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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Emma Darwin to W. D. Fox   8 December [1863]

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

Dec 8

Dear Mr Fox

Thank you very much for your letter.1 I must own it has discouraged me a good deal as to the necessity of steel traps.2 I believe you are the only person in England who has energy & humanity to visit the traps at midnight & Charles tells me you once carried a toad over the Menai Bridge for fear he should come to a bad end—3

I want to ask you to do me a favour. My game keeper friend4 here who is so smooth spoken I suspect he chiefly tells me what he thinks I want to hear, tells me that the animals almost always break the leg in their first frantic efforts to escape— is this true according to your experience?5 But I want you to be so kind as to have a trap wound round with cloth or flannel over the iron teeth so as to see whether it will save much suffering to have the leg only pinched instead of torn with the teeth. I thought if it is true that the leg is broken the animal would suffer nearly as much in whatever way it is held fast.

I am going to send out papers for subscriptions & when I have got as many names as I can I must put it into the hands of the Soc. in Pall Mall, as the awarding the prize will be a difficult matter.6 I send you a paper to shew what sort of a beginning we have made & I am more grateful for two 5s/ subscriptions than one at £1, for I think the number of names who take an interest in the attempt is what chiefly signifies7

I can give rather a better account of Charles this week but he is never long without attacks of sickness. The water cure seemed to do him harm & Dr Gully quite owned that he was not strong enough to bear it8   Since we came home he has consulted Dr Brinton of Guy’s Hospital & I hope mineral acid is doing him some good9.

He is wonderfully cheerful when not positively uncomfortable   He does not feel the least temptation to disobey orders about working for he feels quite incapable of doing any thing.

His good symptoms are losing no flesh & having a good appetite so that I fully hope that in time he will regain his usual standard of health which is not saying much for him. He desires me to remember him most kindly to you & with my very kind remembrances to Mrs Fox10 I am dear Mr Fox yours very sincerely | E. Darwin

I will trouble you with the new paper when it is printed.11 I wish you had told us how you are yourself


The letter from Fox has not been found.
Presumably Fox had remarked on the pamphlet prepared by CD and Emma to protest against the use of steel traps by gamekeepers (An Appeal; see Correspondence vol.11, Appendix IX); the pamphlet was included with the letter from Emma Darwin to W. D. Fox, [29 September 1863]. See also letter From Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, [7 December 1863], n. 11.
The Menai Bridge spans the Menai Straits to connect Anglesey to Caernarvonshire, Wales. No other reference to Fox’s actions has been found.
This individual has not been identified. Two resident gamekeepers were recorded in Down, Kent, in 1861: John Stigwood and William Folgate (Census returns of England and Wales 1861 (The National Archives: Public Record Office RG9/462/73/8, RG9/462/77/15)).
No answer from Fox has been found.
Emma refers to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which had offices at 12 Pall Mall, London (Post Office London directory 1863). There is an entry in CD’s Account books–banking accounts (Down House MS) recording the receipt of a subscription towards funding a prize for the design of a humane trap for the destruction of vermin (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IX).
The enclosure has not been found.
CD underwent treatment at James Smith Ayerst’s hydropathic establishment in Malvern Wells, Worcestershire, between 3 September and 12 or 13 October 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). CD had formerly received hydropathic treatment from James Manby Gully at Great Malvern, Worcestershire, but was treated on this occasion by Ayerst, presumably on the recommendation of Gully, owing to Gully’s own ill health (see letter from W. D. Fox, [16–22 May 1863], and letters to W. D. Fox, 23 May [1863], and 4 [September 1863] and n. 1).
Emma was mistaken; William Brinton was a physician at St Thomas’s Hospital, London; no position at Guy’s Hospital is listed in the Medical directory. The mineral acid referred to may have been hydrocyanic acid (see letter from George Busk, [c. 27 August 1863]).
Presumably a reference to Emma’s proposed circular soliciting donations for a prize to be offered for the design of a humane vermin trap (see n. 6, above).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Medical directory: The London medical directory … every physician, surgeon, and general practitioner resident in London. London: C. Mitchell. 1845. The London and provincial medical directory. London: John Churchill. 1848–60. The London & provincial medical directory, inclusive of the medical directory for Scotland, and the medical directory for Ireland, and general medical register. London: John Churchill. 1861–9. The medical directory … including the London and provincial medical directory, the medical directory for Scotland, the medical directory for Ireland. London: J. & A. Churchill. 1870–1905.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Thanks WDF for his letter [on steel traps].

Gives a better report of CD’s health since he gave up water-cure.

Letter details

Letter no.
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
DE 8 63
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 142)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4355,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

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