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Record number: WCP4876

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Charles Lyell
23 December 1868

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, 9 St Mark's Crescent, Regent's Park, London, N.W. to Charles Lyell [none given] on 23 December 1868.

Record created:
16 November 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP4876.5277)

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

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Transcription information




9. St. Marks’ Crescent, N.W.

Dec[embe]r. 23rd. 1868

Dear Sir Charles

Thanks for your kind offer to write to Lord Ge Grey. I think it might be advisable to do so in quite a private matter, so that when the matter in any way comes before him he may know that a Memorial has been presented in my favour.

My article in Macmillan does not refer at all to the East London Museum, but is a little general essay on the subject of Popular Educational Museums, which I think wants ventilating. I shall have some separate copies printed, and will send you two or three to give away if you approve of them.

I have received the papers you have [[2]] been so good as to send me, and have been just looking through Lewes1. I think in his great argument about the luminous and electric animals he completely fails to see their true bearing.

He admits the fact that the organs producing light or electricity differ in position and form whenever the animals that bear them differ in general structure, -- while in minute structural constitution the organs closely resemble each other, however widely the animals may differ. But this is a necessary consequence of their being modifications of muscular tissue which is almost identical in structure throughout the whole animal kingdom. If electrical and luminous organs were always identical in form and position as well as structure, it would be a powerful argument in his favour [[3]] but as it is I do not see that it proves any thing [sic], but that the required special variation of an identical tissue, occurs very rarely, and has still more rarely occurred at a time and under conditions which rendered its accumulation useful to the animal, when alone it would be so selected and specialized so as to form a perfect luminous or electric organ.

Again, to suppose that, because one single organ of a simple kind may be produced independently of common descent, therefore a combination of hundreds of h organs many of them consisting of hundreds of parts should all be brought, by the general action of similar causes to an identity of form position and function, appears to me absolutely inconceivable.

For instance I cannot conceive any two species of vertebrata, developed independently from distinct primal specks of jelly through [[4]] the millions of forms that must have intervened. But I can conceive vertebrata and Mollusca so developed ab initio2. If this is all Lewes claims, Darwin will I am sure admit it. If he maintains a distinct origin for Mammals Birds & fishes then how does he deal with the identical forms of the embryos up to a certain stage, which is still that of a vertebrate animal? But he never tells us what he does believe in detail, & it seems to me his view is utterly groundless if it goes beyond the four or five primitive forms which is all that Darwin claims as almost necessary to his system.

His notion of the Mammals of Australia having possibly developed ab initio, is too wild to be seriously refuted, & I think he gives it up in his last part which you have not sent me. What of the fossil marsupials in Europe? The identity of embryos? The identity of bone tooth hair and nail structure. The identical general arrangement of vertebrae, limbs, muscles, cranium, brain, lungs, tongue, stomach an[d] intestines, -- all to have been developed independently through and not of form as low as Medusae3, and Actiniae4, by general similarities of conditions. It is too absurd!

His analogies of crystal, chalk and diseases are utterly futile.5

Very faithfully yours | Alfred R Wallace [signature]

Sir Charles Lyell, Bar[one]t6


1. George Henry Lewes (1817-1878) was an English philosopher and critic.

2. ‘Ab initio’ is Latin and translates as ‘from the beginning’.

3. ‘Medusae’ is another name for a jellyfish.

4. ‘Actiniae’ is a type of sea anemone.

5. This sentence is written up the left hand margin of the page.

6. Written at the bottom of the first page.

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