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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Raphael Meldola   21 January [1872]1

Star Chemical Works, | Brentford.

Jan. 21st.

Dear Sir,

The kindness you have displayed in answering former letters induces me to apply to you once again for your opinion in a small matter connected with Natural Selection at which subject I am at present working.2 The paper on mimicry that I presented to the Linnean Soc. & which was read to that body on May 4th. 1870 was returned a few weeks ago by Mr. Stainton to my friend Mr. Butler with a letter stating that the Council had not ordered the paper for publication.3 Seeing no reason to alter any arguments that I therein adduced to prove that mimicry was produced by Nat. Selec. I have determined to re-model the paper & make large additions & let Mr. Janson publish it as he has consented to do.4

The object of my troubling you is briefly this:—

I have given the Nat. Selec. explanation of mimicry as given by Bates & Wallace & having accepted this explanation as the true one I proceed to make certain deductions from this explanation which I propose to verify by observation.5 Amongst these deductions is the following:—

If mimicry be produced by Nat. Selec. one would expect that mimetic characters being of the utmost importance to a species would have been rigidly fixed by Natural Selection & such characters we should therefore expect to find but little variable or variable only within mimetic limits.

Before proceeding to examine mimics for the purpose of verifying this deduction would you be good enough to inform me if the deduction is correct.

I am very sorry for thus troubling you but a word or two from you would assure me that I am working in the right direction.

Yours obediently, | Raphael Meldola.

Star Chemical Works, | Brentford.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Raphael Meldola, 23 January [1872].
Meldola had corresponded with CD in 1871 (see Correspondence vol. 19).
Arthur Gardiner Butler communicated Meldola’s paper ‘The phenomena of protective mimicry, and its bearing on the theory of natural selection, as illustrated by the Lepidoptera of the British Islands’ to the Linnean Society on 4 May 1871 (Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1870–1): xxxiv). Henry Tibbats Stainton was secretary of the Linnean Society (ODNB).
Meldola may refer to Edward Westey Janson, who was librarian of the Entomological Society of London. In fact Meldola’s paper was not published until 1873, and then it was in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (Meldola 1873).
Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace had written on the protective nature of insect and other mimicry (see, for example, Bates 1861 and [Wallace] 1867).


Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Meldola, Raphael. 1873. On a certain class of cases of variable protective colouring in insects. [Read 4 February 1873.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1873): 153–62.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

[Wallace, Alfred Russel.] 1867b. Mimicry and other protective resemblances among animals. Westminster Review n.s. 32: 1–43.


Discusses his paper on mimicry and natural selection [Land and Water 9 (1871): 321]. Believes natural selection tends to fix mimetic characters rigidly.

Letter details

Letter no.
Raphael Meldola
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Star Chemical Works, Brentford
Source of text
DAR 171: 117
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8170,” accessed on 2 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20