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brought to light in the region of mental science." These truths are specified as the influence of natural selection in the formation of instinct, in the "Origin of Species;" the evolution of mind and of morals, in the "Descent of Man," considered by the late Professor Clifford as containing the simplest and clearest and most profound philosophy that was ever written on the subject; and the evolution of expression in the book described in this chapter. Thus, says Mr. Romanes, in respect both of instincts and intelligence, the science of comparative psychology may be said to owe its foundation to Darwin.
'G. J. Romanes, in "Charles Darwin," memorial notices reprinted from Nature.
N 1875 appeared another great work from the master's pen, "Insectivorous Plants," which was destined to place in a yet more striking light the many-sidedness and fertility of his mind. As usual Darwin tells us that this work dated from many years back. "During the summer of 1860," he says, "I was surprised by finding how large a number of insects were caught by the leaves of the common sun-dew (Drosera rotundifolia) on a heath in Sussex. I had heard that insects were thus caught, but knew nothing further on the subject. I gathered by chance a dozen plants, bearing fifty-six fully expanded leaves, and on thirty-one of these dead insects or remnants of them adhered." Here was the germ of something, the discoverer scarcely knew what. It was evident to him that the little sun-dew was excellently adapted for catching insects, and that the number of them thus slaughtered annually must be enormous. What bearing might this have upon the problem of the struggle for existence?
A masterly series of experiments was forthwith set on foot, with the result of proving that sun-dews and a number of other plants obtain the bulk of their nourish
ment by catching, killing, and digesting insects. They may be called truly carnivorous plants. What an unexpected reversal this was of the order of things hitherto believed to prevail universally. Animals live on other animals or on plants. Here were plants living on animals, and keeping down their number. Moreover, without a nervous system, the action of the parts of a sun-dew leaf was proved to be as apparently purposive as the combined action of the limbs of an animal. Without a stomach, the sun-dew poured forth a digestive fluid as effective in extracting and fitting the nutritious matter of the insect for its own purposes as that of an animal. Without sensory nerve-endings, there was a percipient power in the sun-dew which recognised instinctively and at once the non-nutritious nature of various objects, and which responded to the most delicate chemical stimuli and to the minutest weights.
We cannot describe the little sun-dew better than in Darwin's own words: "It bears from two or three to five or six leaves, generally extended more or less horizontally, but sometimes standing vertically upwards. The leaves are commonly a little broader than long. The whole upper surface is covered with gland-bearing filaments, or tentacles as I shall call them from their manner of acting. The glands were counted on thirty-one leaves, but many of these were of unusually large size, and the average number was 192; the greatest number being 260, and the least 130. The glands are each surrounded by large drops of extremely viscid secretion, which, glittering in the sun, have given rise to the plant's poetical name of the sun-dew."
This secretion, when excited by nutritious matter, becomes distinctly acid, and contains a digestive ferment allied to the pepsin of the human stomach. So excited, it is found capable of dissolving boiled white of egg, muscle, fibrin, cartilage, gelatine, curd of milk, and many other substances. Further, various substances that animal gastric juice is unable to digest are not acted upon by the secretion of the sun-dew. These include all horny matter, starch, fat, and oil. It is not however prejudiced in favour of animal matter. The sun-dew can absorb nutriment from living seeds of plants, injuring or killing them, of course, in the process, while pollen and fresh green leaves yield to its influence.
The action of salts of ammonia and other chemicals was even more wonderful. "It is an astonishing fact that so inconceivably minute a quantity as the one twentymillionth of a grain of phosphate of ammonia should induce some change in a gland of Drosera sufficient to cause a motor impulse to be sent down the whole length of the tentacle; this impulse exciting movement often through an angle of above 180°. I know not whether to be most astonished at this fact, or that the pressure of a minute bit of hair, weighing only 7800 of a grain, and largely supported by the dense secretion, should quickly cause conspicuous movement."
These are but specimens of a multitude of profoundly interesting facts brought out in this exhaustive investigation. If this single research were his only title to fame Darwin's name must rank high as an experimenter of rare ingenuity and success. But he concludes his summary of results by the utterly modest remark, "We see how
little has been made out in comparison with what remains unexplained and unknown."
The facts relating to Venus' fly-trap (Dionæa muscipula) and other members of the order to which the sun-dew belongs were better known, but Darwin elicited new truths by his ingenious and varied experiments. The rapidity with which the two lobes of the leaf of dionaa close together when anything touches the tiny spikes which stand up vertically from the upper surface of the lobes, is astonishing, and any insect which causes the closure is almost certain to be caught. Digestion is accomplished in the case of the dionæa by a separate agency, consisting of a large number of minute reddish glands covering the surface of the lobes. These secrete a digestive fluid when stimulated by the contact of any nitrogenous matter, and of course this takes place when any insect is caught. In fact, essentially the same process of digestion and absorption takes place as in the sun-dew. The insect is held firmly for days, until its juices have been absorbed, and then the leaf slowly reopens, not being able to close again for many subsequent days.
It is interesting to note the extreme caution with which the great naturalist speculates upon the mode by which the varied members of the sun-dew order became modified from an ordinary plant-form to such a remarkable degree. The details are too special for quotation here. He suggests, but he does not in the slightest degree dogmatise. For many years to come Darwin's suggestions and comments must be the pregnant soil out of which fruitful research will spring, and his caution will remain