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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   30 April [1868]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

April 30th

My dear Wallace,

Your letter, like so many previous ones, has interested me much.— Dr. Allbutt’s view occurred to me some time ago & I have written a short discussion on it. It is, I think, a remarkable law, to which I have found no exception.2 The foundation lies in the fact, that in many cases the eggs or seeds require nourishment & protection by the mother-form for some time after impregnation. Hence the spermatozoa & antherozoids travel in the lower aquatic animals & plants to the female, & pollen is borne to the female organ. As organisms rise in the scale it seems natural that the male shd carry the spermatozoa to the female in his own body. As the male is the searcher he has received & gained more eager passions than the female; &, very differently from you, I look at this as one great difficulty in believing. that the males select the more attractive females; as far as I can discover they are always ready to seize on any female & sometimes on many females.—

Nothing would please me more than to find evidence of males selecting the more attractive females: I have for months being trying to persuade myself of this. There is the case of man in favour of this belief, & I know in hybrid unions of males preferring particular females, but alas not guided by colour.— Perhaps I may get more evidence, as I wade through my 20 years mass of notes.

I am not shaken about the female protected butterflies; I will grant (only for argument) that the life of the male is of very little value,— I will grant that the males do not vary, yet why has not the protective beauty of the female been transferred by inheritance to the male? The beauty would be a gain to the male, as far as we can see, as a protection; & I cannot believe that it wd be repulsive to the female as she became beautiful.— But we shall never convince each other.

I sometimes marvel how truth progresses, so difficult is it for one man to convince another, unless his mind is vacant. Nevertheless I myself to a certain extent contradict my own remark; for I believe far more in the importance of protection, than I did before reading your articles.—

I do not think you lay nearly stress enough in your articles on what you admit in your letter, viz “there seems to be some production of vividness of colour in the male independent of protection”.3 This I am making a chief point; & have come to your conclusion so far that I believe that intense colouring in the female sex is often checked by being dangerous.—

That is an excellent remark of yours about no known case of male alone assuming protective colours;4 but in the cases in which protection has been gained by dull colours, I presume that sexual selection would interfere with the male losing his beauty. If the male alone had acquired beauty as a protection, it would be most readily overlooked, as males are so often more beautiful than their females. Moreover I grant that the life of the male is somewhat less precious & thus there wd. be less rigorous selection with the male, so he wd. be less likely to be made beautiful through natural selection for protection.* But it seems to me a good argument, & very good if it could be thoroughily established.

Yours most sincerely | C. Darwin

* This does not apply to sexual selection, for the greater the excess of males & the less precious their lives, so much the better for sexual selection.

I do not know whether you will care to read this scrawl

PS I heard yesterday that my Photograph has been sent to your London address—Westbourne Grove5


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 28 April [1868].
CD refers to Thomas Clifford Allbutt. See letter from A. R. Wallace, 28 April [1868]. CD’s discussion of the ‘law’ that the sperm cell always travels to the germ cell has not been identified.


More on CD’s objections to ARW’s views on protection and natural selection.

Sexual selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
British Library (Add 46434: 136–9)
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6146,” accessed on 18 October 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16