Senin, 12 Maret 2012

Charles Galton Darwin and the Eugenics Movement

The Chief Sea Lion among other Wild Animals: Charles Galton Darwin and the Eugenics Movement
Thomas G Blaney

Charles Galton Darwin (1887-1962) was singularly well qualified to cut a dash in the history of eugenics. His name alone strikes a unique resonance. He was a grandson of the Charles Darwin. He was a godson of the childless Francis Galton, who in formulating the principles of eugenics had been much inspired by the work of the grandfather Darwin, Galton’s cousin. By heredity and upbringing, C G Darwin was himself a prime example of good breeding: like many of his illustrious forebears, he achieved intellectual eminence and was a striking demonstration that ‘like begets like’. He was a committed eugenist, involved with the Eugenics Society for over thirty years, and its president for six years. Yet despite these credentials, he appears to be almost completely neglected in the historiography of the British eugenics movement. Thus one purpose of this essay is to draw out Darwin’s perspectives on eugenics, and some of the factors that helped shape them.

Darwin’s chronology paralleled that of the British eugenics movement. His eugenic beliefs appear to have been largely formed in times and circumstances that were relatively optimistic for eugenists. However, by the time he came to a leading position in the eugenics movement, the signs of the movement’s final decline were increasingly evident. Darwin was openly torn between two beliefs – that eugenic measures were a crucial necessity as natural selection became largely suspended for much of mankind; and the desperate conclusion that all attempts to create a eugenically-determined world were almost certainly doomed to failure. In the 1950s, when Darwin was most active in the Eugenics Society, the latter was facing a similar crisis of confidence. Thus the second aim here is to demonstrate how Darwin’s views in part exemplified, but often ran ahead of, the increasingly frustrated state of the British eugenics movement in its latter days. For within a year of Darwin’s death, the Society took on charitable status which essentially ended its propagandising role, while in 1968, the Society’s journal, Eugenics Review, ceased publication.1

By the 1950s, the Society had seen a transformation of the social,scientific and political scene since its confident creation as the EugenicsEducation Society in 1907. The British eugenics movement had been foundedlargely on the belief that social class reflected social worth, and that apauper class, later the ‘social problem group’, was a threat to be reduced andultimately eliminated. Between the wars, such ‘mainstream’ authoritarianeugenic assumptions came under increasing fire and their politicalacceptability was further undermined. This resulted from various developments,such as the decline of class divisions; the trend towards more social equalityand the impact of left-wing thinking on British politics; greater emphasis onimproving social welfare for the mass of the population; and the increasinglywidespread acceptance and availability of systematic birth control.2Moreover, the genetic and social sciences developed much more substantialfoundations that undermined or contradicted many of the simplistic assumptionsthat underpinned eugenics.3 The Society, as the main focus forBritish eugenics activists, attempted to adapt to changing times, particularlyafter 1931 under its General Secretary, Dr C P Blacker – the ‘aggressive architectof reform eugenics’.4 There was still a focus on negative eugenicpolicies, such as the attempts to institute voluntary sterilization in the1930s. But there were also broader initiatives, such as moves to seek eugenicadvance through informed responsible decisions by individual parents aboutfamily planning, rather than continuing to assert that artificial birth controlwas firmly dysgenic. However, by 1939, the Society had essentially failed tohave any explicit eugenic impact on social policy developments.5 Yetthanks in large part to the fortuitous financial lifeline of the Twitchinbequest,6 and a hard core of about four hundred supporters,7the Society survived the second war and even the revelations of Nazi-styleeugenics in Germany. As Mazumdar argues, it was only the radical post-warchanges in the social climate brought about by the ‘break-up of the Poor Law,and the mentality of the welfare state’8 that finally brought thisdinosaur to extinction.
This essay revolves around the views of Darwin and his colleagues in theEugenics Society. The consulted primary sources have thus concentrated onrelevant published papers by Darwinand his contemporaries, and the archives of the Eugenics Society. The archiveevidence implies that Darwinkept eugenics out of his professional life as an academic, scientist and civilservant, and records of those aspects of his life have thus been largelyignored. However, some sources have been identified that may add further detailto a more comprehensive study, but which were not consulted: these have beenlisted in an appendix. A number of more general published accounts of Darwinthe man, and about his family, have been used. Private family correspondencewould clearly have helped here, but none has been identified in accessiblearchives. As already noted, there is virtually no detailed secondary literatureon Darwin’splace in the history of eugenics.

Nature and nurture in the ‘modelfamily of the eugenics movement’9

Even by the standards of the Darwin-Wedgwood dynasty and the ‘intellectualaristocracy’,10 C G Darwin’slineage and intellectual credentials were impressive. For example, he became aFellow of the Royal Society, as had his father, two uncles, grandfather, great-grandfather,two of his great-great-grandfathers, and two godfathers.11 While hisfather’s forebears carried the ‘Darwood’12 genes, his mother was thedaughter of a Philadelphia engineer and inventor and had grandparents relatedby marriage to the Jebbs, a prominent Cambridge academic family.13One of Darwin’s sisters married into the Keynes family, Darwin himself marrieda daughter of a Warden of All Souls, while one of his sons married into theHuxley family – ‘so at last the Darwins and Huxleys are kinsmen’.14
Charles Galton Darwin
Photograph by kind permission of Edward Darwin
Equipped with such a famous name and moving in such company, even someone ofmodest abilities might have achieved a superficial eminence. Darwin, however, was intellectuallygifted, particularly as a mathematician and theoretical physicist. He also ‘wasnotably wise in things he knew nothing about’15 and ‘was such asensible codger he would always listen’.16 Such qualities clearlycontributed much to his achievement of high positions in academe and governmentservice. A brief chronology of his life is given in Appendix 2. His work as anapplied mathematician covered many topics in both classical and thenewly-emerging quantum physics, and was outstanding for its rigour and clarityin consolidating and extending new ideas, rather than for huge creative leaps.17However, his detailed scientific expertise, including that of the intricaciesof statistics, was not conspicuous in his activities as a eugenist. He declaredhimself an amateur in biology and evolution18 and, as we shalldiscuss, seemed content to accept the specious and often poorly-foundedscientific rationalisations that underpinned traditional eugenic thinking. Bynature, nurture or pure coincidence, he perhaps shared a tendency that had beenmarked in the Darwinmen of his father’s generation – a readiness to accept with too littlequestioning hypotheses outside their own expertise.19
To some members of his family, he appears to have been regarded as ratherreticent,20 but if so, this was hidden behind a much more ebullientpublic personality. He was described variously as ‘large, both physically andin manner, cheerful and definite’,21 ‘a great booming voice … largerthan life’22 and ‘very large and encyclopedic’.23 Hisconfident and positive physical presence led to his colleagues at Christ’sCollege dubbing him ‘the Chief Sea Lion’.22 Thus by intellect andpersonality, C G Darwin immediately impressed as someone who lived up to hispatrician heritage. Yet to what extent did his peculiar heritage and circumstancesshape the eugenic views that he espoused during the final decades of his life?
Darwin wasbrought up in a family that was known as independent-minded. It was alsosomewhat obsessed with its own singular history and its eccentricities, if notalways without some self-mockery.24 Yet in many respects, Darwin’s upbringing wasprobably typical of his privileged class and period. In particular, andrelevant to eugenic perceptions, the young Darwin and his siblings could hardlyescape the prejudices and misapprehensions of being largely isolated from theconcerns of the mass of the population. Thus, post-hoc, Darwin’s sister Gwen could not ‘believe thatthe middle classes of those days ever had the faintest idea of the outlook ofthe poor’.39
More unusual was the family preoccupation with inherited physical and mentalweakness. ‘The worst of my bugbears is heredetary [sic] weakness’, Darwin’s grandfather hadrecorded,25 reflecting on the sickliness of most of his offspringand the childhood deaths of three of them. With one or two exceptions, allseven of grandfather Darwin’sadult offspring suffered from chronic physical ailments and/or hypochondria. CG Darwin’s father, George, was periodically unwell with digestive problemsthroughout his life, much as the elder Charles Darwin had been afflicted. ThatGeorge Darwin ‘took his ill-health seriously’26 cannot have beenhelped by his father’s request for him to compile statistics – ultimatelyinconclusive – about the possible hereditary effects of co-sanguinous marriage,of which his parents’ first-cousin marriage was one.27 George’s fouroffspring seem not to have suffered conspicuous ill-health, but the familyhistory seems to have at least coloured C G Darwin’s attitudes to theeugenically fit. Thus when it came to negative eugenics, he stronglydifferentiated physical from mental weakness. ‘One sometimes meets people ofnotably high intellect who feel that they are eugenically unfit for begetting afamily on account of some physical disability, such as bad digestion or weaklungs. I maintain that eugenically there is nothing against such a personfounding a family’. He argues this on two grounds, both somewhat questionablein logical or genetic terms. First, by ‘the advance of medical science … theseorganic weaknesses may be largely nullified’. Second, where the latter is notthe case, then such physical diseases ‘will gradually eliminate themselves bythe earlier death-rate of their victims’.28
On the positive eugenic front, he pointed out that ‘there have been men ofpre-eminent ability, risen from the ranks, whose descendants have sunk back ina generation or two, whereas there are families where generation aftergeneration goes on producing men of very good ability’.29 In makingthis assertion of the existence of a genetic nobility among the intellectuallyable, his own family can hardly have been far from his mind.

The Chief Sea Lion hesitant: C GDarwin and the Eugenics Society

Like his uncle Leonard,30 Darwinappears to have come to the eugenics movement – or more correctly to have beenbrought to it – relatively late in his life. He almost certainly had no directinvolvement with the Eugenics Society before 1930, when he was in his earlyforties. However, by then, there was a Darwinfamily tradition of support for the Society. Apart from Leonard, four of hisother five Darwin uncles and aunts had beenmembers, in Cambridge and/or London. His father had apparently givensupport, and his mother was a member from about 1915.31
Dr Carlos Paton Blacker (1895-1975)
Photograph by kind permission of
Dr John Blacker
Despite this family tradition, he appears to have joined only on theinstigation of his uncle. Leonard wrote to the Society saying ‘I am making hima Life Member, as an Xmas [sic] present, so to speak – but all the world neednot know this’, and enclosed the ten guineas subscription.32 Inpractice, the Society felt it could offer nothing less than Life Fellowship33which was politely accepted. However, Darwinappears to have been inactive in the Society until 1938, when he was invited byBlacker to give the 1939 Galton Lecture. Darwin was very reluctant – ‘it ismuch out of my line – I really have practically nothing to say’ – he replied,asking for time to consider.34 When he finally did accept, he wasstill Master of Christ’s College, but by the lecture date had become a seniorcivil servant as Director of the National Physical Laboratory. He told Blackerthat his lecture would have to be ‘politically colourless, as I am not supposedin my present position to express political views’. He hoped that Blacker, inannouncing the lecture, would ‘be able to avoid mentioning my job here … aningenious journalist can do a wonderful amount of harm by extracting a singlesentence’.35 In the event, as we shall note later, the lecture was arelatively bland affair, and does not seem to have produced unwelcome reactionswithin or beyond the eugenics community.
Following that lecture, he accepted a vice-presidency of the Society, butprudently again sank into inactivity in the Society until his retirement fromgovernment service in 1949. In 1951, in writing to Blacker about his imminentbook The Next Million Years, he stated ‘that it is part of the policy Iadopted not to appear too closely associated with the subject of Eugenics. Ihope it [ie the book] will nevertheless leave you feeling I consider it one ofthe most important things in the world’.36 Now relativelyunconstrained, he was happy to join the Society’s Council, and in 1952 wasoffered the Presidency. He declined, on grounds, inter alia, that if hisbook, which was about to appear, proved unpopular and attracted violent opposition,it would reflect on the Society.37 However, with considerableflattery, Blacker38 persuaded Darwinto agree to a deferred acceptance, with Carr-Saunders, who had held the officesince 1949, extending his Presidency in the interim. Thus in 1953 began Darwin’s most activeperiod in eugenics, as President of the Society.
We can thus see that in many respects Darwinwas hesitant and needed persuasion in taking a leading position as a Societyactivist. Certainly the evidence casts no doubt on his commitment to theprinciples of eugenics, and he may well have felt a moral and possibly afamilial duty to support the Society. However, leaving aside the limitations hefelt while in the Civil Service, he clearly had other misgivings. To helpunderstand these, we thus must look at his eugenic beliefs in more detail.

The beliefs of a eugenist who wasalso a physicist, humanist and fatalist

Francis Galton is considered by many to have been a polymath genius, butsomething of an over-enthusiastic amateur by his scientific detractors. Incontrast, Galton’s godson was almost certainly no genius, but he was a rigorousprofessional in his scientific career – ‘he was very thorough in his physics’according to Nobel laureate G P Thomson.40 Yet, as we have alreadyimplied, this scientific thoroughness in Darwin the physicist often appearedsuspended when it came to Darwinthe eugenist. On the one hand, not only was he fully aware that heredity,genetics and social science were exceedingly complex and very poorly understood,but also proclaimed himself an amateur in them. On the other hand, he appearedto accept with little scientific questioning or scepticism some of thetraditional eugenists’ shibboleths.
Darwin’seugenic beliefs, at least when expressed on paper, were generally simplistic,and often based on subjective observation or received opinion. For example, oninheritance, he appeared satisfied with an intuitive approach: ‘There is ofcourse by now a lot of fairly deep knowledge about the laws of heredity, but thereis no need to think about them, because in fact we all do know that a child israther more likely to resemble his parents than somebody else’s parents. As topersonal appearance this is obvious, but I think most sensible people willagree that it also applies to things like character and intelligence’.41Yet by the mid-twentieth century, scientific knowledge of genetic science andof the unresolved complexities of nurtural factors made such statements evenmore questionable than in Galton’s day, at least as a basis for determiningsocial policy and action.42
The Eugenics Society had largely concentrated on negative eugenics issues upto 1939, although Blacker in particular had sought more constructiveapproaches.43 There was a clear shift towards positive eugenics inthe late 1940s and later, a move favoured and encouraged by Darwin. For Darwin, the case for negative eugenics – atleast for the feeble-minded – was so intuitively and logically obvious as toalmost not require discussion. He persisted with the ill-defined term‘feeble-minded’ against Blacker’s advice,44 but considered that suchpeople could readily be identified with ‘an easy start … through policerecords, special schools, slums and so on’.45 He disapproved ofimproving the lot of such people, for ‘the policy of paying most attention tothe inferior types is the most inefficient way possible of achievingperfectibility of the human race’.46 For him, ‘this preoccupationwith the weaker members is part of the present menacing trend of political thoughtwhich insists on absolute equality’.47 He considered that negativeeugenics measures, however necessary to curb degeneration, were, ‘like notsending horses that come last to stud’, of little value in actually improvingthe human race.48
Charles Galton Darwin and Dr C P Blacker
Dr Blacker being presented with the Galton medal by Sir Charles Darwin
Photograph by kind permission of Dr John Blacker
Much as Darwinfavoured positive eugenics, he struggled to find a logically watertight schemefor selecting those who should be encouraged to breed, let alone practicablemeasures to bring about this end. In terms of practicality, he consistentlyheld to the view that formed the most substantive element in his 1939 GaltonLecture – that there is no ‘better rough and ready way of estimating a man’svalue than by the amount he is paid; … our national organisation ought to besuch that the number of children would bear some close positive relation toincome’.49 Such views were hardly original, reflecting, for example,his uncle Leonard’s sturdy belief in the ‘money standard’ criterion,50which clearly had its roots in traditional class-based arguments. Darwin was stilladvocating ‘Eugenics by taxation’ towards the end of his life.51 Yethe knew that a eugenic taxation system favouring the wealthy was ‘hopelessbecause it would never get votes in a democracy’.52
Even if we accept that Darwinhad moved on somewhat from the crude class-based perspectives of many of theold-school eugenists, it is clear that he viewed the world from an essentiallypatrician viewpoint, disdainful of the talents of the masses. At times, he tookthe stance of a patronising authoritarian schoolmaster facing a class ofpotentially delinquent children. For example, he worried that in an ‘age ofleisure’ created in an automated society, most people – ninety percent is cited– do not have the qualities of intellect or character to cope constructively.‘In the past, those having leisure have tended to be rather above the averagein ability and education’ but ‘most of mankind are not fitted by nature for alife of freely chosen leisure, because most would not know what to choose.Something equivalent to the compulsory games of the schoolboy would have to beinstituted’.53 Likewise, he was at least prepared to contemplatewith academic detachment and logic the thought that future world government,faced with any unapproved population increase in any part of the world, wouldimplement ‘the ultimate sanction … to kill off the excess’.54
While the principles underlying a eugenics-based world seemed relativelyclear in Darwin’smind, identifying practicable eugenic measures that enough of society wouldaccept was much more problematical. He was equivocal about democracy, which heconcluded was a ‘fairweather form of government’,55 which ‘willprobably be the last system to adopt a eugenic policy at all’.56Indeed, what society was doing and seemed likely to do in future wereprofoundly worrying to Darwin. His hopes, frustrations and fears were mostaptly demonstrated in his two most prominent eugenics-related projects, whichwe discuss below.

Project 1: The Next Million Yearsand the wild animals problem

We have already noted that Darwinhalf expected his book The Next Million Years57 togenerate controversy. In practice, apart from some mixed comments within theincestuous eugenics community, it seems to have been mildly received elsewhere.58The book is not primarily a eugenics tract although it reveals much about Darwin the eugenist,albeit one who despairs that humankind is innately incapable of a concertedrational approach to its own breeding.
The book is a polemic about the ‘Malthusian catastrophe’ that Darwin saw as inevitable.While human intelligence had in recent centuries pushed back the perceivedlimits to food and other resources, Darwinforesaw the end of such improvements. Human nature, however, meant that Man,overall, would not rationally limit his numbers, so that crises of famine,strife and war would become increasingly the norm. His ‘million years’ referredto the period indicated in the geological record for a new species to evolve, sothat Man’s basic nature could not change sufficiently except on this timescale. The Malthusian crises were much closer than this.
Darwindeveloped lines of thought that had appeared in his 1939 Galton Lecture. Onesuch is that man is a ‘wild animal’, as opposed to a domesticated or tameanimal which can be ‘remoulded’ via selective breeding under objectivedirection by a human master. He poses the issue, intrinsic to the traditionaleugenic agenda, that when it comes to controlling human procreation, in qualityor quantity, subjective judgements cannot be avoided. He sees the question ofthe feeble-minded as ‘comparatively easy, since [they] can be regardedobjectively by their superiors, and so might become amenable to the same sortof control as is applicable to domestic animals’.59 For the broaderpopulation, there is the possibility, in principle, of the most superior groupprescribing ‘what marriages were eugenically admissible and how large theconsequent families should be’. However, this only pushes the difficulty back astage, ‘for it leaves unanswered the question who are to [comprise this mostsuperior group] and what principles are to guide them’.60 Heconcludes that any attempt to control the procreative habits of large sectionsof the population cannot be sustained for long. However effective individualbirth control methods become, there will be some who by creed or naturalinclination will seek to have large families. Moreover, with no supportiveevidence, he hypothesises that the procreative instinct (not to be confusedwith the sexual instinct) is a heritable quality, making attempts to limitpopulation numbers futile in the long term. It is notable how frequently hecalled upon the word ‘instinct’ to represent a mainly irrational impulse, eventhough he admitted it was an imprecise notion, with unclear contributions fromgenetic and environmental factors.61
His arguments on the longer-term population issue bear considerablesimilarity to those surrounding the ‘differential birth rate’ issue of earliereugenic days. These merge with views on shorter-term pressures, such as thedysgenic effects of birth control. Thus, for example, he was clear that ‘thewell-to-do are rather more likely than others to possess hereditary ability …but the more prosperous members of the community are not producing their shareof the next generation … The whole thing is a catastrophe which it is nowalmost too late to prevent …’.62
Darwin warned at the outset of his book that, following his arguments, ‘theconsequences … will be found exceedingly depressing by all the political andsocial standards that are now current’.63 Indeed, after asking whataction can now be taken about the future of the human race, he concludes ‘verylittle indeed … for the simple reason that most human beings do not care in theleast about the distant future’.64
Such views, in someone who was about to lead and rally the British EugenicsSociety did ruffle a few feathers. Most notably, Frederick Osborn, Secretary ofthe American Eugenics Society contrasted his own optimistic reformist viewswith Darwin’spessimistic old-school attitudes. For example, he cited recent studies in the USA thatdemonstrated that ‘people at the higher income levels have the most children …the more successful college graduates have more children than the lesssuccessful’65 i.e. prosperity and family planning were notnecessarily dysgenic. Moreover, he was clear that ‘the vital job of balancingpopulation to resources can be done by family planning by individual couples ona voluntary basis’.66 Darwin, in his riposte, gives no ground,considering that Osborn’s position assumes ‘that reason will inevitably triumphover [selfishness, sentiment and unreasoning impulse], but I cannot persuademyself that there is any evidence for this’.67 There followed alively correspondence, largely unhindered by any well-founded evidence,regarding the impact of birth control, prosperity, the nature of theprocreative instinct, and whether there was any hope for a eugenic outcome.68
Blacker entered the public fray, detecting that Darwin had two voices, that of the humanistand that of the fatalist. He found that Darwin the humanist and eugenist ‘didnot wholly ignore what we would like in an ideal world … If Darwin did not hold some such views, he wouldscarcely now be President of our Society’. Meanwhile Darwin the fatalist was‘impatient of facile solutions and wishful thinking’, one who allowed for ‘theperversity and folly of mankind’.69 Blacker tactfully concluded thatthe two voices speaking in the book ‘produced in the end an impression ofdialectical harmony’, yet the weight of Darwin’s sombre prognoses belies suchan anodyne analysis.

Project 2: Promising Families – Mission Impracticable?

Galton’s early ideas, in Hereditary Genius, and later NoteworthyFamilies revolved around genealogical identification of families whoappeared capable of repeatedly producing exceptionally able, energetic andcreative people. Schemes to encourage maximum fertility in such families werehighly desirable. This was positive eugenics for a perceived elite which almostby definition was from the upper classes. Blacker, anxious to present a lessovertly class-based eugenics, was the primary protagonist of a positiveeugenics that set much wider sights. In its widest expression, the idea drew ona Galton notion, incorporated into the Society’s 1909 Statement of Objects, ofraising ‘the average quality of our nation to that of its better moiety’.70An inference from this was that if individuals from this better moiety (half)could achieve procreative domination, this would be eugenically positive. Ofcourse, the primary problem was how to assign an individual to the better orworse moiety.
One approach to this intractable problem was some sort of performance testbased on the family, and this eventually evolved into the much more restrictedidea of the ‘promising family’. This idea – the antithesis to the ‘problemfamily’ – appears to have been developed initially by Blacker,71 andsupported by Carr-Saunders. Starting in 1947, Blacker had attempted toestablish the ‘Galton Trust’, a major charitable fund to provide allowances toencourage more children from such families.72 This was formallydropped in 1950, after rebuffs from those who might have been expected toco-operate in the necessary social surveys, but the general idea lived on andwas mentioned in the Society’s 1950 Statement of Objects. Basically,such a family has ‘children who are healthy, happy and well-adjusted …noteworthy for their cheerfulness and trustworthiness … and usually for theirscholastic ability’. ‘Such children and their parents are … eugenicallydesirable types’ and measures should be found to aid the parents ‘to attain themaximum fertility they desire’.73 The primary challenge was to setcriteria and routes to ‘ascertaining’ such families. Then there was the problemof practicable and effective follow-up implementation measures. Darwin was afounder-member and then Chairman of the Committee set up by the Society toconsider these issues, and which met from 1952 to 195674.
A number of ascertainment methods had been considered by Blacker, includingpre-marital examination and so-called ‘reproductive efficiency’.75However, the Committee concentrated mainly on schemes to find the familythrough the promising child (or children), who would be identified byschoolteachers. As formulated for a pilot study, headmasters would be asked tonominate pupils who demonstrated a mixture of ‘superior qualities’, including,for example, leadership, moral force of character and fellowship, as well asscholastic ability. The relevant parents, if willing, would be interviewed by asocial worker and complete a questionnaire about the family circumstances. Fora working scheme, Darwin’sCommittee wished to see those promising family parents who were limiting theirfamily size for economic reasons being given extra financial support to bringtheir family to the desired size. The proposed process would be overseen by alocal committee of eugenically-minded people. The Society briefly consideredusing its own funds to provide a pilot scheme of family subsidies, but Darwinrecognised this as impractical and favoured only ‘exploration and research’ topromote action ‘by larger institutions or the state’.76 It wassuggested that the level of the extra family support would be proportional tothe family income, so that cost-effectiveness considerations would givepreference to poorer families, with the hope that this would add to thescheme’s political appeal.77
Darwin’sdescription of the proposals to an educational conference in early 195578attracted considerable press coverage. Most was blandly factual if occasionallybemused reporting, but a couple of leaders criticised the proposals as ‘“masterrace” philosophy’ and having an ‘unpleasantly “1984” totalitarian ring’.79
The Committee’s efforts over four years yielded little of consequence. Fromearly on, Darwin,while keen to pursue the idea, was gloomily realistic, writing that he should‘not be much surprised if it proves that the closer it is looked at the moredifficult it is seen to be’. In the same letter to Blacker, he is jestinglyominous; ‘If in the end it proved that nothing on these lines could be done,then I would raise the question whether it would not be right to dissolve theSociety!’.80 As with the earlier Galton Trust project, there wasconsiderable difficulty finding educational and other bodies prepared toco-operate in research studies. However, three surveys, involving nomination ofchildren by schools and completion of parents’ questionnaires were carried out.The results, as published,81 indicated about a third of the parentswould have liked more children than they had, and up to 40% of these saideconomics were the limiting factor. However, these desired but unborn childrenwould have raised the relevant family fertilities only marginally above thatfor the population as a whole. Moreover, one of the surveys was on grammarschool children (the others were at primary level) where over 80% of themothers of the nominated children were over forty and unable or unwilling tohave more children.
Charles Galton Darwin and Dr C P Blacker
At the World Population Conference in Rome in 1954
Photograph by kind permission of Dr Carmen Blacker
Despite these results scarcely making a persuasive case for a promisingfamily subsidy scheme, Darwin, again without much optimism, supported thecreation of a so-called ‘Broadsheet’ to promote such a scheme to MPs,educationalists and other influential people.82 This was to havebeen the second of a series – the first one published had been on the eugeniceffects of West Indian immigration to Britain.83 However, ‘PromisingFamilies: Their characteristics and encouragement’ went through severaltortured drafts until late 1959, when under the new president, Julian Huxley,it received the coup de grâce. As Carter reported to Darwin, ‘in trying to incorporate the varied views ofCouncil the broadsheet had lost coherence … the measures suggested would not besufficiently selective’.84 Darwin’sdoubts about the ‘Promising Families’ enterprise, expressed six years before,had proved correct. However, the related question about the future of theSociety remained unanswered until after his death.


Steeped in the lore and peculiar sensibilities of his family, and named ashe was, Charles Galton Darwin would have found it difficult to remainindifferent to eugenics. That he took an active role in the eugenics movementrelatively late in life, and then only with a degree of prompting, indicatesthat he was not without uncertainties. We have seen that his doubts were notprimarily about the aims of the eugenics cause, in which his views remainedrelatively constant and more traditional than reformist. His main concern wasthat human nature, democratic political processes, and the cultural tidetowards egalitarianism made increasingly nugatory the search for significanteugenic measures that were socially and politically acceptable.
Darwinbrought little that was novel to the social, political and scientific thinkingwithin the eugenics movement. It was thus almost certainly Darwin’s name, status and personal style thatprimarily motivated the Eugenics Society, and Blacker in particular, to seekhis prominent involvement with the Society’s activities. We have already notedthat Blacker occasionally revealed doubts that Darwin’s pessimism regarding the impotence ofeugenics movement and the future of humanity was not fully compatible with therallying role of a president. Yet it was clear that Darwin was only expressingin a more despairing but perhaps more realistic way some of the difficultiesthat Blacker saw and had struggled with as much as anyone. In a published 1947article, Blacker had remarked that ‘the theory of eugenics is impressiveand convincing; the practical proposals too often seem to peter out intriviality and futility’.85 Ten years later, in a paper to theSociety Council, he blamed the Society’s diminishing membership on the lack of‘a definite policy [his underlining] which commends itself to potentialfellows and members, and in particular those of the younger generation’.86Yet he had virtually no proposals that seemed likely to transform thatsituation as well as having practical impact in the hostile or indifferentoutside world. The Society’s attempts to accommodate itself to that world wereat odds with the instincts, if not the more measured rational deliberations ofthose with more traditional eugenic views, such as Darwin. By 1961, even for a reform eugenistsuch as John Baker, a revised statement of the Society’s aims was ‘so feeble asscarcely to be eugenic at all’.87
If Blacker saw clearly the problems, he presented a more optimistic facethan Darwin, perhaps reflecting the investment,unlike Darwin,of so much of his professional life to the cause. Blacker’s book, Galton andAfter, published when he retired from the General Secretary post in 1952,found encouraging features and surmised ‘that Galton, were he alive today,would find grounds for hope’.88 Yet Darwin, reviewing the book,found it ‘hard to avoid the conclusion that, frankly speaking, the more closelythe practice of eugenics is examined the more difficult it is all seen to be’.89As regards the fate of the Eugenics Society as a crusading body, Darwin’spessimism was justified. The Chief Sea Lion realised that he was swimmingagainst the tide, but unlike some of the other wild animals in his peculiarkingdom, he saw little prospect of the tide turning.

Notes and References

Abbreviation: ESP SA/EUG : Eugenics Society Papers Archive,detailed in the Bibliography.
1. For example, Mazumdar (1992), esp. Chap.5.
2. For example, Soloway (1995), Chaps. 8-12.
3. Kevles (1995), Chaps. 9-13.
4. Soloway (1997), p.54. This articlegenerally reviews the reformist developments much inspired by Blacker.
5. Searle (1979); Macnicol (1989).
6. Soloway (1995), pp.163-164.
7. Eugenics Society papers, L.13: Paper onFuture of Eugenics Society by C P Blacker dated 17 February 1957, and Memo. ofNovember 1957 by G C L Bertram. From a peak of 768 in 1932, membership fell to444 in 1943, rose to 585 in 1948, but was 450 in 1957 and in constant decline.
8. Mazumdar (1992), p. 255.
9. Mazumdar (1992), so termed in theFrontispiece.
10. Annan (1999), Annexe ‘The IntellectualAristocracy’, pp.304-311. Originally published in Plumb, J H (Ed.) Studiesin Social History: A Tribute to G M Trevelyan, London, Longmans, Green andCo. pp. 243-87.
11. The godfathers were Lord Kelvin (WilliamThomson) and Francis Galton, see Thomson (1963), p. 69.
12. Moore(2001), Chaps 1-2.
13. Keynes (1976), p. 40.
14. Annan (1999), p. 311.
15. Ascribed to Henry Tizard by Thomson(1963), p. 81.
16. Ascribed to unidentified observer inobituary of Darwinin The Times, 2 January, 1963, p.12.
17. Thomson (1963), esp. pp. 70 and 81.
18. ‘My biology is only amateurish’ (Darwin1939, p.13); ‘My own claims [of knowledge of evolutionary theory] could at bestbe classed as those of an amateur’ (Darwin1960a, p.463); see also preface to Darwin (1952a); and ESP SA/EUG C.85, letterfrom Darwin toBlacker, 3 Nov. 1950.
19. Raverat (1952). Darwin’s sister remarkedon the ‘great family likeness’ (p.175) between Darwin’s father and his fourbrothers, and in particular (p.188) that ‘there were whole realms of thoughtabout which they were entirely ignorant; and yet they, who questioned everyscientific statement, would sometimes be content to accept the most superficialviews on those other matters’.
20. Keynes (1976), p. 243.
21. Thomson (1963), p. 81.
22. Snow (1982), p. 82.
23. Darwin’ssister Gwen quoted by Spalding (2001), p.209.
24. E.g. Raverat (1952), esp. chaps. 7, 8,10.
25. Desmond and Moore (1991), p. 399.
26. Raverat (1952), p. 184.
27. Darwin (George Howard)(1875).
28. Darwin(1939), p. 15.
29. Darwin(1952a), p. 138.
30. See, for example, Soloway (1997). LeonardDarwin was 59 and not even a member of the Society when asked to be itspresident in 1909, probably following a suggestion from Galton.
31. ESP, SA/EUG E.23 and E.6. Darwin’s father waslisted as ‘expressing intention to join’ when the Cambridge Branch of theSociety was created in 1911, but appears not to have become a full member.
32. ESP, SA/EUG C.85: Letter from L Darwin,dated 6 Nov. 1930 to a Mr Collyer at the Eugenics Society.
33. Elected Life Fellow on 30 Nov. 1930.
34. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to Blacker, June1938.
35. ESP, SA/EUG C.85: Letter from Darwin to Blacker, dated14 Feb. 1939.
36. ESP, SA/EUG C.85: Letter from Darwin to Blacker, dated26 Oct. 1951. Darwin’sassociation with eugenics is not always mentioned in various biographicalpieces about him. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (Gowing1981) notes his interest in eugenics and his presidency of the EugenicsSociety, whereas the Royal Society memoir (Thomson 1963) merely notes thelatter. However, the Times’ obituary (2 Jan. 1963, p.12) and his sisterMargaret’s biographical account (Keynes, 1976, Chap. 25) omit even this.
37. ESP, SA/EUG C.85: Letter from Darwin to Blacker, dated26 Feb. 1952.
38. ESP, SA/EUG C.85: Letter from Blacker to Darwin, dated 29 Feb.1952.
39. Raverat (1952), p.102.
40. Thomson (1963), p.82.
41. Darwin(1955a), p.17.
42. See, for example, Kevles (1985),pp.145-7, and Edwards (1997) on the evolution of scientific perceptions of theimpact of inheritance on human intelligence and behaviour.
43. Soloway (1995), esp. Chap. 9; Soloway(1997).
44. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Blacker to Darwin, dated 31 Oct.1951, commenting on proofs of The Next Million Years. He found‘feeble-minded’ an unsatisfactory term, and suggested greater precision e.g.‘mentally sub-normal’. Darwincontinued with ‘feeble-minded’ in the book and later articles.
45. Darwin(1955a), p.18.
46. Darwin(1952a), p. 104.
47. Darwin(1957a), p.77.
48. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to Blacker, dated8 Oct. 1953.
49. Darwin(1939), p.20.
50. For example, Raverat (1952), p.199.
51. For example, ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letterfrom Darwin to Carter, dated 12 Dec. 1959; Darwin (1960a), p.471.
52. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to General Osborn,dated 8 Sept. 1953.
53. Darwin(1956b), p.14.
54. Darwin(1960a), p.473. Thomson (1963, p. 82) remarks that Darwin ‘was keenlyinterested in social and political problems but with something of theimpersonal attitude which is common in professional philanthropists, to whompeople seem like flags that denote battalions on a staff map.’ In similar vein,Bertram in his obituary of Darwin (Bertram and Carter, 1963, p.7) remarks thatDarwin ‘perceived, perhaps more than some today, that eugenics does truly gobeyond human genetics by the addition, to that pure study, of personal andgroup responsibility and therefore need for action’.
55. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to General Osborn,date 8 Sept. 1953.
56. Darwin(1939), p.21.
57. Darwin(1952a).
58. For example, see Carter (1952); Lettersto Eugenics Review, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 66-67; anonymous book review‘The Future of Man’ in Times Literary Supplement, April 4, 1952, p.231.According to Darwin’ssister Margaret (1976, p.250), ‘the book made little impression on thecontemporary consciousness’.
59. Darwin(1952a), p.122.
60. Ibid., p.123.
61. For example, Darwin (1954), pp. 74-5: (1956a), p.131;(1960), p.465.
62. Darwin(1952a), pp. 138, 140, 141.
63. Ibid. p.26.
64. Ibid. p.207.
65. Osborn (1953), p.159.
66. Ibid. p.158.
67. Darwin(1953), p.161.
68. Correspondence in Eugenics Review, Vol.46, No.1, 1954 pp. 66-67; Darwin(1954).
69. Blacker (1954a).
70. Blacker (1954b), p.22.
71. Blacker (1947)
72. ESP, SA/EUG D.77.
73. Blacker (1954b), p.21; ESP SA/EUG L.60,proposal document dated 19 Dec. 1952 by Blacker and Carter.
74. ESP, SA/EUG L.58; L.60.
75. Blacker (1954b), pp. 23-25.
76. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to Blacker dated 8October 1953.
77. Blacker (1947), p.26.
78. Published as Darwin (1955a).
79. News reports appeared in at leastfourteen national and provincial papers and magazines. The quotations givencome from the Manchester Evening News of 21 Jan. 1955 and TheSchoolmaster dated 7 Jan. 1955, respectively. See press cuttings in ESPSA/EUG D.174.
80. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to Blacker dated 8October 1953.
81. Carter (1958).
82. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Darwin to Carter dated 12Dec.1959.
83. ESP, SA/EUG L.13, Minutes of 13 Nov.1958.
84. ESP, SA/EUG C.85, Letter from Carter to Darwin dated 15 Dec.1959.
85. Blacker (1947), p.25.
86. ESP, SA/EUG L.15, Paper dated 17 Feb.1957 by Blacker to the Council on the Future of the Eugenics Society.
87. Soloway (1995), p.356: ESP, SA/EUG C.13,Memo dated 4 Oct. 1961 by John Baker to the Society Council.
88. Blacker (1952), p.319.
89. Darwin(1952b), p.154.


Primary Sources: Archival Collections

Eugenics Society Papers in the ContemporaryMedical Archives Centre, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding ofMedicine, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE.These are grouped under the reference SA/EUG in the catalogue compiled byLesley A Hall. Archive sub-collections consulted were: –
SA/EUG C.85: C G Darwin correspondence1930-60.
SA/EUG C.185: Julian Huxley correspondence1937-69.
SA/EUG D.77: Galton Trust 1947-50.
SA/EUG D.174: Promising FamiliesCorrespondence 1953-6.
SA/EUG D.175: Promising Families Misc. Papers1947-59.
SA/EUG E.6: Cambridge Eugenics Society 1933-37.
SA/EUG E.23: Cambridge UniversityEugenics Society 1911- .
SA/EUG L.13: Council Minutes (Duplicates)1952-61.
SA/EUG L.15: Council Minutes Appendices1953-8.
SA/EUG L.23: Executive Committee Minutes1943-58.
SA/EUG L.58: Promising Families Committeeminutes 1952-6.
SA/EUG L.60: Promising Families Committeepapers.
SA/EUG N.16: Press Cuttings 1960-84.

Primary Sources: Newspapers

EDINA Index to The Times, 1906-80.
The Times (British Library)
Times Literary Supplement 1952-1960 (BritishLibrary)

Primary Sources: Published materials

Blacker, C P (1947), ‘Positive eugenics: Aproposal’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 38, No.1, pp. 25-26.
Blacker, C P (1954a), ‘The Osborn-Darwinsymposium’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 3-6.
Blacker, C P (1954b), ‘Promising families:elite and moiety eugenics’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 21-27.
Carter, C O (1952), ‘New books on eugenics’, EugenicsReview, Vol. 44, No.2, pp. 63-66.
Carter, C O (1958), ‘Three surveys ofpromising families’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 50, No. 3, 159-165.
Darwin, C G (1939), Positive EugenicPolicy, Galton Lecture to the Eugenics Society on February 16, 1939. In EugenicsReview, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp.13-22.
Darwin, C G (1952a), The Next Million Years, London, RupertHart-Davis.
Darwin, C G (1952b), ‘Eugenics: Galton andAfter’ (Book review), Eugenics Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 152-54.
Darwin, C G (1953), ‘Comments on GeneralOsborn’s address’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 161-64.
Darwin, C G (1954), ‘The Darwin-OsbornCorrespondence’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp.73-75.
Darwin, C G (1955a), ‘The ascertainment ofpromising families’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 47, No. 1. pp. 17-20.
Darwin, C G (1956a), ‘Osborn’s eugenic hypothesis’, EugenicsReview, Vol.48, No.3, 130-132.
Darwin, C G (1956b), ‘The age of leisure’, NewScientist, Dec 27, pp 13-14.
Darwin, C G (1957a), ‘The value ofunhappiness’, Eugenics Review, Vol 49, No. 2, 77-79.
Darwin, C G (1957b), ‘The present goldenage’, New Scientist, Nov. 21, pp. 16-18.
Darwin, C G (1960a), ‘Can man control hisnumbers ?’, in Tax, S and Callender, C (Eds.) Evolution after Darwin (The Universityof Chicago Centennial): Vol. II, TheEvolution of Man, Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, pp.463-73.
Darwin, G H (1875), ‘Marriages between firstcousins in England and their effects’, Journal of the Statistical Society, Vol.38, pp. 153-84.
Kupcinet I et al (1960), ‘At Random – ATelevision Preview’, abbreviated transcription of a discussion between IKupcinet, S Tax, C G Darwin, J H Huxley, A Stevenson and H Shapley on WBBM-TV,Chicago, Nov. 21, 1959 in Tax, S and Callender, C (Eds.) Evolution afterDarwin (The University of Chicago Centennial): Vol. III, Issues in Evolution, Chicago,Univ. of Chicago Press, pp. 41-65.
Osborn, F (1953), ‘The contribution ofplanned parenthood to the future of America’, Eugenics Review, Vol.45, No. 3, pp. 155-60.

Secondary Sources

Annan, N (1999), The Dons: Mentors,eccentrics and geniuses, London,Harper Collins
Bertram, G C L and Carter, C O (1963),‘Obituary: Sir Charles Darwin’, Eugenics Review, Vol 55, No.1, pp. 6-8.
Blacker C P (1952), Eugenics: Galton andAfter, London, Gerald Duckworth and Co.
Edwards, A W F (1997), The Galton Lecture1997: The Eugenics Society and the development of biometry’, pp. 156-172 inPeel (1997).
Desmond, A and Moore, J (1991), Darwin, London, Michael Joseph/Penguin.
Gowing, M (1981), C G Darwin, entry in Dictionaryof National Biography 1961-1970, E T Williams and C S Nicholls (Eds.),Oxford, University Press, pp. 272-74.
Kevles D J (1995), In the Name of Eugenics:Genetics and the uses of human heredity, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard U. P.
Keynes, M E (1976), A House by the River:Newnham Grange to Darwin College, Cambridge,The Bursar, Darwin College.
Macnicol, J (1989), ‘Eugenics and thecampaign for voluntary sterilization in Britain between the wars’, SocialHistory of Medicine, Vol. 2, pp. 147-69.
Mazumdar, P (1992), Eugenics, HumanGenetics and Human Failings: The Eugenics Society, its sources and its criticsin Britain, London, Routledge.
Moore, J (2001), Good Breeding: Scienceand society in a Darwinian age, Study Guide to Course A426, Milton Keynes, Open University.
Peel, R A (Ed) (1997), Essays in theHistory of Eugenics, London, Galton Institute.
Raverat, Gwen (1952), Period Piece, A Cambridge Childhood, London, Faber and Faber
Searle, G R (1979), ‘Eugenics and politics inBritainin the 1930s’, Annals of Science, Vol. 36, pp. 159-69.
Snow, P A (1982), Strangers and Brothers:A portrait of C P Snow, London,Macmillan.
Soloway R A (1995), Demography andDegeneration: Eugenics and the declining birth rate in twentieth centuryBritain, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press.
Soloway, R A, From Mainline to ReformEugenics: Leonard Darwin and C P Blacker, pp.52-80 in Peel (1997).
Spalding, F (2001), Gwen Raverat: Friends,Family and Affections, London,Harvill Press.
Thomson, G P (1963), ‘Charles Galton Darwin,1887-1962’ in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol9, 1963, pp.69-85.

APPENDIX 1: Partial Pedigreee of the Darwin, Galton and Wedgwood Families

APPENDIX 2: Charles Galton Darwin – A Chronology

(Bold items directly relevant toeugenics)
1887 Born, Cambridge, eldest son of Sir George HowardDarwin FRS, Plumian Professor of Astronomy, and Maud du Puy.
1906-10 Mathematical Tripos student, Trinity College,Cambridge.
1910-14 Schuster Reader in MathematicalPhysics, University of Manchester.
1914-18 Royal Engineers, including scientificwork on gun-ranging and aircraft sound. Awarded Military Cross, 1917.
1919-22 Fellow and Lecturer, Christ’sCollege, Cambridge.
1922 Visiting professor, California Instituteof Technology.
Elected Fellow of the Royal Society.
1924-36 Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy,University of Edinburgh.
1925 Married Katherine Pember, daughter of FW Pember, Warden of All Souls College, Oxford.(They had five children.)
1930 Elected Life Fellow of the EugenicsSociety.
1936-38 Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge.
1938-49 Director of the National PhysicalLaboratory.
1939 Galton Lecturer, on ‘Positive EugenicPolicy’.
Vice-President of the Eugenics Society.
1942 Awarded K.B.E.
Seconded to Washington as Director of British Office forAnglo-American Scientific Cooperation.
1951-61 Council member of the EugenicsSociety.
1952-56 Chairman, Promising FamiliesCommittee of the Eugenics Society.
1952 Published ‘The Next Million Years’.
1953-59 President, Eugenics Society.
1960 Advisory Editor, ‘Mankind Quarterly’.
1962 Died in Cambridge.

APPENDIX 3: Other sources, identified but not consulted

Archival Sources
Cambridge University: Christ’s College Archive.
Darwin, C G, Miscellaneous correspondence inMedical Research Council archive.
Darwin, C G, Correspondence with Niels Bohr, 1913-45, inNeils Bohr Archive. [Darwinmay have discussed eugenics with Bohr.]
Darwin, C G, Letters to O G S Crawford, Ref.MSS Crawford, Bodleian Library. [Crawford was an archaeologist.]
Darwin, C G, Correspondence with A V Hill, Ref. AVHL,Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge.[Hill was an academic physiologist.]
Darwin, C G, Correspondence with JulianHuxley, Ref. Julian S Huxley papers, Woodson Research Center, Rice University.
Public Record Office: Files may be availablecovering Darwin’sprofessional activities at the National Physical Laboratory and in variousother public posts including the Foreign Office German Committee, the ColonialDevelopment Committee, the University Grants Committee, British Office forAnglo-American Scientific Corporation, the BBC Scientific Advisory Committee,and the National Committee for Museums and Galleries. However, it is unlikelythat any of these will yield information on Darwin’s eugenic interests.
Published primary sources
Darwin, C G (1955b), ‘Energy in the future’ in EugenicsReview, Vol 46, 237.
Darwin, C G (1956c), ‘Forecasting the future’in N. Z. Sci. Rev., Vol 14, 102.
Darwin, C G (1956d), ‘The time scale in humanaffairs’ in Man’s role in changing the face of the earth, Chicago, Univ.of Chicago Press.
Darwin, C G (1958a), ‘Population problems’ inBull. Atom. Scientists, Vol 14, 322.
Darwin, C G (1958b), Problems of world population, RedeLecture, Cambridge,Univ. Press.
Darwin, C G (1959), ‘Some episodes in thelife of Charles Darwin’, Amer. Phil. Soc. Vol 103, 609.
Darwin, C G (1960b), ‘Can man control hisnumbers ?’, Perspectives in Biol. and Med., p 252.
Darwin, C G, 1961, ‘World Population CharterDay Address, Davis College, California.
Note: Approximately 75 other works on physics topics by Darwin are listed by Thomson (1963).

Dr Tom Blaney is a physicist by training and spent most of hisprofessional career at the National Physical Laboratory, where he was aCorporate Director when he retired in 1998 and this paper constitutes a projectundertaken for the Open University course A.426.

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