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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   7 March [1852]

Down Farnborough Kent

March. 7th.

My dear Fox.

It is indeed an age since we have had any communication, & very glad I was to receive your note. Our long silence occurred to me a few weeks since, & I had then thought of writing but was idle. I congratulate & condole with you on your tenth child;1 but please to observe when I have a 10th, send only condolences to me. We have now seven children, all well Thank God, as well as their mother; of these 7, five are Boys; & my Father used to say that it was certain, that a Boy gave as much trouble as three girls, so that bonâ fide we have 17 children.

It makes me sick whenever I think of professions; all seem hopelessly bad, & as yet I cannot see a ray of light.— I should very much like to talk over this (By the way my three Bug-bears are Californian & Australian Gold, beggaring me by making my money on mortgage worth nothing2 —The French coming by the Westerham & Sevenoaks roads, & therefore enclosing Down3 —and thirdly Professions for my Boys.) & I shd like to talk about Education, on which you ask me what we are doing. No one can more truly despise the old stereotyped stupid classical education than I do, but yet I have not had courage to break through the trammels. After many doubts we have just sent our eldest Boy to Rugby, where for his age he has been very well placed. By the way, I may mention for chance of hereafter your wishing for such a thing for any friends, that Mr. Wharton Vicar of Mitcham, appear to us a really excellent preparatory tutor or small school keeper.—4 I honour, admire & envy you for educating your Boys at home.5 What on earth shall you do with your Boys?

Towards the end of this month, we go to see Willy at Rugby, & thence for 5 or 6 days to Susan at Shrewsbury;6 I then return home to look after the Babies; & Emma goes to the F. Wedgwoods of Etruria for a week.7 Very many thanks for your most kind & large invitation to Delamere;8 but I fear we can hardly compass it. I dread going anywhere, on account of my stomach so easily failing under any excitement. I rarely even now go to London; not that I am at all worse, perhaps rather better & lead a very comfortable life with my 3 hours of daily work, but it is the life of a hermit. My nights are always bad, & that stops my becoming vigorous.— You ask about water cure: I take at intervals of 2 or 3 month, 5 or 6 weeks of moderately severe treatment, & always with good effect.9

Do you come here, I pray & beg whenever you can find time: you cannot tell how much pleasure it would give me & Emma.

I have finished 1st. vol. for Ray Soc. of Pedunculated cirripedes, which, as I think you are a member, you will soon get. Read what I describe on sexes of Ibla & Scalpellum.— I am now at work on the Sessile cirripedes, & am wonderfully tired of my job: a man to be a systematic naturalist ought to work at least 8 hours per day.— You saw through me, when you said that I must have wished to have seen effects of Holmfirth Debacle,10 for I was saying a week ago to Emma, that had I been, as I was in old days, I would have been certainly off that hour—

You ask after Erasmus; he is much as usual, & constantly more or less ⁠⟨⁠unw⁠⟩⁠ell. Susan is much better, & very flourishing & happy. Catherine is at Rome & has enjoyed it in a degree that is quite astonishing to my old dry bones.—

And now I think I have told you enough & more than enough about the house of Darwin; so my dear old Friend Farewell. What pleasant times we had in drinking Coffee in your rooms at Christ Coll. And think of the glories of Crux Major.11 Ah in those days there were no professions for sons, no ill-health to fear for them, no Californian gold—no French invasions. How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children. My dread is hereditary ill-health. Even death is better for them.

My dear Fox your sincere friend | C. Darwin.

Remember do if you ever can, come here.

You can at any time send Athenæum Newspaper addressed to me at the Athenæum Club, Pall Mall which is my House of call for Parcels of all kinds—

P.S. Susan has lately been working in a way, which I think truly heroic about the scandalous violation of the act against children climbing chimneys.12 We have set up a little Society in Shrewsbury to prosecute those who break the Law.13 It is all Susan’s doing. She has had very nice letters from Ld. Shaftesbury & the D. of Sutherland, but the brutal Shropshire Squires are as hard as stone to move. The act out of London seems most commonly violated. It makes one shudder to fancy one of one’s own children at 7 years old being forced up a chimney—to say nothing of the consequent loathsome disease, & ulcerlated limbs, & utter moral degradation.14 If you think strongly on this subject, do make some enquiries— add to your many good works—this other one, & try to stir up the magistrates. There are several people making a stir in different parts of England on this subject.— It is not very likely that you would wish for such but I could send you some essays & information if you so liked, either for yourself or to give away.—

Emma desires me to give her very kind remembrances to Mrs Fox, in which I beg to join.—


Ellen Elizabeth Fox, born 26 February 1852, Fox’s fifth child by his second wife.
CD refers to the 1849 Californian gold-rush (see also Correspondence vol. 4, letter to Syms Covington, 23 November 1850) and the 1851 gold-rush in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia.
During 1851, Louis Napoleon, president of the French republic, challenged the Republicans and made clear his wish to re-establish the Empire. His attempts to achieve this culminated in the coup d’état of 2 December 1851, which was widely considered in England to be the first stage in the restoration of the monarchy and prompted fears of Napoleonic aggression. Shortly after the coup, Bartholomew James Sulivan held forth at a dinner party at Down House on the subject of ‘how easily a small invading force might overrun our south-eastern counties … Those present urged him to write to the papers on the subject.’ This he did in letters to the Naval and Military Gazette (10 and 31 January 1852), proposing the establishment of a volunteer corps (Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 426).
Henry James Wharton had been William Darwin’s tutor from autumn 1850 until he entered Rugby School in February 1852.
Fox had three sons at this time: Samuel William Darwin, 1012 years old; Charles Woodd, 5 years old; and Robert Gerard, 212 years old.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary, she and CD, with Henrietta and George, were in Rugby on 24 March when Ernest Hensleigh Wedgwood and William joined them for dinner. They then travelled to Shrewsbury to stay with CD’s sister, Susan Elizabeth Darwin. She and Catherine Darwin continued to live at the Mount, the family residence in Shrewsbury. CD returned home on 1 April (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 5, Appendix I).
On 2 April, Emma and Susan Darwin travelled to Barlaston to visit Francis (Frank) and Fanny Mosley Wedgwood, Emma’s brother and sister-in-law. Emma returned home on 10 April (Emma Darwin’s diary).
Fox was rector of Delamere, Cheshire.
Fox had introduced the idea of hydropathy to CD in 1849 (see Correspondence vol. 4, letters to W. D. Fox, 6 February [1849] and 7 [July 1849]). After his initial visit to James Manby Gully’s hydropathic establishment in March 1849, CD twice returned to Malvern for therapy. He also continued the treatment at home. He may have consulted Gully about his own health in March 1851 when he took his daughter Anne to Malvern for treatment, but his Health diary (Down House MS) shows no treatments during the week he was away from Down on that visit.
The village of Holmfirth, in the West Riding, Yorkshire, had been destroyed when the dam of a reservoir burst on 5 February 1852. A full account of the disaster is in the Annual Register (1852): 478–81.
Panagæus crux major. In his letters to Fox, CD frequently recalled their capturing this beetle. See, among other letters, Correspondence vol. 1, letters to W. D. Fox, May 1832, [7–11] March 1835, and 15 February 1836; and Correspondence vol. 2, [25 March 1843]. See also Autobiography, p. 63.
The Parliamentary Acts of 1834 and 1840 prohibiting the use of boys under the age of sixteen as apprentices to chimney-sweeps failed to provide for enforcement. Lord Shaftesbury introduced bills in the House of Lords in 1851 and 1852 to strengthen the laws regulating chimney-sweeps, but an Act was passed only in 1864. See Strange 1982, p. xiv, and Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, 3d ser. 176 (1864): index.
CD’s Account book (Down House MS) shows a contribution of £5 to the ‘Chimney Sweep Society per Catherine’ on 26 June 1852.
CD had read Henry Mayhew’s London labour and the London poor soon after publication in April 1851 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 23b), in which a detailed account of the chimney-sweeps’ climbing boys is given. See Strange 1982 for a full description of the legislation brought in to prevent the use of climbing boys in chimneys.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Strange, Kathleen H. 1982. Climbing boys; a study of sweeps’ apprentices, 1773–1875. London and New York: Allison & Busby.


Congratulates and "condoles" with WDF on a tenth child.

On education, he has not had courage to break away from "the old stereotyped stupid classical education"; has sent William to Rugby.

The first Ray Society volume [Living Cirripedia] is finished.

Has joined in a society to prosecute violators of the act against use of children in climbing chimneys.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 80)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1476,” accessed on 30 November 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5