From A. R. Wallace 29 May 1
5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, W.
My dear Darwin
You are always so ready to appreciate what others do, & especially to over-estimate my desultory efforts, that I can not be surprised at your very kind & flattering remarks on my papers.2 I am glad however that you have made a few critical observations & am only sorry you were not well enough to make more, as that enables me to say a few words in explanation—
My great fault is haste. An idea strikes me, I think over it for a few days, & then write away with such illustrations as occur to me while going on— I therefore look at the subject almost solely from one point of view. Thus, in my paper on “Man” I aim solely at showing that brutes are modified in a great variety of ways by “Natural Selection”, but that in none of these particular ways can man be modified, because of the superiority of his intellect.—3 I therefore no doubt overlook a few smaller points in which Nat. Selec. may still act on men & brutes alike.4 Colour is one of them & I have alluded to this in correlation to constitution, in an abstract I have made at Sclater’s request for the Nat. Hist. Review.5 At the same time there is so much evidence of migrations & displacements of races of man, & so many cases of peoples of distinct physical characters inhabiting the same or similar regions, & also of races of uniform physical characters inhabiting widely dissimilar regions,—that the external characteristics of the chief races of man must I think be older than his present geographical distribution,—& the modifications produced by correlation to favourable variations of constitution be only a secondary cause of external modification— I hope you may get the returns from the Army.6 They would be very interesting, but I do not expect the results would be favourable to your view.
With regard to the constant battles of savages leading to selection of physical superiority, I think it would be very imprefect & subject to so many exceptions & irregularities that it could produce no definite result.7 For instance,—the strongest & bravest men would lead, & expose themselves most, & would therefore be most subject to wounds & death.— And the physical energy which led to any one tribe delighting in war, might lead to its extermination by inducing quarrels with all surrounding tribes & leading them to combine against it. Again superior cunning, stealth & swiftness of foot, or even better weapons would often lead to victory as well as mere physical strength. Moreover this kind of more or less perpetual war goes on among all savage peoples— It could lead therefore to no differential characters but merely to the keeping up of a certain average standard of bodily & mental health & vigour. So with selection of variations adapted to special habits of life as fishing, paddling, riding, climbing &c. &c. in different races, no doubt it must act to some extent, but will it be ever so rigid as to induce a definite physical modification, & can we imagine it to have had any part in producing the distinct races that now exist?8
The sexual selection you allude to will also I think have been equally uncertain in its results—9 In the very lowest tribes there is rarely much polygamy & women are more or less a matter of purchase— There is also little difference of social condition & I think it rarely happens that any healthy & un-deformed man remains without wife & children.10 I very much doubt the often repeated assertion that our aristocracy are more beautiful than the middle classes.11 I allow that they present specimens of the highest kind of beauty, but I doubt the average.
I have noticed in country places a greater average amount of good looks among the middle classes, & besides we unavoidably combine in our idea of beauty, intellectual expression & refinement of manners, which often make the less appear the more beautiful. Mere physical beauty,—that is, a healthy & regular development of the body & features approaching to the mean or type of European man,—I believe is quite as frequent in one class of society as the other & much more frequent in rural districts than in cities.
With regard to the rank of man in Zoological Classification, I fear I have not made myself intelligible. I never meant to adopt Owen’s or any other such views—but only to point out that from one point of view he was right— I hold that a distinct family for Man, as Huxley allows, is all that can possibly be given him Zoologically.12 But at the same time if my theory is true,—that while the animals which surrounded him have been undergoing modification in all parts of their bodies to a generic or even family degree of difference, he has been changing almost wholly in the brain & head,—then, in geological antiquity the species man may be as old as many mammalian families,—& the origin of the family man may date back to a period when some of the orders first originated—13
As to the theory of “Natural Selection” itself, I shall always maintain it to be actually yours & your’s only.14 You had worked it out in details I had never thought of, years before I had a ray of light on the subject, & my paper would never have convinced anybody or been noticed as more than an ingenious speculation, whereas your book has revolutionized the study of Natural History, & carried away captive the best men of the present Age.15 All the merit I claim is the having been the means of inducing you to write & publish at once.
I may possibly some day go a little more into this subject (of “Man”) & if I do will accept the kind offer of your notes.16
I am now however beginning to write the “Narrative of my travels” which will occupy me a long time as I hate writing narrative, & after Bates’ brilliant success rather fear to fail.17
I shall introduce a few chapters on Geog. Distribution & other such topics.18 Sir C. Lyell while agreeing with my main argument on “man”, thinks I am wrong in wanting to put him back into Miocene times, & thinks I do not appreciate the immense interval even to the later Pliocene.19 But I still maintain my view, which in fact is a logical result of my theory; for if man originated in later Pliocene when almost all mammalia were of closely allied species to those now living & many even identical,—then man has not been stationary in bodily structure while animals have been varying, & my theory will be proved to be all wrong.20
In Murchison’s address to the Geographical Soc. just delivered he points out Africa as being the oldest existing land. He says there is no evidence of its having been ever submerged during the tertiary epoch. Here then is evidently the place to find Early man.21 I hope something good may be found in Borneo & that then means may be found to explore the still more promising regions of tropical Africa,22 for we can expect nothing of man very early in Europe.
It has given me great pleasure to find that there are symptoms of improvement in your health. I hope you will not exert yourself too soon or write more than is quite agreeable to you.
I think I made out every word of your letter though it was not always easy.
Believe me | My dear Darwin | Yours very Sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace
Charles Darwin Esq.
Argues the antiquity of the human species because natural selection acts differently with respect to men. Changes in man are largely confined to head and brain. Warfare and sex are very uncertain as means of selection.
Gives CD complete credit for theory of natural selection.
Is beginning his narrative of his travels.
Lyell argues against tracing man as far back as Miocene times. R. I. Murchison’s argument that Africa is the oldest existing land implies that Africa is the place to look for early man.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4514,” accessed on 27 August 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4514