skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   18 [June 1858]1

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Lyell

Some year or so ago, you recommended me to read a paper by Wallace in the Annals, which had interested you & as I was writing to him, I knew this would please him much, so I told him.2 He has to day sent me the enclosed & asked me to forward it to you.3 It seems to me well worth reading. Your words have come true with a vengeance that I shd. be forestalled. You said this when I explained to you here very briefly my views of “Natural Selection” depending on the Struggle for existence.—4 I never saw a more striking coincidence. if Wallace had my M.S. sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract!5 Even his terms now stand as Heads of my Chapters.

Please return me the M.S. which he does not say he wishes me to publish;6 but I shall of course at once write & offer to send to any Journal. So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed. Though my Book, if it will ever have any value, will not be deteriorated; as all the labour consists in the application of the theory.

I hope you will approve of Wallace’s sketch, that I may tell him what you say.

My dear Lyell | Yours most truly | C. Darwin


Dated by the endorsement. See also n. 3, below.
Wallace 1855. CD had first written to Alfred Russel Wallace in December 1855 to request skins of foreign breeds of domestic fowl (see Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855]). CD’s first surviving letter to him, dated 1 May 1857, discusses Wallace’s paper, but it is in his next letter of 22 December 1857 that CD mentions that Lyell (and Edward Blyth) called his attention to the paper (see Correspondence vol. 6). In 1856, CD had begun to prepare, at Lyell’s urging, an abstract of his theory for publication (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter from Charles Lyell, 1–2 May 1856). Shortly before that date, Lyell had visited Darwin at Down, and his notes indicate that he and CD discussed natural selection. It was probably during that discussion that Lyell recommended Wallace’s paper to CD. See McKinney 1972, pp. 111–12, and Wilson ed. 1970, p. xlv (which cites McKinney 1966). For CD’s notes on Wallace 1855, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 8 December 1855, n. 1. Wallace wrote to his friend Henry Walter Bates in January 1858 about his and CD’s work on species, referring to CD’s letter of 1 May 1857 (Wallace 1905, 1: 358): I have been much gratified by a letter from Darwin, in which he says that he agrees with ‘almost every word’ of my paper. He is now preparing his great work on ‘Species and Varieties,’ for which he has been collecting materials twenty years. He may save me the trouble of writing more on my hypothesis, by proving that there is no difference in nature between the origin of species and of varieties; or he may give me trouble by arriving at another conclusion; but, at all events, his facts will be given for me to work upon.
Wallace had sent CD the manuscript of a paper entitled ‘On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type’. Wallace’s manuscript has not been located; it was later published as part of a joint paper by Wallace and CD (Darwin and Wallace 1858), and the published text is reprinted in Appendix IV. The letter from Wallace that accompanied the manuscript is also missing (see n. 6, below). For the circumstances under which Wallace’s paper was composed, see Wallace 1905, 1: 358–63. The date on which CD received Wallace’s letter and manuscript has been the subject of debate. According to some scholars, the letter was probably posted between 5 and 19 March 1858 and and should therefore have arrived at Down in May (Brooks 1969 and 1984) or early June (McKinney 1972). See also the Introduction to this volume.
CD refers to a visit to Down made by Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell from 13 to 16 April 1856. See also n. 2, above.
CD’s manuscript sketch of his theory of natural selection, written in 1842, was expanded into a longer version in 1844 (DAR 6 and 7; Foundations). See Correspondence vol. 3.
The letter is missing. Wallace described its contents in Wallace 1905, 1: 363: I wrote a letter to him [CD] in which I said that I hoped the idea would be as new to him as it was to me, and that it would supply the missing factor to explain the origin of species. I asked him if he thought it sufficiently important to show it to Sir Charles Lyell, who had thought so highly of my former paper. CD later sent Wallace’s letter to Lyell (see letter to Charles Lyell, [25 June 1858]).


Encloses MS by A. R. Wallace. CD has been forestalled. " . . . if Wallace had my MS sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract!" Wallace does not say if he wishes CD to publish MS, but CD will offer to send it to journal.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell (1st baronet)
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (152)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2285,” accessed on 28 April 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7