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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   19 March 1868


March 19th. 1868

Dear Darwin

I should very much value a large Photograph of you, and also a carte for my album, though it is too bad to ask you for both, as you must have so many applicants.1

I am sorry I shall not see you in town but shall look forward with pleasure to paying you a visit in the summer.2

I am sorry about the Primulas, but I feel sure some equally good case will some day be discovered, for it seems impossibible to understand how all natural species whatever should have acquired sterility.3 Closely allied forms from adjacent islands would, I should think, offer the best chance of finding good species fertile “inter se”; since even if nat. select. induces sterility I do not see how it could affect them, or why they should always be sterile, and varieties never.

I am glad you have got good materials on sexual selection. It is no doubt a difficult subject. One difficulty to me is, that I do not see how the constant minute variations, which are sufficient for nat. select to work with,—could be sexually selected. We seem to require a series of bold and abrupt variations. How can we imagine than an inch in the tail of the peacock, or 14 inch in that of the Bird of Paradise, would be noticed and preferred by the female?4

Pray let me see what your son says about the “Sterility selection” question.5 I am deeply interested in all that concerns the powers of Nat. selection, but though I admit there are a few things it cannot do I do not yet believe sterility to be one of them.

In case your son has turned his attention to Mathematical Physics, will you ask him to look at the enclosed question, which I have vainly attempted to get an answer to?6

Believe me | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace—


Wallace had misunderstood what CD’s paper, ‘Specific difference in Primula, was about (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 15 March [1868] and n. 6).
In his letter of 17 [March 1868], CD wrote that he had traced the gradational steps by which the peacock’s tail had developed.
Wallace refers to his argument that hybrid sterility could be produced through the action of natural selection (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 1 March 1868 and enclosure). George Howard Darwin had written a critique of Wallace’s work (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 17 [March 1868]).
The enclosure has not been found, but see the letter from G. H. Darwin, [27] March [1868] and n. 4.


‘Specific difference in Primula’: On the specific difference between Primula veris, Brit. Fl. (var. officinalis of Linn.), P. vulgaris, Brit. Fl. (var. acaulis, Linn.), and P. elatior, Jacq.; and on the hybrid nature of the common oxlip. With supplementary remarks on naturally produced hybrids in the genus Verbascum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 19 March 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 437–54.


On sterility of natural species and natural selection. Closely allied forms from adjacent islands offer best chance of finding good species fertile inter se.

Problem of minute variations and sexual selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: B59–60
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6024,” accessed on 29 January 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16