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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   5 June 1876

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. [Hopedene, Surrey.]

June 5 76

My dear Wallace

I must have the pleasure of expressing to you my unbounded admiration of your book, tho’ I have read only to page 184,—my object having been to do as little as possible while resting.1 I feel sure that you have laid a broad & safe foundation for all future work on Distribution. How interesting it will be to see hereafter plants treated in strict relation to your views; & then all insects, pulmonate molluscs, and fresh water fishes, in greater detail than I suppose you have given to these lower animals. The point which has interested me most, but I do not say the most valuable point, is your protest against sinking imaginary continents in a quite reckless manner, as was started by Forbes, followed alas by Hooker and caricatured by Wollaston & Murray.2 By the way the main impression which the latter author has left on my mind is his utter want of all scientific judgement. I have lifted up my voice against the above view with no avail, but I have no doubt that you will succeed, owing to your new arguments and the coloured chart.3 Of a special value, as it seems to me, is the conclusion that we must determine the areas, chiefly by the nature of the mammals.4

When I worked many years ago on this subject, I doubted much whether the now called Palæarctic & Nearctic regions ought to be separated; & I determined if I made another region that it should be Madagascar.5 I have therefore been able to appreciate the value of your evidence on these points.

What progress Palæontology has made during the last 20 years; but if it advances at the same rate in the future, our views on the migration & birth place of the various groups will I fear be greatly altered   I cannot feel quite easy about the Glacial period & the extinction of large Mammals, but I much hope that you are right.6 I think you will have to modify your belief about the difficulty of dispersal of land molluscs; I was interrupted when beginning to experimentize on the just hatched young adhering to the feet of ground-roosting birds.7 I differ on one other point, viz in the belief that there must have existed a Tertiary Antarctic continent, from which various forms radiated to the Southern extremities of our present continents.8 But I could go on scribbling for ever. You have written, as I believe, a grand & memorable work which will last for years as the foundation for all future treatises on Geographical Distribution.

My dear Wallace | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin

P.S. | You have paid me the highest conceivable compliment, by what you say of your work in relation to my chapters on distribution in the Origin, and I heartily thank you for it.9


There is an annotated copy of Wallace’s Geographical distribution of animals (Wallace 1876a) in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 837–40). The Darwins stayed at Hopedene, Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, from 24 May to 7 June 1875 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
See Wallace 1876a, 1: 36–7. Pulmonate molluscs were formerly considered to constitute a taxonomic class (Pulmonata) but the term is now used informally to refer to air-breathing snails and slugs. CD complained to Charles Lyell about the submerged continents hypothesised by Edward Forbes, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Thomas Vernon Wollaston in his letters to Lyell of 16 [June 1856] and 25 June [1856] (Correspondence vol. 6). Andrew Murray had tentatively supported Forbes’s hypothesis that South America and West Africa had been joined or nearly so by a land bridge in an article on the Coleoptera of Old Calabar (A. Murray 1862).
Wallace 1876a included as the frontispiece to vol. 1 a fold-out map of the world showing Wallace’s zoo-geographical regions and the contours of the sea-bed.
See Wallace 1876a, 1: 56–7.
The terms Palaearctic and Nearctic were coined by Philip Lutley Sclater (Sclater 1857), as two of his six zoological regions. Wallace maintained the separation of the Palaearctic (temperate Europe and Asia) from the Nearctic (temperate North America and Greenland; Wallace 1876a, 1: 71, 79–80). He made Madagascar and the adjacent islands a subdivision of the Ethiopian region, while admitting its claims to be a region in itself (ibid., pp. 74–5).
Wallace had speculated that large mammals such as elephants and mastodons had become extinct in Europe owing to the glacial period and the subsidence of land connecting Europe with Africa (Wallace 1876a, 1: 113–14).
See Wallace 1876a, 1: 30–2. See also Correspondence vol. 15, letter to Charles Lyell, 31 October [1867]. In his Experimental notebook (DAR 157a: 84), CD made a note dated November 1867 commenting that small snails and slugs crawled onto a goose’s foot that he put on the ground.
In Wallace 1876a, 1: 156, Wallace wrote: ‘To those who would create a continent to account for the migrations of a beetle, nothing would seem more probable than that a South Atlantic continent, then united parts of what are now Africa and South America.’ However, in ibid., p. 460, he rejected the existence of an Antarctic continent joining New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and South America. See also Wallace’s reply of 7 June 1876.
In Wallace 1876a, 1: xv, Wallace wrote that he hoped his book would bear the same relation to chapters 11 and 12 of Origin as CD’s own Variation bore to chapter 1. The title of chapter 1 of Origin was ‘Variation under domestication’; the title of chapters 11 and 12, up until the fifth edition, was ‘Geographical distribution’.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

Murray, Andrew. 1862. On the geographical relations of the Coleoptera of Old Calabar. [Read 6 February 1862.]Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23: 449–55.

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.

Sclater, Philip Lutley. 1857. On the general geographical distribution of the members of the class Aves. [Read 16 June 1857.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Zoology) 2: 130–45.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Response to ARW’s "grand and memorable work" [Geographical distribution (1876)]. Most interesting part to CD is ARW’s "protest against sinking imaginary continents".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Hopedene Down letterhead
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 46434)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10531,” accessed on 3 March 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24