And now I am going to ask a question which you will not like. How does your journal get on? It will be a shame if you do not popularise your researches.
LETTER 190. A.R. WALLACE TO CHARLES DARWIN. Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, July 2nd, 1866.
I have been so repeatedly struck by the utter inability of numbers of intelligent persons to see clearly, or at all, the self-acting and necessary effects of Natural Selection, that I am led to conclude that the term itself, and your mode of illustrating it, however clear and beautiful to many of us, are yet not the best adapted to impress it on the general naturalist public. The two last cases of the misunderstanding are: (1) the article on "Darwin and his Teachings" in the last "Quarterly Journal of Science," which, though very well written and on the whole appreciative, yet concludes with a charge of something like blindness, in your not seeing that Natural Selection requires the constant watching of an intelligent "chooser," like man's selection to which you so often compare it; and (2) in Janet's recent work on the "Materialism of the Present Day," reviewed in last Saturday's "Reader," by an extract from which I see that he considers your weak point to be that you do not see that "thought and direction are essential to the action of Natural Selection." The same objection has been made a score of times by your chief opponents, and I have heard it as often stated myself in conversation. Now, I think this arises almost entirely from your choice of the term "Natural Selection" and so constantly comparing it in its effects to Man's Selection, and also your so frequently personifying nature as "selecting," as "preferring," as "seeking only the good of the species," etc., etc. To the few this is as clear as daylight, and beautifully suggestive, but to many it is evidently a stumbling-block. I wish, therefore, to suggest to you the possibility of entirely avoiding this source of misconception in your great work (if not now too late), and also in any future editions of the "Origin," and I think it may be done without difficulty and very effectually by adopting Spencer's term (which he generally uses in preference to Natural Selection)--viz., "survival of the fittest."
This term is the plain expression of the fact; Natural Selection is a metaphorical expression of it, and to a certain degree indirect and incorrect, since, even personifying Nature, she does not so much select special variations as exterminate the most unfavourable ones.
Combined with the enormous multiplying powers of all organisms, and the "struggle for existence" leading to the constant destruction of by far the largest proportion--facts which no one of your opponents, as far as I am aware, has denied or misunderstood--"the survival of the fittest" rather than of those who were less fit could not possibly be denied or misunderstood. Neither would it be possible to say that to ensure the "survival of the fittest" any intelligent chooser was necessary; whereas when you say Natural Selection acts so as to choose those that are fittest, it IS misunderstood, and apparently always will be. Referring to your book, I find such expressions as "Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends." This, it seems, will always be misunderstood; but if you had said "Man selects only for his own good; Nature, by the inevitable 'survival of the fittest,' only for that of the being she tends," it would have been less liable to be so.
I find you use the term "Natural Selection" in two senses: (1) for the simple preservation of favourable and rejection of unfavourable variations, in which case it is equivalent to "survival of the fittest"; and (2) for the effect or change produced by this preservation, as when you say, "To sum up the circumstances favourable or unfavourable to Natural Selection," and again, "Isolation, also, is an important element in the process of Natural Selection." Here it is not merely "survival of the fittest," but change produced by survival of the fittest, that is meant. On looking over your fourth chapter, I find that these alterations of terms can be in most cases easily made, while in some cases the addition of "or survival of the fittest" after "Natural Selection" would be best; and in others, less likely to be misunderstood, the original term may stand alone.
I could not venture to propose to any other person so great an alteration of terms, but you, I am sure, will give it an impartial consideration, and if you really think the change will produce a better understanding of your work, will not hesitate to adopt it.
It is evidently also necessary not to personify "Nature" too much--though I am very apt to do it myself--since people will not understand that all such phrases are metaphors. Natural Selection is, when understood, so necessary and self-evident a principle, that it is a pity it should be in any way obscured; and it therefore seems to me that the free use of "survival of the fittest," which is a compact and accurate definition of it, would tend much to its being more widely accepted, and prevent it being so much misrepresented and misunderstood.