RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1844. On the origin of mould. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette no. 14 (6 April): 218.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 12.2006. RN3


The draft of this letter in in CUL-DAR64.2.7-9 which is dated 27 March 1844.

[page] 218


As you have noticed a communication made by me to the Geological Society in 1837, on the Formation of Mould,1 I should be much obliged if you would correct an error into which I have fallen. In a postscript to that paper I state that marl was put on a pasture field, since ploughed, 80 years ago: I should have said 30 years, as I mistook the figures in the paper sent me. I found out this on visiting the place four years and a-half subsequently, and examining the old occupier of the farm.2 Wishing to ascertain the accuracy of the stated depth at which the marl now lies buried, I had three long holes dug in different parts of the field, and in each I found the marl, together with some cinders and broken pottery, in a layer 13 inches beneath the bottom of the potato-furrows, which were about four inches beneath the general surface; so that these substances are now buried at a depth of no less than 17 inches. They will never, probably, be undermined by the worms, to any much greater depth, as they almost rest on the general substratum of pure white sand. I particularly examined the occupier, whether the field had ever been ploughed to a greater depth than six or eight inches, and he positively assured me that it never had. My original informant, therefore, rather underrated the depth at which the marl now lies; although probably in the interval of four and a-half years, between our observations, some soil may have been removed by the worms from beneath the marl. In the other fields, formerly examined, I found that the layers of lime and cinders were, in almost every case, about an inch lower than they previously were. It was curious to observe in some of the holes how distinct three layers were preserved; the uppermost of cinders being two inches beneath the surface (on the former occasion one inch below), the middle layer of lime at four inches, and the lowest of cinders and burnt marl, at from 10 to 12 inches. I found this lowest layer wherever I dug, and likewise the other layers, but less regular, owing to different parts of the field having been limed and cindered at different periods. When digging in this field, after a long drought, I noticed, that one single clod of earth, about as large as a man's two hands, was penetrated by eight upright, cylindrical worm-holes, nearly as large as swan-quills, so that I could see through them. Now this shows the quantity of earth in a small space, which is often probably removed by the worms and brought to the surface. The boggy field mentioned in the postscript to my Paper, on which two years and a half before a thick layer of bright red sand had been strewed, and which, I was informed, was then buried three-fourths of an inch beneath the surface, I found four years and a half subsequently (i. e. seven years from the sand being put on) was exactly two inches beneath the surface. In that field (also rather boggy) which I have described in my Paper, as first reclaimed 15 years before, the burnt marl was buried at a depth of four inches; so that in these two cases the rate of sinking, or more properly of being undermined, has been nearly the same, namely, about two inches in seven years. In the fields, however, more particularly alluded to in this notice, in which the marl that was put on thirty-four years and a half before, then lay seventeen inches beneath the surface, the rate of being undermined has been much quicker, namely, three inches and four-tenths of an inch every seven years. This field is dry, and consists of black, poor, very light sandy soil. It has also been ploughed, which may make some difference; though it is clear, from the uniformity of the layer, that the marl must have sunk beneath the depth at which the plough could disturb it before the pasture had been broken up. I am surprised at the red sand on the most boggy field having been buried as much as two inches in the seven years, for I never saw a field on which there were so few worm-castings. One cannot, however, judge of the number of worms in a field from inspection at any one season.—Charles Darwin, Down, Kent.

1 Darwin 1838 noticed in Gardeners' Chronicle no. 11 (16 March 1844): 169.

2 William Dabbs. Darwin's source was a letter from Elizabeth Wedgwood, 10 November [1837], Correspondence vol. 2, pp. 55-6.

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