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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   16 March 1871

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Mar 16 1871

My dear Wallace

I have just read your grand review. It is in every way as kindly expressed towards myself as it is excellent in matter.1

The Lyells have been here, & Sir C. remarked that no one wrote such good scientific reviews as you, & as Miss Buckley added you delight in picking out all that is good, though very far from blind to the bad.2 In all this I most entirely agree. I shall always consider your review as a great honour; & however much my book may hereafter be abused, as no doubt it will be, your review will console me, notwithstanding that we differ so greatly. I will keep your objections to my views in my mind, but I fear that the latter are almost stereotyped in my mind.3 I thought for long weeks about the inheritance & selection difficulty, & covered quires of paper with notes, in trying to get out of it, but cd not, tho’ clearly seeing that it wd be a gt relief if I cd.

I will confine myself to 2 or 3 remarks. I have been much impressed with what you urge against colour in the case of insects having been acquired thro’ S. selection. I always saw that the evidence was very weak; but I still think, if it be admitted that the musical instruments of insects have been gained through S. selection, that there is not the least improbability in colour having been thus gained.4 Your argument with respect to the denudation of mankind & also to insects, that taste on the part of one sex wd have to remain nearly the same during many generations, in order that S. selection shd produce any effect, I agree to; & I think this argument wd be sound if used by one who denied that, for instance, the plumes of birds of Paradise had been so gained.5 I believe you admit this, & if so I do not see how your argument applies in other cases. I have recognised for some short time that I have made a great omission in not having discussed, as far as I could, the acquisition of taste, its inherited nature, & its permanence within pretty close limits for long periods.

One other point & I have done; I see by p. 179 of yr Rev. that I must have expressed myself very badly to have led you to think that I consider the prehensile organs of males as affording evidence of the females exerting a choice. I have never thought so, & if you chance to remember the passage (but do not hunt for it) pray point it out to me— I am extremely sorry that I gave the note from Mr Stebbing; I thought myself bound to notice his suggestion of beauty as a cause of denudation, & thus I was led on to give his argument.6 I altered the final passage which seemed to me offensive, & I had misgivings about the first part. I heartily wish I had yielded to these misgivings. I will omit in any future ed– the latter half of the note.

I have heard from Miss Buckley that you have got possession of your chalk pit & I congratulate you on the tedious delay being over. I fear all our bushes are so large that there is nothing which we are at all likely to grub up.7 Years ago we threw away loads of things.

I shd very much like to see yr house & grounds; but I fear the journey wd be too long. Going even to Kew knocks me up, & I have almost ceased trying to do so.

Once again let me thank you warmly for yr admirable review—

My dear Wallace | yours ever very sincerely | Ch. Darwin.

Thanks about the Bugis—8 What an excellent address you gave about Madeira, but I wish you had alluded to Lyell’s discussion on land-shells &c.—, not that he has said a word on subject. The whole address quite delighted me.9 I hear Mr Crotch disputes some of your facts about the wingless insects; but he is a crotchety man.—10

As far as I remember I did not venture to ask Mr. Appleton to get you to review me, but only said in answer to an enquiry that you would undoubtedly be the best, or one of the very few men who could do so effectively.—11


Wallace reviewed Descent in the 15 March 1871 issue of Academy (Wallace 1871c).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell, and Arabella Burton Buckley, Lyell’s secretary, stayed at Down from 13 to 16 March 1871.
Wallace had chided CD for caricaturing Wallace’s view on the role of a higher power in human development (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 11 March 1871 and n. 4). For Wallace and CD’s ongoing debate about sexual selection and protective coloration, see Correspondence vols. 15–17.
See Wallace 1871c, p. 182. Wallace argued that insects were conspicuously coloured as a warning to predators of their unpalatability.
See Wallace 1871c, pp. 179–80.
See Descent 2: 376 n. 19. In Descent 2d ed., p. 600 n. 21, CD removed some of Thomas Roscoe Rede Stebbing’s remarks but retained his argument on the development of hairlessness.
CD refers to Wallace’s newly acquired property, which included a chalk pit on the site, and to Wallace’s request for plants for his planned garden (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 11 March 1871 and n. 5).
In his presidential address to the Entomological Society of London (Wallace 1871a), Wallace discussed the distribution of apterous Coleoptera on the island of Madeira as a test case in determining whether a land-bridge to southern Europe once existed or whether individuals could have been transported by other means. He referred to Lyell’s assertion that beetles could revive after being drenched in sea water for a long time (ibid., p. lv). He noted that CD had explained the development of both apterous and larger winged forms as an adaptation to the extremely windy environment (ibid., p. lvii). Wallace mentioned but did not discuss Madeiran land molluscs (ibid., p. lvi). Lyell had considered the distribution of terrestrial molluscs, including the possibility of their transport by birds, in Principles of geology (Lyell 1867–8, 2: 372–7, 399), but did not relate his discussion to CD’s theory.
CD refers to George Robert Crotch. See the letter from G. R. Crotch, 19 [February 1871] for Crotch’s objections to Wallace’s explanation of the distribution of apterous insects on Madeira (Wallace 1871a, pp. lvii–lxi).


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

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

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

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


Appreciative response to ARW’s "grand review" of Descent in the Academy [2 (1871–2): 177–82]. Comments in detail on ARW’s criticisms.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 46434)
Physical description
LS(A) 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7589,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19