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Wallace100

August 2013
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This month’s selected letter from Wallace Letters Online was written on 16 August 1892, when Wallace was 69 years old, to Henry Deane.

 

Deane, an engineer who was born in London in 1847, had emigrated to Australia in 1879 and was responsible for electrifying the Sydney tramway system, and for building the Wolgan Valley Railway and Trans-Australian Railway. Deane graduated from Queen’s College, Galway, with honours in mathematics and natural sciences and later in life was twice president of the Royal Society New South Wales and was also president of the Linnean Society of New South Wales.

 

Wallace had found his name in a list of Linnean Society members living abroad and wrote to Deane in part to tell him how he recalled many happy evenings spent in Clapham Common with his mother and father - a chemist also called Henry. However, Wallace’s chief objective for writing this letter was not to reminisce, it was to source orchids. He had even included a set of guidelines entitled, "Instructions for packing & sending Terrestrial Orchids for cultivation."

 

WMF29f_058.jpg

Wallace in his garden at Parkstone, Dorset in 1895.

© Wallace Memorial Fund and G.W. Beccaloni

 

Orchids and gardening - whilst allowing us an insight into Wallace’s personal life through his hobbies - are not the reasons I selected this piece as the letter of the month. The reason for selecting this letter, is because of its very last line, where Wallace writes:

 

"There is, I presume, a great future for Electricity in all parts of the world and in many yet undiscovered applications."

 

This closed the last paragraph of the letter, which was devoted to writing about his son, William, who had just qualified as an electrical engineer. With Deane himself being an engineer, he would no doubt have been interested in this little snippet of information.

 

However, that last sentence above really caught my eye and made stop and think just how different a world we are living in to the world Wallace inhabited and just what would he make of where we are scientifically and technologically today. I think he’d have some pretty strong opinions about both!

 

To give some context, the world in which Wallace lived in in 1892 was not without electricity. The electric motor had been invented over 70 years previously in 1821 by Michael Faraday, the first intelligible phone communication took place in 1875; 1879 was the year Edison invented the light bulb and it only took two years from there for electric light to be used in a domestic setting, albeit most probably a rich domestic setting. Electrification of trams in England happened in the 1890s and Marconi made significant strides in radio telegrahy and transmission.

 

So, the world was not without electricity. However, there were no televisions, no computers, no smartphones, no tablets, no hair straighteners, no electric cars, no electric fridges, no dishwashers, no commercial air travel… well you get the idea!

 

Now, I’m not qualified to judge what the best electrical innovation has been since Wallace made this statement in 1892, but I’d say computers have got to be up there competing for first place. What would Wallace make of them? What would he say about the internet, about social media, even about me writing this blog about a letter he sent to Australia in 1892?! And the fact that this letter has now been digitised and is available to read on the internet. Would he care?

 

I think he would. I think the fact that he wrote that sentence means he would care and take an immense interest in electrical and technological innovation over the last 100 years since his death. He was an inquisitive man who, as we well know, did not confine himself to simply studying the natural world. To use a well-known phrase, he had his fingers in many pies and our very different way of living would probably delight and horrify him in equal measures. He would, I think, appreciate how easy it is to disseminate information to mass audiences today in order to educate, and how easy it is to obtain information for research from an online scholarly journal (Wallace Letters Online is full of letters where he asks the recipient to send him a particular journal article he can’t obtain).

 

What would horrify him would be something that he actually wrote about 4 years before his death in 1909. He wrote to the Daily News a cautionary letter in response to receiving a programme entitled, "Aerial League of the British Empire" whose aim was to "To secure and maintain for the Empire the same supremacy in the air as it now enjoys on the sea" and Wallace urged the government in this open letter, "to dissociate itself from this proposed crime against humanity it is now. If ever there was a time when we should take the initiative against adding this new horror to the horrors of war (which all civilized Governments profess to be eager to diminish) it is now."

 

The way he wrote about such things shows what great foresight and intellect he had and also how incredibly sensible he was. It is perhaps a good thing he died before he witnessed the atrocities inflicted by aeroplanes and "flying machines" in the two World Wars and beyond into the present day.

 

I picked this letter to write about as it just proves no two letters in Wallace Letters Online are the same and the fact that Wallace continues to constantly surprise and intrigue me. We’re still tweeting about Wallace over on the Library & Archives twitter feed and check back next month, when I’ll write about another intriguing letter written by the man himself.

 

-Caroline-

Wallace Correspondence Project

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I have discovered that a lucky buyer has an amazing stone carving brought back from Java by Wallace and they may not yet know its fascinating history! Ahren Lester, a friend of mine who is doing a PhD on Wallace, recently pointed out the following comment in a letter written by Wallace's son William in 1935:

 

"I may mention that the carved stone figure from Modjo-pahit, Java, which is illustrated on p. 78 "The Malay Archipelago" is in Charterhouse School Museum at Godalming. When I was last there is was unlabelled! It seems quite out of place in a school museum."

 

Looking in Wallace's book I found the illustration of the carving which William mentioned:

 

WallacesCarving.jpg

Illustration of the carved stone figure from Modjo-pahit, Java

 

Wallace writes about how he came to acquire it in Java in August 1861:

"In the house of the Waidono or district chief at Modjo-agong [in Java], I saw a beautiful figure carved in high relief out of a block of lava, and which had been found buried in the ground near the village. On my expressing a wish to obtain some such specimen, Mr. B. [Ball] asked the chief for it, and much to my surprise he immediately gave it me. It represented the Hindoo goddess Durga, called in Java, Lora Jonggrang (the exalted virgin). She has eight arms, and stands on the back of a kneeling bull. Her lower right hand holds the tail of the bull, while the corresponding left hand grasps the hair of a captive, Dewth Mahikusor, the personification of vice, who has attempted to slay her bull. He has a cord round his waist, and crouches at her feet in an attitude of supplication. The other hands of the goddess hold, on her right side, a double hook or small anchor, a broad straight sword, and a noose of thick cord; on her left, a girdle or armlet of large beads or shells, an unstrung bow, and a standard or war flag. This deity was a special favourite among the old Javanese, and her image is often found in the ruined temples which abound in the eastern part of the island.

 

The specimen I had obtained was a small one, about two feet high, weighing perhaps a hundred weight; and the next day we had it conveyed to Modjo-kerto to await my return to Sourabaya."

 

Wallace lived in Godalming, Surrey very near Charterhouse School from 1881 to 1889 and was very friendly with some of the Masters and pupils at the school. It is very probable that he donated the carving to the school museum during this time period. Since I have been trying to make a list of all Wallace-related artifacts in museums and other institutions I was momentarily excited at the thought of contacting the school to see whether they still had the carving.

 

I then remembered having heard that some or all of the contents of their museum had been sold at auction a few years ago (something that has sadly happened to many school museum collections), so I had a look on the web and discovered that they had indeed auctioned off some fine ethnographic and other pieces through Sotheby's in November 2002.

 

Eventually I managed to find a list of the auction lots on Sotheby's website and I spotted Lot 147 "A JAVANESE VOLCANIC STONE STELE DEPICTING DURGA PREPARING TO SLAY THE BUFFALO DEMON"- sold for £2,629. Since the chances that Charterhouse School museum had more than one Javanese stone carving of Durga are very small indeed, it is extremely likely that this is the artifact that Wallace once owned. Shame that Charterhouse parted with an amazing part of their history! Oh well, some lucky person now has it and hopefully they may get to hear about this post at some point and realise the significance of their purchase...

 

PS. I confirmed that the scene depicted in the above illustration does indeed show Durga slaying the buffalo demon. For example, here is another carving of the same scene.

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Two frequently asked questions are 1) how famous was Wallace, and 2) was he really forgotten after his death as some people (like myself) have often said? Responses to these have been based mainly on intuition - but now, thanks to Google's Ngram Viewer - it is possible to answer them in a more quantitative way. Ngram allows users to study the frequency of certain terms (e.g. people's names) in about 5 million books over time. Several terms can be examined together on one graph, so one can compare their relative frequencies.

 

Below are three Ngram plots which give a pretty good idea of how famous Wallace was over time relative to, firstly, 5 scientists who were his friends or colleagues and, secondly, to a selection of other very well known biologists, both living and dead. I realise that the frequency that someone's name is cited in books over time is not a direct measure of their fame, but I would argue that it is probably a pretty good surrogate. For the sake of argument I will use the term "famous" to mean "mentioned in more books than someone else".

 

The graph below shows a few interesting things: firstly that geologist Charles Lyell was far more famous than Charles Darwin until the early 1880's. Darwin then became and remained by far the most famous of the people shown. It is interesting that Lyell was more famous than Darwin during Darwin's lifetime (Darwin died in 1882), which is not what I would have expected.

 

WallacesFame2.JPG

An Ngram comparing mentions of Wallace, Darwin, Hooker, Huxley, Lyell and Owen.
(Click all Ngrams to view full-sized versions)

 

Removing Darwin from the graph and looking at just the period from 1990 to 2008 we see that, by 2008, Wallace and botanist Joseph Hooker are on a par and that they are more cited than Huxley and Owen, but that Charles Lyell is a bit more famous than either of them.

 

WallacesFame3.JPG

 

Comparing Wallace with some other famous biologists, living and dead, we see that he was more famous towards the end of his life (he died in 1913) than anyone else at any time period, except perhaps for Richard Dawkins. As of 2008 he was nearly as frequently cited as Gregor Mendel, and only Dawkins was (considerably!) more cited than either. Interestingly David Attenborough and Stephen J. Gould are the least cited, apart from Lamarck.

 

WallacesFame4.JPG

 

These graphs show some things I expected (e.g. that Darwin was always a lot more famous than Wallace and that Wallace's fame decreased soon after his death and is only now increasing again), as well as some that I didn't (e.g. how famous Wallace was in his lifetime relative to what I thought were even more famous people like David Attenborough). It is interesting that citations of Wallace's name start to increase again in the 1970s, and I think that the reason is that it was then that Wallace first started to be seriously studied by scholars, such as Lewis McKinney, Barbara Beddall and Wilma George.

 

I'm sure one could argue that there are problems with this method as a way of measuring fame, but it is the best technique I can think of.

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I have sometimes heard it said that Alfred Russel Wallace coined the term "Darwinism". This is incorrect, although he did use the term (perhaps unfortunately!) as the title of an excellent book about evolution which he published in 1889. The term "Darwinism" (as relating to Charles Darwin's theories rather than to his grandfather Erasmus' ideas) was actually first used by "Darwin's Bulldog" Thomas Henry Huxley in a review he wrote of Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1860.

 

Curiously, the related term "neo-Darwinism", which refers to the 'modern' view of Darwinism minus the inheritance of acquired characters (i.e. Darwinism without Lamarckism), was coined by Samuel Butler in 1880 with reference to Alfred Russel Wallace's views about evolution. Wallace rejected Lamarckism throughout his long life, correctly insisting that natural selection is the primary mechanism of evolutionary change and that traits acquired by organisms during their lifetime (e.g. a blacksmith's well developed arm muscles) are not inherited by their offspring.

 

Wallace's first published rejection of Lamarckism was in his 'Ternate' essay of 1858 - which formed part of the famous paper in which he and Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection for the first time. Wallace wrote:

 

"The hypothesis of Lamarck — that progressive changes in species have been produced by the attempts of animals to increase the development of their own organs, and thus modify their structure and habits — has been repeatedly and easily refuted by all writers on the subject of varieties and species, and it seems to have been considered that when this was done the whole question has been finally settled; but the view here developed renders such an hypothesis quite unnecessary, by showing that similar results must be produced by the action of principles constantly at work in nature...Neither did the giraffe acquire its long neck by desiring to reach the foliage of the more lofty shrubs, and constantly stretching its neck for the purpose, but because any varieties which occurred among its antitypes [ancestors] with a longer neck than usual at once secured a fresh range of pasture over the same ground as their shorter-necked companions, and on the first scarcity of food were thereby enabled to outlive them."

 

Perhaps surprisingly, Darwin always believed that Lamarckism (what he called "use and disuse" inheritance) played a role in evolution alongside natural selection and in 1868 he even devised a now discredited theory, called Pangenesis, to explain how it might work. I find it ironic that not only was the term "neo-Darwinism" proposed with reference to Wallace's evolutionary views, but that Wallace was actually the first ever neo-Darwinian! He was even more "Darwinian" than Darwin himself and can be regarded as the first 'modern' evolutionary biologist. The term "neo-Darwinism" should really be replaced by the term "Wallacism" instead!

 

Note: The term "neo-Darwinism" is usually said to have been coined by George Romanes in 1888 (often erroneously stated to be 1895 or 1896), but it in fact dates back to Samuel Butler's book "Unconscious Memory" published in 1880. Butler used it in the sense described above and cited the above passage from Wallace's 1858 essay as an example of this view (which incidentally Butler disagreed with)!

 

References

 

[Huxley, T.H.] 1860. Darwin On the origin of Species. Westminster Review, 17 (n.s.): 541-70.

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When Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin from a remote island in Indonesia in 1858, he could not possibly have imagined the consequences. Darwin forwarded the letter and its enclosed essay to Sir Charles Lyell with a despairing note: “So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed.” Wallace had independently solved the problem of the origin of species, and this book relates what happened next.

 

“The Letter from Ternate” has just been published by Tim Preston of The TimPress. It focusses on the curious and dramatic events surrounding the publication of one of the most important articles in the history of science - Darwin and Wallace's groundbreaking 1858 paper which first proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. It features new and highly accurate transcriptions of letters to and from Wallace, Darwin, Hooker and Lyell, plus the text of the famous 'joint paper', and Wallace’s Acceptance Speech given after receiving the gold Darwin-Wallace Medal of the Linnean Society of London in 1908.

 

The book is special because it is hand printed, hand bound and limited to only 100 copies. Many of the copies were pre-ordered so this is probably your last chance to buy what is a unique memento of the 2013 Wallace centenary. You won't find it in any shop or on Amazon!

 

Details of the book are as follows:

 

12.5 x 18.75cm, 96pp, printed in Caslon by hand on a Crown Folio Albion press, on Somerset Book mould-made paper from St Cuthbert's Mill, with an introduction by Dr George Beccaloni, tipped-in wood engravings, map, pictures etc. 100 copies only have been printed, of which 95 are quarter bound in leather with decorated paper covers. The cost is £80 for the quarter leather bound version and it can be ordered from Tim Preston - email timpress@me.com

 

More information about it can be found in an earlier post.

 

A sample of the book and its contents can be seen below:

Book front.jpg

Title Page.jpg

Intro.jpg

Mias.jpg

Offprint.jpg

medal.jpg