skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   10 May 1864

5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, W.

May 10th. 1864

My dear Darwin

I was very much gratified to hear by your letter of a month back that you were a little better, & I have since heard occasionally through Huxley & Lubbock that you are not worse.1 I sincerely hope the summer weather & repose may do you real good.

The Borneo Cave exploration is to go on at present without a subscription.2 The New British Consul3 who is going out to Sarawak this month will undertake to explore some of the caves nearest the town, & if any thing of interest is obtained a good large sum can no doubt be raised for a thorough exploration of the whole country.— Sir J. Brooke will give every assistance & will supply men for the preliminary work.4

I send you now my little contribution to the theory of the origin of man—5 I hope you will be able to agree with me— If you are able I shall be glad to have your criticisms. I was led to the subject by the necessity of explaining the vast mental & cranial differences between man & the apes combined with such small structural differences in other parts of the body,—& also by an endeavour to account for the diversity of human races combined with man’s almost perfect stability of form during all historical epochs—6 It has given me a settled opinion on these subjects, if nobody can shew a fallacy in the argument.

The Anthropologicals did not seem to appreciate it much, but we had a long discussion which appears almost verbatim in the “Anthropolog. Review”.7

As the Linnæan Transactions will not be out till the end of the year I sent a pretty full abstract of the more interesting parts of my Papilionidæ paper to the “Reader”8 which as you say is a splendid paper—9

Trusting Mrs. Darwin & all your family are well & that you are improving Believe me | Yours most sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace

C. Darwin Esq.


CD’s letter to Wallace has not been found. Wallace refers to Thomas Henry Huxley and John Lubbock. Wallace had also recently discussed CD’s improved health with Alfred Newton (see letter from Alfred Newton, 7 April 1864).
Wallace requested funds in the Reader, 19 March 1864, p. 367, for the exploration of caves in Borneo; it was hoped that the caves would contain the fossil remains of gradational forms between apes and humans (see letter from E. A. Darwin, 9 April [1864] and nn. 5 and 6). In the letter to Wallace that has not been found, CD evidently offered to contribute.
Wallace refers to George Thorne Ricketts (see letter from E. A. Darwin, 9 April [1864] and n. 5).
Wallace’s friend, the Rajah of Sarawak, James Brooke, had returned to England in 1863 (see letter from E. A. Darwin, 9 April [1864] and n. 5).
Wallace’s paper, ‘The origin of human races and the antiquity of man deduced from the theory of “natural selection” ’ (Wallace 1864b), was read at a meeting of the Anthropological Society of London on 1 March 1864. A copy inscribed by Wallace, and heavily annotated by CD, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. The article in CD’s unbound copy of Anthropological Review, in the Darwin Archive–CUL, is also annotated. An abstract of the article including some changes in content from the original article appeared in the July 1864 issue of the Natural History Review (see Wallace 1864c and letter from A. R. Wallace, 29 May [1864]); CD’s unbound copy of the journal containing this abstract is also in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
In Wallace 1864b, Wallace argued that as humans began manipulating their environment through the use of tools, fire, and agriculture, while also developing co-operative social groups that protected the weak, natural selection no longer acted upon most of the human form; only the intellectual and moral faculties were affected, in addition to the shape and size of the cranium. Though in these respects humans diverged from the anthropoid apes, the rest of the human body retained ape-like structures. Wallace proposed that a single, initially homogeneous race, similar to modern humans in form, ‘but with mental faculties scarcely raised above the brute’, dispersed to new, extreme environments where the different groups developed particular physical racial characteristics (ibid., p. clxvi). His argument that humans originated in the Eocene or Miocene periods, earlier than previously suggested, allowed time for this dispersal, for the continued natural selection of favourable mental and moral variations, and for the perceived long period of stability during which physical racial differences remained fixed (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 29 May [1864] and n. 19). Wallace believed his position explained the ‘wonderful persistence of mere physical characteristics, which is the stumbling-block of those who advocate the unity of mankind’ (Wallace 1864b, p. clxvi). In a note at the end of Wallace 1864b, p. clxx, Wallace wrote that the general idea and argument of his paper were new, but that the ‘perusal of Mr. Herbert Spencer’s works, especially Social Statics’ (Spencer 1851) had suggested them to him, and had also furnished him ‘with some of the applications’ (see also letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 January 1864 and nn. 16–24). For Wallace on human origins, see Kottler 1974, Durant 1979, pp. 40–51, Fichman 1981, pp. 99–121, and R. J. Richards 1987, pp. 162–66 and 176–86.
The discussion following the presentation of Wallace’s paper was printed in the Anthropological Review, pp. clxx–clxxxvii. Though two speakers praised Wallace’s paper, the others were critical, including the president, James Hunt, who attacked Wallace’s statement that humans must have sprung from one race. Many of the members of the Anthropological Society of London favoured what was then called polygenism, the belief that the human races originated separately; they also tended to oppose the theory CD expressed in Origin (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 [March] 1864 and n. 23, and Wallace 1864c, p. 329). By upholding the long existence of different races, Wallace’s paper attempted to reconcile the polygenists’ point of view with that of the monogenists, who believed that humans had originated as a single race (see n. 6, above). CD’s copy of the discussion, in his unbound issue of the Anthropological Review, is not annotated. For CD’s later discussion of monogenism and polygenism, see Descent 1: 228–35. For the history of the Anthropological Society and its separation from the Ethnological Society of London, see Stocking 1987, pp. 245–57, E. Richards 1989, pp. 410–33, and Barton 1998, pp. 437–9.
Wallace read ‘On the phenomena of variation and geographical distribution as illustrated by the Papilionidæ of the Malayan region’ (Wallace 1864a) to the Linnean Society on 17 March 1864; the paper appeared in the first number of the 1865 Transactions of the Linnean Society. CD’s unbound, annotated, copy is in the Darwin Archive–CUL. Wallace’s abstract of Wallace 1864a appeared in the Reader, 16 April 1864, pp. 491–3. A notice of an exhibition of specimens and presentation of his discoveries on the Papilionidae that Wallace made to the Entomological Society on 2 May 1864 was also published in the Reader, 21 May 1864, p. 656. Wallace summarised the paper in Wallace 1905, 1: 400–3. See also letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 January 1864 and n. 8.
No letter to Wallace from CD praising the Reader has been found; however, see the letter to Roland Trimen, 13 May 1864 and n. 7, and the letter to Asa Gray, 28 May [1864] and n. 18.


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

Durant, John R. 1979. Scientific naturalism and social reform in the thought of Alfred Russel Wallace. British Journal for the History of Science 12: 31–58.

Fichman, Martin. 1981. Alfred Russel Wallace. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Kottler, Malcolm Jay. 1974. Alfred Russel Wallace, the origin of man, and spiritualism. Isis 65: 145–92.

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.

Richards, Evelleen. 1989. The ‘moral anatomy’ of Robert Knox: the interplay between biological and social thought in Victorian scientific naturalism. Journal of the History of Biology 22: 373–436.

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.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: The Free Press. London: Collier Macmillan.

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


On the Borneo cave exploration.

ARW will send his contribution to theory of origin of man. The vast mental and cranial differences between man and apes, whereas structural differences in other parts of body are small. The problem of explaining diversity of human races along with the stability of man’s form during all historical epochs. Discussion with "Anthropologicals" [following reading of ARW’s paper, "The origin of human races", before the Anthropological Society, 1 Mar 1864].

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Westbourne Grove Terrace, 5
Source of text
DAR 106: B12–13
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4490,” accessed on 25 October 2021,

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