Natural Inheritance

Francis Galton

Macmillan, 1889

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Galton's 'Quincunx' Devices for Demonstrating Regression in the Variation of the Normal Distribution

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"I HAVE long been engaged upon certain problems that lie at the base of the science of heredity, and during several years have published technical memoirs concerning them, a list of which is given in Appendix A. This volume contains the more important of the results, set forth in an orderly way, with more completeness than has hitherto been possible, together with a large amount of new matter.

The inquiry relates to the inheritance of moderately exceptional qualities by brotherhoods and multitudes rather than by individuals, and it is carried on by more, refined and searching methods than those usually employed in hereditary inquiries.

One of the problems to be dealt with refers to the curious regularity commonly observed in the statistical peculiarities of great populations during a long series of generations. The large do not always beget the large, nor the small the small, and yet the observed proportions between the large _and the small in each degree of size and in every quality, hardly varies from one generation to another.

A second problem regards the average share contributed to the personal features of the offspring by each ancestor severally. Though one half of every child may be said to be derived from either parent, yet he may receive a- heritage from a distant progenitor that neither of his parents possessed as personal characteristics. Therefore the child does not on the average receive so much as one half of his personal qualities from each parent, but something less than a half. The question I have to solve, in a reasonable and not merely in a statistical way, is, how much less?

The last of the problems that I need mention now, concerns the nearness of kinship in different degrees. We are all agreed that a brother is nearer akin. than a nephew, and a nephew than a cousin, and so on, but how much nearer are they in the precise language of numerical statement ?

These and many other problems are all fundamentally connected, and I have worked them out to a first degree of approximation, with some completeness. The conclusions cannot however be intelligibly presented in an introductory chapter. They depend on ideas that must first be well comprehended, and which are now novel to the large majority of readers and unfamiliar to all. But those who care to brace themselves to a sustained effort, need not feel much regret that the road to be travelled over is indirect, and does not admit of being mapped beforehand in a way they can clearly understand. It is full of interest of its own. It familiarizes us with the measurement of variability, and with curious laws of chance that apply to a vast diversity of social subjects. This part of the inquiry may be said to run along a road on a high level, that affords wide views in unexpected directions, and from which easy descents may be made to totally different goals to those we have now to reach. I have a great subject to write upon, but feel keenly my literary incapacity to make it easily intelligible without sacrificing accuracy and thoroughness."

Natural Inheritance was reviewed by John Venn (Mind, 1989) and John Dewey (American Statistical Association, 1889)