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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   17 July [1853]1

13. Sea Houses Eastbourne

July 15? or 16? | 17th? or ?

My dear Fox

Here we are in a state of profound idleness, which to me is a luxury; & we shd all, I believe, have been in a state of high enjoyment, had it not been for the detestable cold gales & much rain, which always gives much ennui to children, away from their homes.— I received your letter of the 13th of June when working like a slave with Mr. Sowerby at drawing for my second volume, & so put off answering it till when I knew I shd. be at leisure. I was extremely glad to get your letter: I had intended a couple of months ago sending you a savage or supplicating jobation to know how you were, when I met Sir P. Egerton,2 who told me you were well, &, as usual, expressed his admiration of your doings, especially your farming & the number of animals, including children, which you kept on your land.— Eleven children ave maria! it is a serious look out for you. Indeed I look at my five boys as something awful & hate the very thought of professions &c: if one could insure moderate health for them it wd. not signify so much, for I cannot but hope with the enormous emigration professions will somewhat improve. But my bug-bear is heredetary weakness. I particularly like to hear all that you can say about education: & you deserve to be scolded for saying “you did not mean to torment me with a long yarn”.—

You ask about Rugby:3 I like it very well, on the same principle as my neighbour Sir J. Lubbock likes Eton, viz that it is not worse than any other school: the expence with all &c &c including some clothes, travelling expences &c is from £110 to £120 per annum: I do not think schools are so wicked as they were, & far more industrious. The Boys, I think, live too secluded in their separate studies; & I doubt whether they will get so much knowledge of character, as Boys used to do, & this in my opinion is the one good of public schools over small schools. I shd. think the only superiority of a small school over home was forced regularity in their work, which your Boys perhaps get at your home, but which I do not believe my Boys wd. get at my home. Otherwise it is quite lamentable sending Boys so early in life from their home. I think of bringing up my eldest Boy as an Attorney; & my second, who has a mechanical turn & is very active minded, as an Engineer.—4

To return to schools, my main objection to them, as places of education, is the enormous proportion of time spent over classics. I fancy, (though perhaps it is only fancy) that I can perceive the ill & contracting effect on my eldest Boy’s mind, in checking interest in anything in which reasoning & observation comes into play. mere memory seems to be worked.— I shall certainly look out for some school, with more diversified studies for my younger Boys.5 I was talking lately to the Dean of Hereford,6 who takes most strongly this view: & he tells me that there is a school at Hereford commencing on this plan: & that Dr. Kennedy at Shrewsbury is going to begin vigorously to modify that school; but I rather mistrust Dr. K’s. judgment.7

I have some fears whether any school will do for my second Boy, as his health has lately failed rather; & a very irregular pulse, (though not resulting from any heart complaint) I fear shows that the weakness is deep-seated.—8

I am extremely glad to hear that you approved of my cirripedial volume:9 I have spent an almost ridiculous amount of labour on the subject & certainly wd. never have undertaken it, had I foreseen what a job it was: I hope to have finished by the end of the year.—10 Do write again before a very long time: it is a real pleasure to me to hear from you. Farewell with my wifes kindest remembrances to yourself & Mrs Fox.

My dear old friend. Yours affectionately | C. Darwin

I am reading F. Galton’s book & like it very much.—11

P.S. I had not sealed up this letter an hour, before I saw with the utmost concern & astonishment the deaths in your house:12 I most deeply hope that your own children have escaped this most fearful illness. I did doubt about sending off this letter till knowing how your own children were; but it need not be read.13 Do pray sometime tell me how far you have escaped. And I fear your wife must just have been confined.—14


Since CD did not give an exact date, the letter has been dated by the postmark.
Sir Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton, who lived near Fox’s parish, Delamere, Cheshire.
CD’s eldest son, William Erasmus, was at Rugby School.
William became a banker and George Howard Darwin was called to the bar but did not practice. He eventually became Plumian professor of astronomy at Cambridge.
With the exception of William, all of CD’s sons attended Clapham School. CD’s views on education are summarised in Moore 1977.
Richard Dawes had been a fellow of Downing College during the time CD was an undergraduate in Cambridge. In 1842 Dawes had founded King’s Somborne School in Hampshire, considered a model school for popular education, and he was greatly interested in the establishment of Bluecoat schools in Hereford after his appointment as dean in 1850 (DNB).
Benjamin Hall Kennedy, headmaster of Shrewsbury School, 1836–66, was an outstanding classical teacher and emphasised the value of a classical education (DNB). CD had been a pupil at Shrewsbury School, 1818–25.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary, George was taken to see ‘Dr H.’, probably Dr Henry Holland, on 17 June 1853. Throughout his life George Darwin suffered from poor health.
Fox, as a member of the Ray Society, had received a copy of Living Cirripedia (1851).
CD had originally planned to write only a paper on Arthrobalanus, the aberrant cirripede collected during the voyage of the Beagle (see Correspondence vol. 3). His work soon encompassed several other genera, and late in 1847, at the suggestion of John Edward Gray he undertook a systematic study of the entire sub-class (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix II).
Francis Galton, a relative of both Fox and CD. CD’s reference is to Galton 1853, which CD recorded having read on 20 July 1853 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 5).
The Times, 16 July 1853, Supplement, p. 1, announced the deaths of Frederick William and Zachary Granger Mudge, aged 8 and 10, on 8 and 13 July respectively, at Delamere Rectory, Cheshire. They had both died of scarlet fever. The boys were the grandchildren of Zachary Mudge, a prominent naval officer, who had died in 1852 (DNB). Their father, Zachary Mudge Jr, was a barrister, then residing in the family home of Sydney, Plympton, in Devon (Gentleman’s Magazine, n.s. 5 (1868): 120). Their mother, Jane Elizabeth Mudge, had died in 1848 (Burke’s landed gentry 1952).
The postscript was written on a separate sheet of paper and presumably inserted in the letter so as to be read first.
Ellen Sophia Fox had given birth to a daughter, Theodora, on 16 June 1853 (Darwin pedigree).


Burke’s landed gentry: A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland enjoying territorial possessions or high official rank but unvisited with heritable honours. Burke’s genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry. By John Burke et al. 1st–18th edition. London: Henry Colburn [and others]. 1833–1969.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Galton, Francis. 1853. The narrative of an explorer in tropical South Africa. London: John Murray.

Living Cirripedia (1851): A monograph of the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Lepadidæ; or, pedunculated cirripedes. By Charles Darwin. London: Ray Society. 1851.

Moore, James Richard. 1977. On the education of Darwin’s sons: the correspondence between Charles Darwin and the Reverend G. V. Reed, 1857–1864. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 32 (1977–8): 51–70.


Discusses Rugby and education in general. The enormous proportion of time spent on classics checks interest "in anything in which reasoning & observation comes into play".

Expresses shock and sympathy on learning of the deaths in WDF’s house.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
JY 18 1853
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 84)
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1522,” accessed on 23 May 2022,

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