The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 136 of 188

With respect to ourselves, I have not much to say; we have now a terribly noisy house with the whooping cough, but otherwise are all well. Far the greatest fact about myself is that I have at last quite done with the everlasting barnacles. At the end of the year we had two of our little boys very ill with fever and bronchitis, and all sorts of ailments. Partly for amusement, and partly for change of air, we went to London and took a house for a month, but it turned out a great failure, for that dreadful frost just set in when we went, and all our children got unwell, and E. and I had coughs and colds and rheumatism nearly all the time. We had put down first on our list of things to do, to go and see Mrs. Fox, but literally after waiting some time to see whether the weather would not improve, we had not a day when we both could go out.

I do hope before very long you will be able to manage to pay us a visit. Time is slipping away, and we are getting oldish. Do tell us about yourself and all your large family.

I know you will help me if you can with information about the young pigeons; and anyhow do write before very long.

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

P.S.–Amongst all sorts of odds and ends, with which I am amusing myself, I am comparing the seeds of the variations of plants. I had formerly some wild cabbage seeds, which I gave to some one, was it to you? It is a thousand to one it was thrown away, if not I should be very glad of a pinch of it.

[The following extract from a letter to Mr. Fox (March 27th, 1855) refers to the same subject as the last letter, and gives some account of the “species work:” “The way I shall kill young things will be to put them under a tumbler glass with a teaspoon of ether or chloroform, the glass being pressed down on some yielding surface, and leave them for an hour or two, young have such power of revivication. (I have thus killed moths and butterflies.) The best way would be to send them as you procure them, in pasteboard chip-box by post, on which you could write and just tie up with string; and you will really make me happier by allowing me to keep an account of postage, etc. Upon my word I can hardly believe that any one could be so good-natured as to take such trouble and do such a very disagreeable thing as kill babies; and I am very sure I do not know one soul who, except yourself, would do so. I am going to ask one thing more; should old hens of any above poultry (not duck) die or become so old as to be useless, I wish you would send her to me per rail, addressed to C. Darwin, care of Mr. Acton, Post-office, Bromley, Kent.” Will you keep this address? as shortest way for parcels. But I do not care so much for this, as I could buy the old birds dead at Baily to make skeletons. I should have written at once even if I had not heard from you, to beg you not to take trouble about pigeons, for Yarrell has persuaded me to attempt it, and I am now fitting up a place, and have written to Baily about prices, etc., etc. sometime (when you are better) I should like very much to hear a little about your “Little Call Duck”; why so-called? And where you got it? and what it is like?…I was so ignorant I do not even know there were three varieties of Dorking fowl: how do they differ?…

I forget whether I ever told you what the object of my present work is,–it is to view all facts that I can master (eheu, eheu, how ignorant I find I am) in Natural History (as on geographical distribution, palaeontology, classification, hybridism, domestic animals and plants, etc., etc., etc.) to see how far they favour or are opposed to the notion that wild species are mutable or immutable: I mean with my utmost power to give all arguments and facts on both sides. I have a number of people helping me in every way, and giving me most valuable assistance; but I often doubt whether the subject will not quite overpower me.

So much for the quasi-business part of my letter. I am very very sorry to hear so indifferent account of your health: with your large family your life is very precious, and I am sure with all your activity and goodness it ought to be a happy one, or as happy as can reasonably be expected with all the cares of futurity on one.

One cannot expect the present to be like the old Crux-major days at the foot of those noble willow stumps, the memory of which I revere. I now find my little entomology which I wholly owe to you, comes in very useful. I am very glad to hear that you have given yourself a rest from Sunday duties. How much illness you have had in your life! Farewell my dear Fox. I assure you I thank you heartily for your proffered assistance.”]

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