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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   2 January 1881

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

Jan 2d 1881

My dear Wallace.

The case which you give is a very striking one, & I had overlooked it in Nature.—1 But I remain as great a heretic as ever. Any supposition seems to me more probable than that the seeds of plants shd have been blown from the Mountains of Abyssinia or other central mountains of Africa to the Mountains of Madagascar.—2 It seems to me almost infinitely more probable that Madagascar extended far to the South during the Glacial period & that the S. Hemisphere was according to Croll then more temperate;3 & that the whole of Africa was then peopled with some temperate forms, which crossed chiefly by agency of Birds & sea-currents, & some few by the wind from the shores of Africa to Madagascar, subsequently ascending to the mountains.4

How lamentable it is that two men shd take such widely different views, with the same facts before them; but this seems to be almost regularly our case, & much do I regret it.—

I am fairly well, but always feel half dead with fatigue.— I heard but an indifferent account of your health some time ago,5 but trust that you are now somewhat stronger.—

Believe me, my dear Wallace | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Wallace had referred CD to an article in Nature on the close similarity between the alpine flora of Madagascar and that of the mountain regions of continental Africa (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 1 January 1881).
James Croll had theorised that glacial periods alternated between hemispheres (Croll 1868). CD had used Croll’s theory to account for the survival of tropical species during an ice age (Origin 6th ed., pp. 336–42).
CD had emphasised ocean currents and birds as a means of transport in Origin 6th ed., pp. 325–8.
On Wallace’s health, see Correspondence vol. 28, letter from Alfred Tylor, 20 March 1880.


Croll, James. 1868. On geological time, and the probable date of the Glacial and the Upper Miocene Period. Philosophical Magazine 4th ser. 35: 363–84; 36: 141–54, 362–86.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


On land migration of plants. The case in Nature is striking but CD doubts that seeds of plants could be blown from mountains of Abyssinia to mountains of Madagascar.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 46434)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12968,” accessed on 1 April 2023,