Vegetable Mould and Worms

An introduction by R. B. Freeman

WormsThis last book is outside the main stream of Darwin's work, and reverts to his earlier geological interests. He had indeed published papers on mould in 1838 and in 1840 (Nos 1648 & 1655). The original 'large flat stone' known as the 'worm-stone' was used by Darwin to measure the movement of soil due to earthworms. The stone now at Down House was reconstructed by Horace Darwin's Cambridge Instrument Company. The book was remarkably successful, selling 6,000 copies within a year, and 13,000 before the end of the century. To begin with it sold far faster than The origin of species had.

The first edition went to press on May 1, 1881, and was published on October 10. The issue was said to have been of 2,000 copies, but this cannot be entirely correct because copies of the second thousand have this printed on the title page. However these two are otherwise identical. The binding was standard with the word 'Earthworms' in the spine title, although this does not occur on the title page. The price was 9s. The third, fourth and fifth thousands were printed before the end of 1881, and each states its thousand on its title page. The third has a two item errata slip inserted before page [i], but the second erratum is itself wrong, attempting to correct 1° 49' to 2° 45', whereas the text reads 2° 4'. 1° 49' is however the figure given in the first two issues. In the fourth thousand these two errata have been corrected; in the fifth there are textual changes which do not affect the collation.

Darwin comments that he corrected the sixth thousand of 1882, but the seventh, of which some copies are dated 1882 and others 1883, has a footnote at the end of the introduction, signed F[rancis] D[arwin], which refers, in four lines, to some work of P. E. Müller's which his father had been told about but had not seen. In the eleventh thousand, of 1888, this note is enlarged to nine lines by a reference to a further paper of Müller's which was published in 1884. In this issue Francis Darwin's initials are omitted, but the date of the first edition, October 10, 1881, is added. A collection of texts, although the changes are small, seems to call for first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eleventh thousands. Later printings were from stereos of 1888 until 1904 when the text was reset and the figures transferred to plates.

The work appeared in America in 1882, some copies being in the U.S.A. form of the International Scientific Series, although no work wholly by Darwin was published in the English series put out by King and later by Kegan Paul. After a long gap, since an American printing of 1915, an important edition, with an introduction by Sir Albert Howard, appeared in 1945 and has been reprinted three times since. A Brussels facsimile of the second thousand appeared in 1969. Translations into French, German, Italian and Russian appeared before the end of 1882, but Armenian in 1896 seems to have been the only language added since.

Click here for a full bibliographical list. See an introduction by Gordon Chancellor.

1881.The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, with observations on their habits. Text Image PDF F1357

1881. The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms. 5th thousand. Text Image F1361

1882. The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms. 6th thousand (corrected). Text Image PDF F1362

1882. The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms. New York: Appleton. Image PDF F1363

1882. The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms. 7th thousand. Corrected by Francis Darwin. Text Image PDF F1364

1945. Darwin on humus and the earthworm. Introduction by Sir Albert Howard. F1394 PDF


1882. Role des vers de terre dans la formation de la terre végétale. Image PDF F1403


1882. Die Bildung der Ackererde durch die Thätigkeit der Würmer. Translated by J. V. Carus. Image PDF F1404



From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d ed. 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, 31 Baalbec Road, London N5 1QN.

Corrections and additions copyright John van Wyhe, The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online - National University of Singapore.


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