Wallace, Alfred Russel

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(b. Usk, Monmouthshire, Wales, 8 January 1823; d. Broadstone, Dorset, England, 7 November 1913), natural history.

Wallace was the eighth of nine children born to Thomas Vere Wallace and Mary Anne Greenell. Suffering from constant economic setbacks and having six children to support at the time, his parents had moved across the Severn River to the inexpensive rural environs of Wales less than a mile from the small village of Usk. In the beautiful surroundings beside the Usk River Wallace spent the first five carefree years of his life before moving to Hertford, where he first attended school. In the one-room Hertford Grammar School he studied Latin, French, geography, mathematics, and history. Wallace later had a low opinion of his only formal education, which seems to have been quite pedestrian and dull. More important for his intellectual development, apparently, was the extensive reading of travel works, biographies, novels, classics, and anything else he could find at home.

Early in 1837 Wallace went to London to live temporarily with his brother John. While there he attended lectures at the “Hall of Science” and became acquainted with Robert Owen’s socialistic ideas as well as the ideas of religious skeptics. (His agnosticism began at this point and prevented him at a later time from seriously considering orthodox views, largely with religious overtones, on the formation of new species.) The following summer he was apprenticed to his brother William, a surveyor, with whom he worked for the most part until mid December 1843.

During his survey work, Wallace first began to experience the lure of nature, but not until 1841 did he timidly pursue interests which had barely been awakened in him. The purchase of a cheap book on botany (to assist in beginning a herbarium) marks the beginning of his scientific career, and his interests in botanical explorations and reading continued to grow from that point onward.

About December 1843 his brother’s surveying business diminished severely, and Wallace was forced to go to work in 1844 as a master at the Collegiate School in Leicester, where he taught English, arithmetic, surveying, and elementary drawing. At Leicester during 1844-1845, Wallace read widely in the natural sciences; indeed, during the period from 1842 to 1846, he consumed various works by Alexander von Humboldt, T. R. Malthus, Charles Darwin, Robert Chambers, Charles Lyell, and William Swainson. These books profoundly influenced his subsequent intellectual development as did his amateurish explorations in Charnwood Forest in Leicester with his new friend, Henry Walter Bates.

In 1845 his brother William’s death forced Wallace to return briefly to surveying and construction work, but he continued reading, collecting, and corresponding with Bates. In 1847 he audaciously suggested to Bates that they transfer their collecting efforts to the forbidding continent of South America and support themselves by collecting objects of natural history. W. H. Edward’s A Voyage up the River Amazon (1847) prompted them to journey to the Amazon basin, where Wallace explored from 1848 until 1852.

Although he established as scientific reputation for his excellent work in the Amazon, Wallace lost most of his materials, and almost his life, when his ship caught fire and sank in the Atlantic during his return voyage. After his rescue and arrival in England, Wallace decided to embark on another lengthy expedition, this time to the Malay Archipelago (now Indonesia and Malaysia). During that period of extensive exploration (1854-1862), Wallace formulated the principle of natural selection and made many other fundamental discoveries in biology, geology, geography, ethnography, and other natural sciences.

Upon returning to England in 1862, Wallace enjoyed an enviable reputation as a naturalist. He spent the rest of that decade publishing more articles, culminating with his classic The Malay Archipelago (1869), which went through countless editions and was translated into many foreign languages. His interests also began to extend into other non biological areas.

During the 1860’s Wallace was converted to Spiritualism, which affected his views about natural selection and man. In the late 1870’s he became involved in the land nationalization movement and was the first president of the Land Nationalization Society in 1881. In 1890 he publicly announced his acceptance of socialism, which he had thought about since the late 1830’s. Early in the twentieth century he supported women’s liberation movements through various articles. All these diverse interests were concurrent with his scientific activities, which may be divided into the following categories: natural history exploration, evolutionary biology, ethnology, zoogeography, mimicry and other means of protective colorations, geology, vaccination, and astronomy.

After arriving at Pará (Belém), Brazil, late in May 1848, Wallace adn Bates immediately commenced exploring and eventually covered a sizeable portion of the Amazon basin. During the first two years they concentrated their work around Pará, the Tocantins River, and the banks of the Amazon itself as far as Barra (Manaus), where the Amazon and Rio Negro converge. To increase coverage, the young naturalists had already explored a great deal by themselves; and at Barra (Manaus), where the Amazon and Rio Negro converge. To increase coverage, the young naturalists had already explored a great deal by themselves; and at Barra in March 1850 they separated permanently, with Wallace going to the Rio Negro and Uaupés rivers, and Bates eventually going to the upper Amazon region, where he assembled a spectacular natural history collection before returning to England in 1859.

Wallace penetrated as far north as Javíta in the Oronoco River basin and as far west as Micúru (Mitú) on the Uaupés River. He was deeply impressed by the grandeur of the virgin forest, by the variety and beauty of the butterflies and birds, and by his first encounter with primitive Indians on the Uaupés River area, an experience he never forgot.

The explorations of Wallace were recounted in his fascinating book A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853). Although most of his splendid collections and much else had been lost at sea when his ship sank on 6 August 1852, the book nevertheless displays the keen eyes and mind of a naturalist, by then a mature professional. His notes and drawings on the palm trees of the Amazon fortunately were rescued and appeared in a small but charming book, often quoted in botanical literature on palms.

A major reason for the expedition to South America was to collect information on the variation and evolution of species. In 1845 after reading Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), a controversial but extremely stimulating and valuable Victorian work on evolution, Wallace was converted to the belief that species arise through natural laws, rather than by divine fiat. From this point onward he never seriously entertained commonly held views on species, and he apparently convinced Bates that Chambers was right in principle. Their task was to supply scientific details and perhaps uncover a satisfactory evolutionary mechanism.

Since his collections had been lost, Wallace hesitated to declare his views publicly, although glimpses of his ideas may; be observed in his early comments on the geographical distribution of monkeys, birds, and insects, as published in articles and in his travel narrative. Also in his narrative are references to the “marvellous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found” (A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro ([1853], p. 83). He explicitly rejected the orthodox explanations for these phenomena, saying that naturalists were seeking new explanations for species variations. He definitely thought evolution was the explanation but wisely refrained from further comment until 1855.

Since he had not solved the perplexing question of how species evolve while in the Amazon region, Wallace decided to venture once more to the tropics, this time to Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago. Securing passage on a government vessel, Wallace departed in 1854 for explorations that lasted eight years and covered between 14,000 and 15,000 miles. The boundaries of the range of his explorations were the Aru Islands to the east; Malacca, Malaya, to the west; the northern tip of Celebes to the north; and as far south as southern Timor.

The enormous quantity of materials gathered there—about 127,000 specimens of natural history—enabled him to publish scores of fundamental scientific papers on a broad range of topics. These works alone would have established him as one of the greatest English naturalists of his age, but his classic natural history travel book, The Malay Archipelago (1869), earned him an international reputation that has endured to this day. On the basis of artistic format, literary style, and scientific merit, it is clearly one of the finest scientific travel books ever written.

From his first arrival in the Malayan region Wallace had decided to gather precise scientific data on groups of animals in order to work out their geographical distribution and consequently to throw light on their origins through evolutionary processes. He kept a notebook on evolution, here designated as his “Species Notebook.” His first explicit, published evolutionary statements drew on those materials.

An article by the English naturalist Edward Forbes, Jr., in which h e emphatically denied “organic progression” (1854), provoked Wallace to publish a concise synthesis of his ideas on the subject. Like many brilliant works, his “On the Law which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species” (September 1855) was based on well known, acceptable scientific information combined with many personal observations, although he had transformed the mass of facts into an unusually persuasive argument. The evidence was drawn from geology and geography—the distribution of species in time and space—and following nine acceptable generalizations (axioms), Wallace concluded: “Every species has come existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species” (McKinney, Lamarck to Drawing Contributions to Evolutionary Biology, 1809-1859 [1971], pp. 71–72). He claimed that he had explained “the natural system of arrangement of organic beings, their geographical distribution, their geological sequence,” as well as the reason for peculiar anatomical structures of organisms. Although the article was carefully worded, Wallace had definitely announced that he was an evolutionist.

Despite this excellent presentation, there were no public replies, although the private comments were quite another matter. Indeed, Edward Blyth, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin all read Walace’s article and were greatly impressed by his arguments, but in particular Lyell, who began a complete reexamination of his long-held ideas on species. On 16 April 1856 Lyell discussed Wallace’s paper with Darwin, urging him to publish his own views on species as soon as possible. Darwin then began what we now call the long version of the origin and that version was used as a basis for the Origin as published in 1859

The immediate stimulus for Darwin, however, was a paper written by Wallace entitled “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type.” After publishing his evolutionary paper in 1855, Wallace had continued to search for an evolutionary mechanism. Very ill with malaria while on the large island of Gilolo (Halmahera), some ten miles from Ternate, he formulated the principle of natural selection, the now famous mechanism of evolution: and upon returning to Ternate, he mailéd a paper (and covering letter) to Darwin expounding his long-sought discovery (9 March 1858). Evidence now suggests that the “bombshell” arrived at Down House on the third (or fourth) day of June 1858.

Determined that their friend Darwin should receive recognition of priority, Lyell and Hooker decided that Wallace’s paper should be presented before the Linnean Society of London along with an excerpt from an essay by Darwin on natural selection and a letter from Darwin to Asa Gray discussing divergence (1 July 1858). Prefatory remarks by Hooker and Lyell emphasized Drawin’s priority of discovery, and Wallace’s paper was presented last. Wallace was never consulted on these matters and did not learn about the presentation until after the papers were published (20 August 1858). These items focused on natural selection and divergence, not the general arguments for evolution. Darwin’s Origin appeared late in November 1859.

Wallace subsequently published numerous articles and books supporting evolution with many original and forceful arguments. In 1864 after his return to England he read a paper before the Linnean Society on the variation and distribution of the Papilionidae butterflies of the Malayan region, which demonstrated evolution occurring in nature. In 1870 he published a collection of his evolutionary essays entitled Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, and in 1876 his monumental Geographical Distribution of Animals appeared He summarized current knowledge of zoogeography and explained the data “by means of established laws of physical and organic change.” His Island Life (1880) applied evolutionary concepts to insular flora and fauna.

During the 1880’s Wallace had given a number of lectures on evolution by means of natural selection including many while touring the United States in 1886-1887. These mature reflections finally appeared in elaborated form in his important Darwinism(1889), which carefully reviewed thirty years of evolutionary biology. While pointing out differences between himself and Darwin, the book actually elaborates a pure form of Darwinian evolution, devoid of Lamarckian elements, and therefore represents (except for the last chapter on man) perhaps the authoritative statement on the subject in the late nineteenth century. The work went through many printings.

From the 1860’s onward one of the forceful arguments used by Wallace to support evolution was mimicry. Initially discovered by his traveling companion in South America, Henry Walter Bates, who first published on the subject in 1862, the theory of mimicry was immediately accepted by Wallace since it had been explained in terms of natural selection. Batesian mimicry stated that relatively scarce, unprotected specific forms may resemble other species that are protected by strong smell and bad taste. Resemblance affords protection, and the closer the resemblance, the greater the survival value. In his 1864 paper on the Papilionidae (swallowtailed butterflies) Wallace described mimetic complexes in the Indo-Malayan region, thus forcefully supporting what Bates had observed in South America. Wallace added to those arguments the following two points: a species may have two or more very different forms, and each one may mimic a different model. In the female only, these tend to be polymorphic (Remington [1963],p. 146)

To these views on mimicry Wallace soon added his ideas about numerous other protective resemblances among animals (1867). He observed that resemblances depend upon utility of characters, need for protective concealment, extreme variability of color, and the fact that concealment can most easily be obtained through color modification.

Problems remained, however, for no one had explained why two or more seemingly protected species resemble one another. From a German expatriate living in Brazil came the explanation. In 1878-1879 Fritz Müller observed that if a number of different species are protected chemically or physically in some way, then it is to their advantage in the struggle for existence to resemble one another. Their mutual color patterns warn predators to stay away, and losses during the predator education period are absorbed by a larger group. Wallace had observed but not understood these resemblances, which he thought were due to “unknown local causes.” After a second article by Müller (1881), Wallace heard about these explanations, which had not been enthusiastically supported, and published an article in Nature(1882), supporting and accepting Müller’s arguments, which afterward gained broad acceptance.

In 1889 Wallace summarized the various ideas on mimicry and proposed an extension of Müller’s explanation: that in the same locality several members of the same protected genus may resemble each other; and a scarce edible species can obtain some protection from predators by resembling and intermingling with an abundant edible species (Remington, p. 148). Other, including E. B.Poulton, The Colours of Animals(1890), continued the work of Bates, Müller, and Wallace.

While Wallace was one of the founders of modern evolutionary biology, his views on man underwent significant alteration during the 1860’s after his return from the Malay Archipelago. Before 1862 he was concerned with other man as an animal who had a close kinship with other primates, and his ethnological interests had deep roots, extending back into the 1840’s. In a letter to Bates, dated 28 December 1845, Wallace discussed man in an evolutionary context and continued to think of him in the same way for almost twenty years. Immediately before discovering natural selection in 1858, he recalled the work of Malthus, while reflecting on the origins and variations of the indigenous tribes of the Indo-Malayan region.

After returning to England, Wallace’s ideas on man underwent modification. The reasons involve his new views about deity and spiritual beings and his decision that natural selection could not adequately explain all aspects of man’s development. Although certain points are still unclear, we do know that in 1864 Wallace announced his new view of natural selection, namely that at some point during man’s history, his body ceased to change, while his head and brain alone continued to undergo modifications. Man had therefore partially escaped the power of natural selection and could himself influence organic change by selection. Eventually, on land, human selection would supplant natural selection: man’s superior intellect had unchained him from an inexorable law of nature, natural selection. As man’s social, moral, and intellectual faculties developed, he became a being apart from the ordinary (see Wallace, in Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, 2 [1864] clvii-clxxxvii; and Smith [1972], (178–199).

This theme was further developed in 1869 in his review of Lyell’s Principles or Geology(10th ed.,1867-1868) and Elements of Geology (6th ed.,1865), in which he observed that man’s “intellectual capacities and his moral nature were not wholly developed by the same process [natural selection].” Neither natural selection nor evolution can explain the origin of man’s intellect. The “moral and higher intellectual nature of man is as unique” as the origin of life on earth. Furthermore, man’s brain, speech apparatus, hand, and external form demonstrate that a “higher Intelligence” had a part in the development of the human race (Wallace, Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, chapter 10).

This conclusion referring to the necessity of a higher intelligent being agreed at least in principle with the final two pages of Lyell’s Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863) and was a conscious attempt by Wallace to reconcile science with theology, which shocked Darwin, who marked and annotated his copy from Wallace. At one point there are four exclamation marks in the margin (p. 392, lines 6–8). Before reading the review, Darwin had commented to Wallace, “I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child,” In exactly the reverse direction of a common trend since the eighteenth century, Wallace had added deity to his mechanistic, self-regulating universe (“Creation by Law” [October 1867], repr. in Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection [1870]). A watchmaker was necessary after all. These views received full expression in his article “The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man” (ibid., 332–371).

During the early 1860’s—clearly no later than 1865—Wallace’s statements on man’s development (and other topics as well) must be examined within a religious context. What, then, were his religious views and what led him to those views? Wallace’s parents were orthodox believers, as was he until 1837 when he lived with his brother John in London and then with his brother William, who was “of advanced liberal and philosophical opinions,” While at Leicester in 1844, experiments with phrenology and mesmerism impressed him deeply, leading him to believe in extrasensory phenomena. During his twelve years in extrasensory phenomena. During his twelve years of natural history exploration, he had heard about spiritualism and decided to investigate the subject upon his return to England in 1862. Until then, by his own admission, he was an agnostic, a materialist, a philosophical skeptic. That was the situation, he has told us, “up to the time when I first became acquainted with the facts of spiritualism,” that is, July 1865. In two other specific places in this same book. On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1875), however, Wallace claimed that he had been an agnostic for “twenty-five years” (thus 1837-1862), and there is additional evidence that appears to support his explicit references to twenty-five years.

In a highly praised paper, “On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago” (read 8 June 1863), Wallace urged that governments and scientific institutions immediately set about assembling the best possible collections of natural history for the purposes of study and interpretation. He then concluded in a manner quite foreign to him in the past:

If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of creation which we had in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown [ Journal of the Royal Geographic Society, 33 (1863), 234, italics added].

It is therefore possible that Wallace’s religious views began to alter as early as 1862/1863, although he claimed emphatically that various facts, “not any preconceived or theoretical opinions,” led him in 1865 to accept Spiritualism, but not orthodox Christianity, which he frequently criticized. In 1866 he published a fifty-seven-page booklet, The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural, thereby publicly announcing his support of Spiritualism.

At the moment it moot remain a must point whether he questioned the all-sufficiency of natural selection on purely empirical, scientific grounds or because embryonic religious views had caused him to doubt. Seeds of doubt are evident in Wallance’s “The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced From the Theory of Natural Selection,” but we may be involved in the chicken-egg syndrome. In any event, doubt once raised in Wallace’s mind for whatever reason was like an incurable itch until a satisfactory solution was found. Later it was necessary to convince scientists of the weaknesses of natural selection (using the argument of utility) in explaining the evolution of natural phenomena in order to persuade them to consider, as an alternative, psychic phenomena (Smith [1972], pp. 178–199).

Considering his previous history, it is curious that Wallace found satisfaction in Spiritualism, which shocked Darwin and Huxley, but which may have had a profound effect on those scientists with religious views who were unable to resolve their own doubts. Wallace, a discoverer of natural selection, had rescued man from the degradation of evolution and had returned to him his God-given “soul” (intellect). Later elaborations on this theme appeared in Darwinism (1889) and particularly The World of Life (1910). The full impact of Wallace’s conversion has never been assessed.

It has been incorrectly asserted that the facts of geographical distribution led both Darwin and Wallace to accept evolution. In the case of Wallace, the reverse is true. He went to the Amazon to collects facts establishing the case for evolution, but as an amateur naturalist, what facts was he capable of collecting? The answer is clear, especially when we understand that Lyell in his Principles of Geology and Chambers in his Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, two major influences on Wallace, stressed the importance of distributional phenomena.

While in South America, he observed variation and the struggle for existence, which he had read about in Lyell, but Wallace’s foremost contributions from his Amazon experience originated from observations on the distribution of the palm trees, insects, birds, and monkeys. This evidence substantiated his belief in evolution, and he used it in his important paper “On the Law Which Has Introduced the Introduction of New Species” (1855). Generally speaking, he observed that certain species on opposite sides of river barriers are closely related, but not identical. Since the physical conditions were almost the same, biologists believing in special creation were hard pressed to explain why an omniscient God had created different species on opposite sides of rivers within sight of each other. Wallace thought that after the barriers had been established, evolution had led to the formation of new, but similar, species from the divided parent stock.

Once evolution had been accepted, the facts of geographical distribution could be used to good effect. For example, arguments for the creationist’s belief in centers of creation were quickly enlisted as evidence for the evolutionists. Wallace used this technique to good advantage as did Darwin in chapters 11 and 12 on geographical distribution in the Origin (1859). Both Wallace and Darwin were able to cite much of their own evidence on this topic in their evolutionary works.

Indeed, it is significant that their works up to 1859 interpreted and applied these facts in a distinctly modern way. Before 1859 most works on natural history had been extremely vague and imprecise in citing the geographical distribution of a specimen. It was not unusual to find merely South America or Brazil as the only locality given. Only after the case for evolution by means of natural selection was presented, particularly in Darwin’s Origin, did other naturalists begin to give this matter the attention it deserved.

In 1858, however, Wallace was already preparing an announcement of an important zoogeographical discovery, which proposed a boundary line dividing the archipelago into Indo-Malayan (Oriental) and Australian zoological regions. In a paper on the geographical distribution of birds (“Letter From Mr. Wallace on the Geographical Distribution of Birds,” Ibis [1859], 449–454), he first suggested this line and accepted the zoogeographical provinces recommended by P. L. Sclater (1858) on the basis of the zoogeography of bird populations. In 1860 Wallace published a much more elaborate discussion of the zoological geography of the archipelago, before announcing explicitly in 1863 what became known as Wallace’s Line, the zoogeographical line that extended between Bali and Lombok in the south and farther north between Borneo and Celebes, and continuing eastward around the Philippines. This line has been shifted many times since 1863 as more zoogeographical information has been accumulated.

Wallace’s investigations made it quite clear that zoogeography should be based on a wide range of geographical and geological facts interpreted by evolutionary doctrines. He was also one of the few early zoogeographers to rely on a statistical approach.

The culmination of Wallace’s approach was achieved in his monunmental two-volume The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876). Relying on data he had collected on families and genera of terrestrial vertebrates, Wallace established evolutionary zoogeography on its modern foundation. While an enormous amount of subsequent data has improved our knowledge and determination of the zoogeographical provinces, few, if any, subsequent works have been more important to the subject.

As was previously the case, Wallace’s evolutionary approach to zoogeography provided a rock-solid factual basis for evolutionary biology. While he hoped that his two volumes would elaborate Darwin’s two chapters in the Origin in much the same way as Darwin’s own two-volume work Animals and Plants Under Domestication extended the first chapter, Wallace’s work actually transformed the subject and became the standard authority for many years.

In 1880 Wallace further applied his approach in evolutionary zoogeography to island flora and fauna. Whereas his great work in 1876 dealt with large groups of animals, in his Island Life (1880) he focused on species to examine variation, distribution, and dispersal. His discussion of the relevance of the ice ages was extremely important, as was his reemphasis on the interaction and “complete interdependence of organic and inorganic nature.” His later works on zoogeography represent summaries of these two great books.

Before going to South America, Wallace knew little about geology except what he had learned from books and what he casually observed as a surveyor. After his two expeditions he published many works utilizing geological information. In his Geographical Distribution of Animals Wallace interpreted animal distributions on the basis of geological principles, especially paleontological data. In Island Life Wallace presented advanced views on the causes of ice ages, showing the cumulative effects of snow and ice in lowering temperature. He also discussed the general permanence of oceanic and continental areas with a wide range of data. In 1893 Wallace argued vigorously for the action of glaciers in the formation of lake basins.

Early in the 1870’s Wallace became acquainted with a group that opposed vaccination, but he did not join the movement until William Tebb introduced him to statistical studies attacking vaccination. Upon personal investigation, Wallace found apparently cogent evidence to renounce his former belief in the efficacy of vaccination , whereupon he published a thirty-eight-page pamphlet “Forty-five Years of Registration Statistics, Proving Vaccination to Be Both Useless and Dangerous” (1885).

Wallace and the anti-vaccination movement forced the appointment of the Royal Commission on Vaccination, and he spent three days presenting evidence (1890). Disregarding his statistical evidence, the commission published a report in 1896 supporting vaccination, which led him in turn to publish a longer work in 1898 (96 pages and 12 diagrams) denouncing the “ignorance and incompetence” of the commission and reiterating his previous opposition with extensive data. In his The Wonderful Century (1898), Wallace reprinted his arguments, which he thought would eventually be judged as “one of the most important and truly scientific of my works,” It is perhaps ironic that today we have discontinued smallpox vaccination because more patients die from the vaccination than die from the disease itself.

In The Wonderful Century (1898) Wallace had written the chapter “Astronomy and Cosmic Theories,” and after the turn of the century he expanded the subject into his Man’s Place in the Universe (1903). The primary purpose was to establish with extensive scientific data that life as we know it cannot exist elsewhere in the universe. In 1907 he reiterated this theme in his Is Mars Habitable?, which was written to refute Lowell’s Mars and Its Canals (1906). Lowell had presented arguments for advanced life on Mars. Wallace was of course only an intelligent layman, but he corresponded with professional astronomers and presented a strong argument for his views.

Wallace summed up his work on biology in 1910 with his The World of Life, in which he accepted the chromosome theory of inheritance and Galton’s numerical law of inheritance. Numerical phytogeography and zoogeography also are stressed, and the continuing influence of Spiritualism is evident. This was his last extensive work on scientific matters; his last two books were rehashings of his social ideas.

In April 1866 at the age of forty-three, Wallace married Annie Mitten, the teenage daughter of the English botanist William Mitten. They had three children: Herbert (died age four), Violet and William.

During his distinguished career Wallace received numerous recognitions of merit, including the Royal Medal of the Royal Society (1868); the Gold Medal, Socieété de Géographie (1870); LL.D., Dublin, (1882); D. C. L., Oxford (1889); the Darwin Medal, Royal Society (1890); the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (1892); election to the Royal Society (1893); the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society of London (1892); the Copley Medal of the Royal Society (1908); Order of Merit (1908); and the first Darwin-Wallace Medal, Linnean Society of London (1908).

Few naturalists have made more important contributions to so many subjects, and yet his views on Spiritualism, vaccination, land nationalization, women’s rights, and socialism have combined to diminish his reputation in science. Those who dismiss him as a “crank” forget that cranks often make the machinery go, and in whatever he did, Wallace was one who made things happen. He rarely avoided controversy; indeed, he was at his very best while marshaling evidence for an argument. His brilliant imaginative mind, however, frequently offended lesser spirits, for he did not easily tolerate ignorant, pompous arguments; and while others refrained from the lists, Wallace charged into battle. That he did so greatly enriched science. Ironically, many of his social views, which have long detracted from his scientific contributions, are now widely accepted.


I. Original Works. Wallace published more than twenty books. James Marchant, ed., Alfred Russel Wallace. Letters and Reminiscences (New York, 1916), 477. provides an incomplete bibliography. Some editions of Wallace’s book-length scientific publications (excluding translations) are Palm Trees of the Amazon and Their Uses (London, 1853; repr., Lawrence, Kans., 1971); A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (London, 1853; 2nd ed., 1889; re[r. 1971): The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural (London, 1866); The Malay Archipelago; The Land of the Orang-Utan, and the Bird of Paradise. A Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature (London—New York, 1869); Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. A Series of Essays (London, 1870; 2nd ed., 1871); The Geographical Distribution of Animals, 2 vols. (London-New York. 1876; repr., 1962); Tropical Nature, and Other Essays (London, 1878); Australasia, Stanford’s Compendium of Geography and Travel, edited and extended by Wallace (London, 1879; rev., 1893); Island Life or the Phenomena and Causes of Insular Faunas and Floras Including a Revision and Attempted Solution of the Problem of Geological Climates (London-New York, 1880; 2nd. ed., 1892); Darwinism. An Exposition of the Theory of natural Selection With Some of Its Applications (London-New York, 1889; 3rd ed., 1912); Natural Selection and Tropical Nature, Essays on Descriptive and Theoretical Biology (London-New York, 1891); Vaccination a Delusion, Its Penal Enforcement a Crime: Proved by the Official Evidence in the Reports of the Royal Commission (London, 1898); The Wonderful Century. Its Successes and Its Failures (London-New York, 1898, 1925); Studies Scientific & Social, 2 vols. (London-New York, 1900): The Wonderful Century Reader (London , 1901); Man’s Place in the Universe. A study of the Results of Scientific Research in Relation to the Unity or Plurality of Worlds (London-New York, 1903; 4th ed., 1904); My Life, A Record of Events and Opinions. 2 vols. (London-New York, 1905: 2nd ed., 1908): Is Mars Habitable? (London, 1907); Richard Spruce, Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, 2 vols. (London. 1908), ed. by Wallace; and The World of Life. A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose (London, 1910; New York, 1911).

Wallace published about 400 articles and reviews, many of which are listed in Marchant (1916), 478–486. Errors and important omissions abound, and no citation should ever be based on Marchant. The Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers adds a few missing articles but is still very incomplete. H. Lewis McKinney is doing a bibliography of all of Wallace’s works. Wallace’s two important evolutionary articles of 1855 and 1858 are reprinted in H. Lewis McKinney, ed., Lamarck to Darwin: Contributions to Evolutionary Biology, 1809-1859 (Lawrence, Kans., 1971; repr. 1975). 69–82. 89–98.

Many of Wallace’s letters appeared in My Life (1905). James Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace. Letters and Reminiscences, 2 vols. (London, 1916: American ed., in one vol., New York-London, 1916), is the only other collection of published correspondence, although one by H. Lewis McKinney is in progress. Other letters appear in the lives and letters of Charles Lyell, J. D. Hooker, and Charles Darwin. The most complete list of MSS is in McKinney (1972), 177-179, cited below.

II. Secondary Literature. For Wallace’s early work up to 1858, concentrating on evolution and natural selection, see H. Lewis McKinney, Wallace and Natural Selection (New Haven-London, 1972), which cites most secondary literature up to 1972. For a comparison of Wallace’s scientific ideas with currently held ideas, especially in zoogeography, see Wilma George, Biologist Philosopher. A Study of the Life and Writings of Alfred Russel Wallace (London-Toronto-New York, 1964). See also Roger Smith, “Alfred Russel Wallace: Philosophy of Nature and Man,” in British Journal for the History of Science, 6 (1972), 178–199; and M. J. Kottler, “Alfred Russel Wallace, the Origins of Man, and Spiritualism,” in Isis, 65 (1974), 145–192. For references to mimicry, see Charles Remington, “Historical Backgrounds on Mimicry,” in Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Zoology4 (1963), 145–149.

H. Lewis McKinney

Wallace, Alfred Russel

views updated May 29 2018


(b. Usk, Monmouthshire, Wales, 8 January 1823;

d. Broadstone, Dorset, England, 7 November 1913), evolutionary biology, biogeography, physical geography, social theory, astrobiology. For the original article on Wallace see DSB, vol. 14.

Considering the fact he was nearly forgotten after his death for some fifty years, the “rediscovery” of Wallace since the 1960s, at an ever-accelerating pace, is a remarkable story. By the end of the 1970s his fundamental contributions to evolutionary theory (including, of course, his independent discovery of the principle of natural selection), biogeography, anthropology, and physical geography had been revealed, but in the years following scholars have recognized his significance to a number of other individual subjects as well. Further, significant progress has been made since the mid-1980s in clarifying the weave of his idiosyncratic worldview. Many observers now rate Wallace as the single most outstanding field biologist and tropical regions naturalist in history; he can also be credited as one of the founders of astrobiology studies (and in turn as one of the first modern proponents of the anthropic principle in cosmology), a pioneer in the use of statistics in epidemiology, and an influential humanitarian many of whose ideas for social improvement later flourished as elements of the liberal agenda of the twentieth century.

A major reason for Wallace’s “return” has been the birth and growth of the biodiversity studies movement since the late 1980s. At that time the individual species–focused thinking of classical Darwinism increasingly came under fire as researchers strove for new understandings of the diversity and interrelatedness of life and its implications for one’s own well-being. Biogeographical studies suddenly became fashionable again, and in turn many biologists and conservationists rediscovered Wallace’s ideas and writings. Among those Wallace-associated biogeography models under renewed consideration are the so-called riverine barriers theory (that diversity patterns in Amazonia might be related to the isolating effect of the river’s main tributaries), his observations on the history of Wallace’s Line in Indonesia, his explanations for the origin of planet-level latitudinal species diversity gradients, and his suggestion that rapid climatic changes might account for accelerated species change.

Another reason for Wallace’s reemergence has been the increased attention given to his full bibliography, including the clarifications that hundreds of rediscovered works (and even passages) have provided. The additional material has not only made it possible to develop a better model of his overall worldview (as discussed below), but to improve time lines and correct misappreciations of many of his more specific positions. For example, it turns out that his first public statement expressing a divergence of view from Charles Darwin on human evolution appeared not in the famous Quarterly Review article of April 1869, but instead at a British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting eight months earlier; similarly, his first public embrace of socialism came in a short published letter in November 1889, not in the well-known essay “Human Selection” that came out ten months later. As to one factual correction, Wallace has frequently been cited as stating that life could only have evolved on Earth, whereas in an interview printed in 1903 he specifically states he only intended his words to mean “intelligent beings” akin to humans, and not all life forms. Again, Wallace has typically been cast as one of those adhering to a gradualistic, Darwinian model of organic change, whereas it is apparent from passages in several of his lesser known writings that this was not the case and that he instead had embraced something akin to what in the early twenty-first century would be termed a punctuated equilibrium model: that is, change occurring in spurts and separated by long periods of relative stasis.

Further, the portrayal of Wallace as a dispersalist has come under attack by Bernard Michaux, Charles H. Smith, and Bruce S. Lieberman, who point out that his earliest efforts at understanding evolutionary histories (as in the “Sarawak law” essay) actually anticipate vicariance biogeography. Also generally overlooked by pre-1980 sources were the clear indications that prior to 1858 he opposed the very same principle of necessary utility of adaptations that he rigorously supported after that date. In another misconception, his opposition to smallpox vaccination has often been taken as indicating his belief that vaccination was, and always had been, absolutely ineffective—despite the existence of an 1895 publication that directly states his real appreciation that the practice had only in recent years become as dangerous as the likelihood of incidence of the disease, and should therefore be abandoned. Another recently rediscovered article somewhat surprisingly exposes him, despite his spiritualist beliefs, as a sharp critic of theosophy, and in particular reincarnation, which he terms a “grotesque nightmare.”

Views on Social Issues. Indeed, one might reasonably suggest that in the thirty-plus years since the first DSB article, the main progress that has been made in Wallace studies overall has been a realization that earlier ad hoc associations of his name with a variety of positions— including some seemingly, but incorrectly, explained by period social trends and institutions—has had a crippling effect on dispassionate analysis of his actual mindset. Both individual investigators and the recent domination of externalist research agendas must bear some responsibility for this state of affairs, as the evidence was always there.

Another such assumption that does not stand up to close examination pertains to his many forays into social criticism and planning—that these were the rabble-rousing efforts of a crank. Wallace took his social theorizing and involvements very seriously, actually, and the degree to which they presaged later eventualities remains only lightly investigated. As founder and president of the Land Nationalization Society, for example, he led a movement to retrieve ownership of the land from Britain’s relatively few large holders; along the way he devised ingenious compensation schemes that might well have relevance to the way natural lands are now being set aside for purposes of nature conservancy. The system as described in Land Nationalisation was in part based on his recognition of the relationships among (inherent) locational values, value added to the land during its periods of custodianship, and the setting of rents, anticipating elements of twentieth-century economic geography. The same work included suggestions for setting aside land for historic memorials and as greenbelts, another distinctly twentieth-century trend. He was also an early champion of the “new town” planning efforts of Ebenezer Howard.

Wallace also entered into period discussions on economics, addressing those forces he believed were damaging to both national and individual interests. Some of these complaints were predictable (for example, emotional tirades against war expenses and the profligate vices of the wealthy), but some were better thought out and influenced later thinkers: for example, his thoughts on the development of a paper money standard, which were taken seriously by the American economist Irving Fisher and later by members of the Chicago School. One of Wallace’s main pleas in the economics arena was that the “old” ideas invested in political economy should be replaced by more soundly relevant principles contributing to what he termed a “social economy.” Among these new principles was the startling idea that the state should not legally recognize wills and trusts bearing on far-future events—a concept that is actually beginning to find its place in the world of early twenty-first century philanthropic practices.

To understand how such interests followed from Wallace’s investment in the general subject of evolution, one requires a passably good picture of his overall operating cosmology, and in this realm the availability of the rediscovered sources and an alertness to avoid a priori assumptions sustained considerable progress. Wallace was represented in the DSB essay of 1976 as a man who had adopted a general—actually rather modern—evolutionary perspective around 1845 with his reading of the anonymously penned Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, made a rather slow but steady kind of progress in unraveling the change-invoking influences involved, and had a revelation as to an exact mechanism (natural selection) in 1858, but then several years later had second thoughts about the universality of that mechanism and began to backslide on the theory accordingly. Supposedly, his defection from his original view (in 1858) came about as a result of his adoption of spiritualism, his waning respect for natural selection as a positive force in evolution, disillusioned Owenite leanings, or some combination of the three. This theory, the “change of mind” interpretation of his intellectual development, was as of 2007 in the process of being overturned by a new “no change of mind” model that better fits the known facts, and does not rely so heavily on negative evidence.

Route to Ideas about Selection. The “change of mind” model derives most centrally from the notion that in the “Ternate Essay” of 1858 Wallace had accepted that natural selection pertained to humans as it did to other living things, and secondarily (and implicitly) on the idea that his route to the discovery of natural selection was a relatively linear, if not very speedy one. But humankind is not referred to in the essay (nor did he ever later say they were meant to be included in the argument), which nevertheless does contain seeds of his later-used argument that humans are different, based on the analogy of domesticated animals (that is, both humans and domesticated animals are changed in a manner distinct from the operation of a rote natural selection process). Further, it is apparent that Wallace’s route to 1858 was not a linear one. As alluded to earlier, he clearly believed prior to 1858 that adaptive structures were not necessarily utilitarian, and very probably believed that after coming into being through unknown means they were then secondarily shaped (developed further, or went away through disuse or extinction) by gradual, large-scale environmental forces that somehow provided overriding direction—a model invoking implied final causes. Along these lines it is significant that the 1858 natural selection paper contains no mention of any of the thoughts on evolution introduced in the 1855 “Sarawak [a state of Malaysia, on northwest side of the island of Borneo] Law” essay, nor to the several papers between 1855 and 1858 that represented developments of it, and thus that a new direction is suggested.

As of mid-1858, therefore, it looks as though Wallace was in possession of a model that accounted for the adaptive shaping of lower life forms, but not, considering his many years of experience observing native peoples with abilities they seemed to have no need for, people. In analogy with the domestication process and in continuation of his final causes-centered approach, Wallace began to look for mechanisms that might serve to help human beings evolve in spite of themselves; that is, without their being aware of it.

Distracted on returning to England in 1862 by the success of Darwin’s materialist approach and the writings of the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, Wallace at first laid off “big picture” thinking and concentrated on the disposal/description of his natural history specimens. His misgivings about the range of applicability of natural selection soon resurfaced obliquely, however, in a series of papers and discussions beginning in September 1864 dealing with the means of civilizing savages. Around the time the last of these appeared, he was introduced to the writings of spiritualism, perhaps by his sister. On investigating he discovered that these preached a philosophy of acting on intelligent conviction, exactly the kind of mechanism that in theory might serve a societal final cause. He began attending séances in the hope that these would prove the existence of a domain of spirits contributing to that final cause. Eventually he was convinced by what he saw, and by the beginning of 1867 was not only advocating objective analysis of spiritualism, but had become a full believer besides. His final public break on the evolution of humankind with Darwin in 1868–1869 was delayed by his writing The Malay Archipelago in the interim, but when it did take place it signaled not a change of mind, but instead the completion of a teleological model of evolution: that is, as enacted through final causes.

What of the remaining threads used to defend the old “change of mind” hypothesis? It should first be pointed out that there is nothing in Wallace’s writings at this time (or later) to suggest that he was a “disillusioned socialist” during this period; in fact, just about all of his writings on socialism and the social reformer Robert Owen date from 1889 on, because before that point he simply had not felt that socialism was practicable. Further, while it has often been posed that Wallace’s adoption of spiritualism caused him to alter his position on humankind’s evolution, he is on record himself (in the preface to his book On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism) as saying this was not the case. The changes that he made in his 1864 essay “The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man” when it was included in the collection Contributions of the Theory of Natural Selection in 1870 have sometimes been offered as evidence of a change of mind, but were this the case, why in the preface of the latter work would he specifically say “I had intended to have considerably extended this essay, but on attempting it I found that I should probably weaken the effect without adding much to the argument. I have therefore preferred to leave it as it was first written, with the exception of a few ill-considered passages which never fully expressed my meaning” (p. viii)? Again, there is no real evidence here or in the adjusted passages of owning up to a “change of mind” of the sort accused. Finally, there is Wallace’s 18 April 1869 letter to Darwin, in which he states:

I can quite comprehend your feelings with regard to my ‘unscientific’ opinions as to Man, because a few years back I should myself have looked at them as equally wild and uncalled for .... My opinions on the subject have been modified solely by the consideration of a series of remarkable phenomena, physical and mental, which I have now had every opportunity of fully testing. (in Marchant, pp. 199–200)

Here Wallace simply states a fact: that his opinions have been “modified”—not changed (that is, reversed)—by this new source of information. The interpretation that this modification constituted a full-blown reversal of position has for many years been fed by the assumption that Wallace intended his ideas as expressed in 1858 to apply to humankind, which as shown above is an unlikely stretch.

To summarize, in his early years Wallace held a Bau-plan-like view of nature and society, which featured a utilitarian role for productive belief in the social milieu but rejected necessary utility of adaptations at the biological level (that is, both bad ideas and bad biological structures were eventually weeded out by more remote, weighty forces). In 1858 he realized how a “necessary utility” model not related to first causes thinking—natural selection—could operate. This however still left him unable to explain how the turnover process might operate at the level of higher consciousness. In late 1865, while already investigating séance phenomena, he began attending a series of public soirees, given by the spiritualist lecturer Emma Hardinge, that linked spiritualist teachings to natural science. Wallace was obviously impressed, soon after beginning to compose his Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural, published in a magazine in the summer of 1866 and soon thereafter as a pamphlet (this contains many quotations from Hardinge’s writings). There had been no “change of mind,” just the finalization of an evolutionary model in which natural selection and spiritualism stood side by side. (Further development of the “no change of mind” model appears in this author’s Alfred Russel Wallace: Evolution of an Evolutionist, an online monograph hosted by The Alfred Russel Wallace Page).

The “no change of mind” model leaves the scholar in a much better position to understand Wallace’s later work, and indeed to contrast his approach to evolutionary studies with Darwin's. As one example, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson recognized as early as 1972 that Wallacean natural selection, describing as it does a mechanism for removal of the unfit (and hence a net return toward the norm), represents a negative feedback process that of itself does not capture the entire “push-pull” character of irreversible biological change. Understanding this, one can in turn recognize that Wallace was not the hyperselectionist many (especially the late Stephen Jay Gould) have accused him of being: Wallace never argued that natural selection necessarily created the variation on which it acted (and indeed in several instances pointed out that we were entirely ignorant of its origin), merely that all such variation, once existing, was subject to its action. One next naturally wonders how exactly to contextualize the remaining positive feedback part of the process, a question central to biogeographic and evolutionary studies alike.

Despite the many advances that have been made in appreciating Wallace on his own terms since 1976, one cannot end here without mentioning the ongoing (more than thirty-year) discussion as to whether Darwin might possibly have stolen ideas from Wallace’s 1858 paper “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type” to help him complete what would become On the Origin of Species in 1859. This theory, especially as developed by Arnold C. Brackman in 1980 and John L. Brooks in 1983, is based on real, though by no means overwhelming, evidence. In any case, little new evidence of a kind that could either silence or markedly encourage conspiracy theorists has surfaced for many years.

The complete Wallace is still emerging. In early 2006 this author discovered an unpublished paper that Wallace wrote in 1843 at the age of twenty. This short work, explaining a possible mercury-based technology for preparing lenses in telescopy, was sent to William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography, for comment. There is no evidence Talbot ever responded, but it is intriguing that in 1850 a friend of one of Talbot’s colleagues (the prominent astronomer Giovanni Amici, who actually visited Talbot in England in 1844), read a paper in Italy laying out principles fundamental to what in the early twenty-first century is known as spinning mirror telescopy, a related mercury-based technology.


A thorough bibliography of secondary sources, including period reviews of Wallace’s books, an iconography, and a list of obituaries, is provided at the Alfred Russel Wallace Page Web site. The most complete listing of archival resources is in Shermer. A Wallace correspondence project was as of 2007 underway under the direction of the historian James Moore.


The Alfred Russel Wallace Reader: A Selection of Writings from the Field. Edited by Jane R. Camerini. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology. Edited by Andrew Berry. London and New York: Verso, 2002.

Alfred Russel Wallace: Writings on Evolution, 1843–1912. Edited by Charles H. Smith. 3 vols. Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.


Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. London: Intertext, 1972.

Brackman, Arnold C. A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. New York: Times Books, 1980.

Brooks, John L. Just before the Origin: Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Evolution. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Fichman, Martin. An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Lieberman, Bruce S. “Geobiology and Paleobiogeography: Tracking the Coevolution of the Earth and Its Biota.” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 219 (2005): 23–33.

Marchant, James, ed. Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences. New York: Arno, 1975. Reprint of 1916 edition published by Cassell.

Michaux, Bernard. “Distributional Patterns and Tectonic Development in Indonesia: Wallace Reinterpreted.” Australian Systematic Botany 4 (September 1991): 25–36.

———. “Island Life.” Journal of Biogeography 27 (2000): 219–222.

Raby, Peter. Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Shermer, Michael. In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Slotten, Ross A. The Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Smith, Charles H. “Alfred Russel Wallace, Past and Future.” Journal of Biogeography 32 (2005): 1509–1515.

———. “Wallace’s Unfinished Business.” Complexity 10 (November–December 2004): 25–32.

Charles H. Smith

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823-1913)

views updated Jun 08 2018

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823-1913)

British naturalist, codiscoverer with Charles Darwin of the principles of biological evolution. Wallace was a philosophical skeptic, a materialist. His experience of Spiritualist phenomena overcame his skepticism.

In the preface to his book On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1874) Wallace writes:

"They compelled me to accept them, as facts, long before I could accept the spiritual explanation of them: there was at that time 'no place in my fabric of thought into which it could be fitted.' (Argument of Dr. Carpenter). By slow degrees a place was made."

Wallace was led to believe 1) in the existence of numerous preternatural intelligences of various grades and 2) that some of these intelligences, although usually invisible and intangible to us, can and do act on matter, and do influence our minds. It was by the latter doctrine that he accounted for some of the residual phenomena in his work Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870).

Wallace was born on January 8, 1823, at Usk, Monmouth-shire. After leaving school he worked as a land surveyor and architect. Around 1840 his interest in botany began and he started a herbarium. In 1845, he was an English teacher at the Collegiate School, Leicester, where he met H. W. Bates, who influenced him to collect and study beetles.

In 1848, they commenced a joint naturalist expedition to the River Amazon. On the return journey, most of Wallace's collection was destroyed in a fire on the ship, but his book A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro appeared in 1853. He next traveled in the Malay Archipelago, and his large insect collections passed to Oxford University and the British Museum.

In February 1858, during a severe attack of fever, he was thinking about Malthus' Essay on Population when, to quote his own words: "There suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest." He drafted a theory which he posted to Charles Darwin a few days later. By coincidence, Wallace's paper was virtually an abstract of Darwin's own theory, written in 1842.

Wallace's earliest experiences relating to Spiritualism dated from 1844 when he was a schoolmaster in Leicester. Influenced by a lecture given by Spencer Hall on mesmerism, he tried similar experiments. Later, during twelve years of tropical wanderings in which he was occupied in the study of natural history, he heard occasionally of table-turning and spirit rapping. He decided to investigate them on his return.

His first opportunity came on July 22, 1865, in the house of a friend. After more than a dozen sittings he became satisfied that "there is an unknown power developed from the bodies of a number of persons placed in connection by sitting round a table with all their hands on it."

The next stage of his inquiry began in September 1865 and was devoted to the physical and mental phenomena of Mary Marshall. In broad daylight, Wallace observed levitation, movement of objects without contact (telekinesis ), and the alteration of weight. Although unknown to Marshall, the place name "Para," where Wallace's brother died, his name and that of the last friend who saw him were spelled out. Messages came spelled backwards, through direct writing.

Impressed by these occurrences, Wallace investigated in his own home with the help of a medium. Phenomena were obtained and from November 1866 onward, Wallace had the opportunity to watch mediumship of Agnes Guppy-Volckman develop. A stout woman, she was lifted noiselessly on the top of the table while sitting in her chair, with five or six persons close around her. Musical sounds were heard without the presence of instruments. A German guest, a stranger, sang several songs and the strains of this music accompanied her throughout.

Guppy-Volckman supposedly had the ability to apport flowers and fruit. In midwinter, after she sat for four hours in a small, warm, gas-lighted room in the Wallace home, a quantity of flowers appeared upon a bare tableanemones, tulips, chrysanthemums, Chinese primroses, and several ferns. Wallace stated: "All were absolutely fresh as if just gathered from a conservatory. They were covered with a fine cold dew. Not a petal was crumpled or broken, not the most delicate point or pinnule of the ferns was out of place."

Wallace stated that the phenomenon was repeated afterward hundreds of times. The flowers sometimes arrived in large quantities. They were often brought on request, fruits as well as flowers. A friend of Wallace asked for a sunflower, and one six feet high fell on the table, with a large mass of earth about its roots.

The naturalist formed a committee of the London Dialectical Society in 1869 and witnessed, under test conditions, a variety of telekinetic phenomena. When the possibility of spirit photography was for the first time demonstrated in England in the studio of Frederick A. Hudson, Wallace was anxious to test this new phenomenon. Sitting with Guppy-Volckman he obtained a communication by raps that his mother would try to appear on Hudson's photographic plate.

He sat three times, choosing his own position, and found a male figure with a short sword on the first photographic plate, and a female figure on the two other plates. Reportedly, both of the latter images resembled his mother, and the second plate was unlike any known photograph previously taken of her. Under a magnifying glass, supposedly this second picture disclosed a special feature of his mother's face.

In view of these experiences and the large amount of testimony in the literature of Spiritualism to similar occurrences, Wallace declared it was his opinion that the phenomena of Spiritualism did not require further confirmation. "They are proved, quite as well as any facts are proved in other sciences."

His later attitude was in accordance with this conviction. He never missed an opportunity to test psychic phenomena. He made several attempts to convince the pillars of scientific skepticism and started by inviting W. B. Carpenter to attend some sittings in his own home. Carpenter came one evening. Raps were heard, and these were repeated, sounding, at request, in any part of the table. Carpenter sat still and made no comment. He never returned to Wallace's home.

The same thing happened with his colleague John Tyndall, another scientific skeptic. Wallace had sent Thomas Henry Huxley his paper "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural," which was later included in On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism. Huxley responded to Wallace, "I am neither shocked nor disposed to issue a commission of lunacy against you. It may be true, for anything that I know to the contrary, but really I cannot get up interest in the subject." G. H. Lewes accepted an invitation to the Wallace home but never went.

Between 1870 and 1880, Wallace had many opportunities to witness interesting phenomena in the houses of various friends. Through a member of his own family, automatic writing was received in his own home, purporting to come from his deceased brother William and containing many predictions which were later fulfilled.

In 1874, Wallace was asked by the Fortnightly Review to write an article on Spiritualism. It appeared under the title "A De-fence of Modern Spiritualism" and also later in On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, first published in 1875. The volume also included two new chapters on the nature and purport of apparitions. Later editions would be enlarged with accounts of the author's further personal experiences in séances with Katie Cook, W. Haxby, Francis Ward Monck, William Eglinton, and others. During much of the rest of his life, Wallace found himself defending mediums, who were increasingly seen as frauds. His defense would lead to a lively discussion with Eleanor Sidgwick in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in 1888.

Wallace defended Henry Slade and gave evidence of the genuineness of his phenomena at the trial in Bow Street Police Court, London, in 1876. In the same year, by casting his vote as president of the anthropological subcommittee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science he made possible the presentation of William F. Barrett 's paper on Spiritualism.

In the years 1886-87, during a lecture tour of America, Wallace stayed for some time in three centers of Spiritualism Boston, Washington and San Francisco. He attended materialization séances with a medium named Ross, and when it was rumored that she was caught in fraud he testified on her behalf in a letter to the Banner of Light.

In Washington, in the company of Elliot Coues, General Lippitt and D. Lyman, Wallace had remarkable experiences with the medium Pierre L. O. A. Keeler, and he sat in San Francisco at an outstanding slate-writing séance with Fred P. Evans in which writing was produced in five different colors and, on his impromptu suggestion, six crayon drawings were precipitated on six pieces of paper placed between a pair of slates, some of the drawings having personal relevance.

In later years, Wallace did not encounter much Spiritualist phenomena but he remained true to his convictions up to the end of his busy life. In 1910, he received the Order of Merit for his scientific researches, however, because of his advocacy of Spiritualism, his scientific contributions were largely ignored and have remained unheralded. He died at Broadstone, Dorset, on November 7, 1913.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.

Wallace, Alfred Russell. "Correspondence." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 16 (1898).

. My Life: An Autobiography. 2 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.

. On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism: Three Essays. London: James Burns, 1975.

Alfred Russel Wallace

views updated May 23 2018

Alfred Russel Wallace

The English naturalist and traveler Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), independently of Darwin, dis cerned the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.

Alfred Russel Wallace, the eighth of nine children, was born on Jan. 8, 1823, at Usk, Monmouthshire. He was educated at Hertford Grammar school and left at the age of 14. He learned surveying and some geology from his brother William.

In 1844 Wallace became a schoolmaster at the Collegiate School in Leicester, where he met the naturalist Henry Bates. Wallace convinced Bates to join him on an expedition to the Amazon to collect specimens. They sailed in April 1848; by March 1850 they separated so as to exploit wider collecting grounds. Wallace sailed for England in 1852; his specimens were lost when the ship was destroyed by fire. He reported on his findings in Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro and Palm Trees of the Amazon (both 1853).

In 1854 Wallace was given a government passage to Malaysia, where he spent 8 years and amassed an outstanding collection of specimens. In 1855 he wrote the essay "On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species," demonstrating that "every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a preexisting closely-allied species." This attracted the attention of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin.

By February 1858 Wallace conceived a method of evolution and sent his account, "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type," to Darwin. To his amazement, he found Wallace's material to be almost identical with his own 1842 manuscript that had never been published. Anxious considerations of priority were solved by Lyell and J. D. Hooker, who advised Darwin to make a joint presentation of both papers. This took place on July 1, 1858, at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London. Darwin's extended summary of his views became the Origin of Species (1859); Wallace's fame as the codiscoverer of the principle of descent with modification through selection was assured.

Wallace continued his studies of the distribution of animals. The sale of his collections of biota yielded an annual income of £300, later lost through unwise speculation. He supported himself thereafter through his publications. His most notable works were The Malay Archipelago (1869), which combined sketches of travel and natural history with a discussion of evolutionary biology: Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870), which contained reprints of his earlier papers and indicated his differences with Darwin's views; and The Geographical Distribution of Animals (2 vols., 1876), a noteworthy pioneering work that was fundamental for all subsequent investigations in this field. Wallace was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1893 and was a recipient of the Copley, Royal, and Darwin medals. He received the Order of Merit in 1909. He died at Broadstone, Dorset, on Nov. 7, 1913.

Further Reading

Considerable biographical information can be gleaned from Wallace's own writings, My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions (2 vols., 1905) and A. R. Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (2 vols., 1916). Books on his life and work include Lancelot T. Hogben, A. R. Wallace: The Story of a Great Discoverer (1918); Wilma George, Biologist Philosopher: A Study of the Life and Writing of Alfred Russel Wallace (1964); and Amabel Williams-Ellis, Darwin's Moon: A Biography of Alfred Russel Wallace (1966). For background see Lorin C. Eiseley, Darwin's Century (1958).

Additional Sources

Brackman, Arnold C., A delicate arrangement: the strange case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, New York: Times Books, 1980.

Brooks, John Langdon, Just before the origin: Alfred Russel Wallace's theory of evolution, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Fichman, Martin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1981.

Wallace, Alfred Russel, My life; a record of events and opinion, New York, AMS Press, 1974. □

Wallace, Alfred Russel

views updated May 18 2018

Wallace, Alfred Russel

Naturalist 1823-1913

Alfred Russel Wallace was born on January 8, 1823, in Usk, Great Britain (Wales). He died at the age of 90 on November 7, 1913. Wallace developed a theory of evolution by natural selection independently of Charles Darwin but at nearly the same time. He also founded the field of animal geography, the study of where animals occur on Earth.

As a boy Wallace had a great interest in plants and collected them. In 1844 he began teaching at a boy's school, the Collegiate School in Leicester, Leicestershire, England. There he met the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates, who got him interested in insects. In 1848 Wallace and Bates began a four-year expedition to the Amazon. Unfortunately, the ship sank on the return voyage, and most of Wallace's collected specimens were lost. In 1853 he published a book about the journey. In 1854 Wallace began an eight-year tour of the Malay Archipelago in the East Indies. He studied the culture of the native people and the geographical distribution of the animals. He collected and described thousands of new tropical species, and was the first European to see an orangutan in the wild. Wallace discovered that the animals of the Malay Archipelago are divided into two groups of species following an imaginary line, now known as "Wallace's Line." Species west of the line are more closely related to mammals of Asia. Those east of the line are more closely related to mammals of Australia.

While in Malaysia, Wallace thought of the concept of "survival of the fittest" as the key to evolution. In 1858 he wrote about his theory in a paper that he sent to Charles Darwin. Darwin realized that they both had the same revolutionary ideas. The men presented their ideas together in a joint paper to the Linnaean Society in 1858. Darwin is given most of the credit for the theory of evolution by natural selection because he developed the idea in much more detail than Wallace did. Also, Darwin was the person most responsible for its acceptance in the scientific community. Both Wallace and Darwin believed that man evolved to his present bodily form by natural selection. However, Wallace insisted that man's complex mental abilities must have been due to a different, nonbiological force. His activities in spiritual and psychic circles caused many of his fellow scientists to avoid him.

Wallace went on to write many influential books about evolution as well as tales of his journeys. He was an outspoken supporter of socialism, women's rights, and pacifism. He was awarded the Order of Merit by the British government in 1910.

Denise Prendergast


Muir, Hazel, ed. Larousse Dictionary of Scientists. New York: Larousse Kingfisher Chambers Inc., 1994.

Internet Resources

Alfred Russel Wallace. <http://www.wku.edu/%7Esmithch/index1.htm>.

Alfred Russel Wallace

views updated Jun 11 2018

Alfred Russel Wallace


English Naturalist, Explorer and Surveyor

Alfred Russel Wallace reached the conclusion that natural selection is the mechanism for evolution as did Charles Darwin, making him co-discoverer of the idea in the eyes of most historians. Although his work occurred twenty years later than did Darwin's, it propelled Darwin to publish his own theory of evolution—today considered one of the titanic achievements in the history of science. Wallace was the first naturalist to mount an expedition specifically to find proof of this theory. Collecting specimens in southeast Asia, he also noted a dividing line between animal species from Asia and Australia, still called the Wallace line.

Alfred Russel Wallace was born in Wales in 1823, the eighth of nine children. He went to school in Hertford, but formal education ended when he was sent to live with his brother William in London in 1836. He was an avid reader and never stopped learning.

Alfred made a small living apprenticed to his brother, a surveyor. He studied local plants, animals, and geology during surveying trips and collected fossils. When there was no more work, he was apprenticed to a watchmaker. Here he learned engraving and chemistry.

He then worked as a teacher, keeping just ahead of his students by reading. At this time he met Henry Bates, an entomologist interested in beetles and butterflies. They remained lifelong friends.

Alfred got a job surveying for a new railway, earning enough money to take an expedition to South America with Bates to study species in 1848. Wallace was 25 years old. Four years later, he returned home, but on the way his ship was destroyed by fire. He lost many of the specimens he had collected. Fortunately, he had sent some specimens home, which he then sold to museums and collectors. He met members of the Zoological and Entomological Society of London and was aided by Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), a friend of Darwin, to publish his first article in 1853.

Later, Wallace embarked alone on an expedition to the Malay Archipelago, where he remained for eight years. It was the most significant period of his life, during which time he developed his theory of evolution and natural selection, observed differences between animals of same species in different locations, and wrote many articles. One—"On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type"—he sent to Charles Darwin (1809-1882). When Darwin received it, he was shocked to know someone else had reached the same conclusions he had. On July 1, 1858, a short treatise by Darwin and Wallace's paper were read jointly to a meeting of the Linnean Society. The occasion established Darwin's priority on the subject but showed that Wallace was co-discoverer of these evolutionary ideas. Most of Darwin's landmark book, Origin of the Species, was written by that point, and it was much more detailed than Wallace's own writings. Wallace acknowledged this in a letter to Darwin. They differed on many aspects of the subject and engaged in a lively correspondence for years.

Wallace returned to England in 1862, sold most of his specimens, invested the money in railroad stocks, and settled down in Dorset. With a steady income, he gave lectures and wrote about his ideas and travels. In the next 50 years, he wrote 24 books, 240 articles, 100 reviews, and countless letters. When he was 72, he went on a natural history collecting expedition to Switzerland. He received prizes and medals, was elected to the Royal Society, and was generally respected for his work. His last book was published just before he died in 1913.


Wallace, Alfred Russel

views updated May 23 2018

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823–1913) British naturalist, who in 1848 went on an expedition to the Amazon, and in 1854 travelled to the Malay Archipelago. There he noticed the differences between the animals of Asia and Australasia and devised Wallace's line, which separates them. This led him to develop a theory of evolution through natural selection, which coincided with the views of Charles Darwin; their theories were presented jointly to the Linnaean Society in 1858.

Wallace, Alfred Russel

views updated May 17 2018

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823–1913) An English naturalist who was a contemporary of Charles Darwin. He worked in the E. Indies and as a result of his observations there came independently to the theory of evolution by natural selection. His ideas were presented together with those of Darwin in a joint paper to the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858. See also WALLACE'S LINE.

Wallace, Alfred Russel

views updated Jun 11 2018

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823–1913) English naturalist and evolutionist. Wallace developed a theory of natural selection independently of (but at the same time as) Charles Darwin. He wrote Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870), explaining the theory of evolution.

Wallace, Alfred Russel

views updated May 18 2018

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823–1913) A British naturalist who worked in the E. Indies and as a result of his observations there arrived independently at a theory of evolution by natural selection. This was communicated to Charles Darwin and their views were combined in the paper they presented jointly to the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858