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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Galton   [before 28 May 1873]1

42 Rutland Gate, London.

To Charles Darwin, Esq.

In the pursuit of an inquiry parallel to that by M. de Candolle, I have been engaged for some time past in collecting information on the Antecedents of Eminent Men.2 My present object is to set forth the influences through which the dispositions of Original Workers in Science have most commonly been formed, and have afterwards been trained and confirmed. As a ready means of directing attention to the importance and interest of this inquiry, I append, overleaf, a reprint of a short review of the work of M. de Candolle, which I contributed to the ‘Fortnightly Review’ of March, 1873.3

The result of my past efforts has clearly impressed upon me the fact that a sufficiency of data cannot be obtained from biographies without extreme labour, if at all; therefore, instead of imperfectly analysing the past, it seems far preferable to deal with contemporary instances, and none are more likely to appreciate the inquiry or to give correct information than Men of Science.

The number of persons in the United Kingdom who have filled positions of acknowledged rank in the scientific world is quite large enough for statistical treatment. Thus, the Medallists of the chief scientific societies; the Presidents of the same, now and in former years; those who have been elected to serve at various times on the Council of the Royal Society, and similarly, the Presidents of the several sections of the British Association,4 form a body of little less than two hundred men, now living, a considerable portion of whom stand in more than one of the above categories. Other methods of selection give fifty or a hundred additional names.

Falling as you do within the range of this inquiry, may I ask of you the favour of furnishing me with information? If you should desire any portions of what you may send to be considered as private, they will be used in no other way than to afford material for general conclusions.

I send herewith a schedule which contains the questions to which I am seeking replies.5

Francis Galton.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Francis Galton, 28 May 1873.
Galton was investigating the inheritance of intellectual ability; he had previously published a treatise on hereditary genius (see Galton 1869). Alphonse de Candolle’s work on the inheritance of intelligence (A. Candolle 1873) differed from Galton’s in stressing the effect of environment on the intellect as well as heredity. For the relationship between Galton’s and Candolle’s work on the subject, see Pearson 1914–30, 2: 145–9. CD had received an advance copy of A. de Candolle 1873 (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 11 December 1872).
Galton 1873b.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science was divided into sections according to scientific subject.
Galton evidently enclosed his seven-page printed questionnaire, a summary of which is given in Galton 1874, pp. 261–6.


Collecting information about antecedents of eminent men of science. Sends questionnaire.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Rutland Gate, 42
Source of text
Pearson 1914–30, 2: 177–8

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8889,” accessed on 24 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21