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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. R. Greg   2 March [1871?]1

Stationery Office

March 2.

My dear Sir

You were speaking the other day of the alledged degeneracy of the military standard of height in France. I cannot find Cochut’s book which I then mentioned to you as the authority.2

But I find that Jules Simon, in his book (1867 ‘L’Ouvrier de Huit Ans’,—gives the following as the progressive reductions in the minimum height required from recruits.3

1701— 1.624 metre
1803— 1.598 —
1818— 1.576 —
1860— 1.560 —

Of the 325,000 who annually reach 20 years, 18,000 are found too short—ie below 4 ft. 10 french or 5.1 English— —& ninety one thousand more to be disqualified by disease and infirmity. That is nearly one third of the youth of France are either too short or too sickly for service.4

Yours very sincerely | W. R. Greg

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Decrease in Height of Frenchmen | Selection’ pencil


The year is conjectured from the position of the letter in the archive and from the topicality of the content. The letter is in a collection of notes made by CD for the second edition of Descent; the first edition was published in February 1871 (Freeman 1977). The events of the 1870–1 Franco-Prussian war are a probable background to the discussion.
André Cochut, in an article on the reorganisation of military forces in France (Cochut 1867, p. 655 n.), noted that the minimum height for soldiers had decreased from the time of Louis XIV until 1832, when the requirement was 1.56 metres.
Greg refers to Jules François Simon and Simon 1867, p. 55. L’ouvrier de huit ans: the eight-year-old worker (French).
In old French units of measurement, one ‘pied du roi’ was about equal to 1.066 imperial feet. For the numbers of those disqualified, see Simon 1867, pp. 56–7.


Cochut, André. 1867. Le problème de l’armée: réorganisation de la force militaire en France. Revue des Deux Mondes 67: 645–77.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Simon, Jules François. 1867. L’ouvrier de huit ans. Paris: Librairie Internationale.


Quotes authority on the decline in height of French army recruits.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Rathbone Greg
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Stationery Office
Source of text
DAR 87: 149–50
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7532,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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