skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Holland to Erasmus Alvey Darwin   24 February [1869]1

Brook Street

Feb 24th

My Dear Erasmus

If Charles has not yet gone will you put this note into his hands,—otherwise forward it to him.

Looking at some old notes, I find that Quetelet’s work—“Sur la Theories des Probabilités &c” was published in 1846, & reviewed by Sir J Herschel in one of the Edinburgh Reviews of the year 18502

Lacroix, as well as Laplace, has written a work sur “le Calcul des Probabilités”.3 I have read the latter only. It is a very interesting volume like every thing that comes from the hands of Laplace

As far as I recollect Herschel’s Review of Quetelet, it will give Charles most of the facts that would interest him for his particular objects. But I may be mistaken in this

My old notes furnish me with some other facts

Out of 3,630,000 registered births in England & Wales the excess of Males is very little more than 212 per cent. It results from this, as matter of exact calculation, that a deviation of 212 per cent from the law so determined, would involve the same improbability as an ace being thrown 643 times in succession from a single die.

I see that in England, France & Belgium the rates of illegitimate children to others is as 1. to 13

Either in Quetelet’s work, or elsewhere, I have seen some curious facts, as to the mean type of stature in different countries or districts.4 I recollect that the French mean stature is considy below both Belgian & English.—the highest at that time the adult agricultural type in Lancashire.

I shall be glad if anything I have thus hastily written is worth having

Ever yours very sincerely | H. Holland

CD annotations

1.1 If … 1850 2.3] crossed pencil
2.1 “Sur … 1850 2.3] scored blue crayon; ‘Read’ in margin blue crayon
3.1 Lacroix … facts 5.1] crossed blue crayon
7.1 I see … having 9.1] crossed blue crayon and pencil
Verso of letter: ‘Babbage Edinburgh Journal of Science I. 1829. p85–104 on Proportionate number of sexes under different circumstances.—’5 ink, crossed pencil


The year is established from the date and subject matter of the letter. CD worked on the proportion of the sexes in various animals between 1868 and 1870 as part of his research for Descent, which was published on 24 February 1871 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (DAR 158)). The only year during this period when he visited London around 24 February was 1869, when he was in London from 16 to 24 February (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 17, Appendix II)).
Holland refers to Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet and to Quetelet’s study on the theory of probability applied to moral and political science (Quetelet 1846). He also refers to John Frederick William Herschel and probably to an anonymous essay review of Quetelet 1846 published in the Edinburgh Review for July 1850 ([Herschel] 1850), which Holland evidently knew had been written by Herschel. CD may have already read either the translation of Quetelet 1846 (Quetelet 1849) or the review (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to W. D. Fox, 4 September [1850]).
Holland refers to Sylvestre François Lacroix and Lacroix 1816, and to Pierre Simon Marquis de Laplace and Laplace 1814.
Holland may refer to Quetelet 1835.
CD refers to Charles Babbage and Babbage 1829. CD cited this work in Descent 1: 302.


Babbage, Charles. 1829. A letter to the Right Hon. T. P. Courtenay, on the proportionate number of births of the two sexes under different circumstances. Edinburgh Journal of Science n.s. 1 (1829): 85–104.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

[Herschel, John Frederick William.] 1850. Review of Lettres à S.A.R. le duc régnant de Saxe-Coburg et Gotha: sur la théorie des probabilités, appliquée aux sciences morales et politiques, by Adolphe Quetelet. Edinburgh Review 92: 1–57.

Lacroix, Sylvestre François. 1816. Traité élémentaire du calcul des probabilités. Paris: Courcier.

Laplace, Pierre Simon. 1814. Essai philosophique sur les probabilités. Paris: Courcier.

Quetelet, Adolphe. 1835. Sur l’homme et le développement de ses facultés, ou, Essai de physique sociale. 2 vols. Paris: Bachelier.

Quetelet, Adolphe. 1846. Lettres à S.A.R. le duc régnant de Saxe-Coburg et Gotha: sur la théorie des probabilités, appliquée aux sciences morales et politiques. Brussels: M. Hayez.

Quetelet, Adolphe. 1849. Letters addressed to H.R.H. the Grand Duke of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, on the theory of probabilities, as applied to the moral and political sciences. Translated by Olinthus Gregory Downes. London: C. & E. Layton.


References to works on probability;

statistics on proportion of sexes in births in England and Wales.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Holland, 1st baronet
Erasmus Alvey Darwin
Sent from
London, Brook St
Source of text
DAR 86: A79–80
Physical description
ALS 3pp † (by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6632,” accessed on 6 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17