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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Joseph Briggs   2 February [1863]1

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

Feb. 2d

Dear Sir

I hope that you will forgive the liberty which I take in addressing you.— Mr F. Buckland tells me that he thinks that you would give me one piece of information.2 I remember seeing in The Field an excellent article, written I believe by you, on the regrowth of the fin’s of fishes when cut off.— Could you inform me of the year & page in The Field in which the article appeared.3 Unfortunately I have not kept the copies, & if it be not asking too great a favour, I should be very much obliged if you would inform me (1) what kinds of fish were tried (2) what fins whether pectoral, dorsal &c. were cut (3) whether whole or half or quarter of fin was cut off (4) whether the bony rays were again formed, & whether the fin ultimately appeared perfect. I wish to quote the fact on your authority in a work which I am preparing for publication, & should be grateful for any information.

Hoping that you will forgive the liberty, which I have taken, I beg leave to remain, Dear Sir | Yours faithfully & obliged | Charles Darwin


The year is established by reference to CD’s inquiry regarding the regrowth of fish fins, the results of which were incorporated into chapter 12 of Variation (Variation 2: 15–16). CD began writing the chapter on 23 January 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). See also letter to F. T. Buckland, 1 February [1863].
Francis Trevelyan Buckland presumably included this information in the missing portion of his letter to CD of [before 1 February 1863].
The reference may be to a letter published by Briggs in the Field 20 (1862): 412, in which Briggs reported the results of experiments with salmon fins. CD did not cite the letter in Variation, but stated that he had been informed by Briggs and Buckland that ‘when portions of the pectoral and tail fins of various freshwater fish are cut off, they are perfectly reproduced in about six weeks’ time’ (Variation 2: 15–16). CD’s interest in fish fins formed part of an investigation of polydactylism in humans. CD argued that ‘supernumary digits’ in humans retained an ‘embryonic condition’ that enabled such digits to regrow following amputation, a property analogous with the regrowth of fins in fish.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


Asks JJB for date of his article in the Field dealing with the regeneration of fishes’ fins; additional questions about the fish.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Joseph Briggs
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.286)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3963,” accessed on 24 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11