skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   2 March [1867]1

9 St. Mark’s Crescent | N.W.

March 2nd.

Dear Darwin

I am very glad you like my notion about the catterpillars It is a kind of “forlorn hope”, but fortunately it can be easily tested.2

I dare say you are right about sexual selection in butterflies, but I still think that protective adaptation has kept down the colours of the females, because the Heliconidæ and Danaidæ are almost the only groups in which the females are generally equally brilliant with the males.3

I can tell you several persons in the East who would I think observe “expression” for you. The best is Mr. Charles Johnson Brooke acting Rajah of Sarawak author of “Ten Years in Sarawak”. Address him as

C— J— B— Esq,

Rajah Mudah

Sarawak, Borneo.4

He has grand opportunities, as he sees Malays, Dyaks, & Chineese under all kinds of excitements, in war in hunting, in law suits and under every occasion of daily life.5 He would also I have no doubt send copies of your questions to some of the Missionaries and deputy governors in the interior.

Another person who would I am sure do the same for you is Mr.  F. F. Geach, a young Cornish mining engineer, engaged in Tin & Copper mining in the interior of Malacca;—address, care of Messrs. Paterson Simons and Co. Singapore.6

If you would send me a copy of your questions I shd. like to see how far I could answer them from memory.

I certainly cannot yet see my way to any action of sexual selection in forming the races of man.7 Stealing wives from other tribes for instance is a very common practice, & it would I imagine tend to check any selective action. Youth is almost the only thing a savage cares about, and the handsomest & finest women very often become prostitutes & leave few or no offspring. The women certainly don’t choose the men, & the men want chiefly in a wife, a servant. Beauty is I believe a very small consideration with most savages, as it is very rare to find a woman so plain as not to leave as many or more offspring than the most beautiful.8 This of course is a delicate subject to go into.

My present impression is, that the distinctive characters of human races are almost wholly due to correlation with constitutional adaptations to climate soil food & other external conditions. You must have facts of which I am quite ignorant,—& at all events your essay will be most welcome & is sure to be valuable.9

Believe me Dear Darwin | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace—

CD annotations

1.1 I am … tested. 1.2] crossed pencil
2.1 but … males. 2.4] scored brown crayon
3.1 I can … memory. 6.2] crossed pencil
6.1 If … memory. 6.2] ‘(See insects other side)’ added pencil
7.1 I certainly … servant. 7.6] ‘just as we marry heiresses & yet beauties marry most’10 added pencil
8.1 My present … valuable. 8.4] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Keep’ pencil; ‘& insects’ brown crayon
Bottom of p. 2 ‘Sex. Selection | Wallace | Man’ pencil


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 24 February [1867].
For Wallace’s hypothesis on caterpillar mimicry, and his proposed experiment for testing it, see his letter of 24 February [1867]. CD praised Wallace’s idea in his letter of 26 February [1867].
In his letter of 26 February [1867] CD had argued that sexual selection accounted for colour differences in male and female butterflies; see the letter from A. R. Wallace, 24 February [1867] and n. 6 for Wallace’s thoughts on sexual selection, and for more on the Heliconidae and Danaidae. For more on CD’s and Wallace’s diverging views of sexual selection, see Kottler 1980 and Bajema ed. 1984, pp. 110–255; see also Fichman 2004, pp. 262–8.
CD had mentioned his queries on human expression in his letter to A. R. Wallace, 26 February [1867]. Wallace’s references are to Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke, and to Brooke 1866. Sarawak, now a Malaysian state, was a dependency of the Brunei Sultanate on the island of Borneo until James Brooke became governor as raja of Sarawak in 1841; he left Sarawak in 1863, naming his nephew Charles Brooke as his heir in 1867 (ODNB). Charles Brooke succeeded him in 1868. ‘Rajah Mudah’: heir apparent. For more on Charles Brooke’s position as raja, see Payne 1986. See also Baring-Gould and Bampfylde 1989.
The Dyaks or Dayaks are the indigenous, generally non-Muslim, people of parts of Borneo while the Malays and Chinese are more recent immigrants to the island.
Frederick F. Geach was working for Paterson Simons & Co., the first British company to speculate in Malayan tin mining on a large scale (see Wong 1965, pp. 33–5). For tin mining in the state of Malacca (now Meleka), see also Turnbull 1972. Geach had earlier been hired by the Portuguese to open a copper mine in Timor (A. R. Wallace 1869, pp. 147–9).
See letter to A. R. Wallace, 26 February [1867] and n. 5. Wallace maintained this view when he expanded his earlier essay on the origin of human races (A. R. Wallace 1864b) in A. R. Wallace 1870, pp. 303–31. For CD’s and Wallace’s differing views of the importance of sexual selection in the origin of the human races, see Kottler 1985, pp. 420–4, and Fichman 2004, pp. 266–70.
In Descent 2: 343, CD suggested that the view that male ‘savages’ were indifferent to the beauty of women did not agree with the care women took in ornamenting themselves; he presented European opinions of how men of different peoples considered beauty in women in Descent 2: 344–54. CD mentioned the effective enslavement of women among ‘savages’ as a practice that could counteract sexual selection (see Descent 2: 358, 366). For Wallace’s views on peoples of the Malayan archipelago, see A. R. Wallace 1864c and A. R. Wallace 1869.
For CD’s ‘essay’ on human descent, see letter to A. R. Wallace, 26 February [1867].
CD touched on the roles of beauty and wealth in human sexual selection in Descent 1: 170, and 2: 356, 371. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 [May 1864] and n. 20.


Brooke, Charles Anthoni Johnson. 1866. Ten years in Saráwak. 2 vols. London: Tinsley Brothers.

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

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

Fichman, Martin. 2004. An elusive Victorian: the evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kottler, Malcolm Jay. 1980. Darwin, Wallace, and the origin of sexual dimorphism. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 124: 203–26.

Kottler, Malcolm Jay. 1985. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace: two decades of debate over natural selection. In The Darwinian heritage, edited by David Kohn. Princeton: Princeton University Press in association with Nova Pacifica (Wellington, NZ).

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Payne, Robert. 1986. The white rajahs of Sarawak. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Turnbull, Constance Mary. 1972. The Straits Settlements 1826–67; Indian presidency to crown colony. London: The Athlone Press.

Wong, Lin Ken. 1965. The Malayan tin industry to 1914, with special reference to the states of Perak, Selangor, Negri, Sembilan, and Pahang. Tucson, Ariz.: Association for Asian Studies, University of Arizona Press.


Pleased that CD approves his idea about caterpillars.

Thinks CD is right about selection in butterflies, but still believes protective adaptation has kept down colours of females.

Cannot yet see action of natural selection in forming the races of man.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, St Mark’s Crescent, 9
Source of text
DAR 85: A98
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5968,” accessed on 2 April 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15