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One of the historically most important documents in the Wallace Family Archive at the Natural History Museum is an 'offprint' (an author's copy sent by the publisher) of the famous 1858 Darwin-Wallace paper on natural selection - the scientific article which launched the evolution revolution. This paper is widely regarded as being one of the most important scientific papers of all time, and what is special about the Museum's copy is that it was owned and annotated by Wallace.

1858paper.jpgTitle of the 1858 Darwin-Wallace paper from Wallace's offprint.
Copyright Natural History Museum.

 

The Darwin-Wallace paper was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on the 1st of July 1858 and then published in their journal about 7 weeks later. Although we don't know who sent the offprint to Wallace, or exactly when, we do know for sure that it was sent by post from England to him whilst he was out collecting in Indonesia, or the Malay Archipelago as he called it. The reason we know this is that there is a relatively long pencil annotation on a blank end page of the offprint which was written by Wallace whilst on Amboina [Ambon] Island, Indonesia, in February 1860. This note is of extreme interest as it gives Wallace's first recorded reaction to reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species for the first time. Here is a transcript of it:

 

1860. Feb.

 

After reading Mr Darwin's admirable work "On the Origin of Species", I find that there is absolutely nothing here that is not in almost perfect agreement with that gentlemans facts & opinions.

 

His work however touches upon & explains in detail many points which I had scarcely thought upon, - as the laws of variation, correlation of growth, sexual selection, the origin of instincts and of neuter insects, & the true explanation of Embryological affinities. Many of his facts & explanations in Geographical distribution are also quite new to me & of the highest interest -

 

ARWallace [signature] … Amboina

 

A pdf of the whole of this historic document is available on the Wallace Correspondence Project's website. Please visit the site and then download the 1858_PAPER.pdf file. For a transcript of the text of the paper minus Wallace's annotations see this page.

 

If you would like to read more about the history of Wallace's offprint and the annotations he made on it, then please see the chapter I wrote on it in my book Natural Selection & Beyond: The Intelectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, which can be read here. Finally, for an account of Wallace's discovery of natural selection, and why he and Darwin published their ideas together download my PDF.