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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   20 [September 1862]

Cliff Cottage | Bournemouth

Saturday night 20th.

My dear Fox

Your affectionate & pleasant letter has interested, pleased & grieved me.—1 I know that your lungs have often troubled you; but I greatly fear that this last attack has been more serious & has left mischief behind. If the sea-air suits you, it seems a thousand pities that you should not make everything bend to it & stay some time there. Your life is a precious one. Four days is nothing for the sea-air. When I read of you & your dog I exclaimed to Emma, “how like Fox”, but I did not know of Erasmus’ saying.2 I suppose you have given up all idea of Cambridge;3 I have begun to turn tail & have resolved to go home on Oct 1st.; but if I can screw my courage up, I may go there on Saturday or Monday; but it will depend on how my stomach is. I shd like to see the old place once again, where I have spent so many happy hours; but I am not sure whether it will not be more melancholy than pleasant; for I know I shall feel knocked up & unable to ramble about & see the old haunts. What pleasant hours we have spent together at our alternate breakfast & teas.4 There were no fears & anxious looking forward in those days. And poor dear Henslow is gone.5 About two years ago I stumbled at Down on a Panagæus crux major: how it brought back to my mind Cambridge days!

You did me a great service in making me an entomologist: I really hardly know anything in this life that I have more enjoyed that our beetle-hunting expeditions;6 Prince Albert told Lyell,7 that he looked back with more pleasure to collecting insects, than he had ever found in stag-shooting. I am much pleased & somewhat surprised at your liking my orchid-book:8 the Botanists praise it beyond its deserts,9 but hardly anyone, not a Botanist, except yourself, as far as I know, has cared for it. The subject interested me much, & was written almost by accident; for it was half written as a mere paper & then I found it too long, & thought I would risk publishing it separately.10 What you say about it, is very pleasant; for at one time I agreed with Lyell that I was an ass to publish it.11

I have lately been making some curious observations on the “dimorphic” fertilisation of other plants12 & likewise on their sensibility; & upon my life I am coming to the conclusion, that they must have something closely analogous to diffused nerve-matter.13 But as you most truly say what a mystery life is; & a mystery one feels the more, the more one knows.— As soon as I get home, if we all can but keep well, I must return to variation under domestication.14

I do not wonder that you found the jelly-fishes puzzles to dissect; it would take weeks to get even a glimmering of their structure,—mere organised water.—

I did not know that you were doubly a grandfather.15 I will send your messages to my sister.16 Perhaps Erasmus, who has never stirred out of London all this summer, will come here for our last week.17 He is very far from strong. All Darwins ought to be exterminated.

Farewell my dear old friend; I do most truly hope that your health may improve & your lungs recover. Farewell | Yours affectionately | Charles Darwin


The letter from Fox has not been found.
The reference has not been traced; CD refers to his brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin.
In 1862, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Cambridge during the first week of October. See also letter to W. D. Fox, 12 September [1862].
CD and Fox had both been undergraduates at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where their periods of residence overlapped in 1828; they were second cousins and had shared an interest in entomology (see Correspondence vol. 1, and Desmond and Moore 1991, pp. 58–73).
John Stevens Henslow was professor of botany at the University of Cambridge for thirty-six years, and had been a friend to both CD and Fox; he died in May 1861.
See n. 4, above.
CD refers to Charles Lyell and Albert Francis Charles Augustus Emmanuel, prince-consort of England.
Orchids was published in May 1862.
CD had been particularly pleased by the responses to Orchids of George Bentham, Daniel Oliver, and Asa Gray (see letter to Asa Gray, 10–20 June [1862]).
Originally conceived as a paper for one of the journals of the Linnean Society of London, CD began preparing his manuscript on the pollination mechanisms of various species of orchids in July and August 1861. He first thought of publishing it as a book in September 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to John Murray, 21 September [1861], and letter from John Murray, 23 September 1861).
The occasion on which Charles Lyell expressed this view has not been identified; however, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1862] and n. 4.
After reading his paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, before the Linnean Society in November 1861, CD had continued in 1862 to work on the phenomenon of heterostyly.
For details of CD’s experiments with insectivorous plants, see the letter to Daniel Oliver, [17 September 1862], and the letters to J. D. Hooker, [18 September 1862] and 26 September [1862].
In the introduction to Origin, CD described the book as an abstract of a larger work he was preparing on natural selection (p. 1). He intended to publish the larger work in three volumes, the first of which was to be entitled ‘Variation under domestication’ (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to T. H. Huxley, 16 December [1859], and letter to John Murray, 22 December [1859]). CD had been working on the manuscript intermittently since January 1860, and had reached chapter eight on ‘Silk-worms Geese &c’ by the summer of 1862 (see Correspondence vols. 8–10, ‘Journal’ (Correspondence, vol. 10, Appendix II)).
Fox had two married daughters: Eliza Anne Sanders gave birth to her first child, Charles Henry Martyn Sanders, on 21 March 1862 (Gentleman’s Magazine n.s. 12 (1862): 638); Harriet Emma Overton also gave birth in 1862 to her first child, Frederick Arnold Overton (Alum. Oxon., s.v. Overton, Frederick Arnold; Darwin pedigree, pp. 15–16).
CD’s surviving sisters were Caroline Sarah, Emily Catherine, and Susan Elizabeth Darwin. CD may be referring to Susan Elizabeth Darwin, as she was a close friend of one of Fox’s own sisters (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to W. D. Fox, [27 March 1851], n. 5). See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to W. D. Fox, 17 December [1860] and n. 5.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin lived at 6 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, London (Post Office London directory 1861). According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed with him on 29 September 1862, on their way home from Bournemouth.


Alum. Oxon.: Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1500–1886: … with a record of their degrees. Being the matriculation register of the university. Alphabetically arranged, revised, and annotated by Joseph Foster. 8 vols. London and Oxford: Parker & Co. 1887–91.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.]

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Would like to go to Cambridge [for BAAS meeting]. Reminisces about his student days.

Pleased that WDF likes his book [Orchids]. At one time CD agreed with Lyell that he was an ass to publish it.

Working on dimorphism and sensibility of other plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
SP 22 62
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 135)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3732,” accessed on 17 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10