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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   2 December 1877

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington, S.E.R.

Dec 2. 1877

My dear Fox,

Your sympathy is very warm to make you wish to hear all about us. Litchfield’s illness has been a very serious one, namely inflammation of the cæcum; but he is now able to sit up for a short time every day.1 Leonard’s knee has been a bad job & it would have been better if it had been broken.2 But he now goes on one crutch instead of two. On the favourable side of the balance, Williams marriage has pleased us greatly, for we considered him an inveterate bachelor. He was married two days ago to a charming american.3 As for myself I am better than usual & am working away very hard on the physiology of plants.4

We had a grand time of it in Cambridge & I saw my old rooms in Christ’s where we spent so many happy days.5 I saw see that you ask two other questions: Caroline is better in general health & comes down stairs every day but I fear will never leave Leith Hill Place.6 Secondly George has seen no reason to change his conclusions about the marriage of cousins. He is very hard at work in Cambridge on Astronomical problems, which are so deep I cannot understand what they are about.7

Farewell my dear old friend | Yours affectionately | Charles Darwin


See letter from W. D. Fox, 29 November [1877]. Richard Buckley Litchfield, CD’s son-in-law, had been taken ill with acute appendicitis in Switzerland in September; he arrived back in England in November (see letter to Horace Darwin, 1 November [1877] and n. 7).
Leonard Darwin had injured his knee playing tennis (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [23 September 1877] (DAR 219.9: 159)).
William Erasmus Darwin married Sara Sedgwick on 29 November 1877 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD had recently published Forms of flowers and was working on two other aspects of plant physiology, the function of bloom (the epicuticular waxy or pruinose coating on leaves or fruit), and movement in plants.
CD had gone to Cambridge to receive an honorary LLD, bestowed on him at a special ceremony on 17 November 1877 (see letter to Hyacinth Hooker, [18 November 1877]). CD had been a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge, from 1828 to 1831.
CD had stayed at Leith Hill Place in Surrey, the home of his sister, Caroline Sarah Wedgwood, and her family, from 8 to 13 June 1877 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Emma Darwin had reported that Caroline was frequently unwell (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [11 June 1877] (DAR 219.9: 148)).
In his paper on marriages between cousins, George Howard Darwin had concluded that offspring of such marriages suffered from slightly lower vitality, but added that the sample size was too small to yield satisfactory statistics (G. H. Darwin 1875, p. 182). George had published papers on the earth’s axis of rotation and the obliquity of planets (G. H. Darwin 1876b and 1877) and was working on an explanation of tides based on his treatment of the earth as a viscous rather than elastic body (G. H. Darwin 1878).


Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.


Working hard on physiology of plants.

His son George sees no reason to change his view on marriage of cousins.

George’s astronomical work is too deep for CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 155)
Physical description
LS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11266,” accessed on 20 May 2022,