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Wallace100

February 2013
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Watch a 30 minute Nature Live talk with George Beccaloni and Caroline Catchpole about Wallace's early life and his adventures in the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago. The event on 25 January 2013 marked the simultaneous launch of the Museum's Wallace100 events programme and Wallace Letters Online, and it features footage of comedian and Wallace fan Bill Bailey unveiling the magnificent portrait of Wallace, newly reinstated in the Museum's Central Hall.

 

 

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As February is the month of romance and many of us get into the spirit by celebrating St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th, I thought I would make February’s letter of the month feature all about romance and look behind the science to Wallace the man.

 

This month’s letter was written to Alfred Newton, who was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge University, elected to the post in 1866 and one he retained until his death in 1907. Wallace and Newton corresponded extensively upon Wallace’s return to England from the Malay Archipelago on a variety of scientific and personal subjects and Wallace Letters Online features a total of 83 letters written between the two men.

 

However, one particular letter dated 19th February 1865 that Wallace wrote to Newton caught my eye; it was about more than science, revealing a recent heartbreak he had suffered. He writes to Newton,

 

“The fact is however I have done nothing for the last six months, -- having met with that "tide" Shakespear[sic] speaks of, which I had thought to have taken at the flood & been carried on, not to fortune but to happiness, -- when a wave came & left me high & dry, -- & here I am like a fish out of water.

 

To descend from metaphor I have been considerably cut up. I was to have been married in December, -- everything appeared serene, -- invitations were sent out, wedding dresses ordered & all the programme settled, when almost at the last moment without the slightest warning the whole affair was broken off.”

 

The lady in question was Marion Leslie, daughter of Wallace’s chess-playing friend Lewis Leslie. Peter Raby, in his excellent biography of Wallace theorises some possible reasons for the literal jilt at the altar, citing Wallace’s unsteady income, lack of investments and possibly some of his more ‘unorthdox’ views may have reached the family.

 

Wallace also speaks of his heartbreak to Darwin in January 1865, writing “you may imagine how this has upset me when I tell you that I never in my life before had met with a woman I could love, & in this case I firmly believe I was most truly loved in return.

 

Scarcely any of my acquaintances know of this, but though we have met so little yet I look upon you as a friend, & as such hope you will pardon my boring you with my private affairs.”

 

Wallace despairs in another letter to Darwin in October 1865 that he is struggling to complete his work and believes having a wife would greatly assist him with his work although he believes it “not likely” to happen. At this point, you have to really feel for Wallace, jilted at the altar and believing himself to remain a bachelor from there on in. It’s also nice to see first-hand that Wallace felt Darwin and Newton were close enough confidantes and friends that he could share such delicate affairs of the heart with them.

 

All was not lost, thankfully! To give the story the happy ending it deserves, he met his future wife Annie Mitten, daughter of William Mitten, an authority on bryophytes, when he visited Mitten’s home in Treeps with his friend Richard Spruce. Alfred and Annie were married on 5th April 1866 and their first son Herbert was born in June the following year, with Violet and William following in 1869 and 1871. They remained happily married for the rest of his life.

 

Wallace & Annie.jpg

Wallace and his wife Annie

© Wallace Memorial Fund & G. W. Beccaloni

 

Call me a hopeless romantic but this letter really piqued my interest. When we think back to the great scientific minds of the nineteenth century, we often define them by their theories and the great scientific work they produced (and also conjure up an image of them which is invariably them in old age, bearded and be-spectacled) and forget they were just like you and me (albeit a touch more intelligent!) and I find it immensely interesting to uncover the more personal side of the scientist, the character and personality behind the science. This is just one of many reasons Wallace Letters Online is such a useful resource, as it can finally give unbiased insights into Wallace’s private life, from the man himself!

 

Follow the Library and Archives twitter feed where we’ll be tweeting Wallace facts weekly and check back next month when I take another leap into Wallace Letters Online for March’s letter of the month.

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Thursday 24 January saw the official launch of both the Museum's Wallace100 events programme for 2013 and the Wallace Correspondence Project's (WCP) digital archive of Wallace's correspondence - Wallace Letters Online (WLO). The launches took place at an evening event for people directly connected with these projects.

 

There were about 80 guests, including three generations of the Wallace family, Sir David Attenborough (Patron of the WCP), comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey, Wallace biographer Peter Raby, representatives of the Linnean, Royal Geographical and Royal Entomological Societies, staff from Kew Gardens, and from Museums at Thurrock, Hertford, Dudley, Swansea, Cardiff and Oxford (all of which are planning Wallace exhibitions this year).

 

Other notable guests included the Deputy Indonesian Ambassador to the UK, a Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project and a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. There were also about 16 Museum staff working on the night.

Judith,Shane&Andy.c.NHM.jpgLeft to right: Judith Magee (Wallace100 manager), Shane Winser (Royal Geographical Society), Andy Polaszek (Wallace100 manager).
© Natural History Museum
WallaceGreatGrandsons&Bill.c.J.Beccaloni.jpgLeft to right: Richard Wallace (ARW's great-grandson), Bill Bailey, Bill Wallace (ARW's great-grandson).
©  J. Beccaloni
c.J.Beccaloni.jpgLeft to right: John Wallace (ARW's grandson), Rosamund (ARW's great-great-granddaughter), George Beccaloni (director of WLO), Jan Beccaloni (secretary of the Wallace Fund), Susan (ARW's great-granddaughter).
© Natural History Museum

 

The evening started off with drinks and canapés in the Museum's Images of Nature gallery, giving people who are working on Wallace-related projects a chance to network with one another (one of the main aims of the evening). WCP Archivist Caroline Catchpole demonstrated Wallace Letters Online -which had gone live to the public on the Internet for the first time earlier that day - to guests, and the Museum's Nature Live team did short video interviews of selected guests.

TheVenue.c.JanBeccaloni.jpgThe Images of Nature gallery before the guests arrived.
©  J. Beccaloni


Half way through the event an announcement was made and guests gathered around the screen where Caroline had been demonstrating WLO. Bill Bailey then gave a speech about the project, declaring it to be 'officially launched'.

LaunchofWLO.c.NHM.jpgBill launches Wallace Letters Online.
© Natural History Museum

 

Towards the end of the evening guests made their way to the Museum's grand Central Hall and then part way up the central stairs - most gathered on the landing where the magnificent marble statue of Charles Darwin resides. Bill Bailey then made his way up the stairs and stood under the Museum's painting of Wallace, concealed under a golden cloth.

 

The picture had only two days previously been put back in this position; the one it had first occupied for a 50 year stretch after it was donated in 1923. Bill then gave a brilliant heartfelt speech, before gingerly pulling off the cloth to reveal the impressive portrait of Wallace. Afterwards he remarked "I must confess I was more nervous about that than the Royal Variety Show!"

BillUnveilingPortrait.c.J.Beccaloni.jpgBill unveils the painting...
©  J. Beccaloni
UnveiledPortrait.c.NHM.jpg
The painting revealed.
© Natural History Museum

 

Bill's speech was filmed by a crew from the BBC and it will form the grand finale to a two part documentary about Wallace that he has been working on. After Bill had finished his stuff, another Bill - Wallace's great-grandson, William Wallace - concluded the evening by giving a short speech. Bill, who had travelled all the way from Canada to attend the launch, talked about his great-grandfather and said how proud he and the Wallace family were to see their illustrious relative back at the Museum and next to Darwin, where he belongs.

Bailey&Attenborough.c.J.Beccaloni.jpgBill and Sir David have a chat whilst Darwin looks on.
©  J. Beccaloni

 

Press coverage

 

A number of articles about the launch of Wallace100 and WLO have appeared on the web and in newspapers around the world. The main articles that I am aware of  on the internet are as follows (several of these were reproduced on hundreds  of other websites):

 

Nature

Scientific American

New Scientist

Wired

Daily Mail

The Guardian

The Independent

BBC News

Morning Star

Huffington Post 1

Huffington Post 2

Wellcome Library blog

Biodiversity Heritage Library blog

National Museum of Wales

Hertford Museum

 

Other languages

 

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Swiss newspaper in German)

Slobodna Dalmacija (newspaper in Croatian)

Volkskrant (newspaper in Dutch)

Greek newspaper (in Greek)

Foxnews (in Spanish)

NetMassimo (in Italian)

Gentside découvertes (in French)

Brazilian blog (in Portuguese)

 

Museum news reports about Wallace100 and WLO

 

News article

Wallace100 blog

Library and Archives blog

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Euchirus.jpgThere is evidence from at least two independent sources that in 1855, not long after he arrived in the Malay Archipelago, Wallace began to write notes for a book about evolution. It is thought that its provisional title was "The Organic Law of Change", and it seems that he abandoned work on it in 1859 when he found out that Darwin was about to publish a book on the same subject i.e. On the Origin of Species. Interestingly, Darwin had begun writing his book on evolution in 1856 about a year after Wallace started writing notes for his book.

 

The notes for Wallace's book survive in a difficult-to-interpret notebook in the library of The Linnean Society, a scanned version of which the Society intends to put up on the web soon. Euchirus2.jpgThe notebook has been carefully transcribed and is being meticulously studied by a colleague, who has almost finished writing a book about the evolution of Wallace's evolutionary ideas, which will be published later this year.

 

For more information about Wallace's planned book on evolution see McKinney, H. L. 1972. Wallace and Natural Selection. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. 193 pp.