skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Fox to G. H. Darwin   21 April [1879]1

Broadlands | Sandown | I. Wight

Ap 21

My dear Darwin

As I feared was the case, I have no letters or papers of your Gt Grandfather of any interest.2 They have been kept merely for the handwriting—and one for Hooping Cough.

I think there is an interesting paper upon Dr Dn in the Encyclopædia Britannica which yr Father might like to look over.3 Dr E Darwin has so freely been called an Atheist &c. that some of his Poems may be cited in answer. Do you know this ode—entitled “The Folly of Atheism” Beginning

“Dull Atheist! could a giddy dance

Of atoms lawless hurled,

Construct so wonderful, so wise

So harmonized a World”4

It is not one that would quite suit the German Mind.

It is said that Coleridge, after an interview with him, said, “he was a wonderful man—& every thing but a Christian”— or some such expression.5

I wish much I could be of any use to your Father, but I am a generation too late.

I have often heard my Father & Mother talk of him.6 There is one very remarkable story which I have often heard from my Father, as shewing the Drs. great sagacity & Daring.

I believe my Father was of the party. At Mr Joseph Strutts a Dinner party was assembled at which the Dr was present—when Mr Strutt asked him to see his Butler who was said to be dying.7 He found him on the point of suffocation from Lung disease—& fast dying— He sent for a Kettle of Boiling water—bared the mans breast & poured it over Lungs. The effect was magical at the time—& the man got well.

I dont know what our Modern Drs would say to this mild practise.

I hope your Father will give himself time to really look into the Drs. life. There are many works which touch upon it more or less—many very unfairly.

In much haste Yours very truly | W D Fox

We are just off into Warwickshire for a fortnight.8


The year is established by the reference to CD’s collecting materials for a biographical sketch of Erasmus Darwin, which was published in 1879 (Erasmus Darwin).
See letter from W. D. Fox to G. H. Darwin, 15 April [1879]. Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) was George’s great-grandfather.
The article on Erasmus Darwin is in EB 7th ed.
Erasmus Darwin’s poem had been published in 1823 under the title ‘The folly of atheism. An Ode’ in Specimens of English poetry (Scott ed. 1823, pp. 299–300).
After visiting Erasmus Darwin in Derby in 1796, Samuel Taylor Coleridge reported,

Derby is full of curiosities; the cotton and silk mills; [Joseph] Wright, the painter, and Dr Darwin, the every thing but christian! Dr Darwin possesses, perhaps, a greater range of knowledge than any other man in Europe, and is the most inventive of philosophical men. He thinks in a new train on all subjects but religion

(Cottle 1847, pp. 85–6.)

For more on Ann and Samuel Fox’s recollections of Erasmus Darwin, see the letter from W. D. Fox to G. H. Darwin, 15 April [1879].
Joseph Strutt lived in St Peter’s Street, Derby; his butler has not been identified.
Fox probably went to Warwickshire with his wife, Ellen Sophia Fox.


Cottle, Joseph. 1847. Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. London: Houlston and Stoneman.

Erasmus Darwin. By Ernst Krause. Translated from the German by W. S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1879.

Scott, Elizabeth, ed. 1823. Specimens of British poetry: chiefly selected from authors of high celebrity, and interspersed with original writings. Edinburgh: James Ballantyne and Co.


Has no letters or papers [of Erasmus Darwin].

Suggests CD cite some of Erasmus Darwin’s poems to answer the charge of atheism [see Erasmus Darwin, p. 44].

Recounts a story of a remarkable cure by Dr Darwin, showing his sagacity and daring.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Darwin Fox
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 99: 177–8
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12006,” accessed on 18 July 2024,