skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To H. W. Bates   3 December [1861]

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 3d.

My dear Sir

I thank you for your extremely interesting letter, & valuable references,—though God knows when I shall come again to this part of my subject.—1 One cannot of course judge of style when one merely hears a paper, but yours seemed to me very clear & good.—2 Believe me that I estimate its value most highly. Under a general point of view, I am quite convinced (Hooker & Huxley took same view some months ago) that a philosophic view of nature can solely be driven into naturalists by treating special subjects as you have here done.— Under a special point of view I think you have solved one of the most perplexing problems which could be given to solve.3 I am glad to hear from Hooker that Linn. Soc. will give Plates, if you can get drawings; but I suppose they might be drawn on to stone or copper.— Pray excuse me for again saying if ever you want £10 or £20, I shall be pleased to send it, for any aid in Natural History:—4

Do not complain of want of advice during your Travels; I daresay part of your great originality of views may be due to the necessity of self exertion of thought. I can understand that your reception at B. Museum would damp you; they are a very good set of men, but not the sort to appreciate your work.5 In fact I have long thought that too much systematic work of description somehow blunts the faculties. The general public appreciates a good dose of reasoning, or generalisation with new & curious remarks on habits, final causes &c &c, far more than do the regular naturalists.—

I am extremely glad to hear that you have begun your Travels. (I thought your Glacial Letter admirably written);6 I am very busy, but I shall be truly glad to render any aid which I can by reading your 1st Chapter or two. I do not think I shall be able to correct style,—for this reason, that after repeated trials I find I cannot correct my own style till I see the M.S. in type. Some are born with a power of good writing, like Wallace; others like myself & Lyell have to labour very hard & slowly at every sentence. I find it very good plan, when I cannot get a difficult discussion to please me, to fancy that some one comes into the room, & asks me what I am doing; & then try at once & explain to the imaginary person what it is all about.— I have done this for one paragraph to myself several times; & sometimes to Mrs. Darwin, till I see how the subject ought to go.— It is, I think, good to read one’s M.S. aloud.— But style to me is a great difficulty; yet some good judges think I have succeeded, & I say this to encourage you.— What I think I can do will be to tell you whether parts had better be shortened.— It is good I think to dash “in medias res”, & work in later any descriptions of country or any historical details which may be necessary.— Murray likes lots of woodcuts— give some by all means of Ants.— The public appreciate Monkeys,—our poor cousins.— What sexual differences are there in monkeys? Have you kept them tame? if so about their expression.—

I fear that you will hardly read my vile handwriting, but I cannot without killing trouble, write better.—

You shall have my candid opinion on your M.S., but remember it is hard to judge from M.S.—one reads slowly & heavy parts seem much heavier.— A first rate judge thought my Journal very poor; now that it is in print, I happen to know, he likes it.—7 I am sure you will understand why I am so egotistical.—

I was a little disappointed in Wallace’s Book on the Amazon; hardly factsenough.—8 On other hand in Gosse’s books there is not reasoning enough to my taste.—9 Heaven knows whether you will care to read all this scribbling—

M.S. can be sent by Book Post, if marked to be printed.— Had you not better register it?

Many thanks for Wallace’s letter; he rates me much too highly & himself much too lowly.— That was an admirable paper of his in Linn. Journal.—10 But what strikes me most about Mr Wallace is the absence of jealousy towards me: he must have a really good honest & noble disposition.11 A far higher merit than mere intellect.

With cordial good wishes & thanks | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin

I am glad you had pleasant day with Hooker: he is an admirably good man in every sense.12


Bates’s paper on the butterflies of the Amazon River basin (Bates 1861b) had been read at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861. At the same meeting CD had also read a paper, which described his study of dimorphism in Primula (see Collected papers 2: 45–63).
Bates’s paper described mimetic resemblances in Amazonian butterflies that could not be explained as the result purely of adaptation to similar conditions. Invoking the theory of natural selection, Bates suggested that the ‘selecting agents’ were insectivorous animals that destroyed those varieties of edible species that did not sufficiently resemble the inedible analogical form (Bates 1861b, pp. 511–12).
Members of the staff of the zoological department of the British Museum, under the direction of John Edward Gray, included the entomologist Frederick Smith, George Robert Gray (an expert on insects and birds), and Adam White (a specialist on Coleoptera and Crustacea) (British Museum (Natural History) 1904–6).
Letter from H. W. Bates, 28 March 1861. Bates’s account of his travels, The naturalist on the river Amazons, was published by John Murray in 1863.
Henry Holland read CD’s Beagle journal in manuscript and thought that it did not merit being published separately from Robert FitzRoy’s general account of the voyage. See Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Caroline Darwin, [7 December 1836]; see also ibid., letters from Emma Wedgwood to F. M. Wedgwood, 17 December 1836, and from Hensleigh Wedgwood, [20 December 1836].
CD read Wallace 1853 in February 1854 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 8). There is a brief abstract of the work in DAR 205.3: 156–7.
CD had read several works by Philip Henry Gosse, including Gosse 1851 and Gosse 1853 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 2 and 128: 10). There is a copy of Gosse 1851 in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Alfred Russel Wallace had sent CD the manuscript of Wallace 1860, which CD communicated to the Linnean Society of London for publication (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to A. R. Wallace, 9 August 1859).
The reference is to Wallace’s positive reaction to the arrangements made to publish his paper, which outlined the theory of natural selection, jointly with a statement of CD’s theory (Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Zoology) 3 (1859): 45–62). For the circumstances that led to the publication, see Correspondence vol. 7.
Bates’s description of his meeting with Joseph Dalton Hooker was presumably given in the part of his letter of [1 December] 1861 that is now missing.


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.

British Museum (Natural History). 1904–6. The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. 2 vols. London: the Trustees.

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–.

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1851. A naturalist’s sojourn in Jamaica. Assisted by Richard Hill. London. [Vols. 5,6,7,9]

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1853. A naturalist’s ramble on the Devonshire coast. London.

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. 1853. A narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, with an account of the native tribes, and observations on the climate, geology, and natural history of the Amazon valley. London: Reeve.


Thanks HWB for references.

Praises his paper ["Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley", read before Linnean Society, 21 Nov 1861, Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 23 (1862) : 495–566] which solves "one of the most perplexing problems which could be given to solve".

Discusses the difficulties of writing and expresses disappointment at Wallace’s book [Travels on the Amazon (1861)].

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. 3338,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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