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Letter 5145

Darwin, C. R. to Wallace, A. R.

5 July [1866]

    Summary Add

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    CD considers "the survival of the fittest" as alternative term to "Natural Selection". Reflections upon misunderstanding and his own ambiguity.

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    Health improved; can now work "some hours daily".


Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

July 5th.

My dear Wallace

I have been much interested by your letter which is as clear as daylight. I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer's excellent expression of ``the survival of the fittest. This however had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; & that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words natural selection.

I formerly thought, probably in an exaggerated degree, that it was a great advantage to bring into connection natural & artificial selection; this indeed led me to use a term in common, and I still think it some advantage. I wish I had received your letter two months ago for I would have worked in ``the survival etc'' often in the new edition of the Origin which is now almost printed off & of which I will of course send you a copy. I will use the term in my next book on Domestic Animals etc from which, by the way, I plainly see, that you expect much too much. The term Natural selection has now been so largely used abroad & at home that I doubt whether it could be given up, & with all its faults I should be sorry to see the attempt made. Whether it will be rejected must now depend ``on the survival of the fittest''. As in time the term must grow intelligible, the objections to its use will grow weaker & weaker. I doubt whether the use of any term would have made the subject intelligible to some minds, clear as it is to others; for do we not see even to the present day Malthus on Population absurdly misunderstood. This reflexion about Malthus has often comforted me when I have been vexed at the misstatement of my views. As for M. Janet he is a metaphyscian & such gentlemen are so acute that I think they often misunderstand common folk. Your criticism on the double sense in which I have used Natural Selection is new to me and unanswerable; but my blunder has done no harm, for I do not believe that anyone excepting you has ever observed it. Again I agree that I have said too much about ``favourable variations;'' but I am inclined to think that you put the opposite side too strongly: if every part of every being varied, I do not think we should see the same end or object gained by such wonderfully diversified means.

I hope you are enjoying ``the country & are in good health'', and are working hard at your Malay Arch. book, for I will always put this wish in every note note I write to you, like some good people always put in a text.

My health keeps much the same or rather improves & I am able to work some hours daily.

With many thanks for your interesting letter, believe me, | my dear Wallace, yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I suppose you have read the last number of H. Spencer; I have been struck with astonishment at the prodigality of Original thought in it; but how unfortunate it is that it seems scarcely ever possible to discriminate between the direct effect of external influences & ``the survival of the fittest''.—

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 5145.f1
    The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 July 1866.
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    f2 5145.f2
    See letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 July 1866.
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    f3 5145.f3
    Herbert Spencer introduced the expression `survival of the fittest' in Principles of biology (Spencer 1864--7, 1: 444--5). See letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 July 1866 and n. 7.
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    f4 5145.f4
    Spencer used the term `natural selection' in a lengthy discussion of CD's theory (Spencer 1864--7, 1: 445--57), and at other places in Principles of biology (for example, ibid., 1: 234, 237, 2: 273--4).
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    f5 5145.f5
    Although the printing of the fourth edition of Origin was completed in July, the publisher, John Murray, delayed publication until November 1866 (see letter from John Murray, 18 July [1866] and n. 3). Wallace's name is on the presentation list for the fourth edition of Origin (see Appendix IV). On CD's use of the expression `survival of the fittest' in the fifth edition of Origin, see the letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 July 1866, n. 11.
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    f6 5145.f6
    CD used the expression `survival of the fittest' six times in Variation (see Variation 1: 6, 2: 89, 192, 224, 413, 432); however, CD also defended his use of `natural selection' in Variation 1: 6: `The term ``natural selection'' is in some respects a bad one, as it seems to imply conscious choice; but this will be disregarded after a little familiarity.'
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    f7 5145.f7
    CD refers to An essay on the principle of population by Thomas Robert Malthus; an annotated copy of the sixth edition (Malthus 1826) is in the Darwin Library--CUL (see Marginalia 1: 562--3). CD had previously remarked on the general misunderstanding of Malthus in a letter to Charles Lyell, 6 June [1860] (Correspondence vol. 8). On the importance of Malthus's work in the evolutionary debates of the Victorian period, see Young 1985, pp. 23--55.
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    f8 5145.f8
    CD refers to Paul Janet; see letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 July 1866 and n. 3.
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    f9 5145.f9
    Wallace was living in the Sussex village of Hurstpierpoint, the home of his father-in-law, William Mitten (Raby 2001, pp. 182--3, 187--8). CD refers to Wallace's book on his travels to the Malay archipelago (A. R. Wallace 1869; see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 September [1865] and n. 3).
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    f10 5145.f10
    The most recent instalment of Herbert Spencer's Principles of biology appeared in June 1866 (see Spencer 1864--7, 1: preface, 2: preface and 241--320). On Spencer's discussion of external conditions in relation to the operation of natural selection, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 June [1866] and n. 9.
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