Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP374

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Henry Walter Bates
24 December 1860

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Ternate Island, Moluccas, [Indonesia] to Henry Walter Bates [none given] on 24 December 1860.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.
Verified by:
21/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


Re. Alfred Russel Wallace's admiration of Darwin's "Origin of species"; birds and mammals better indicators of zoological geography than insects; exchange of specimens with Bates; plans to return to England in about 18 months; imminent voyage to Timor.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (2)

View item:

LETTER (WCP374.374)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/49
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
21/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information





Dec[embe]r. 24th. 1860

Dear Bates1

Many thanks for your long & interesting letter. I have myself suffered much in the same way as you describe & I think more severely. The kind of "tedium vitae" you mention I also occasionally experience here. I impute it to a too monotonous existence.

I know not how or to whom to express fully my admiration of Darwins book. To him it would seem flattery to others self praise;-- but I do honestly believe that with however much patience I had worked up & experimented on the subject I could never have approached the completeness of his book,-- its vast accumulation of evidence,-- its overwhelming argument, & its admirable tone & spirit. I really feel thankful that it has not been [[2]] left to me to give the theory to the public.

Mr. Darwin has created a new science & a new Philosophy, & I believe that never has such a complete illustration of a new branch of human knowledge, been due to the labours & researches of a single man. Never have such vast masses of widely scattered & hitherto utterly disconnected facts been combined in to a system, & brought to bear upon the establishment of such a grand & new & simple philosophy!

I am surprised at your joining the N.[orth] & S.[outh] banks of lower Amazon into one region. Did you not find a sufficiency of distinct sp.[ecies] at Obydos & Barra to separate them from [2 words illeg.] & Santarem?

I am now convinced that insects on the whole do not give such true indications in Zoological Geog.[raphy] as Birds & Mammals [[3]] because they have,-- 1st. such immensely greater chances of distribution, & 2nd. because they are so much more affected by local circumstances. 2 also 3rd. because the sp.[ecies] seem to change quicker & therefore disguise a comparatively recent identity. Thus the insects of two originally distinct regions vary rapidly become amalgamated,-- a portion of the same region may come to be inhabited by very distinct insect faunas owing to differences of soil climate &c. &c.. This is strikingly shown here, where the insect fauna from Malacca to N.[ew] Guinea has a very large amount of characteristic uniformity; while Australia from its distinct climate & vegetation shows a wide difference -- I am inclined to think therefore, that a preliminary study of first the Mammals & then the Birds are indispensable to a correct understanding of the Geographical & physical changes on which the present insect distribution depends. [[4]] With regard to exchange, I think it must be left till my return, which according to my present plans will not be delayed beyond a year & a half from this date. The groups I intend to collect generally are, -- Papilios & Pieridiae only among Lepidoptera; -- & Cicindelidae Carabides Lac. Buprestidae Cleridae Longicornes & Brenthidae among Coleoptera -- Also illustrations of genera of Coleoptera generally & the more common of the remarkable or handsome species. If you will put by for me at your leisure the most complete set you can spare of these groups, I shall (I have no doubt) be able to let you have an equal number of such specimens as you may desire.

In a day or two I leave for Timor where if I am lucky in finding a good locality I expect some fine & interesting insects.

In haste | Yours faithfully | Alfred R Wallace [signature]

H.W. Bates Esq.


1. Henry Walter Bates, 1825-1892, English naturalist and explorer and friend of Wallace.

2. The block of text from "also" to "identity" is written vertically up the left margin of page 2.

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