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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   [6 February 1866]1

Down Bromley SE


My dear Wallace

After I had despatched my last note, the simple explanation which you give had occurred to me, & seems satisfactory.2

I do not think you understand what I mean by the non-blending of certain varieties.3 It does not refer to fertility; an instance will explain; I crossed the Painted Lady & Purple sweet-peas, which are very differently coloured vars, & got, even out of the same pod, both varieties perfect but none intermediate.4 Something of this kind I shd. think must occur at first with your butterflies & the 3 forms of Lythrum;5 tho’ these cases are in appearance so wonderful, I do not know that they are really more so than every female in the world producing distinct male & female offspring.

I am heartily glad that you mean to go on preparing your journal.6

Believe me yours | very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 4 February 1866. In 1866, the first Tuesday after 4 February was 6 February.
The reference is to the letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 January 1866, in which CD asked about the coexistence of different female forms in a Malayan species of butterfly (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 January 1866 and nn. 4–6). In his reply, Wallace emphasised that polymorphic forms of butterfly were consistent with natural selection, particularly when the survival of certain forms was secured by mimicry of protected species (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 4 February 1866).
In his letter to Wallace of 22 January 1866, CD had mentioned that he knew of a good many varieties that would not blend or intermix; Wallace in his reply had asked whether such varieties were not new species (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 4 February 1866 and n. 5). For more on CD’s examination of the relationship between hybrid sterility and the origination of new species, see Origin, chapter 8, and Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI.
CD’s results from crossing these two sweetpea varieties are described in Variation 2: 93–4 and Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 154–9. In those accounts, CD added that the early flowers resembling one or other parent were followed later in the season by others that were intermediate in colour between the parents. See also Correspondence vol. 8, letters to M. T. Masters, 7 April [1860] and 13 April [1860], and letter from William Masters, [after 7 April 1860]. For an interpretation of CD’s experiment with sweetpeas and comparison with the work of Gregor Mendel, see Dawkins 2003. On CD’s continuing interest in the cross-pollination of leguminous flowers, see Correspondence vol. 6, letters to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 6 December 1856] and 18 October [1857], Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 November 1858] and this volume, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 11 August 1866].
CD refers to A. R. Wallace 1864b and to ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria. In the exposition of his provisional hypothesis of pangenesis, CD wrote, ‘With those animals and plants which habitually produce several forms, as with certain butterflies described by Mr. Wallace, in which three female forms and the male exist, or as with the trimorphic species of Lythrum and Oxalis, gemmules capable of reproducing several widely-different forms must be latent in each individual’ (Variation 2: 399–400). Wallace’s work on dimorphic butterflies had been likened to CD’s on dimorphism in Linum and Primula, owing to the lack of intermediate offspring (Reader, 16 April 1864, pp. 491–3).


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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Dawkins, Richard. 2003. Introduction to The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, by Charles Darwin. Reprint of the 2d edition. London: Gibson Square Books.

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.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

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


ARW’s simple explanation of dimorphic forms is satisfactory.

On "non-blending" of certain varieties, CD thinks ARW has not understood him. He does not refer to fertility. He crossed two differently coloured varieties of peas and "got both varieties perfect, but none intermediate". Something like this must occur in ARW’s butterflies.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add 46434, f. 64)
Physical description
LS(A) 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4989,” accessed on 18 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14