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Record number: WCP4874

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Charles Lyell
13 November 1867

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Newcastle to Charles Lyell [none given] on 13 November 1867.

Record created:
16 November 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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Record contains:

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  • publication (1)

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LETTER (WCP4874.5275)

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

Held by:
American Philosophical Society
Finding number:
The Darwin-Lyell Collection
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information





Nov[ember]. 13th. 1867

Dear Sir Charles

There are many striking exceptions to the theory that the distribution of man agrees with that of animals; and I think the differences are just as we might expect if we consider man’s greater powers of migration and more complete independence of climate & vegetation.

Agassiz2, I believe, attempts to show that the Europe and N[orth]. Asia form distinct zoological regions, corresponding to the Caucasian & Mongolian races of man. But there is one thing on which other zoologists [[2]] are agreed on, it is that Sclater’s3 Palaearctic Region is a true one.

The present distribution of the great groups of Mammalia must have been determined, partly by the present distribution of land and water, but chiefly by those great features which have had the most permanence in past time. Seas have been an almost complete barrier to them. Man on the other hand, has come into existence when the great masses of land and water had acquired their present form, but he has had greater [[3]] power of travelling seas, which have probably been less complete barriers to him than mountain ranges, a[nd] than the existence in adjacent districts of more warlike & more vigorous races of man. Both historical and linguistic records prove these migrations.

Climates also is scarcely any barrier to man’s diffusion as shown by the New Zealanders having come from the tropics, & the Red Indians having covered all America; -- while to Mammals it is an absolute barrier on account of their [[4]] dependence on certain kinds of food. Monkeys can not live where there are no fruits in winter, nor could the camel inhabit a fresh[?] country[?]. Man has clothing, houses[?] & fire, -- & he can cultivate food a[nd] kill all kinds of game, and thus be independent of climate a[nd] of any special vegetation.

Thus while the primary causes, (the great ocean & mountain barriers) [word illeg.] the limitation of races of man and animals are the same, the secondary causes are very different; and I think this well agrees with the facts & with the Darwinian theory. Why the colour of man is sometimes constant over large areas while in other cases it varies, we can not tell; but [[5]] 5/4 we may well suppose it to be due to it being more or less connected with constitutional characters favourable to life.

By far the most common colour of man is a warm brown, not far[?] different from that of the American Indian. White and Black are alike deviations from this, and are probably correlated with mental a[nd] physical peculiarities which have been favourable to the increase and maintenance of the particular race. I should infer therefore that the red a[nd] [[6]] brown 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 also Bates’5 opinion that the Indians are recent immigrants into the tropical plains of S[outh]. America and are not yet fully acclimatised.

I hardly think the Ne[o]-arctic and Neo-tropical regions so distinct as some of the others. Murray6 also thinks (with some justice) that as regards Mammals the Indian & African regions are one: yet what differences in the races of Man!

Taking therefore all the causes of distribution & limitations into account I think the facts can be well understood.

Yours very truly | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Sir C. Lyell.7

I shall be back in Westbourne Grove, next Wednesday and at Hurstpierpoint the week after.8


1. The number 414 is written in the top right-hand corner of the page. It is not in Wallace’s hand-writing.

2. Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873). Swiss palaeontologist, glaciologist and geologist.

3. Philip Lutley Sclater (1829-1913). Lawyer, ornithologist and zoologist. His 1958 paper published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society described six zoological regions.

4. Wallace has numbered the page in the top left-hand corner of the page. In addition, the number 414 is written at the top of the page. It is not in Wallace’s hand-writing.

5. Walter Henry Bates (1825-1892). English naturalist and explorer. From 1862 he was Assistant Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society (and effectively its senior full-time official).

6. Unfortunately it is not clear precisely to whom Wallace is referring.

7. Wallace has written the addressee’s name at the bottom of the page.

8. This sentence, written as a postscript, is written vertically in the left-hand margin of the page.

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