skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   5 January 1880

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Jan 5. 1880

My dear Wallace,

As this note requires no sort of answer, you must allow me to express my lively admiration of your paper in the Nineteenth Centy.1 You certainly are a master in the difficult art of clear exposition. It is impossible to urge too often that the selection from a single varying individual or of a single varying organ will not suffice. You have worked in capitally Allen’s admirable researches.2 As usual you delight to honour me more than I deserve. When I have written about the extreme slowness of natural selection (in which I hope I may be wrong) I have chiefly had in my mind the effects of intercrossing.3 I subscribe to almost everything you say excepting the last short sentence.4

And now let me add how grieved I was to hear that the City of London did not elect you for the Epping office;5 but I suppose it was too much to hope that such a body of men should make a good selection. I wish you could obtain some quiet post & thus have leisure for moderate scientific work. I have nothing to tell you about myself; I see few persons, for conversation fatigues me much; but I daily do some work in experiments on plants, & hope thus to continue to the end of my days.

With all good wishes. | Believe me yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

P.S. | Have you seen Mr Farrer’s article in the last Fortnightly   it reminded me of an article on bequests by you some years ago which interested & almost converted me.6


Wallace’s article, ‘On the origin of species and genera’, was published in the January 1880 issue of Nineteenth Century (Wallace 1880b).
Wallace 1880b, pp. 98–102, discussed the wide range of variations between individuals of the same species, with examples from Joel Asaph Allen’s monograph, ‘On the mammals and winter birds of East Florida’ (Allen 1871).
Wallace argued that if the conditions of existence changed rapidly, then natural selection could act more quickly than CD had supposed (Wallace 1880b, p. 104).
Wallace 1880b, p. 106: I have also attempted to show that the causes which have produced species of one genus, of one family, or perhaps of one order from a common ancestor, are not necessarily the same as those which have produced the separate orders, classes, and sub-kingdoms from more remote ancestors. That all have been alike produced by “descent with modification” from a few primitive types the whole body of evidence clearly indicates; but while individual variation with natural selection is proved to be adequate for the production of the former, we have no proof and hardly any evidence that it is adequate to initiate those important divergences of type which characterise the latter.
CD had supported Wallace’s application to become superintendent of Epping Forest (see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from A. R. Wallace, 14 September 1878 and letter to A. R. Wallace, 16 September 1878). On his failure to obtain the post, see Correspondence vol. 27, letter from A. B. Buckley, 16 December 1879.
CD refers to Wallace’s essay on the injustice of trust-deeds, settlements, and wills that allowed the interests of the deceased to control the use of land and other property by the living (Wallace 1873). Thomas Henry Farrer made a similar argument in his article ‘Freedom of land’, which appeared in Fortnightly Review, 1 January 1880 (Farrer 1880).


Allen, Joel Asaph. 1871. On the mammals and winter birds of East Florida, with an examination of certain assumed specific characters in birds, and a sketch of the bird-faunæ of Eastern North America. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy 2 (1870–1): 161–450.

Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1880. Freedom of land. Fortnightly Review 33: 76–86.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1873c. Limitation of state functions in the administration of justice. Contemporary Review 23: 43–52.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1880b. The origin of species and genera. Nineteenth Century 7: 93–106.


Admiration of ARW’s ["The origin of species and genera", Nineteenth Century (Jan 1880)]. Good use of Allen’s "admirable researches".

Disappointment about the Epping Forest appointment.

Farrer’s article in Fortnightly Review.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 46434 ff. 286–8)
Physical description
LS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12401,” accessed on 25 June 2022,