2276. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 June 1813 

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2276. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 June 1813 ⁠* 

My dear R.

You must have read in old books, & heard also the vulgar notion that a horse hair, plucked by the root, & put in water, becomes a worm. [1]  This transformation (or whatever else it be) vidi egomet  [2]  to my great astonishment. One of Lloyd’s children [3]  brought in one of his own manufacturing, & to convince us that it xx was the actual horse hair; – putting his nails upon what seemed the skin of the creature he stripped it down on both sides, & laid bare the horse hair in the middle. It must be an aggregation of life on the hair, for that remains unchanged; – but whether of numerous animalculæ, or of a new form of xxxx class of not yet described, remains to be discovered; for want of glasses I could make out nothing. There was no appearance of head or tail; – indeed the white root of the hair was visible, somewhat swoln, & its fibres assuming a stringy appearance from maceration; the hair itself was covered with a very dark brown coating, & writhed in all d like an eel, in such a manner that I cannot think the motion could possibly be given by any collection of animalculæ, but that it must have been an individual impulse. It was as thick as a xxxx middle-sized fiddle-string. – Here is a fine something for the phil naturalists to investigate – May it not lead to an explanation of the origin of our tape-worms & other such intestinal tormentors?


June 29. 1813  [4] 


* Address: [in another hand] Mr. Rickman –
Endorsement: RS/ 29 June 1813
MS: Huntington Library, RS 209
Unpublished. BACK

[1] i.e. spontaneous generation. Other similar ideas included the theory that frogs developed from mud at the bottom of ponds. BACK

[2] Latin for ‘I myself saw it’. BACK

[3] Owen Lloyd (1803–1841), third son of Charles and Sophia Lloyd, later curate of Langdale. BACK

[4] Rickman adds a series of questions on the address leaf:

1. What kind of hair was used – Main or Tail

2. In what vessel & in how much water & for what time was the hair kept to effect the conversion. – was the water changed

3. Examine the Root end – was it an head?

4. The fibres – were they ribs?

5. Repeat the Expt – but also in the mean time send the facts that we may repeat xxxxx it – also a few hairs.


Published @ RC

August 2013