skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project


From W. D. Fox   23 January 1833

Ryde, Isle of Wight.

January 23. 1833.

My dear Darwin

As I remember promising that I would write to you again as Winter came on, I sit down to redeem it, fearing that you would almost rather I did not take the trouble, as I have nothing in the world to say that will interest you of any one excepting myself, and self is rather a dull subject to either write a letter upon, or receive one.— I had hoped to have heard a few lines from you in the last 5 months but I can easily imagine your time so taken up that your necessary letters home are quite sufficient for you, and perhaps in your case I should be as bad a correspondent. I have tried to instigate Julia for some weeks to write to your Sisters in order that I might hear what they knew of you, but hitherto without success, & if I do not soon have better luck, I feel half inclined to do it myself; Erasmus would not I conclude answer my letter if I wrote to him, nor do I know his direction.— I have seen so many vessels on the point of setting out to South America from Portsmouth & waiting for winds at the Mother Bank1 that my erratic propensities have been often quite painfully excited and I have dreamt by the night that I was as busy as could be collecting with you, all around new, beautiful & strange. My destiny however is I fear quite fixed to the Continent at least, not to say (as perhaps may be much nearer the truth,) the country I was born in, and of tropical regions I must be content to hear from Humboldt & Darwin.— I hope your companion will be sufficiently great even for your enlarged ideas. But if I go on at this rate, I shall fill my paper without even telling you of myself, of whom I half flatter myself you will wish to hear, as I was in a very poor way when I last wrote to you. Since then I have become much stronger & better able to bear exertion, tho’ I have had many attacks some of a more serious & others slight nature, and I still continue a good deal of an Invalid, and fear I shall do for some time to come. I did dread the Winter very much indeed but by great precautions & with the very mild climate of Ryde, I hope now to get it over pretty well, and then I trust that next Spring & Summer may do a great deal to take away the remaining affection of my Lungs. I often have great doubts whether I shall ever again be able to exert them for any continued length of time, as at present a few minutes quite oversets me without resting them. I must however hope for the best, at present I have very great cause for thankfulness that I am as I am.— I remain here with my two younger sisters & little Anna Maria, (who will have it that she has quite forgot you) for the Winter and most probably the Spring, when my health will determine what then becomes of me. You will be glad to hear that all at Osmaston are quite well, My Father and Mother only left here two days ago.— I was much pleased a few weeks since by finding out in this town, a splendid Case of Insects from Rio de Janeiro, furnished by a Mr. Bescke Naturalist living on the Praca da Constituicao there—a Gentleman whom I daresay you visitted. What magnificent Lepidoptera there are there; There were several kinds of Mantis I never before saw & one of those Libellulæ which have such disproportioned long bodies. I fancied you in the height of Entomological Happiness & longed to be with you.

I have much enjoyed seeing our Navy constantly going & coming on account of this Dutch Blockade, and among all sizes have often fancied your little Beagle. You will have seen in the Papers, that we have had a French & English Fleet lying together at Spithead, & since cruizing together & now lying in Downs. I rejoiced much at it & hope the National antipathies may be done away, but I have been much amused by the annoyance it has given many of the Officers in our Ships— In several I visitted they could scarcely find names sufficiently bad for the French Officers, & the older the Officers the more bitter their hatred. I went over the finest French Ship & was much pleased with her & her Officers & Crew, all picked for the purpose of showing Englishmen what Nick Frog can do in his Navy.— Erasmus Galtons Ship came here some months since & has just been paid off. He really is a very good specimen of a Midshipman & I am sure you would be much pleased with him. The whole Family came here & stayed some weeks while the ship was refitting for Holland. I wish much I could enter into your Geological Researches as well as your Ornithol: (which by the by you say nothing of, at which I marvel) Entomolo: and other Nat: Histy: Pursuits. I can easily imagine that the Spiders & adjoining tribes must be magnificent from the few I have seen. I have often thought that some parts of S. America would make a delightful Residence, & if one could get a few of ones most valued Friends to group together, I really think I could easily prevail upon myself to leave Good Old England, for a more sunny Clime. The Spartiate 74 is now lying in my sight just on point of coming to you with a New Admiral— I wish I could get to know some of the Officers that I might enquire when exactly they are going as it would be a great gratification to send you a word of mouth message.— There is something so freezing in sending stupid letters such a distance, & you scarcely having time to read them.— Our old Cambridge days often come over the mind like a dream.— They are hours gone by never to return I fear. I have been very busy here lately with the Pselaphidæ and Scydænidæ—I fancy your smile of contempt. I cannot help thinking that in other countries, larger genera allied to these will be found—perhaps it will be your lot, the S.A: is not the most likely place where you are at present.— I want much to know where you are likely to go after you leave S.A:— I fear I cannot again write to you, but that is of little consequence, you can sometimes send me a few lines, & I really hope you will. Mind I do not want more than 10 lines just to say how you are, where you are, & where going. You cannot think what pleasure a few lines of this kind would give me.— We all like Ryde very much—there are many pleasant sensible people here, & the climate of the Island is delightful. I had hoped to have found many Insects that I knew were taken here, but have not been able to look after them much. The Gulls have been a great source of amusement to me. I thought when I came I could tell them pretty well, & was rather mortified to find out my ignorance of them. I set to studying them (for really I worked hard) and with what dead specimens I could meet with, & 5 live tame ones I have picked up at different times, I have now made out all that come here, with their several changes of plumage from nest to 5 years old. I could not have done this without your old Friend Fleming.2 It is a great pity he was so run away with by his fondness for new names, as he is decidedly the best Naturalist generally of any who publish.— I can make out Fish Mollusca and Birds by him when I cannot by any other book I possess guess at them. Since you went there is a very respectable Entomological Magazine set up, published every 2 months, and Rennie has just commenced “A Field Naturalists Mag”. monthly at 1/.3 & others are talked of. I forget whether Hewitson4 had commenced his eggs before you left but I think he had. They are beautifully executed now, & sale of work encreases rapidly. I was amused with your seal of Cupid trimming the Sails of a vessel. If any love trimmed the sails of your Vessel to encircle the world, it must have been the love of Beetles, spiders, or Rocks.— If you continue (as you purpose doing you say) in the Beagle during her whole voyage, your opportunities as a Geologist will be very great indeed. Is there not some danger of your becoming like Waterton, so much attached to Wandering, that the itch will again become irresistable when you have been home for a year or two. I wish I knew whether there are any Books or things of any kind I could send you; do remember that any thing I can do for you in any way, will give me very great pleasure indeed. I think it very likely I shall be here till middle of Summer & here I am on spot for doing any thing— At all events I now know plenty here that will superintend any thing for me when I am away.— I have now set up here a Pony, a terrier, 5 gulls of various kinds, Julia a Cockatoo I bought her—& A M a Cat, so that our house begins to look very sociable. When I last heard of your Father—he was in excellent health & all your Family well & in good spirits, but you have probably heard from them. I must now conclude this long, rambling, nonsensical letter— I fear you will think among my other Ailments, I am somewhat Insane.— & now my Dear Darwin Believe one with the most grateful & pleasing recollections of former days at Cambridge & elsewhere, & ardent hopes for future long histories of men with tails & single eyes Ever your affectionate Friend | William Darwin Fox.


Roadstead between Spithead and Isle of Wight.
Probably Fleming 1828. An annotated copy is in Darwin Library–CUL.
The Field Naturalist (London, 1833–5).
William Chapman Hewitson. The first part of his British oology was published in 1831.


His health has improved but he continues "a good deal of an invalid" and is uncertain what the future holds for him.

His interest in entomology and ornithology continues; he has been studying the gulls on the Isle of Wight.

Letter details

Letter no.
Fox, W. D.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 204.7
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 197,” accessed on 26 July 2016,