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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   25 January [1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 25th

My dear Sir

I was extremely much pleased at receiving three days ago your letter to me & that to Dr. Hooker.2 Permit me to say how heartily I admire the spirit in which they are written. Though I had absolutely nothing whatever to do in leading Lyell & Hooker to what they thought a fair course of action, yet I naturally could not but feel anxious to hear what your impression would be. I owe indirectly much to you & them; for I almost think that Lyell would have proved right & I shd. never have completed my larger work, for I have found my abstract hard enough with my poor health, but now thank God I am in my last chapter, but one.3 My abstract will make a small vol. of 400 or 500 pages.— Whenever published, I will of course send you a copy, & then you will see what I mean about the part which I believe Selection has played with domestic productions. It is a very different part, as you suppose, from that played by “Natural Selection”.—4

I sent off, by same address as this note, a copy of Journal of Linn. Soc. & subsequently I have sent some 12 dozen copies of the Paper.—5 I have many other copies at your disposal; & I sent two to your friend Dr. Davies(?) author of works on men’s skulls.—6

I am glad to hear that you have been attending to Bird’s nest; I have done so, though almost exclusively under one point of view, viz to show that instincts vary, so that selection could work on & improve them.7 Few other instincts, so to speak, can be preserved in a museum—

Many thanks for your offer to look after Horses stripes; if there are any Donkey’s pray add them.—

I am delighted to hear that you have collected Bees’ combs; when next in London I will enquire of F. Smith & Mr Saunders.8 This is an especial hobby of mine, & I think I can throw light on subject.— If you can collect duplicates at no very great expence, I shd. be glad of specimens for myself with some Bees of each kind.—9 Young growing & irregular combs, & those which have not had pupæ are most valuable for measurements & examination: their edges shd. be well protected against abrasion.—

Everyone whom I have seen has thought your paper very well written & interesting. It puts my extracts, (written in 1839 now just 20 years ago!)10 which I must say in apology were never for an instant intended for publication, in the shade.

You ask about Lyell’s frame of mind. I think he is somewhat staggered, but does not give in, & speaks with horror often to me, of what a thing it would be & what a job it would be for the next Edition of Principles, if he were “perverted”.— But he is most candid & honest & I think will end by being perverted.— Dr. Hooker has become almost as heteredox as you or I.—and I look at Hooker as by far the most capable judge in Europe.—

Most cordially do I wish you health & entire success in all your pursuits & God knows if admirable zeal & energy deserve success, most amply do you deserve it.

I look at my own career as nearly run out: if I can publish my abstract & perhaps my greater work on same subject, I shall look at my course as done.11

Believe me, my dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is given by the relationship to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 January [1859], and to the letter from A. R. Wallace to J. D. Hooker, 6 October 1858.
CD was working on his material on geographical distribution, which eventually formed chapters 11 and 12 of Origin. CD’s journal entries of 15 January 1859 (‘Abstract. Geograph.: Distr:’) and of 28 February 1859 (‘Affinities & Classification’) (‘Journal’; Appendix II) record him beginning work on these chapters, as indicated by subsequent correspondence (see following letter and letters to T. H. Huxley, 8 March [1859], and to J. D. Hooker, 15 March [1859]).
CD refers to Wallace’s view that ‘no inferences as to varieties in a state of nature can be deduced from the observation of those occurring among domestic animals.’ According to Wallace, artificial and natural selection ‘are so much opposed to each other in every circumstance of their existence, that what applies to the one is almost sure not to apply to the other.’ (Darwin and Wallace 1858,p. 61; see also Appendix IV).
Darwin and Wallace 1858 was published in the zoological part of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society.
Joseph Barnard Davis was the author of Crania Britannica (1856–65), a study of the anatomy of the early inhabitants of the British Isles.
CD’s notes on the nest-building instincts of birds are in DAR 205.11. He discussed the subject at length in Natural selection, pp. 498–506, but simply mentioned variation in birds’ nests in Origin,p. 212. See also letters to W. D. Fox, 14 January [1858] and 31 January [1858].
CD refers to Frederick Smith, entomologist at the British Museum, and William Wilson Saunders, a founding member and twice president of the Entomological Society. Saunders had communicated a paper to the Linnean Society on 3 December 1858 in which Smith described an important collection of hymenopterous insects made by Wallace in the Aru and Key islands (F. Smith 1859).
Wallace apparently did send CD specimens of bees. A label in CD’s hand on a specimen box now on display in his old study in Down House reads: ‘Bees: Timor Wallace of which I have Comb’.
CD intended to publish an expanded version of his theory, with full notes and sources, after his ‘abstract’ was issued in 1859. This plan was only partially completed with the publication of Variation (1868).


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.

Smith, Frederick. 1859. Catalogue of Hymenopterous insects collected by Mr A. R. Wallace at the islands of Aru and Key. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Zoology) 3: 132–78.

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


Expresses pleasure and relief at ARW’s response to joint publication of their pieces about natural selection.

Plans for the "abstract" [Origin].

Birds’ nests as evidence of variation of instincts.

Their collection of bees’ combs.

Praises ARW’s article.

Lyell’s and Hooker’s views [of species issue].

Letter details

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

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2405,” accessed on 23 May 2024,

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