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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [after 26 March 1862?]1

the old type as away from it— this is conceivable of course, but I maintain it is not so in nature— it is opposed to my idea of centrifugal variation.—2 Now variation is not centrifugal because of any repulsive or repellent power, but simply because in fact it is a million chances to one that identity of form once lost will be returned to. Each character we estimate is a compound of lesser characters each too minute to estimate in the gross, but missed if with-drawn. A petal if further varying after it has once varied has a thousand characters of form color consistence nervation &c &c &c to chuse amongst (so to speak) besides those its grandparents bore. After all, experience is our best guide, & we do not find in the human race any reversion so strong as would lead us to confound a man with his ancestor, a Yankee with an Englishman— Whoever saw a Grandfathers portrait that would really pass for his Grandsons—& if we do not find reversion amongst individuals so close in kin & in time, how can we expect them in organisms that have reached the specific term of divergent development—

True you may have a 10th removed lineal descendent (who supposing the name of Wedgwood to be lost to genealogists—except by a stray portrait) may so resemble the Wedgwood portrait that an Ethnologist would call him an anomalous Darwin representing the lost Wedgwood type.—but the chances are a hundred to one in favor of both Wedgwood & Darwin physiognomy being wiped out long before the 10th. generation—3 How often do we consider 2 people strikingly alike till we see them together & then consider them wholly unlike; this is because one minute character common to both was alone carried away, in the mind, but which, though no doubt present, is not perceived when again sought for amongst the thousand other characters of the 2 faces.

CD annotations

1.1 the old … with-drawn. 1.6] crossed brown crayon
1.9 & we … Grandsons— 2.12] scored brown crayon
1.12 & if … faces. 2.10] crossed brown crayon


The date is conjectured from the discussion of ‘centrifugal variation’, which relates to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 [March 1862].
Hooker may have been aware of the Wedgwood family joke that the Darwins were ‘more Wedgwood than the Wedgwoods’, since CD was the son of Susannah Wedgwood, and had married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood (Wedgwood and Wedgwood 1980, p. 269).


Variations are centrifugal because the chances are a million to one that identity of form once lost will return.

In the human race, we find no reversion "that would lead us to confound a man with his ancestors".

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 47: 214
Physical description
L 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3486,” accessed on 18 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10