The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 117 of 188

Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

Down, March 7th [1852].

My dear Fox,

It is indeed an age since we have had any communication, and very glad I was to receive your note. Our long silence occurred to me a few weeks since, and I had then thought of writing, but was idle. I congratulate and condole with you on your tenth child; but please to observe when I have a tenth, send only condolences to me. We have now seven children, all well, thank God, as well as their mother; of these seven, five are boys; and my father used to say that it was certain that a boy gave as much trouble as three girls; so that bona fide we have seventeen children. It makes me sick whenever I think of professions; all seem hopelessly bad, and as yet I cannot see a ray of light. I should very much like to talk over this (by the way, my three bugbears are Californian and Australian gold, beggaring me by making my money on mortgage worth nothing; the French coming by the Westerham and Sevenoaks roads, and therefore enclosing Down; and thirdly, professions for my boys), and I should like to talk about education, on which you ask me what we are doing. No one can more truly despise the old stereotyped stupid classical education than I do; but yet I have not had courage to break through the trammels. After many doubts we have just sent our eldest boy to Rugby, where for his age he has been very well placed…I honour, admire, and envy you for educating your boys at home. What on earth shall you do with your boys? Towards the end of this month we go to see W. at Rugby, and thence for five or six days to Susan (His sister.) at Shrewsbury; I then return home to look after the babies, and E. goes to F. Wedgwood’s of Etruria for a week. Very many thanks for your most kind and large invitation to Delamere, but I fear we can hardly compass it. I dread going anywhere, on account of my stomach so easily failing under any excitement. I rarely even now go to London; not that I am at all worse, perhaps rather better, and lead a very comfortable life with my three hours of daily work, but it is the life of a hermit. My nights are always bad, and that stops my becoming vigorous. You ask about water-cure. I take at intervals of two or three months, five or six weeks of moderately severe treatment, and always with good effect. Do you come here, I pray and beg whenever you can find time; you cannot tell how much pleasure it would give me and E. I have finished the 1st volume for the Ray Society of Pedunculated Cirripedes, which, as I think you are a member, you will soon get. Read what I describe on the sexes of Ibla and Scalpellum. I am now at work on the Sessile Cirripedes, and am wonderfully tired of my job: a man to be a systematic naturalist ought to work at least eight hours per day. You saw through me, when you said that I must have wished to have seen the effects of the [word illegible] Debacle, for I was saying a week ago to E., that had I been as I was in old days, I would have been certainly off that hour. You ask after Erasmus; he is much as usual, and constantly more or less unwell. Susan (His sister.) is much better, and very flourishing and happy. Catherine (Another sister.) is at Rome, and has enjoyed it in a degree that is quite astonishing to my dry old bones. And now I think I have told you enough, and more than enough about the house of Darwin; so my dear old friend, farewell. What pleasant times we had in drinking coffee in your rooms at Christ’s College, and think of the glories of Crux major. (The beetle Panagaeus crux-major.) Ah, in those days there were no professions for sons, no ill-health to fear for them, no Californian gold, no French invasions. How paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children. My dread is hereditary ill-health. Even death is better for them.

My dear Fox, your sincere friend,
C. Darwin.

P.S.–Susan has lately been working in a way which I think truly heroic about the scandalous violation of the Act against children climbing chimneys. We have set up a little Society in Shrewsbury to prosecute those who break the law. It is all Susan’s doing. She has had very nice letters from Lord Shaftesbury and the Duke of Sutherland, but the brutal Shropshire squires are as hard as stones to move. The Act out of London seems most commonly violated. It makes one shudder to fancy one of one’s own children at seven years old being forced up a chimney–to say nothing of the consequent loathsome disease and ulcerated limbs, and utter moral degradation. If you think strongly on this subject, do make some inquiries; add to your many good works, this other one, and try to stir up the magistrates. There are several people making a stir in different parts of England on this subject. It is not very likely that you would wish for such, but I could send you some essays and information if you so liked, either for yourself or to give away.

Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

Down [October 24th, 1852].

My dear Fox,

I received your long and most welcome letter this morning, and will answer it this evening, as I shall be very busy with an artist, drawing Cirripedia, and much overworked for the next fortnight. But first you deserve to be well abused–and pray consider yourself well abused–for thinking or writing that I could for one minute be bored by any amount of detail about yourself and belongings. It is just what I like hearing; believe me that I often think of old days spent with you, and sometimes can hardly believe what a jolly careless individual one was in those old days. A bright autumn evening often brings to mind some shooting excursion from Osmaston. I do indeed regret that we live so far off each other, and that I am so little locomotive. I have been unusually well of late (no water-cure), but I do not find that I can stand any change better than formerly…The other day I went to London and back, and the fatigue, though so trifling, brought on my bad form of vomiting. I grieve to hear that your chest has been ailing, and most sincerely do I hope that it is only the muscles; how frequently the voice fails with the clergy. I can well understand your reluctance to break up your large and happy party and go abroad; but your life is very valuable, so you ought to be very cautious in good time. You ask about all of us, now five boys (oh! the professions; oh! the gold; and oh! the French–these three oh’s all rank as dreadful bugbears) and two girls…but another and the worst of my bugbears is hereditary weakness. All my sisters are well except Mrs. Parker, who is much out of health; and so is Erasmus at his poor average: he has lately moved into Queen Anne Street. I had heard of the intended marriage (To the Rev. J. Hughes.) of your sister Frances. I believe I have seen her since, but my memory takes me back some twenty-five years, when she was lying down. I remember well the delightful expression of her countenance. I most sincerely wish her all happiness.

I see I have not answered half your queries. We like very well all that we have seen and heard of Rugby, and have never repented of sending [W.] there. I feel sure schools have greatly improved since our days; but I hate schools and the whole system of breaking through the affections of the family by separating the boys so early in life; but I see no help, and dare not run the risk of a youth being exposed to the temptations of the world without having undergone the milder ordeal of a great school.

I see you even ask after our pears. We have lots of Beurrees d’Aremberg, Winter Nelis, Marie Louise, and “Ne plus Ultra,” but all off the wall; the standard dwarfs have borne a few, but I have no room for more trees, so their names would be useless to me. You really must make a holiday and pay us a visit sometime; nowhere could you be more heartily welcome. I am at work at the second volume of the Cirripedia, of which creatures I am wonderfully tired. I hate a Barnacle as no man ever did before, not even a sailor in a slow-sailing ship. My first volume is out; the only part worth looking at is on the sexes of Ibla and Scalpellum. I hope by next summer to have done with my tedious work. Farewell,–do come whenever you can possibly manage it.

I cannot but hope that the carbuncle may possibly do you good: I have heard of all sorts of weaknesses disappearing after a carbuncle. I suppose the pain is dreadful. I agree most entirely, what a blessed discovery is chloroform. When one thinks of one’s children, it makes quite a little difference in one’s happiness. The other day I had five grinders (two by the elevator) out at a sitting under this wonderful substance, and felt hardly anything.

My dear old friend, yours very affectionately,
Charles Darwin.

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