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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Galton   28 March 1872

5 Bertie Terrace | Leamington

March 28 /72

My dear Darwin

I enclose the revised statement about the curious trick in Dr Butler’s family.1 I questioned his widow only a fortnight before her death all his 7 children his son’s wife & her 2 nurses.2 There is no contradictory evidence whatever.

Now about Mr. Crookes   I have been twice at his house in Séance with Miss Fox who puts her powers as a friend, entirely at his disposal & once at a noisy but curious seance Sergeant Cox!3

I can only say, as yet, that I am utterly confounded with the results—and am very disinclined to discredit them. Crookes is working deliberately and well.

There is not the slightest excitement during the sittings, but they are conducted in a chatty easy way. & though a large part of what occurs might be done if the mediums were free, yet, I dont see how it can be done when they are held hand & foot, as is the case.

I shall go on with the matter as far as I can, but I see it is no use to try to enquire thoroughly unless you have (as Crookes has) complete possession of a first class medium.—4 The whole rubbish of spiritualism seems to me to stand & fall together. All orders are given by raps. Levitation—luminous appearances hands. —writings.—& the like are all part of one complete system.

The following is confidential at present. What will interest you very much, is that Crookes has needles (of some material not yet divulged) which he hangs in vacuo in little bulbs of glass.


When the finger is approached the needle moves, sometimes by attraction sometimes by repulsion. It is not affected at all when the operator is jaded but it moves most rapidly when he is bright & warm & comfortable, after dinner. Now different people have different power over the needle & Miss Fox has extraordinary power. I moved it myself, & saw Crookes move it, but I did not see Miss Fox (mem the warmth of the hand cannot radiate through glass)

Crookes believes he has hold of quite a grand discovery & told me & shewed me what I have described, quite confidentially but I asked him if I might say something about it to you & he gave permission.

I ca’nt write at length to describe more particularly the extraordinary things of my last seance on Monday. I had hold in one of my hands of both hands of Miss Fox’s companion who also rested both her feet on my instep & Crookes had equally firm possession of Miss Fox. The other people present were his wife & her mother5 & all hands were joined yet paper went skimming in the dark about the room & after the word “Listen” was rapped out the pencil was heard (in the complete darkness) to be writing at a furious rate under the table, between Crookes & his wife & when that was over & we were told (rapped) to light up the paper was written over — all 4 sides of a bit of marked note paper (marked for the occasion & therefore known to be blank when we began) with very respectable platitudes— rather above the level of Martin Tupper’s composition and signed “Benjamin Franklin”!!6

The absurdity on the one hand & the extraordinary character of the thing on the other quite staggers me.

Wondering what I shall yet see & learn I remain at present quite passive with my eyes & ears open | Very sincerely your’s Francis Galton


The enclosure has not been found, but see the letter from Francis Galton, [before 28 March 1872] and n. 6.
Sarah Maria Butler died on 24 February 1872 (England & Wales, national probate calendar (index of wills and administrations), 1861–1941 (, accessed 7 February 2012)). ‘His son’s wife’: Georgina Isabella Butler, wife of Henry Montagu Butler. Her nurse was Emma Wale and the nursery maid was Elizabeth Greenway.
William Crookes was known for his investigations of mediums (see letter to Francis Galton, 23 January [1872] and n. 3). Catharine Fox was an American medium. Edward William Cox was a serjeant-at-law (barrister of the highest rank). For more on spiritualism and Crookes’s experiments, see Oppenheim 1985 and Noakes 2002 and 2004.
Galton probably alludes to Daniel Dunglas Home, a medium who was intensively studied by Crookes (ODNB).
Galton alludes to Martin Farquhar Tupper’s Proverbial philosophy (Tupper 1838). The book and its author were parodied in the comic press from the 1860s and Tupper’s name became a byword for banality (ODNB).


Noakes, Richard. 2002. Instruments to lay hold of spirits: technologizing the bodies of Victorian spiritualism. In Bodies/machines, edited by Iwan Rhys Morus. Oxford: Berg.

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.

Oppenheim, Janet. 1985. The other world: spiritualism and psychic research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tupper, Martin Farquhar. 1838. Proverbial philosophy: a book of thoughts and arguments, originally treated. London: Joseph Rickerby.


Endorses revised statement about Butler’s odd hereditary habit;

describes a séance at William Crookes’s.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 105: A46–9
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8256,” accessed on 1 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20