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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Fox   8 May [1874]1

Broadlands | Sandown | I. Wight

May 8

My dear Darwin

You will be surprised by the package which accompanies this—the account of which I will give you at once. One of my daughters was staying some months since at Sydney Dobells in Gloucestershire—2 who shewed her a collection of Butterflies & Moths arranged in a Book preserved as you see the enclosed. They are done by a Mr Merrin—an Entomologist at Gloucester, who hopes to introduce them into Schools &c.3

Mr Merrin, hearing that I was a connexion of yours, begged that I would be the means of sending these preserved B.s to you,—the great desire of his heart being that he should have the honour and glory of presenting them for your approbation.

I told him I would take care you had them, & here they are. The plan is ingenious and answers sufficiently for practical purposes, but alas! the poor Butterflies lose a sad deal of their lustre & beauty in the process. I know nothing whatever of the man, but hear he has published some small works on Entomology.

You will have made him a happy man by accepting them, & they will not burden you by their bulk.

I felt glad of the occurrence as I had been wishful to write to you for some time past but had no particular excuse for doing so.

It is now long since I have heard of you, & I shd much like a few lines from Mrs Darwin or yourself, telling me (as I hope) that you are in better health, and that Mrs Darwin & your family are well. Tell me also how Caroline4 is. I should so like to see her & you again. If I go to London this Summer, I shall certainly try to do so.

I am now a regular resident here, having given up Delamere Altogether. I hoped to have met with some Naturalists in the Island, but have not done so at present.5

I have outlived almost all my old Isle of Wight friends—& entirely my Naturalist ones.

It was a wrench to leave my o〈l〉d parsonage where I had spent 〈35〉 happy years, but I felt it right any way.

Here I have been busy in doing what you did at Down—not building a house—but making Gardens &c out of the most unpromising materials I ever had to do with. After buying every potato &c—I have now atchieved a good Kitchen Garden with lots of all Vegetables & a good deal of fruit, & in another year shall look tolerably civilised. Your good Father & Susan & Catherine so often come into my mind when in my Garden.6

I have got all my old furniture— & remembrances about me, and am very busy and happy. I find old age encreeping upon me, however, more rapidly than I expected. I had looked for its approaches more gradually, but it comes by leaps—and I believe if I live another couple of years I shall be quite an old man.

I am in my 70th year—does it not seem strange how old we get (you are however younger than me)–but it seems but a few years since we were lads together. You have worked so hard & gone thro’ so much bad health, that it probably does not seem so to you—the worst of it is with me that— while I lack the power of youth— I feel in myself as young & foolish as ever I was. It seems to me as if at my age—one dwells upon the far past—& the deep future—far more than the present.

But I shall weary you out with my scribbling. I have been delighted with Sir John Lubbocks Thysanura in Ray Sy. It seems to me a most wonderful Book to come from a man known as he is—as a Philosopher, Politician & Banker. The world in general cannot understand how such a mind can care about silver fishes, as they are commonly called—about the most contemptible & least cared for of the infinitely small.7 He is somewhat like what has been said of the Elephants proboscis— able to root up trees & pick up a needle.

Is your son still a Banker at Southampton & if so what is his Firm there.8 I sometimes meditate going over there, & if I did, should much like to see him.

Do you intend publishing a work containing the Sum total of your gatherings— as I think you once did, or are you contented to leave them scattered thro’ your various Vols?

I imagine you have got so into the habit of real work that it is as necessary to you as Idleness seems to me.

That you may have encreased health & many years to work in is the sincere wish of your old & attached Friend W. D. Fox | Kindest regards to Mrs Darwin from my Wife & self.

PS. | Do you remember Brachemis crepitans; and our delight on finding it.9 I have never seen it since those glorious days, until my Boy10 brought in some a week since, as much pleased as we were with it—& as much surprised— They fired away most wonderfully. I dont think they have practised any improvement in Gunnery.

This reminds me of poor little Albert Way. I had no idea when my friend Lady [Natherton] told me she was going to the South of France to help to nurse a friends Husband—that Way was the man—until I saw 〈  〉 death lately.11

You probably have often met him— I never have since we three gloried over Panagæus Crux Major—12 Those were days— & I always rejoice over them when I see the old specimens— & think of Henslow13 &c &c.


The year is established by Fox (born 23 April 1805) stating that he was now in his seventieth year.
Fox had nine surviving daughters; he also refers to Sydney Thompson Dobell.
Joseph Merrin’s Butterflying with the poets (Merrin 1864) contained thirty-nine nature-printed pictures of fifteen butterfly species bound in on cards. The preface to Merrin 1864 (p. iv) described an improved method of nature-printing, which permanently transferred the butterfly scales and colours to paper. The work featured poetical associations of butterflies, quoting poems but not giving the authors’ names.
Fox refers to CD’s sister, Caroline Sarah Wedgwood.
Fox was rector at Delamere, Cheshire, until 1873, after which he retired to Sandown, Isle of Wight (Alum. Cantab.). He had been spending winters on the Isle of Wight for some time (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 18, letter from W. D. Fox, 15 February [1870]).
Fox refers to Robert Waring Darwin, Susan Elizabeth Darwin, and Emily Catherine Darwin.
John Lubbock’s Monograph of the Collembola and Thysanura was published by the Ray Society (Lubbock 1873). Silverfish belong to the genus Lepisma in the order Thysanura.
William Erasmus Darwin was a partner in the Maddison, Atherley, Hankinson and Darwin bank in Southampton (Banking almanac 1874).
Brachemis crepitans, the bombadier beetle, squirts an acrid fluid when in danger. On one of his entomological trips at Cambridge, CD put a beetle from the family Carabidae (ground beetles, of which Brachemis crepitans is a species) in his mouth while he was trying to capture another specimen (Correspondence vol. 3, letter to Leonard Jenyns, 17 October [1846]; see also ‘Recollections’, pp. 378–9).
Fox probably refers to his youngest son, Gilbert Basil Fox.
Way went on entomological trips with Fox and CD at Cambridge. He died while recuperating from an illness at Le Trouville, Cannes, on 23 March 1874 (ODNB). Lady Natherton has not been identified.
Panagaeus crux-major is the crucifix ground beetle; it was the beetle CD was trying to capture when he put the bombadier beetle in his mouth (see n. 9, above).
John Stevens Henslow was professor of botany at Cambridge, and became CD’s teacher and friend; for CD’s account of Henslow’s influence on him, see ‘Recollections’, pp. 379–81.


Alum. Cantab.: Alumni Cantabrigienses. A biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1922–54.

Banking almanac: The banking almanac, directory, yearbook and diary. London: Richard Groombridge; Waterlow & Sons. 1845–1919.

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

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.

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.

‘Recollections’: Recollections of the development of my mind and character. By Charles Darwin. In Evolutionary writings, edited by James A. Secord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.


Has left Delamere and settled on the Isle of Wight.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Darwin Fox
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 197
Physical description
10pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9446,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

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