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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. V. Wollaston   [12 April 1857]1

10 Hereford Street | Park Lane

Easter Sunday (evening).

My dear Darwin,

Many thanks for your note recd. late last night (just before going to bed), & which kept me awake (thinking) almost until “daylight doth appear”: & as I foresee several questions to answer, I may as well get out one of my larger note-sheets, to scribble upon.—

Imprimis, however, I am very sorry to hear that you (like me) have been at a low ebb of late. Our “par” standard is I think about equal; & we may be pronounced therefore as “Arcades ambo”, in our way.2 We have however one advantage over the rest of Christendom,—viz. that it make us contented where other people would swear; a very small amount of prosperity raising us into the seventh heaven. For my own part, I have been seedy all through the spring,—not however suffering from chest (wh. has been tolerably free), but from a complication of miseries, having been rejoicing latterly (inter alia diabolica diversa) under an attack of the mumps! However I am beginning to “pick-up” again now, & may hope to be once more in statu normali some of these fine days. Where are you going to for your Hydropathic settler? Why not try Malvern,—taking your books & papers with you for writing.3 The oxygen of those glorious hills wd. do you good, & perhaps give you some new ideas zoologically. I have been grinding slowly on (though as quick as the fates wd., under the circumstances, permit) at my new Catalogue;4 but really so much accuracy is required (where one works conscientiously, so as to satisfy one’s own individual ideas of what is right, & not merely those of Dr. Gray)5 even in so small a matter, that I scarcely expect to finish it before the end of next month. However I am arranging my collection simultaneously (which is more than half the battle, in tediousness), replenishing & correcting the Museum drawers, & overhauling Mason’s bottles6 & my own duplicates,7 —all of which involves so much manual labour, that it is impossible (even if one was bursting with plethora & health) to go beyond a certain (Helix) pace. Unfortunately a B.M. “blue-book” does not admit, I find, of anything beyond the dryest detail, so that I can have no hope of generalisations, or separate lists, or anything else of interest; & I must therefore content myself with merely settling my premises (wh. is after all, however, the main point), & leave all after deductions & considerations for a separate paper elsewhere.— This however can be easily (& quickly) done, if desirable, for I always find it a simple matter to draw general conclusions when once one’s data are fixed, & the difficult questions of “species”, &c have been fairly digested in one’s own mind. Indeed, until this is done, I always find myself in a maze whenever I attempt to decypher my material as a whole; & therefore I do not regret the amount of time and labour which I am now bestowing on these preliminary points (dry & monotonous tho’ they be),—feeling convinced that it will pay in the end.—

And now, as regards your questions about the absent Madeiran groups, I will take them seriatim,—merely premising that I think you are right in supposing that they belong par excellence to the winged families.— Cicindelidæ. There is not one of this family; & the species are the most active fliers in the Coleoptera. Buprestidæ. This family was undetected when I published my volume; but my last expedition produced one single specimen of an Agrilus. (which I have lately described, by the way, as “Agrilus Darwinii”,—thinking it a more worthy steed for you to ride down to posterity upon, than a mere “devil’s coach-horse”, stercoraceous tho’ he be).8 However even this one species would appear to be so rare, that the family may be practically considered as absent; and, next to the Cicindelas, the Buprestidæ are I suppose amongst the most active of all Coleopterous flyers.— Pselaphidæ. One specimen, also, I have detected, of this family since my little novel made its debut; but the Pselaphidæ are not usually very active with their wings, though I believe that nearly all of them are flyers. Carabus (genus). None in Madeira; but rare flyers. Nebria (genus). None in Madeira; but (also) rare flyers. Silpha and Necrophorus. Great & powerful flyers; but none in Madeira. Cetoniadæ (& indeed all the “Thalerophagous Lamellicorns”). Wonderful & active flyers; & only one species in Madeira,—if indeed “one” (for the Chasmatopterus nigrocinctus is still unique, & from the coll. of Dr Heinecken; so that it may have been accidentally imported into the island).—9 Telephoridæ. Quite as great flyers (& universally so) as the Cicindelas, yet there is only one small, & insignificant species (the Malthodes Kiesenwetteri) in these islands. Tentyria, Pimelia, Akis and Asida. All still absent from the Madeiran Group,—but all apterous elsewhere. This however does not tell against your theory, as there is a reason for their non-appearance,—viz. that they are are all exactly (& certainly) represented by the genera Helops, Hegeter and Hadrus,—wh. are equally apterous, & which do the work of the others.— Otiorhynchus. Totally absent, & generally apterous everywhere. this genus however is exactly represented by Laparocerus (peculiar I believe to Madeira, though reported by entomological liars to be “European”) and Atlantis,—both of which some naturalists regard as mere modifications of Otiorhynchus. Both are apterous. Elateridæ. An enormous (indeed ponderous), universal and mundane family. It may be said to be absent from the Madeiran group, since up to the present time only one, minute, anomalous & apterous species has been detected (& that one only in Porto Santo). They are generally great flyers, though not so much so as the Cicindelidæ & Telephoridæ.— Œdemeridæ. A large family & monstrous flyers; but only one species (that one however a great flyer) in Madeira.—

So much for your queries. It is needless to add that all the great groups of the island in wh. the species are endemic are apterous. Thus the 18 Tarphii are apterous: all the Helops are apterous: all the truly indigenous Ptini are apterous; & nearly all the Curculionidæ are apterous.—

I think you give me too much credit for the mere observation of a self-evident fact,—the apterous tendency of Madeiran (and perhaps of all insular) influences.10 I believe that no living (British) entomologist has made a single remark on any one of the instances wh. I enumerated of wingless insects: they do not interest them; & all suchlike remarks fall as dull & ditchwater on the surface of our London society. There are not, alas, many Darwins in the world; & there is not (certainly) one single entomological D. in all Beetledom: hence everything relating to development or non-development does not so much as ruffle the waters of our Slough of Despond in Bedford Row.—11

I am not aware that insects will ever “fight for their females”. I know however, from painful experience, that they will fight for themselves (having been bitten by a Scarites very severely some months ago); & I believe that “No. 1” is their motto,—caring little for No. 2 (or their mates), except now & then to eat them.—

Nor can I say (in my ignorance) why the tarsi of coprophagous beetles sd. be so often missing,—unless it be that they use them so constantly & violently, in burrowing, that they perhaps are apt (like the tails of the Monkeys, when rubbed) to come off.—12

I think (without going afresh into the statistics) that you may say that “2329 endemic genera have all their species either apterous, or incapable of flight”.—13

Have you seen the last Punch? They have made Bright & Cobden cherubs, with wings coming out of their heads; & so, having given them wings, they have (on the law of compensation) taken away their bodies.14 I must however conclude this note, so Believe me | my dear Darwin | Yours very sincerely | T V Wollaston.

CD annotations

crossed pencil
crossed pencil


Dated by the heading ‘Easter Sunday’, which fell on 12 April in 1857, and by the reference to Wollaston 1857 (see n. 4, below).
Virgil, Eclogues, 7. 4: ‘Arcadians both, and each as ready as the other to lead off with a song, or to give an apt response.’
CD had undergone treatment at James Manby Gully’s hydropathic establishment in Malvern in 1849 (see Correspondence vol. 4).
Wollaston was preparing the Catalogue of the coleopterous insects of Madeira in the collection of the British Museum (Wollaston 1857). The copy received by the British Museum is dated October 1857 (Entomology department, British Museum (Natural History)).
John Edward Gray was keeper of the zoological collections of the British Museum.
Philip Brookes Mason had made available to Wollaston a collection of over 20,000 Coleoptera from Madeira (Wollaston 1857, p. xiv n.).
The British Museum had purchased Wollaston’s collection of 4000 Coleoptera from Madeira and the Salvages in 1855 (British Museum (Natural History) 1904–6, 2: 562).
Agrilus darwinii is described by Wollaston as a dung-eating beetle (Wollaston 1857, p. 82). He wrote: ‘I have dedicated the species to Charles Darwin, Esq., M.A., V.P.R.S., whose inquiries into the obscurer phenomena of geographical zoology have contributed more than those of any other man living to our knowledge, in the general questions of animal distribution.’
The specimen was described in Wollaston 1854, p. 236, where Wollaston stated that it had been ‘communicated to me by the Rev. R. T. Lowe from the collection of the late Dr. Heinecken, by whom it was captured, many years ago, near Funchal.’
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from T. V. Wollaston, 2 March [1855]. Wollaston had discussed the apterous tendency among Madeiran Coleoptera in Wollaston 1856, pp. 82–7. He agreed with CD that wings would be disadvantageous to insects on these windy islands (pp. 86–7).
Wollaston is equating the Entomological Society of London, housed at 12 Bedford Row, with the spiritual bog in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress.
See Natural selection, pp. 293–4, and Origin, p. 135.
CD used this information, and further information contained in Wollaston 1856, pp. 82–7, in Natural selection, pp. 291–3, and Origin, pp. 135–6.
See Punch, or the London Charivari, 11 April 1857, p. 147. Richard Cobden’s motion in the House of Commons in March 1857, condemning the declaration of war on China, led to the collapse of Henry John Temple Palmerston’s government and a general election on 26 March in which both Cobden and John Bright lost their seats.


Lists groups of insects absent from the Madeiran fauna.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Hereford St, 10
Source of text
DAR 181: 139
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2076,” accessed on 16 June 2019,

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