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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Galton   22 December 1871

42 Rutland Gate

Dec 22/71

My dear Darwin

Your brother tells me you would like to have the account of Dr. Butlers hereditary old habit.—1 Here it is. You can use my name as a guarantee of the authenticity of the story but, please, not that of the Butlers’2

Very sincerely yrs. | Francis Galton

Crookes has’nt answered3


Heredity during 3 generations,—of a habit that only occurs during sleep

(Mem in using this information, do not quote Dr. Butler’s name)

The Revd. Dr. George Butler formerly Head Master of Harrow in Lord Byron’s time, & afterwards Dean of Peterborough, used to take after dinner naps in his arm chair, during which he had a strange habit of raising & laying his forearm across the top of his head,—whence, as he nodded, it dropped in front of his face, striking his nose as it fell, usually awakening him with a start. The bridge of his somewhat prominent nose was frequently sore & sometimes raw from this curious habit.

Precisely the same habit is inherited by his son Dr. Montagu Butler, the present Head Master of Harrow who was first told of it by his wife,4 she having never known his father nor heard of the father having the peculiarity. Dr. Montagu Butler is aware of the last stage of the occurrence, namely of the dropping of his hand, because it often awakens him more or less completely & he believes that if his nose had been as prominent as his fathers, it would have suffered quite as much.

This discovery of his wife’s became a subject of family conversation before it was noticed, quite recently, that his child, a daughter,5 also inherits the habit. She when asleep in bed, continually raises her arm, rests it on her head & lets it fall over her face

Francis Galton Dec 22/71


Galton refers to Erasmus Alvey Darwin and George Butler. Galton’s wife, Louisa Jane, was Butler’s daughter.
CD quoted from the enclosure to this letter in Expression, pp. 33–4 n. 8.
William Crookes was a chemist and science journalist with an interest in spiritualism and mediums. No previous reference to him has been found, but in 1872, Galton corresponded with CD about Crookes’s investigations of mediums (see Correspondence vol. 20).
Galton refers to Henry Montagu Butler and Georgina Isabella Butler.
Agnes Isabel Butler.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Encloses "account of Dr H. M. Butler’s hereditary odd habit".

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Rutland Gate, 42
Source of text
DAR 105: A40; DAR 195.4: 103
Physical description
2pp enc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8118,” accessed on 20 January 2022,

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