Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life
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In 1858, Alfred Russel Wallace, aged thirty-five, weak with malaria, isolated in the Spice Islands, wrote to Charles Darwin: he had, he said excitedly, worked out a theory of natural selection. Darwin was aghast--his work of decades was about to be scooped. Within two weeks, his outline and Wallace's paper were presented jointly in London. A year later, with Wallace still on the opposite side of the globe, Darwin published On the Origin of Species.
This new biography of Wallace traces the development of one of the most remarkable scientific travelers, naturalists, and thinkers of the nineteenth century. With vigor and sensitivity, Peter Raby reveals his subject as a courageous, unconventional explorer and a man of exceptional humanity. He draws more extensively on Wallace's correspondence than has any previous biographer and offers a revealing yet balanced account of the relationship between Wallace and Darwin.
Wallace lacked Darwin's advantages. A largely self-educated native of Wales, he spent four years in the Amazon in his mid-twenties collecting specimens for museums and wealthy patrons, only to lose his finds in a shipboard fire in the mid-Atlantic. He vowed never to travel again. Yet two years later he was off to the East Indies on a vast eight-year trek; here he discovered countless species and identified the point of divide between Asian and Australian fauna, 'Wallace's Line.'
After his return, he plunged into numerous controversies and published regularly until his death at the age of ninety, in 1913. He penned a classic volume on his travels, founded the discipline of biogeography, promoted natural selection, and produced a distinctive account of mind and consciousness in man. Sensitive and self-effacing, he was an ardent socialist--and spiritualist. Wallace is one of the neglected giants of the history of science and ideas. This stirring biography--the first for many years--puts him back at center stage, where he belongs.
this delving about in social matters was difficult – too difficult, he implied. He hoped Wallace would not ‘turn renegade to natural history’, even though he supposed that politics were ‘very tempting’.4 While Wallace dabbled in social science, and socialism, Darwin, as though to prove his point, published his latest and last book, on Worms. In April 1882, he died at the age of seventy-three, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Wallace, ‘that perennial afterthought in the Darwinian story’,5
curtains, photographs, prophecies, and messages from his brother William. But the main purpose of his visit was not being fulfilled. Every quarter, he had to provide a certificate that he was still alive, in order to obtain his pension, and he would go and call on the British Ambassador to obtain the necessary signature, to send home. ‘I find I have quite forgotten to write to Mr Stanford, but I shall do so,’ he confessed – there might be royalties owing to him. Washington was delightful, and
Strasburger, who spoke warmly of Wallace, to Francis Galton, and Ray Lankester. Wallace did not linger: there was no celebratory reception or dinner. He took a cab to Waterloo, and was back home by half past seven, relieved that his public exposure was over. The Linnean Gold Medal served as a nudge to the rest of the scientific world. In October, while ‘feeling very bad’, Wallace opened a letter from William Crookes, the Honorary Secretary of the Royal Institution, asking him to lecture on
warrior and prophet. At Broadstone, waiting for the book’s publication, he was more concerned about the view from his garden. His ‘charming lodge in a wilderness’ was once again in danger of being surrounded by buildings. People were ‘in treaty’ for a good deal of the field all round, and Lord Wimborne had raised his price to �250 an acre. Could Will and Violet manage an acre each, to secure a bit more of the wood? He might be able to find enough for an acre himself when the book was out – he
welcome pair of shoes, and a piece of bacon. ‘The bacon I fear is not eatable,’ Wallace reported to his sister. What did she expect? It had not been scientifically packed and sealed. Next time he would send to Fortnum and Mason direct. After breakfast, he added a softer postscript: ‘The bacon is eatable, just! but very high & very rich of a dark brown colour.’18 There was also family news, and as usual he had a lot of advice to dispense. Fanny and Tom Sims had taken premises for their photography