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Record number: WCP5030

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Edvard Alexander Westermarck
12 March 1891

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Corfe View, Parkstone, Dorset to Edvard Alexander Westermarck [none given] on 12 March 1891.

Record created:
06 February 2013 by Catchpole, Caroline


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Wikman, Karl Robert Villehad. (1940). Letters From Edward B. Tylor and Alfred Russel Wallace to Edward Westermarck; Ed. With Introductory Remarks Concerning the Publication of The History of Human Marriage. Abo. 1-22. [p. 16-17]

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[[1]]1 [p. 16]

March 12th. 1891.

Edw. Westermarck, Esq.

My dear Sir

Notwithstanding your full and ingenious discussion of the origin of sexual modesty in Chap. IX and of the concealment of the organs of generation, I cannot feel quite satisfied with it. Although there are many instances among savages of perfect nudity in one or both sexes, these are, after all, very few in comparison with those in which some regular concealment by clothing occurs. This is so general that I should think nine-tenths of all savages use it. There are several considerations which place the concealment of the sexual organs in a different category from concealment by clothing of other parts of the body. Sexual union among all peoples occurs normally at night, and there are I believe no people recorded among whom it is practised openly, at all times, and with no concealment. This may have arisen partly from the helplessness against attack of both parties, and also because the females, even of animals, require a considerable amount of solicitation or courting to obtain consent. Why this if there is no feeling that the act is different from all other acts, --a feeling of shame or modesty? Again, the erect attitude of man exposes the sexual organs more to accidental blows or wounds, or to be seized by an enemy, and this would naturally lead to the bandaging of the penis, especially among people who did not constantly carry shields to protect the body. Even the completely naked women of the Uaupes showed great sense of modesty in their attitudes, always turning sideways on meeting a man, and when sitting, so disposing the legs as to well conceal the pudenda.

I am therefore disposed to think that a sense of sexual modesty arose in man with the erect posture, and that the comparatively few cases in which it now appears to be non-existent are perversions or reversions, and do not show the normal condition of savage man. Perhaps if you [[2]] [p. 17] think over the subject from this point of view you may add a par. but I do not wish you to quote anything I have said here, which is merely a suggestion for your consideration.

Yours very faithfully

Alfred R. Wallace.

P. S. I would add that travellers are apt to exaggerate nudity or the absense of modesty and that their statements not unfrequently apply to the exception rather to the rule.

A. R. W.


1. Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Sixth of fourteen letters from Wallace to Edward Westermarck, concerning the writing of the latter's The History of Human Marriage. These were included in the article "Letters From Edward B. Tylor and Alfred Russel Wallace to Edward Westermarck; Ed. With Introductory Remarks Concerning the Publication of The History of Human Marriage" by K. Rob. V. Wikman that appeared in 1940 as Acta Academiae Aboensis Humaniora XIII.7. The Wallace letters make up the second half of the work. Note that there are several apparent minor editing errors in the source material that I have not bothered to correct.


This transcript originates from Charles H. Smith’s The Alfred Russel Wallace Page website (http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/index1.htm): See http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S712.htm

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