RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1881. Inheritance. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 24 (21 July): 257.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 3.2007. RN4

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

[page] 257


THE tendency in any new character or modification to reappear in the offspring at the same age at which it first appeared in the parents or in one of the parents, is of so much importance in reference to the diversified characters proper to the larvæ of many animals at successive ages, that almost any fresh instance is worth putting on record. I have given many such instances under the term of "inheritance at corresponding ages."1 No doubt the fact of variations being sometimes inherited at an earlier age than that at which they first appeared—a form of inheritance which has been called by some naturalists "accelerated inheritance"—is almost equally important, for, as was shown in the first edition of the "Origin of Species," all the leading facts of embryology can be explained by these two forms of inheritance, combined with the fact of many variations arising at a somewhat late stage of life.2 A good instance of inheritance at a corresponding age has lately been communicated to me by Mr. J. P. Bishop of Perry,3 Wyoming, N.Y., United States:—The hair of a gentleman of American birth (whose name I suppress)4 began to turn grey when he was twenty years old, and in the course of four or five years became perfectly white. He is now seventy-five years old, and retains plenty of hair on his head. His wife had dark hair, which, at the age of seventy, was only sprinkled with grey. They had four children, all daughters, now grown to womanhood. The eldest daughter began to turn grey at about twenty, and her hair at thirty was perfectly white. A second daughter began to be grey at the same age, and her hair is now almost white. The two remaining daughters have not inherited the peculiarity. Two of the maternal aunts of the father of these children "began to turn grey at an early age, so that by middle life their hair was white." Hence the gentleman in question spoke of the change of colour of his own hair as "a family peculiarity."

Mr. Bishop has also given me a case of inheritance of another kind, namely, of a peculiarity which arose, as it appears, from an injury, accompanied by a diseased state of the part. This latter fact seems to be an important element in all such cases, as I have elsewhere endeavoured to show. A gentleman, when a boy, had the skin of both thumbs badly cracked from exposure to cold, combined with some skin disease. His thumbs swelled greatly, and remained in this state for a long time. When they healed they were misshapen, and the nails ever afterwards were singularly narrow, short, and thick. This gentleman had four children, of whom the eldest, Sarah, had both her thumbs and nails like her father's; the third child, also a daughter, had one thumb similarly deformed. The two other children, a boy and girl, were normal. The daughter, Sarah, had four children, of whom the eldest and the third, both daughters, had their two thumbs deformed; the other two children, a boy and girl, were normal. The great-grandchildren of this gentleman were all normal. Mr. Bishop believes that the old gentleman was correct in attributing the state of his thumbs to cold aided by skin disease, as he positively asserted that his thumbs were not originally misshapen, and there was no record of any previous inherited tendency of the kind in his family. He had six brothers and sisters, who lived to have families, some of them very large families, and in none was there any trace of deformity in their thumbs.

Several more or less closely analogous cases have been recorded; but until within a recent period every one naturally felt much doubt whether the effects of a mutilation or injury were ever really inherited, as accidental coincidences would almost certainly occasionally occur. The subject, however, now wears a totally different aspect, since Dr. Brown-Séquard's5 famous experiments proving that guinea-pigs of the next generation were affected by operations on certain nerves. Mr. Eugène Dupuy of San Francisco, California, has likewise found, as he informs me, that with these animals "lesions of nerve-trunks are almost invariably transmitted." For instance, "the effects of sections of the cervical sympathetic on the eyes are reproduced in the young, also epilepsy (as described by my eminent friend and master, Dr. Brown-Séquard) when induced by lesions of the sciatic nerve." Mr. Dupuy has communicated to me a still more remarkable case of the transmitted effects on the brain from an injury to a nerve; but I do not feel at liberty to give this case, as Mr Dupuy intends to pursue his researches, and will, as I hope, publish the results.


July 13

1 There are numerous references to 'inheritance at corresponding ages' in Origin, Variation and Descent. See the annotated letter in Correspondence vol. 29, pp. 312-14.

2 Origin p. 448 ff.

3 Irving Prescott Bishop (1849-1913), American school science teacher, Perry, Wyoming County, New York, 1878-1885.

4 E. B. Jones of Auburn New York.

5 Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894), French physiologist. Brown-Séquard 1860.

This document has been accessed 10530 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 28 November, 2022