RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1917. [Letter to Joseph Lister, 1878]. In J. Godlee Rickman, Lord Lister. London: Macmillan, p. 310.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 4.2022. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

Joseph Lister (1827-1912), surgeon, was hailed as "a great benefactor of the human race who laid the foundation of his fame in aseptic surgery." Sphere (17 February 1912): 1. This is the only known letter between Darwin and Lister. See the fully annotated letter in Correspondence vol. 26, p. 408.

[page] 310

"Oct. 7. 1878. DOWN.



As this note requires no answer I will not apologize for making a small suggestion to you. I believe that you are still continuing your most valuable observations on Bacteria and their allies. Now it seems to me probable (or at least worth a trial) that Benzoic acid would be a most deadly poison to them. I think so because a minute dose of a solution of 1 part of the acid to 437 of water, when absorbed by the glands of Drosera, killed the protoplasm within them in a surprising manner. The glands presented in 12 min. the same white appearance as if the whole plant had been immersed in boiling water.—This is described in my Insectivorous Plants, p. 195.

I have been told that you employ borax as a disinfectant; and if this is so and it depends on the destruction of Bacteria, it is odd that Boracic Acid was not in the least injurious to Drosera.

Pray forgive me for troubling you, if my suggestion appears to you useless; I remain with the highest respect,

Yours faithfully,


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