Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 461–494 | Cite as

More than a Mentor: Leonard Darwin’s Contribution to the Assimilation of Mendelism into Eugenics and Darwinism

  • Norberto SerpenteEmail author


This article discusses the contribution to evolutionary theory of Leonard Darwin (1850–1943), the eighth child of Charles Darwin. By analysing the correspondence Leonard Darwin maintained with Ronald Aylmer Fisher in conjunction with an assessment of his books and other written works between the 1910s and 1930s, this article argues for a more prominent role played by him than the previously recognised in the literature as an informal mentor of Fisher. The paper discusses Leonard’s efforts to amalgamate Mendelism with both Eugenics and Darwinism in order for the first to base their policies on new scientific developments and to help the second in finding a target for natural selection. Without a formal qualification in biological sciences and as such mistrusted by some “formal” scientists, Leonard Darwin engaged with key themes of Darwinism such as mimicry, the role of mutations on speciation and the process of genetic variability, arriving at important conclusions concerning the usefulness of Mendelian genetics for his father’s theory.


Evolutionary theory Eugenics Genetics Biometrics Mendelism Mutationism Hugo De-Vries Karl Pearson Ronald Aylmer Fisher Leonard Darwin 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science and Technology StudiesUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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