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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Galton   4 January [1873]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan. 4th

My dear Galton

Very many thanks for Fraser: I have been greatly interested by your article.—2 The idea of castes being spontaneously formed & leading to intermarriage is quite new to me, & I shd. suppose to others.—3 I am not, however, so hopeful as you. Your proposed Socy. would have awfully laborious work, & I doubt whether you could ever get efficient workers.— As it is there is much concealment of insanity & wickedness in families; & there wd. be more if there was a register.4 But the greatest difficulty, I think, wd. be in deciding who deserved to be on the register. How few are above mediocrity in health, strength, morals & intellect; & how difficult to judge on these latter heads. As far as I see within the same large superior family, only a few of the children wd. deserve to be on the register; & these wd. naturally stick to their own families, so that the superior children of distinct families would have no good chance of associating much & forming a caste. Though I see so much difficulty, the object seems a grand one; & you have pointed out the sole feasible, yet I fear utopian, plan of procedure in improving the human race.— I shd. be inclined to trust more (& this is part of your plan) to disseminating & insisting on the importance of the all-important principle of Inheritance.5 I will make one or two minor criticisms. Is it not probable that the inhabitants of malarious countries owe their degraded & miserable appearance to the bad atmosphere, though this does not kill them; rather than to “economy of structure”?6

I do not see that an orthognathous face wd. cost more than a prognathous face;7 or a good morale than a bad one.— That is a fine simile (p. 419) about the chip of a statue: but surely nature does not more carefully regard races than individuals, as (I believe I have misunderstood what you mean) evidenced by the multitude of races & species which have become extinct.8 Would it not be truer to say that nature cares only for the superior individuals & thus makes her new & better races.— But we ought both to shudder in using so freely the word “nature” after what Decandolle has said.—9

Again let me thank you for the interest received in reading your essay.

Yours very sincerely | Ch Darwin

Many thanks about the Rabbits: your letter has been sent to Balfour: he is a very clever young man, & I believe owes his cleverness to Salisbury blood.10

This letter will not be worth your deciphering, I have almost finished Greg’s Enigmas.11 It is grand poetry—but too utopian & too full of faith for me; so that I have been rather disappointed.— What do you think about it? He must be a delightful man.—

I doubt whether you have made clear how the families on the Register are to be kept pure or superior, & how they are to be in course of time to be still further improved.


The year is established by the reference to Galton’s article ‘Hereditary improvement’, which was published in January 1873 (see n. 2, below).
Galton’s article, ‘Hereditary improvement’ (Galton 1873a), was published in Fraser’s Magazine.
Galton hoped that instituting widespread enquiries into heredity would create a sentiment of caste among the naturally gifted, and have an influence in creating common interests and friendships among the gifted families of each class, leading often to intermarriage (Galton 1873a, pp. 123–5).
Galton proposed the formation of a society to ‘institute continuous enquiries into the facts of human heredity; … be a centre of information on heredity for breeders of animals and plants; and … discuss and classify the facts that were collected’ (Galton 1873a, p. 124). A register of naturally gifted individuals would eventually be drawn up (ibid., p. 126).
Galton believed that research into heredity would in itself create widespread consciousness of the importance of considering natural ability in questions of marriage and reproduction (Galton 1873a, p. 125).
In Galton 1873a, p. 118, Galton wrote that people living in malarial regions had the gift of being able to survive fever, and ‘by the law of economy of structure’, were likely to be ‘deficient in every quality less useful to the exceptional circumstances of their life’.
Galton wrote that travellers to Ireland after the potato famine noted that the ‘Irish type of face’ seemed to have become more prognathous, survivors of the famine having been, according to the travellers, ‘of a low and coarse organisation’ (Galton 1873a, p. 118).
‘The life of the individual is treated [by Nature] as of absolutely no importance, while the race is treated as everything.... It is as though individual lives were of no more consideration than are the senseless chips which fall from the chisel of the artist who is elaborating some ideal form out of a rude block’ (Galton 1873a, p. 119).
In his Histoire des sciences, a copy of which CD had received in 1872 (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 2 November [1872]), Candolle discussed the sense of the word ‘nature’ and its derivations, and said that he himself had renounced all uses of the word except in discussing the nature of a particular thing or the natural as opposed to the artificial (Candolle 1873, pp. 432–6). Candolle and Galton were correspondents; Galton’s English men of science (Galton 1874) was prompted by Candolle 1873 (Pearson 1914–30, 2: 134).
For some years Galton had been breeding from rabbits transfused with the blood of different coloured rabbits in order to test CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis (see Variation 2: 340–57, Galton 1871, Correspondence vols. 18, 19, and 20). CD had kept and bred some of the transfused rabbits at Down (Correspondence vols. 19 and 20). Galton’s letter has not been found. Francis Maitland Balfour wanted to repeat Galton’s experiments, and had asked for advice on the colours of rabbit to use (Correspondence vol. 20, letter to Francis Galton, 30 December [1872]). One of Balfour’s grandfathers was James Brownlow William Gascoyne-Cecil, the second marquess of Salisbury; CD alludes to Galton’s interest in the inheritance of intelligence (Galton 1869).
William Rathbone Greg’s Enigmas of life (Greg 1872) included a chapter titled ‘Civilisation antagonistic to the law of “natural selection” ’, which discussed Galton’s and Darwin’s concerns. Greg suggested that the destructive effects of social progress would be mitigated as the upper classes became more enlightened and more willing to reproduce rationally, and the lower became better educated and less likely to reproduce prolifically; ibid., p. 124.


Candolle, Alphonse de. 1873. Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles: suivie d’autres études sur des sujets scientifiques en particulier sur la sélection dans l’espèce humaine. Geneva: H. Georg.

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

Galton, Francis. 1869. Hereditary genius: an inquiry into its laws and consequences. London: Macmillan.

Galton, Francis. 1871. Experiments in pangenesis, by breeding from rabbits of a pure variety, into whose circulation blood taken from other varieties had previously been largely transfused. [Read 30 March 1871.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 19 (1870–1): 393–410.

Galton, Francis. 1874. English men of science: their nature and nurture. London: Macmillan and Co.

Greg, William Rathbone. 1872. Enigmas of life. London: Trübner.

Pearson, Karl. 1914–30. The life, letters and labours of Francis Galton. 3 vols. in 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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


Comments on FG’s article ["Hereditary improvement", Fraser’s Mag. 87 (1873): 116–30]. Finds it "the sole feasible, yet I fear utopian, plan of procedure in improving the human race".

Thanks for rabbits for Balfour.

Mentions reading W. R. Greg’s Enigmas [of life (1872)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Galton
Sent from
Source of text
UCL Library Services, Special Collections (GALTON/1/1/9/5/7/14)
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8724,” accessed on 27 February 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21