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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Alfred Russel Wallace   1 May 1857

Down Bromley Kent1

May 1.— 1857

My dear Sir

I am much obliged for your letter of Oct. 10th. from Celebes received a few days ago:2 in a laborious undertaking sympathy is a valuable & real encouragement. By your letter & even still more by your paper in Annals, a year or more ago,3 I can plainly see that we have thought much alike & to a certain extent have come to similar conclusions. In regard to the Paper in Annals, I agree to the truth of almost every word of your paper; & I daresay that you will agree with me that it is very rare to find oneself agreeing pretty closely with any theoretical paper; for it is lamentable how each man draws his own different conclusions from the very same fact.—

This summer will make the 20th year (!) since I opened my first-note-book, on the question how & in what way do species & varieties differ from each other.— I am now preparing my work for publication, but I find the subject so very large, that though I have written many chapters, I do not suppose I shall go to press for two years.—4

I have never heard how long you intend staying in the Malay archipelago; I wish I might profit by the publication of your Travels there before my work appears, for no doubt you will reap a large harvest of facts.—5 I have acted already in accordance with your advice of keeping domestic varieties & those appearing in a state of nature, distinct; but I have sometimes doubted of the wisdom of this, & therefore I am glad to be backed by your opinion.— I must confess, however, I rather doubt the truth of the now very prevalent doctrine of all our domestic animals having descended from several wild stocks; though I do not doubt that it is so in some cases.— I think there is rather better evidence on the sterility of Hybrid animals that you seem to admit: & in regard to Plants the collection of carefully recorded facts by Kölreuter & Gærtner, (& Herbert) is enormous.—6

I most entirely agree with you on the little effects of “climatal conditions”, which one sees referred to ad nauseam in all Books; I suppose some very little effect must be attributed to such influences, but I fully believe that they are very slight.—7 It is really impossible to explain my views in the compass of a letter on the causes & means of variation in a state of nature; but I have slowly adopted a distinct & tangible idea.— Whether true or false others must judge; for the firmest conviction of the truth of a doctrine by its author, seems, alas, not to be slightest guarantee of truth.—

I have been rather disappointed at my results in the Poultry line; but if you shd. after receiving this stumble on any curious domestic breed, I shd be very glad to have it;8 but I can plainly see that this result will not be at all worth the trouble which I have taken.— The case is different with the domestic Pigeons; from its study I have learned much.— The Rajah has sent me some of his Pigeons & Fowls & Cats skins from interior of Borneo, & from Singapore.—9

Can you tell me positively that Black Jaguars or Leopards are believed generally or always to pair with Black?10 I do not think colour of offspring good evidence.— Is the case of parrots fed on fat of fish turning colour, mentioned in your Travels?11 I remember case of Parrot with, (I think,) poison from some Toad put into hollow whence primaries had been removed.

One of the subjects on which I have been experimentising & which cost me much trouble, is the means of distribution of all organic beings found on oceanic islands; & any facts on this subject would be most gratefully received: Land-Molluscs are a great perplexity to me.—

This is a very dull letter, but I am a good deal out of health; & am writing this, not from my home, as dated, but from a water-cure establishment.

With most sincere good wishes for your success in every way I remain | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Although CD put his home address on the letter, he actually wrote it at Moor Park, Farnham, Surrey, as he states in the letter.
Wallace’s letter of 10 October 1856 has not been found. None of their earlier correspondence has been preserved, but see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 29 November [1856] and n. 4.
Wallace 1855. For CD’s notes on the paper, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 8 December 1855, n. 1.
In the original, the following lines are underlined, presumably by Wallace: ‘I agree … & I’; ‘the 20th year (!)’; ‘way do species & varieties differ from each other.—’.
Wallace did not publish an account of his travels in the Malay Archipelago until 1869 (Wallace 1869).
CD had carefully studied the works on hybridism of Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter, Karl Friedrich von Gärtner, and William Herbert. See Correspondence vol. 5.
For CD’s views on the direct effect of the environment in causing variations, see Natural selection, pp. 281–9, and Origin, pp. 131–4 and 139–43.
CD had first approached Wallace in 1855 or early 1856 to request specimens of domestic and wild fowl from Malaysia (see Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855]).
In Wallace 1853, p. 321, Wallace had recounted how one of his two tame parrots ‘was a most omnivorous feeder, eating rice, farinha, every kind of fruit, fish, meat, and vegetable, and drinking coffee too’. He did not mention any subsequent change of colour in the parrot.


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

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1853. A narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, with an account of the native tribes, and observations on the climate, geology, and natural history of the Amazon valley. London: Reeve.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1855. On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 2d ser. 16: 184–96.


Reports long preparation of work on how species and varieties differ. Agreement with Wallace’s conclusions as reported in Annals and Magazine of Natural History and in his letter to CD of 10 0ct [1856]. On distinction between domestic varieties and those in "a state of nature".

On mating of jaguars and leopards, the breeding of poultry, pigeons, etc.

Requests help for his experimenting on means of distribution of organic beings on oceanic islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Moor Park Down letterhead
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 46434)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2086,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6