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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Lawson Tait   28 March 1876

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

March 28. 76

My dear Sir

Sir J. Paget has not published on the subject, but took extraordinary trouble in corresponding with various eminent surgeons & writing to me.1 He gave me particulars of some degree of regrowth especially of the humerus in children, but disbelieves in a digit being ever reproduced. He goes so far as to suspect that when even a nail is reproduced part of the matrix has been left; but I cannot avoid thinking that he is in this respect over sceptical. I sent him full particulars & tracings of the two cases which had been communicated to me.2

I send by this post Dr Rudinger’s essay which I advise you to read3

I think your intention of amputating the extra digit of a kitten is an excellent idea. Could not you try also on a Dorking fowl. I suppose that you would keep the amputated little toe in spirits; and then if there were re-growth, you could give drawings of the bones of the first digit & of the regrowth   I would suggest your amputating one of the ordinary toes at the same time as a control experiment.4

I am glad you are examining tail-less animals, but it would not be worth while to send me the specimens, as I have not sufficient knowledge & am much engaged with other subjects.5

I fear that you will fail about regrowth, but if you can prove it the discovery will be an interesting one.

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


In his letter of 27 March [1876], Tait had asked about James Paget’s evidence for doubting the regrowth of human supernumerary digits after amputation; see also letter to Lawson Tait, 25 March [1876] and n. 3.
CD’s letter to Paget has not been found; see, however, Correspondence vol. 23, letter from James Paget, 14 August 1875.
Nicolaus Rüdinger’s essay on polydactylism was published in Rüdinger 1876, pp. 25–35; see letter to Lawson Tait, 25 March [1876] and n. 3.
See letter from Lawson Tait, 27 March [1876]. In Variation 2d ed. 2: 70, CD observed: ‘When Dorking fowls with five toes are crossed with other breeds, the chickens often have five toes on one foot and four on the other.’


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

Rüdinger, Nicolaus. 1876. Beiträge zur Anatomie des Gehörorganes: der venösen Blutbahnen der Schädelhöhle, sowie der überzähligen Finger. Munich: Literarisch-artistische Anstalt (Th. Riedel).

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.


James Paget’s scepticism about regrowth of digits. Suggests RLT experiment with amputation of digits, both extra and normal, of kittens and fowls. Fears they will fail to regrow, but, if regrowth is proved, it will be an important discovery.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Sent from
Source of text
Roy Davids Ltd (dealer) (1996)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10434,” accessed on 5 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24