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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lawson Tait   27 March [1876]1

7, Great Charles St. | Birmingham.

Mar 27

My Dear Sir,

Thanks for your letter.2

I can’t quite see what Paget’s position is.3 Can you refer me to any place where I can see his views? It seems to me that the reproduction of lost parts in an early stage follows as a matter of course if the process of evolution really takes place. We have crustaceans reproducing their limbs all through life and we should expect that vertebrates would make occasional attempts to do so at early stages.

I am quite certain of it and mean to work it out. I have a polydactylous Tom cat but unfortunately I trimmed him, but I’ll get another and start a breed & amputate their toes immediately on birth. I shall be surprised if I don’t get some positive results.

The cases which are likely to be those referred to by German surgeons would not be subjected to amputation till some months old, when the reproductive power had greatly diminished & then only a stump of bone would be produced. This would not have occurred in an adult & is itself proof positive of my theory on the subject. The case I remember was operated upon within a few days of birth, and the second thumb was amputated in three or four months. My memory is too good to betray me and my recollection of the facts is very vivid; and as it occurred before I had ever heard of “Darwinism” it is not an “ex post facto”4 recollection. The circumstances were so remarkable that they made a great impression on me & I remember discussing them with Sir J. Y. Simpson, whose pupil I then was, & he saying that he had had similar experiences5

If he had been alive he could have settled this question readily his experience was so enormous.

If you make any further enquiries I must ask you to bear in mind that the original amputation must have been performed within a very short time of birth.

I am so much pleased that you think I have made out my distinction in the process of evolution of two stages, 1st. evolving, 2nd. rendering permanent6

Yours truly, | Lawson Tait

CD annotations7

2.1 I have … results. 2.4] ‘XX Dorking Keep digit & male skeleton’ added pencil
Top of letter: ‘Rudinger’ pencil


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Lawson Tait, 25 March [1876].
James Paget; see letter to Lawson Tait, 25 March [1876] and n. 3.
Ex post facto (Latin): retrospective (literally, from a thing done afterward).
Tait communicated the case to CD in his letter of 1 March 1876. CD discussed a case of James Young Simpson’s in his letter to Tait of 25 March [1876].
CD’s annotations are notes for his reply of 28 March 1876.


Regrowth of amputated digits is a capacity possessed by the new-born but rapidly lost.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 32
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10431,” accessed on 17 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24