RECORD: Ashworth, J.H. 1935. Charles Darwin as a student in Edinburgh, 1825-1827. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 55: 97-113, pls. 1-2.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned and OCRed by John van Wyhe 6.2008. RN1

NOTE: Reproduced with the permission of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

[page] 97

X.—Charles Darwin as a Student in Edinburgh, 1825-1827. (An Address delivered on October 28, 1935.) By Professor J. H. Ashworth, F.R.S., Department of Zoology, University of Edinburgh. (With Thr+ee Plates.)

(MS. received October 28, 1935.)

CHARLES DARWIN in his Autobiography, written in 1876, gives in half a dozen pages (Life and Letters, vol. i, pp. 36-42) an account of his two academic sessions as a medical student in Edinburgh. This account includes brief references to his naturalist friends and acquaintances, a statement that he collected specimens in the tidal pools on the shore of the Firth of Forth and by going out with the "trawlers," and that he made new observations on the "so-called ova of Flustra," which "were in fact larvae," and on the egg-cases of Pontobdella muricata.

It is now possible to form a more adequate conception of his early progress as a naturalist with the help of the minute-book of the Plinian Society of the University of Edinburgh and of a note-book begun by Darwin in Edinburgh in March 1827, the latter of which I have been permitted to see by the kindness of Professor C. G. Darwin and Mr Bernard Darwin. I wish, therefore, to bring before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which Darwin was elected an Honorary Fellow just seventy years ago, a brief account of his two academic sessions in Edinburgh with particular reference to the development of his early taste for natural history, more especially in his second session.

Charles Robert Darwin came to Edinburgh at the age of sixteen years and eight months, and with his elder brother Erasmus, who had been a medical student at the University in the previous year, signed the matriculation book, "Charles Darwin—Shropshire," on October 22, 1825. His first classes were on Wednesday, October 26—in Materia Medica at 8 a.m., in Chemistry at 10, and in Anatomy at 1 o'clock. His class-cards (PL I) for the academic year 1825-26 were presented to the University of Edinburgh by the late Sir Francis Darwin in 1909, together with the wrapper, inscribed by Darwin, in which they were found among his papers. The cards, with the names of the respective teachers, are:

[page] 98

For the University Library.

Materia Medica, Dietetics and Pharmacy    Andrew Duncan, jun

Chemistry and Pharmacy .         .         .     Thos. Chas. Hope.

Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology .     Alexander Monro.

Clinical Lectures          ....     Dr Graham and Dr Alison.

Principles and Practice of Surgery          .    Alexr. Monro.

"Perpetual Ticket" for the Royal Infirmary.

In his Autobiography Darwin writes (p. 36) that the lectures "were intolerably dull, with the exception of those on chemistry by Hope. . . . Dr Duncan's lectures on Materia Medica at 8 o'clock on a winter's morning are something fearful to remember. Dr------made his lectures

on human anatomy as dull as he was himself." The "Dr" referred to was Alexander Monro tertius who did not sustain the great reputation made by his grandfather and his father, who had preceded him in the Chair of Anatomy. Darwin attended the Clinical Lectures and he records that he also "attended regularly the clinical wards in the hospital." He enrolled in the class of Principles and Practice of Surgery, but all that is known about his attendance in this subject is his own note (p. 37) that on two occasions he was present at "very bad operations,"—these were before the days of chloroform—and that he "rushed away before they were completed."

In his second year at the University * Darwin, who signed the matriculation-book on November 10, 1826, enrolled in the classes of Practice of Physic and Midwifery, as is shown by the list of members of these classes in the University records, and also in the class of Natural History, but the list of members of this class is wanting. His class-cards for this year were not preserved.

Darwin states his opinion (p. 36) that "there are no advantages and many disadvantages in lectures compared with reading." He excludes from his general condemnation for the dullness of their lectures only one of his teachers in Edinburgh, Dr Thomas Charles Hope, the Professor of Chemistry. Hope's lectures were noted for "uncommon clearness of exposition, and unexampled splendour and success in experimental demonstration" (Christison, Life, vol. i, p. 57), and as there were 503 students in this class in Darwin's year, the experiments, to be visible to the class, required to be performed on a large scale which called for great manipulative skill.

* In the academic year 1825-26 there were in the University 2013 students in Medicine, Arts and Law, of whom 902 were in Medicine, and 250 of these came from England. In the year 1926-27 there were 1905 students, of whom 858 were in Medicine, and 215 of these came from England.

[page] 99

It is interesting to compare Darwin's strongly adverse opinion of two of his Professors in Edinburgh with the judgment of other gifted students of about the same period. Robert, afterwards Sir Robert, Christison, who was the distinguished occupant successively of the Chairs of Forensic Medicine and Materia Medica in the University, records (Life, vol. i, pp. 68, 69) that Alexander Monro tertius, whose class he attended in 1815-16, "was far from being a popular lecturer. In all he did and said his manner betrayed an unimpassioned indifference, as if it were all one to him whether his teaching was acceptable and accepted or not. . . . Nevertheless, Monro gave a very clear, precise, complete course of lectures on anatomy . . . and certainly I learned anatomy well under him." He "studied anatomy another winter under Dr John' Barclay [the extra-academical Lecturer], as was then the universal student-fashion."

Other students were much less satisfied with Dr Monro's course. Robert Knox in 1811 had found Monro's teaching "of poor service" and in the following year joined Dr Barclay's course (see Lonsdale, p. 6). John Goodsir (Anat. Mem., pp. 24, 25) "owed a great deal to Dr Knox [who had succeeded Dr Barclay] and always spoke of him as his anatomical teacher and friend." After studying for two years under Knox he enrolled, in 1832—33, in Monro's class. Goodsir's great friend Edward Forbes (Memoir, p. 138) also learnt anatomy from Knox, whose class he joined in 1831; he did not attend Monro's course. These and other records support Darwin's opinion of Monro tertius as an unsuccessful teacher.

Robert Jameson, whose course Darwin attended in his second year of study (1826—27), was at that time fifty-two years of age and had been for twenty-two years Professor of Natural History, which then included zoology and geology. He devoted himself chiefly to mineralogy, but his published work shows his interest also in marine zoology and in birds, and as Editor of the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal and of the New Philosophical Journal he maintained a wide outlook on science in general. He formed an extensive and important Natural History Museum in the University of Edinburgh which was notable for the excellent state of preservation of its specimens and their scientific arrangement and for its large collection of birds. The entire museum collection, said to have been in this country "second only to that of the British Museum," was handed over a year after Professor Jameson's death to the new Government Museum of Science and Art, now the Royal Scottish Museum.

Darwin states (p. 41) that he found Professor Jameson's lectures "incredibly dull"; "the sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology, or in any

[page] 100

way to study the science." Fortunately, he did not adhere to this decision; within ten years he had made the observations for his three geological memoirs, one of which, on coral reefs, has become a classic.

The detailed syllabus of Professor Jameson's lectures, as drawn up by him in 1826, is preserved, for it was placed before the Commissioners for the Universities of Scotland in October 1826 (Appendix to the Evidence, pp. 115-118). It shows the range of his teaching, which included not only zoology and geology, but also instruction in meteorology and hydrography and some references to botany in its relation to "the animal and mineral kingdoms." The course in zoology began with a consideration of the natural history of man, was followed by an account of the chief classes of vertebrates and invertebrates, and concluded with lectures on the philosophy of zoology in which the first subject was " Origin of the Species of Animals."

This would be the course as given in Darwin's second academic year, and the lectures, which began on November 8, 1826, were on five days per week and were stated to extend over five months, hence there would be about one hundred lectures, in addition to which there were " conversations" with the Professor in the Museum and excursions.

Christison, who attended the shorter course on Natural History in the summer of 1816, states (Life, vol. i, p. 90) that Professor Jameson's "lectures were numerously attended in spite of a dry manner, and although attendance on Natural History was not enforced for any University honour or for any profession. [Attendance on lectures in this subject was not required from medical students until 1833.] The popularity of his subject, his earnestness as a lecturer, his enthusiasm as an investigator, and the great museum he had collected for illustrating his teaching, were together the causes of his success."

Edward Forbes took Professor Jameson's course in the summer of 1832 and the fine Museum had great attractions for him. When he succeeded, in May 1854, to tne Chair of Natural History he found "Jameson's collection wonderful, even palseontologically," and the amount of material for illustrating the course "very great" (Memoir, p. 556). He gratefully acknowledged (p. 554) the encouragement he had received from Jameson and spoke of his Professor's "enthusiastic zeal, his wonderful acquaintance with scientific literature," and he went on to say : "The value of professorial worth should chiefly be estimated by the number and excellence of disciples. A large share of the best naturalists of the day received their first instruction in the science . . . from Professor Jameson. . . . And where else in the British Empire

[page] 101

except here, has there been for the last half century a school of Natural History?"

While Professor Jameson's teaching of some parts of geology was unacceptable owing to his adherence to extreme and discredited Wernerian views (see, for instance, Darwin, pp. 41, 42), the recorded judgments of Christison and of Forbes on his teaching in general, and on his enthusiasm for his subject and for the Museum under his charge, show that they would not have assented to Darwin's condemnation of Professor Jameson's course.

I have been unable to find any opinion recorded by a student of the work and teaching of the third Professor to whom Darwin refers, Dr Andrew Duncan secundus, who was appointed Professor of Materia Medica in 1821. Christison had graduated two years previously and Forbes, who during his first year of study (1831-32) attended Professor Duncan's class, left no comment upon it. The biographer of Forbes points out (Memoir, p. 139) that "he could not possibly profit at that stage of his studies" from such a course. As Darwin attended the class also in his first year he probably experienced a similar handicap. Principal Sir Alexander Grant (Story, vol. ii, pp. 424-425) refers to Dr Duncan as "a man of most versatile genius," whose success in teaching Materia Medica was "conspicuous," and states that "an early work of his, The Edinburgh Dispensatory, was for many years a standard authority in every medical school in Europe." This estimate of Dr Duncan and his work should be weighed against Darwin's unfavourable comment (p. 98).

Although Darwin apparently did not receive from Professor Jameson's lectures much instruction in zoology, he was able to acquire in other ways while in Edinburgh a considerable acquaintance with this subject.

Soon after coming to Edinburgh Darwin became aware that his father would leave him "property enough to subsist on with some comfort," and this was, as he states (p. 36), "sufficient to check any strenuous effort to learn medicine." Much of the time available after his attendance at classes would probably be devoted to his pursuit of natural history, especially during his second year when his brother was no longer with him in Edinburgh. His rooms were in a top flat in 21 Lothian Street (in which, about twelve years later, lived John and Harry Goodsir and Edward Forbes), less than two hundred yards from the entrance to the University. The Natural History Museum occupied the western block of the University, and consequently such time as was not employed in the three classes in which Darwin had enrolled could immediately be put

[page] 102

to good use in the Museum, where he was likely to find at work two experienced naturalists, Dr Robert Grant and William Macgillivray, whom he came to know well. Further, his membership of the Plinian Natural History Society brought him into association with other enthusiastic naturalists in Edinburgh at that time.

The Plinian Society was founded in 1823 and the two minute-books from February 1826 to the end of the Society's existence in 1841 are preserved in the University Library. The Society, which met every Tuesday evening in the College or University of Edinburgh, had about one hundred and fifty members, but the number recorded as being present at the meetings does not usually exceed twenty-five. The Secretary in February 1826 was Dr Robert Grant and the record includes the names of those present and of those who took part in the discussions.

Darwin was elected a member of the Society on November 28, 1826, and at the meeting a week later, at which the election of Officers and Council took place, he was chosen as one of the five members of the Council, from which it may be concluded that he was very favourably known for his interest in natural history. There were five Presidents— Messrs Ainsworth, Coldstream, Kay, Browne, and Fife—three of whom, Browne, Coldstream, and Fife, had proposed Darwin for membership of the Society. He states in his Autobiography that he found the meetings of the Society stimulating and that he "used regularly to attend"; the record shows that he was present at all but one of the nineteen meetings held from the date of his election to April 3, 1827.

The minute-book is of interest as showing the subjects discussed in the students' natural history society in Edinburgh one hundred years ago, and the following notes on the proceedings indicate the range of the communications presented during the period of Darwin's membership. At the last five meetings in 1826 the papers included: the alleged ovi-position of the cuckoo in the nests of other birds, extra-uterine gestation, the results of the analysis of the Cheltenham waters, oceanic and atmospheric currents, the anatomy of expression, the various purposes to which the formation of a vacuum is applied in the animal kingdom, instinct, and the natural history of the cuckoo. At the meeting on December 26, the members of the Society blackballed Cuvier and Blumenbach, two of the foremost zoologists of that time, whose nomination as Honorary Members had been "signed by all the office-bearers." In January 1827 the subjects before the Society included the mode of obtaining bromine from soap-boilers' waste and on its nature and properties, "the sap-vessels of the Solanum tuberosum, founded on the commencement of a series of experiments in this department of physio-

[page] 103

logical botany" (by Allen Thomson, afterwards Professor of Anatomy in the University of Glasgow), on the principles of natural classification which included some consideration of specific characters (by William F. Ainsworth), on the sea-serpent and the kraken, and by Henry Cheyne on the capture of whales on the coast of the Shetlands, which he had witnessed; 199 whales were taken, the largest of which was 24 ft. 8 in. long. In February the papers were on a peculiar variety in the shape of the leaf of Laurus nobilis, on a single-edged stein barte (stone broad-axe) from the Shetlands, on intermittent and reciprocating springs and the temperature of springs, on the theory of expansion, liquefaction, and vaporization, and on instinct. At the first meeting in March were read a further paper on the temperature of springs, a paper on the variations of the barometer, and one by Henry Cheyne on a milky appearance, " resembling thick whey," of the sea off the Shetlands during a period of eighteen or twenty days in the summer of 1826. Mr Coldstream attributed the appearance to "the existence of luminous animalcule in the water." At the next meeting (March 14) the Secretary directed attention to a paper in the Philosophical Transactions, vol. lxii, 1772, "which tended to corroborate the appearance in the north seas," after which Allen Thomson described the circulation of the sap in vegetables. The meeting of March 20 was devoted to papers on the comparative effects of classical and scientific pursuits and on the determinate form of clouds.

Darwin is noted as having participated in the discussions on four of the evenings; it would have been particularly interesting to know what he said on the principles of natural classification, and especially on specific characters, when he spoke in the discussion on that subject.

His communication to the Plinian Society was on March 27, 1827, not "at the beginning of the year 1826" as stated in the Autobiography (P- 39)- The record in the minute-book under that date is in the following terms:—

"Mr Darwin communicated to the Society two discoveries which he had made:

1.   That the ova of the Flustra possess organs of motion.

2.   That the small black globular body hitherto mistaken for the young Fucus lorius is in reality the ovum of the Pontobdella muricata.

At the request of the Society he promised to draw up an account of the facts and to lay it, together with the specimens, before the Society next evening.

Dr Grant detailed a number of facts regarding the Natural History of the Flustra."

[page] 104

The minute of the next meeting, on April 3, 1827, includes the record of the presentation to the Society of

"A specimen of the Pontobdella muricata, with its ova & young ones} by Mr Darwin";

but there is no mention of any account of these or of the '' ova'' of Flustra, and if his manuscript was placed before the Society it has not been kept.

Darwin wrote his communication in his note-book under the date April 20, three weeks after the meeting at which it was made; the account was either a "fair copy" of the manuscript or an extension of the notes he would probably have prepared for the meeting. It consists of about four and a half pages (each page 8 by 5 in.) from which the following is abstracted:—

"Having procured some specimens of the Flustra carbasea * (Lam.) [now Carbasea carbasea (Ellis and Sol.)] from the dredge boats at New-haven, I soon perceived without the aid of a microscope small yellow bodies studded in different directions on it. They were of an oval shape and of the colour of the yolk of an egg, each occupying one cell. Whilst in their cells I could perceive no motion, but . . . in a watch-glass [presumably after liberation from their cells] . . . they glided to and fro with so rapid a motion as at some distance to be distinctly visible to the naked eye. When highly magnified, the cilia, which were chiefly distributed on the broader end, were seen in rapid motion; the central ones being the longest. I may mention that I have also observed ova "j" of the Flustra Foliacea & Truncata [now F. securifrons (Pallas)] in motion. That such ova had organs of motion does not appear to have been hitherto observed either by Lamarck, Cuvier, Lamouroux, or any other author. . . ."

"This and the following communication was read both before the Wernerian & Plinian Societies."

The note-book does not state the date on which Darwin first collected or observed the "ova," or as he wrote in the Autobiography, the "egg-cases" of Pontobdella, but immediately following the above quotation continues (PI. II):—

"One frequently finds sticking to oyster and other old shells, small black globular bodies which the fishermen call great Pepper-corns. These have hitherto been always mistaken for the young Fucus Lorius

* Flustra, the "sea-mat," a genus of the Polyzoa, is obtained by dredging or is found thrown up on the shore.

† These "ova," as Darwin notes in his Autobiography, "were in fact larvae"; the term "ova" is used in this sense elsewhere in the note-book.

by Mr Darwin'

[page] 105

[loreus; now Himanthalia lorea *] to which it bears a great resemblance. Having opened some of these they at first appeared only to contain an extremely viscid fluid without any traces [of] organisation [the microscopic egg in this viscid fluid was not observed]; but on examining some others I found that this fluid, acquiring by degrees a vermicular shape, when matured was the young Pontobdella | Muricata (Lam.) which were in every respect perfect & in motion. Each ovum consisted of two parts, the outer capsule being cori[a]ceous & of considerable thickness, whilst the inner consisted merely of a thin black membrane. This bag never contained more than one animal. . . . At each end [side] there is a prominent orifice, which appears to be the outlet of [for] the young animal, but hitherto mistaken for the branches of the Fucus. ..."

Darwin did not publish these observations.

Three days previous to Darwin's paper at the Plinian Society, that is on March 24, 1827, Dr Grant read to the Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh, as the minute under that date records (Mem., vol. vi, 1832, p. 564), "a Memoir regarding the Anatomy and Mode of Generation of Flustras, illustrated by preparations and drawings. The Doctor likewise read a notice on the Existence of Ciliae in the young of the Buccinum undatum, Purpura Lapillus, and some other molluscous animals; and also on the Mode of Generation of the Pontobdella muricata of Lamarck."

Grant's paper "on the Structure and Nature of Flustrae," which appeared in two parts in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, vol. iii, April and October 1827, contains a more detailed account than Darwin's of the ova and of the ciliated embryos and larvae, which Grant reared in watch-glasses into young colonies.

Grant prepared a description of the ova [or cocoons, as they should be called] of Pontobdella, published in the Edinburgh Journal oj Science, vol. iii, July 1927, pp. 160, 161, in which he stated "the merit of having first ascertained them to belong to that animal is due to my zealous young friend Mr Charles Darwin of Shrewsbury, who kindly presented me with specimens of the ova exhibiting the animal in different stages of maturity."

Unknown to Darwin and Grant another Edinburgh naturalist, John Graham Dalyell, had observed the laying of the "eggs or capsules" of this leech, had studied their structure, and had seen the young leech as it

* The young stages of this brown seaweed form stalked, subspherical, and later flattened, "buttons" from the centre of which sprout the forked throng-like branches or receptacles.

t As this leech is frequently found on the skate it is often called by fishermen the skate-leech.

[page] 106

issued from the capsule. "Beautiful drawings of the ova and young, made in July 1823 and bearing that date, are now before us" wrote the editor (Professor Jameson) of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, vol. iii, October 1827, pp. 391, 392, who printed Dalyell's notes which accompanied the drawings. By the courtesy of Sir James Dalyell, Bart., I have recently seen these original drawings of the capsules, dated "July 1823," and of two young Pontobdella and also later drawings of this and other genera of leeches, which were published as PI. I in the second volume (1853) of Dalyell's well-known work The Powers of the Creator.

Another significant factor in Darwin's studies in natural history in Edinburgh was his friendship with some of the Newhaven fishermen, whom he sometimes accompanied when they dredged for oysters "and thus got many specimens." His note-book records two "sea-pens," Pennatula mirabilis (now Virgularia mirabilis) and Pennatula phos-phorea, from the Firth of Forth, which were no doubt obtained in that way (see p. 108); the cocoons of Pontobdella which he found on oyster and other shells were probably dredged on some of these expeditions, and he procured his specimens of Flustra carbasea "from the dredge boats at Newhaven."

Darwin's note-book, which is inscribed (PI. Ill) on the fly-leaf "Charles Robert Darwin, March 1827," provides interesting evidence of his activities as a collector and careful observer of marine animals. The first record in the book, under the date March 16, 1827, shows that he "Procured from the black rocks at Leith a large Cyclopterus Lumpus (common lump fish), length . . . 23^ inches^girth 19J. It had evidently come to the rocks to spawn and was there left stranded by the tide; its ovaria contained a great mass of spawn of a rose colour. Dissected it with Dr Grant. It appeared very free from disease and had no intestinal worms." A fairly complete examination was evidently made, for Darwin remarks on the small eyes, large stomach, liver without gall-bladder, kidneys situated some way from the vertebrae, air-bladder not seen, brain very small, optic nerves nearly as large as the spinal cord, valves in the heart very distinct, the body not covered with scales but slimy and [the skin] remarkably thick, and the sucker on the breast of a white colour ("I believe it is generally a reddish yellow"). "The plebs differ whether it is edible."

Under the same date he added: "Procured a small green A[e]olis & a Tritonia" and "Examined the ova of the Purpura Lapillus and found them out of their capsules and of this shape" [sketch appended].

Two days later (18th) he sketched three organisms [apparently calypto-

[page] 107

blastic hydroids, one probably a Campanularia] "found growing out of [on] Alcyonium, and noted that "Some ova [see f.n. f, p. 104] from the Newhaven rocks, said to be that of the Doris, was in every respect similar to that of the Univalves & in rapid motion & continued so for 7 days."

On March 19 he "Observed ova in the Flustra Foliacea & Truncata, the former of which were in motion," and on the^Sth (PI. Ill) he wrote notes on "whitish circular masses of ova" which he had found on Fucus, and appended sketches of them and of the "capsules" magnified, showing the ciliated embryos. He observed "the animal & its cilia in most rapid movement." "To what animal these ova belong, I am ignorant." [They were probably those of Lacuna vincta (Montagu).] He noted and sketched "another mass of ova, larger and of a browner colour, the capsules also being considerably larger" [this belonged almost certainly to Littorina littoralis (L.)], and on the same date he "Found some ova (I believe that of the Doris Argo) resembling a piece of tape." He added sketches and noted that the "capsules had the appearance of being united & of an oblong shape" [two are shown so united] and "were arranged in regular rows." In these respects the spawn agrees with that of Archidoris britannica (Johnston)—the modern designation of Doris Argo, a species which is still common on the shore of the Firth of Forth, east of Edinburgh. The ribbon of spawn of this species is laid in a spiral coil, but Darwin did not refer to this in his note.

On April 15 Darwin noted and sketched another egg-mass on Fucus, and also one of the ciliated embryos, "on which at its anterior end are situated numerous cilia; these by their constant motion cause the young animal to turn rapidly round within the capsule, and when freed from its capsule to move to and fro in the water with the greatest ease. I kept some of these ova in a bottle of the same water and at the end of 30 days [they] were yet in motion." This egg-mass was produced by Lacuna pallidula (da Costa). L. pallidula, L. vincta, and Littorina littoralis, all relatives of' the periwinkle, are common on the shore of the Forth. For the identification of their egg-masses, from the descriptions in Darwin's note-book, I am indebted to Dr Marie Lebour and Mr G. A. Steven of the Marine Laboratory, Plymouth.

About this time Grant was examining the ciliated young of gastero-podous mollusca on which he read a paper before the Wernerian Society on the 24th March (see above, p. 105); this was published in the April issue of the Edinburgh Journal of Science (vol. vii, 1827, pp. 121—125). He apparently did not examine the egg-masses of Littorina littoralis or of the two species of Lacuna observed by Darwin.

Under the date April 20, Darwin wrote his observations on the "ova"

[page] 108

of Flustra and of Pontobdella (pp. 104, 105) after which he continued: "Procured on 15th of April, from deep water in Frith of Forth, a good many specimens of the Pennatula Mirabilis [now Virgularia mirabilis (0. F. Muller)]. The Polypes were situated on one side of the bony axis in alternate lunate fillets [leaves] in number from 70-80. Each fillet consisted of about 12 Polypes. Towards one end of many of the longest specimens a yellowish appearance, which upon examination turned out to be numerous ova. . . . But I could perceive no motion."

Three days later he wrote: "Procured from the Frith of Forth numerous specimens of the Pennatula Phosphorea, differs from the Mirabilis in there being only 20 rows or fillets of polypes & in these rows about 12 Polypes. These fillets are opposite & decrease in size towards both ends of the axis. The bony axis does not appear at either end of the Zoophite as it does in the Mirabilis [specimens of V. mirabilis are often damaged by the dredge at the ends and the axis thus exposed] but gradually tapers into two filiform soft and flexible points embedded in the fleshy matter. Enclosed in & at the base of the fillets were several ova of a large size & of a yellow colour. Could perceive no motion. . . . The whole Zoophite has a soft slimy feel, & [is] of a red colour. The long axis in both of the above-mentioned species effervesced rapidly with nitric acid."

The last zoological entry Darwin made in Edinburgh in his note-book is that he "Observed, with Mr Coldstream at the black rocks at Leith, an Asterias rubens doubled up as it were, so that the disk part formed [a] pouch in which were numerous loose ova, which the animal was in [the] act of discharging from its mouth. The double [?] tract in each of the animal's limbs contained a mass of ova of a small size & of an orange colour."

This starfish was almost certainly a specimen of Leptasterias miilleri (M. Sars), which closely resembles Asterias rubens and was first differentiated from rubens as a new genus and species by Michael Sars (1846). In L. miilleri the genital pores are ventral and difficult to see, hence the eggs might appear to issue from the mouth. This starfish incubates its eggs in the space enclosed by arching the disc and bending inwards the bases of the arms.

Observations follow on the Geranium—pollen and anthers, epidermis of petals, stamens, anthers, pistil and sepals, and on the pollen grains of Orchis morio. A slight difference in the writing and the inclusion of the note on the pollen of Orchis morio, a species which does not occur in Scotland but is common in parts of England, indicate that the botanical notes were not written in Edinburgh.

[page] 109

As the last zoological entry in the note-book is under the date April 23, 1827, it may be inferred that Darwin left Edinburgh soon afterwards.

With Darwin's Edinburgh notes were two lists of animals, one of "the Vermes found in the Frith of Forth and other parts of Scotland," abstracted from a paper by Professor Jameson published in 1811 (Mem. Wernerian Nat. Hist. Soc, vol. i, pp. 556-565), the other of " Fishes found in Frith of Forth" from a paper by Patrick Neill of the same year (op. cit., pp. 526-555). Each list was written on two double sheets, about 6 by 3! inches, and the two sheets were fastened together by a strip of gummed paper. These lists could be carried in a pocket-book and would be convenient for reference on his collecting expeditions.

Darwin wrote a short description of a "Zoological walk" to Porto-bello, on a Saturday during the winter, probably of 1826-27, with Mr William Kay, one of the Presidents of the Plinian Society. The walk "was a complete failure," largely owing to the "dense and impenetrable mist." When the two naturalists reached Portobello, "the shore appeared perfectly destitute and void of everything that could interest the Zoologist," and they decided to proceed to the rocks a mile or two beyond Portobello, but they found them covered by the tide. They retraced their footsteps to Edinburgh with no specimens except a few common shells.

Darwin left Edinburgh late in April 1827 when little more than eighteen years of age, and early in the following year went to Cambridge.

Reference should be made to Darwin's friends in Edinburgh, of whom the most important was undoubtedly Dr Robert Edmund Grant (1793— 1874), then about thirty-three years old. He had graduated M.D. Edinburgh in 1814, and had studied natural history and medicine from 1815 to 1820 in Paris and other continental universities. He returned to Edinburgh in 1820 and explored the coasts of Scotland and Ireland and made studies, including dissections, of many animals which he collected. He gave lectures on the comparative anatomy of invertebrates for Dr John Barclay, who was extra-mural Lecturer in anatomy in Edinburgh at that time. Grant was the author of a series of papers on sponges in 1825 and 1826, and many of the observations therein recorded were made on the shore of the Firth of Forth. In addition, he published or wrote, in the years 1825-27, more than a dozen other papers on ccelen-terates, molluscs, polyzoa, Crustacea, on the structure of the eye of the sword-fish, and on the anatomy of the paca of Brazil; he was at that period a most energetic collector and investigator, especially of marine invertebrates. Darwin states that he often accompanied Grant to collect animals in the tidal pools, and he records in his note-book that he dissected with Grant the Lumpsucker he had found on the Black Rocks at Leith.

[page] 110

It was a great advantage to Darwin to have this experienced zoologist as his friend.

In his Autobiography Darwin relates (p. 38) that one day when he was walking with Grant the latter "burst forth in high admiration of Lamarck and his views on evolution"; Darwin adds that he listened in silent astonishment, and, so far as he could judge, without any effect on his mind. That exposition on Lamarck acquires fuller significance when it is remembered that Grant studied in Paris during the period from 1815 to 1820, and that he would devote much of his time to work in the Museum of Natural History, where he would very probably come into association with Lamarck only a few years after the latter had published his Philosophie Zoologique (1809) and while he was preparing his great work on the natural history of invertebrates (1815-1822).

In the summer of 1827 Grant left Edinburgh to become the first Professor of Zoology in University College, London.

William Macgillivray (1796-1852), thirteen years Darwin's senior, was, during the time Darwin was a student in Edinburgh, Assistant and Secretary to Professor Jameson and acted as Assistant-Keeper of the University Museum of Natural History. He was known for his papers on molluscs and on birds, and was afterwards (1841) appointed Professor of Natural History in Aberdeen. With him Darwin "had much interesting natural-history talk," and, while birds are not specifically mentioned, it is scarcely possible that Darwin could be in frequent association with Macgillivray—whom the late Professor Alfred Newton (1896) regarded, after Willughby, as "the greatest and most original ornithological genius save one (who did not live long enough to make his powers widely known) that this island has produced"—without utilising such an opportunity of acquiring some of his special knowledge of the classification and structure of birds. Darwin records that in Edinburgh he had lessons on preparing birds from a negro who had travelled with Waterton, and there is extant evidence of his interest in birds at this time in two "keys " in manuscript found among his Edinburgh notes. One is a key to the genera of British birds and the other, to about one hundred genera of birds, was "copied from Brisson's Ornithologie, 4th Edit. . . . 1826," hence it was written during his second academic session.

Darwin states (pp. 37, 38) that he "became well acquainted with several yo'ung men fond of natural science," and he mentions Ainsworth, Coldstream, and Hardie (see pp. 111, 112). To these he might have added Kay, with whom he made the zoological excursion to Portobello (p. 109), and also Browne and Fife who, with Coldstream, proposed him for membership of the Plinian Society. During his last five months in

[page] 111

Edinburgh he frequently met these men at the Plinian Society. Five of them—Ainsworth, Coldstream, Kay, Browne, and Fife—were elected Presidents of the Society early in December 1826, when Darwin was chosen as a member of the Council. They were all senior to Darwin by two to four years; Browne was already L.R.C.S., and the others qualified in 1827. Brief notes of the early part of their respective careers follow.

William Francis Ainsworth (1807-1896), who is entered in the roll of the class of Anatomy as from Lancashire, became L.R.C.S. in 1827, studied geology in London and Paris for two years, and then took up medical work, chiefly in relation to cholera, in England and Ireland. He went, in 1835, as Surgeon and Geologist to the Euphrates Expedition, and published an account of his researches, including his observations in zoology.

John Coldstream (1806-1863) was born in Leith, graduated M.D. in 1827, studied in Paris for about a year and returned to practise in Leith and later in Edinburgh. He was interested particularly in marine zoology and afterwards wrote articles for Todd's Cyclopedia of Anatomy and Physiology on medusae (1835), on cirripedes (1836), on animal luminousness (1841), and papers on the eggs of Sepia (1833) and on Limnoria (1834).

William Kay (1807-1861), who came from Liverpool, graduated M.D. in 1827, practised in Clifton, and was Lecturer in Forensic Medicine in the Bristol Medical School.

William Alexander Francis Browne (1805-1885) was born in Stirling and became L.R.C.S. in 1826. He attended the University classes of Chemistry and Practice of Physic in 1826-27, after which he visited the asylums of Paris and returned to Stirling to practise. He was appointed in 1834 Medical Superintendent of the Royal Asylum at Montrose and five years later the first Superintendent of the newly founded Crichton Institution at Dumfries. In 1857 he became the first Commissioner in Lunacy for Scotland.

George Fife (1807-1857), who came from Newcastle-on-Tyne, graduated M.D. in 1827 and returned to Newcastle, where he practised, and was the first Lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence and Materia Medica in the Medical School.

Darwin writes (p. 38) of Hardie as one "who w>ould, I think, have made a good botanist, but died early in India." I have searched in the minute-book of the Plinian Society and in the class-records of the University but have failed to find any student of medicine named Hardie in the years 1825 to 1827. Included with Darwin in the list of members of the

[page] 112

Council of the Plinian Society elected in December 1826 is Arding, who had become a member of the Society in June 1825 and is recorded as attending its meetings until the end of July 1827, after which, as he had then graduated, he left Edinburgh. No doubt this was the man Darwin had in mind.

Willoughby Arding (1805-1879) came from Wallingford, Berks, gained the gold medal in the class of Botany in 1826 for a collection of plants, graduated M.D. in 1827, and two years later became Assistant-Surgeon on the Bombay Medical Establishment. He resigned after about ten years' service and returned to Wallingford where he practised. He died there in 1879.

Darwin attended, with Grant, meetings of the Wernerian Natural History Society and heard, among others, Audubon, who spoke at the meetings in December 1826 and January and February 1827, and he was present at one meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh where he saw Walter Scott in the Chair as President.

I suggest that if, with the information now available, Darwin's experiences in Edinburgh are reviewed, there are good grounds for the conclusion that, while he gained comparatively little from the formal lectures, he had excellent opportunities, of which he appears to have fully availed himself, of developing his early taste for natural history and collecting, and that in Edinburgh he laid the foundation of his knowledge of the science of natural history.

Hitherto little has been known of Darwin's early work in zoology except his own brief accounts of his studies in Edinburgh and of his interest while in Cambridge in the collection of beetles. His note-book and other papers, written during his residence as a student in Edinburgh, show that he collected a number of marine animals and examined them carefully, including microscopic examination of the larvae of some of them, that he dissected—although he regarded himself as deficient in this art, that he was interested in birds and in the use of "keys," and that he studied the records and literature of the animals he had collected. Though the results as recorded in his note-book during the last five and a half weeks of his residence in Edinburgh are perhaps slight, as judged by modern standards, it is clear that Darwin had acquired the methods of collecting and of identification of specimens and the faculty of careful observation and interpretation which he applied and developed with such remarkable success when the great opportunity came to him as Naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle

[Plate I]

[Two of Darwin's class-cards, reduced to about seven-eighths their actual size, and his Perpetual Ticket for the old Royal Infirmary. The originals are in the Library of the University of Edinburgh.]

[Plate II]

[Page 7 from Darwin's note-book, containing the first part of the description of the cocoons of Pontobdella muricata (see pp. 104, 105).]

[Plate III]

[Signature and date from the fly-leaf of Darwin's note-book and a portion of p. 3, dated March 28 (see p. 107). The note-book is in the possession of Mr Bernard Darwin.]

[page] 113


Christison, Robert, 1885. The Life of Sir Robert Christison, Bart. Edited by his Sons. Vol. i, Autobiography. Edinburgh and London.

Commissioners for the Universities of Scotland, 1826 and. 1830. Evidence. Vol. i, University of Edinburgh. Appendix, pp. 115-118. London, 1837.

Darwin, Charles, 1887. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, including an Autobiographical Chapter. Edited by his Son, Francis Darwin. Vol. i. London.

Dalyell, John Graham, 1853. The Powers of the Creator, vol. ii, pp. 3-9, pi. i. London.

Goodsir, John, 1868. The Anatomical Memoirs of John Goodsir. Edited by William Turner, with a Biographical Memoir by Henry Lonsdale. Vol. i. Edinburgh.

Grant, Sir Alexander, Bart., 1884. The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years. Two vols. London.

Lonsdale, Henry, 1870. A Sketch of the Life and Writings of Robert Knox, the Anatomist. London.

Newton, Alfred, 1896. A Dictionary of Birds, vol. i, Introduction, footnote, p. 60. London.

Sars, M., 1846. Fauna littoralis Norvegice. Erstes Heft, pp. 56-58. Christiania.

Wilson, George, and Geikie, Archibald, 1861. Memoir of Edward Forbes. Edinburgh.


Plate I.

Two of Darwin's class-cards, reduced to about seven-eighths their actual size, and his Perpetual Ticket for the old Royal Infirmary. The originals are in the Library of the University of Edinburgh.

Plate II.

Page 7 from Darwin's note-book, containing the first part of the description of the cocoons of Pontobdella muricata (see pp. 104, 105).

Plate III.

Signature and date from the fly-leaf of Darwin's note-book and a portion of p. 3, dated March 28 (see p. 107). The note-book is in the possession of Mr Bernard Darwin.

(Issued separately December 19, 1935.)

This document has been accessed 29483 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 30 April, 2022