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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   14 May 1871

Holly House, Barking. E.

May 14th. 1871

Dear Darwin

Have you read that very remarkable book “The Fuel of the Sun”.?1 If not get it. It solves the great problem of the almost unlimited duration of the sun’s heat in what appears to me a most satisfactory manner. I recommended it to Sir C. Lyell & he tells me that Grove spoke very highly of it to him.2 It has been somewhat ignored by the critics because it is by a new man with a perfectly new & original hypothesis, founded on a vast accumulation of physical & chemical facts;—but not being encumbered with any mathematical shibboleth they have evidently been afraid that any thing so intelligible could not be sound. The manner in which everything in physical astronomy is explained is almost as marvellous as the powers of Nat. Select. in the same way, & naturally excites a suspicion that the respective authors are pushing their theories “a little too far”.

If you read it get Proctor’s book on the Sun at the same time,3 & refer to his coloured plates of the protuberances, corona &c. which marvellously correspond with what Matthieu Williams’ theory requires. The author is a practical Chemist engaged in iron manufacture, & it is from furnace chemistry that he has been led to the subject.4

I think it the most original, most thoughtful & most carefully worked out theory that has appeared for a long time, & it does not say much for our critics that, as far as I know, its great merits have not been properly recognised.

I have been so fully occupied with road-making, well-digging, garden- & house-planning planting &c. that I have given up all other work.5

Do you not admire our friend Miss Buckley’s admirable article in Macmillan?6 It seems to me the best & most original that has been written on your book.

Hoping you are well & are not working too hard, I | remain, Yours very | faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace—

Charles Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

Top of first page: ‘(Answered)’7pencil


The reference is to Williams 1870.
Wallace refers to Charles Lyell and William Robert Grove.
William Mattieu Williams worked as an industrial chemist for Atlas Iron Works in Sheffield from 1868 to 1870 (ODNB). On his theory, see the letter from J. W. Strutt, [after 20 May 1871?] and nn. 3, 4 and 7.
On Wallace’s new residence, see the letter from A. R. Wallace, 11 March 1871 and n. 5.
Arabella Burton Buckley’s review of Descent, ‘Darwinism and religion’, appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1871, pp. 45–51.
CD’s reply to Wallace has not been found.


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Proctor, Richard. 1871. The sun. London: Longmans.

Williams, William Mattieu. 1870. The fuel of the sun. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co.


Recommends [W. M. Williams] The fuel of the sun [1870] as remarkably illuminating about physical astronomy. Williams solves the problem of duration of sun’s heat in "a most satisfactory manner".

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: B100–1
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7758,” accessed on 2 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19