Skip to page content

Magazine interview with Wallace

Magazine interview with Wallace

Catalogue number: WP2/2/4

Magazine interview with Wallace commenting on natural selection and Darwinism, and a description of Wallace's likable personality, dated March 1909.

This 10-page feature on Wallace was published in The Pall Mall Magazine in 1909. Key events in Wallace's life are summarised, sometimes rather dramatically, by the journalist conducting the interview, Ernest H. Rann.

Magazine subscribers would have been gripped to read how Wallace developed the theory of natural selection during a bout of malaria: 'As he lay there in Ternate, he called to mind Malthus's exposition of the checks to increase afforded by war, pestilence and famine; and then it suddenly flashed across his mind that this self-acting process would improve the race - that the weakest would go to the wall, and the fittest would survive...It was like a streak of illuminating lightning on the dark sky of ignorance and conjecture, - the explanation of many problems for the solution of which scientific men had been groping for centuries.'

It is actually thought that Wallace was in a small hut on the island of Gilolo (now called Halmahera, Indonesia) when the theory of natural selection 'flashed across his mind'. The essay he wrote was indeed posted from close-by Ternate, since that was where the mail ship docked.

Wallace describes a typical day at his house, Old Orchard at Broadstone in Dorset. He comments on his garden, and gives his views on Darwinism, socialism and spiritualism.

On Darwinism the interviewer writes that Wallace wants to 'state once more the essential truth of Darwinism, and its relation to the world of life'. Apparently, Wallace said these words 'as the light of battle glinted in his eye'. Wallace went on to say that 'Darwin...will stand secure in the coming ages against all criticism'.

This article illustrates Wallace's strong personality and determination, even aged 86. Rann says he retains 'his intellectual vigour and a measure of physical strength which would do credit to many a man half his age'. Wallace was also a very likable individual, as the interviewer recognised: 'By virtue of his achievements Dr. Wallace might have been dignified and aloof, but I found him singularly modest and unaffected, jealous of his own opinions, it is true, but open to every wave of thought...'

Search this collection
Contact us

For enquiries about the Wallace Collection please email the library

Wallace Letters Online

Letter to Alfred Russel Wallace from the Royal Society, about his Darwin Medal award

View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.

Explore Wallace's correspondence