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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   [6 December 1874]1


My dear George.

I think your historical sketch will do very well & has interested me.2 I return it by this post   But there are some sentences at p. 1 & 2 which do not run well. ie I had to reread them & then their meaning was obvious   p. 3. what do you mean by “acquired” insanity— you use it more than once—3 Do you mean non-congenital insanity; but I never heard of congenital insanity— I daresay you have authority for expression.—

The penultimate sentence of the whole is (to quote a marginal criticism by Etty on one of my books) “too hideous”.—4

I congratulate you on this paper being finished. I have always thought that you undervalue it— For Heaven sake put sentence in in some conspicious place that your results seem to indicate that consanguineous marriage as far as insanity is concerned, cannot be injurious in any very high degree.—5

There is no danger of subjects failing you!!!6 Poor dear mother is very bad,—in bed for 2 days with usual headaches.— Uncles Ras7 wonderful, talking splendidly— I am off to Huxley & am in great force.8

Yours affec | C. Darwin

P.S. I have had the satisfaction of telling Huxley all about the Q. R. & you, of which he had never heard; & he was very indignant & said he wd. look to the article.—9 He looked quite savage & pitched into the hypocrite in right good style.—


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. H. Darwin, 5 December 1874. In 1874, the Sunday after 5 December was 6 December.
See letter from G. H. Darwin, 5 December 1874. CD had presumably read the last part of George’s paper on cousin marriage (G. H. Darwin 1875a), headed ‘Literature on the subject’ in the published version.
In the published paper, George did not use the phrase ‘acquired insanity’; he referred to ‘imbecility and idiocy’ contrasted with ‘insanity acquired late in life’ in G. H. Darwin 1875a, pp. 173, 175.
CD’s daughter Henrietta Emma Litchfield edited Descent, among other works by CD, with particular reference to style (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to H. E. Darwin, 20 March 1871).
At the end of the second section of his paper, George wrote (G. H. Darwin 1875a, p. 172): Taking into account the uncertainty of my methods of finding the proportion of such marriages [i.e. cousin marriages] in the general population, the percentage of such offspring in asylums is not greater than that in the general population, to such an extent as to enable one to say positively, that the marriage of first cousins has any effect in the production of insanity or idiocy, although it might still be shown, by more accurate methods of research, that it is so.
For the subjects George was working on, see the letter from G. H. Darwin, 5 December 1874.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin.
CD refers to Thomas Henry Huxley; see also letter to H. A. Huxley, [5 December 1874].
St George Jackson Mivart had attacked an article by George (‘On beneficial restrictions to liberty of marriage’; G. H. Darwin 1873a) in an anonymous essay review of works by John Lubbock and Edward Burnett Tylor in the Quarterly Review ([Mivart] 1874, p. 70). George’s response, discussed at length with CD in letters in August 1874, appeared in the October issue of Quarterly Review (137 (1874): 587–8), followed by a rejoinder, presumably by Mivart. Mivart had been Huxley’s student (ODNB).


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

[Mivart, St George Jackson.] 1874b. Primitive man: Tylor and Lubbock. [Essay review of the works of John Lubbock and Edward Burnett Tylor.] Quarterly Review 137 (1874): 40–77.

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.


Returns historical sketch [of GHD’s "cousin paper"?] with comments. "For Heavens sake put a sentence in some conspicuous place that your results seem to indicate that consanguineous marriage, as far as insanity is concerned, cannot be injurious in any very high degree."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
London, Bryanston St, 2
Source of text
DAR 210.1: 42
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9746,” accessed on 9 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22