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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Innes1   [1848?]2


My dear Mr Innes

I am extremely sorry to hear of your toothache.— You must not put, I think more than one drop of Chloroform on the tooth..—3 I send Tincture of Arnica4 which smarts the skin (deadly Poison) to put outside.— Mrs Darwin finds hot fomentations do best.— Many find cold water applications best.—

I have found two or three drops of Alum & Swt Spirits of Nitre5 (in bottle with a label) sometimes do my teeth great good. I was not in when your note came

Yours | C. Darwin

I send my bottles which you can return afterwards

I send Creosote,6 some find a drop of this do much good


Curate of Down since 1846; he became a life-long friend of the Darwin family (see Stecher 1961 and Moore 1985).
Stecher 1961 dates this letter 1848 but no reasons are given. The form of the salutation indicates that it is early in their friendship, but no evidence for a precise date has been found.
Applied externally chloroform was used as an antiseptic and local anaesthetic (Beasley 1852, p. 245).
Tincture of arnica was a common ingredient of mouthwashes at the time and acted primarily as a disinfectant (Court 1982).
Sweet spirits of nitre (ethyl nitrite) and finely-powdered alum were the ingredients of a proprietory product for toothache called ‘Mr. Blake’s tincture’ (Beasley 1852, p. 245).
Creosote, obtained from wood tar, was also used locally as an antiseptic; ‘it frequently affords immediate relief in toothache’ (Beasley 1854, p. 199).


Beasley, Henry. 1852. The druggist’s general receipt book: comprising … numerous recipes in patent and proprietory medicines. 2d ed. London.

Beasley, Henry. 1854. The book of prescriptions. London.

Court, W. E. 1982. Dental formulae. Pharmaceutical Historian 12: 7–8.

Moore, James Richard. 1985. Darwin of Down: the evolutionist as squarson-naturalist. In The Darwinian heritage, edited by David Kohn. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press in association with Nova Pacifica (Wellington, NZ).

Stecher, Robert M. 1961. The Darwin–Innes letters: the correspondence of an evolutionist with his vicar, 1848–1884. Annals of Science 17: 201–58. [Vols. 4,7]


Suggests various remedies for toothache.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Brodie Innes
Sent from
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1141,” accessed on 4 June 2023,

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