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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   20 August 1875

Trin Coll

Aug 20. 75

My dear Father,

I have sent a copy of the letter to Huth and also made an extract for the Academy, merely saying that it is from an illustrious scientific man. Stating facts & omitting the ‘hableur & blagueur’1 I fear it is too late for the review as I have corrected the proof, but no doubt they will put in my letter.2

It is like second sight that you shd. have suspected them to be false, & I don’t think it was to be expected that I shd. do the same.3

What a scoundrel a man like Legrain must be. It is inconceivable to try & put oneself into his frame of mind. It is very hard that such men should exist; as if truth was’nt hard eno’ to discover without deliberate impostures like this.

Such a man as Boudin is vexatious eno’—who is I suppose honest!4

If Huth quotes quite in extenso I think he too ought to have suspected: The exposure is not in the volume from which he quotes.5

I hope you are getting on with Animals as it must be very tedious work.6

Sidgwick & F. Balfour are having a great go at spiritualising again, but I do’nt think Sidgwick is going the right way to work.7

I continue very indifferent still as far as health goes. I don’t think extreme heat suits me as it makes me more languid & one can’t take a brisk walk

Yrs affectionately | G H Darwin


Hableur, blagueur: braggart, humbug (French). See letter from Edouard van Beneden, 18 August 1875.
See letter from Edouard van Beneden, 18 August 1875, and letter to G. H. Darwin, [19 August 1875]. In his book on consanguineous marriage (Huth 1875), Alfred Henry Huth had reported Jean Baptiste Legrain’s claim to have interbred closely related rabbits for many generations without ill effects. George’s review of Huth 1875 appeared in the Academy, 28 August 1875, pp. 226–7, with a note that since the article went to print CD had been informed by ‘an illustrious Belgian man of science’ that Legrain’s claims had been shown to be impossible.
In two accounts of the episode, CD wrote that what aroused his suspicions was the complete absence of any accidents in Legrain’s breeding experiments, something he himself had never achieved (Variation 2d ed. 2: 100 n. 20; ‘Recollections’, p. 425).
Jean-Christian-Marc Boudin’s conclusion that the offspring of consanguineous marriages exhibited an exceptionally high incidence of a range of illnesses was challenged by Huth, who criticised both the data and Boudin’s statistical analysis (Huth 1875, pp. 206–12, 231–4); George repeated the criticism at length in his review (Academy, 28 August 1875, p. 226).
Legrain’s supposed experiments were published in Bulletin de l’Académie royale de médecine de Belgique (Legrain 1866). A discussion of Legrain’s results, including a claim by Jean Crocq that they were fraudulent, was published the following year (Bulletin de l’Académie royale de médecine de Belgique 3d ser. 1 (1867): 26–49). See also Huth 1875, pp. 297–302.
CD was preparing the second edition of Variation (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
See letter to G. H. Darwin, 10 [February 1875]. Francis Maitland Balfour and Henry Sidgwick were colleagues of George’s at Trinity College, Cambridge. Sidgwick in particular had a long-standing interest in psychic phenomena (ODNB; see also Correspondence vol. 21, letter from G. H. Darwin to Emma Darwin, [before 24 November 1873]).


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

Huth, Alfred Henry. 1875. The marriage of near kin considered with respect to the laws of nations, the results of experience, and the teachings of biology. London: J. & A. Churchill.

Legrain, Jean Baptiste. 1866. Recherches critiques et expérimentales relatives aux mariages consanguins. Bulletin de l’Académie royale de médecine de Belgique 2d ser. 9: 280–326.

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.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD’s suspicions that Legrain falsified experiments on interbred rabbits are like second sight. Has sent a copy of the letter to A. H. Huth.

Henry Sidgwick and A. J. Balfour are "spiritualising" again.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 47
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10129,” accessed on 13 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23