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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Paget   7 February 1863

1 Harewood Place | Hanover Square | W.

Feby. 7. 1863

Dear Darwin

I send herewith the genealogical table,1 and with it, a book by the same writer, Dr. Dobell,2 which he begs me to present to you saying “I have from the first wished to have an opportunity of giving him a copy, having taken his name so much in vain:3 and will you say that I much desire to know what he has to say to the part I have doubled-down”—4

The facts which I have ascertained in relation to the inheritance of cancer5


The table showed the inheritance of fingers with thickened joints in a family through five generations; it was taken from Dobell 1862. CD incorporated the information into a section he was writing on polydactylism in chapter 12 of Variation (Variation 2: 12–16), which he began on 23 January 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). Dobell 1862 is cited in Variation 2: 14 n. and 36 n. There is an annotated copy of Dobell 1862 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. See also letter to T. H. Huxley, [8 February 1863], and letter from H. B. Dobell, 12 May 1863.
Dobell 1861. There is a copy of Horace Benge Dobell’s Lectures on the germs and vestiges of disease in the Darwin Library–Down.
Dobell, a medical lecturer and physician at the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Chest in London (Medical directory 1863), had attempted to link CD’s theory of natural selection with his own theory of disease (see Dobell 1861, pp. 46–7, 169–70, and letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863]).
An indication of the part referred to may be gained from the letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863] and nn. 3–4.
Paget’s findings on the hereditary transmission of cancer (Paget 1857) are cited in Variation 2: 79–80. CD used the evidence of hereditary diseases in humans to illustrate the point that disadvantageous characteristics are often inherited (Variation 2: 7–10).


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

Dobell, Horace. 1861. Lectures on the germs and vestiges of disease, and on the prevention of the invasion and fatality of disease by periodical examinations. London: John Churchill.

Dobell, Horace. 1862. A contribution to the natural history of hereditary transmission. [Read 25 November 1862.] Medico-Chirurgical Transactions 46: 25–8.

Medical directory: The London medical directory … every physician, surgeon, and general practitioner resident in London. London: C. Mitchell. 1845. The London and provincial medical directory. London: John Churchill. 1848–60. The London & provincial medical directory, inclusive of the medical directory for Scotland, and the medical directory for Ireland, and general medical register. London: John Churchill. 1861–9. The medical directory … including the London and provincial medical directory, the medical directory for Scotland, the medical directory for Ireland. London: J. & A. Churchill. 1870–1905.

Paget, James. 1857. On the hereditary transmission of tendencies to cancerous and other tumours. Medical Times and Gazette n.s. 15: 191–3.

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


Forwards a book [Horace Dobell, Lectures on the germs and vestiges of disease (1861)] and a genealogical table at the author’s request.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Paget, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Harewood Place, 1
Source of text
DAR 174: 4

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3971,” accessed on 3 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11