Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP4887

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Charles Lyell
6 March 1872

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Holly House, Tanner Street, Barking, E. to Charles Lyell [none given] on 6 March 1872.

Record created:
16 November 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP4887.5287)

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




Holly House, Barking, E,

March 6th. 1872

Dear Sir Charles

Darwin’s reply to Mivart1 on the eye question does not seem to me satisfactory, as I have just told him. His statement that -- "an organ for vision must be formed of transparent tissue" -- is not correct. We know that all the invisible rays of the spectrum, including the heat rays, are conveyed by lenses & form invisible pictures so to speak. Eyes, therefore, might utilize the chemical or other rays invisible to us, and thus be formed of (to our eyes) opaque tissues. Considering that the invisible rays are more numerous in sunlight than those visible to us, it is marvellous that many[?] eyes2 [[2]] developed three times independently (in Molluscs, Insects, & Vertebrates,) [yet] none should have used these rays, but all use just the same fraction of the spectrum that we use.

In order to give Darwin the full benefit of his reply you might add to the summary of Mivart’s argument a passage such as that put on the opposite page3. I think that will make the statement as fair to one as to the other. I have not seen Henson’s4 pamphlet & know nothing of the subject except in a general way.

Believe me | Yours very sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

[[3]] "In the 6th. Edition of "Origin of Species" just published, Mr Darwin has replied to this objection by denying that the resemblance in the case[?] of the eye formation is more than general; and maintainsing that the necessary conditions of vision would inevitably lead to the amount of similarity which exists in eyes formed independently by the selection of favourable variations. " [[4]]5


1. St George Jackson Mivart (1827 - 1900). English biologist.

2. The number "47" has been inscribed at the bottom, right-hand, corner of the page. It is not Wallace’s hand-writing.

3. As shown on page 3 of this correspondence.

4. Victor Andreas Victor Hensen (1835 - 1924). German zoologist. He coined the term plankton and laid the foundations for biological oceanography.

5. The fourth page of the letter carries no text. However, there are two calculations (both long division) worked out on the otherwise empty page. It is not clear who wrote these.

5. A reference to the scientific dispute between, in particular, Sir Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley, regarding the uniqueness of human development and its relationship to the evolution of apes in general.

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