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Wallace on animal distribution and admiration of Darwin

Wallace on animal distribution and admiration of Darwin (page 1)

Catalogue number: WP1/3/49

Letter from Wallace to entomologist friend Henry Walter Bates expressing his admiration for Darwin's new book, discussing evidence for the geographical distribution of animals and exchanging specimens, dated December 1860.

Wallace writes to Bates, his good friend and fellow entomologist, while on the island of Ternate in the Malay Archipelago. He enthuses about Darwin's book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859. 'I know not how or to whom to express fully my admiration of Darwin's book. To him it would seem flattery, to others self-praise.' Wallace had himself contributed to the idea of natural selection but states that he 'could never have approached the completeness of his [Darwin's] book - its overwhelming argument and its admirable tone and spirit' if he, Wallace, had attempted to write it. 'I really feel thankful that it has not been left to me to give the theory to the public.' He says Darwin 'has created a new science and a new philosophy...' Indeed he had. The study of biology changed for ever.

Wallace's open praise of Darwin's work shows he was not bitter and did not think that Darwin stole his ideas. Wallace was proud of his contributions, but ultimately seems a little glad that Darwin drew all the ideas together to present to the public.

Wallace shares his thoughts on patterns of animal distribution. He was convinced that, compared to insects, birds and mammals gave a good indication of 'zoological geography', since they have greater chance of distribution, and are more affected by local circumstances (i.e. vegetation and climate). This means each species adapts to its environment. In contrast, insect populations 'very rapidly become amalgamated'. He found those 'from Malacca to New Guinea' were very similar, while very different to Australian forms, where climate and vegetation differed.

Wallace worked extensively on 'zoological geography'. He first expressed his ideas in the groundbreaking paper On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species, written in Sarawak in 1855 (Annals and Magazine of Natural History, vol. 16).

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

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