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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. R. Wallace   15 June [1864]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

June 15

Dear Wallace

You must not suppose from my delay that I have not been much interested by your long letter.2 I write now merely to thank you & just to say that probably you are right on all the points you touch on except as I think about sexual selection which I will not give up.

My belief in it, however, is contingent on my general belief in sexual selection. It is an awful stretcher to believe that a Peacock’s tail was thus formed, but believing it, I believe in the same principle somewhat modified applied to man.3

I doubt whether my notes wd be of any use to you, & as far as I remember they are chiefly on sexual selection.4

I am very glad to hear that you are on your Travels.5 I believe you will find it a very convenient vehicle for miscellaneous discussion. With your admirable powers of writing I cannot doubt that you will make an excellent book—

Believe me dear Wallace | yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. A great gun Flourens has written a little dull book against me;6 which pleases me much for it is plain that our good work is spreading in France. He speaks of the “engouement” about this book “so full of empty & presumptuous thoughts.”7


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 29 May [1864].
In his letter of 29 May [1864], Wallace raised a number of objections to CD’s view that racial differences in humans could largely be explained by sexual selection (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 [May 1864] and nn. 18 and 20). CD discussed sexual selection as the basis for the development of the peacock’s tail in Descent 2: 135–41.
After reading Wallace’s article on the origin of human races and the application of natural selection to human origins (Wallace 1864b), CD had offered Wallace his notes on human descent (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 28 [May 1864] and n. 19, and letter from A. R. Wallace, 29 May [1864] and n. 16).
CD refers to the book that was eventually to be published as Wallace 1869. See letter from A. R. Wallace, 29 May [1864] and n. 17.
CD refers to Examen du livre de M. Darwin sur l’origine des espèces by Marie Jean Pierre Flourens (Flourens 1864). Flourens was permanent secretary of the Académie Française (DBF). CD’s annotated copy of Flourens 1864 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 234). On the reception of CD’s work in France, see Corsi and Weindling 1985, Tort 1996, and J. Harvey 1997a.
CD refers to Flourens 1864, pp. 64–5. The original reads: Le livre de M. Darwin est devenu l’objet d’un engouement général.... On ne peut qu’être frappé du talent de l’auteur. Mais que d’ideés obscures, que d’ideés fausses! … Quel langage prétentieux et vide! (Mr Darwin’s book has become an object of general infatuation.... One can but applaud the author’s talent. But what obscure and false ideas! … What pretentious and empty language!)


DBF: Dictionnaire de biographie Française. Under the direction of J. Balteau et al. 21 vols. and 4 fascicules of vol. 22 (A–Leyris d’Espochès) to date. Paris: Librairie Letouzey & Ané. 1933–.

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

Flourens, Marie-Jean-Pierre. 1864. Examen du livre de M. Darwin sur l’origine des espèces. Paris: Garnier Frères.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Tort, Patrick. 1996. Dictionnaire du Darwinisme et de l’evolution. 3 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.


Short reply to ARW’s long letter. Reaffirms belief in sexual selection.

Postscript on M.-J.-P. Flourens’ "little dull book against me" [Examen du livre de M. Darwin (1864)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add. MS 46434: 47)
Physical description
LS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4535,” accessed on 5 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12