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Link: • John Ellis to Carl Linnaeus, 29 May 1767 n.s.
Dated May. 29. 1767. Sent from London (Great Britain) to Uppsala (Sweden). Written in English.


Among the Zoophytes there are none so difficult to investigate as the Corallinae; for this reason, it is so hard to persuade mankind that they are any thing else but Plants, &[a][a] : MS. 1 & [added above the
of the same Nature with incrustated Confervae.

Few people have either Eyes or proper microscopes to examine them; and those who[b][b] : MS. 1 <that> who have analys’d them chemically have gone through their experiments in so careless a manner, and with so little attention, that it is no wonder bodies,[c][c] : MS. 1 <that> bodies of so fine a texture, should pass for others, so little removed from them in outward appearance.

’Tis owing to this cursory view of them, that D[octo]r Baster is so positive, that all your Corallinae are Confervae. Vide Phil[o]s[ophical] Trans[ac]t[ions]. vol. LII. p. 111.

Doctor Pallas, in his article of Corallines, Vide Pallas Zoophyt[e]s, 418,depending on Count Marsigli’s chemical analysis of them, considers them as Vegetables, but, if we observe how Pallas has confounded the calcareous crust of Corallines, with the farinaceous covering of vegetables, it will be no longer a matter of surprise for had he put the true Corallines into an acid menstruum, and the Fucus pavonius, which he calls Corallina pavonia, Vid. Pallas Zoophyt[e]s, p. 419, and the Lichen fruticolosus, &c. of Meese Flora Frisica, which he calls Corallina terrestris vid. p. 427; he would have found, that the true Corallines would ferment strongly, and the Fucus and Lichen would not be in the least affected.

It is confess’d, that the pores of Corallines are very minute, and the difficulty is very great to come at them (while alive) to see their suckers in motion at the Sea Side, and these are very plausible reasons, which he draws from D[octo]r Jussieus observations on them while on the Sea Coast, but if he compares them with animal bodies next above them in the arrangement of Nature he will soon alter his opinion.

Let him examine Specimens of his Millepora Calcarea, and Millepora Agariciformis, Pallas Zooph.[d][d] : MS. 1 Zooph. [added above the
p. 263 to 265 (which he admits to be animals), by dividing them longitudinally, and viewing them in the microscope, before that he has put them into an acid menstruum, as vinegar, &c. and at the same time let him do the same by the Corallina officinalis, and he will find the internal texture exactly the same, and agreeable in form to what he will find in Ellis Corall. plate 27. f. D. This was the appearance that fragments, of the Corallium pumilum, &c. and the Corallium Lichenoides made to me in the Microscope. And in Pl. 24. Fig. A. Ellis Cor. [e][e] : MS. 1 Ellis Cor [added above
the line
he will observe the same manner in the arrangem[en]t of the fibres leading to the Pores, both of his two Milleporae and the Corallina officinalis, after they have been in vinegar.[f][f] : MS. 1 after ... vinegar [added
above the line
In the same figure A. he will observe the matrices, like the seed vessels; some coming out of the End of the[g][g] : MS. 1 End ... the [added above
the line
branches, and 3, like papillae, adhering to the branches. These he thinks another argument to prove them Vegetables. But let him look at his specimens of Millepora Agariciformis, and he will find many of the very same seed like vessels on them. On my specimens from Cornwall, of this very same kind, I have seen many of these papillae, which proves to me that they differ only in their manner of growing, some being jointed, and others spread flat. I mean the Corallina officinalis and the Millepora Agariciformis.

Indeed I have observd that the base of the Corallina officinalis in a calcareous>[h][h] : MS. 1 calcareous [added above
the line
substance, exactly like the Millepora Agariciformis, spread upon rocks and shells, to which it adheres. I have many specimens to prove it.

So that there is no more reason why we should think them vegetables from these papillae,[i][i] : MS. 1 from ... Papillae [added
above the line
than the vesicles being on the Sertulariae (which have a great resemblance to the fructifiction of land Mosses) prove the Sertulariae to be[j][j] : MS. 1 Sertulariae ... be
[added above the line]
vegetables when all the world now knows that they are animals.

About the year 1755, at a meeting of the Premium Society, an accident happend that seemd to give demonstration to the Gentlemen then present, of the evident difference between animal and vegetable substances.

A Gentleman of Wales, who corresponded with the Society, had sent up some Specimens of the <ju>Lichen Tartareus, as a proper material to answer the[k][k] : MS. 1 the [added above the
purposes of Dying, instead of Lichen Roccella. The Society being desirous of being informd of the nature and appearance of the true Orchell, or Lichen Roccella, some Gentlemen undertook, against the next meeting, to bring some specimens, which they did, having got them from the Orchell Dyers. At the same time D[octo]r Maningham, willing to be very exact, applied to M[iste]r Miller, as understanding plants better than most people, accordingly he presented the Society with a paper, on which was wrote, by M[iste]r Miller, Orchell, and which contained a large Specimen of the Corallina nervo tenuiori fragiliorique, internodia nectente, of Sloane, Hist. Jam. Vol. I. Tab. 20 fig. 4. It being presently controverted which was the true Orchell, as M[iste]r Miller’s Specimen differd so widely from the rest in appearance, I proposd to the Society that burning of them both, one after another, in a Candle, before the gentlemen pres[en]t,[l][l] : MS. 1 gentlemen pres[en]t
[added above the line]
would convince them of their being of different kingdoms of Nature; for that the Lichen as a vegetable would smell like any common weeds burnt, and that the Coralline would give a disagreeable smell, like burnt bones, which experiment was immediately tried, to the intire satisfaction of the Society.

But to carry the proof still further by a regular Chemical process.

I lately procur’d a parcel of the Corallina Officinalis from the Sea Coast near Harwich, and have got it most exactly analysd by my Friend M[iste]r Peter Woulfe, F[ellow] R[oyal] S[ociety], a very ingenious Chemist. The process is as follows: Twelve Ounces Troy w[eigh]t were pickt perfectly clean and put into a stonecoated retort; this was set in a reverbratory furnace, and an adopter and quilled receiver luted to it.

The fire was very gentle for the first eight hours; in which time there came over half an ounce and 18 Grains of a transparent and most calourless liquor, which was set aside to be examind afterwards. The fire was then increasd; and in six hours time there was distilld two Drams and three grains of a turbid Liquor, which had some marks of oilyness on its surface. This was likewise set aside. The fire was then increas’d for six hours longer; and during the last two hours the retort was red hot all over, which ended the distillation.

In this third and last process the portion of liquor that came over was more turbid than the second, and some of it, from the redundancy of its volatile alkali, was christalliz’d. It also contain’d better than a drachm of a light empyreumatic Oil, very much resembling the smell of Hartshorn. In the recipient there was also some small cristals of a volatile alkaly. The whole of this last product weigh’d three drams and a half. The Caput mortuum was quite back, and weighd ten ounces one dram and one Scruple so that there was a loss of 4 drams and 49 grains, out of the 12 ounces of Coralline.

The first liquor that was distilld, mixt with Spirit of salt, slightly effervescid; and, mixt with syrup of Violets, turned green; both poofs of a volatile Alkaly.

The second and third portions effervesc’d strongly with Spirits of Salt; as did also the volatile salt which came over into the receiver; evident proofs of its being a concentrated Alkaly.

Had this distillation been conducted in a hurry, there would have been no concrete volatile Alkaly for then this would have been confounded and dissolv’d in the first liquor that came over.

In order to examine this Coralline still more minutely, it is propos’d to dissolve the calcarious matter of several pounds of it in an acid, and when the remaining membranaceous and fibrous part is washd clean from the acid, till the Syrup of Violets no longer turn red by being mixt with it, Then to distill it. This process would give still stronger evidence of its animal nature.

I am, D[ea]r Sir,
Most truly Yours,
John Ellis.

P.S. I have rec’d your kind favour of the 1st of Jan[uary], and am ashamd I have not answerd it. I have a great deal to write to you, but must defer it to next week.

The Horns of the Cerastes are genuine, and of the same nature with the scale at the tail, pliable like the small part of a pen.

The R[igh]t Honorable
Charles Von Linné
at Upsal


Not yet available


a. original holograph (LS, XVII, 130-131). [1] [2] [3]


1. A selection (1821), vol. 1, p. 197-202   p.197  p.198  p.199  p.200  p.201  p.202.


MS. 1 & [added above the line]
MS. 1 <that> who
MS. 1 <that> bodies
MS. 1 Zooph. [added above the line]
MS. 1 Ellis Cor [added above the line]
MS. 1 after ... vinegar [added above the line]
MS. 1 End ... the [added above the line]
MS. 1 calcareous [added above the line]
MS. 1 from ... Papillae [added above the line]
MS. 1 Sertulariae ... be [added above the line]
MS. 1 the [added above the line]
MS. 1 gentlemen pres[en]t [added above the line]