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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   22 October [1867]1


Octr. 22nd.

Dear Darwin

I am very glad you approve of my article on “Creation by Law” as a whole.2

The “machine metaphor is not mine, but the N.B. reviewers.3 I merely accept it and show that it is on our side and not against us, but I do not think it at all a good metaphor to be used as an argument either way. I did not half develope the argument on the limits of variation, being myself limited in space; but I feel satisfied that it is the true answer to the very common and very strong objection, that “variation has strict limits”. The fallacy is the requiring variation in domesticity to go beyond the limits of the same variation under nature. It does do so sometimes however, because the conditions of existence are so different. I do not think a case can be pointed out in which the limits of variation under domestication are not up to or beyond those already marked out in nature, only we generally get in the species an amount of change which in nature occurs only in the whole range of the genus or family 4

The many cases however in which variation has gone far beyond nature and has not yet stopped, are ignored. For instance no wild pomaceous fruit is I believe so large as our apples, and no doubt they could be got much larger if flavour &c. were entirely neglected.

I may perhaps push “protection” too far some times for it is my hobby just now,—but as the Lion & the Tiger are I think the only two non-arboreal cats, I think the Tiger stripe agreeing so well with its usual habitat is at least a probable case.5

I am rewriting my article on Birds’ nests for the new “Nat. Hist. Review.”6

I cannot tell you about the first appearance of tears, but it is very early,—the first week or two I think.7 I can see the Vict. Mag. at the London Library.8

I shall read your book every word. I hear from Sir C. Lyell that you come out with a grand [new] theory at the end, which even the Cautious! Huxley is afraid of!9 Sir C. said he could think of nothing else since he read it. I long to see it.

My address is Hurstpierpoint during the winter, and when in Town, 7612 Westbourne Grove.

I suppose you will now be going on with your book on Sexual selection & Man, by way of relaxation!10 It is a glorious subject but will require delicate handling.

Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace—

C. Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

1.1 I am … limits”. 2.6] crossed ink
2.6 The fallacy … nature. 2.7] double scored ink
4.1 I may … handling. 9.2] crossed ink


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to A. R. Wallace, 12 and 13 October [1867].
In his letter of 12 and 13 October [1867], CD had praised Wallace’s article in the Quarterly Journal of Science (A. R. Wallace 1867c) defending CD’s theory against criticisms made in G. D. Campbell 1867 and [Jenkin] 1867.
In his anonymous article in the North British Review, Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin made an analogy between the criteria for determining species in the natural world and the criteria for patenting machines (see [Jenkin] 1867, pp. 310–12, and A. R. Wallace 1867c, p. 487).
Jenkin had argued that the limit to variation in any one direction implied that successive variations could not be accumulated over long periods of time ([Jenkin] 1867, pp. 285–6). Wallace countered that the definite limits to variability in certain directions were no objection to the view that all modifications were produced by the gradual accumulation by natural selection of small variations (A. R. Wallace 1867c, pp. 486–7).
See letter to A. R. Wallace, 12 and 13 October [1867] and n. 12.
See letter to A. R. Wallace, 12 and 13 October [1867] and n. 13. The ‘new Natural History Review’ was the Journal of Travel and Natural History (see letter from Andrew Murray, 12 August 1867 and n. 1).
See letter to A. R. Wallace, 12 and 13 October [1867] and n. 16.
Wallace refers to the Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute and to the London Library, an independent subscription library with premises at 12 St James’s Square (Post Office London directory 1867; see letter to A. R. Wallace, 12 and 13 October [1867] and n. 20).
Wallace refers to Charles Lyell, Thomas Henry Huxley, and CD’s provisional hypothesis of pangenesis (Variation 2: 357–404). CD had sent Lyell proof-sheets of Variation and was particularly pleased that Lyell had ‘noticed Pangenesis’ (see letter to Charles Lyell, 22 August [1867]).
The reference is to Descent. Earlier, CD told Wallace he had almost resolved to publish a ‘little essay on the Origin of Mankind’, and that he thought sexual selection had been the main agent in forming the human races (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 26 February [1867]).


Response to CD’s comments on "Creation by law" [see 5637].

The limits of variation discussed.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: B46–7
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5656,” accessed on 22 May 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15