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Darwin Correspondence Project


From J. D. Hooker and Charles Lyell to the Linnean Society1   30 June 1858


June 30th, 1858.

My Dear Sir,—

The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all relate to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace.

These gentlemen having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry; but neither of them having published his views, though Mr. Darwin has for many years past been repeatedly urged by us to do so, and both authors having now unreservedly placed their papers in our hands, we think it would best promote the interests of science that a selection from them should be laid before the Linnean Society.2

Taken in the order of their dates, they consist of:—

1. Extracts from a MS. work on Species,3 by Mr. Darwin, which was sketched in 1839, and copied in 1844, when the copy was read by Dr. Hooker,4 and its contents afterwards communicated to Sir Charles Lyell. The first Part is devoted to “The Variation of Organic Beings under Domestication and in their Natural State;” and the second chapter of that Part, from which we propose to read to the Society the extracts referred to, is headed, “On the Variation of Organic Beings in a state of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true Species.”5

2. An abstract of a private letter addressed to Professor Asa Gray, of Boston, U.S., in October 1857, by Mr. Darwin, in which he repeats his views, and which shows that these remained unaltered from 1839 to 1857.6

3. An Essay by Mr. Wallace, entitled “On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type.” This was written at Ternate in February 1858, for the perusal of his friend and correspondent Mr. Darwin, and sent to him with the expressed wish that it should be forwarded to Sir Charles Lyell, if Mr. Darwin thought it sufficiently novel and interesting. So highly did Mr. Darwin appreciate the value of the views therein set forth, that he proposed, in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, to obtain Mr. Wallace’s consent to allow the Essay to be published as soon as possible. Of this step we highly approved, provided Mr. Darwin did not withhold from the public, as he was strongly inclined to do (in favour of Mr. Wallace), the memoir which he had himself written on the same subject, and which, as before stated, one of us had perused in 1844, and the contents of which we had both of us been privy to for many years. On representing this to Mr. Darwin, he gave us permission to make what use we thought proper of his memoir, &c.; and in adopting our present course, of presenting it to the Linnean Society, we have explained to him that we are not solely considering the relative claims to priority of himself and his friend, but the interests of science generally; for we feel it to be desirable that views founded on a wide deduction from facts, and matured by years of reflection, should constitute at once a goal from which others may start, and that, while the scientific world is waiting for the appearance of Mr. Darwin’s complete work, some of the leading results of his labours, as well as those of his able correspondent, should together be laid before the public.

We have the honour to be yours very obediently, | Charles Lyell. | Jos. D.Hooker. J. J. Bennett, Esq., | Secretary of the Linnean Society.


The original manuscript of this letter has not been found.
As a fellow (elected on 7 March 1854), Hooker was entitled to submit papers to the Linnean Society. The society’s final meeting of the session had been scheduled for 17 June 1858, but this meeting was adjourned after the formal business as a mark of respect for Robert Brown, a former president, who had died on 10 June 1858 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 [June 1858]). As Brown was a member of council at the time of his death, a new council member had, according to statute, to be elected within three months. Rather than call a special meeting of the society during the summer recess, the council decided to prolong the session of 1857–8 by holding an extra meeting on Thursday, 1 July. At this meeting, the postponed papers were read and a new councillor elected. CD’s and Wallace’s contributions were also read on that day (Darwin and Wallace 1858). It is not clear who read the paper: both John Joseph Bennett, the secretary, and George Busk, the under-secretary, were present. Hooker and Lyell attended in the audience (Gage and Stearn 1988, pp. 55–7).
When this letter was published as the introductory material to Darwin and Wallace 1858, p. 45–6, a footnote was added here stating that the work had not originally been intended for publication. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 31 July 1858.
The dates and phrasing here were taken from CD’s note written on the front of the fair copy of his essay of 1844 (DAR 113). See preceding letter, n. 5. There is no evidence in the Darwin Archive that CD composed a sketch of his views in 1839: although some pages have been identified as a possible ‘outline and draft of 1839’ (Vorzimmer 1975), it was subsequently shown that these were written in 1842 (Kohn, Smith, and Stauffer 1982). Francis Darwin attributed the misdating to a lapse of memory on the part of his father (Foundations, pp. xvii–xviii).
The passages referred to comprise the part of chapter 2 of CD’s essay of 1844 entitled ‘Natural means of selection’ (Foundations, pp. 87–93; DAR 113: 32–69).
The date was erroneous: the letter to Asa Gray was written on 5 September [1857] (see Correspondence vol. 6). Hooker and Lyell took the date from CD’s note written on the verso of his draft of the enclosure to Gray (see preceding letter, n. 3). CD wrote to Gray to ascertain the correct date (see letter to Asa Gray, 4 July 1858). Gray’s reply was apparently received in a letter of 27 July, now missing but acknowledged by CD in his letter to Asa Gray, 11 August [1858]. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 31 July 1858. The error was not corrected in the printed version of the manuscript (Darwin and Wallace 1858, p. 45).


Communicate papers by CD and A. R. Wallace on "The Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species". Explain that CD and Wallace have, independently and unknown to each other, arrived at the same theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation of specific forms, and that neither has yet published, although CD first sketched his theory in 1839. Give their reasons for arranging the joint presentation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hooker, J. D.; Lyell, Charles
Linnean Society of London
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Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2299,” accessed on 27 July 2016,