RECORD: Galton, Francis. [1859-1882]. [Recollection of Darwin]. In Galton, Francis. 1909. Memories of my life. New York: Dutton, pp. 287-88, 169.

REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker, edited by John van Wyhe 11.2010. RN1

NOTE: See the record for this item in the Freeman Bibliographical Database by entering its Identifier here. This recollection is reprinted in Thomas Glick, What about Darwin? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2010.

[pages 287-88]

The publication in 1859 of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin made a marked epoch in my own mental development, as it did in human thought generally. Its effect was to demolish a multitude of dogmatic barriers by a single stroke, and to arouse a spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities whose positive and unauthenticated statements were contradicted by modern science.

I doubt, however, whether any instance has occurred in which the perversity of the educated classes in misunderstanding what they attempted to discuss was more painfully conspicuous. The meaning of the simple phrase "Natural Selection" was distorted in curiously ingenious ways, and Darwinism was attacked, both in the press and pulpit, by persons who were manifestly ignorant of what they talked about. This is a striking instance of the obstructions through which new ideas have to force their way. Plain facts are apprehended in a moment, but the introduction of a new Idea is quite another matter, for it requires an alteration in the attitude and balance of the mind which may be a very repugnant and even painful process. On my part, however, I felt little difficulty in connecting with the Origin of Species, but devoured its contents and assimilated them as fast as they were devoured, a fact which perhaps may be ascribed to an hereditary bent of mind that both its illustrious author and myself have inherited from our common grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin.

I made occasional excursions to visit Charles Darwin at Down, usually at luncheon-time, always with a sense of the utmost veneration as well as of the warmest affection, which his invariably hearty greeting greatly encouraged. I think his intellectual characteristic that struck me most forcibly was the aptness of his questionings; he got thereby very quickly to the bottom of what was in the mind of the person he conversed with, and to the value of it.

Francis Galton (1822-1911), English psychometrician and eugenicist.

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

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