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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   3 October [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 3d.

My dear old Friend

I am very sorry to hear how much you have been ailing. I had not heard of this affection of the leg. I do most sincerely hope that the water-cure will complete the good work which it has begun: the loss of locomotion to a man so active & energetic as yourself would be grievous. No one can wish more truly for your recovery than I do.—

Thank you for telling me about our poor dear child’s grave.2 The thought of that time is yet most painful to me. Poor dear happy little thing. I will show your letter tonight to Emma.— About a month ago I felt overdone with my work, & had almost made up my mind to go for a fortnight to Malvern; but I got to feel that old thoughts would revive so vividly that it would not have answered; but I have often wished to see the grave, & I thank you for telling me about it.3 I shd. not be surprised if I went for a fortnight to Moor Park Hydropathic establishment for a fortnight, some time;4 for I have great faith in treatment, & no faith whatever in ordinary Doctoring. It was very kind in Dr. Gully to speak so of me: if you go there again, pray remember me most kindly to him, & say that never (or almost never) the vomiting returns, but that I am a good way from being a strong man. Do not mention Moor Park; but shd. I ever go there, I shd. certainly inform him.—

My poor wife has been having a bad summer; for poor soul, we shall have another Baby this autumn! Our second Boy, George (an enthusiastic Herald! & Entomologist)5 has been for the last six weeks, at his first School; the Revd. C. Pritchard at Clapham,—a school which has been much patronised by scientific men, Herschel, Airy, Grove & Gassiott:6 I like it very well, & we can have him home monthly for a day.—

You know that our Aunt Mrs S Wedgwood lives here: a month ago she slipped on the road & fractured the head of thigh-bone & is utterly crippled,— —a grievous accident for her with all her peculiarities,—far worse than death.—7

I remember you protested against Lyells advice of writing a sketch of my species doctrines; well when I begun, I found it such unsatisfactory work that I have desisted & am now drawing up my work as perfect as my materials of 19 years collecting suffice, but do not intend to stop to perfect any line of investigation, beyond current work. Thus far & no farther I shall follow Lyell’s urgent advice.— Your remarks weighed with me considerably. I find to my sorrow it will run to quite a big Book.—

I have found my careful work at Pigeons really invaluable, as enlightening me on many points on variation under domestication. The copious old literature, by which I can trace the gradual changes in the Breeds of Pigeons has been extraordinarily useful to me.— I have just had Pigeons & Fowls alive from the Gambia! Rabbits & Ducks I am attending pretty carefully, but less so than Pigeons. I find most remarkable differences in skeletons of Rabbits— Have you ever kept any odd breeds of Rabbits & can you give me any details? Your Call Drake is quite hearty: I have not watched it much, but have not noticed its loquacity; the beak seems short & breast very protuberant. If at any time you could spare time, I shd. very much like to hear any particulars about habits of Call Ducks.— Do they show any migratory restleness in Autumn?—

One other question, you used to keep Hawks, do you at all know, after eating a Bird, how soon after they throw up the pellet? No subject gives me so much trouble & doubt & difficulty, as means of dispersal of the same species of terrestrial productions on to oceanic islands.— Land Mollusca drive me mad, & I cannot anyhow get their eggs to experimentise on their power of floating & resistance to injurious action of salt-water.—

I will not apologise for writing so much about my own doings, as I believe you will like to hear.— Do sometime, I beg you, let me hear how you get on in health; & if so inclined let me have some words on Call Ducks.

My dear Fox | Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin


Dated by the reference to CD’s aunt, Sarah Elizabeth (Sarah) Wedgwood, who suffered a bad fall in September 1856 (see n. 7, below).
Anne Elizabeth Darwin had died at James Manby Gully’s hydropathic establishment in Malvern, Worcestershire, on 23 April 1851 (see Correspondence vol. 5).
CD had left Malvern before Anne’s burial, which was arranged by Frances Mackintosh Wedgwood.
Moor Park, in Surrey, was run by Edward Wickstead Lane. CD paid his first visit there in April 1857 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
George Howard Darwin, aged 11, had developed an interest in collecting moths and butterflies, as well as continuing his earlier love of drawing soldiers and coats-of-arms. CD preserved several of his detailed coloured drawings (DAR 210.7).
John Frederick William Herschel, George Biddell Airy, William Robert Grove, and John Peter Gassiot. Charles Pritchard, astronomer and educational reformer, had founded the Clapham Grammar School and instituted a curriculum that included the sciences. He later became Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford. For the care taken by CD in the education of his sons, see J. R. Moore 1977.
Sarah Wedgwood lived at Petleys, near Down House. On 3 September 1856, Emma Darwin recorded in her diary: ‘Aunt S. fall’.


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

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.


Finds his grief over his daughter Anne’s death still strong.

Is following Lyell’s advice about publishing his species doctrine. It is not to be a sketch, however, but as perfect as his 19 years of work will allow. His work on pigeons has been invaluable on many points. "No subject gives me so much trouble as means of dispersal of terrestrial production in the oceanic islands."

Finds "most remarkable differences" in skeletons of rabbits.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 100)
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1967,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6