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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   20 December [1844]

Down near Bromley | Kent

Dec. 20th

My dear Fox

I was on the point of going to London when your note arrived, whence I returned yesterday, from visiting Erasmus with whom Susan staying. She begs me to say, (which I cd have said) that my Father, she is sure will be very glad to see you at any time, whennever convenient to yourself, when you will write to propose yourself, & if my Father is not then very well, he will have no scruple in deferring your visit. My Father’s health, I grieve to say, is now very uncertain: he has just lately been very well, but about 3 weeks since he had rather a severe attack upon his chest. He has been prevailed upon to sleep down stairs, but it was most painful to him, thus to give up one step in life. He was upon the whole very cheerful when I was there.— Illness with his figure & constitution is very dreadful.1

With respect to mesmerism, the whole country resounds with wonderful facts or tales: the subject is most curious, whether real or false; for in the latter case, what is human evidence worth? I am astonished at your zeal, with respect to Miss Martineau,2 for to my mind, the girls case3 bears more plainly, than I shd have expected, the mark of deception, possibly involuntary. You are no doubt aware that many doctors (for example Dr. Holland4) have long ago remarked how marvellous a diseased tendency to deception there is in disordered females. Shd your zeal still continue, I wd write to Miss Martineau & propose your visiting her (my Brother wishes to avoid all communication with her on this subject)— When in London, I saw a letter from her (not to my Brother), in which she says crowds of people are coming to her from all parts of England; she does not seem to dislike this, but she says she is going very soon to leave Tynemouth for rest from visitors; so you wd. have to go at once if you do go. I have just heard of a child 3 or 4 years old (whose parents & self I well know) mesmerized by his father, which is the first fact, which has staggered me.— I shall not believe, fully, till I see or hear from good evidence of animals (as has been stated is possible) not drugged, being put to stupor; of course the impossibility wd not prove mesmerism false: but it is the only clear experimentum crucis, & I am astonished it has not been systematically tryed.

If mesmerism was investigated, like a science, this cd not have been left till present day to be done satisfactorily, as it has been, I believe, left.— Keep some cats yourself & do get some mesmerizer to attempt it. One man told me he had succeeded, but his experiments were most vague, as was likely from a man, who said cats were more easily done, than other animals, because they were so electrical.!! (Miss Martineaus case was tumor, I presume, of the womb or Ovaria. the tumor is reduced greatly & her deafness decreasing: she is in a most excited state. My Father has often known Mania relieve incurable complaints.)—5

As long as you like to receive the Athenæums, I shall have pleasure in sending them. Shd. you happen to call this winter at the House, in which the “Rippons & Burtons (R. 389) Vesta Stove” is, wd you be so kind as ask whether they continue to like it. 2d. whether it often wants feeding. 3d whether it gives out much heat, enough to warm a cold House. I must get a new one: & I am confounded with so many recommendations.—

Pray excuse this very untidy note, written in a Hurry & | believe me | ever yours | C. Darwin


On his 80th birthday (30 May 1846) Robert Waring Darwin weighed 22 stone 312 pounds (‘Weighing Account’ book, Down House MS).
Harriet Martineau’s health had broken down in 1839. In 1844 she undertook a course of mesmerism, after which her health was dramatically restored. She published an account of her cure in the Athenæum (Martineau 1844) and subsequently published it in Letters on mesmerism (1845). See Arbuckle ed. 1983, p. 78.
Jane Arrowsmith, a partially blind 19-year-old girl, thought by Harriet Martineau to be clairvoyant. According to Martineau, Jane, while in a mesmeric trance at a séance on 15 October 1844, predicted the safe return of the crew of a wrecked ship. See R. K. Webb 1960, p. 229.
Harriet Martineau suffered from ‘prolapse of the uterus and polypous tumours’ (R. K. Webb 1960, p. 193). She had been deaf from the age of 20 (p. 6).


Arbuckle, Elisabeth Sanders, ed. 1983. Harriet Martineau’s letters to Fanny Wedgwood. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Martineau, Harriet. 1844. On mesmerism. Athenæum (23 and 30 November, 7, 14, and 21 December): 1070–2, 1093–4, 1117-18, 1144–6, 1173–4.

Martineau, Harriet. 1845. Letters on mesmerism. London.

Webb, Robert Kiefer. 1960. Harriet Martineau; a radical Victorian. New York: Columbia University Press.


Tells of his father’s ill health.

Discusses mesmerism and Harriet Martineau’s recovery. If animals could be put into a stupor, he would be convinced. Suggests WDF have some mesmeriser attempt it with cats.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 70)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 801,” accessed on 30 May 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3