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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Susan Darwin   [19 March 1849]



My dear Susan.

As you say you want my hydropathical diary, I will give it you1 —though tomorrow it is to change to a certain extent.— 14 before 7. get up, & am scrubbed with rough towel in cold water for 2 or 3 minutes, which after the few first days, made & makes me very like a lobster— I have a washerman, a very nice person, & he scrubs behind, whilst I scrub in front.— drink a tumbler of water & get my clothes on as quick as possible & walk for 20 minutes—2 I cd. walk further, but I find it tires me afterwards— I like all this very much.— At same time I put on a compress, which is a broad wet folded linen covered by mackintosh & which is “refreshed”—ie dipt in cold water every 2 hours & I wear it all day, except for about 2 hours after midday dinner; I don’t perceive much effect from this of any kind.— After my walk, shave & wash & get my breakfast, which was to have been exclusively toast with meat or egg, but he has allowed me a little milk to sop the stale toast in. At no time must I take any sugar, butter, spices tea bacon or anything good.—3 At 12 oclock I put my feet for 10 minutes in cold water with a little mustard & they are violently rubbed by my man; the coldness makes my feet ache much, but upon the whole my feet are certainly less cold than formerly.— Walk for 20 minutes & dine at one.— He has relaxed a little about my dinner & says I may try plain pudding, if I am sure it lessens sickness.—

After dinner lie down & try to go to sleep for one hour.— At 5 olock feet in cold water—drink cold water & walk as before— Supper same as breakfast at 6 oclock.— I have had much sickness this week, but certainly I have felt much stronger & the sickness has depressed me much less.— Tomorrow I am to be packed at 6 oclock A.M for 1 & 12 hour in Blanket, with hot bottle to my feet & then rubbed with cold dripping sheet;4 but I do not know anything about this.— I grieve to say that Dr Gully gives me homoœopathic medicines three times a day, which I take obediently without an atom of faith.—5 I like Dr Gully much—he is certainly an able man: I have been struck with how many remarks he has made similar to those of my Father.—

He is very kind & attentive; but seems puzzled with my case—thinks my head or top of spinal chord cause of mischief—6 He has generously allowed me 6 pinches of snuff for all this week,7 which is my chief comfort except thinking all day of myself & prosing to Emma, who bless her old soul, thinks as much about me as I do even myself.— I am become perfectly indolent which I feel the oddest change of all to myself & this letter is the greatest mental effort done by me since coming here— My dearest sisters I wish I cd. see you here.—8 I saw absolutely nothing of you at Down & never talked about my dear Father about whom it is now to me the sweetest pleasure to think, which I fear cannot be your case as yet.

My dears | Yours affectionly | C. D.

Perhaps Marianne & the Doctor wd. like to see this.9

Annie10 was telling Miss Thorley all her Papa had to do about the water cure & how he liked it. “And it makes Papa so angry”. Miss T. must have thought it a very odd effect. He said it did make him feel cross. Papa was present at this conversation11


CD’s course of treatment is that laid out by James Manby Gully in his discussion of the treatment of nervous indigestion or dyspepsia in Gully 1846, pp. 154–62. Gully defined the complaint as ‘a chronic excess and congestion of blood in the … ganglionic nerves that surround and supply the stomach’ (p. 127) and believed that ‘the close application of the mind to any one subject, whether it be abstruse or superficial … ranks among the frequent causes of nervous dyspepsia’ (p. 161). The object of the treatment was ‘to produce a counteraction, resembling as nearly as possible in its character that which it is intended to remove—namely, a nervous irritation. For instance, it is not desired to produce a suppurative congestion of the skin,—such as would generate boils,—but that amount of cutaneous irritation which is exhibited in a rash or itchy eruption. A good deal of friction is therefore desirable’ (p. 158).
From this time onwards, CD always took a short walk before breakfast (LL 1:112).
According to Gully 1846, pp. 154–5, in the treatment of nervous dyspepsia ‘the remedies should be chiefly negative—the withdrawal of irritating food and beverage … Of all the forms of indigestion the nervous requires the most accurate adaptation of diet to the Protean changes of the functions … professional experience alone can detect the causes for its daily or weekly alteration.’
Wet-sheet packing, first introduced into England by James Wilson after his visit to the famous hydropathic establishment of Vincent Priessnitz at Graefenberg (Metcalfe 1906), was used by Gully for ‘lowering the energy of the brain’ which, in turn, subdued the irritation of the stomach. However, he urged extreme caution in its application to cases of nervous indigestion because prolonged use could aggravate many of the symptoms of the disease. The dripping sheet was considered an essential follow-up, as it gently stimulated the skin after the wet-sheet packing (Gully 1846, pp. 159, 599). All the treatments replicated those advocated by Priessnitz in Graefenberg.
Gully was strongly against the administration of medical drugs for chronic disorders (Gully 1846, p. 513 n.) and cautious in his use of homoeopathic remedies: ‘although I might be induced to try to subdue a passing but troublesome symptom, I could not trust to remove the essential nature of a chronic malady by homœopathic means’ (Gully 1846, p. 83 n.). For CD’s opinion of homoeopathy see letter to W. D. Fox, 4 September [1850].
In his discussion of the causes, progress, and termination of chronic diseases, Gully stated: ‘As the brain and spinal cord represent an immense mass of blood-vessels and ganglionic nerves, and are thereby kept in a state of close organic sympathy with the central portions of the organic nerves, and thence with the rest of the body, it might be expected that irritation of these organs would tend powerfully to cause and maintain chronic disorder; and constant experience shows such to be the case. Intellectual labour and moral anxiety each or conjointly keep up the derangement of other parts … [the digestive organs], in return, maintain the irritation of the brain, and the unlucky patient is the prey of two chronic mischiefs, which few can long withstand. Cause and effect become confused, and the practitioner is puzzled where to begin’ (Gully 1846, pp. 85–6). With specific reference to dyspepsia, he believed that ‘the nervous, or the brain symptoms of chronic indigestion … are all reducible, in their point of origin, to three positions—viz., the spinal cord, the grey matter of the brain, and the white matter of the brain’ (pp. 140–1).
This was contrary to Gully’s determined statement in his book: ‘Besides alcoholic stimulants, give up the scarcely less deletorious stimulus of tobacco, in the shapes of snuffing and smoking. Both tell injuriously on the nerves of the stomach as well as on the brain … I defy any one to cure a nervous disorder or shattered constitution whilst the patient is allowed to snuff or smoke tobacco. I would have no patient who refused to give it up’ (Gully 1846, pp. 657–8). By May, Gully had made CD give up snuff (see letter to J. S. Henslow, 6 May 1849).
The only record of a visit from either Susan or Catherine Darwin to Malvern is in Emma Darwin’s diary on 31 May 1849, where she noted that ‘Susan came’.
Marianne and Henry Parker.
Anne Elizabeth Darwin.
The last paragraph is in Emma Darwin’s hand.


Gully, James Manby. 1846. The water cure in chronic disease: an exposition of the causes, progress, & terminations of various chronic diseases of the digestive organs, lungs, nerves, limbs, & skin; and of their treatment by water, and other hygienic means. London: J. Churchill.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Metcalfe, Richard. 1906. The rise and progress of hydropathy in England and Scotland. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co.


Writes a detailed account of his treatment at J. M. Gully’s hydropathy establishment at Malvern.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Susan Elizabeth Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 92: A7–A8
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1234,” accessed on 2 March 2024,

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