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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. V. Wollaston1   [c. 27 June 1856]2

sure that practically the greater number of them would be at once allowed. Thus, for instance, if a particular island (e.g. the Dezerta Grande) is found to be for the most part more productive of large states than islands alongside it (as may be proved by the fact of intermediate links in each of the various islands,—the tendency of the mass being merely, in that especial locality, to assume a gigantic bulk), it would seem unreasonable to regard a form on that rock as specifically distinct from its European analogue simply because it is a trifle larger than the latter.—3 And so, in other cases.—

As regards the smallness of size as in some measure accounted for by the unnatural in-breeding which a minute area must of necessity entail,—I can conceive it possible that the power of production may continue unchecked, (so as to cause the existence of large nos. of individuals), & yet the race deteriorate. Will not this stand the test of analysis?

Loss of flight v. Increase of Bulk. The conclusion seems to me rather the other way. If either of the above are unequal (on the compensation theory), I should imagine that the loss of so essential an organ as the wings was greater than the gain in stature. This indeed I rather assumed throughout, & therefore expressed my belief that it was only a “partial compensation” [wh. ] the

CD annotations

3.1 Loss… the 3.5] crossed pencil
double scored brown crayon; ‘N.B. muscles may & must abort’ added pencil


Wollaston is identified from the handwriting.
Dated on the basis of the relationship to the letter from Wollaston, [27 June 1856] (see Calendar number 1912). In both letters, Wollaston answers queries that CD posed after reading Wollaston 1856. Although the letters are incomplete, differences in the paper indicate that they were not a single letter.
Wollaston’s point was described in detail in Wollaston 1856, pp. 80–92. He claimed that the ‘annihilation of the powers of flight’ in Coleoptera led to a compensatory increase in bulk (p. 88). Nevertheless, he went on to say, size could not be taken as a primary and fixed characteristic of the species; rather, it was what he called one of several ‘qualifying results, from isolation’ (p. 88). On page 81 of his copy of Wollaston 1856 (Darwin Library–CUL), CD noted that Wollaston ‘Thinks decrease of wings increases size in some instances & so makes up for isolation which tends to reduce size’.


Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1856. On the variation of species with especial reference to the Insecta; followed by an inquiry into the nature of genera. London: John van Voorst.


On the relationship of the loss of the powers of flight [in Coleoptera] to increase of bulk.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 300
Physical description
inc 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1912A,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6