Richard Waller wrote Letter L-215 to Leeuwenhoek about his recent observations and the structure of grass

February 12, 1692

Text of the letter in Alle de Brieven / The Collected Letters at the DBNL - De Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren.

The original letter and drawing have been lost. Waller wrote it in Dutch. All of the other letters he wrote to Leeuwenhoek were in English.

The date is New Style, which was ten days ahead of the Old Style date of 2 February used by Waller in London. With this letter, Waller begins the exchange of letters with L. that would span more than twenty years. L. published the present letter from Waller in Derde vervolg der brieven (Third continuation of the letters) and Arcana naturae detecta (Secrets of nature revealed). He left it unnumbered and undated, had it translated into Dutch and Latin, and placed the unattributed translations between what is now Letter 119 [71] L-216 of 7 March 1692, Collected Letters, vol. 8, and Letter 120 [72] L-217 of 22 April 1692, idem, vol. 9, which was his response to Waller. It is also unnumbered in Collected Letters.

At the end of Letter 119 [71] L-216, after his name, L. added:

The missive from His Honour the secretary written to me
I have received after completing the present.
I will shortly reply to it.

Collected Letters, vol. 8, p. 333, says that the manuscript is lost and dates Waller’s letter 2 February 1692 because L. began his response in Letter 120 [72] L-217, “In Your Honor’s agreeable letter of 2 February 1691/2 S.V.” Thus, the English translation in Collected Letters must have been made from the 1692 Dutch translation of Waller’s letter.

However, Waller’s manuscript is not lost. It is among the Royal Society’s Early Letters, where it is noted as having no date. Comparing it to the English translation of the 1692 Dutch translation shows multiple differences as well as several mistranslations. The footnotes to the transcript of Waller’s manuscript below are formatted as follows: Waller’s phrase from his manuscript is followed by the Dutch translation in Derde vervolg der brieven, followed by the English re-translation in Collected Letters, vol. 8.

The letter discussed letters received from Leeuwenhoek about the presence of air in the blood, the opening of the chyle-vessels into the intestine, and the occurrence of stones in the bladder. Waller described the structure of a grass-spikelet and enclosed a drawing he made (right; click to enlarge).


Worthy Sir

            Yours of the 27 of Nov. and of the 1st of this month[1] we rec’d and produced them in a meeting of the Royal Society where to the satisfaction of all the members present they were read and thanks ordered to be returned you for your kind communications wishing you all the success you can desire yourself and encouraging you to proceed in discoveries of this nature, since none are so well furnished with an apparatus or have made better use thereof in microscopical observations than yourself. They were much pleased with your discoveries and what you write of the circulation of the blood, though some questioned whether if air were mixed with the blood it were possible to observe it since the microscope shows no air bubbles in water yet upon exhaustion in the air pump it affords plenty of air bubbling and boiling out of it, so that the air may be so intimately and in minimie intermixed with the blood[2] as to escape the view even by your excellent microscopes.

            As to what you write of the smallness of the lacteals at their insertion into the gut and that the chyle rather transudes the membranes than has any open meakes[3] it is probable that usually and naturally the passage is indeed very small, yet there are instances of some that upon drinking chalybeate waters[4] have voided caraway seeds[5] by urine which they eat with their waters and how that can be except there be at sometimes at least a large passage out of the intestines is hard to be answered.

            Your observations on the chalk stone of gouty persons are curious, useful and instructive and what you say of the male children of poor people being more subject to the stone has not that I know or can hear of been taken notice of here, drinking large quantities of small drink[6] may be a good preventative against the painful disease[7].

            We desire the continuation of your researches and that we may partake of your labours[8] My self have the last summer made some observations on the husks, beards and flowery attire of several grasses and corns[9] and find though they differ all from each other in the size and figures of their parts yet they agree in the number of several of those parts, no grass that I have yet seen having more or fewer than two of those featherlike spriggs growing out of the top of each seed which dry away and at last disappear as the seed increases[10]. Nor have any of them had more or less than three of those pendulous apices[11] which proceed and hang by long silver threads from the basis[12] of the seed, most if not all of these apices are bifurcated[13] at each end, and are fastened by the midst to the silver string. These apices are some yellow and whitish and some few purple. Some of them are specked like the leaves of martagen flowers[14]. All the beards[15] of those grasses that have any are beset[16] round with prickles like the sweet bryar[17].

            What the use of these parts are I cannot yet satisfy my self but their necessity is evident from their constant concomitancy of every seed[18]. I have sent you the fig. of all these parts magnified as I found them in a sort[19] of oat grass that you may the better understand what I have written where A represents the stalk BB the two outward husks[20] or chaff, C an inward husk or gluma[21] D the beard[22] armed with prickles. E the two feathers [small plumes] on the top of the seed. f the young seed and ggg the three apices or bifurcated heads [three apices (tops, cavities) or split heads] hanging at the end of silver threads or stamina[23].

            I conclude with wishing you all happiness and that I may be the hand to convey your curious discoveries[24] to the Royal Society my chief ambition being to serve the learned world and amongst the rest yourself who am etc.[25]


[1] “this month” in the manuscript translated into Dutch as passato, re-translated into English as “last month”. Waller refers to Letter 118 [70] L-214 of 1 February 1692 and Letter 119 [71] L-216 of 7 March 1692, both in Collected Letters, vol. 8.

[2] “so that the air may be so intimately and in minimie intermixed with the blood” translated as soo dat de lugt op soo innerlijk een wyse, ende met sulke alderkleinste deeltgens met het bloet kan gemengt wesen, translated as “so that the air may be mixed with the blood in such an intrinsic way, and in such extremely minute particles”.

[3] “As to what you write of the smallness of the lacteals at their insertion into the gut and that the chyle rather transudes the membranes than has any open meakes” translated as Aangaande het geen UE. segt van de dunnigheyt der kleynedarmen daerse met de andere darmen gevoegt zijn, en dat het Chyl de vliesjes eerder als sweevende door dringt, dan dat het eenige opene passagie heef, translated as “With respect to what Your Honour says about the thinness of the small intestines, where they are joined to the other intestines, and that the Chyle penetrates the pellicles as it were floatingly, rather than having any open passage”. Waller’s use of “transudes” to mean the gradual passage of a fluid through the pores in a membrane is now considered archaic.

[4] “chalybeate waters” translated as gestaelde-wateren, translated as “steeled waters”.

[5] “caraway seeds” translated as kervel-saetjes, translated as “chervil seeds”.

[6] “small drink” translated as dun bier, translated as “small beer”. Waller’s use of “small” to mean “weak” is now considered archaic.

[7] “disease” translated as quaat, translated as “evil”.

[8] Here inserted Om iets ook aen UE. te communiceeren, schoon het UE. kennisse, kwalik weerdig is:, translated as “In order also to communicate something to Your Honour, although it is hardly worthy of Your Honour’s knowledge:”. Throughout the letter, Waller’s familiar “you” is translated as the formal UE., translated as “Your Honour”.

[9] “husks, beards and flowery attire of several grasses and corns” translated as de basten, airen en bloemagtige cieraat van verscheyde soorten van Koorn en Gras, translated as “rinds, ears and flowery ornament of several species of Corn and Gras”.

[10] “as the seed increases” translated as als het saet toe neemt [en groot wort], translated as “as the seed increases [and gets big].”

[11] “pendulous apices” translated as hangende Toppen [of kamertjes], translated as “hanging Tops (or cavities)”. “Apice” is the plural of “apex”.

[12] “the basis” translated as de basis [of onderste], translated as “the base [or bottom]”.

[13] “bifurcated” translated as in twee gesplits, translated as “split in two”.

[14] “specked like the leaves of martagen flowers” translated as met een duystere coleure gesprenckeld, translated as “sprinkled with a dark color”. Known since 1568, the martagen lily (also called Turk’s cap) is native to Europe and Asia.

[15] “the beards”, translated as de baerden, translated as “awns”.

[16] Waller’s use of “beset” to mean “covered or studded with” is now considered archaic.

[17] “sweet bryar” translated as Elgnatier, translated as Eglantine.

[18] “from their constant concomitancy of every seed” translated as terwijlse gedueriglik elk zaetje vergeselschappen, translated as “since they invariably accompany every little seed”.

[19] “a sort of oat grass” translated as een soorte van havergras, translated as “a species of oat-grass”.

[20] “husks” translated as basten of kaff, translated as “rinds or chaff”

[21] “an inward husk or gluma” translated as een inwendige bast, translated as “internal rind”.

[22] “the beard” translated as den baerd [of ayre], translated as “the awn (or ear)”.

[23] “or stamina” not translated.

[24] “curious” translated as curieuse, translated as “remarkable”.

[25] The manuscript ends here. However, when the clean copy was made to send to L., Waller could have added this salutation, which appears in the Dutch and English translations: UE. Onderdanigen Dienaar Richard Waller. Secretaris van de Koninglijke Societeyt. sic sub., translated as “Your Honour’s humble Servant Richard Waller. Secretary of the Royal Society. sic sub.”