From A. R. Wallace 2 January 1864
5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, W.
Jan 2nd. 1864
My dear Darwin
Many thanks for your kind letter.1 I was afraid to write because I heard such sad accounts of your health but I am glad to find that you can write & I presume read, by deputy. My little article on Haughton’s paper was published in the “Annals of Nat. Hist.” about Aug. or Sept. last I think,2 but I have not a copy to refer to. I am sure it does not deserve Asa Grays praises for though the matter may be true enough, the manner I know is very inferior.3 It was written hastily & when I read it in the “Annals” I was rather ashamed of it as I knew so many could have done it so much better.
I will try & see Agassiz’ paper & book.4 What I have hitherto seen of his on glacial subjects seemed very good,5 but in all his Nat. Hist. theories, he seems so utterly wrong & so totally blind to the plainest deductions from facts, & at the same time so vague & obscure in his language, that it would be a very long & wearisome task to answer him.6
With regard to work I am doing but little— I am afraid I have no good habit of systematic work. I have been gradually getting parts of my collections in order, but the obscurities of synonomy & descriptions, the difficulty of examining specimens & my very limited library, make it wearisome work.7 I have been lately getting the first groups of my butterflies in order, & they offer some most interesting facts in variation & distribution,—in variation some very puzzling ones—8 Though I have very fine series of specimens I find in many cases I want more, in fact if I could have afforded to have had all my collections kept till my return I should I think have found it necessary to retain twice as many as I now have.9
I am at last making a beginning of a small book on my Eastern journey, which if I can persevere I hope to have ready by next ’Xmas.10 I am a very bad hand at writing anything like narrative, I want something to argue on & then I find it much easier to go a’head. I rather despair therefore of making so good a book as Bates’,11 though I think my subject is better. Like every other traveller I suppose, I feel dreadfully the want of copious notes on common every day objects, sights & sounds & incidents, which I imagined I could never forget but which I now find it impossible to recall with any accuracy.
I have just had a long & most interesting letter from my old companion Spruce.12 He says he has had a letter from you about Melastomas, but has not he says for 3 years seen a single Melastomaceous plant!13 They are totally absent from the Pacific plains of trop. America though so abundant on the Eastern plains. Poor fellow! he seems to be in a worse state than you are. Life has been a burden to him for three years owing to lung & heart disease, & rheumatism, brought on by exposure in in high hot & cold damp valleys of the Andes: He went down to the dry climate of the Pacific coast to die more at ease, but the change improved him, & he thinks to come home,14 though he is sure he will not survive the first winter in England. He had never been able to get a copy of your book,15 though I am sure no one would have enjoyed or appreciated it more.
If you are able to bear reading will you allow me to take the liberty of recommending you a book? The fact is I have been so astonished & delighted with the perusal of Spencer’s16 works that I think it a duty to Society to recommend them to all my friends who I think can appreciate them. The one I particularly refer to now is Social Statics,17 a book which is by no means hard to read; it is even amusing, & owing to the wonderful clearness of its style may be read & understood by any one. I think therefore as it is quite distinct from your special studies at present, you might consider it as “light literature” and I am pretty sure it would interest you more that a great deal of what is now considered very good. I am utterly astonished that so few people seem to read Spencer, & the utter ignorance there seems to be among politicians & political economists of the grand views & logical stability of his works. He appears to me as far ahead of John Stuart Mill as J. S. M. is of the rest of the world, and I may add as Darwin is of Agassiz.18 The range of his knowledge is no less than its accuracy. His “Nebular Hypothesis” in the last vol. of his essays19 is the most masterly astronomical paper I have ever read, and in his forthcoming volume on Biology 20 he is I understand going to shew that there is something else besides “Nat. Selection” at work in nature.21 So you must look out for a “foeman worthy of your steel”!22 But perhaps all this time you have read his books—23 If so excuse me, & pray give me your opinion of him as I have hitherto only met with one man (Huxley) who has read & appreciated him.24
Allow me to say in conclusion how much I regret that unavoidable circumstances have caused me to see so little of you since my return home, & how earnestly I pray for the speedy restoration of your health.
Yours most sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace
C. Darwin Esq.
Remarks on ARW’s review of Samuel Haughton’s paper on bees’ cells
Agassiz’s strength as geologist and weakness in natural history theory.
His butterfly collection.
Problems with book on Malay journey.
Recommends Herbert Spencer and his Social statics.
Spencer’s "masterly" nebular hypothesis.