skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   11 May [1874]

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 11th

My dear Fox

I was very glad to get your interesting letter which was not a word too long, & did not tell me a thing which I did not wish to hear.—1

I opened the parcel before reading your letter & speculated much how the quasi-drawings had been made, for I saw hairs & scales on them. They are very curious & if they can be produced cheaply, they would really be very valuable & would tell anyone the names of the British Lepidoptera very quickly. I cannot conceive how they can be done, for the same butterfly or moth must I suppose serve for several copies. I do not know Mr Merrin’s address else I would write & thank him very sincerely.2 Will you do this kind act for me, as I generally have such a lot of letters to write every day.— I will show the plates to any one interested in Nat. Hist. who may be here.—

I am glad to hear so good an account of yourself, & as for one’s body growing old there is no help for it, & I feel as old as Methusalem;3 but not much in mind, except that I think one takes everything more quietly, as not signifying so much. And as you say one looks backwards much more than forwards & can never expect to have nearly such keen enjoyment as in old days, as when we breakfasted together at Cambridge & shot in Derbyshire. Do I remember Brachinus?4 Am I alive? Poor Albert Way I did not know that he was dead: it is a good job, for I have heard that his life & mind have been wretched for some years.—5

Like you I always associate my Father with his gardens, & last evening was speaking to Emma about his sitting so long in the garden listening to the Birds singing. You ask about Caroline: she is aged in her body & infirm, but very brisk in mind: a few days ago, another daughter was married, & now the old pair will be left with only one nestling, & this will be dull for the House.—6 You ask also about myself: I have been rather better of late, but I never pass six hours without much discomfort; & I forget myself only when I am at work. I have just finished correcting new Editions of my Descent of Man & Coral Reefs; & this is very tedious work, & I am delighted to be at new investigations. I am preparing a book almost wholly on Drosera or the Sun-Dew,7 which is a wonderful plant under a physiological point of view, & I think I have made some curious discoveries. One of the chief new points is that it secretes a fluid analogous to gastric juice, for it contains a ferment, closely analogous to pepsine, with an acid, & can thus in a few hours dissolve the hardest cartilage, bone & meat &c. &c.—

I shall never have strength & life to complete more of the series of books in relation to the Origin, of which I have the M.S. half completed; but I have started the subject & that must be enough for me.—8

It will be job for you to decipher this scrawl. Farewell my dear old friend— My wife sends her very kind remembrances & do pay us a visit whenever you can. | Farewell yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin

My son’s Bank is in High St “Hawkinson, Atherley & Darwin”   it is a very flourishing concern.—9

My son George, I fear, is a confirmed invalid & has given up the law— My third is going to be married & will be my Secretary.— Leonard R.E. is going to N. Zealand on the Venus Expedition. Horace is working in an Engineers Workshop, but is often unwell.— Hereditary ill-health.10


Fox had sent CD a copy of Joseph Merrin’s book, Butterflying with the poets (Merrin 1864; see letter from W. D. Fox, 8 May [1874] and n. 3). Merrin 1864, p. iv, implied that one butterfly was used to create one image. It stated that the edition size was limited, and the cost high, because it was difficult to obtain a large number of specimens.
The biblical figure Methuselah lived 969 years (Genesis 5: 21–7).
Brachemis crepitans is the bombadier beetle. See letter from W. D. Fox, 8 May [1874] and n. 9.
CD refers to his father Robert Waring Darwin and his sister, Caroline Sarah Wedgwood. Caroline’s daughter Lucy Caroline Wedgwood married Matthew James Harrison in 1874 (Freeman 1978). Caroline’s husband was Josiah Wedgwood III; Katherine Elizabeth Sophy Wedgwood was the daughter left at home.
After Origin and Variation, CD had planned further works on the ‘variability of organic beings in a state of nature’, and on how ‘complex affinities’ between ‘past and present inhabitants of the world’ could be given ‘a rational explanation on the principle of descent, together with modifications acquired through natural selection, entailing divergence of character and the extinction of intermediate forms’ (see Variation 1: 4 and 11). CD also refers to the parts of his unpublished ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection) that were not published in Origin and Variation.
William Erasmus Darwin was a banker in Southampton.
CD refers to his sons George Howard Darwin, Francis Darwin, Leonard Darwin, and Horace Darwin. Leonard was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1871, and served on several scientific expeditions, including those for the observation of the transit of Venus in 1874 and 1882. Horace served a three-year apprenticeship with the engineering firm Easton and Anderson of Erith, Kent, starting in 1874. (ODNB.)


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

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Merrin, Joseph, 1864. Butterflying with the poets: a picture of the poetical aspect of butterfly life. With nature-printed illustrations. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

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.

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


Has just finished new editions of Descent

and Coral reefs.

Is working on a book almost wholly on Drosera; thinks he has made some discoveries.

Will never have strength and life to complete more of the series of books related to Origin.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
MY 11 74
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 153)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9454,” accessed on 15 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22