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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   18 May 1860

Down Bromley Kent

May 18th 1860

My dear Mr Wallace

I received this morning your letter from Amboyna dated Feb. 16th, containing some remarks & your too high approbation of my book.1 Your letter has pleased me very much, & I most completely agree with you on the parts which are strongest & which are weakest. The imperfection of Geolog. Record is, as you say, the weakest of all; but yet I am pleased to find that there are almost more Geological converts than of pursuers of other branches of natural science. I may mention Lyell, Ramsay, Jukes, Rogers, Keyserling, all good men & true—2 Pictet of Geneva is not a convert, but is evidently staggered (as I think is Bronn of Heidelberg) & he has written a perfectly fair review in the Bib. Universelle of Geneva.—3 Old Bronn has translated my book, well-done also, into German & his well-known name will give it circulation.—4

I think geologists are more converted than simple naturalists because more accustomed to reasoning. Before telling you about progress of opinion on subject, you must let me say how I admire the generous manner in which you speak of my Book: most persons would in your position have felt some envy or jealousy. How nobly free you seem to be of this common failing of mankind.—   But you speak far too modestly of yourself;—you would, if you had had my leisure done the work just as well, perhaps better, than I have done it.—

Talking of envy, you never read anything more envious & spiteful (with numerous misrepresentations) than Owen is in the Edinburgh Review. I must give one instance    he throws doubts & sneers at my saying that the ovigerous frena of cirripedes have been converted into Branchiæ, because I have not proved them to be Branchiæ; whereas he himself admits, before I wrote, on cirripedes, without the least hesitation that these organs are Branchiæ.—5

The attacks have been heavy & incessant of late. Sedgwick & Prof. Clarke attacked me savagely at Cambridge Phil. Soc. but Henslow defended me well, though not a convert.—6 Phillips has since attacked me in Lecture at Cambridge.7 Sir W. Jardine in Eding. New Phil. Journal.—8 Wollaston in Annal of Nat. History.—9 A. Murray before Royal Soc. of Edinburgh—10 Haughton at Geolog. Soc. of Dublin—11 Dawson in Canadian Nat. Magazine,12 And many others.13 But I am got case-hardened, & all these attacks will make me only more determinately fight. Agassiz sends me personal civil messages but incessantly attacks me; but Asa Gray fights like a hero in defence.—.—   Lyell keeps as firm as a tower, & this autumn will publish on Geological History of Man, & will there declare his conversion, which now is universally known.—14 I hope that you have received Hooker’s splendid Essay.—15 So far is bigotry carried, that I can name 3 Botanists who will not even read Hooker’s Essay!!16

Here is a curious thing, a Mr. Pat. Matthew, a Scotchman, published in 1830 a work on Naval Timber & Arboriculture, & in appendix to this, he gives most clearly but very briefly in half-dozen paragraphs our view of natural selection. It is most complete case of anticipitation. He published extracts in G. Chronicle:17 I got Book, & have since published letter, acknowledging that I am fairly forestalled.—18 Yesterday I heard from Lyell that a German Dr Schaffhausen has sent him a pamphet published some years ago, in which same View is nearly anticipated but I have not yet seen this pamphet.— 19 My Brother, who is very sagacious man, always said you will find that some one will have been before you.—

I am at work at my larger work which I shall publish in separate volumes.— But from ill-health & swarms of letters, I get on very very slowly.—   I hope that I shall not have wearied you with these details.—

With sincere thanks for your letter, & with most deeply-felt wishes for your success in science & in every way believe me,20 | Your sincere well-wisher | C. Darwin


Wallace’s letter has not been found. The only extant record of Wallace’s initial response to Origin is given in two letters he wrote to friends at the end of 1860. In a letter to George Silk, dated 1 September 1860, Wallace wrote about Origin (Wallace 1905, 1: 372): I have read it through five or six times, each time with increasing admiration. It will live as long as the ‘Principia’ of Newton. It shows that nature is, as I before remarked to you, a study that yields to none in grandeur and immensity. The cycles of astronomy or even the periods of geology will alone enable us to appreciate the vast depths of time we have to contemplate in the endeavour to understand the slow growth of life upon the earth. The most intricate effects of the law of gravitation, the mutual disturbances of all the bodies of the solar system, are simplicity itself compared with the intricate relations and complicated struggle which have determined what forms of life shall exist and in what proportions. Mr. Darwin has given the world a new science, and his name should, in my opinion, stand above that of every philosopher of ancient or modern times. The force of admiration can no further go!!! In a letter to Henry Walter Bates, dated 24 December 1860, Wallace again gave his reaction to the book (Wallace 1905, 1: 374): I know not how, or to whom, to express fully my admiration of Darwin’s book. To him it would seem flattery, to others self-praise; but I do honestly believe that with however much patience I had worked and experimented on the subject, I could never have approached the completeness of his book, its vast accumulation of evidence, its overwhelming argument, and its admirable tone and spirit. I really feel thankful that it has not been left to me to give the theory to the world. Mr. Darwin has created a new science and a new philosophy; and I believe that never has such a complete illustration of a new branch of human knowledge been due to the labours and researches of a single man. Never have such vast masses of widely scattered and hitherto quite unconnected facts been combined into a system and brought to bear upon the establishment of such a grand and new and simple philosophy.
Charles Lyell, Andrew Crombie Ramsay, Joseph Beete Jukes, Henry Darwin Rogers, and Alexandr Andreevich Keyserling.
Pictet de la Rive 1860.
Bronn trans. 1860.
Phillips 1860.
[Jardine] 1860.
[Wollaston] 1860.
Murray 1860a.
Haughton 1860a.
Dawson 1860b.
For a list of reviews of Origin that were published in 1859 and 1860, see Correspondence vol.8, Appendix VII.
Lyell intended to treat the history of humankind in a new edition of his Elements of geology, but in fact he published his work on this subject as a separate volume in 1863 (C. Lyell 1863).
Hooker 1859.
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 15 [May 1860], and to Asa Gray, 18 May [1860]. The three botanists were William Henry Harvey, John Hutton Balfour, and George Arnott Walker Arnott.
For a transcription of Patrick Mathew’s letter, see Correspondence vol.8, Appendix V.
See letters to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [13 April 1860], and to J. D. Hooker, 13 [April 1860].
The letter has deteriorated, and the final paragraph is now missing. The text has been taken from a transcript made by the editors at an earlier date.


Pleasure in ARW’s approbation of the Origin. Other supporters among scientists. ARW’s generosity.

Attacks by Owen, Sedgwick, and others.

Anticipation of natural selection by Matthew in 1830.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
British Library (Add. 46434: 21–23v.)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2807,” accessed on 26 June 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8