Darwin Correspondence

Darwin's theory of evolution emerged as one of the most important scientific theories of the nineteenth century. While the theory is accepted in the scientific community today, it proved controversial in the nineteenth century. The idea of natural selection threatened Victorian ideas of Christianity. Westwood, described as "a staunch churchman," disagreed with Darwin. Westwood's writing and correspondence indicates that although he was not convinced of the validity of the theory of natural selection, he respected Darwin. Westwood may have believed in the earlier Lamarkian theory developed by Jeane Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, the Chavalier de Lamarck (1744-1829), a biologist and founder of invertebrate paleontology. Lamark posited that organisms adapt to their environments and are able to pass these changes on to succeeding generations.

In this letter from Charles Darwin to Henry Walter Bates, Darwin says that Westwood "attacked & reviled" him. He incorrectly attributed an article in the Anthenaeum to Westwood. The actual author was John R. Leifchild. Darwin did have severe critics, among them the Thomas Vernon Wallaston and Andrew Murray mentioned in the letter.

Henry Walter Bates had just returned to England from a ten-year expedition in the Amazon basin. He reported his findings on insect fauna previously unknown to Europe in the Transactions of the Entomological Society.

Below is the [transcription of letter with notes]

To Henry Walter Bates 22 November [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 22

My dear Sir

I thank you sincerely for writing to me & for your very interesting letter. Your name has for very long been familiar to me, & I have heard of your zealous exertions in the cause of Natural History.(1) But I did not know that you had worked with high philosophical questions before your mind.(2) I have an old belief that a good observer really means a good theorist & I fully expect to find your observations most valuable. I am very sorry to hear that your health is shattered; but I trust under a healthy climate it may be restored. I can sympathise with you fully on this score, for I have had bad health for many years & fear I shall ever remain a confirmed invalid. --

I am delighted to hear that you, with all your large practical knowledge of Nat. History anticipated me in many respects & concur with me. -- As you say I have been thoroughily well attacked & reviled (especially by entomologists, Westwood, Wollaston & A. Murray have all reviewed & sneered at me to their hearts' content)(3) but I care nothing about their attacks; several really good judges go a long way with me, & I observe that all those who go some little way tend to go somewhat further. What a fine philosopical mind your friend, Mr Wallace has, & he has acted in relation to me, like a true man with a noble spirit. -- (4) I see by your letter that you have grappled with several of the most difficult problems, as it seems to me, in natural History -- such as the distinctions between the different kinds of varieties, representative species &c.(5)

Perhaps I shall find some facts in your paper on intermediate varieties in intermediate regions, -- on which subject I have found remarkable little information. -- I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that you have attended to the curious point of Equatorial refrigeration.(6) I quite agree that it must have been small; yet the more I go into that question the more convinced I feel that there was during the Glacial period some migration from N. to S. -- The sketch in the Origin gives a very meagre account of my fuller M.S. Essay on this subject. -- (7)

I shall be particularly obliged for a copy of your paper when published; & if any suggestions occur to me (not that you require any) or questions I will write & ask. --

Pray believe me, with respect & good wishes | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely |

C. Darwin

I have at once to prepare a new Edit of the Origin, & I will do myself the pleasure of sending you a copy; but it will be only very slightly altered. --

Cases of neuter ants, divided into castes, with intermediate gradations. (which I imagine are rare) interest me much.(8) V. Origin on the Driver Ants p. -- 241. -- (please look at the passage)

This letter is from the Stecher Collection in the Cleveland Health Sciences Library


View the original Darwin/Bates Letter by clicking on the pages below.

Page 1 of Darwin's Letter to Cleveland.Page 2 and 3 of Darwin's Letter to Cleveland.

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Pg. 2&3


Page 4 and 5 of Darwin's Letter to Cleveland.Page 6 and 7 of Darwin's Letter to Cleveland.Page 8 of Darwin's Letter to Cleveland.

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1. The letter has not been found. Bates had recently returned to England, having spent ten years collecting in the Amazon basin. He had first travelled to Brazil with his friend Alfred Russel Wallace in 1848 (Marchant 1916, 1:24-6), Announcements of his identification of new insect fauna had been regularly published in the Transactions of the Entomological Society since 1850.

2. Bates seems to have told Charles Darwin about his long-standing belief in transmutation a view that was well established in the early years of his travels with Wallace. He had been particularly interested in 'tracing the laws which connect together the modifications of forms and colour with the local circumstances of a province or station -- tracing as far as possible the actual affiliation of the species.' (Marchant 1916, 1: 65). This work eventually culminated in Bate's identification of the phenomenon of mimicry among butterflies and other animals, which he explained on the basis of natural selection (Bates 1861). The missing letter may also have mentioned that Bates was preparing a paper on the variation of Amazonian butterflies (see nn. 5 and 6, below).

3. Charles Darwin mistakenly attributed the hostile review that appeared in the Athenaeum in 1859 to John Obadiah Westwood (see Correspondence vol. 7 letter from J. D. Hooker. [21 November 1859], and letter to J. D. Hooker, [22 November 1859]). The author was, in fact, John R. Leifchild. The other reviews to which he refers were by Thomas Vernon Wallaston [Wollaston] 1860) and Andrew Murray (Murray 1860a).

4. For Wallace's reaction to the publication of Darwin and Wallace 1858 and to Origin, see Correspondence vol. 7.

5. In a paper read at a meeting of the Entomological Society on 5 March 1860, Bates discussed the 'different degree of variability of different species' of butterflies (Bates 1860, pp. 226-7). The second part of the paper, read on 24 November 1860, discussed the origin and dispersal of the different species.

6. In his paper, Bates referred to Charles Darwin's theory of the probable cooling of the tropics during the Pleistocene era (Bates 1860, p. 352). Although concurring with Darwin that there was evidence for the migration of Arctic species through the tropics, he nonetheless concluded that the 'present distribution of the species of Papilio does not support the hypothesis of such a degree of refrigeration in the equatorial zone of America, or at least does not countenance the supposition of any considerable amount of extinction.' (Bates 1860, pp 352-3).

7. Origin, pp. 365-82, and Natural selection, pp. 534-66.

8. Bates had studied Brazilian ants and published descriptions of several species in conjunction with Frederick Smith of the British Museum (Bates and Smith 1854-6).


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