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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   20 October [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 20

My dear Fox

I am so sorry to hear of all your suffering: it is most grievous that you should so soon fall back after Malvern, & how patiently you seem to bear it.2 I suppose the pain is extremely severe: very oddly I had yesterday morning just a touch of it; my back feeling locked & rigid! I never felt such a thing before.—

I should very much like to have ever such brief a note before very long to hear how you are getting on.— I had no idea that lumbago ever became so long-continued & severe as in your case.

I fear I shd. not possibly be able to join you, at Malvern; for I could hardly leave my wife now for the next two or three months.3

You ask Georgy’s age; he is just turned eleven: perhaps a little, & but very little earlier would have been better for his going; as he is thrown back by his entire ignorance of Greek: he is very forward in everything except that & Arithmetick, of which much account is made.4 Georgy was at first put under care of Penfold, & as he says that he (or his brother I forget which) is your God Child, he must be son of P. of Christ Coll:.—5

Many thanks for such answers as you could give to my diverse queries: I have since taken birds with seeds in crops to Eagles & Owls at Zoolog. Soc., & the pellets with all seeds apparently perfect were thrown up in 18 & 16 hours; but the Keepers thought this much sooner than often happens. We have thus an effective means of distribution of any seed eaten by any Birds, for Hawks & owls are often blown far out to sea: I am trying whether the seeds will germinate.—6

If when you are better you do not dislike writing to your nephew in Jamaica, it would be really an important gain to me, to know whether the eggs of Lizards, (or snakes) & Shells will float in sea-water say for a week (or 10 days); & if they will float for that time, if he would wash them in pure water & keep them to see whether they would hatch, it would be still greater Service. If many could be obtained it would be well to try whether some would hatch after 5 days floating & some after 10 days. But if they sink, I shd. care less.—

I have given up in despair trying to get lizards eggs in England.—7

But I fear your nephew wd. think the experiment too foolish.

My dear old friend, no one can more sincerely wish for your recovery than I do.— With our very kind remembrances to Mrs. Fox | Your’s most truly | Ch. Darwin


Dated by the reference to Emma Darwin’s forthcoming confinement (see n. 3, below) and to George Howard Darwin being 11 years old.
Emma Darwin was seven months pregnant. Charles Waring Darwin was born on 6 December 1856.
George had just entered the Clapham Grammar School. See also letter to W. D. Fox, 3 October [1856].
James Penfold had been a contemporary of CD’s and Fox’s at Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1825–33 (Alum. Cantab.).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, [19 October 1856]. The description of the experiment with owls’ pellets is given in CD’s Experimental book, p. 15 (DAR 157a): ‘Oct 19th Planted pellet from Snowy owl, charged with seeds. planted pellet whole— 1614 in stomach. Such seeds wd be well manured— Birds wd. float if died in sea.—’.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letters to W. D. Fox, 17 May [1855] and 23 May [1855].


Alum. Cantab.: Alumni Cantabrigienses. A biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1922–54.

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


Has taken birds with seeds in crops to Zoological Society and fed them to eagles and owls. Pellets with seeds in perfect condition were "thrown up" in 18 and 16 hours, showing an effective means of distribution.

Asks WDF to write to his nephew in Jamaica to try experiments with floating lizards’ and snakes’ eggs in sea-water, to see if they survive.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 99)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1978,” accessed on 16 May 2022,

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