The Life and Letters of Darwin, Volume 2 HTML version
Work On 'Man'
[In the autobiographical chapter in Volume I., my father gives the circumstances which
led to his writing the 'Descent of Man.' He states that his collection of facts, begun in
1837 or 1838, was continued for many years without any definite idea of publishing on
the subject. The following letter to Mr. Wallace shows that in the period of ill-health and
depression about 1864 he despaired of ever being able to do so:]
CHARLES DARWIN TO A.R. WALLACE.
Down, [May?] 28 .
I am so much better that I have just finished a paper for Linnean Society (On the three
forms, etc., of Lythrum.); but I am not yet at all strong, I felt much disinclination to write,
and therefore you must forgive me for not having sooner thanked you for your paper on
'Man' ('Anthropological Review,' March 1864.), received on the 11th. But first let me say
that I have hardly ever in my life been more struck by any paper than that on 'Variation,'
etc. etc., in the "Reader". ('"Reader", April 16, 1864. "On the Phenomena of Variation,"
etc. Abstract of a paper read before the Linnean Society, March 17, 1864.) I feel sure that
such papers will do more for the spreading of our views on the modification of species
than any separate Treatises on the simple subject itself. It is really admirable; but you
ought not in the Man paper to speak of the theory as mine; it is just as much yours as
mine. One correspondent has already noticed to me your "high-minded" conduct on this
head. But now for your Man paper, about which I should like to write more than I can.
The great leading idea is quite new to me, viz. that during late ages, the mind will have
been modified more than the body; yet I had got as far as to see with you that the struggle
between the races of man depended entirely on intellectual and MORAL qualities. The
latter part of the paper I can designate only as grand and most eloquently done. I have
shown your paper to two or three persons who have been here, and they have been
equally struck with it. I am not sure that I go with you on all minor points: when reading
Sir G. Grey's account of the constant battles of Australian savages, I remember thinking
that natural selection would come in, and likewise with the Esquimaux, with whom the
art of fishing and managing canoes is said to be hereditary. I rather differ on the rank,
under a classificatory point of view, which you assign to man; I do not think any
character simply in excess ought ever to be used for the higher divisions. Ants would not
be separated from other hymenopterous insects, however high the instinct of the one, and
however low the instincts of the other. With respect to the differences of race, a
conjecture has occurred to me that much may be due to the correlation of complexion
(and consequently hair) with constitution. Assume that a dusky individual best escaped
miasma, and you will readily see what I mean. I persuaded the Director-General of the
Medical Department of the Army to send printed forms to the surgeons of all regiments
in tropical countries to ascertain this point, but I dare say I shall never get any returns.