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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Fox   1 February [1867]1

Delamere Rectory | Northwich | Cheshire

Feb 1

My dear Darwin

I have so long kept my resolution of not writing to you,2 knowing how your time is taken up, and how small your powers are—that I have now determined to reward my goodness by sending off a few lines, hoping that you will some day find time and strength to rejoice my eyes with your handwriting again, and that you will tell me as much as possible about yourself—Mrs Darwin & your family.

I cannot help hoping that I shall hear riding has done much for you.3 If it suits you, it will be every thing to you. You get air and exercise without fatigue and must perforce, give that big brain of yours some rest.

How strange it seems that you and I are left alive, and poor Susan & Catherine taken away.4 They seemed so healthy and strong, and we such runtlings in comparison.

I had such a nice cheerful letter from Susan only a few months before her sad sufferings came on that I quite hoped to have again seen her cheery face.5

What is become of the old house at Shrewsbury. What heaps of genuine kindness have I met within its walls.6 I often look back to the days of joy & sorrow I passed there.

How is Caroline, and where? I should so much like to see her and her girls.7

I have looked anxiously for your Book on domestic animals. Is it coming out this Spring? How gets on the great Book.8 Facts from your numerous correspondents in the World, must keep accumulating so much that it must seem almost to go back instead of forward.

I did fear you would never live to complete it, but I cannot help hoping now that you may live to a good old age, and become strong again.

We have just broken up our Christmas Party—& dispersed 4 of our children—to Oxford—Kings College—& London—while the rest are sitting down to their routine habits—and I to mine of teaching my 4th Boy Latin &c preparatory for school.9

Except myself we have wintered well, & the Boys have had plenty of skating. I have not had a good winter—my lungs having kept me a prisoner almost altogether. I hope however I shall now be able to get out & take air & exercise, both of which I much want. And now I will release you from reading this sad tract. Do let me have a few lines from you soon.

I hope Mrs Darwin and your children are all well. I have a very pleasing recollection of the face of your eldest Girl, whom I saw in London at Erasmus’s.10

With our kindest regards to Mrs Darwin Believe me very dear Dn | Ever yours affectly & truly W D Fox

P.S. I have no less than 3 Free Martins here who have children—1 man 2 women, but one of the latter I find from her New Man had a near escape of being barren. She has however a fine Son.11


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to W. D. Fox, 24 August [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14).
The last extant letter from Fox is that of 20 August [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14).
In his letter of 24 August [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14), CD told Fox that he attributed the improvement in his health partly to his riding every day; see also letter from H. B. Jones, 10 February [1866] and n. 3.
Two of CD’s sisters had died the previous year; Emily Catherine Langton died in February 1866, and Susan Elizabeth Darwin in October 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14).
Susan fell ill several months before her death (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to W. D. Fox, 24 August [1866]).
Fox refers to The Mount, the Darwin family home in Shrewsbury, where Susan had lived until her death (see n. 3, above). Fox was a second cousin of CD’s, and had become particularly close to him while they were students at the University of Cambridge (see Correspondence vol. 1, and Browne 1995, pp. 94–6).
Fox refers to CD’s surviving sister, Caroline Sarah Wedgwood, and to her three daughters, Katherine Elizabeth Sophy, Margaret Susan, and Lucy Caroline Wedgwood (Freeman 1978).
In his letter of 24 August [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14), CD had told Fox of his progress on Variation, and on the fourth edition of Origin.
Charles Woodd Fox, Fox’s second eldest son, matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on 13 October 1865 (Alum. Oxon.). Robert Gerard Fox, Fox’s third eldest son, was educated at King’s College, London (Boase 1894). The other two dispersed children have not been identified, but Fox later mentioned that two of his daughters were at school in London (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter from W. D. Fox, [before 4 November 1868]). Fox’s fourth son was Frederick William Fox, aged 11.
Fox refers to Henrietta Emma Darwin, who must have been visiting her uncle, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, at 6 Queen Anne Street.
Freemartin or free martin: a ‘hermaphrodite or imperfect female’ (OED). Fox asked CD whether he believed in freemartins in his letter of 6 February [1863] (Correspondence vol. 11), noting that in his parish one had recently been born and another had been miscarried. No replies from CD on this subject have been found. In Descent 1: 207, CD wrote that at a very early embryonic period, both sexes of vertebrates possessed ‘true male and female glands’; he also concluded that some extremely remote progenitor of the vertebrates was androgynous or hermaphroditic, but added that the sexes were separate in vertebrates long before humans appeared (ibid. 1: 208). See also letter to William Turner, 15 January [1867] and n. 9.


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.

Boase, Charles William. 1894. An alphabetical register of the commoners of Exeter College, Oxford. Oxford: printed at Baxter’s Press.

Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin. Voyaging. Volume I of a biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

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


Wants to know whether Variation is published and how the other book [CD’s proposed volume on variation in nature] is going.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Darwin Fox
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 185
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5388,” accessed on 23 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15