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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   3 September 1877

Madeira Villa, Madeira Road | Ventnor, I. of Wight.

Septr 3rd. 1877

My dear Darwin

Many thanks for your letter.1 Of course I did not expect my paper to have any effect on your opinions. You have looked at all the facts so long from your special point of view, that it would require conclusive arguments to influence you, and these, from the complex nature of the question are probably not to be had.2 We must I think leave the case in the hands of others, and I am in hopes that my paper may call sufficient attention to the subject to induce some of the great school of Darwinians to take the question up and work it out thoroughly. You have brought such a mass of facts to support your view & have argued it so fully that I hardly think it necessary for you to do more. Truth will prevail, as you as well as I wish it to do. I will only make one or two remarks. The word “voluntary” was inserted in my proofs only in order to distinguish clearly between the two radically distinct kinds of “sexual selection.” Perhaps “conscious” would be a better word to which I think you will not object, & I will alter it when I republish.3 I lay no stress on the word “voluntary”.

Sound- & scent-producing organs in males are surely due to “natural” or “automatic” as opposed to “conscious” selection. If there were gradations in the sounds produced, from mere noises up to elaborate music—the case would be analogous to that of “colour” and “ornament”. Being however comparatively simple, natural selection, owing to their use as a guide, seems sufficient. The louder sound, heard at a greater distance, would attract or be heard by more females,*—but this would not imply choice in the sense of rejecting a male whose stridulation was a trifle less loud than another’s, which is the essense of the theory as applied by you to colour & ornament. But greater general vigour would almost certainly lead to greater volume or persistence of sound, & so the same view will apply to both cases on my theory.

Thanks for the references you give me.4 My ignorance of German prevents me supporting my views by the mass of observations continually being made abroad, so I can only advance my own ideas for what they are worth.

I like Dorking much, but can find no house to suit me, so fear I shall have to move again.5

With best wishes | Believe me | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace.

Charles Darwin F.R.S.

*Or it may attract other males & lead to combats for the females.


In his paper on the development of colour in animals and plants (A. R. Wallace 1877) Wallace concluded, in opposition to CD’s views, that natural selection played a much more significant role than sexual selection. For more on their disagreement, see the letter from A. R. Wallace, 23 July 1877 and n. 2.
See letter to A. R. Wallace, 31 August 1877. In the published version of his paper, which came out in September 1877, Wallace characterised CD’s theory as ‘voluntary sexual selection’, that is, ‘the actual choice by the females of the more brilliantly-coloured males’ (A. R. Wallace 1877, p. 400). When the paper was republished the following year as part of a collection of essays, Wallace altered the phrase to ‘voluntary or conscious sexual selection’ (A. R. Wallace 1878, p. 193).
Wallace moved to a rented house, Rosehill, in Dorking, Surrey, in the summer of 1876 (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter from A. R. Wallace, 23 July 1876).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1877. The colours of animals and plants. Macmillan’s Magazine 36: 384–408, 464–71.


Sexual selection, he thinks, must be left to others to settle. "Conscious" will be substituted for "voluntary" selection. Sound- and scent-producing organs attributed to "natural", not "conscious", selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: B136–7
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11125,” accessed on 7 May 2021,