Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences Vol 2 (of 2)
by James Marchant
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Transcriber's note: Footnotes moved to end of book]



Alfred Russel Wallace

Letters and Reminiscences

By James Marchant

With Two Photogravures and Eight Half-tone Plates


Volume II


London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne




















A.R. WALLACE (1913) Photogravure Frontispiece






Alfred Russel Wallace

Letters and Reminiscences


I.—Wallace's Works on Biology and Geographical Distribution

"I have long recognised how much clearer and deeper your insight into matters is than mine."

"I sometimes marvel how truth progresses, so difficult is it for one man to convince another, unless his mind is vacant."

"I grieve to differ from you, and it actually terrifies me, and makes me constantly distrust myself. I fear we shall never quite understand each other."


During the period covered by the reception, exposition, and gradual acceptance of the theory of Natural Selection, both Wallace and Darwin were much occupied with closely allied scientific work.

The publication in 1859 of the "Origin of Species"[1] marked a distinct period in the course of Darwin's scientific labours; his previous publications had, in a measure, prepared the way for this, and those which immediately followed were branches growing out from the main line of thought and argument contained in the "Origin," an overflow of the "mass of facts" patiently gathered during the preceding years. With Wallace, the end of the first period of his literary work was completed by the publication of his two large volumes on "The Geographical Distribution of Animals," towards which all his previous thought and writings had tended, and from which, again, came other valuable works leading up to the publication of "Darwinism" (1889).

It will be remembered that Darwin and Wallace, on their respective returns to England, after many years spent in journeyings by land and sea and in laborious research, found the first few months fully occupied in going over their large and varied collections, sorting and arranging with scrupulous care the rare specimens they had taken, and in discovering the right men to name and classify them into correct groups.

At this point it will be useful to arrange Darwin's writings under three heads, namely: (1) His zoological and geological books, including "The Voyage of the Beagle" (published in 1839), "Coral Reefs" (1842), and "Geological Observations on South America" (1846). In this year he also began his work on Barnacles, which was published in 1854; and in addition to the steady work on the "Origin of Species" from 1837 onwards, his observations on "Earthworms," not published until 1881, formed a distinct phase of his study during the whole of these years (1839-59). (2) As a natural sequence we have "Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication" (1868), "The Descent of Man" (1871), and "The Expression of the Emotions" (1872). (3) What may be termed his botanical works, largely influenced by his evolutionary ideas, which include "The Fertilisation of Orchids" (1862), "Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants" (1875), "Insectivorous Plants" (1876), "The Different Forms of Flowers and Plants of the same Species" (1877), and "The Power of Movement in Plants" (1880).

A different order, equally characteristic, is discovered in Wallace's writings, and it is to be noted that while Darwin devoted himself entirely to scientific subjects, Wallace diverged at intervals from natural science to what may be termed the scientific consideration of social conditions, in addition to his researches into spiritualistic phenomena.

The many enticing interests arising out of the classifying of his birds and insects led Wallace to the conclusion that it would be best to postpone the writing of his book on the Malay Archipelago until he could embody in it the more generally important results derived from the detailed study of certain portions of his collections. Thus it was not until seven years later (1869) that this complete sketch of his travels "from the point of view of the philosophic naturalist" appeared.

Between 1862 and 1867 he wrote a number of articles which were published in various journals and magazines, and he read some important papers before the Linnean, Entomological, and other learned Societies. These included several on physical and zoological geography; six on questions of anthropology; and five or six dealing with special applications of Natural Selection. As these papers "discussed matters of considerable interest and novelty," such a summary of them may be given as will serve to indicate their value to natural science.

The first of them, read before the Zoological Society in January, 1863, gave some detailed information about his collection of birds brought from Buru. In this he showed that the island was originally one of the Moluccan group, as every bird found there which was not widely distributed was either identical with or closely allied to Moluccan species, while none had special affinities with Celebes. It was clear, then, that this island formed the most westerly outlier of the Moluccan group.

The next paper of importance, read before the same Society in November (1863), was on the birds of the chain of islands extending from Lombok to the great island of Timor. This included a list of 186 species of birds, of which twenty-nine were altogether new. A special feature of the paper was that it enabled him to mark out precisely the boundary line between the Indian and Australian zoological regions, and to trace the derivation of the rather peculiar fauna of these islands, partly from Australia and partly from the Moluccas, but with a strong recent migration of Javanese species due to the very narrow straits separating most of the islands from each other. In "My Life" some interesting tables are given to illustrate how the two streams of immigration entered these islands, and further that "as its geological structure shows ... Timor is the older island and received immigrants from Australia at a period when, probably, Lombok and Flores had not come into existence or were unhabitable.... We can," he says, "feel confident that Timor has not been connected with Australia, because it has none of the peculiar Australian mammalia, and also because many of the commonest and most widespread groups of Australian birds are entirely wanting."[2]

Two other papers, dealing with parrots and pigeons respectively (1864-5), were thought by Wallace himself to be among the most important of his studies of geographical distribution. Writing of them he says: "These peculiarities of distribution and coloration in two such very diverse groups of birds interested me greatly, and I endeavoured to explain them in accordance with the laws of Natural Selection."

In March, 1864, having begun to make a special study of his collection of butterflies, he prepared a paper for the Linnean Society on "The Malayan Papilionidae, as illustrating the Theory of Natural Selection." The introductory portion of this paper appeared in the first edition of his volume entitled "Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection" (1870), but it was omitted in later editions as being too technical for the general reader. From certain remarks found here and there, both in "My Life" and other works, butterflies would appear to have had a special charm and attraction for Wallace. Their varied and gorgeous colourings were a ceaseless delight to his eye, and when describing them one feels the sense of pleasure which this gave him, together with the recollection of the far-off haunts in which he had first discovered them.

This series of papers on birds and insects, with others on the physical geography of the Archipelago and its various races of man, furnished all the necessary materials for the general sketch of the natural history of these islands, and the many problems arising therefrom, which made the "Malay Archipelago" the most popular of his books. In addition to his own personal knowledge, however, some interesting comparisons are drawn between the accounts given by early explorers and the impressions left on his own mind by the same places and people. On the publication of this work, in 1869, extensive and highly appreciative reviews appeared in all the leading papers and journals, and to-day it is still looked upon as one of the most trustworthy and informative books of travel.

When the "Malay Archipelago" was in progress, a lengthy article on "Geological Climates and the Origin of Species" (which formed the foundation for "Island Life" twelve years later) appeared in the Quarterly Review (April, 1869). Several references in this to the "Principles of Geology"—Sir Charles Lyell's great work—gave much satisfaction both to Lyell and to Darwin. The underlying argument was a combination of the views held by Sir Charles Lyell and Mr. Croll respectively in relation to the glacial epoch, and the great effect of changed distribution of sea and land, or of differences of altitude, and how by combining the two a better explanation could be arrived at than by accepting each theory on its own basis.

His next publication of importance was the volume entitled "Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection," consisting of ten essays (all of which had previously appeared in various periodicals) arranged in the following order:

1. On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species.

2. On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type.

3. Mimicry, and other Protective Resemblances among Animals.

4. The Malayan Papilionidae.

5. Instinct in Man and Animals.

6. The Philosophy of Birds' Nests.

7. A Theory of Birds' Nests.

8. Creation by Law.

9. The Development of Human Races under the Law of Natural Selection.

10. The Limits of Natural Selection as applied to Man.

His reasons for publishing this work were, first, that the first two papers of the series had gained him the reputation of being an originator of the theory of Natural Selection, and, secondly, that there were a few important points relating to the origin of life and consciousness and the mental and moral qualities of man and other views on which he entirely differed from Darwin.

Though in later years Wallace's convictions developed considerably with regard to the spiritual aspect of man's nature, he never deviated from the ideas laid down in these essays. Only a very brief outline must suffice to convey some of the most important points.

In the childhood of the human race, he believed, Natural Selection would operate mainly on man's body, but in later periods upon the mind. Hence it would happen that the physical forms of the different races were early fixed in a permanent manner. Sharper claws, stronger muscles, swifter feet and tougher hides determine the survival value of lower animals. With man, however, the finer intellect, the readier adaptability to environment, the greater susceptibility to improvement, and the elastic capacity for co-ordination, were the qualities which determined his career. Tribes which are weak in these qualities give way and perish before tribes which are strong in them, whatever advantages the former may possess in physical structure. The finest savage has always succumbed before the advance of civilisation. "The Red Indian goes down before the white man, and the New Zealander vanishes in presence of the English settler." Nature, careless in this stage of evolution about the body, selects for survival those varieties of mankind which excel in mental qualities. Hence it has happened that the physical characteristics of the different races, once fixed in very early prehistoric times, have never greatly varied. They have passed out of the range of Natural Selection because they have become comparatively unimportant in the struggle for existence.

After going into considerable detail of organic and physical development, he says: "The inference I would draw from this class of phenomena is, that a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms." Thus he foreshadows the conclusion, to be more fully developed in "The World of Life" (1910), of an over-ruling God, of the spiritual nature of man, and of the other world of spiritual beings.

An essay that excited special attention was that on Mimicry. The two on Birds' Nests brought forth some rather heated correspondence from amateur naturalists, to which Wallace replied either by adducing confirmation of the facts stated, or by thanking them for the information they had given him.

With reference to the paper on Mimicry, it is interesting to note that the hypothesis therein adopted was first suggested by H.W. Bates, Wallace's friend and fellow-traveller in South America. The essay under this title dealt with the subject in a most fascinating manner, and was probably the first to arouse widespread interest in this aspect of natural science.

The next eight years saw the production of many important and valuable works, amongst which the "Geographical Distribution of Animals" (1876) occupies the chief place. This work, though perhaps the least known to the average reader, was considered by Wallace to be the most important scientific work he ever attempted. From references in letters written during his stay in the Malay Archipelago, it is clear that the subject had a strong attraction for him, and formed a special branch of study and observation many years before he began to work it out systematically in writing. His decision to write the book was the outcome of a suggestion made to him by Prof. A. Newton and Dr. Sclater about 1872. In addition to having already expressed his general views on this subject in various papers and articles, he had, after careful consideration, come to adopt Dr. Sclater's division of the earth's surface into six great zoological regions, which he found equally applicable to birds, mammalia, reptiles, and other great divisions; while at the same time it helped to explain the apparent contradictions in the distribution of land animals. Some years later he wrote:

In whatever work I have done I have always aimed at systematic arrangement and uniformity of treatment throughout. But here the immense extent of the subject, the overwhelming mass of detail, and above all the excessive diversities in the amount of knowledge of the different classes of animals, rendered it quite impossible to treat all alike. My preliminary studies had already satisfied me that it was quite useless to attempt to found any conclusions on those groups which were comparatively little known, either as regards the proportion of species collected and described, or as regards their systematic classification. It was also clear that as the present distribution of animals is necessarily due to their past distribution, the greatest importance must be given to those groups whose fossil remains in the more recent strata are the most abundant and the best known. These considerations led me to limit my work in its detailed systematic groundwork, and study of the principles and law of distribution, to the mammalia and birds, and to apply the principles thus arrived at to an explanation of the distribution of other groups, such as reptiles, fresh-water fishes, land and fresh-water shells, and the best-known insect Orders.

There remained another fundamental point to consider. Geographical distribution in its practical applications and interest, both to students and to the general reader, consists of two distinct divisions, or rather, perhaps, may be looked at from two points of view. In the first of these we divide the earth into regions and sub-regions, study the causes which have led to the difference in their animal productions, give a general account of these, with the amount of resemblance to and difference from other regions; and we may also give lists of the families and genera inhabiting each, with indications as to which are peculiar and which are also found in adjacent regions. This aspect of the study I term zoological geography, and it is that which would be of most interest to the resident or travelling naturalist, as it would give him, in the most direct and compact form, an indication of the numbers and kinds of animals he might expect to meet with.[3]

The keynote of the general scheme of distribution, as set forth in these two volumes, may be expressed as an endeavour to compare the extinct and existing fauna of each country and to trace the course by which what is now peculiar to each region had come to assume its present character. The main result being that all the higher forms of life seem to have originally appeared in the northern hemisphere, which has sent out migration after migration to colonise the three southern continents; and although varying considerably from time to time in form and extent, each has kept essentially distinct, while at the same time receiving periodically wave after wave of fresh animal life from the northward.

This again was due to many physical causes such as peninsulas parting from continents as islands, islands joining and making new continents, continents breaking up or effecting junction with or being isolated from one another. Thus Australia received the germ of her present abundant fauna of pouched mammals when she was part of the Old-World continent, but separated from that too soon to receive the various placental mammals which have, except in her isolated area, superseded those older forms. So, also, South America, at one time unconnected with North America, developed her great sloths and armadilloes, and, on fusing with the latter, sent her megatheriums to the north, and received mastodons and large cats in exchange.

Some of the points, such for instance as the division of the sub-regions into which each greater division is separated, gave rise to considerable controversy. Wallace's final estimate of the work stands: "No one is more aware than myself of the defects of the work, a considerable portion of which are due to the fact that it was written a quarter of a century too soon—at a time when both zoological and palaeontological discovery were advancing with great rapidity, while new and improved classifications of some of the great classes and orders were in constant progress. But though many of the details given in these volumes would now require alteration, there is no reason to believe that the great features of the work and general principles established by it will require any important modification."[4]

About this time he wrote the article on "Acclimatisation" for the "Encyclopaedia Britannica"; and another on "Distribution-Zoology" for the same work. As President of the Biological Section of the British Association he prepared an address for the meeting at Glasgow; wrote a number of articles and reviews, as well as his remarkable book on "Miracles and Modern Spiritualism." In 1878 he published "Tropical Nature," in which he gave a general sketch of the climate, vegetation, and animal life of the equatorial zone of the tropics from his own observations in both hemispheres. The chief novelty was, according to his own opinion, in the chapter on "climate," in which he endeavoured to show the exact causes which produce the difference between the uniform climate of the equatorial zone, and that of June and July in England. Although at that time we receive actually more of the light and heat of the sun than does Java or Trinidad in December, yet these places have then a mean temperature very much higher than ours. It contained also a chapter on humming-birds, as illustrating the luxuriance of tropical nature; and others on the colours of animals and of plants, and on various biological problems.[5]

"Island Life"[6] (published 1880) was begun in 1877, and occupied the greater part of the next three years. This had been suggested by certain necessary limitations in the writing of "The Geographical Distribution of Animals." It is a fascinating account of the relations of islands to continents, of their unwritten records of the distribution of plant and animal life in the morning time of the earth, of the causes and results of the glacial period, and of the manner of reckoning the age of the world from geological data. It also included several new features of natural science, and still retains an important place in scientific literature. No better summary can be given than that by the author himself:

In my "Geographical Distribution of Animals" I had, in the first place, dealt with the larger groups, coming down to families and genera, but taking no account of the various problems raised by the distribution of particular species. In the next place, I had taken little account of the various islands of the globe, excepting as forming sub-regions or parts of sub-regions. But I had long seen the great interest and importance of these, and especially of Darwin's great discovery of the two classes into which they are naturally divided—oceanic and continental islands. I had already given lectures on this subject, and had become aware of the great interest attaching to them, and the great light they threw upon the means of dispersal of animals and plants, as well as upon the past changes, both physical and means of dispersal and colonisation of animals is so connected with, and often dependent on, that of plants, that a consideration of the latter is essential to any broad views as to the distribution of life upon the earth, while they throw unexpected light upon those exceptional means of dispersal which, because they are exceptional, are often of paramount importance in leading to the production of new species and in thus determining the nature of insular floras and faunas.

Having no knowledge of scientific botany, it needed some courage, or, as some may think, presumption, to deal with this aspect of the problem; but ... I had long been excessively fond of plants, and ... interested in their distribution. The subject, too, was easier to deal with, on account of the much more complete knowledge of the detailed distribution of plants than of animals, and also because their classification was in a more advanced and stable condition. Again, some of the most interesting islands of the globe had been carefully studied botanically by such eminent botanists as Sir Joseph Hooker for the Galapagos, New Zealand, Tasmania, and the Antarctic islands; Mr. H.C. Watson for the Azores; Mr. J.G. Baker for Mauritius and other Mascarene islands; while there were floras by competent botanists of the Sandwich Islands, Bermuda and St. Helena....

But I also found it necessary to deal with a totally distinct branch of science—recent changes of climate as dependent on changes of the earth's surface, including the causes and effects of the glacial epoch, since these were among the most powerful agents in causing the dispersal of all kinds of organisms, and thus bringing about the actual distribution that now prevails. This led me to a careful study of Mr. James Croll's remarkable works on the subject of the astronomical causes of the glacial and interglacial periods.... While differing on certain details, I adopted the main features of his theory, combining with it the effects of changes in height and extent of land which form an important adjunct to the meteorological agents....

Besides this partially new theory of the causes of glacial epochs, the work contained a fuller statement of the various kinds of evidence proving that the great oceanic basins are permanent features of the earth's surface, than had before been given; also a discussion of the mode of estimating the duration of geological periods, and some considerations leading to the conclusion that organic change is now less rapid than the average, and therefore that less time is required for this change than has hitherto been thought necessary. I was also, I believe, the first to point out the great difference between the more ancient continental islands and those of more recent origin, with the interesting conclusions as to geographical changes afforded by both; while the most important novelty is the theory by which I explained the occurrence of northern groups of plants in all parts of the southern hemisphere—a phenomenon which Sir Joseph Hooker had pointed out, but had then no means of explaining.[7]

In 1878 Wallace wrote a volume on Australasia for Stanford's "Compendium of Geography and Travel." A later edition was published in 1893, which contained in addition to the physical geography, natural history, and geology of Australia, a much fuller account of the natives of Australia, showing that they are really a primitive type of the great Caucasian family of mankind, and are by no means so low in intellect as had been usually believed. This view has since been widely accepted.

Having, towards the close of 1885, received an invitation from the Lowell Institute, Boston, U.S.A., to deliver a course of lectures in the autumn and winter of 1886, Wallace decided upon a series which would embody those theories of evolution with which he was most familiar, with a special one on "The Darwinian Theory" illustrated by a set of original diagrams on variation. These lectures eventually became merged into the well-known book entitled "Darwinism."

On the first delivery of his lecture on the "Darwinian Theory" at Boston it was no small pleasure to Wallace to find the audience both large and attentive. One of the newspapers expressed the public appreciation in the following truly American fashion: "The first Darwinian, Wallace, did not leave a leg for anti-Darwinism to stand on when he had got through his first Lowell Lecture last evening. It was a masterpiece of condensed statement—as clear and simple as compact—a most beautiful specimen of scientific work. Dr. Wallace, though not an orator, is likely to become a favourite as a lecturer, his manner is so genuinely modest and straightforward."

Wherever he went during his tour of the States this lecture more than all others attracted and pleased his audiences. Many who had the opportunity of conversing with him, and others by correspondence, confessed that they had not been able to understand the "Origin of Species" until they heard the facts explained in such a lucid manner by him. It was this fact, therefore, which led him, on his return home in the autumn of 1887, to begin the preparation of the book ("Darwinism") published in 1889. The method he chose was that of following as closely as possible the lines of thought running through the "Origin of Species," to which he added many new features, in addition to laying special emphasis on the parts which had been most generally misunderstood. Indeed, so fairly and impartially did he set forth the general principles of the Darwinian theory that he was able to say: "Some of my critics declare that I am more Darwinian than Darwin himself, and in this, I admit, they are not far wrong."

His one object, as set out in the Preface, was to treat the problem of the origin of species from the standpoint reached after nearly thirty years of discussion, with an abundance of new facts and the advocacy of many new and old theories. As it had frequently been considered a weakness on Darwin's part that he based his evidence primarily on experiments with domesticated animals and cultivated plants, Wallace desired to secure a firm foundation for the theory in the variation of organisms in a state of nature. It was in order to make these facts intelligible that he introduced a number of diagrams, just as Darwin was accustomed to appeal to the facts of variation among dogs and pigeons.

Another change which he considered important was that of taking the struggle for existence first, because this is the fundamental phenomenon on which Natural Selection depends. This, too, had a further advantage in that, after discussing variations and the effects of artificial selection, it was possible at once to explain how Natural Selection acts.

The subjects treated with novelty and interest in their important bearings on the theory of Natural Selection were: (1) A proof that all specific characters are (or once have been) either useful in themselves or correlated with useful characters (Chap. VI.); (2) a proof that Natural Selection can, in certain cases, increase the sterility of crosses (Chap. VII.); (3) a fuller discussion of the colour relations of animals, with additional facts and arguments on the origin of sexual differences of colour (Chaps. VIII.-X.); (4) an attempted solution of the difficulty presented by the occurrence of both very simple and complex modes of securing the cross-fertilisation of plants (Chap. XI.); (5) some fresh facts and arguments on the wind-carriage of seeds, and its bearing on the wide dispersal of many arctic and alpine plants (Chap. XII.); (6) some new illustrations of the non-heredity of acquired characters, and a proof that the effects of use and disuse, even if inherited, must be overpowered by Natural Selection (Chap. XIV.); and (7) a new argument as to the nature and origin of the moral and intellectual faculties of man (Chap. XV.).

"Although I maintain, and even enforce," wrote Wallace, "my differences from some of Darwin's views, my whole work tends forcibly to illustrate the overwhelming importance of Natural Selection over all other agencies in the production of new species. I thus take up Darwin's earlier position, from which he somewhat receded in the later editions of his works, on account of criticisms and objections which I have endeavoured to show are unsound. Even in rejecting that phase of sexual selection depending on female choice, I insist on the greater efficacy of Natural Selection. This is pre-eminently the Darwinian doctrine, and I therefore claim for my book the position of being the advocate of pure Darwinism."

In concluding this section which, like a previous one, touches upon the intimate relations between Darwin and Wallace, and the points on which they agreed or differed, it is well, as the differences have been exaggerated and misunderstood, to bear in mind his own declaration: "None of my differences from Darwin imply any real divergence as to the overwhelming importance of the great principle of natural selection, while in several directions I believe that I have extended and strengthened it."[8]

With these explanatory notes the reader will now be able to follow the two groups of letters on Natural Selection, Geographical Distribution, and the Origin of Life and Consciousness which follow.

PART III (Continued)

II.—Correspondence on Biology, Geographical Distribution, etc.


* * * * *


29 Bloomsbury Square, W.C. May 19, 1864.

My dear Sir,—When I thanked you for your little pamphlet[9] the other day, I had not read it. I have since done so with great interest. Its leading idea is, I think, undoubtedly true, and of much importance towards an interpretation of the facts. Though I think that there are some purely physical modifications that may be shown to result from the direct influence of civilisation, yet I think it is quite clear, as you point out, that the small amounts of physical differences that have arisen between the various human races are due to the way in which mental modifications have served in place of physical ones.

I hope you will pursue the inquiry. It is one in which I have a direct interest, since I hope, hereafter, to make use of its results.—Sincerely yours,


* * * * *


53 Harley Street. May 22, [1864].

My dear Sir,—I have been reading with great interest your paper on the Origin of the Races of Man, in which I think the question between the two opposite parties is put with such admirable clearness and fairness that that alone is no small assistance towards clearing the way to a true theory. The manner in which you have given Darwin the whole credit of the theory of Natural Selection is very handsome, but if anyone else had done it without allusion to your papers it would have been wrong.... With many thanks for your most admirable paper, believe me, my dear Sir, ever very truly yours,


* * * * *


73 Harley Street. March 19, 1867.

Dear Mr. Wallace,—I am citing your two papers in my second volume of the new edition of the "Principles"—that on the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago, 1863, and the other on Varieties of Man in ditto, 1864. I am somewhat confounded with the marked line which you draw between the two provinces on each side of the Straits of Lombok. It seems to me that Darwin and Hooker have scarcely given sufficient weight to the objection which it affords to some of their arguments. First, in regard to continental extension, if these straits could form such a barrier, it would seem as if nothing short of a land communication could do much towards fusing together two distinct faunas and floras. But here comes the question—are there any land-quadrupeds in Bali or in Lombok? I think you told me little was known of the plants, but perhaps you know something of the insects. It is impossible that birds of long flight crossing over should not have conveyed the seeds and eggs of some plants, insects, mollusca, etc. Then the currents would not be idle, and during such an eruption as that of Tomboro in Sumbawa all sorts of disturbances, aerial, aquatic and terrestrial, would have scattered animals and plants.

When I first wrote, thirty-five years ago, I attached great importance to preoccupancy, and fancied that a body of indigenous plants already fitted for every available station would prevent an invader, especially from, a quite foreign province, from having a chance of making good his settlement in a new country. But Darwin and Hooker contend that continental species which have been improved by a keen and wide competition are most frequently victorious over an insular or more limited flora and fauna. Looking, therefore, upon Bali as an outpost of the great Old World fauna, it ought to beat Lombok, which only represents a less rich and extensive fauna, namely the Australian.

You may perhaps answer that Lombok is an outpost of an army that may once have been as multitudinous as that of the old continent, but the larger part of the host have been swamped in the Pacific. But they say that European forms of animals and plants run wild in Australia and New Zealand, whereas few of the latter can do the same in Europe. In my map there is a small island called Nousabali; this ought to make the means of migration of seeds and animals less difficult. I cannot find that you say anywhere what is the depth of the sea between the Straits of Lombok, but you mention that it exceeds 100 fathoms. I am quite willing to infer that there is a connection between these soundings and the line of demarcation between the two zoological provinces, but must we suppose land communication for all birds of short flight? Must we unite South America with the Galapagos Islands? Can you refer me to any papers by yourself which might enlighten me and perhaps answer some of these queries? I should have thought that the intercourse even of savage tribes for tens of thousands of years between neighbouring islands would have helped to convey in canoes many animals and plants from one province to another so as to help to confound them. Your hypothesis of the gradual advance of two widely separated continents towards each other seems to be the best that can be offered. You say that a rise of a hundred fathoms would unite the Philippine Islands and Bali to the Indian region. Is there, then, a depth of 600 feet in that narrow strait of Bali, which seems in my map only two miles or so in breadth?

I have [been] confined to the house for a week by a cold or I should have tried to see you. I am afraid to go out to-day.—Believe me ever most truly yours,


* * * * *


73 Harley Street. April 4, 1867.

My dear Mr. Wallace,—I have been reading over again your paper published in 1855 in the Annals on "The Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species"; passages of which I intend to quote, not in reference to your priority of publication, but simply because there are some points laid down more clearly than I can find in the work of Darwin itself, in regard to the bearing of the geological and zoological evidence on geographical distribution and the origin of species. I have been looking into Darwin's historical sketch thinking to find some allusion to your essay at page xx., 4th ed., when he gets to 1855, but I can find no allusion to it. Yet surely I remember somewhere a passage in which Darwin says in print that you had told him that in 1855 you meant by such expressions as "species being created on the type of pre-existing ones closely allied," and by what you say of modified prototypes, and by the passage in which you ask "what rudimentary organs mean if each species has been created independently," etc., that new species were created by variation and in the way of ordinary generation.

Your last letter was a great help to me, for it was a relief to find that the Lombok barrier was not so complete as to be a source of difficulty. I have also to thank you for your papers, one of which I had read before in the Natural History Review, but I am very glad of a separate copy. I am rather perplexed by Darwin speculating on the possibility of New Zealand having once been united with Australia (p. 446, 4th Ed.). The puzzle is greater than I can get over, even looking upon it as an oceanic island. Why should there have been no mammalia, rodents and marsupials, or only one mouse? Even if the Glacial period was such that it was enveloped in a Greenlandic winding-sheet, there would have been some Antarctic animals? It cannot be modern, seeing the height of those alps. It may have been a set of separate smaller islands, an archipelago since united into fewer. No savages could have extirpated mammalia, besides we should have found them fossil in the same places with all those species of extinct Dinornis which have come to light. Perhaps you will say that the absence of mammalia in New Caledonia is a corresponding fact.

This reminds me of another difficulty. On the hypothesis of the coral islands being the last remnants of a submerged continent, ought they not to have in them a crowd of peculiar and endemic types, each rivalling St. Helena, instead of which I believe they are very poor [in] peculiar genera. Have they all got submerged for a short time during the ups and downs to which they have been subjected, Tahiti and some others having been built up by volcanic action in the Pliocene period? Madeira and the Canaries were islands in the Upper Miocene ocean, and may therefore well have peculiar endemic types of very old date, and destroyed elsewhere. I have just got in Wollaston's "Coleoptera Atlantidum," and shall be glad to lend it you when I have read the Introduction. He goes in for continental extension, which only costs him two catastrophes by which the union and disunion with the nearest mainland may readily be accomplished.... —Believe me ever most truly yours,


* * * * *


73 Harley Street. May 2, 1867.

My dear Sir,—I forgot to ask you last night about an ornithological point which I have been discussing with the Duke of Argyll. In Chapter V. of his "Reign of Law" (which I should be happy to lend you, if you have time to look at it immediately) he treats of humming-birds, saying that Gould has made out about 400 species, every one of them very distinct from the other, and only one instance, in Ecuador, of a species which varies in its tail-feathers in such a way as to make it doubtful whether it ought to rank as a species, an opinion to which Gould inclines, or only as a variety or incipient species, as the Duke thinks. For the Duke is willing to go so far towards the transmutation theory as to allow that different humming-birds may have had a common ancestral stock, provided it be admitted that a new and marked variety appears at once with the full distinctness of sex so remarkable in that genus.

According to his notion, the new male variety and the female must both appear at once, and this new race or species must be regarded as an "extraordinary birth." My reason for troubling you is merely to learn, since you have studied the birds of South America, and I hope collected some humming-birds, whether Gould is right in saying that there are so many hundred very distinct species without instances of marked varieties and transitional forms. If this be the case, would it not present us with an exception to the rule laid down by Darwin and Hooker that when a genus is largely represented in a continuous tract of land the species of that genus tend to vary?

I have inquired of Sclater and he tells me that he has a considerable distrust of Gould's information on this point, but that he has not himself studied humming-birds.

In regard to shells, I have always found that dealers have a positive prejudice against intermediate forms, and one of the most philosophical of them, now no more, once confessed to me that it was very much against his trade interest to give an honest opinion that certain varieties were not real species, or that certain forms, made distinct genera by some conchologists, ought not so to rank. Nine-tenths of his customers, if told that it was not a good genus or good species, would say, "Then I need not buy it." What they wanted was names, not things. Of course there are genera in which the species are much better defined than in others, but you would explain this, as Darwin and Hooker do, by the greater length of time during which they have existed, or the greater activity of changes, organic and inorganic, which have taken place in the region inhabited by the generic or family type in question. The manufactory of new species has ceased, or nearly so, and in that case I suppose a variety is more likely to be one of the transitional links which has not yet been extinguished than the first step towards a new permanent race or allied species....

Your last letter will be of great use to me. I had cited the case of beetles recovering from immersion of hours in alcohol from my own experience, but am glad it strikes you in the same light. McAndrew told me last night that the littoral shells of the Azores being European, or rather African, is in favour of a former continental extension, but I suspect that the floating of seaweed containing their eggs may dispense with the hypothesis of the submersion of 1,200 miles of land once intervening. I want naturalists carefully to examine floating seaweed and pumice met with at sea. Tell your correspondents to look out. There should be a microscopic examination of both these means of transport.—Believe me ever truly yours,


* * * * *


73 Harley Street. July 3, 1867.

My dear Mr. Wallace,—I was very glad, though I take in the Westminster Review, to have a duplicate of your most entertaining and instructive essay on Mimicry of Colours, etc., which I have been reading with great delight, and I may say that both copies are in full use here. I think it is admirably written and most persuasive.—Believe me ever most truly yours,


* * * * *


Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. October 26, 1867.

My dear Mr. Spencer,—After leaving you yesterday I thought a little over your objections to the Duke of Argyll's theory of flight on the ground that it does not apply to insects, and it seems to me that exactly the same general principles do apply to insects as to birds. I read over the Duke's book without paying special attention to that part of it, but as far as I remember, the case of insects offers no difficulty in the way of applying his principles. If any wing were a rigid plane surface, it appears to me that there are only two ways in which it could be made to produce flight. Firstly, on the principle that the resistance in a fluid, and I believe also in air, increases in a greater ratio than the velocity (? as the square), the descending stroke might be more rapid than the ascending one, and the resultant would be an upward or forward motion. Secondly, some kind of furling or feathering by a rotatory motion of the wing might take place on raising the wings. I think, however, it is clear that neither of these actions occurs during the flight of insects. In both slow- and quick-flying species there is no appearance of such a difference of velocity, and I am not aware that anyone has attempted to prove that it occurs; and the fact that in so many insects the edges of the fore and hind wings are connected together, while their insertions at the base are at some distance apart, entirely precludes a rotation of the wings. The whole structure and form of the wings of insects, moreover, indicate an action in flight quite analogous to that of birds. I believe that a careful examination will show that the wings of almost all insects are slightly concave beneath. Further, they are all constructed with a strong and rigid anterior margin, while the outer and hinder margins are exceedingly thin and flexible. Yet further, I feel confident (and a friend here agrees with me) that they are much more rigid against upward than against downward pressure. Now in most insects (take a butterfly as an example) the body is weighted behind the insertion of the wings by the long and heavy abdomen, so as to produce an oblique position when freely suspended. There is also much more wing surface behind than before the fulcrum. Now if such an insect produces by muscular action a regular flapping of the wings, flight must result. At the downward stroke the pressure of the air against the hind wings would raise them all to a nearly horizontal position, and at the same time bend up their posterior margins a little, producing an upward and onward motion. At the upward stroke the pressure on the hind wings would depress them considerably into an oblique position, and from their great flexibility in that direction would bend down their hind margins. The resultant would be a slightly downward and considerably onward motion, the two strokes producing that undulating flight so characteristic of butterflies, and so especially observable in the broad-winged tropical species. Now all this is quite conformable to the action of a bird's wing. The rigid anterior margin, the slender and flexible hind margin; the greater resistance to upward than to downward pressure, and the slight concavity of the under surface, are all characters common to the wings of birds and most insects, and, considering the totally different structure and homologies of the two, I think there is at least an a priori case for the function they both subserve being dependent upon these peculiarities. If I remember rightly, it is on these principles that the Duke of Argyll has explained the flight of birds, in which, however, there are of course some specialities depending on the more perfect organisation of the wing, its greater mobility and flexibility, its capacity for enlargement and contraction, and the peculiar construction and arrangement of the feathers. These, however, are matters of detail; and there are no doubt many and important differences of detail in the mode of flight of the different types of insects which would require a special study of each. It appeared to me that the Duke of Argyll had given that special study to the flight of birds, and deserved praise for having done so successfully, although he may not have quite solved the whole problem, or have stated quite accurately the comparative importance of the various causes that combine to effect flight.

—Believe me yours very sincerely,


* * * * *


57 Queen's Gardens, Bayswater, W. December 5, 1867.

My dear Mr. Wallace,—I did not answer your last letter, being busy in getting out my second edition of "First Principles."

I was quite aware of the alleged additional cause of flight which you name, and do not doubt that it is an aid. But I regard it simply as an aid. If you will move an outstretched wing backwards and forwards with equal velocity, I think you will find that the difference of resistance is nothing like commensurate with the difference in size between the muscles that raise the wings and the muscles that depress them. It seems to me quite out of the question that the principles of flight are fundamentally different in a bat and a bird, which they must be if the Duke of Argyll's interpretation is correct. I write, however, not so much to reply to your argument as to correct a misapprehension which my expressions seem to have given you. The objections are not made by Tyndall or Huxley; but they are objections made by me, which I stated to them, and in which they agreed—Tyndall expressing the opinion that I ought to make them public. I name this because you may otherwise some day startle Tyndall or Huxley by speaking to them of their objections, and giving me as the authority for so affiliating them.—Very truly yours,


* * * * *


73 Harley Street, London, W. November, 1867.

Dear Wallace,—You probably remember an article by Agassiz in an American periodical, the Christian Observer, on the diversity of human races, etc., to prove that each distinct race was originally created for each zoological and botanical province. But while he makes out a good case for the circumscription of the principal races to distinct provinces, he evades in a singular manner the community of the Red Indian race to North and South America. He takes pains to show that the same American race pervades North and South America, or at least all America south of the Arctic region. This was Dr. Morton's opinion, and is, I suppose, not to be gainsaid. In other words, while the Papuan, Indo-Malayan, Negro and other races are strictly limited each of them to a particular region of mammalia, the Red Indian type is common to Sclater's Neo-arctic and Neo-tropical regions. Have you ever considered the explanation of this fact on Darwinian principles? If there were not barbarous tribes like the Fuegians, one might imagine America to have been peopled when mankind was somewhat more advanced and more capable of diffusing itself over an entire continent. But I cannot well understand why isolation such as accompanies a very low state of social progress did not cause the Neo-tropical and Neo-arctic regions to produce by varieties and Natural Selection two very different human races. May it be owing to the smaller lapse of time, which time, nevertheless, was sufficient to allow of the spread of the representatives of one and the same type from Canada to Cape Horn? Have you ever touched on this subject, or can you refer me to anyone who has?—Believe me ever most truly yours,


* * * * *



Dear Sir Charles,—Why the colour of man is sometimes constant over large areas while in other cases it varies, we cannot certainly tell; but we may well suppose it to be due to its being more or less correlated with constitutional characters favourable to life. By far the most common colour of man is a warm brown, not very different from that of the American Indian. White and black are alike deviations from this, and are probably correlated with mental and physical peculiarities which have been favourable to the increase and maintenance of the particular race. I shall infer, therefore, that the brown or red was the original colour of man, and that it maintains itself throughout all climates in America because accidental deviations from it have not been accompanied by any useful constitutional peculiarities. It is Bates's opinion that the Indians are recent immigrants into the tropical plains of South America, and are not yet fully acclimatised.—Yours faithfully,


* * * * *


73 Harley Street. March 13, 1869.

Dear Wallace,— ...I am reading your new book,[10] of which you kindly sent me a copy, with very great pleasure. Nothing equal to it has come out since Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle." ... The history of the Mias is very well done. I am not yet through the first volume, but my wife is deep in the second and much taken with it. It is so rare to be able to depend on the scientific knowledge and accuracy of those who have so much of the wonderful to relate....—Believe me ever most truly yours,


* * * * *


Eversley Rectory, Winchfield. May 5, 1869.

My dear Sir,—I am reading—or rather have all but read—your new book,[10] with a delight which I cannot find words to express save those which are commonplace superlatives. Let me felicitate you on having, at last, added to the knowledge of our planet a chapter which has not its equal (as far as I can recollect) since our friend Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle." Let me, too, compliment you on the modesty and generosity which you have shown, in dedicating your book to Darwin, and speaking of him and his work as you have done. Would that a like unselfish chivalry were more common—I do not say amongst scientific men, for they have it in great abundance, but—in the rest of the community.

May I ask—as a very great favour—to be allowed to call on you some day in London, and to see your insects? I and my daughter are soon, I hope, going to the West Indies, for plants and insects, among other things; and the young lady might learn much of typical forms from one glance at your treasures.

I send this letter by our friend Bates—being ignorant of your address.—Believe me, my dear Sir, ever yours faithfully,


* * * * *


Holly House, Barking, E. February 2, 1871.

Dear Miss Buckley,—I have read Darwin's first volume,[12] and like it very much. It is overwhelming as proving the origin of man from some lower form, but that, I rather think, hardly anyone doubts now.

He is very weak, as yet, on my objection about the "hair," but promises a better solution in the second volume.

Have you seen Mivart's book, "Genesis of Species"? It is exceedingly clever, and well worth reading. The arguments against Natural Selection as the exclusive mode of development are some of them exceedingly strong, and very well put, and it is altogether a most readable and interesting book.

Though he uses some weak and bad arguments, and underrates the power of Natural Selection, yet I think I agree with his conclusion in the main, and am inclined to think it is more philosophical than my own. It is a book that I think will please Sir Charles Lyell.—Believe me, yours very truly,


* * * * *


Holly House, Barking, E. March 3, 1871.

Dear Miss Buckley,—Thanks for your note. I am hard at work criticising Darwin. I admire his Moral Sense chapter as much as anything in the book. It is both original and the most satisfactory of all the theories, if not quite satisfactory....—Believe me yours very faithfully,


P.S.—Darwin's book on the whole is wonderful! There are plenty of points open to criticism, but it is a marvellous contribution to the history of the development of the forms of life.

* * * * *


February 15, 1876.

Dear Wallace,—I have read the Preface,[13] and like and approve of it much. I do not believe there is a word which Darwin would wish altered. It is high time this modest assertion of your claims as an independent originator of Natural Selection should be published.—Ever most truly,


* * * * *


Royal Gardens, Kew. August 2, 1880.

My dear Wallace,—I think you have made an immense advance to our knowledge of the ways and means of distribution, and bridged many great gaps.[14] Your reasoning seems to me to be sound throughout, though I am not prepared to receive it in all its details.

I am disposed to regard the Western Australian flora as the latest in point of origin, and I hope to prove it by development, and by the absence of various types. If Western Australia ever had an old flora, I am inclined to suppose that it has been destroyed by the invasion of Eastern types after the union with East Australia. My idea is that these types worked round by the south, and altered rapidly as they proceeded westward, increasing in species. Nor can I conceive the Western Island, when surrounded by sea, harbouring a flora like its present one.

I have been disposed to regard New Caledonia and the New Hebrides as the parent country of many New Zealand and Australian forms of vegetation, but we do not know enough of the vegetation of the former to warrant the conclusion; and after all it would be but a slight modification of your views.

I very much like your whole working of the problem of the isolation and connection of New Zealand and Australia inter se and with the countries north of them, and the whole treatment of that respecting north and south migration over the globe is admirable....—Ever most truly yours,


* * * * *


Royal Gardens, Kew. November 10, 1880.

Dear Mr. Wallace,—I have been waiting to thank you for "Island Life" till I should have read it through as carefully as I am digesting the chapters I have finished; but I can delay no longer, if only to say that I heartily enjoy it, and believe that you have brushed away more cobwebs that have obscured the subject than any other, besides giving a vast deal that is new, and admirably setting forth what is old, so as to throw new light on the whole subject. It is, in short, a first-rate book. I am making notes for you, but hitherto have seen no defect of importance except in the matter of the Bahamas, whose flora is Floridan, not Cuban, in so far as we know it....—Very truly yours,


* * * * *


Pen-y-bryn, St. Peter's Road, Croydon. January 7, 1881.

Dear Mr. Thiselton-Dyer,—If I had had your lecture before me when writing the last chapters of my book I should certainly have quoted you in support of the view of the northern origin of the Southern flora by migration along existing continents. On reading it again I am surprised to find how often you refer to this; but when I read it on its first appearance I did not pay special attention to this point except to note that your views agreed more closely with those I had advanced, derived from the distribution of animals, than those of any previous writer on botanical distribution. When, at a much later period, on coming to the end of my work, I determined to give a chapter to the New Zealand flora in order to see how far the geological and physical relations between New Zealand and Australia would throw light on its origin, I went for my facts to the works of Sir Joseph Hooker and Mr. Bentham, and also to your article in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," and worked out my conclusions solely from these, and from the few facts referring to the migration of plants which I had collected. Had I referred again to your lecture I should certainly have quoted the cases you give (in a note, p. 431) of plants extending along the Andes from California to Peru and Chile, and vice versa. Whatever identity there is in our views was therefore arrived at independently, and it was an oversight on my part not referring to your views, partly due to your not having made them a more prominent feature of your very interesting and instructive lecture. Working as I do at home, I am obliged to get my facts from the few books I can get together; and I only attempted to deal with these great botanical questions because the facts seemed sufficiently broad and definite not to be much affected by errors of detail or recent additions to our knowledge, and because the view which I took of the past changes in Australia and New Zealand seemed calculated to throw so much light upon them. Without such splendid summaries of the relations of the Southern floras as are given in Sir J. Hooker's Introductions, I should not have touched the subject at all; and I venture to hope that you or some of your colleagues will give us other such summaries, brought down to the present date, of other important floras—as, for example, those of South Africa and South Temperate America.

Many thanks for additional peculiar British plants. When I hear what Mr. Mitten has to say about the mosses, etc., I should like to send a corrected list to Nature, which I shall ask you to be so good as to give a final look over.—Believe me yours very faithfully,


P.S.—Mr. Darwin strongly objects to my view of the migration of plants along mountain-ranges, rather than along lowlands during cold periods. This latter view seems to me as difficult and inadequate as mine does to him.—A.R.W.

* * * * *

Wallace was in frequent correspondence with Professor Raphael Meldola, the eminent chemist, a friend both of Darwin and of Wallace, a student of Evolution, and a stout defender of Darwinism. I received from him much help and advice in connection with this work, and had he lived until its completion—he died, suddenly, in 1914—my indebtedness to him would have been even greater.

The following letter to Meldola refers to a suggestion that the white colour of the undersides of animals might have been developed by selection through the physical advantage gained from the protection of the vital parts by a lighter colour and therefore by a surface of less radiative activity. The idea was that there would be less loss of animal heat through such a white coating. We were at that time unaware of Thayer's demonstration of the value of such colouring for the purposes of concealment among environment. Wallace accepted Thayer's view at once when it was subsequently put forward; as do most naturalists at the present time.


Frith Hill, Godalming. April 8, 1885.

My dear Meldola,—Your letter in Nature last week "riz my dander," as the Yankees say, and, for once in a way, we find ourselves deadly enemies prepared for mortal combat, armed with steel (pens) and prepared to shed any amount of our own—ink. Consequently I rushed into the fray with a letter to Nature intended to show that you are as wrong (as wicked) as are the Russians in Afghanistan. Having, however, the most perfect confidence that the battle will soon be over,... —Yours very faithfully,


* * * * *

The following letter refers to the theory of physiological selection which had recently been propounded by Romanes, and which Prof. Meldola had criticised in Nature, xxxix. 384.


Frith Hill, Godalming. August 28, 1886.

My dear Meldola,—I have just read your reply to Romanes in Nature, and so far as your view goes I agree, but it does not go far enough. Professor Newton has called my attention to a passage in Belt's "Nicaragua," pp. 207-8, in which he puts forth very clearly exactly your view. I find I had noted the explanation as insufficient, and I hear that in Darwin's copy there is "No! No!" against it. It seems, however, to me to summarise all that is of the slightest value in Romanes' wordy paper. I have asked Newton (to whom I had lent it) to forward to you at Birmingham a proof of my paper in the Fortnightly, and I shall be much obliged if you will read it carefully, and, if you can, "hold a brief" for me at the British Association in this matter. You will see that a considerable part of my paper is devoted to a demonstration of the fallacy of that part of "Romanes" which declares species to be distinguished generally by useless characters, and also that "simultaneous variations" do not usually occur.

On the question of sterility, which, as you well observe, is the core of the question, I think I show that it could not work in the way Romanes puts it. The objection to Belt's and your view is, also, that it would not work unless the "sterility variation" was correlated with the "useful variation." You assume, I think, this correlation, when you speak of two of your varieties, B. and K., being less fertile with the parent form. Without correlation they could not be so, only some few of them. Romanes always speaks of his physiological variations as being independent, "primary," in which case, as I show, they could hardly ever survive. At the end of my paper I show a correlation which is probably general and sufficient.

In criticising Romanes, however, at the British Association, I want to call your special attention to a point I have hardly made clear enough in my paper. Romanes always speaks of the "physiological variety" as if it were like any other simple variety, and could as easily (he says more easily) be increased. Whereas it is really complex, requiring a remarkable correlation between different sets of individuals which he never recognises. To illustrate what I mean, let me suppose a case. Let there occur in a species three individual physiological varieties—A, B and C—each being infertile with the bulk of the species, but quite fertile with some small part of it. Let A, for example, be fertile with X, Y and Z. Now I maintain it to be in the highest degree improbable that B, a quite distinct individual, with distinct parents originating in a distinct locality, and perhaps with a very different constitution, merely because it also is sterile with the bulk of the species, should be fertile with the very same individuals, X, Y, Z, that A is fertile with. It seems to me to be at least 100 to 1 that it will be fertile with some other quite distinct set of individuals. And so with C, and any other similar variety. I express this by saying that each has its "sexual complements," and that the complements of the one are almost sure not to be the complements of the other. Hence it follows that A, B, C, though differing in the same character of general infertility with the bulk of the species, will really be three distinct varieties physiologically, and can in no way unite to form a single physiological variety. This enormous difficulty Romanes apparently never sees, but argues as if all individuals that are infertile with the bulk of the species must be or usually are fertile with the same set of individuals or with each other. This I call a monstrous assumption, for which not a particle of evidence exists. Take this in conjunction with my argument from the severity of the struggle for existence and the extreme improbability of the respective "sexual complements" coming together at the right time, and I think Romanes' ponderous paper is disposed of.

I wrote my paper, however, quite as much to expose the great presumption and ignorance of Romanes in declaring that Natural Selection is not a theory of the origin of species—as it is calculated to do much harm. See, for instance, the way the Duke of Argyll jumped at it like a trout at a fly!—Yours very faithfully,


* * * * *

The earlier part of the next letter refers to "The Experimental Proof of the Protective Value of Colour and Markings in Insects in reference to their Vertebrate Enemies," in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1887, p. 191.


Frith Hill, Godalming. October 20, 1887.

My dear Poulton,—It is very interesting to me to see how very generally the facts are in accordance with theory, and I am only surprised that the exceptions and irregularities are not more numerous than they are found to be. The only difficult case, that of D. euphorbiae, is due probably to incomplete knowledge. Are lizards and sea-birds the only, or even the chief, possible enemies of the species? They evidently do not prevent its coming to maturity in considerable abundance, and it is therefore no doubt preserved from its chief enemies during its various stages of growth.

The only point on which I differ from you—as you know—is your acceptance, as proved, of the theory of sexual colour selection, and your speaking of insects as having a sense of "the beautiful" in colour, as if that were a known fact. But that is a wide question, requiring full discussion.—Yours very faithfully,


* * * * *


Frith Hill, Godalming. November 20, 1887.

Dear Mr. Darwin,—Many thanks for the copy of your father's "Life and Letters," which I shall read with very great interest (as will all the world). I was not aware before that your father had been so distressed—or rather disturbed—by my sending him my essay from Ternate, and I am very glad to feel that his exaggerated sense of honour was quite needless so far as I was concerned, and that the incident did not in any way disturb our friendly relations. I always felt, and feel still, that people generally give me far too much credit for my mere sketch of the theory—so very small an affair as compared with the vast foundation of fact and experiment on which your father worked.—Believe me yours very faithfully,


* * * * *


Frith Hill, Godalming. February 16, 1888.

My dear Mrs. Fisher,—I know nothing of the physiology of ferns and mosses, but as a matter of fact I think they will be found to increase and diminish together all over the world. Both like moist, equable climates and shade, and are therefore both so abundant in oceanic islands, and in the high regions of the tropics.

I am inclined to think that the reason ferns have persisted so long in competition with flowering plants is the fact that they thrive best in shade, flowers best in the light. In our woods and ravines the flowers are mostly spring flowers, which die away just as the foliage of the trees is coming out and the shade deepens; while ferns are often dormant at that time, but grow as the shade increases.

Why tree-ferns should not grow in cold countries I know not, except that it may be the winds are too violent and would tear all the fronds off before the spores were ripe. Everywhere they grow in ravines, or in forests where they are sheltered, even in the tropics. And they are not generally abundant, but grow in particular zones only. In all the Amazon valley I don't remember ever having seen a tree-fern....

I too am struggling with my "Popular Sketch of Darwinism," and am just now doing a chapter on the great "hybridity" question. I really think I shall be able to arrange the whole subject more intelligibly than Darwin did, and simplify it immensely by leaving out the endless discussion of collateral details and difficulties which in the "Origin of Species" confuse the main issue....

The most remarkable steps yet made in advance are, I think, the theory of Weismann of the continuity of the germ plasm, and its corollary that acquired modifications are never inherited! and Patrick Geddes's explanation of the laws of growth in plants on the theory of the antagonism of vegetative and reproductive growth....—Yours very sincerely,


* * * * *


Frith Hill, Godalming. March 20, 1888.

My dear Meldola,—I have been working away at my hybridity chapters,[15] and am almost disposed to cry "Eureka!" for I have got light on the problem. When almost in despair of making it clear that Natural Selection could act one way or the other, I luckily routed out an old paper that I wrote twenty years ago, giving a demonstration of the action of Natural Selection. It did not convince Darwin then, but it has convinced me now, and I think it can be proved that in some cases (and those I think most probable) Natural Selection will accumulate variations in infertility between incipient species. Many other causes of infertility co-operate, and I really think I have overcome the fundamental difficulties of the question and made it a good deal clearer than Darwin left it.... I think also it completely smashes up Romanes.—Yours faithfully,


* * * * *

The next letter relates to a question which Prof. Meldola raised as to whether, in view of the extreme importance of "divergence" (in the Darwinian sense) for the separation and maintenance of specific types, it might not be possible that sterility, when of advantage as a check to crossing, had in itself, as a physiological character, been brought about by Natural Selection, just as extreme fecundity had been brought about (by Natural Selection) in cases where such fecundity was of advantage.


Frith Hill, Godalming. April 12, 1888.

My dear Meldola,—Many thanks for your criticism. It is a perfectly sound one as against my view being a complete explanation of the phenomena, but that I do not claim. And I do not see any chance of the required facts being forthcoming for many years to come. Experiments in the hybridisation of animals are so difficult and tedious that even Darwin never undertook any, and the only people who could and ought to have done it—the Zoological Society—will not. There is one point, however, I think you have overlooked. You urge the improbability of the required infertility being correlated with the particular variations which characterised each incipient species. But the whole point of my argument is, that the physiological adjustments producing fertility are so delicate that they are disturbed by almost any variation or change of conditions—except in the case of domestic animals, which have been domesticated because they are not subject to this disturbance. The whole first half of the chapter is to bring out this fact, which Darwin has dwelt upon, and it certainly does afford a foundation for the assumption that usually, and in some considerable number of individuals, variation in nature, accompanied by somewhat changed conditions of life, is accompanied by, and probably correlated with, some amount of infertility. No doubt this assumption wants proving, but in the meantime I am glad you think that, granting the assumption, I have shown that Natural Selection is able to accumulate sterility variations.

That is certainly a step in advance, and we cannot expect to do more than take very short theoretical steps till we get more facts to rest upon. If you should happen to come across any facts which seem to bear upon it, pray let me know. I can find none but those I have referred to.

I have just finished a chapter on male ornament and display, which I trust will help to clear up that point—Believe me yours very faithfully,


* * * * *


Frith Hill, Godalming. August 26, 1888.

Dear Mr. Hemsley,—You are aware that Patrick Geddes proposes to exclude Natural Selection in the origination of thorns and spines, which he imputes to "diminishing vegetativeness" or "ebbing vitality of the species." It has occurred to me that insular floras should afford a test of the correctness of this view, since in the absence of mammalia the protection of spines would be less needed.

Your study of these floras will no doubt enable you to answer a few questions on this point. Spines and thorns are, I believe, usually abundant in arid regions of continents, especially in South Africa, where large herbivorous mammals abound. Now, if the long-continued presence of these mammals is a factor in the production of spines by Natural Selection, they should be wholly or comparatively absent in regions equally arid where there are no mammals. The Galapagos seem to be such a case—also perhaps some of the Sandwich Islands, and generally the extra-tropical volcanic islands. Also Australia comparatively, and the highlands of Madagascar.

Of course, the endemic species must be chiefly considered, as they have had time to be modified by the conditions. If you can give me the facts, or your general impression from your study of these floras, I shall be much obliged. I see, of course, many other objections to Geddes's theory, but this seems to offer a crucial test.—Believe me yours very truly,


* * * * *


Frith Hill, Godalming. September 13, 1888.

Dear Mr. Hemsley,—Many thanks for your interesting letter. The facts you state seem quite to support the usual view, that thorns and spines have been developed as a protection against other animals. The few spiny plants in New Zealand may be for protection against land molluscs, of which there are several species as large as any in the tropics. Of course in Australia we should expect only a comparative scarcity of spines, as there are many herbivorous marsupials in the country.—Believe me yours very faithfully,


* * * * *

The next and several of the succeeding letters refer to the translations of Weismann's "Essays upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems" (Oxford, 1889), and to "Darwinism" (London, 1889).


Frith Hill, Godalming. November 4, 1888.

My dear Mr. Poulton,—I returned you the two first of Weismann's essays, with a few notes and corrections in pencil on that on "Duration of Life." Looking over some old papers, I have just come across a short sketch on two pages, on "The Action of Natural Selection in producing Old Age, Decay and Death," written over twenty years ago.[16] I had the same general idea as Weismann, but not that beautiful suggestion of the duration of life, in each case, being the minimum necessary for the preservation of the species. That I think masterly. The paper on "Heredity" is intensely interesting, and I am waiting anxiously for the concluding part. I will refer to these papers in notes in my book, though perhaps yours will be out first....—Yours faithfully,


* * * * *


Frith Hill, Godalming. November 8, 1888.

Dear Mr. Poulton,—I return herewith (but separately) the "proofs" I have of Weismann's Essays. The last critical one is rather heavy, and adds nothing of importance to the earlier one on Duration of Life. I enclose my "Note" on the subject, which was written, I think, about 1867, certainly before 1870. You will see it was only a few ideas jotted down for further elaboration and then forgotten. I see however it does contain the germ of Weismann's argument as to duration of life being determined by the time of securing continuance of the species.—Yours faithfully,


* * * * *


Frith Hall, Godalming. January 20, 1889.

My dear Mr. Poulton,—My attention has been called by Mr. Herdman, in his Inaugural Address to the Liverpool Biological Society, to Galton's paper on "Heredity," which I read years ago but had forgotten. I have just read it again (in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, Vol. V., p. 329, Jan., 1876), and I find a remarkable anticipation of Weismann's theories which I think should be noticed in a preface to the translation of his book.[17] He argues that it is the undeveloped germs or gemmules of the fertilised ovum that form the sexual elements of the offspring, and thus heredity and atavism are explained. He also argues that, as a corollary, "acquired modifications are barely if at all inherited in the correct sense of the word." He shows the imperfection of the evidence on this point, and admits, just as Weismann does, the heredity of changes in the parent like alcoholism, which, by permeating the whole tissues, may directly affect the reproductive elements. In fact, all the main features of Weismann's views seem to be here anticipated, and I think he ought to have the credit of it.

Being no physiologist, his language is not technical, and for this reason, and the place of publication perhaps, his remarkable paper appears to have been overlooked by physiologists.

I think you will find the paper very suggestive, even supplying some points overlooked by Weismann.—Yours faithfully,


* * * * *


Hamilton House, The Croft, Hastings. February 19, 1889.

Dear Mr. Poulton,—Do you happen to have, or can you easily refer to, Grant Allen's small books of collected papers under such titles as "Vignettes from Nature," "The Evolutionist at Large," "Colin Clout's Calendar," and another I can't remember? In one of them is a paper on the Origin of Wheat, in which he puts forth the theory that the grasses, etc., are degraded forms which were once insect-fertilised, summing up his views in the phrase, "Wheat is a degraded lily," or something like that. Now Henslow, in his "Floral Structures,"[18] adopts the same theory for all the wind-fertilised or self-fertilised flowers, and he tells me that he is alone in the view. I believe the view is a true one, and I want to give G. Allen the credit of first starting it, and want to see how far he went. If you have or can get this work of his with that paper, can you lend it me for a few days? I know not who to write to for it, as botanists of course ignore it, and G. Allen himself is, I believe, in Algeria....—Yours faithfully,

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse