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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   [13 February 1845]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Fox

I am very glad to be able to tell you that my Father is at present very well; he has, however, till lately been suffering a good deal from a cough.— When do you intend to pay your Shrewsbury visit? Thanks for your letter & all your news of your Noah’s Ark;2 it wd really be a curiosity to see the place, besides other pleasures. Emma would have as much pleasure I think, as myself, in accepting your very cordial invitation, but I fear there is a reason against it, which even you will admit to be paramount, viz her confinement in the middle of July3 & as soon as the Baby can travel viz Sept 1st we must visit Maer4 & Shrewsbury.— It really is one of my heaviest grievances from my stomach, the incapability & dread I have of going anywhere: I literally have not slept, I believe, out of inns, my own, Erasmus’ Shrewsbury & Maer houses, since I married.— My stomach continues daily badly, but I think I am decidedly better than one or two years ago, as I am able with rare exceptions to do my three hour’s morning work, which at present is on the Geology of S. America, & very dull it will be.—

You ask about Down, the house is now very comfortable; & the garden will be tolerably so, when the evergreens are grown up; I continue to like it very well; & its thorough rurality is invaluable.— By the way, do not ask about the Vesta stove (& thanks for your remembering it) for after hearing it from other quarters, also, highly praised, I saw lastly an Arnotts stove in action, & that struck the balance, & I have got one, & it answers admirably, requiring feeding only twice in 24 hours, & once will do.—

I am very glad to hear you are coming to London, & do, if you possibly can, come on here; we shall be heartily & cordially glad to see you, & you now know, how quietly & in the eyes of most, dully we go on.—

I have not heard anything lately about Mesmerism; except Sidney Smiths dream, (who is said to be dying)5 that he dreamt he was in a madhouse & that he was confined in the same cell with Miss Martineau & the Bishop of Exeter.6 It is said that the remarks on Miss. M. in the Athenæum, were by Brodie;7 I thought them much superior to the general writing in that paper.— I hear Miss. M. is in so excited a state about Mesmerism, that she can hardly keep on peace with her old friends, who are unbelievers; I wonder how she & Erasmus will get on.—8 I simply feel, that I cannot believe, in the same spirit, as it is said, that ladies do believe on all & every subject.

I read aloud Arnolds Life9 to Emma & liked it very much; I wish he had had rather a more lightsome & humorous spirit: as Carlyle would say, he was no “sham”.10

Farewell my dear Fox. | I hope we shall soon meet here. Ever yours | C. Darwin

P.S. I shd. like very much sometime a few of my potatoes,11 & chiefly to get true seed from them, & see whether they will sport or not readily.—


The date is based on an endorsement, not by Fox, of ‘Feb 14 45’ and on the death of Sydney Smith, see n. 5, below.
Fox kept a large number of different varieties of domesticated animals for observation and breeding purposes. The ‘Ark’ enabled him to respond to numerous requests for information from CD.
George Howard Darwin, CD’s second son, was born 9 July 1845.
Emma’s mother, Elizabeth (Bessy) Wedgwood, and sister, Sarah Elizabeth (Elizabeth) Wedgwood, still resided at Maer.
Sydney Smith died on 22 February 1845.
Harriet Martineau and Henry Phillpotts. Martineau was an outspoken Radical, while the bishop was an equally vehement Tory.
Benjamin Collins Brodie. The anonymous article (Athenæum, no. 896, 28 December 1844, pp. 1198–9) was a reply to a series of articles by Harriet Martineau in the Athenæum testifying to her own recovery from illness, apparently as a result of mesmerism (Martineau 1844). See R. K. Webb 1960, pp. 230–3.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin was a close friend of Harriet Martineau, but for his reaction to her involvement with mesmerism see letter to William Darwin Fox, 20 December [1844].
Thomas Arnold. The ‘Life’ is Stanley 1844, recorded in CD’s list of ‘Books Read’ on 30 November 1844 (DAR 119; Vorzimmer 1977, p. 133).
Thomas Carlyle decried Britain for having ‘quitted the laws of Fact, which are also called the laws of God, and [mistaken] for them the laws of Sham and Semblance, which are called the Devil’s laws’ and sought ‘a world reformed of sham-worship’ (Carlyle 1843, pp. 42, 45).
The potato tuber had been sent to Fox by John Stevens Henslow from plants he had raised in 1836 from CD’s seeds (see letter to W. D. Fox, [before 3 October 1846]).


Anon. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. Athenæum, 28 December 1844, pp. 1198–9.

Carlyle, Thomas. 1843. Past and present. London.

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.

Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn. 1844. The life and correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D., late head master of Rugby School. 2 vols. London.

Vorzimmer, Peter J. 1977. The Darwin reading notebooks (1838-1860). Journal of the History of Biology 10: 107–53.

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


News of his family and his own health. He is able to work three hours a day on the geology of South America.

Harriet Martineau is greatly excited by mesmerism.

Tells of Sydney Smith’s dream.

Asks for some [S. American] potatoes to test "sporting".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 69a)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 827,” accessed on 9 June 2023,

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