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Darwin Correspondence Project

To ?   10 May [1866?]1

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

May 10th

My dear Sir

Many thanks for your note & kind desire for me not to answer.—2 The case seemed worth enquiry, so I wrote to Mr Dorrell, a head man in Messrs. Clowes enormous establishment3 & he assures me that the difference in apparent length of arms is by no means common with compositors,4 & that when it occurs it is only apparent from one shoulder drooping. Hence compositors often walk with one arm retained in a peculiar position. He says when the apparently unequal arms are measured there is no real difference in their length.— File-makers, I may add, get into a habit of standing in so peculiar a position, that they always speak of one of their legs as the hind leg, even when not at work.—

With many thanks | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is conjectured from the endorsement, which is in an unknown hand.
The note has not been found.
Dorrell was evidently in charge of typesetting at the firm of William Clowes and Sons, printers to CD’s publisher, John Murray; he was probably a member of the family firm Edmund Robson Dorrell & Son, booksellers with premises next to Clowes on Charing Cross (S.W.), London (Post Office London directory 1866). CD later wrote to Dorrell about the printing and typesetting of Descent (letter to Mr Dorrell, 9 August 1870, Calendar no. 7298).
CD discussed modifications to the body parts of animals in relation to their use or disuse in Origin, pp. 11, 134–9, Variation 2: 295–303, and Descent 1: 116–21, where he considered the effects of different occupations.


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.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

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.

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


The apparent difference in arm lengths of compositors is due to a drooping shoulder. File-makers stand in a peculiar position and call one of their legs the hind leg.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5083,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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