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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   28 [May 1864]1

Down Bromley Kent

March 28th

Dear Wallace

I am so much better that I have just finished paper for Linn. Soc;2 but as I am not yet at all strong I felt much disinclination to write & therefore you must forgive me for not having sooner thanked you for your paper on man received on the 11th.—3 But first let me say that I have hardly ever in my life been more struck by any paper than that on Variation &c &c in the Reader.4 I feel sure that such papers will do more for the spreading of our views on the modification of species than any separate Treatises on the simple subject itself. It is really admirable; but you ought not in the Man paper to speak of the theory as mine; it is just as much yours as mine.5 One correspondent has already noticed to me your “high-minded” conduct on this head.6

But now for your Man paper, about which I shd. like to write more than I can. The great leading idea is quite new to me, viz that during late ages the mind will have been modified more than the body;7 yet I had got as far as to see with you that the struggle between the races of man depended entirely on intellectual & moral qualities.—8

The latter part of paper I can designate only as grand & most eloquently done.—9 I have shown your paper to 2 or 3 persons who have been here10 & they have been equally struck with it.— I am not sure that I go with you on all minor points:11 when reading Sir G. Greys account of constant battles of Australian savages, I rember thinking that N. Selection would come in,12 & likewise with Esquimaux with whom the art of fishing & managing canoe is said to be hereditary.13 I rather differ on the rank under classificatory point of view which you assign to man: I do not think any character simply in excess ought ever to be used for the higher divisions.—14 Ants would not be separated from other Hymenopterous insects however high the instinct of the one & however low the instincts of the other.—15

With respect to the differences of race, a conjecture has occurred to me that much may be due to the correlation of complexion (& consequently Hair) with constitution. Assume that a dusky individual best escaped miasma & you will readily see what I mean:16 I persuaded the Director Gen. of the Med. depart. of the army to send printed forms to the surgeons of all Regiments in Tropical countries to ascertain this point, but I dare say I shall never get any returns.17 Secondly I suspect that a sort of sexual selection has been the most powerful means of changing the races of man. I can shew that the difft races have a widely difft standard of beauty. Among savages the most powerful men will have the pick of the women & they will generally leave the most descendants.18

I have collected a few notes on man but I do not suppose I shall ever use them. Do you intend to follow out your views, & if so would you like at some future time to have my few references & notes? I am sure I hardly know whether they are of any value & they are at present in a state of chaos. There is much more that I shd like to write but I have not strength19

Believe me dear Wallace | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Our aristocracy is handsomer (more hideous according to a Chinese or Negro) than middle classes from pick of women; but oh what a scheme is primogeniture for destroying N. Selection.—20

I fear my letter will be barely intelligible to you—


Although CD wrote the date as ‘March 28th’ this is an error for 28 May. The month and year are established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864.
Wallace sent Wallace 1864b with his letter of 10 May 1864.
CD refers to the abstract in the Reader, 16 April 1864, pp. 491–3, of Wallace 1864a (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864 and n. 8). Wallace 1864a applied the principle of natural selection to the variation of butterflies from different islands of the Malayan Archipelago.
See letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864 and n. 6. CD summarised Wallace’s argument from Wallace 1864b in Descent 1: 158–60.
On a page of Wallace 1864b heavily annotated by CD (p. clxii; p. 5 in CD’s offprint copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL) Wallace noted the increasing influence of natural selection on mental and moral qualities, including a ‘capacity for acting in concert’, sympathy, a sense of right, a decrease in combativeness, self-restraint, and intelligent foresight. He stated that ‘tribes in which such mental and moral qualities were predominant, would therefore have an advantage in the struggle for existence over other tribes in which they were less developed’. The page on which Wallace applied this principle to existing races is also heavily annotated by CD (see Wallace 1864b, p. clxv; p. 8 in CD’s offprint copy). For a note of CD’s from 1838 or 1839 on the struggle between races, see Notebooks, Notebook E, 63–4; for CD’s general notes on natural selection applied to humans, see n. 19, below. See Gruber 1981, pp. 181–5, and Browne 1995, pp. 234–53, for CD’s views of human racial differences; see also Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Charles Lyell, 11 October [1859]. On CD and social and moral evolution, see also Greene 1977 and R. J. Richards 1987. CD had not yet published an application of natural selection to humans, only predicting in Origin, p. 488: ‘Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.’
CD may refer in part to the last two pages of the paper (Wallace 1864b, pp. clxix–clxx), which included what the editors of the Natural History Review called the ‘somewhat utopian reflections Mr. Wallace indulges in’ regarding the future of humankind (see Wallace 1864c, p. 328); Wallace predicted a world where human behaviour and interactions would be perfected, with no need for government. However, CD did not annotate those pages; he did write favourable remarks in the margins of the two preceding pages, where Wallace summarised his overall argument (Wallace 1864b, pp. clxvii–clxviii; pp. 10–11 in CD’s offprint).
Since 11 May 1864, when CD received the offprint of Wallace 1864b, Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) recorded visits from Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, and from CD’s sons George Howard, Francis, and Leonard from their school, as well as a medical consultation with William Jenner; CD’s son William Erasmus also arrived on 28 May 1864. CD’s daughters Henrietta Emma and Elizabeth were at home during most of this time.
For contrasts between CD’s and Wallace’s views of the role of natural selection in human transmutation, see Vorzimmer 1972, pp. 187–212, Fichman 1981, pp. 99–121, Schwarz 1984, and Kottler 1985, pp. 420–4; Wallace’s views later diverged further from CD’s.
CD scored and underlined a passage in Wallace 1864b (pp. clxiii–clxiv; pp. 6–7 in his offprint) that stated that when sympathetic feelings and intellectual faculties had developed adequately, humans would no longer be influenced by natural selection in their physical form and structure: ‘as an animal he would remain almost stationary’. George Grey discussed the lives and customs of Australian aborigines in Grey 1841, 2: 207–388. See also Journal of researches, p. 519, for CD’s observations in Australia. CD wrote a section in Descent 2: 323–26, titled ‘Law of battle’; he mentioned women as ‘the constant cause of war’ in and between native Australian social groups, without citing a reference (Descent 2: 323).
CD noted what were thought to be the hereditary seal-catching skills of native Greenlanders in Descent 1: 117, citing Crantz 1767, which he first read in 1844 (see ‘CD’s Reading notebooks’ DAR 119: 13a, and Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV); however, CD added to this passage in Descent that it was ‘mental aptitude, quite as much as bodily structure’ that appeared to be inherited.
In Wallace 1864b, p. clxvii, Wallace noted Richard Owen’s placement of humans in a distinct sub-class of the mammalia because of the development of their cranium and brain, despite other anatomical similarities to the anthropoid apes; Owen had published this classification of mammals in R. Owen 1857. See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to T. H. Huxley, 3 January [1861] and n. 4, and Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and nn. 25–7; a note of CD’s on ‘Owen’s false classification of Man’ is in DAR 205.5: 176. Wallace wrote that his own theory fully recognised and accounted for Owen’s facts (Wallace 1864b, p. clxix). In Descent 1: 187–8, CD dismissed Owen’s classification of humans, writing that he knew of no naturalist who accepted it. He concluded in Descent 1: 194–5 that humans comprised a sub-order or family, or perhaps a sub-family.
CD expanded on this comparison of human classification to the classification of hymenopterous insects in Descent 1: 186–8.
Wallace attributed the derivation of external racial characteristics to the principle of correlation of growth that CD described in Origin, pp. 11–12 and 143–50. CD had noted that when one part of an organism changed, another part often changed at the same time, and Wallace believed that as early humans dispersed to distinct environments, the natural selection of useful variations in internal constitution was accompanied by external changes (Wallace 1864b, pp. clxi and clxv–clxvi). In his offprint of Wallace 1864b, CD wrote in the margins near Wallace’s discussion: ‘He attributes all these [external physical changes of humans] to correlation with useful changes’; and, ‘I shd attribute more to direct action of physical conditions’ (see CD’s offprint of Wallace 1864b, p. 9). CD discussed the formation of the human races in Descent 1: 240–50, writing that darker skin might have been acquired ‘by the darker individuals escaping during a long series of generations from the deadly influence of the miasmas of their native countries’ (Descent 1: 242; see also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. B. Gibson, [after 29 June 1862]).
James Brown Gibson, director-general of the Army Medical Department, had approved sending CD’s ‘Query to army surgeons’ to India and other tropical countries (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from E. A. Parkes, 29 June 1862). No copy of the form has been found; however, the remarks that accompanied it are given in Descent 1: 254–5 n. 48. CD also wrote that he received no replies.
CD discussed sexual selection in Origin, pp. 87–90 and 156–7, but not in relation to humans; see also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to H. W. Bates, 4 April [1861]. Some of CD’s early notes, made from 1838 to 1840, touched on differing ideals of beauty in humans and on mate selection (see Notebooks, Notebook D, 99; Notebook M, 32; Notebook N, 26–9; and ‘Old and useless notes’, 8, 14, 22–4; see also Barrett 1980). CD later made queries regarding the sense of beauty in different races (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter from C. J. Andersson, [6 April 1856], letter to W. B. D. Mantell, 10 April [1856] and n. 5, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Thomas Bridges, 6 January 1860). The second part of Descent was devoted to sexual selection in animals, including humans; in Descent 1: 249–50 and 2: 316–84 and 396–402, CD discussed sexual selection in humans. For CD’s application of sexual selection to human racial change, see Descent 1: 249–50 and 2: 368–71. See also Durant 1985, pp. 297–301.
CD probably refers to the notes he made from 1837 to 1840 (see Notebooks, Notebook M, Notebook N, and ‘Old and useless notes’). These notes are also transcribed in Barrett 1980, where they are commented on by Howard Gruber; Barrett 1980 also includes pertinent extracts from the ‘Beagle’ diary, from Notebooks B, C, D, and E (see Notebooks), and additional writings of CD’s on humans. CD did use his notes when later compiling material for Descent (1871) and Expression (1872) (see also Gruber and Barrett 1974, and Gruber 1981). For CD on human transmutation, see also Herbert 1977, Browne 1985, Durant 1985, and Ekman 1998. Wallace evidently did not take up CD’s offer of his notes.
For CD’s earlier comments on inheritance by the first-born, and on the English aristocracy, see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. S. Henslow, 25 July 1845, and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [and 26] January [1862]. See also Descent 1: 170. For CD on notions of beauty in different races, see n. 18, above. On Victorian ideals of beauty, see Cowling 1989.


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Barrett, Paul H. 1980. Metaphysics, materialism, and the evolution of mind. Early writings of Charles Darwin. With a commentary by Howard E. Gruber. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

‘Beagle’ diary: Charles Darwin’s Beagle diary. Edited by Richard Darwin Keynes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988.

Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin. Voyaging. Volume I of a biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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

Cowling, Mary. 1989. The artist as anthropologist. The representation of type and character in Victorian art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crantz, David. 1767. The history of Greenland: containing a description of the country, and its inhabitants. Translated from the High-Dutch. 2 vols. London: printed for the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel among the Heathen.

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

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Ekman, Paul. 1998. Introduction, afterword, and commentary to the third edition of The expression of the emotions in man and animals, by Charles Darwin. London: HarperCollins Publishers.

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Greene, John C. 1977. Darwin as a social evolutionist. Journal of the History of Biology 10: 1–27.

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Response to ARW’s papers on Papilionidae ["On the phenomena of variation and geographical distribution", Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 25 (1866): 1–71; abstract in Reader 3 (1864): 491–3],

and man ["The origin of human races", J. Anthropol. Soc. Lond. 2 (1864): clviii–clxxxvi].

The former is "really admirable" and will be influential.

The idea of the man paper is striking and new. Minor points of difference. Conjectures regarding racial differences; the possible correlation between complexion and constitution. His Query to Army surgeons to determine this point. Offers ARW his notes on man, which CD doubts he will be able to use.

On sexual selection in "our aristocracy"; primogeniture is a scheme for destroying natural selection.

[Letter incorrectly dated March by CD.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add. MS 46434: 39)
Physical description
ALS 7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4510,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

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