To A. R. Wallace 5 July 1
Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.
My dear Wallace
I have been much interested by your letter which is as clear as daylight.2 I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer’s excellent expression of “the survival of the fittest.3 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.4
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.5 I will use the term in my next book on Domestic Animals etc6 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.7 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.8 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.9
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”.—10
CD considers "the survival of the fittest" as alternative term to "Natural Selection". Reflections upon misunderstanding and his own ambiguity.
Health improved; can now work "some hours daily".
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5145,” accessed on 24 April 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-5145