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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   2 January 1864

5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, W.

Jan 2nd. 1864

My dear Darwin

Many thanks for your kind letter.1 I was afraid to write because I heard such sad accounts of your health but I am glad to find that you can write & I presume read, by deputy. My little article on Haughton’s paper was published in the “Annals of Nat. Hist.” about Aug. or Sept. last I think,2 but I have not a copy to refer to. I am sure it does not deserve Asa Grays praises for though the matter may be true enough, the manner I know is very inferior.3 It was written hastily & when I read it in the “Annals” I was rather ashamed of it as I knew so many could have done it so much better.

I will try & see Agassiz’ paper & book.4 What I have hitherto seen of his on glacial subjects seemed very good,5 but in all his Nat. Hist. theories, he seems so utterly wrong & so totally blind to the plainest deductions from facts, & at the same time so vague & obscure in his language, that it would be a very long & wearisome task to answer him.6

With regard to work I am doing but little— I am afraid I have no good habit of systematic work. I have been gradually getting parts of my collections in order, but the obscurities of synonomy & descriptions, the difficulty of examining specimens & my very limited library, make it wearisome work.7 I have been lately getting the first groups of my butterflies in order, & they offer some most interesting facts in variation & distribution,—in variation some very puzzling ones—8 Though I have very fine series of specimens I find in many cases I want more, in fact if I could have afforded to have had all my collections kept till my return I should I think have found it necessary to retain twice as many as I now have.9

I am at last making a beginning of a small book on my Eastern journey, which if I can persevere I hope to have ready by next ’Xmas.10 I am a very bad hand at writing anything like narrative, I want something to argue on & then I find it much easier to go a’head. I rather despair therefore of making so good a book as Bates’,11 though I think my subject is better. Like every other traveller I suppose, I feel dreadfully the want of copious notes on common every day objects, sights & sounds & incidents, which I imagined I could never forget but which I now find it impossible to recall with any accuracy.

I have just had a long & most interesting letter from my old companion Spruce.12 He says he has had a letter from you about Melastomas, but has not he says for 3 years seen a single Melastomaceous plant!13 They are totally absent from the Pacific plains of trop. America though so abundant on the Eastern plains. Poor fellow! he seems to be in a worse state than you are. Life has been a burden to him for three years owing to lung & heart disease, & rheumatism, brought on by exposure in in high hot & cold damp valleys of the Andes: He went down to the dry climate of the Pacific coast to die more at ease, but the change improved him, & he thinks to come home,14 though he is sure he will not survive the first winter in England. He had never been able to get a copy of your book,15 though I am sure no one would have enjoyed or appreciated it more.

If you are able to bear reading will you allow me to take the liberty of recommending you a book? The fact is I have been so astonished & delighted with the perusal of Spencer’s16 works that I think it a duty to Society to recommend them to all my friends who I think can appreciate them. The one I particularly refer to now is Social Statics,17 a book which is by no means hard to read; it is even amusing, & owing to the wonderful clearness of its style may be read & understood by any one. I think therefore as it is quite distinct from your special studies at present, you might consider it as “light literature” and I am pretty sure it would interest you more that a great deal of what is now considered very good. I am utterly astonished that so few people seem to read Spencer, & the utter ignorance there seems to be among politicians & political economists of the grand views & logical stability of his works. He appears to me as far ahead of John Stuart Mill as J. S. M. is of the rest of the world, and I may add as Darwin is of Agassiz.18 The range of his knowledge is no less than its accuracy. His “Nebular Hypothesis” in the last vol. of his essays19 is the most masterly astronomical paper I have ever read, and in his forthcoming volume on Biology 20 he is I understand going to shew that there is something else besides “Nat. Selection” at work in nature.21 So you must look out for a “foeman worthy of your steel”!22 But perhaps all this time you have read his books—23 If so excuse me, & pray give me your opinion of him as I have hitherto only met with one man (Huxley) who has read & appreciated him.24

Allow me to say in conclusion how much I regret that unavoidable circumstances have caused me to see so little of you since my return home, & how earnestly I pray for the speedy restoration of your health.

Yours most sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace

C. Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

1.3 My little … I think, 1.4] triple scored pencil
Top of first page: ‘Only reference’ pencil


Wallace’s review (Wallace 1863a) of Haughton 1862 was published in the October 1863 issue of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (see also letter to A. R. Wallace, 1 January 1864 and n. 2).
Agassiz 1863a and 1863b. See letter to A. R. Wallace, 1 January 1864 and nn. 4 and 5.
Louis Agassiz’s article in Atlantic Monthly (Agassiz 1863a) was written for a popular audience (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 1 January 1864 and n. 4), and presented his theory, first elaborated in 1837, that glaciers had covered much of Europe during an ice age (Agassiz 1837). See also Agassiz 1840a, 1840b, and 1847, and Lurie 1960, pp. 94–106.
Wallace wrote a review of glacier theories two years later (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 19 November 1866 (Calendar no. 5280), and Wallace 1867).
Wallace had returned in the spring of 1862 from an eight-year expedition to the Malay Archipelago, and was still sorting through his collections. See Wallace 1905, 1: 385–405, and Marchant ed. 1916, 1: 35–44.
Wallace’s paper, ‘On the phenomena of variation and geographical distribution as illustrated by the Papilionidæ of the Malayan region’ (Wallace 1864a), was read before the Linnean Society of London on 17 March 1864. Wallace summarised his work on the Papilionidae in Wallace 1905, 1: 400–3.
During his eight years in the Malay Archipelago, Wallace sent home shipments of bird and insect specimens to be sold by his agent, Samuel Stevens, as a means of financing the expedition. See Wallace 1905, 2: 266, 360–1.
Wallace later recalled that he spent much of 1867 and 1868 writing The Malay Archipelago (Wallace 1869); he spent the preceding three years in preparatory work related to his collections. See Wallace 1905, 1: 405–6.
Wallace refers to Henry Walter Bates’s recently published and successful book, The naturalist on the river Amazons (Bates 1863); CD had encouraged Bates’s work on the book and had assisted him in its publication. See Correspondence vol. 11, letter from H. W. Bates, 2 May [1863].
Richard Spruce and Wallace, along with Bates, spent several months in 1849 travelling and collecting together in the Amazon basin (Wallace 1905, 1: 276–9). After exploring the continent for ten years, Spruce lived on the Pacific coast of South America from 1859 until 1864 (DNB).
CD’s letter to Spruce has not been found; however, it is recalled in the letter from Richard Spruce, 15 April 1869 (Calendar no. 6697). CD had sent queries to many gardeners and botanists for information on the habits of insects visiting flowers of the family Melastomataceae (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Hermann Crüger, 25 January [1863], and letter from Isaac Anderson-Henry, 17 April 1863). CD believed that the Melastomataceae exhibited a novel form of dimorphism, and began experiments on the family in 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 November [1861], Correspondence vol. 10, letter to George Bentham, 3 February [1862], and Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863]). CD’s experimental notes on Melastomataceae are in DAR 205.8. CD never published on the subject; see, however, Cross and self fertilisation, p. 298 n., and ML 2: 292–302.
See n. 12, above. Partly because he sent home a plant collection larger than that of any previous botanical explorer, Spruce’s return to London after fifteen years in South America was announced in the July 1864 number of the Natural History Review (p. 476).
Spencer 1858–74, 2: 1–56. There is an annotated copy of the second volume, published in 1863, of Spencer 1858–74 in the Darwin Library–Down; the essay Wallace mentions is not annotated (Marginalia 1: 768–9).
The first instalment of the Principles of biology was issued to subscribers in January 1863 (Spencer 1864–7, 1: Preface) as a continuation of the instalments of Herbert Spencer’s First principles (Spencer 1860–2); these constituted the first and second volumes of his projected five-part series entitled ‘A system of philosophy’ (see Spencer 1904, 2: 479–84). Wallace’s name does not appear on the first list of subscribers issued in 1860, though CD’s does (Spencer 1904, 2: 484). See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Herbert Spencer, 2 February [1860]. CD’s annotated instalments of Spencer 1864–7 are in the Darwin Library–CUL as a bound volume (see Marginalia 1: 769–73).
Wallace may refer to the instalment issued in October 1864 (Spencer 1864–7, 1: Preface, 402–75), which emphasised types of inheritance of acquired characteristics that Spencer called ‘functionally-acquired modifications’ (ibid. 1: 449); CD’s copy of the instalment is annotated (see Marginalia 1: 770). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 January 1864 and n. 8, Spencer 1864–7, 1: 244–52, R. J. Richards 1987, pp. 182, 291–4, and Tort 1996, pp. 4097–8.
Wallace adapts the words ‘foemen worthy of their steel’ from Walter Scott’s poem, The lady of the lake (5.10).
CD had read part of Principles of psychology (Spencer 1855), some of the essays in the first volume of Spencer 1858–74, and the article entitled ‘A theory of population, deduced from the general law of animal fertility’ ([Spencer] 1852; see Correspondence vol. 8, letters to Herbert Spencer, 2 February [1860] and 23 [February 1860], and Marginalia 1: 773). Eventually, CD read the instalments of The principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7); the first one was sent in January 1863, but CD did not discuss them in his correspondence until 1864 (see, for example, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 November [1864], and n. 20, above). At some time he read the second volume of Spencer 1858–74, as is indicated by the annotations in his copy in the Darwin Library–Down (see Marginalia 1: 768–9). CD’s annotated copies of Spencer 1855 and Spencer 1864–7 are in the Darwin Library–CUL. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 6 April 1864 and n. 5.
See Correspondence vol. 30, Supplement, letter to A. R. Wallace, [c. 10 April 1864]. See also Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 [June 1863], in which CD mentioned he had read only the last part of First principles (Spencer 1860–2) and was disappointed by it. The copy of Spencer 1860–2 in the Darwin Library–CUL is not annotated and the last two numbers are uncut (see Marginalia 1: 769). See also Origin US ed., pp. viii–ix; letters to J. D. Hooker, [10 and 12 January 1864], and 3 November [1864]; letters to J. D. Hooker, 30 June [1866] (Calendar no. 5135), and 2 October [1866] (Calendar no. 5227); and Autobiography, pp. 108–9. Thomas Henry Huxley and Spencer were close friends (A. Desmond 1994–7, 1: 183–7, 246); Huxley had proof-read portions of Spencer 1860–2 (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 212–14).


Agassiz, Louis. 1837. Upon glaciers, moraines, and erratic blocks; being the address delivered at the opening of the Helvetic Natural History Society, at Neuchâtel, on the 24th of July 1837. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 24 (1837–8): 364–83.

Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

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.

Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Desmond, Adrian. 1994–7. Huxley. 2 vols. London: Michael Joseph.

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.

Lurie, Edward. 1960. Louis Agassiz: a life in science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

ML: More letters of Charles Darwin: a record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters. Edited by Francis Darwin and Albert Charles Seward. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1903.

Origin US ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. A new edition, revised and augmented by the author. By Charles Darwin. New York: D. Appleton. 1860.

Richards, Robert J. 1987. Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Spencer, Herbert. 1851. Social statics: or, the conditions essential to human happiness specified, and the first of them developed. London: John Chapman.

[Spencer, Herbert]. 1852. A theory of population, deduced from the general law of animal fertility. Westminster Review n.s. 1: 468–501.

Spencer, Herbert. 1855. The principles of psychology. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.

Spencer, Herbert. 1858–74. Essays: scientific, political, and speculative. 3 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts; Williams & Norgate.

Spencer, Herbert. 1860–2. First principles. London: George Manwaring; Williams & Norgate.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Spencer, Herbert. 1904. An autobiography. 2 vols. London: Williams and Norgate.

Tort, Patrick. 1996. Dictionnaire du Darwinisme et de l’evolution. 3 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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


Remarks on ARW’s review of Samuel Haughton’s paper on bees’ cells

and Origin.

Agassiz’s strength as geologist and weakness in natural history theory.

Work problems.

His butterfly collection.

Problems with book on Malay journey.

Recommends Herbert Spencer and his Social statics.

Spencer’s "masterly" nebular hypothesis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Westbourne Grove Terrace, 5
Source of text
DAR 106: B8–11
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4378,” accessed on 12 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12