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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   [15 December 1837 – 9 June 1838]1

My dear Owen

I send you a box with Isle of Wight fossils from Fox, with a letter from him.—2 He will tell you their history.

These fossils appear to me a glorious fact. if any man a hundred years ago had said the time will come, when a naturalist looking at a heap of strata will be able to prophesy that bones of pig-like animals of many kinds are probably entombed there.—3 Would he not in the language of the Persians have been called the grandfather of all liars?—4

I forget whether I told you that Londsdale has some one or two teeth from the Isle of Wight, which he wanted you to see, in case you undertook the Eocene quadrupeds.—5

Balliere6 sends a parcel either on Saturday or at beginning of next week.— I have sent him a copy of 1st Isse for the Institute.7

Yours most truly | Chas. Darwin


Balliere charges about 1s〃 6d. for carriage


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to WDFox, [15 June 1838] (Correspondence vol. 2), in which CD asked William Darwin Fox when he would like his fossils returned. That letter recorded CD’s receipt of the fossils three days earlier and the previous delay in their description by Richard Owen (see n. 2, below). It is likely that the fossils were despatched by Fox to CD some time after their first mention in the correspondence (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to WDFox, [11 December 1837]). In 1837, the Friday after 11 December was 15 December; in 1838, the Friday before 12 June was 9 June.
The letter from Fox has not been found. Owen described the fossils, found by Fox in freshwater beds at Binstead and Seafield quarries on the Isle of Wight, in a paper delivered on 7 November 1838 to the Geological Society of London, and compared them with earlier finds from the same area and from the Paris basin (R. Owen 1838; see also Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 3 (1838): 1–3).
R. Owen 1838 discussed the similarities between the anatomical features of the fossils (teeth of four species of Palaeotherium and two species of Anoplotherium, and a right ramus of the lower jaw of Chaeropotamus) and those of members of the hog tribe. C. Lyell 1855, pp. 210–11, also briefly described the fossils found by Fox, referring to Palaeotherium as resembling a tapir.
CD also used this phrase in the letter to Charles Whitley, 23 July 1834 (Correspondence vol. 1): ‘A Persian writer could alone do justice to it, & if he succeded he would in England, be called the “grandfather of all liars”.’
In his paper on quadrupeds of the Eocene (see n. 2, above), Owen described the structure of the teeth and the form of the jaw in a fossil obtained from the Binstead quarries and deposited in the museum of the Geological Society, of which William Lonsdale was curator and librarian. Owen concluded that the fossil should be attributed to a new species of Dichobunes (R. Owen 1838, pp. 44–5).
Hippolyte Baillière.
Zoology first appeared as a series of nineteen numbers, constituting five parts. The first number contained Owen’s description of parts of the fossil mammal Toxodon platensis, found by CD about 120 miles north-west of Montevideo. It was communicated to the journal L’Institut by the French zoologist Henri Milne-Edwards, and a brief anonymous review appeared in L’Institut, 1st section, 6 (1838): 110–11.


Sends RO a box of fossils from William Darwin Fox, from the Isle of Wight.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Source of text
DAR 185: 115

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 418F,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13 (Supplement)