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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Henry Bence Jones   3 January [1866]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Jan 3.

My dear Dr Bence Jones

I have a good report to make.2 I am able now to walk daily on an average 312 miles & often one mile at a stretch.3

My weight now with slight fluctuations keeps steady at the lowest point to which it has sunk.4 I feel altogether much more vigorous & active. I read more, & what is delightful, I am able to write easy work for about 112 hours every day.5 The only drawback is that on most days 3 hours after luncheon or dinner, I have a sharpish headache on one side, & with bad flatulence lasting to the next meal.6 I forgot to say that taking the whole day, the flatulence is somewhat diminished especially on my better days. One day when my head & stomach were extra bad, in despair I took a cup of coffee without sugar, & it acted really like a charm & has continued to do so; for I now take a cup of coffee each day with luncheon or dinner, & I believe I have never once had headache and flatulence after the meal with coffee.7 I have transposed luncheon & dinner & made other changes, but as far as I can discover it is the coffee which is effectual. Under these circumstances may I try coffee with both luncheon & dinner. I have not yet much taste for common meat, but eat a little game or fowl twice a day & eggs, omelet or maccaroni or cheese at the other meals & these I think suit me best. I have not taken to [2 words illeg] much starch for I have such horror about acid.8

There is an odd change in my stomach, for the last 20 years coffee & cheese have disagreed with me, now they suit me eminently well.9 I took 10g oxyde of Iron for a fortnight but did not miss it when I left it off 10 days ago: I will do as you like about retaking it.10 I have taken 10 drops of Muriatic acid twice a day (with Cayenne & ginger) for above 3 weeks & it suits me excellently. 11 May I continue it longer? I hope you will be pleased with my report. I shall be grateful for any further advice

yours very faithfully with | cordial thanks | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from H. B. Jones, 10 February [1866].
CD became a patient of Jones’s during the summer of 1865; on Jones’s recommendation, CD had begun a strict diet (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Asa Gray, 15 August [1865] and n. 12). CD reported some improvement in his condition in September 1865 (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865]). For further discussion of CD’s health, see Bowlby 1990, Browne 1998, Colp 1998, and Browne 2002, pp. 262–9. See also Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix IV, for an account of CD’s health in the preceding months.
In his notes on his health, submitted to John Chapman in May 1865, CD mentioned that he could not walk more than half a mile (see Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix IV). Emma Darwin’s diary listed regular walks on the sandwalk (see Atkins 1974, pp. 25–6) between July and early October and walks of between 3 and 523 miles between 5 and 17 October 1865 (DAR 242).
In the letter to J. D. Hooker, 27 [or 28 September 1865], CD recorded the beneficial effect of his loss of 15 lbs since starting Jones’s diet (see Correspondence vol. 13). Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) shows CD’s weight to have been in the range of 11 st. 2 lbs (156 lbs) to 11 st. 4 lbs (158 lbs) during August 1865. Thereafter, her weekly records show CD’s progressive loss of weight to 10 st. 4 lbs (144 lbs) by early December 1865. His weight remained stable until late January 1866, rising later in the year to around 1012 st. (147 lbs). CD was about six feet in height (LL 1: 109).
In his notes on his health dated May 1865, CD wrote that reading caused his ears to sing and interfered with his vision (see Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix IV). CD also mentioned the problem in letters (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker 27 [or 28 September 1865]). In his letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 December [1865] (Correspondence vol. 13), CD said he was able to write for an hour on most days. CD wrote in his ‘Journal’ that he resumed his work on Variation on 25 December 1865 (see Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix II).
In his May 1865 notes on his health, CD had stated that he seldom suffered from headaches, but noted his chronic flatulence (see Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix IV). CD subsequently underwent Chapman’s ice treatment for flatulence and other problems (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to John Chapman, 7 June 1865).
The entry in Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) for 8 December 1865 reads ‘left off sugar’. No other references to the beneficial effects of coffee on CD’s health have been found.
In 1864, CD’s illness had caused him to vomit ‘acid & morbid secretion’ (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, [20–]22 February [1864]); these symptoms were treated with antacids by William Jenner (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 April [1864] and n. 6). CD’s continuing problem with acidity was recorded in the notes on his health of May 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13, Appendix IV and n. 5).
CD seems to have drunk coffee without problems as a young man (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 7, letter to W. D. Fox, 13 November [1858]).
CD began taking iron in 1864, Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) recording ‘began iron’ on 12 April, and ‘began phosph. iron’ on 21 August and 21 September. CD took phosphate of iron on Jenner’s advice (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters from William Jenner, 15 October 1864 and 9 November 1864). It is not known when, or for what reason, CD started to take oxide of iron; contemporary preparations of oxide of iron and their medicinal properties are described in Royle and Headland 1865, pp. 139–43.
Muriatic acid was the contemporary term for hydrochloric acid (Royle and Headland 1865, p. 49). A recipe for a remedy consisting of ‘Oxley’s essence of Ginger’ and tincture of cayenne in brandy is given by CD in the letter to G. H. Darwin, 22 January 1873 (Calendar no. 8747). Cayenne is derived from species of Capsicum and was used for the treatment of gout and flatulence (Beasley 1865, p. 161). Ginger was valued for its beneficial effects on the stomach (Beasley 1865, p. 537).


Atkins, Hedley J. B. 1974. Down, the home of the Darwins: the story of a house and the people who lived there. London: Royal College of Surgeons.

Beasley, Henry. 1865. The book of prescriptions, containing more than 3000 prescriptions, collected from the practice of the most eminent physicians and surgeons, English and foreign. 3d edition. London: John Churchill and Sons.

Bowlby, John. 1990. Charles Darwin: a biography. London: Hutchinson.

Browne, Janet. 1998. I could have retched all night. Darwin and his body. In Science incarnate. Historical embodiments of natural knowledge, edited by Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Browne, Janet. 2002. Charles Darwin. The power of place. Volume II of a biography. London: Pimlico.

Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Colp, Ralph, Jr. 1998. To be an invalid, redux. Journal of the History of Biology 31: 211–40.

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

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

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


A report on his somewhat improved health.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henry Bence Jones
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 249: 86
Physical description
LS(A) 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4968A,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14