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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   9 August 1859

Down Bromley Kent

Augst. 9th. 1859

My dear Mr Wallace

I received your letter & memoir on the 7th & will forward it tomorrow to Linn. Socy. 1 But you will be aware that there is no meeting till beginning of November. Your paper seems to me admirable in matter, style & reasoning; & I thank you for allowing me to read it. Had I read it some months ago I shd. have profited by it for my forthcoming volume.— But my two chapters on this subject are in type; & though not yet corrected, I am so wearied out & weak in health, that I am fully resolved not to add one word & merely improve style. So you will see that my views are nearly the same with yours, & you may rely on it that not one word shall be altered owing to my having read your ideas.

Are you aware that Mr W. Earl published several years ago the view of distribution of animals in Malay Archipelago in relation to the depth of the sea between the islands?2 I was much struck with this & have been in habit of noting all facts on distribution in that Archipelago & elswhere in this relation. I have been led to conclude that there has been a good deal of naturalisation in the different Malay islands & which I have thought to certain extent would account for anomalies. Timor has been my greatest puzzle. What do you say to the peculiar Felis there?3 I wish that you had visited Timor:4 it has been asserted that fossil Mastodon or Elephant’s tooth (I forget which) has been found there, which would be grand fact.—5 I was aware that Celebes was very peculiar; but the relation to Africa is quite new to me & marvellous & almost passes belief.—6 It is as anomalous as relation of plants in S.W. Australia to Cape of Good Hope.

I differ wholly from you on colonisation of oceanic islands, but you will have everyone else on your side.7 I quite agree with respect to all islands not situated far in ocean. I quite agree on little occasional intermigration between lands when once pretty well stocked with inhabitants, but think this does not apply to rising & ill-stocked islands.

Are you aware that annually birds are blown to Madeira, to Azores, (& to Bermuda from America).—8 I wish I had given fuller abstract of my reasons for not believing in Forbes’ great continental extensions;9 but it is too late, for I will alter nothing. I am worn out & must have rest.—

Owen, I do not doubt, will bitterly oppose us; but I regard this very little; as he is a poor reasoner & deeply considers the good opinion of the world, especially the aristocratic world.—10

Hooker is publishing a grand Introduction to Flora of Australia & goes the whole length.—11 I have seen proofs of about half.—

With every good wish. Believe me | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

Excuse this brief note, but I am far from well.—


Wallace’s letter has not been found. The memoir was on the zoological geography of the Malay Archipelago. CD communicated the paper to the Linnean Society; it was read at a meeting on3 November 1859 (Wallace 1860).
In Origin, p. 395, CD cited George Windsor Earl’s observations (Earl 1853) that the two widely distinct mammalian faunas in the Malay Archipelago were separated by a stretch of deep ocean. CD believed that deep ocean separating oceanic islands from each other or from the mainland indicated that the islands had not formerly been connected to another landmass, and hence that many mammals would not have been able to disperse over the area. See Correspondence vol. 6, letters to J. D. Hooker, 30 July [1856], and letters from W. F. Daniell, 8 October – 7 November 1856 and 14 November 1856.
The indigenous cats of Timor, characterised by tails in which the end-joints were crooked, are mentioned in Earl 1837, p. 233. CD read this work in 1838 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV,119: 3a) and noted the tail peculiarity in Notebook E, pp. 18–19 and 182 (Notebooks).
Wallace visited Timor in May 1859 and again from January to April 1861, but both times he was disappointed, the ‘country round proving almost a desert for a collector’ (Wallace 1905, 1: 369, 375).
In Notebook E, p. 173 (Notebooks), CD wrote: ‘Mr Greenough on his Map of the World, has. written. Mastodon found at Timor.— thinks he has seen specimen at Paris Museum.—’ George Bellas Greenough had formed ‘a collection of maps, upon which or in his note-books he entered all the geological data he could obtain from travellers and from books.’ (DNB). Greenough’s maps were at the Geological Society of London.
Wallace had noticed several genera on Celebes that were otherwise confined to Africa or other areas outside the archipelago (Wallace 1860, pp. 176–7).
Wallace favoured the view that islands usually received their flora and fauna via land connections that had previously existed between neighbouring countries. CD, on the other hand, believed that occasional ‘accidental’ means of dispersal (such as the transport of seeds, eggs, and some organisms by wind, birds, or water) could account for the colonisation of islands. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 December 1857.
The letter was annotated by Wallace at this point. His note reads: ‘Birds can make way to land when out of course other animals and plants depend only on wind and current.’
CD briefly mentioned Edward Forbes’s theory of continental extensions in Origin, p. 357. See Correspondence vols. 3 and 6 for CD’s vehement rejection of Forbes’s hypothesis of the existence of former landmasses between Europe, Africa, and America.
Richard Owen, as CD predicted, was severe in his anonymous review of Origin in the Edinburgh Review in April 1860, although in December 1859 he gave CD the impression that he was a friendly critic. See letter to Charles Lyell, [10 December 1859].
Hooker 1859.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Earl, George Windsor. 1837. The Eastern Seas; or, voyages and adventures in the Indian Archipelago, in 1832, 1833, 1834. London.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Wallace, Alexander. 1860. Remarks on the occurrence of rarer British Sphingidae. [Read 4 June 1860.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 5 (1858–61), Proceedings, pp. 119–20.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall.


Will forward ARW’s "admirable" paper to Linnean Society ["On the zoological geography of the Malay Archipelago", J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Zool.) 4 (1860): 172–84].

Discusses geographical distribution of animals in the Malay Archipelago; relation of distribution to depth of sea between islands.

Relation of Celebes to Africa almost passes belief.

Differs wholly from ARW on colonisation of oceanic islands; does not believe in Forbes’s great continental extensions.

Anticipates Owen’s opposition to their views, but "he is a poor reasoner & deeply considers the good opinion of the world, especially the aristocratic world".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 46434)
Physical description
ALS 6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2480,” accessed on 13 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7