Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP346

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Henry Walter Bates
28 December 1845

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Neath, Glamorganshire, Wales to Henry Walter Bates [none given] on 28 December 1845.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.


Re. insect cabinets and boxes; opinion of the book "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation"; the progressive development of species; Lawrence's lectures on Man; Pritchard's physical history of man; distinction between species and varieties in man, Humboldt's "Cosmos".

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP346.346)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/17
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information





Dec[embe]r.. 28th. 1845.

My Dear Sir

I do not think I sh[oul]d like the boxes unglazed so well as a comparatively cheaply made Cabinet with glass which I therefore think I shall get made --

I have rather a more favorable opinion of the "Vestiges" than you appear to have --

I do not consider it as a hasty generalisation, but rather as an ingenious hypothesis strongly supported by some striking facts and analogies but which remains to be proved by more facts & the additional light which future researches may throw upon the subject -- It at all events furnishes a subject for everything observer of [[2]] nature to turn his attention to; every fact he observes must make either for or against it, and it thus furnishes both an incitement to the collection of facts & an object to which to apply them when collected --

I would observe that many eminent writers give great support to the theory of the progressive development of species in Animals & plants -- There is a very interesting & philosophical work bearing directly on the subject "Lawrences Lectures on Man" delivered before the Royal Coll[ege]. of Surgeons & which are now published in a cheap form -- The great object of these lectures is to illustrate the different races of mankind & the manner in which they probably originated -- and he arrives at the conclusion as does Mr. Pritchard in his work [[3]] on the Physical history of man, that the varieties of the Human race have not proceeded from any external cause but have been produced by the development of certain distinctive peculiarities in some Individuals which have become propagated through an entire race. -- Now I sh[oul]d say that a permanent peculiarity not depending produced in any way by external causes is a distinction of species & not of mere variety & thus if the theory of the "vestiges" is carried out the "Negro" the red Indian & the European are distinct species of the genus Homo -- The Albino which presents as striking a difference as the negro, we have modern & not uncommon instances of the production of but the peculiarity is not propagated so extensively as that of the other varieties -- Now it appears to me that the [[4]] "albino" and "negro" are very analogous to what are generally considered as "variety" & "species" in the animal world --

An animal which differs from another by some decided & permanent character however slight which difference is undiminished by propagation & unchanged by climate & external circumstances, (like the negro) is invariably considered as a distinct species -- while one which is not propagated so as to form a distinct race, but is produced more frequently from the parent stock (like the Albino) is generally if the difference is not very striking, considered a variety, -- now I consider both these to be equally, distinct species, & I would only consider those to be varieties whose differences are produced by [[5]] external causes & which therefore are not propagated as a distinct race.

In how many cases in the animal world & particularly among Insects are the differences between species far less than those between varieties, so consid[ere]d. neither however being produced by External circumstances.

How well too does this theory account for those excessively rare species whose Existence seems almost a mystery. They may be produced by more common species at intervals in the same manner as the Albino is from European Parents.

[[6]] As a further support to the "Vestiges" I have heard that "Cosmos" the celebrated work by the venerable Humboldt supports in almost every particular its theories not excepting those relating to Animal & Vegetable life -- This work I have a great desire to read but fear I shall not have an opportunity at present -- Read Lawrences work -- it is well worth it.

Hoping to hear from you soon & wishing you a happy & successfull[sic] new year

I remain │ Yours sincerely Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Mr H. Bates

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.