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Darwin Correspondence Project

To H. B. Dobell   21 April [1863]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

April 21st

My dear Sir

The importance of hereditary transmission can hardly be exaggerated under every point of view; & I shd. think it would be a considerable gain to have tables printed as you propose.—2 I really hardly feel competent to make suggestions. But I would rather strongly advise that the relationship (if any) of the father & mother & of any subsequent marriage should be enquired for. To avoid errors, & as one man would seldom fill more than one or two papers, I should think it would be better to avoid all contractions & use “no issue” & “nothing known”.— You do not ask for age in parents & children at which any peculiarity (not congenital) supervened: I would very strongly advise this to be made a point of high importance.—3

I am very much obliged for your kind offer of communicating any remarkable cases of inheritance to me:4 I have to consider the subject only certain points of view & I hope & suppose in about a year I shall go to press with this portion of my subject.—5

If by any extraordinary chance you should stumble on any case of regrowth of amputated additonal digit, I shd. be grateful for information.—6

With many thanks pray believe me | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin

P.S. Would it not be better to urge that Christian name be given in full & initial (when secrecy requisite) of sirname alone; otherwise sex might be doubtful, & this of course wd. be most serious doubt in all cases in which peculiarity clings to one sex?—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from H. B. Dobell, 20 April 1863.
See letter from H. B. Dobell, 20 April 1863 and n. 1. The drafts of forms that Dobell enclosed with that letter have not been found; CD may have returned them with this letter.
For Dobell’s publication of tabulated genealogical information, see Dobell 1863 and 1866, and letter from H. B. Dobell, 20 April 1863 and n. 3. Dobell 1880 includes a table (Table 1) entitled ‘A contribution to the natural history of pulmonary consumption’; the last eight (of seventy-five) columns tabulate whether parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, and first cousins had consumption. In remarks on case histories, Dobell occasionally noted at what age these relations died of consumption, but included no further information on the onset of their disease (Dobell 1880, pp. 15–22).
See letter from H. B. Dobell, 20 April 1863. Dobell had already presented CD with a copy of his book (Dobell 1862), and James Paget had sent Dobell’s details of a case of inherited physical abnormality (see letter from James Paget, 7 February 1863).
For CD’s citations of Dobell in Variation, see letter from James Paget, 7 February 1863, n. 1. Variation was not published until 1868; CD worked on the chapters on inheritance (Variation 2: 1–84) from 23 January until 1 April 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). These chapters included material on the inheritance of disease and physical abnormalities.
See letter to H. B. Dobell, 16 February [1863] and n. 7.


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

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

Dobell, Horace. 1880. On loss of weight, blood-spitting and lung disease. 2d edition. London: J. & A. Churchill.

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


CD thinks HBD’s tables would be a considerable gain because "the importance of hereditary transmission can hardly be exaggerated from every point of view". Makes suggestions.

Asks him to send any remarkable cases of inheritance to him and, as well, any case of regrowth of amputated additional digit.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Horace Benge Dobell
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 221.5: 6 (photocopy); Legends (catalogue 2, 1990)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4117,” accessed on 4 December 2020,

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