Leonard Darwin

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Leonard Darwin
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Emma_and_Leonard_Darwin.jpg
Leonard as a boy with his mother, Emma Darwin

Major Leonard Darwin (15 January 185026 March 1943), a son of the British naturalist Charles Darwin, was variously a soldier, politician, economist, eugenicist and mentor of the statistician and evolutionary biologist Ronald Fisher.

Biography

Leonard Darwin was born in 1850 in Down House in Kent. Born into the wealthy Darwin -- Wedgwood family, he was the the fourth son and eighth child of the British naturalist Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. He considered himself to be the least intelligent of their children, and was sent to Clapham School in 1862.

Darwin joined the Royal Engineers in 1871. Between 1877 and 1882 he worked for the Intelligence Division of the Ministry of War. In 1890 was promoted to the rank of Major. He left the army and from 1892 to 1895 was a Liberal MP for Lichfield, Staffordshire (his grandfather Josiah Wedgwood II was also an MP). He wrote vigourously on the economic issues of the day, bimetallism, Indian currency reform and municipal trading.

He married Elizabeth Fraser in July 1882. Later he married Charlotte Mildred Massingberd (1868–1940), but had no children from either marriage.

He was Chairman of the British Eugenics Society between 1911-1928, (succeeding his cousin once removed Francis Galton), and became Honorary President from 1928 until his death. He was an officer of the Royal Geographical Society from 1908 to 1911, and then its president.

He corresponded with and mentored the geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher. Fisher's 1930 book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection is dedicated to him. After Darwin's death in 1943 Fisher wrote to Margaret Keynes "My very dear friend Leonard Darwin... was surely the kindest and wisest man I ever knew".

Further information

The editor's introduction to the volume of Darwin-Fisher correspondence has a sketch of Darwin's life.

Two of Darwin's nieces, daughters of George Howard Darwin, described their uncle. Gwen Raverat wrote about "Uncle Lennie."

  • Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood, first published in 1952 by Faber & Faber.

Margaret Keynes, wife of Geoffrey Keynes, wrote a more formal piece which was published in the Economic Journal.

  • Obituary (in Notes and Memoranda) Economic Journal, 53, 439-448 (1943)

This was preceded by an account of Darwin's economic writings by the editor of the journal, Margaret's brother-in law, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes explained the decision to publish the niece's "very personal account": "Leonard Darwin's life covered so vast an epoch of change in men's ideas, his own attitudes towards the problems of his age were so characteristic of the best and noblest intelligences of his time, and he grew up in the environment of a family of so immortal a renown ..." (p. 439) Darwin expressed his feelings about Keynes in a letter to Fisher (Correspondence p. 141), "I neither like him nor trust him ... But he’s very clever ..."

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