Letter (WCP346.346)



Dec[embe]r. 28th. 1845.

My Dear Sir

I do not think I sh[oul]d. like the boxes unglazed so well as a comparatively cheaply made Cabinet with glass which I therefore think I shall get made —

I have rather a more favorable [sic] opinion of the "Vestiges"1 than you appear to have2

I do not consider it as a hasty generalisation, but rather as an ingenious hypothesis strongly supported by some striking facts and analogies but which remains to be proved by more facts & the additional light which future researches may throw upon the subject — It at all events furnishes a subject for everything observer of [2] nature3 to turn his attention to; every fact he observes must make either for or against it, and it thus furnishes both an incitement to the collection of facts & an object to which to apply them when collected —

I would observe that many eminent writers give great support to the theory of the progressive development of species in Animals & plants — There is a very interesting & philosophical work bearing directly on the subject[,] "Lawrence’s Lectures on Man"4, 5 delivered before the Royal Coll[ege]. of Surgeons & which are now published in a cheap form — The great object of these lectures is to illustrate the different races of mankind & the manner in which they probably originated — and he arrives at the conclusion as does Mr. Pritchard6[sic] in his work [3] on the Physical history of man,7, 8 that the varieties of the Human race have not proceeded from any external cause but have been produced by the development of certain distinctive peculiarities in some Individuals which have become propagated through an entire race. — Now I sh[oul]d. say that a permanent peculiarity not depending produced in any way by external causes is a distinction of species & not of mere variety & thus if the theory of the "vestiges" is carried out the "Negro" the red Indian & the European are distinct species of the genus Homo — The Albino which presents as striking a difference as the negro, we have modern & not uncommon instances of the production of but the peculiarity is not propagated so extensively as that of the other varieties — Now it appears to me that the [4] "albino" and "negro" are very analogous to what are generally considered as "variety" & "species" in the animal world —

An animal which differs from another by some decided & permanent character however slight which difference is undiminished by propagation & unchanged by climate & external circumstances, (like the negro) is invariably considered as a distinct species — while one which is not propagated so as to form a distinct race, but is produced more frequently from the parent stock (like the Albino) is generally if the difference is not very striking, considered a variety, — now I consider both these to be equally, distinct species, & I would only consider those to be varieties whose differences are produced by [5] External causes & which therefore are not propagated as a distinct race.

In how many cases in the animal world & particularly among Insects are the differences between species far less than those between varieties, so consid[ere]'d. neither however being produced by External circumstances.

How well too does this theory account for those excessively rare species whose Existence seems almost a mystery. They may be produced by more common species at intervals in the same manner as the Albino is from European Parents.

[6] As a further support to the "Vestiges" I have heard that "Cosmos"9 the celebrated work by the venerable Humboldt10 supports in almost every particular its theories not excepting those relating to Animal & Vegetable life — This work I have a great desire to read but fear I shall not have an opportunity at present — Read Lawrence’s11 work — it is well worth it.

Hoping to hear from you soon & wishing you a happy & successfull [sic] new year

I remain │ Yours sincerely Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Mr H. Bates

Chambers, Robert. 1844. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. London: John Churchill.
The text from "I have rather a more favorable opinion" to "subject — it at all events" is marked by a blue pencil line in the left margin.
The text from "nature" to "when collected" is marked by a blue pencil line in the left margin.
Lawrence, William. 1819. Lectures on Physiology, Zoology, and the Natural History of Man. London: J. Callow.
"Lawrence’s Lectures on Man" is underlined in blue pencil.
Prichard, James Cowles (1786-1848). British physician and ethnologist.
Prichard, James Cowles.1813. Researches into the Physical History of Man. London: John and Arthur Arch.
"Mr Pritchard" and "the Physical history of man" are underlined in blue pencil.
Humboldt, Alexander von. 1845-1862. KosmosEntwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung. 5 vols. Stuttgart: Cotta. English translations in 1845 included Kosmos: a general survey of physical phenomena of the universe. Vol. 1. London: H. Baillière.
Humboldt, Alexander von (1769-1859). Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer.
Lawrence, William (1783-1867). British surgeon.

Please cite as “WCP346,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection accessed on 2 July 2022, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP346