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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   12 and 13 October [1867]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct 12 & 13th

My dear Wallace

I ordered the journal a long time ago, but by some oversight recd it only yesterday & read it.2 You will think my praise not worth having from being so indiscriminate, but if I am to speak the truth, I must say I admire every word.—

You have just touched on the points which I particularly wished to see noticed. I am glad you had the courage to take up Angræcum after the Duke’s attack; for I believe the principle in this case may be widely applied.3 I like the Figure but I wish the artist had drawn a better sphynx.4

With respect to Beauty yr remarks on hideous objects & on flowers not being made beautiful except when of practical use to them strike me as very good.5

On this one point of Beauty I can hardly think that the Duke was quite candid. I have used in the concluding paragraph of my present book precisely the same argument as you have, even bringing in the bull dog, with respect to variations not having been specially ordained.6 Your metaphor of the river is new to me & admirable; but yr other metaphor in which you compare classification & complex machines does not seem to me quite appropriate, tho’ I cannot point out what seems deficient.7 The point which seems to me strong is that all naturalists admit that there is a natural classification, & it is this which descent explains. I wish you had insisted a little more against the N. British on the reviewer assuming that each variation which appears is a strongly marked one; though by implication you have made this very plain.8 Nothing in yr whole article has struck me more than yr view with respect to the limit of fleetness in the race horse & other such cases; I shall try & quote you on this head in the proof of my concluding chapter. I quite missed this explanation, tho’ in the case of wheat I hit upon something analogous.9 I am glad you praise the Duke’s book for I was much struck with it. The part about flight seemed to me at first very good, but as the wing is articulated by a ball & socket joint, I suspect the Duke wd find it very difficult to give any reason against the belief that the wing strikes the air more or less obliquely.10 I have been very glad to see your article & the drawing of the butterfly in “Science Gossip.”11 By the way I cannot but think that you push protection too far in some cases, as with the stripes on the tiger.12 I have also this mg read an excellent abstract in Gard. Chron. of yr paper on nests; I was not by any means fully converted by yr letter, but I think now I am so; & I hope it will be published somewhere in extenso. It strikes me as a capital generalization, & appears to me even more original than it did at first.13

I have had an excellent & cautious letter from Mr Leach of Singapore with some valuable answers on expression which I owe to you.14

I heartily congratulate you on the birth of “Herbert Spencer”, & may he deserve his name, but I hope he will copy his father’s style & not his namesake’s.15 Pray observe, though I fear I am a month too late, when tears are first secreted enough to overflow; & write down dates.16

I have finished Vol. 1 of my book & I hope the whole will be out by the end of Nov;17 if you have the patience to read it through, which is very doubtful, you will find I think a large accumulation of facts which will be of service to you in yr future papers, & they cd not be put to better use, for you certainly are a master in the noble art of reasoning.

Have you changed yr house to Westbourne Grove??18

Believe me my dear Wallace | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

This letter is so badly expressed that it is barely intelligible, but I am tired with Proofs19

P.S. Mr Warington has lately read an excellent & spirited abstract of the “Origin” before the Victoria Inst. & as this is a most orthodox body he has gained the name of the Devil’s Advocate. The discussion which followed during 3 consecutive meetings is very rich from the nonsense talked. If you wd care to see the number I cd send it you.20

I forgot to remark how capitally you turn the table on the Duke, when you make him create the Angræcum & moth by special creation.—21


The year is established by the reference to Wallace’s article ‘Creation by law’ in the Quarterly Journal of Science (A. R. Wallace 1867c); see n. 2 below.
CD refers to the Quarterly Journal of Science and to Wallace’s article, ‘Creation by law’ (A. R. Wallace 1867c; see also letter to James Samuelson, 12 October [1867], and letter from A. R. Wallace, 1 October [1867] and n. 4).
In The reign of law (G. D. Campbell 1867), pp. 45–6, George Douglas Campbell, the duke of Argyll, had criticised CD’s explanation of the development of the long nectary in the orchid Angraecum sesquipedale. Wallace countered that the laws of ‘multiplication, variation, and survival of the fittest’ would ‘necessarily lead to the production of this extraordinary nectary’ (A. R. Wallace 1867c, p. 475).
The illustration (A. R. Wallace 1867c, facing p. 471; see also frontispiece to this volume) was an artist’s impression of a hypothetical sphinx moth (family Sphingidae) with a proboscis that could reach the base of the nectary (spur) of Angraecum sesquipedale (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 1 October [1867] and n. 5).
See A. R. Wallace 1867c, p. 482. Campbell had argued that beauty conferred no selective advantage and therefore could only be explained with reference to a ‘Creator’ (see, for example, G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 242–8, and A. R. Wallace 1867c, pp. 480–1).
See A. R. Wallace 1867c, p. 484, and Variation 2: 431, where CD wrote, ‘Did [the Creator] cause the frame and mental qualities of the dog to vary in order that a breed might be formed of indomitable ferocity, with jaws fitted to pin down the bull for man’s brutal sport?’
See A. R. Wallace 1867c, pp. 477–9, 487.
The anonymous article in the North British Review was by Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin. See [Jenkin] 1867, pp. 293–4, and Wallace 1867c, pp. 485–6.
CD quoted Wallace on the limits to fleetness in horses in Variation 2: 417. The reference to wheat has not been identified. CD had commented on wheat found in Swiss lake habitations, showing the antiquity of its cultivation, but remarked, ‘at the present day new and better varieties occasionally arise’ (Variation 2: 416).
CD refers to G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 128–80. Campbell had argued that a bird could only flap its wings in a direction perpendicular to the axis of its body and that no bird could fly backwards (G. D. Campbell 1867, pp. 145–6).
CD refers to ‘The disguises of insects’ (A. R. Wallace 1867e), which included two illustrations of butterflies (figs. 195 and 196).
Wallace had argued in an article in the Westminster Review that the tiger’s stripes helped to conceal it from its prey (see [A. R. Wallace] 1867a, p. 5). In Descent 2: 302, CD cited Wallace on this point, but suggested that sexual selection played a role in determining colour, since males were brighter than females.
Wallace had presented a paper ‘On birds’ nests and their plumage’ on 9 September 1867 at the British Association meeting at Dundee (Report of the thirty-seventh meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Dundee, Transactions of the sections, p. 97). An abstract of the paper appeared in the 12 October 1867 issue of Gardeners’ Chronicle (A. R. Wallace 1867f). A greatly extended version of the paper appeared the next year in the Journal of Travel and Natural History (A. R. Wallace 1868–9). CD also refers to the letter from Wallace of 26 April [1867].
Frederick F. Geach had sent answers to CD’s queries on expression (see letter from F. F. Geach, June 1867). Wallace had provided CD with Geach’s address (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 2 March [1867]).
CD refers to Herbert Spencer Wallace (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 1 October [1867] and n. 7). CD had commented on Herbert Spencer’s use of ‘awesomely long words’ in a letter to J. D. Hooker, 2 October [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14).
CD had kept notes on the development of his own children and noted that very early crying was not accompanied by tears (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III). In Expression, p. 164, CD wrote that infants did not weep until the age of ‘from two to three or four months’.
Variation was published on 30 January 1868 (Freeman 1977).
CD refers to Wallace’s London address, 7612 Westbourne Grove (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 1 October [1867]). The last extant letter from Wallace before this was addressed from 9 St Mark’s Crescent.
CD was correcting proof-sheets for Variation.
CD refers to George Warington, the Victoria Institute, and Warington 1867 (see also letter to George Warington, 7 October [1867] and n. 2). The Victoria Institute was founded in 1865; its primary objective was to ‘investigate fully and impartially the most important questions of Philosophy and Science, but more especially those that bear upon the great truths revealed in Holy Scripture, with the view of defending these truths against the oppositions of Science, falsely so called’ (Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 1 (1865–6): vi).
See A. R. Wallace 1867c, pp. 475–7, and n. 4, above.


Campbell, George Douglas. 1867. The reign of law. London: Alexander Strahan.

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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

[Jenkin, Henry Charles Fleeming.] 1867. The origin of species. North British Review 46: 277–318.

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

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1868. A theory of birds’ nests: shewing the relation of certain sexual differences of colour in birds to their mode of nidification. Journal of Travel and Natural History 1 (1868–9): 73–89.

Warington, George. 1867. On the credibility of Darwinism. [Read 4 March 1867.] Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 2: 39–62.


Response to ARW’s "Creation by law", especially the Angraecum sesquipedale and the predicted Madagascar moth.

ARW’s argument on beauty strikes CD as good.

Wishes ARW had made more clear the assumption of the reviewer [in North Br. Rev.] that each variation is a strongly marked one.

The Duke of Argyll’s argument on beauty is not candid.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add 46434 f. 96)
Physical description
LS(A) 10pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5648,” accessed on 31 January 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15