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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Nature   [before 27 April 1871]1

In a paper, read March 30, 1871, before the Royal Society, and just published in the Proceedings, Mr. Galton gives the results of his interesting experiments on the inter-transfusion of the blood of distinct varieties of rabbits.2 These experiments were undertaken to test whether there was any truth in my provisional hypothesis of Pangenesis. Mr. Galton, in recapitulating “the cardinal points,” says that the gemmules are supposed “to swarm in the blood.” He enlarges on this head, and remarks, “Under Mr. Darwin’s theory, the gemmules in each individual must, therefore, be looked upon as entozoa of his blood,” &c.3 Now, in the chapter on Pangenesis in my “Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,” I have not said one word about the blood, or about any fluid proper to any circulating system.4 It is, indeed, obvious that the presence of gemmules in the blood can form no necessary part of my hypothesis; for I refer in illustration of it to the lowest animals, such as the Protozoa, which do not possess blood or any vessels; and I refer to plants in which the fluid, when present in the vessels, cannot be considered as true blood.5 The fundamental laws of growth, reproduction, inheritance, &c., are so closely similar throughout the whole organic kingdom, that the means by which the gemmules (assuming for the moment their existence) are diffused through the body, would probably be the same in all beings; therefore the means can hardly be diffusion through the blood. Nevertheless, when I first heard of Mr. Galton’s experiments, I did not sufficiently reflect on the subject, and saw not the difficulty of believing in the presence of gemmules in the blood.6 I have said (Variation, &c., vol. ii., p. 379) that “the gemmules in each organism must be thoroughly diffused; nor does this seem improbable, considering their minuteness, and the steady circulation of fluids throughout the body.”7 But when I used these latter words and other similar ones, I presume that I was thinking of the diffusion of the gemmules through the tissues, or from cell to cell, independently of the presence of the vessels,—as in the remarkable experiments by Dr. Bence Jones, in which chemical elements absorbed by the stomach were detected in the course of some minutes in the crystalline lens of the eye;8 or again as in the repeated loss of colour and its recovery after a few days by the hair, in the singular case of a neuralgic lady recorded by Mr. Paget.9 Nor can it be objected that the gemmules could not pass through tissues or cell-walls, for the contents of each pollen-grain have to pass through the coats, both of the pollen-tube and embryonic sack. I may add, with respect to the passage of fluids through membrane, that they pass from cell to cell in the absorbing hairs of the roots of living plants at a rate, as I have myself observed under the microscope, which is truly surprising.10

When, therefore, Mr. Galton concludes from the fact that rabbits of one variety, with a large proportion of the blood of another variety in their veins, do not produce mongrelised offspring, that the hypothesis of Pangenesis is false, it seems to me that his conclusion is a little hasty. His words are, “I have now made experiments of transfusion and cross circulation on a large scale in rabbits, and have arrived at definite results, negativing, in my opinion, beyond all doubt the truth of the doctrine of Pangenesis.”11 If Mr. Galton could have proved that the reproductive elements were contained in the blood of the higher animals, and were merely separated or collected by the reproductive glands, he would have made a most important physiological discovery. As it is, I think every one will admit that his experiments are extremely curious, and that he deserves the highest credit for his ingenuity and perseverance. But it does not appear to me that Pangenesis has, as yet, received its death blow; though, from presenting so many vulnerable points, its life is always in jeopardy; and this is my excuse for having said a few words in its defence.

Charles Darwin


The date is established by the publication of this letter in Nature on 27 April 1871.
CD refers to Francis Galton and Galton 1871. For more on Galton’s experiments to test CD’s hypothesis of pangenesis, see the letter from Francis Galton, 9 January 1871 and n. 1.
CD quotes Galton 1871, p. 394.
CD discusses pangenesis in Variation 2: 372–404.
See Variation 2: 376, 379–80.
Galton had been consulting CD about his experiments on pangenesis since 1869 (see Correspondence vol. 17, letter from Francis Galton, 11 December 1869).
In his letter of 25 April 1871, Galton had cited this passage as one source of confusion.
Henry Bence Jones discussed these experiments in Jones 1865a and 1865b.
James Paget gave this case in Paget 1853, 1: 46; CD cited it in Variation 2d ed., 2: 374.
CD refers to his work on Drosera; see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Daniel Oliver, 17 October [1860].
Galton 1871, p. 395.


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

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.

Paget, James. 1853. Lectures on surgical pathology delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 2 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

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


Replies to Francis Galton’s paper on tranfusing blood between rabbits to test Pangenesis [Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 19 (1871): 393–40]. FG’s conclusion that his experiments prove Pangenesis to be false is "a little hasty", since CD had never maintained that gemmules in the blood formed any part of his hypothesis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Nature, 27 April 1871, pp. 502–3

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7720,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19