skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   3 March 1872

Holly House, Barking | E.

March 3rd. 72/

Dear Darwin

Many thanks for you new Edition of “The Origin” which I have been too busy to acknowledge before.1 I think your answer to Mivart, on initial stages of modification, ample & complete; & the comparison of Whale & duck most beautiful.2 I always saw the fallacy of these objections, of course. The eye & ear objection you have not so satisfactorily answered,—and to me the difficulty exists of how three times over, an organ of sight was developed with the apparatus even approximately identical.3 Why should not, in one case out of the three the heat rays or the chemical rays have been utilised for the same purpose in which case no translucent media would have been required, & yet vision might have been just as perfect. The fact that the eyes of insects & molluscs are transparent to us, shows that the very same limited portion of the rays of the spectrum is utilised for vision by them as by us. The chances seem to me immense against that having occurred through “fortuitous variation”, as Mivart puts it.4

I see still further difficulties on this point but cannot go into them now.

Many thanks for your kind invitation. I will try & call some day,—but I am now very busy trying to make my house habitable by Lady day when I must be in it.5

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


Wallace’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Origin 6th ed. (Appendix IV). See also letter to A. R. Wallace, [19 February 1872].
Origin 6th ed. contained a substantially new chapter answering objections to the theory of natural selection by St George Jackson Mivart and others. See letter to A. R. Wallace, [19 February 1872] and n. 2. Mivart had questioned the usefulness of baleen in its early development (Mivart 1871b, pp. 45–7). In Origin 6th ed., pp. 182–6, CD suggested that the progenitors of whales with baleen might have had mouths constructed like the lamellated beaks of ducks.
In his Genesis of species 2d ed. (Mivart 1871b, pp. 57–61), Mivart argued that chance variation and natural selection were not sufficient explanations for the independent development of complex sense organs like eyes and ears. CD responded in Origin 6th ed., pp. 151–2, arguing that the resemblance between cephalopod, cuttlefish, and vertebrate eyes was merely superficial, and that some similarity was necessary for the organs to be able to fulfil the same function.
See, for example, Mivart 1871b, p. 68.
See letter to A. R. Wallace, [19 February 1872]. Wallace was having a house built in the village of Grays, Essex. Lady Day is 25 March, the traditional day for beginning and ending annual contracts. Wallace had bought the site of his new house on a ninety-nine year lease, and would have been renting his previous property. (Raby 2001, pp. 209–11.)


Response to 6th ed. of Origin. CD’s answer to Mivart on initial stages of modifications is complete; the "eye and ear objection" is not handled so satisfactorily.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: B109–110
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8234,” accessed on 25 June 2018,

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