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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Huxley   [8 February 1863]1

6. Queen Anne St

Sunday night

My dear Huxley

Reflecting over the plate of the Ray fins, I suspect that I have been blundering; & that in six-fingered men the increase is generally confined to metacarpals & digits. If so Fish would do??2 But I have written to Paget to look at Vrolik’s Dutch book on double monsters & on six-fingered cases & tell me how this is.—3 I cannot remember whether I assumed or knew that carpals are ever or generally increased in number.—

I did so enjoy my visit to you this morning, & it was not by any means solely those sweet pats of soft butter.—4

Ever yours | C. Darwin

When I hear from Paget I will tell you.—


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863], and by the reference to CD’s visit to Huxley’s London home. CD was in London from 4 to 14 February 1863 (see n. 4, below); the only Sunday in this period was 8 February.
CD was preparing a section on polydactylism for chapter 12 of Variation (Variation 2: 12–18). See also n. 3, below, and the letter to J. J. Briggs, 2 February [1863]. CD noted that fish fins, unlike the normal digits of humans, mammals, birds, and reptiles, had the power of regrowth. From this observation CD inferred that supernumerary digits in humans retained an ‘embryonic condition’, and resembled the normal digits of lower vertebrates (see Variation 2: 16, and letter to T. H. Huxley, 16 February [1863]).
CD’s letter to James Paget has not been found; however, see the letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863]. In Variation 2: 12 n. 26, CD stated: ‘Vrolik has discussed this point [gradations of polydactylous features] at full length in a work published in Dutch, from which Mr. Paget has kindly translated for me passages.’ Paget’s letter of 7 February is incomplete; however, the reference is probably to Vrolik 1840–2. Willem Vrolik was professor of anatomy at the University of Amsterdam (NNBW).
CD was staying at 6 Queen Anne Street, London, the home of his brother Erasmus Alvey Darwin, between 4 and 14 February 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

NNBW: Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch Woordenboek. Edited by P. C. Molhuysen et al. 10 vols. Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff’s Uitgevers-Maatschappij. 1911–37.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Vrolik, Willem. 1840–2. Handboek der ziektekundige ontleedkunde. [De menschelijke vrucht beschouwd in hare regelmatige en onregelmatige ontwikkeling.] 2 vols. Amsterdam: Johannes Müller.


On six-fingered men: suspects increase confined to metacarpals and digits. Has asked James Paget to look it up.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Huxley
Sent from
London, Queen Anne St, 6
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Huxley 5: 19)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3973,” accessed on 3 December 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11