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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. M. Lane Fox to E. F. Lubbock   25 July [1875]1

Uplands | Guildford

July 25th.

Dear Lady Lubbock

I trust I have been trained to take sufficient interest in all scientific investigations, not to think any question impertinent or unwarrantable the answer to which can in any way further that object. Indeed I felt very much inclined to write to Mr. Darwin of my own accord when reading his interesting book on the Descent of Man when it first appeared on the subject.2 I am sorry however to say the Surgeon who performed the operation on my eldest son (Dr Trench Staff surgeon at Malta) has been dead several years but I will try as far as I can to make up for the more accurate & technical details he no doubt cd. have given.3 The extra digit or thumb was amputated by congelation in March /56 when my son was 4 months old. The excrescence was simply cartilage growing a little above the joint with a perfect nail as in the drawing I enclose which my son has just made of his hand as it was & is now with the regrowth which is entirely covered with nail quite loose from the bone—4 I don’t know whether Mr. Darwin heard that the inheritance was from my grandfather— J. T. late Ld. Stanley of Alderley who died at 84 in 18505   his had been amputated I believe when he was about 4 years old & the regrowth was much larger & more clumsy than that on my son’s hand— no other instances in the family are known but there was a curious legend in the family of a miller who was to be born with 3 thumbs who wd. hold a king’s horse up to his knees in blood. My grandfather had a mill & 3 thumbs there the similitude ends!—

I don’t know whether Sir John has been favoured with an account of Col. Fox & Cos. latest exploits at Cissbury or whether he was able to assist at the discovery of the skeleton of which I was informed by the Sergeant who had to go & unearth him—with an order that he was to go & command a Brigade at Wimbledon yesterday.6 He had to leave his interesting investigations & went up to London where he by some means of which I am ignorant found himself relieved from the duty & rushed back to his skeleton far more congenial to his tastes.

Will you kindly forward my letter & sketch to Mr. Darwin & tell him I shall be most happy to answer any other questions in my power, tho’ I think I have given all the particulars I can

With kind regards to Sir John | believe me | Yrs very truly | Alice Lane Fox

CD annotations

1.5 I am sorry] after opening square bracket blue crayon
1.5 however] del blue crayon
1.7 but I … given. 1.8] crossed ink
1.8 amputated by] del ink; ‘cut off by a pair of scissors after’ interl ink
1.9 in March] after interl ink ‘to stop pain’
1.11 I enclose which] del pencil
1.11 of his hand] after interl pencil ‘a drawing’
1.11 it was] ‘was’ del and underl pencil
1.11 & is] del pencil
1.11 with the regrowth 1.12] after interl pencil ‘is’
1.12 I don’t … heard that 1.13] del pencil ‘The bone beneath does not seem more prominent than on the corresponding place on the other hand. I cannot say positively that the thumb left after the amputation was less prominent than now’ added ink
1.13 the inheritance] ‘T’ over ‘t’ of ‘the’ pencil
1.14 J.T. … Alderley] del pencil
1.14 had been amputated] after interl pencil ‘extra digit’
1.16 hand—] closing square bracket over dash, pencil
1.16 instances … with 3 thumbs 1.19] ‘It seems to me curious that [‘in’ del pencil] Mr. [‘Cha’ del pencil] this case & Mr Chambers,7 the extra digit was said to be [‘grow’ del pencil] regrown in the progenitor then in the child.’ interl pencil
Top of letter: ‘2 or 3 y ago’ [above pencil] I heard [*‘2 or 3 years ago’ interl and del pencil] [‘of the following case’ del pencil] from the Honble Mrs.— (wife of a well known & very clever m) of the following case of inheritance and regrowth, & have just received from her the following particulars’pencil


The year is established by the reference to the excavation of human remains at Cissbury (see n. 6, below).
CD briefly mentioned polydactylism in humans in Descent 1: 125–6 n. 38. He had discussed inherited polydactylism and the regrowth of amputated digits in Variation 2: 14–15; however, he removed all mention of the regrowth of amputated fingers from Variation 2d ed. (see letter to Annie Dowie, 27 July 1875 and nn. 3 and 6).
John Power Trench, a staff surgeon based in Malta in 1856, died in 1859. Lane Fox’s eldest son was Alexander Edward Lane Fox. Her husband, Augustus Henry Lane Fox, was stationed in Malta between 1854 and 1857 with the Third Battalion, Grenadier Guards (ODNB).
The drawing has not been found; however, there are two sheets titled ‘Regrowth of Nail’ containing an extract from this letter and CD’s comments in DAR 200.3: 63. CD had mentioned imperfect nails growing on the stumps of amputated fingers in his chapter on pangenesis in Variation 2: 394; he added in Variation 2d ed. 2: 386 n. 66: ‘a case of this kind has lately been communicated to me’.
Augustus Henry Lane Fox led the excavations of neolithic flint works at Cissbury, Sussex, starting in June 1875. He described the discovery of human remains and being called away for military duties in his report to the Anthropological Institute (Lane Fox 1876, pp. 375–6). John Lubbock is not mentioned among those taking part in the excavations.


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Lane Fox, Alan. 1876. Excavations in Cissbury Camp, Sussex; being a report of the exploration committee of the Anthropological Institute for the year 1875. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 5: 357–90.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Recounts the removal and regrowth of her son’s extra digit; her grandfather showed the same condition.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alice Margaret Stanley/Alice Margaret Lane Fox/Alice Margaret Pitt-Rivers
Ellen Frances Hordern/Ellen Frances Lubbock
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 170
Physical description
ALS 4pp †† (by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10093,” accessed on 14 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23