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Darwin Correspondence Project

To H. W. Bates   4 April [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 4th

My dear Sir

I have been unwell, so have delayed thanking you for your admirable letter.2 I hope you will not think me presumptuous in saying how much I have been struck with your varied knowledge, & with the decisive manner in which you bring it to bear on each point,—a rare & most high quality, as far as my experience goes.— I earnestly hope you will find time to publish largely: before the Linn. Soc. you might bring boldly out your views on Species.— Have you ever thought of publishing your travels & working in them the less abstruse parts of your Nat. History? I believe it would sell, & be a very valuable contribution to Nat. History.—3 You must, also, have seen a good deal of the natives.

I know well it would be quite unreasonable to ask for any further information from you; but I will just mention that I am now & shall be for a long time writing on Domestic variation of all animals. Any facts would be useful; especially any showing that savages take any care in breeding their animals; or in rejecting the bad & preserving the good—or any fancies which they may have that one coloured or marked dog &c is better than another.— I have already collected much on this head, but am greedy for facts.— You will at once see their bearing on Variation under Domestication.

Your observations on Carabus, with respect to Glacial period, seem very important.—4 I daresay you know that some geologists have speculated on a Permian & even on a Challk Glacial period.— When considering plants of Australia, a suspicion crossed me that there must have been an ancient migration from N. temperate to S. temperate regions.— I feel sure that if you saw lists of plants in T. del Fuego—on isolated mountains of India, Java, Borneo, Abyssinia, S.E. Australia, Fernando Po, you would see that there must have been a very recent migration. This view is largely supported by plain geological facts.— I have a rather long M.S. discussion, well copied out, which Hooker has read, & which if you thought it worth your while, you might with welcome read;5 but I doubt whether it would be worth your while.— Hereafter when I come to Geograph. Distrib. (& God knows when that will be) I will deeply consider all your most valuable remarks.—6

Thank you for facts on intermediate vars. in intermediate regions; I can see how complex the case is; & I hope before I come to that subject you will have largely published. But the case you give is excellent.—

Hardly anything in your letter has pleased me more than about sexual selection. In my large M.S (& indeed in Origin with respect to tuft of hairs—on breast of Cock-Turkey)7 I have guarded myself against going too far; but I did not at all know that male & female butterflies haunted rather different sites. If I had to cut up myself in a Review, I would have worked & quizzed Sexual selection; therefore, though I am fully convinced that it is largely true, you may imagine how pleased I am at what you say on your belief.— This part of your letter to me is a quintessence of richness.— The fact about Butterflies attracted by coloured sepals is another good fact, worth its weight in Gold.8 It would have delighted the heart of old Christian C. Sprengel,—now many years in his grave.—9

I am glad to hear that you have specially attended to “mimetic” analogies—a most curious subject.— I hope you will publish on it.10 I have for a long time wished to know whether what Dr. Collingwood asserts, is true, that the most striking cases generally occur between insects inhabiting the same country.—11

Believe me | Yours most truly obliged | Ch. Darwin


Dated by the relationship to the letter from H. W. Bates, 28 March 1861.
Bates published an account of his travels in the Amazon River basin in 1863 (Bates 1863).
Joseph Dalton Hooker had read CD’s manuscript on geographical distribution, originally intended for his ‘big book’ on species, in 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 6, letters to J. D. Hooker, 13 July [1856] and [16 October 1856], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 November 1856). Hooker also read the ‘abstract’ of this chapter that CD prepared for Origin (see ibid., vol. 7, letters to J. D. Hooker, 2 March [1859] and 15 March [1859]). The original manuscript is in DAR 14 and has been published as chapter 11 of Natural selection.
CD planned, after finishing Variation, to devote a volume to the subject of natural selection in nature, a section of which was to treat geographical distribution. In the event, he included part of this material in subsequent editions of Origin.
Origin, p. 90.
See letter from H. W. Bates, 28 March 1861. A note in DAR 76: 18 refers to this point: ‘In Bates letter in Portfolio (4) case of Butterfly attracted by bright sepals of flowers.—’ CD cited Bates’s point about male and female butterflies inhabiting different sites in Descent 1: 403.
CD had criticised Christian Konrad Sprengel’s view that the colour of the corolla of nectar-producing flowers served as a guide to visiting insects in the Gardeners’ Chronicle in 1841 (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [16 August 1841]; Collected papers 1: 142–5).
Bates’s paper on the mimetic butterflies of the Amazon valley (Bates 1861b) was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861. CD repeated some of these observations in his unsigned review of Bates’s paper (Natural History Review n.s. 3 (1863): 219–24; see Collected papers 2: 87–92).
The reference may be to Collingwood’s recent paper on mimetic analogy, or what he called ‘homomorphism’ (Collingwood 1860c). CD had also read another work of Collingwood’s on the same topic (Collingwood 1860a). See letter to Cuthbert Collingwood, 14 March [1861].


Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

Bates, Henry Walter. 1863. The naturalist on the River Amazons. A record of adventures, habits of animals, sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and aspects of nature under the equator, during eleven years of travel. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD urges HWB to write on his travels;

asks for facts on domestic variations;

is pleased by HWB’s acceptance of the theory of sexual selection.

He still believes in migration from north to south during glacial age.

Hopes Bates will publish a paper on mimicry.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henry Walter Bates
Sent from
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3109,” accessed on 20 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9