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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   22 March [1869]1

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

March 22d

My dear Wallace

I have finished yr book; it seems to me excellent, & at the same time most pleasant to read.2 That you ever returned alive is wonderful after all yr risks from illness & sea voyages, especially that most interesting one to Waigiou & back.3 Of all the impressions which I have recd from yr book the strongest is that yr perseverance in the cause of science was heroic. Your descriptions of catching the splendid butterflies have made me quite envious, & at the same time have made me feel almost young again, so vividly have they brought before my mind old days when I collected, tho’ I never made such captures as yours. Certainly collecting is the best sport in the world. I shall be astonished if yr book has not a great success; & your splendid generalizations on Geog. Distrib., with which I am familiar from yr papers, will be new to most of your readers. I think I enjoyed most the Timor case, as it is best demonstrated; but perhaps Celebes is really the most valuable.4 I shd prefer looking at the whole Asiatic continent as having formerly been more African in its fauna, than admitting the former existence of a continent across the Indian ocean.5

Decaisne’s paper on the flora of Timor in which he points out its close relation to that of the Mascarene I.s supports yr view.6 On the other hand I might advance the giraffes &c in the Sevalik deposits.7 How I wish some one wd collect the plants of Banca! The puzzle of Java, Sumatra & Borneo is like the 3 geese & foxes: I have a wish to extend Malacca thro’ Banca to part of Java & thus make 3 parallel peninsulas, but I cannot get the geese & foxes across the river.8

Many parts of yr book have interested me much: I always wished to hear an independent judgment about the Rajah Brooke, & now I have been delighted with yr splendid eulogium on him.9

With respect to the fewness & inconspicuousness of the flowers in the Tropics, may it not be accounted for by the hosts of insects, so that there is no need for the flowers to be conspicuous. As according to Humboldt fewer plants are social in the tropical than in the temperate regions, the flowers in the former wd not make so great a show.10

In yr note you speak of observing some inelegancies of style, I notice none. All is as clear as daylight. I have detected 2 or 3 errata.

In vol 1. you write Sondiacus   is this not an error?11

Vol 2. p 236 for Western side of Aru read Eastern.

p. 315 Do you not mean the horns of the moose? for the elk has not palmated horns.12

I have only one criticism of a general nature, & I am not sure that other geologists wd agree with me: you repeatedly speak as if the pouring out of lava &c from Volcanoes actually caused the subsidence of an adjoining area; I quite agree that areas undergoing opposite movements are some how connected;13 but volcanic out bursts must I think be looked at as mere accidents in the swelling up of a great dome or surface of plutonic rocks,—& there seems no more reason to conclude that such swelling or elevation in mass is the cause of the subsidence, than that the subsidence is the cause of the elevation; which latter view is indeed held by some geologists.

I have regretted to find so little about the habits of the many animals which you have seen.

In Vol 2. p. 399 I wish I cd see the connection between variations having been first or long ago selected & their appearance at an earlier age in birds of Paradise than the variations which have subsequently arisen & been selected. In fact I do not understand yr explanation of the curious order of development of the ornaments of these birds.14

Will you please to tell me whether you are sure that the female Casuarius (Vol. 2. 150 sits on her eggs as well as the male; for if I am not mistaken Bartlett told me that the male alone, who is less brightly coloured about the neck, sits on the eggs.15

In Vol. 2 p. 255 you speak of male savages ornamenting themselves more than the women, of which I have heard before; now have you any notion whether they do this to please themselves, or to excite the admiration of their fellow men, or to please the women, or, as is perhaps probable from all 3 motives.

Finally let me congratulate you heartily on having written so excellent a book, full of thought on all sorts of subjects. Once again let me thank you for the very great honour which you have done me by your dedication

Believe me | My dear Wallace | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Vol. 2. p. 455   When in New Zealand I thought the inhabitants a mixed race, with the type of Tahiti preponderating over some darker race with more frizzled hair; & now that the stone instruments reveal the existence of ancient inhabitants is it not probable that these Isds were inhabited by true Papuans. Judging from descriptions the pure Tahitians must differ much from your Papuans.—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 March 1869.
CD refers to The Malay Archipelago (Wallace 1869a; see letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 March 1869).
See Wallace 1869a, 2: 331–48.
See Wallace 1869a, 1: 316–30 and 424–47. Wallace concluded that the ‘miscellaneous character’ of the fauna of Timor supported CD’s view that oceanic islands had never been connected to the mainland (ibid., p. 329). He argued that the animal forms on Celebes suggested the possibility of a former continent in the Indian Ocean with a link to Africa (ibid., p. 445).
See Wallace 1869a, 1: 445.
CD refers to Joseph Decaisne and Decaisne 1834, p. 341. The Mascarene Islands are in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.
CD refers to the vast beds of vertebrate fossils found in the Siwalik (Shiwalik) mountain range of Nepal and India. Fossils of several animals now found only in Africa have been found in these beds.
Banca (now Bangka) is an Indonesian island in the Java Sea south-east of Sumatra, separated by the narrow Bangka Strait (Columbia gazetteer of the world). CD may be alluding to the traditional game of fox and geese (OED). Wallace had noted that the flora of Java, Sumatra, and Borneo was imperfectly known and also suggested that Banca, although geographically close to Sumatra, was geologically similar to Malacca and Singapore (see Wallace 1869a, 1: 215, 225–6).
Wallace had lived in the house of James Brooke, raja of Sarawak, whenever he was in Sarawak (Wallace 1869a, 1: 54). For Wallace’s assessment of Brooke’s government and his character, see Wallace 1869a, 1: 144–7.
See Wallace 1869a, 1: 127–9. CD refers to Alexander von Humboldt; the reference to the lesser number of social plants in tropical regions has not been identified.
Wallace mistakenly referred to Bos sondiacus rather than B. sondaicus (now B. javanicus, the banteng; see Wallace 1869a, 1: 220).
CD refers to Wallace’s discussion of the horned fly or deerfly, Elaphomia alcicornis (now Phytalmia alcicornis; Wallace 1869a, 2: 314–15), whose horns Wallace compared to the horns of an elk.
See, for example, Wallace 1869a, 1: 17.
Wallace had hypothesised that since colour was the most variable feature in birds-of-paradise, difference in colour would be the first sexual difference to appear in young birds (Wallace 1869a, 2: 399–400). For CD’s annotations on this section in his copy of Wallace 1869a, see Marginalia 1: 842.
Abraham Dee Bartlett was superintendent of the Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park, London (Modern English biography). The Zoological Society’s gardens first received a cassowary in 1857, and acquired a pair of Bennett’s cassowaries (Casuarius bennettii) in 1858. No letter from Bartlett discussing cassowaries has been found, but in a note dated 15 February 1857 (DAR 84.2: 178), CD wrote, ‘Casuarius galleatus male alone incubates & takes care of young, but ♀ in development, & bright colours of naked skin & appendages all about neck, decidedly most developed so that anyone wd. think she was male: Can their difference relate to safety in incubation?’


Comments on Wallace’s Malay Archipelago.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
British Library Board (Add 46434)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6677,” accessed on 26 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17