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Link: • John Ellis to Carl Linnaeus, 15 January 1768 n.s.
Dated Jan: 15 1768. Sent from London (Great Britain) to Uppsala (Sweden). Written in English.

Dear Sir,

I have rec’d with great pleasure your kind Letters of the 8th and 18th of December, with one inclos’d for D[octo]r Garden, which I shall send him immediately. We have had a most severe frost for 3 weeks past, which has interrupted the Navigation of our River; but now the weather is warm, and Farenheits thermometer in the open air at 50.

In your letter of the 8th December, you seem to misapprehend the meaning of the letter which I wrote to you the 30th October. I find, on looking over the Copy which I have of it, it runs thus, or much to this purpose: – “I have just now rec’d from our Friend Peter Collinson a Lycoperdon Bovista, 9 Inches diameter, perfectly ripe for Experim[ent]s on this subject. I have put part of it into river or soft water, and find in 24 hours the same kind of Animalia infusoria moving all the seeds about as if they were alive. I shall follow your directions, and keep this infusion for 14 days, and observe exactly the result of the experiment; but I cannot think that these seeds of the Lycoperdon ought to produce any thing else but Lycoperdons. I am well persuaded that these animalia infusoria, when they die, afford a proper nutriment for the several species of Mucores, as much as the dung of animals or any other animal substance, such as cheese in a putrescent state, provided they are kept in a warm close place, or where the air is stagnant, moist, and warm. Further, that upon putting small animals between muscovy talcs in Sliders for the microscope, I have observd that in some time a Mucor will proceed from them.”

Thus far I thought it necessary to quote from my former Letter of 30th Oct[ober], as my real opinion.

I have kept a regular Journal of my observations in making my experiments on the seeds of the Fungi, which I have shewn often to D[octo]r Solander, to prevent any mistake and do assure you I have convinc’d him that they do[a][a] : MS. 1 do [added above the
not move of themselves when kept in Water but that it appeard evidently to him, and many more Gentlemen who saw my Experiments, that the motion which they had, proceeded from Animalia infusoria, whose shape we plainly saw, and observd distinctly the particular motion, with some attention, which these little Creatures had while they were eating the Seeds of the Fungi, and which they communicated to the seeds of the Fungi, so as to make them appear alive.

The Lumbricus, which I cut into several pieces that became distinct animals, I believe is mentiond by Trembley; for it was he that taught our people to feed the common fresh-water Hydra with them.

I shall send you by the first opportunity a magnified drawing of it. If Roesel has drawn a figure of it, he has made a mistake in the appearance of the head, which, if I remember right, he has made like a snake, which is not so. There is a waved gut runs through the whole, with several divisions, one at every joint; and for about 2/3 of the whole, from the head, are 2 bristles on each side of each joint, which it can draw in or extend.

The animal which I send you in Spirits I have called Actinia socialis. I believe it is quite different from your Priapus humanus. If you dissect it lengthways, with a fine Lancet, you will find the Structure very different from the common Actinia: besides, you do not mention that it propagates itself from radical Tubes, which adhere to marine substance, like the Sertulariae, many of the same animals arising near one another out of the same common adhering wrinkled Tube.

It is look’d upon here, by D[octo]r Solander and many of our curious people, as the rarest Sea animal that has been lately discoverd. It is found in our Southern american Islands. I have laid an acc[oun]t of it before our Royal Society, which will be publish’d, with a print of it in our next volume of the Ph[ilosophica]l Transactions.

What I mean by your making the Gorgonias Vegetables is, in your description you call a Gorgonia, “Planta radicata more fuci excrescit in caulem ramosum, cortice indutum, deponente librum, indurandum in lignum secundum annotinos annulos concentricos, intra quos Medulla animata, quae prodit in animalcula florida.” No man that reads this but will conclude that they are at least half Vegetable and half animal: but I am sure there is no communication between the Medulla and the Flores, as in Vegetables; and as to the concentric rings, they are not produced after the same manner with those of the wood in trees, there being no visible communication between them. I have lately carefully examind several, that were taken out of the sea, and put into Spirits. Besides, how is the calcarious crust or cortex (for it is the same) to be accounted for, that is so often found between these circles? D[octo]r Pallas’s description is wrote with great art; but Natural Historians and Lawyers are very different people. I hope to shew my objections in a memoir very soon for which purpose I have some plates engraving, to explain this abstruse point more clearly to our senses. Artful people may puzzle the Vulgar, and tell us, that the more hairy a man is, and the longer his nails grow, he is more of a vegetable than a man who[b][b] : MS. 1 who [added above the
shaves his hair or cuts his Nails; that Frogs bud like trees, when they are Tadpoles; and Caterpillars blossom into butterflies. These are pretty Rhapsodies for a Bonnett. Though there are[c][c] : MS. 1 are [added above the
different manners of growth in the different parts of the same animal, which the world has long been acquainted with, why should we endeavour to confound the ideas of vegetable and animal substances, in the minds of people that we would willingly instruct in these matters?

I have shewd your Letters to Solander, and have made him promise to write to his Mother. I have many things more to write, but must defer them.

I heartily wish you many happy years; and am,

Most truly, your affectionate friend, & obligd humble Serv[an]t,
John Ellis.

I have got some seeds of the Ellisia for you. I hope to have some Curious new Seeds from the Musquito Shore, on the Spanish Main. They are lately arrivd at my friend the Earl of Hillsborough’s, who is now made our third Secretary of State for America, Africa and the East Indies.


Not yet available


a. original holograph (LS, XVII, 143-144). [1] [2] [3]


1. A selection (1821), vol. 1, p. 222-226   p.222  p.223  p.224  p.225  p.226.


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MS. 1 who [added above the line]
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