Watch a video recording by the British Humanist Association of a talk about Wallace's life and work and his discovery of evolution by natural selection. I presented this talk at Ancestor's Trail 2013 on the 25 August 2013:
7 November 2013 (the 100th anniversary of Wallace's death)
To commemorate the centenary of Wallace's death, Sir David Attenborough will be giving a lecture at the Museum about Wallace's passion for birds of paradise. Wallace studied the birds during his travels in the Malay Archipelago between 1854 and 1862 and you can win one of 25 pairs of tickets to the lecture by entering our free prize draw.
As many of you will know, the Museum has been celebrating the life and work of Alfred Russel Wallace this year in a big way. As part of the celebrations, the Museum's magazine evolve has published four interesting articles about Wallace, and thanks to an agreement with the magazine's Senior Editor Helen Sturge, and the authors of the articles in question, they can now be downloaded as PDFs.
+ Richard Conniff's article Wallace: species seeker extraordinaire from issue 15 (pictured). Download the PDF.
+ Caroline Catchpole's article Letters of a naturalist: the Wallace Correspondence Project fromissue 16. Download the PDF.
+ George Beccaloni's article Wallace immortalised: Museum set to receive Wallace statue 100 years later than planned from issue 17. Download the PDF.
+ Jim Costa's article On the Organic Law of Change: Alfred Russel Wallace and the book that should have been from issue 17. Download the PDF.
Because issue 17 of evolve hasn't even been distributed yet you will get to read the two interesting articles in it before everyone else!
A wonderful and unique map, showing the routes of Wallace and Darwin's journeys and explaining how both men came to discover evolution by natural selection, has just been published by Operation Wallacea in association with the Wallace Memorial Fund. An image of the map is shown below and a larger version is attached as a PDF file (see the link at the bottom of this post).
The map is being distributed free of charge as a high quality A2 size (42 x 59.4 cm; 16.54 x 23.39 inches) poster to all secondary schools in the UK as well as a further 10,000 schools worldwide - a GREAT way of increasing awareness of Wallace.
An Indonesian language version of the poster will probably also be produced for distribution to schools in Indonesia. If you would like a physical copy of the English version of the poster at cost price then please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The price is £1 plus postage and packing.
I will also have a limited number of copies to give away at Science Uncovered on Friday 27 September between 17.30 and 18.30. Please come and find me at the Evolution Station in the Museum's Central Hall. Come early to avoid disappointment!
The map comparing Darwin's and Wallace's travels, which led to them independently formulating their theory of evolution by natural selection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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)!
[Huxley, T.H.] 1860. Darwin On the origin of Species. Westminster Review,17 (n.s.): 541-70.
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 email@example.com
This month’s selected letter in my 'Letter of the Month' series was written by Wallace to his mother, Mary, from Java on 20 July 1861, just as his Malay Archipelago adventure was coming to an end. The opening sentence reveals his plans:
“I am as you will see now commencing my retreat westwards I have left the wild and savage Moluccas & New Guinea for Java the garden of the East & probably without any exception the finest island in the world.”
WCP375: Wallace's letter home to his mother
Although coming at the end of his journey, this letter affords a great insight into the life of a travelling naturalist. He rejoices in the fact that travelling in Java and then onwards to Singapore will be a much more pleasant affair than where he has been travelling as good infrastructure made his job much easier.
“Good roads regular posting stages & regular inns & lodging houses all over the interior” make for a happy naturalist.
Wallace goes on to write he...
“...shall no more be obliged to carry about with me that miscellaneous lot of household furniture, -- bed, blankets, pots kettles and frying pan, -- plates, dishes & wash basin, coffee pots & coffee, tea sugar & butter, -- salt, pickles, rice, bread and wine -- pepper & curry powder, & half a hundred more odds & ends the constant looking after [of] which, packing and repacking, calculating & contriving, -- have been the standing plague of my life for the last 7 years. You will better understand this when I tell you that I have made in that time about 80 movements averaging one a month, at every one of which all of these articles have had to be rearranged & repacked by myself according to the length of the trip, besides a constant personal supervision to prevent waste or destruction of stores in places where it is impossible to supply them.”
Simply reading the list of everything he was required to take with him on his travels makes you appreciate what he achieved on those islands all the more but coupled with the fact he had to carry all this every time he moved on (about once a month) and also carry all specimens he collected with him, makes his feat extraordinary. He did have helpers at times which would have proved enormously useful but I really think the sheer scale of his endeavour comes to light in his letter home.
Just a few months earlier in March 1861 Wallace had written to his brother-in-law Thomas Sims about his travels and how the lure of home was growing ever bigger:
“I assure you I now feel at times very great longings for the peace & quiet of home, -- very much weariness of this troublesome wearisome wandering life. I have lost some of that elasticity & freshness which made the overcoming of difficulties a pleasure, & the country & people are now too familiar to me to retain any of the charms of novelty, which gild over so much that is really monotonous & disagreeable….. I think I may promise if no accidents happen to come back to dear & beautiful England in the summer of next year.”
And that he did, returning home to England by summer 1862, travel weary but eager to begin the next chapter in his life.
The Malay Archipelago - Wallace travelled the length and breadth of this Archipelago over eight years.
One other anecdote caught my eye in the letter home to Thomas. He was responding to a letter Thomas had written which evidently mentioned Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which you might infer from Wallace’s reply, he had been none too positive about:
“Now for Mr Darwin’s book. You quite misunderstand both Mr D’s statement in the preface & his sentiments. I have of course been in correspondence with him since I first sent him my little essay.* His conduct has been most liberal & disnterested. I think any one who reads the Linn[ean] Soc[iety] papers & his book will see it. I do back him up in his whole round of conclusions & look upon him as the Newton of Natural History”
*Yet, another outstanding example of Wallace’s modesty! The "little essay" he refers to here is his famous 1858 essay "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection".
Darwin - the Newton of Natural History? Wallace certainly thought so!
Wallace actively wrote home to his mother and sister during his travels and we have seven surviving letters written to his mother during the eight years travelling the archipelago and 11 to his sister and brother-in-law, Fanny and Thomas. All of them can be read on Wallace Letters Online.
You can follow in Wallace’s footsteps and explore his Amazon and Malay Archipelago expeditions in the museum’s Wallace Discovery Trail which was launched at the beginning of July and runs until November. You can find out more information about the Trail and download a map here.
Check back next month, when I'll delve once again into the correspondence and write about another letter that has caught my eye.
Join the campaign for a Google Doodle to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wallace's death. To do so, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org saying that you would really like to see a Wallace-related Doodle on Google's homepage on the date of the anniversary, 7 November 2013. They did a Doodle for Darwin's 200th birthday, so they may consider one for Wallace if enough people ask them!
Dates and times: Every day, 1 July - 23 November, 10.00-17.50 (last admission 17.30)
This summer, take time to uncover the extraordinary adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace in a new family friendly trail at the Natural History Museum. Running from Monday 1 July, the Wallace Discovery Trail celebrates his role as the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, with Charles Darwin. The free trail is part of our Wallace100 celebrations, a series of activities commemorating the centenary of Wallace’s death.
Wallace was a British naturalist and explorer who collected more than 100,000 specimens on several epic journeys and discovered over 5,000 new species to science. His observations and notes on animal diversity in the Amazon and southeast Asia helped him discover evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin.
Follow the trail through the Museum’s iconic building, from the Central Hall to the spirit collection, to discover some of Wallace’s most important specimens and retrace his journey around the world.
The trail includes many items that have never been on public display before, revealing highlights from Wallace’s life and work:
exotic birds, reptiles and insects he collected, among them toucans and birds of paradise
his watercolours and drawings
tools of his trade, such as his telescope and sextant
a portrait, unveiled earlier this year by comedian and Wallace-enthusiast Bill Bailey
an adult orang-utan, probably the largest of all the specimens he collected
Dr George Beccaloni, curator at the Natural History Museum and expert on Wallace says:
‘This trail explores Wallace’s extraordinary adventures in South America and southeast Asia, in his quest to understand how life on Earth evolved. His travels were funded by the sale of animal specimens he collected, and a selection of some of the most spectacular of these will be on display. Wallace achieved his goal and discovered the process of evolution by natural selection while in Indonesia in 1858, a scientific breakthrough that is considered to be one of the most important ever made by anyone. Although Wallace was one of the most famous scientists of his era, he has largely been forgotten. This trail will help to remind people of his extraordinary life and many great achievements.’
A very special book is currently being produced to commemorative the Wallace anniversary this year. The Letter from Ternate is being hand printed by Tim Preston on his Victorian Albion printing press at a rate of only about two pages per day. It is a labour of love and poor Tim has been printing for five weeks so far. Fortunately the end is now in sight. Once printing is finished, the book will be professionally hand-bound and engravings and other illustrations tipped-in. There will be a pocket on the inside back cover with additional pictures and other material. The book will consist of 96pp (not 80pp, as I stated in an earlier post). It is being printed on a beautiful mould-made paper from St Cuthbert’s Mill.
The book should be of considerable interest to Wallace aficionados since it includes new transcriptions from the original manuscripts of all surviving correspondence relating to the original publication of the Ternate essay, plus the famous essay itself and the speech Wallace gave at the Linnean Society in 1908 to mark the 50th anniversary of the essay's publication. This will be the first time that accurate copies of all the surviving correspondence relating to the publication of the essay have been published together in this way.
Only 100 copies of the book will be printed. Most have been reserved already, but a few are still available at the pre-publication price of £50 (£80 after publication). All profits will be donated to the Wallace Memorial Fund. The publication date is late Spring, 2013.
Specifications are as follows: the book will measure 12.5 x 18.75cm. Printed letterpress by hand on Somerset Book Soft White 175g, quarter bound in cloth with decorated paper sides. The introduction is by yours truly (George Beccaloni).
If you are interested in a copy please contact Tim directly by email.
An article I recently wrote entitled Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story has just been put onto the Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero page on the BBC website as a downloadable pdf file. If you think you know the story of how Wallace and Darwin came to publish the theory of natural selection together you might be in for a few surprises!
Bill Bailey's two part TV series on Wallace is finally ready to be broadcast. It is called Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero and the first episode will be shown on BBC2 at 20.00 on 21 April, and episode 2 on 28 April. Nothing like this has ever been made about Wallace before and I am hoping that it will increase interest in his life and work considerably. I have seen an almost finished version and I think it is excellent. Bill's subtle and surreal humour works brilliantly to keep the viewer entertained, whilst not detracting from or trivialising the story. Bill's personal passion for the subject is obvious.
I was Series Consultant for the programme and my main jobs were to provide information about Wallace and to check all the facts to ensure that the script was as historically accurate as possible. Due to constraints such as not being able to film on all the islands that the Producers would have liked to, and the need to simplify the story for television, a few minor inaccuracies remain that should only be noticed by a few real Wallace geeks.
Me admiring a nocturnal coconut crab (the world's largest terrestrial arthropod!) in Sulawesi. Copyright: Jan Beccaloni.
In July last year I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks working on the second programme with Bill and the BBC crew in Indonesia (Sulawesi, Ternate and Halmahera). I had an amazing time: I experienced the first earthquake of my life (scary), got up close and personal with black macaques (one even used my back as a trampoline when I bent over to photograph an insect!), was enthralled by gremlin-like tarsiers, impressed by colossal coconut crabs, and blown-away by Wallace's standardwing birds of paradise displaying only about 10 metres away from me. My wife Jan came out as well and we wrote a number of posts for this blog about our experiences, starting with this one.
More information about Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero, including some clips (two of which are footage which never made it in to the programme), can be seen on the BBC2 website. Put the dates in your calendar and tune in on the 21 Apr to see the first episode.
Myself and Bill in the jungle in Halmahera island. Photo by Jan Beccaloni. Copyright NHM.
So far in this series of posts on the making of the Wallace statue, we've described the background to the project and introduced me as the sculptor, and shown the important first stages of preparation.
In this third entry in the series, things are beginning to take shape:
The steel and wood armature that will support the plaster and clay of the sculpture.
Steel rods are used to support the arms, and a number of screws are added to the central wooden board and the leg frames in order to give greater support for the light-weight materials that are added next.
The rough shape of the body and limbs are 'blocked-out' using light-weight materials such as polystyrene foam and wood-wool (which is bound tightly to the armature using strong twine). It is onto these materials that the plaster and clay will be added.
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.