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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   23 May 1862

5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, W.

Friday May 23rd. 1862

My dear Mr. Darwin

Many thanks for your most interesting book on the Orchids.1 I have read it through most attentively & have really have been quite as much staggered by the wonderful adaptations you shew to exist in them as by the Eye in animals or any other complicated organs..2 I long to get into the country & have a look at some Orchids guided by your new lights—, but I have been now for 10 days confined to my room with what is disagreeable though far from dangerous;—boils.

I have been reading several of the Reviews on the “Origin”, & it seems to me that you have assisted those who want to criticise you by your overstating the difficulties & objections— Several of them quote your own words as the strongest arguments against you.

I think you told me Owen wrote the article in the “Quarterly”. This seems to me hardly credible as he speaks so much of Owen quotes him as such a great authority & I believe even calls him a profound philosopher. &c. &c.. Would Owen thus speak of himself?3

Trusting your health is good | I remain My dear Mr. Darwin | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace

C. Darwin Esq.


Wallace’s name appears on CD’s list of presentation copies for Orchids (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV).
In chapter 6 of Origin, entitled, ‘Difficulties on theory’, CD included a discussion of ‘Organs of extreme perfection and complication’, chief among which was the eye. He stated (Origin, pp. 186–7): To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
The anonymous, critical review of Origin published in the Quarterly Review was in fact by Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford ([Wilberforce] 1860), though CD believed that Owen had assisted Wilberforce with its composition (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, [20? July 1860], letter to Asa Gray, 22 July [1860], and letter to W. E. Darwin, [30 July 1860]). There is no mention of Wilberforce’s review in the previous extant correspondence between CD and Wallace, but CD did tell Wallace of Owen’s anonymous, negative review of Origin for the Edinburgh Review, in which Owen cited his own works favourably ([R. Owen] 1860b; see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to A. R. Wallace, 18 May 1860). See also letter to A. R. Wallace, 24 [May 1862].


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

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.

[Wilberforce, Samuel.] 1860. [Review of Origin.] Quarterly Review 108: 225–64.


Acknowledges Orchids with its disclosures of "wonderful adaptations".

Warns that CD aids critics by overstating the difficulties.

Did Owen write the article in the Quarterly Review? [Review of Origin by Samuel Wilberforce, Q. Rev. 108 (1860): 225–64].

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Westbourne Grove Terrace, 5
Source of text
DAR 106/7 (ser. 2): 2–3
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3568,” accessed on 11 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10