & 1749). Nos 1573 and 1764 also refer to it.

[Note on Darwin's papers to the Plinian Society 27 March 1827.] In Elliot, W., Opening address by the President. Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh 11: 1-42. Text Image F1749



From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The Works of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographical Handlist. 2nd edn. Dawson: Folkstone.

NOTE: With thanks to The Charles Darwin Trust and Dr Mary Whitear for use of the Bibliographical Handlist. Copyright. All rights reserved. For private academic use only. Not for republication or reproduction in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Charles Darwin Trust, 14 Canonbury Park South London N1 2JJ.

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