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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   4 September [1850]

Down Farnborough Kent

Sept. 4th.—

My dear Fox

I was much pleased to get your very agreeable letter with all its curious facts on the female sex & their hereditariness. Undoubtedly the periodical shedding of the nails almost by itself wd have convinced any naturalist that the individual was specifically distinct. I wonder whether the queries addressed to about the specific distinctions of the races of man are a reflexion from Agassiz’s Lectures in the U.S. in which he has been maintaining the doctrine of several species,1 —much, I daresay, to the comfort of the slave-holding Southerns.— Your aphorism that “any remedy will cure any malady” contains, I do believe, profound truth,—whether applicable or not to the wondrous Water Cure I am not very sure.— The Water-Cure, however, keeps in high favour, & I go regularly on with douching &c &c:2 I am much in the same state as I have been for the last nine months, & not quite so brilliantly well as I was in the dead of last winter.3 To be as I am, though I never have my stomach right for 24 hours, is, compared to my state two years ago, of inestimable value.

My wife & all my children are well; & they, the children, are now seven in number; to what I am to bring up my four Boys, even already sorely perplexes me. My eldest boy4 is showing the hereditary principle, by a passion for collecting Lepidoptera. We are at present very full of the subject of schools; I cannot endure to think of sending my Boys to waste 7 or 8 years in making miserable Latin verses, & we have heard some good of Bruce Castle School, near Tottenham5 which is partly on the Fellenberg System,6 & is kept by a Brother of Rowland Hill of the Post-office, so that on Friday we are going to inspect it & the Boys.7 I feel that it is an awful experiment to depart from the usual course, however bad that course may be.— Have you, who have something of an omniscient tendency in you, ever heard anything of this school?—

You speak about Homœopathy; which is a subject which makes me more wrath, even than does Clair-voyance: clairvoyance so transcends belief, that one’s ordinary faculties are put out of question, but in Homœopathy common sense & common observation come into play, & both these must go to the Dogs, if the infinetesimal doses have any effect whatever. How true is a remark I saw the other day by Quetelet, in respect to evidence of curative processes, viz that no one knows in disease what is the simple result of nothing being done, as a standard with which to compare Homœopathy & all other such things.8 It is a sad flaw, I cannot but think in my beloved Dr Gully, that he believes in everything— when his daughter was very ill, he had a clair-voyant girl to report on internal changes, a mesmerist to put her to sleep—an homœopathist, viz Dr. Chapman;9 & himself as Hydropathist!10 & the girl recovered.—

My dear Fox, I do hope we shall sometime see you here again. Your affectionate friend | C. Darwin

By pure accident a bundle of Athenæums have been much delayed.


At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Charleston, South Carolina, 15 March 1850, Louis Agassiz stated that, viewed zoologically, ‘the several races of man were well marked and distinct’ and that ‘these races did not originate from a common centre, nor from a single pair’ (Lurie 1960, p. 260). See also Lurie 1954.
George Howard Darwin recounted in his reminiscences of CD (DAR 112: 20) how his father continued the water cure at home: He erected a douche which was shaped something like a very diminutive church & stood close to the well. About noon every day he used to take a douche even in the coldest weather. I remember well one bitter cold day with the snow covering everything waiting about outside until he had finished & that he came out almost blue with cold & we trotted away at a good brisk pace over the snow to the Sandwalk.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary, ‘Mr Fox’ had visited Down on 2 November 1849.
William Erasmus Darwin, nearly eleven years old.
Bruce Castle School in Tottenham was a continuation of the famous Hazelwood School, founded by Rowland Hill (originator of the penny post) and his brothers, Arthur and Matthew. Its innovative programme included student self-government and a curriculum that laid emphasis on modern languages and science, while allowing for flexibility in the development of the interests and abilities of the individual. See M. D. Hill 1825 and A. Hill 1833 for accounts of the educational philosophy of the two schools, and also Stewart and McCann 1967–8, 1: 98–123.
Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg. His theory focussed upon the development of the child but placed emphasis upon rigid discipline. He considered class distinctions to be inevitable and in consequence favoured different types of education for each class: that for the upper classes should aim at producing wise, moral leaders; that for the lower classes should stress agricultural education (Stewart and McCann 1967–8, 1: 141–6).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary, she and CD visited Bruce Castle on 6 September 1850.
CD refers to Quetelet 1849, pp. 228–36, in which Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet discussed medical statistics. Quetelet pointed out that the efficacy of a treatment for a particular condition could not be judged without comparing the resulting mortality with the mortality that followed if there was no treatment of the condition. There is no reference in CD’s reading notebook (DAR 119) that indicates he may have read Quetelet 1849; it is, however, possible that he read John Frederick William Herschel’s review of the book in the Edinburgh Review (1850) 92: 1–57, in which the views described above are quoted on pp. 54–5.
John Chapman.
For CD’s opinion of James Manby Gully’s use of homoeopathic treatments, see letter to Susan Darwin, [19 March 1849]. George Howard Darwin recalled (DAR 112: 49): Dr. Gully was a spiritualist & believer in clairvoyance. He bothered my father for some time to have a consultation with a clairvoyante, who was staying at Malvern, and was reputed to be able to see the insides of people & discover the real nature of their ailments. At last he consented to pacify Dr. Gully, but on condition that he should be allowed to test the clairvoyante’s powers for himself. Accordingly, in going to the interview he put a banknote in a sealed envelope. After being introduced to the lady he said ‘I have heard a great deal of your powers of reading concealed writings & I should like to have evidence myself: now in this envelope there is a banknote—if you will read the number I shall be happy to present it to you.’ The clairvoyante answered scornfully ‘I have a maid-servant at home who can do that.’ But she had her revenge for on proceeding to the diagnosis of my father’s illness, she gave a most appalling picture of the horrors which she saw in his inside.


Has heard that Louis Agassiz maintains the doctrine of several species of man "much I daresay to the comfort of the slave-holding southerners".

Homeopathy excites his wrath even more than clairvoyance.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (Fox 77)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1352,” accessed on 30 April 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4