Recognized HTML document
Previous Index Next

142   Life and Letters of Francis Galton

cleanliest method of taking the impressions. In his Finger Prints of 1892 Galton says that

"My attention was first drawn to the ridges in 1888, when preparing a lecture on Personal Identification for the Royal Institution, which had for its principal object an account of the anthropometric method of Bertillon, then newly introduced into the prison administration of France. Wishing to treat of the subject generally, and having a vague knowledge of the value sometimes assigned to finger marks, I made inquiries, and was surprised to find, both how much had been done, and how much there remained to do, before establishing their theoretical value and practical utility." (p. 2.)


in 186-0

.   uhBB.

Fig. 16. Finger Prints of Sir William J. Herschel at an interval of 28 years. From Galton's Finger
Prints, Plate 15, Right Forefinger. Second method of marking minutiae.

I do not think that it can be asserted that Galton failed to recognise what work had been previously published, except in the case of Nehemiah Grew*, and from him he would indeed have learnt very little, had he known of him. That the pores were on the ridges, not in the furrows, Galton probably found out from his own observation t.

* Alix's paper of 1868 (see our p. 143 ftn. t) and Klaatsch's of 1888 are referred to on p. 60 of the Finger Prints, but more stress possibly might have been laid on the former.

j' In the Memories, pp. 257-8, is an amusing account of Herbert Spencer's view on the relation of ridges to pores

"I may mention a characteristic anecdote of Herbert Spencer in connection with this. He asked me to show him my Laboratory and to take his prints, which I did. Then I spoke of the failure to discover the origin of these patterns, and how the fingers of unborn children had been dissected to ascertain their earliest stages, and so forth. Spencer remarked that this was beginning in the wrong way ; that I ought to consider the purposes the ridges had to fulfil, and to work backwards. Here he said, it was obvious that the delicate mouths of the sudorific glands required the protection given to them by the ridges on either side of them and therefrom he elaborated a consistent and ingenious hypothesis at great length. I replied that his arguments were beautiful and deserved to be true, but it happened that the mouths of the ducts did not ran in the valleys between the crests, but along the crests of the ridges themselves. He burst into a good-humoured and uproarious laugh and told me the famous story which I had heard from each of the other two who were present at the occurrence. Huxley was one of them. Spencer, during a pause in conversation at dinner at the Athenaeum said, ' You would little think it, but I once wrote a tragedy.' Huxley answered promptly, ' I know the catastrophe.' Spencer declared it was impossible, for he had never spoken about it before then. Huxley insisted. Spencer asked what it was. Hualey replied: 'A beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact'."

Picture Picture

Previous Index Next