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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Bowman   26 November 1873

5 Clifford St

Nov 26. 73

My dear Darwin

The word is ‘Hypermetropsy’ in the letter—but ‘Hypermetropia’ is the better & usual word.—1 In case you have not by you Donders’s book on Ametropia, London 18642 I extract from page 245 as follows:

“The Hypermetropic structure is hereditary: if one of the parents suffers from H. we find the same anomaly usually in one or more of the children; sometimes, too, several brothers & sisters are hypermetropic, without the anomaly being observable in either of the parents.”— This heredity is a matter of constant experience in ophthalmic practice.3 But according to my observations there is the greatest uncertainty & irregularity in the inheritance of this form of Eye— I have several cases of it in 3 & 4 generations— Did I not send you some facts as to this?—4 I have not your book5 by me at the moment or I wd. refer.— The fact mentioned by the Dutchman is a very interesting one—but whether it is of Scientific value is another matter— Hypermetropia is very common—rather high degrees of it are not rare— It is very uncommon for all the members of a family to be affected even where it is strongly marked in some individuals—and in the case of two families so long diverged— with such multiple crossings in course of the two lines of descent, it is hard to conceive that the coincidence of Hypermetropia in the two contemporary families at the present time implies any reliable proof of common inheritance though no doubt the fact may be so & there may be the causative connexion.

yrs most truly | W. Bowman

Suppose you refer to Donders.6 He may I may almost say must have personal knowledge of these families—


Hypermetropia (hyperopia) is long-sightedness. CD had probably sent Bowman the letter from his Dutch translator, Hermanus Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen, of 2 March 1871 (Correspondence vol. 19), in which Zouteveen discussed a case of hypermetropia that might have been inherited through generations going back at least two centuries. CD referred to Bowman’s cases of hypermetropia and other inherited eye defects in Variation 2: 8–9, but this case was not added to the second edition.
On the anomalies of accommodation and refraction of the eye: with a preliminary essay on physiological dioptrics (Donders 1864).
Bowman was an ophthalmic surgeon at the Royal Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, London.
No letter containing Bowman’s information on this topic has been found, but see Correspondence vol. 18, Supplement, letter to William Bowman, 10 March [1863], and Variation 2: 8–10.
Frans Cornelis Donders.


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

Donders, Frans Cornelis. 1864. On the anomalies of accommodation and refraction of the eye: with a preliminary essay on physiological dioptrics. Translated by William Daniel Moore. London: New Sydenham Society.

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


Discusses hereditary character of hypermetropia. Notes views of F. C. Donders on the subject.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Bowman, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Clifford St, 5
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9161,” accessed on 14 August 2020,

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