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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Galton   28 May 1873

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 28th. 1873

My dear Galton

I have filled up the answers as well as I could; but it is simply impossible for me to estimate the degrees.1

My mother died during my infancy & I can say hardly any thing about her.2 It is so impossible for any one to judge about his own character that George3 first wrote several of the answers about myself, but I have adopted only those which seem to me true.

You may perhaps like to hear a few additional particulars about myself. I cannot remember the time when I had not a passion for collecting, first seals, franks, then minerals, shells &c.4 As far as I am conscious, the one compulsory exercise during my school life which improved my intellect, was doing Euclid, & this was partly voluntary.5

At Edinburgh I do not think the lectures were of any service to me; but I profited as a naturalist by observing for myself marine animals.6

At Cambridge getting up Paley’s evidences & Moral Phil. thoroughly well as I did, I felt was an admirable training, & every thing else bosh.7

My education really began on board the Beagle.8

I must add that my son Frank9 said he cd safely give as my character, “sober, honest & industrious.”

And now I want to ask you a question: if I had 50 men of 2 different nations, & for some reason cd not measure all, if I picked out the 10 tallest of each nation, would their mean height probably give an approximate mean between all 50 of each nation.10

I hope you will get full answers to your queries, as I dare say the results will be interesting.

My dear Galton | yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Special talents, none, except for business, as evinced by keeping accounts, being regular in correspondence, and investing money very well; very methodical in my habits. Steadiness; great curiosity about facts, and their meaning; some love of the new and marvellous.

Somewhat nervous temperament, energy of body shown by much activity, and whilst I had health, power of resisting fatigue. An early riser in the morning. Energy of mind shown by vigorous and long-continued work on the same subject, as 20 years on the Origin of Species and 9 years on Cirripedia.11 Memory bad for dates or learning by rote; but good in retaining a general or vague recollection of many facts. Very studious, but not large acquirements. I think fairly independently, but I can give no instances. I gave up common religious belief almost independently from my own reflections. I suppose that I have shown originality in science, as I have made discoveries with regard to common objects. Liberal or radical in politics. Health good when young—bad for the last 33 years.

Father. Practical business habits; made a large fortune and incurred no losses.12 Strong social affection and great sympathy with the pleasures of others; sceptical as to new things; curious as to facts; great foresight; not much public spirit; great generosity in giving away money and assistance. Freethinker in religious matters, great power of endurance.

Mother. Said to have been very agreeable in conversation.


Galton had asked CD to fill in a questionnaire for a study ‘on the dispositions of original workers in science’ (see letter from Francis Galton, [before 28 May 1873] and n. 5). Respondents were asked to state degrees of nationality and degrees of relationship with other family members (see Galton 1874, pp. 263, 265).
Susannah Darwin died in July 1817; CD was 8 years old (‘Recollections’, p. 356).
George Howard Darwin was CD’s son.
CD believed that his passion for collecting was innate (‘Recollections’, p. 356).
CD had been taught Euclid by a private tutor; in 1876, he could still recall the ‘intense satisfaction’ that the clear geometrical proofs gave him (‘Recollections’, p. 368). Euclid’s Elements of geometry originally comprised thirteen books. In its form as an early-nineteenth-century school primer, the Elements diverged radically from the text of the original.
See Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Caroline Darwin, 6 January 1826, for CD’s opinion of lectures at Edinburgh University. His observations of marine animals were reported to the Plinian Natural History Society of the University of Edinburgh (ibid., n. 5).
In his autobiography (‘Recollections’, p. 377), CD stated that the logic of William Paley’s A view of the evidences of Christianity (Paley 1794) delighted him as much as his study of Euclid (see n. 5, above). Paley 1785 and Paley 1794 (The principles of moral and political philosophy, and A view of the evidences of Christianity) were a required part of the curriculum. CD also attended lectures in geology and botany at Cambridge, but science was not part of the University’s examination system (see Becher 1986, p. 59).
CD believed that his journey round the world on HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836 greatly improved his powers of observation and was the first real training of his mind (‘Recollections’, p. 387; see also Correspondence vol. 1).
CD’s question drew on Adolphe Quetelet’s researches on the variability of humans (see letter to Nature, 20 September [1873] and n. 10, and letter to Nature from G. H. Darwin, 4 October [1873]).
Robert Waring Darwin’s fortune depended on both his successful medical practice and the money he acquired by making loans, some of which were inherited by CD. See Correspondence vol. 3, letter to Josiah Wedgwood III and E. A. Darwin, 25 July 1844 and n. 3; Correspondence vol. 5, letter to John Higgins, 18 March [1854] and n. 1.


Becher, Harvey W. 1986. Voluntary science in nineteenth century Cambridge University to the 1850’s. British Journal for the History of Science 19: 57–87.

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

Fossil Cirripedia (1851): A monograph on the fossil Lepadidæ, or, pedunculated cirripedes of Great Britain. By Charles Darwin. London: Palaeontographical Society. 1851.

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

Living Cirripedia (1851): A monograph of the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Lepadidæ; or, pedunculated cirripedes. By Charles Darwin. London: Ray Society. 1851.

Paley, William. 1785. The principles of moral and political philosophy. London: R. Faulder.

Paley, William. 1794. A view of the evidences of Christianity. London: R. Faulder.

‘Recollections’: Recollections of the development of my mind and character. By Charles Darwin. In Evolutionary writings, edited by James A. Secord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.


Comments about questionnaire CD completed for FG [for Galton’s English men of science (1874)].

Describes his early interest in collecting and his education.

Asks about determining the mean heights of two groups of men.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Galton
Sent from
Source of text
UCL Library Services, Special Collections (GALTON/1/1/9/5/7/15); , 2: 178
Physical description
LS(A) 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8924,” accessed on 29 February 2024,

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