Catalogue number: WP1/3/45
Letter from Wallace to his childhood friend George Silk referring to his paper presented to the Linnean Society that August, and discussing politics and literature, dated November 1858.
Wallace writes to his childhood friend George Silk, while in Batchian (now called Bacan, in Indonesia) part of the Malay Archipelago. He briefly reminisces about a previous trip to Switzerland and then comments on his love of solitude. 'I find it very favourable to reflection', he admits. Wallace spent many years collecting, away from home.
Wallace suggests Silk borrows a copy of the Linnean Society's Journal of Proceedings. Wallace says the August edition contains 'some of my latest lucubrations with some complementary remarks therein...' by Sir Charles Lyell and Dr J.D. Hooker. Wallace refers to his paper On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type. He says the he is 'a little proud' of the comments since he doesn't know Lyell and Hooker personally. This paper prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own ideas on evolution. Darwin had made notes on the subject for many years but delayed publishing his notes because of concerns about criticism.
Wallace discovered the mechanism of evolution, natural selection, during a fever, probably an attack of malaria. He was so weak, he could do nothing but rest and think. A few days later Wallace wrote notes on natural selection and sent them, with a letter, to Darwin. He asked Darwin if he thought they were good enough for Lyell to comment on. Darwin realised he and Wallace had similar ideas on natural selection. He felt it would be dishonourable to publish his own work.
To solve the problem of priority (who would get their ideas published first), Darwin's friends, Hooker and Lyell, decided to present a joint paper to the Linnean Society of London. This happened at the meeting on 1 July 1858. Subsequently, a joint paper entitled On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection was published. Darwin's famous book On the Origin of Species followed a year later.
In the remainder of this letter Wallace discusses his dislike of politics and recommends to Silk an assortment of papers and books. There is a postscript to the letter: 'A big spider fell close to my hand in the middle of my signature which accounts for the hitch.' This shows Wallace's typical sense of humour.
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View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.