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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Holland   11 February [1868]1

Brook Street,

Feb. 11th.

My dear Charles,

First let me thank you, which I do heartily, for the two volumes.2 I need not tell you how much they interest me, both as appertains to their subject, & to their Author.

I am reading them, partly on your suggestion, in a detached way,—that is, the Introduction, & a few following Chapters of the 1st vol, to gain the method of the work;—then passing on to the later Chapters of the 2d volume, to catch hold of the Hypothesis, which you point out to me in your letter, with a ? attached to it.3

The Introduction, in its relation to the principle of Natural Selection, I think exceedy good. And I may say the same of the Chapter of “Concluding Remarks”, which embodies well what has gone before, both of facts & inferences. The last two pages might however admit of some alteration, but the matter is a difficult one to handle & you could in no way deal with it, so as to obviate criticism & censure.4

The hypothetical Chapter on Pangenesis I have twice read, & I believe that I understand it, both in its principle & applications. The latter are apposite, & ably put forwards; & the principle, though purely hypothetical, has this vindication, that something analogous or akin to it, is absolutely necessary to the explanation of phenomena.— I could say a good deal more on this matter; but it is too voluminous & tough for a letter, & I therefore hold it in hand for future conversation; if not indeed antedated by others. You do not love writing, & I like it as little.

I may have overlooked it, but I do not see that you allude to those singular cases, where a whole family of children shew some strongly marked peculiarity or defect, not existing in Father or Mother, or as far as can be known, in the ancestors on either side. I have a striking instance of this now under my knowledge;—four children dumb & half idiotic, from parents without any one peculiarity. This might come to the Chapter on Pangenesis for explanation, through incongruous admixture of gemmules.5

You will lament, as I do, over the dangerous illness of Lady Cranworth6

Ever, my dear Charles, affect your’s | H Holland

CD annotations

End of letter: ‘I must thank you for your k in t the t to write to me. Your letter pleases me much. & I am quite overwhelmed with what you say about Pangenesis " " | London.7 | wh. I hope I may have the pleasure of seeing you’ ink; ‘Lady Cr.’ pencil; ‘[Kindly] do not [answer]— not to be read same night— [cannot shorten]ink


The year is established by the reference to the publication of Variation (see n. 2, below).
Holland’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Variation (see Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix IV).
CD’s letter to Holland has not been found. Holland alludes to CD’s chapter ‘Provisional hypothesis of pangenesis’ (Variation 2: 357–404).
In the last two pages of Variation, CD considered the implications of his theory for belief in an omniscient Creator.
CD used the term ‘gemmules’ to designate the minute material particles that were ‘thrown off’ by the body’s cells and transmitted from parents to offspring during reproduction. He suggested that gemmules could remain dormant for many generations, so that characteristics could appear in offspring that were not visible in either parent (Variation 2: 374–83, 397–402). Holland himself had written on hereditary diseases (Holland 1839 and 1855).
Laura Rolfe was the wife of Robert Monsey Rolfe, first Baron Cranworth. The Rolfes lived in Holwood Park, a mile and a half north of Down House. Laura Rolfe died on 15 February 1868 (ODNB).
CD’s annotations are evidently for his reply to Holland, which has not been found. CD visited London from 3 March to 1 April 1868 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix II)).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Holland, Henry. 1839. Medical notes and reflections. London.

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.

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


Thanks for copy of Variation. Comments on it, especially on Pangenesis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Holland, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Brook St
Source of text
DAR 166: 249
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5862,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16