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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Russel Wallace   30 November 1861

Sumatra, 100 miles E. of Bencoolen

Novr. 30th. 1861

My dear Mr. Darwin

On an evening in the wet season in these Central forests of Sumatra, I occupy myself in writing a few lines to you to say a few things which I may otherwise forget altogether. About a year & a half back I wrote to you from somewhere Eastward of Ceram, with more digested remarks on your book, but the letter with one to my agent Mr. Stevens never I believe reached Amboyna.1 All I can remember of them now is to the effect that repeated perusals had made the whole clearer & more connected to me & the general & particular arguments clearer & more forcible than at first.

I have lent the book to two persons here in the East, neither of them with any but the vaguest & most general knowledge of or taste for Natural History but both men of much reading & with a taste for speculation & theory wh. as Bentham says is but another term for thought.2 The first Mr. Duivenbode of Ternate, a Dutchman educated in England, read it three times through before he returned it to me, expressing himself so much pleased & interested that he wished to master the whole argument.3 The other a merchant captain settled at Timor Delli with whom I lived 3 months kept it all the time, was constantly reading it & we made it a subject of conversation almost whenever we met, & when I was leaving he did not return it till the steamer arrived going over the recapitulations of the chapters & the conclusion to get the most of it he possibly could—4 These humble testimonies prove I think both the attractive manner in which you have treated the subject & the clearness with which you have stated & enforced the arguments; & I trust they will be as pleasing to you as I assure you they were to me.

I met the other day on board the Dutch steamer the Geologist accompanying a Prussian voyage of discovery &c. “Baron Richthofen”. He has been t⁠⟨⁠hro⁠⟩⁠ugh Java where he has made large collections of fossils— He ⁠⟨⁠is⁠⟩⁠ going now to leave the ship & travel in British India & afterwards go to the Amoor & overland to Europe to study & improve himself in Geology.5 He seems a very intelligent & good naturalist. He was reading your Book wh. he had borrowed in Java, & on my asking him if he was a convert,—he smiled & said “It is very easy for a Geologist.”6 I have also seen Dr. Schneider who has geologized in Timor— He assures me he found many teeth of Mastodon,—also terebratulæ orthoceras & other molluscs. He had given most of his collection to the Zoologist of the same Prussian Expedition but says he has published descriptions of all the Timor fossils in the Batavian Journal of Nat. Sciences, I forget the Dutch title but you know the work no doubt—7 They are to be published this month I think he told me. ⁠⟨⁠part of page excised⁠⟩⁠

I trust your great work goes on & is soon to appear.8 I hope however you will have it copiously illustrated. I am sure it will be for the publishers interest to do so as it will I have no doubt double the circulation. There are so many things that are weak when merely mentioned or described by numbers which become clear & strong when an appeal is made to the eye. The varieties of pigeons the stripes of horses, the variations in ants, the formation of honeycombs & a hundred other things will all be better for good illustrations— They will also make the book newer & more distinct from its forerunner in the eyes of the public to whom it will otherwise appear as perhaps a mere enlargement— If this point is not decided, pray take it seriously into consideration.

I see nothing but the Athenæum so know little of what is going on among Naturalists— Huxley & Owen seem to be at open war, but I cannot glean that any one has ventured to attack you fairly on the whole question, or ventured to answer the whole of your argument—9 I see by his advertisement Dr. Brees professes to do so but have no notice of his book.10

I have lately been very unsuccessful owing to unprecedented wet weather (the effect I suppose of the comet).11 This is my ⁠⟨⁠part of page excised⁠⟩⁠

P.S. The shabby way in which your opponents ⁠⟨⁠several words missing⁠⟩⁠ is amusing. First comes Owen with his new interpretation of what naturalists mean by “creation” which it turns out is not creation at all, but “the unknown manner in which species have come into existence”!!!12 Phillips I see adopts this new interpretation which ought certainly to raise up the bench of bishops against them,13 for what then becomes of “special creation” & “special adaptation” & “intelligent forethought visible in each special creation”,—if creation is not creation at all, but a mere convenient expression of ignorance of the laws by which species have originated.

Has my friend Bates sent you his papers on Amazon Insects, in wh. he gives details of “variation” which are a most valuable contribution to our cause—14 His papers also shew what mere blind work is the making of species from what may be called chance collections;—a species here, another there, a ♂ from one locality a ♀ from another, here a rare variety, & from another place the typical form. Of course with such materials & with localities often incorrectly indicated each succeeding elucidator has but added to the confusion; & the whole has formed a chaos, till some one collecting & observing for years over an extensive but connected district has been able to bring the whole into order.

Anor | Sumatra

CD annotations

2.2 knowledge … made it 2.8] crossed ink
3.7 “It … told me. 3.13] ‘A. Wallace | Nov. 20/1861’ added in margin, ink; ‘18’15 brown crayon


The letter to CD to which Wallace refers may be that dated [December? 1860] (see Correspondence vol. 8), of which only a part is extant. Wallace gave CD his initial comments on Origin in a letter, now missing, dated 16 February 1860 (see ibid., letter to A. R. Wallace, 18 May 1860). Samuel Stevens acted as Wallace’s London agent, handling the natural history specimens he collected (Wallace 1905, 1: 266).
The reference is to Jeremy Bentham.
Wallace also mentioned Mr Duivenboden in the published account of his travels in the Malay Archipelago (Wallace 1869, 2: 2).
In his autobiography, Wallace identified the ‘merchant captain’ as Captain Hart, owner of a coffee plantation situated ‘about a mile out of town’ of Dili on the island of Timor (Wallace 1905, 1: 375). For a map indicating the course of Wallace’s travels in the Malay Archipelago, see Wallace 1869.
Ferdinand Paul Wilhelm von Richthofen accompanied the Prussian East Asia expedition, under the leadership of Friedrich Albrecht, Graf zu Eulenburg, to Japan, China, and Thailand, 1859–62. He continued travelling in the Far East before visiting the western part of the United States (Sarjeant 1980).
In his letter to Wallace, 18 May 1860 (Correspondence vol. 8), CD remarked that ‘there are almost more Geological converts [to his theory] than pursuers of other branches of natural science.’
CD had told Wallace in his letter of 18 May 1860 (Correspondence vol. 8} that he was working on his ‘larger work’, which he planned to publish in separate volumes. Part of this material was published in Variation in 1868.
Thomas Henry Huxley and Richard Owen were engaged in a public debate concerning the anatomical differences between human and simian brains (see R. Owen 1861a and Huxley 1861a and 1861b). Several highly charged letters from the two were published in the Athenæum in March and April 1861. For references to the debate in CD’s correspondence, see the letters to T. H. Huxley, 1 April [1861], and to J. D. Hooker, 23 [April 1861].
The comet, described as one ‘of extraordinary splendour’, was first sighted at the end of June 1861 (Annual register (1861), Chronicle, pp. 99–100).
Wallace refers to Owen’s reference to the ‘axiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things’ in his unsigned review of Origin ([R. Owen] 1860b, p. 500). See also letter to T. H. Huxley, 3 January [1861].
John Phillips addressed the question of the origin of species, criticising the account provided by CD in Origin, in Phillips 1860. For CD’s reaction to this book, see the letter to Asa Gray, 5 June [1861].
Wallace and Henry Walter Bates had naturalised together in the Amazon region of South America (Marchant ed. 1916, 1: 25–30). Bates had sent CD a copy of his first paper on the insect fauna of the Amazon valley (Bates 1861a) (see letters from H. W. Bates, 18 March 1861 and 28 March 1861), and CD had heard Bates’s second paper on this topic (Bates 1861b), read before the Linnean Society on 21 November 1861 (see letter to H. W. Bates, 3 December [1861] and n. 2).
The annotation refers to CD’s portfolio of notes on the means of dispersal of animals and plants.


Annual register: The annual register. A view of the history and politics of the year. 1838–62. The annual register. A review of public events at home and abroad. N.s. 1863–1946. London: Longman & Co. [and others].

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.

Bree, Charles Robert. 1860. Species not transmutable, nor the result of secondary causes. Being a critical examination of Mr Darwin’s work entitled ‘Origin and variation of species’. London: Groombridge & Sons. Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart.

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

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.

Phillips, John. 1860. Life on the earth, its origin and succession. Cambridge and London: Macmillan and Co.

Schneider, Carl Friedrich Adolph. 1863. Bijdrage tot de geologische kennis van Timor. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indië 25: 87–107

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

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

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181: 6
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3334,” accessed on 5 March 2024,

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