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:
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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:
This is the last in my letter of the month series and I thought I’d end by exploring another side of Wallace and write about his interest in Spiritualism.
The letter was written to William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1925), a friend of Wallace’s and a fellow Spiritualist. Barrett, a physicist and parapsychologist published accounts of his experiments with thought transference in the journal Nature in September 1876. It caused such controversy that Barrett felt compelled to found a society for like-minded individuals - thus the Society for Psychical Research was born in January 1882 - a society that Wallace became involved in.
WP2/4/1: Wallace was made an honorary member of the Central Association of Spiritualists in 1882
Wallace’s letter to Barrett was written on 18 December 1876 and opens with Wallace inviting Barrett to lunch with him at his home in Dorking as he would like to “take advantage of any opportunity that you may have to test the power of sensitive’s to see the "flames" from magnets & crystals; & also to feel the influence from them”.
Wallace became more interested in Spiritualism on his return from the Malay Archipelago and became actively involved in the spiritualist community, attending séances and writing about them - he even kept a notebook of séances he attended and phenomena experienced. His interest in Spiritualism garnered him criticism from some in the scientific community who thought his interest and belief in it lost him some scientific credibility. Never one for really being too bothered about what others thought of him, Wallace continued to be vocal and expound his beliefs. He thought it rash that scientists dismissed it out of hand and believed Spiritualism could really benefit from scientific investigation.
The main part of Wallace’s letter to Barrett concerns the trial of Henry Slade (1835-1905). Slade was an American 'slate-writing' medium, meaning he would place a small slate piece and chalk under a table during his séances and would claim spirits would use it to write messages. However, there were episodes where he was accused of being a fraud and writing the messages himself. In 1872, in New York he was caught swapping slates during a séance (one blank and one with writing on) by someone using a secret mirror.
In 1876 in London, Ray Lankester caught Slade in the act by seizing a slate that had writing on before the spirit was said to have written on it. Slade was prosecuted for fraud.
In the letter Wallace asks Barrett to sign a memorial for Slade and talks about the case
“You will have heard no doubt of the Treasury having taken up the prosecution of Slade. Massey the Barrister, one of the most intelligent & able of the Spiritualists (whose accession to the cause is due I am glad to say to my article in the Fortnightly) proposes a memorial & deputation to Government protesting against this prosecution by the Treasury on the grounds it implies that Slade is an habitual imposter & nothing else, & that in face of the body of evidence to the contrary, it is an uncalled for interference with the private right of investigation into these subjects.”
It is interesting to read letters that explore the many other facets of Wallace. Spiritualism was a big part of his life and we have many letters in Wallace Letters Online that attest to this.
Wallace Correspondence Project
With the Wallace100 year drawing to a close, a year that has seen us remember and celebrate the legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace 100 years after his death, I was interested to find out if there was any activity immediately after Wallace’s death in November 1913 to mark his extraordinary life in any way. I thought there was no better place to start looking than in the letters sent after his death found on Wallace Letters Online.
Shortly after his death, Wallace’s three close friends, James Marchant, Raphael Meldola and Edward Bagnall Poulton set up the Wallace Memorial Fund, also known as the Memorial Committee. The fund’s purpose was to create a memorial for Wallace, in the form of a medallion featuring Wallace for Westminster Abbey; a portrait of him and a statue of him for the Natural History Museum.
As it turned out only the medallion and the portrait were created, with the memorial unveiled at the Abbey on 1 November 1915 and the painting by J. W. Beaufort presented to the Museum on the 100th anniversary of his birth in January 1923.
Marchant, Meldola and Poulton set about raising awareness of the Fund and raising money in the months following November 1913. In a letter written to Poulton on 23 February 1914, Meldola (the Fund’s Treasurer) informs Poulton
“The Fund is now £236 & Marchant wants to issue order for Medallion”.
Westminster Abbey was delighted to accept the medallion and nine months after this letter was written, it was unveiled.
Well-known names from the scientific world contributed to the fund, including Archibald Geikie, E. Ray Lankester and David Prain as well as contributors from the world of spiritualism and long-term correspondents of Wallace’s – Oliver Lodge and William Crookes.
However, a letter from William Greenell Wallace in January 1914 to TDA Cockerell, who was a close friend of Wallace’s, revealed the difficulties the Fund was having in realising their ambitious programme;
“I am sorry to say that the memorial fund is progressing very slowly and I doubt it will be possible to do more than the Abbey medallion, and even that will cost £300. The Abbey fee, for permission only, is £200 and the sculptor’s fee, greatly reduced in this case, is £100. It seems that fame without money has not much chance of recognition in this democratic country.”
“There is no fear that the statue will [be] disappointing as there is no chance of it being done, at present.”
Violet Wallace, in a letter to Octavius Pickard-Cambridge written on 5 December 1913 talked about the possible statue, writing,
“I like the idea of a statue if it could be like the one of Darwin in the N. H. Museum – that one always looks so natural, and my father would look nice.”
Sadly, the Fund didn’t raise enough money to achieve all of their aims, with the statue not being realised. However, 100 years after his death, there is at last a statue of Wallace housed at the Museum, a fitting way to commemorate Wallace and his achievements.
The Wallace Memorial Fund launched a new fundraising campaign last year and comissioned sculptor Anthony Smith to create a statue of Wallace in his exploring days, as a young naturalist in the field. It is also perhaps fitting, that the statue will be positioned close to the Darwin Centre, where the bulk of Wallace’s specimens that he collected during his years in the field are now housed.
Update: The new statue was unveiled at a ceremony last night by Sir David Attenborough and will be located inside the Darwin Centre for the weekend before moving to its permanent position outside on Monday.
Wallace Correspondence Project
This month’s selected letter, or rather, note, is as short and succinct as I will keep this blog post. It was written by Wallace’s son William Greenell Wallace announcing his father’s death, and is dated 7 November 1913 - the very day Wallace passed away.
The short note reads,
“Dr. Wallace was taken ill on Sunday night.
He has not left his bed since Monday night.
Dr. Wallace has passed a restless night & seems weaker this morning.
Dr. Wallace passed away very peacefully at 9.25 a.m without regaining consciousness. W.G.W.”
WCP1649: William Greenell Wallace's announcement
Wallace led a long and successful life, living to be 90 years of age, with only minor health problems later in life. The plethora of obituaries that were written following his death are testament to what an extraordinary life he led. I’ll leave you with a few quotes from a few different ones published in the weeks after his death.
"A life so long, so active, and so varied, cannot be dealt with in a small compass. Simple and unostentatious, he was a great man in the truest sense of the word." (British Medical Journal, 15th November 1913)
"He was one of the greatest and clearest thinkers of his age . . . of one thing I am certain, and that is that never has anybody come more fully within my favourite description of a great man, namely, that 'he is a combination of the head of a man and the heart of a boy.'" (The Daily Citizen, 8th November 1913)
"By the death of Alfred Russel Wallace this country loses not only a great scientist, but the last of the men who made the early part of the Victorian era so memorable." (Daily News & Leader, 8th November 1913)
"The last link with the great evolutionary writers of the mid-nineteenth century--the men who transformed the thought of the world--is broken. How can I best speak of the long, happy, hard-working, many-sided life that has just come to a close?" (Nature, 20 November 1913)
"It is impossible for any man to discuss adequately the life work of Alfred Russel Wallace. His activities covered such a long period, and were so varied, that no one living is in a position to critically appreciate more than a part of them . . . All must agree that a great and significant career has just been closed, but its full measure will probably never be known to any single man." (Science, 1913 December 1913)
Wallace Correspondence Project
Flett Lecture Theatre
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.
To enter, visit the competition page (please be sure to read the Terms and Conditions before entering).
The closing date for entries is midnight, 27 October 2013. Winners will be notified on Monday 28 October 2013.
Please note you need to be a UK resident aged 18 and over to enter the Wallace100 lecture free prize draw.
For information about other events which are taking place at the Museum on the anniversary day visit the Wallace website.
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.
+ Caroline Catchpole's article Letters of a naturalist: the Wallace Correspondence Project from issue 16. 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!
October's letter of the month was written by Wallace to his son William from the Quincy Hotel in Boston, America. Written on 29 October 1886, Wallace had just embarked on what was to be a ten month lecture tour around North America.
The idea for a trip to lecture in America had actually been born a few years previously when Wallace met James Lowell at Darwin’s funeral - both were pallbearers. Lowell, a few years later in 1885, invited Wallace to be a speaker at the prestigious Lowell Institute's lecture series.
In a letter written in January 1886 to Othniel Charles Marsh, with whom Wallace had also discussed the possibility of lecturing abroad, Wallace wrote that,
“... circumstances have led me to contemplate a visit to the United States next Autumn on a lecturing tour around the world."
Although Wallace now had a degree of financial security in the form of a civil pension of £200 per annum that he began receiving in 1882, he cites to Marsh that,
“Serious losses of late years have rendered it necessary for me to do anything in my power to secure a provision for my family, and it is this consideration alone that would make me encounter the risks and fatigue of such a journey at my age and with my somewhat precarious health.”
And so it was that he left Gravesend on Saturday 9 October 1886 on a steamship, docking in New York, two weeks later on Saturday 23 October.
Wallace’s letter to William came when he had been in America six days and he writes of the voyage over, and of his activities since his arrival. He writes of seeing the “great” Statue of Liberty - which had actually been dedicated the day before Wallace wrote his letter on 28 October.
He stayed in New York for four days before travelling to Boston, from where he wrote to William. He records in the letter his thoughts on Central Park, it being,
“something like Epping Forest & something like Wales -- small hills and rocks everywhere with trees & flowers, and lakes in the hollows.”
On the journey to Boston Wallace observes all around him, commenting on the landscape, “rocky but not very hilly” and likening the wooden houses in the towns and villages he passed to “toy houses”.
WCP423: Wallace's letter to William from Boston
Wallace gave his first lecture two days after this letter was written on Monday 1 November to a sold-out audience; the lecture was entitled “The Darwinian Theory”. In total he gave 41 lectures, his last being in August 1887.
He never did make it around the world - his original plan which he outlined in his letter to Marsh was to travel to New Zealand and Australia from America and then onto the Cape of Good Hope before heading home to the UK. He did, however, make it to California to see his brother John, who he hadn’t seen in more than forty years.
At the time of the lecture series, Wallace was the greatest living naturalist - Darwin having died in 1882 and he was able to use the series to talk on a variety of subjects, including Darwinism. His most popular lecture was the first he ever delivered “The Darwinian Theory”. Although the lectures were not as forthcoming as he had initially anticipated, he still managed to talk on a variety of topics, including an apparently extremely successful lecture on Spiritualism entitled “If a Man Die, Shall he Live Again?” given in San Francisco in June 1887.
The trip, no doubt also helped him organise his thoughts on Darwinism as two years after the end of his trip, in 1889, he published Darwinism, his defence of natural selection.
Although, not a very well-known chapter in Wallace’s life, the lecturing tour around America is nonetheless interesting and can be explored through the letters in Wallace Letters Online. An excellent new book, "Alfred Russel Wallace's 1886-1887 Travel Diary" by Charles Smith, has recently been published this year, giving a very detailed account of the tour.
We're still tweeting about Wallace in this anniversary year and I have two more letters to share with you before concluding my letter of the month series.
Wallace Correspondence Project.
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 email@example.com. 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.
This month’s letter of the month was written from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
"I am afraid the ship’s on fire."
These fateful words were uttered by the Captain of the Brig Helen on 6 August 1852, which was sailing from South America to London, as a fire broke out in the ship’s hold. The dramatic events of the fire and subsequent rescue of the ship’s crew and passengers are recorded in a letter from Wallace, who had spent the previous four years travelling through the Amazon, to his friend Richard Spruce (1817-1893).
WCP349: Page one of the eight page letter to Spuce detailing the sinking.
The letter was written from the Brig Jordeson on 19 September 1852, the vessel that saved the stricken survivors after they had endured ten harrowing days and nights in a small row boat, 200 miles from the nearest land, with water seeping into the boat from numerous holes. Wallace describes how he was “scorched by the sun, [his] hands nose and ears being completely skinned, and [was] drenched every day by the seas and spray”. They finally anchored ship at Deal, Kent, on 1st October with Wallace rejoicing to Spruce
“Oh! Glorious day! Here we are on shore at Deal where the ship is at anchor. Such a dinner! Oh! Beef steaks and damson tart, a paradise for hungry sinners.”
The joy at being back on dry land in England is clear to see, made even more poignant by the terrible storms they had to endure in the English Channel the night before they anchored; storms, in which “many vessels were lost”.
Wallace’s journey to the Amazon began in Leicester in 1844 when he met budding young amateur naturalist Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892), after Wallace accepted a job at the Collegiate School there. Wallace moved to Neath, Wales in 1845, but kept in regular contact with Bates, and it was this friendship that first stirred in Wallace an interest in entomology.
A seed was sown in Wallace’s mind after reading William Henry Edwards' book A Voyage up the River Amazon, and early in 1848 he began making plans with Bates for their own voyage to South America. This idea came to fruition as the two young, eager friends set sail from Liverpool on 26 April 1848 bound for Pará (Belém).
For Wallace the aim of their Amazon trip was two-fold. Firstly, they were to go and collect specimens of birds, insects and other animals not only for their private collections, but also to sell to collectors and museums across Europe. Secondly, Wallace went with the aim of attempting to discover the mechanism of evolution. Having read the controversial Vestiges of Natural History of Creation by Robert Chambers in 1845, he became convinced of the reality of evolution, which was then known by the term of transmutation. Indeed, in a letter to Bates in 1847, he asserted that he sought to “take one family, to study thoroughly- principally with a view to the theory of the origin of species”.
Wallace and Bates parted company whilst there to focus on different areas, with Wallace travelling around the Amazon basin and Rio Negro. It was here he made beautifully intricate drawings of fish species he found on the Rio Negro, and also used his land surveying skills to create a wonderfully detailed map of the Rio Negro; so detailed and accurate that it became the standard map of the river for many years. You can see this map for yourself at the museum, as it forms part of the Wallace Discovery Trail.
Wallace decided to leave the Amazon in 1852 after becoming quite poorly. He sadly lost his brother, Edward, in June 1851 to yellow fever, after Edward had joined Wallace and Bates earlier on the expedition. Wallace boarded the Brig Helen on 12 July, sailing for 26 days before disaster struck.
Wallace describes very candidly in his letter to Spruce the frantic moments after the discovery of the fire and the realisation that they would need to abandon ship. He managed to run back to his cabin and collect some items together in a small tin box. He tells Spruce he felt “foolish” in saving his watch and money. However, once aboard the life-boat his regrets at not having “saved some new shoes, cloth coat and trousers” are clear to see.
Tragically, Wallace lost all of his natural history specimens, so painstakingly collected over the previous two years; the specimens he collected during the first two years having been successfully posted back to his agent, and he recounts this tragedy to Spruce in the letter:
“My collections however were in the hold and were irrevocably lost. And now I begin to think, that almost all the reward of my four years of privation and danger were lost. What I had hitherto sent home had little more than paid my expenses and what I had in the “Helen” I calculated would realise near £500 [around £30,000 in today’s money]. But even all this might have gone with little regret had not far the richest part of my own private collection gone also. All my private collection of insects and birds since I left Pará was with me, and contained hundreds of new and beautiful species which would have rendered (I had fondly hoped) my cabinet, as far regards American species, one of the finest in Europe”
A few gems from this trip, however, do survive, and are preserved by us here at the Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Linnean Society. When in his cabin, frantically trying to fit as much as he could in his tin box, Wallace scooped up the drawings he had made of the fishes of the Rio Negro and of Amazonian palms. The Library’s Special Collections now hold the four volumes of fish drawings, with the palm drawings held by the Linnean. The specimens of palms collected, which are now housed in Kew’s Herbarium, were sent back during the first two years of the expedition.
One of Wallace's fish drawings that we hold here at the Museum
At the end of his letter to Spruce, written from London on 8 October, Wallace muses about his next trip. He mentions the Andes or the Philippines as possible destinations for his next collecting expedition.
However, as we know, in 1854, Wallace headed out to explore the islands of the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), spending eight years there.
This letter of the month highlights the real danger faced by those who travelled to far flung corners of the world in the hope of advancing our understanding of the natural world, in sometimes dangerous and harsh conditions. It’s hard not to feel for Wallace having lost the fruits of his hard fought labour.
However, every story has a silver lining and Wallace’s Malay Archipelago trip certainly must have helped heal the wounds of the lost Amazon collections. The result of eight years hard work in south-east Asia was an unrivalled collection of 110,000 insects, 7,500 shells, 8,050 bird skins, and 410 mammal and reptile specimens, including well over a thousand species new to science. His book The Malay Archipelago, first published in 1869, is the most celebrated travel book of that region and has not been out of print since it was first published.
We're still tweeting about Wallace in this anniversary year and check back next month when I will be writing about another of my favourite letters.
Later this month on the 27 September we will be getting out a few Wallace treasures from the Library to showcase at the free to attend Science Uncovered. It promises to be an exciting night and you can see the Wallace treasures along with other items from the Library's amazing collections by booking a free Treasure's of the Library tour.
Wallace Correspondence Project
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."
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.
Wallace Correspondence Project
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:
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.
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.
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)!
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org
More information about it can be found in an earlier post.
A sample of the book and its contents can be seen below:
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.
Wallace, his mother Mary and sister Fanny
© Wallace Memorial Fund & G. W. Beccaloni
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 email@example.com 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!
Ancestor's Trail and Entangled Bank Events are very kindly helping to raise the remaining £25,000 for the statue of Wallace that the Wallace Memorial Fund has commissioned and which is destined for the Museum. It will be unveiled by Sir David Attenborough on the 100th anniversary of Wallace's death - 7 November 2013.
Richard Dawkins has very generously agreed to help with the fundraising, by giving a talk on the 24th August in Bristol as part of this year's Ancestor's Trail. What follows is an excerpt from an interview Richard recently gave about the event:
Evolutionary biologist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins talks exclusively to Venue about his forthcoming visit to Bristol to take part in this year's Ancestor's Trail in August. Interview: Tom Phillips.
You’re coming to Bristol in August for the ‘Wallace in Bristol’ event which is, in turn, part of The Ancestor’s Trail. What will you be doing at this event and what else will be happening on the day?
I’ll be one of a number of speakers honouring Wallace, the “other Darwin”. The event is in aid of a good cause, raising a statue of Wallace to join Darwin’s in the Natural History Museum. My talk is called ‘Give the under surface to Mr Wallace, but yield the upper surface to Mr Darwin.’ Enigmatic, yes, intentionally so with a meaning both literal and metaphoric. All will become clear, and I shall leave plenty of time to answer questions at the end.
‘Wallace in Bristol’ is in honour of Alfred Russel Wallace: how important was his work to the study of evolution?
Natural selection is a remarkably simple yet powerful idea, and it is astonishing that it had to wait till the mid nineteenth century before anyone thought of it. And then two English naturalists thought of it at almost the same time. Charles Darwin is well known. Alfred Wallace is often forgotten, but he really did have the same idea as Darwin, at almost the same time, and he expressed it in almost exactly the same terms. Indeed, in some ways Wallace’s way of putting it was even clearer – dare I say even more Darwinian (and, by the way, Wallace coined the word “Darwinism”) than Darwin’s own.
The Ancestors’ Trail is inspired by your book ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ in which you relate the history of evolution using reverse chronology. Why did you choose to adopt that particular strategy?
Forward chronology has a pernicious weakness. It can suggest, if we are not very careful, that evolution is “aiming” at some distant future target. It becomes even more pernicious if that distant target is considered to be humanity. Since we are human, it is entirely pardonable to be especially interested in our own ancestry. I wanted to pander to this, but at the same time the last thing I wanted was to suggest that evolution was aiming towards us, or that we are “evolution’s last word” etc. When you put it like that, a solution leaps to mind. Tell the story of evolution backwards. Begin with humans and work backwards to the origin of life. We could begin with anything, hornet, hippopotamus or hummingbird and work backwards. The end point would be the same in all cases: the origin of life. That is the beauty of working backwards, and that very fact tells us something important about evolution.
Moulding the Statue
Sculptor Anthony Smith writes:
During the past couple of months I have been putting the finishing touches to the clay sculpture of Wallace, and we have now finally finished making its all-important mould. Taking a mould of a large, immovable object, such as a clay statue, is a rather complex operation, but hopefully these photos will help to explain exactly how we went about it...
The front and back of the statue are moulded separately, so the first step involved creating a dividing line all around the edge of the statue (above). This was done by building up a wooden support behind the statue, then adding a clay wall along the dividing line. Chalk powder is put on the surface of the clay statue first so that the clay wall can be removed without damaging the surface of the statue itself.
Once the clay wall has been added it is time to start coating the front side of the statue with a layer of silicone rubber (above). This is a fantastic material for mould-making as it can be easily applied to almost any surface, capturing the tiniest of details in the original sculpture (right down to the sculptor's fingerprints!).
Above you can see the front of the statue, with the wooden support behind and some of the clay wall still visible. The whole front and base of the statue is coated in a thick layer of white silicone rubber. The circular dents that you can see in the rubber are there so that the rubber sits correctly in the plaster casing... see below.
Above you can see that the first section of the plaster casing has been added, encasing the base of the statue. Wooden supports are included within the plaster to add strength.
Once the whole of the front of the statue is encased in plaster it is time to work on the back (above) – the wooden support and the clay wall are removed and a layer of rubber is added over the top of the clay, just the same as for the front.
Once the rubber on the back of the sculpture has fully set, it too is enclosed with a plaster casing. Only once the plaster has fully dried is it time to take the mould apart...
First, the various parts of the plaster casing are prised off (above - you can see one of these parts leaning against the wall behind the statue). Then the rubber is peeled from the surface of the clay and laid back inside the plaster casing. This way the rubber holds the exact same shape as it did when it was on the surface of the statue and an accurate replica can be made. Finally, the moulding is complete!
So what next? Well, the mould is currently at the foundry where they are busy creating a hollow wax replica of the statue. Next week I will be joining the foundry to put the finishing touches to this replica, then we will move on to the 'investment' and casting stages.
If you're already curious to learn exactly how the mould is used, here's a good summary of the lost-wax casting process.
My next update will be coming from the foundry... stay tuned!
The Wallace Correspondence Project has just said goodbye to 11 Harvard students who have spent the last two weeks in the library reading room transcribing Wallace letters for the project.
The students are in the UK for a total of eight weeks and are funded by the David Rockefeller International Experience Grants Program (DRIEG). They have now relocated to Oxford and are attending the Harvard Summer School Programme course called "An exploration of evolutionary biology" at Oxford University.
The students transcribed a massive 412 letters for the project, which is no mean feat when you’re grappling with Victorian handwriting. Their great contribution means we have the majority of letters Wallace wrote up to 1908 transcribed and demonstrates how important citizen science is to the project; without the help of willing volunteers we would only have a fraction of the 2,600 letters we currently have transcribed. Time will now be spent checking the transcriptions and adding them to Wallace Letters Online.
We wish them all luck with their studies in Oxford.
2013's Wallace Harvard students
The project are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help us transcribe more letters, so if this is something that interests you and you want to find out more, please send me an email for more information
Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project
As Archivist for the Wallace Correspondence Project, I get to read a lot of Wallace’s letters and embedded amongst all of the intellectual debate are little gems that make you chuckle (or me at least!). The Victorians certainly had a way with words and their turns of phrase are sometimes hilarious, if not mildly offensive, but are above all a delight to read!
As we are well into the third year of the Wallace Correspondence Project and 6 months into Wallace100, I thought I’d share some of the little gems I’ve come across in the letters so far….
On moustaches: “Has Eliza Roberts got rid of her moustache yet? Tell her in private to use tweezers. A hair a day would exterminate it in a year or two without any one’s perceiving.” (WCP365 Wallace to Fanny Sims 10.12.1856).
On scientists: “I have found that a scientist can make an ass of himself as readily as any other man.” (WCP2599 J. Clegg Wright to Wallace 31.08.1893).
On boils: “I long to get into the country guided by your new lights, but I have been now for ten days confined to my room with what is disagreeable though far from dangerous - boils.” (WCP4095 Wallace to Darwin 23.05.1862)
On boils (again): “I am sorry to hear that you are suffering from Boils; I have often had fearful crops: I hope that the Doctors are right in saying that they are serviceable.” (WCP1849 Darwin to Wallace 24.05.1862)
On health: “My health is, & always will be, very poor: I am that miserable animal a regular valetudinarian.” (WCP1849 Darwin to Wallace 24.05.1862)
On handwriting: “I do not know whether you will care to read this scrawl.” (WCP1900 Darwin to Wallace 30.04.1868)
On truth: “I sometimes marvel how truth progresses, so difficult is it for one man to convince another, unless his mind is vacant.” (WCP1900 Darwin to Wallace 30.04.1868)
On spiders: “P.S. A big spider fell close to my hand in the middle of my signature wh[ich]. accounts for the hitch.” (WCP370 Wallace to George Silk 30.11.1858)
On being an enthusiast: “So far from being angry at being called an Enthusiast it is my pride & glory to be worthy to be so called. Who ever did any thing good or great who was not an enthusiast? The majority of mankind are enthusiasts only in one thing, in money-getting; & these call others enthusiasts as a term of reproach, because they think there is something in the world better than money getting.” (WCP371 Wallace to Thomas Sims 25.04.1859)
On not quitting the tropics: “to induce a Naturalist to quit his researches at their most interesting point requires some more cogent argument than the prospective loss of health.” (WCP1454 Wallace to J D Hooker 06.10.1858)
On suffering: “I have myself suffered much in the same way as you describe & I think more severely. The kind of "tedium vitae" you mention I also occasionally experience here. I impute it to a too monotonous existence.” (WCP374 Wallace to Henry Walter Bates 24.12.1860)
On freedom of thought: “Freedom of thought is essential to intellectual progress.” (WCP4866 Wallace to Charles Lyell 10.11.1872)
On the British weather: “I trust you have passed unscathed through the glacial period of January and the semi-tropical period one of February. Already they are bringing me nosegays of wild flowers – primroses, violets and buttercups.” (WCP1661 Richard Spruce to Fanny Sims 27.02.1867) – proving that the British weather was just as odd in the nineteenth century!
On death: “the writer, who has doubtless ere now been gathered to Abraham’s bosom.” (WCP3281 Walter William Skeat to Wallace 11.10.1909)
On the respect of women: “I trust you will not feel put out if, as an individual woman and by a private letter, I venture to offer you homage and thanks for your published utterance respecting women which I have read in the Daily Chronicle of today. At this time of day it is true our prospects are no longer what they were and you as their champion resemble happiness as characterized by Goethe.” (WCP3147 Caroline Augusta Foley to Wallace 04.12.1893)
On gifts of venison: “May I ask your acceptance of this little leg of venison? It is ready to be cooked, I trust you will find it tender.” (WCP3196 Theodora Guest to Wallace 22.08.1900)
On cats: “The cats are all right. Cats always are. They never want enquiring about till they get over 12 years old”. (WCP297 Wallace to his daughter Violet 24.11.1887)
On bacon: “send me the address of the Bacon Man!!” (WCP273 Wallace to Violet 25.03.1896)
All of these letters are available to view on Wallace Letters Online. Why not see if you can find some more hidden gems embedded amongst the intellectual conversations!
Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project
This month’s selected letter was written on 26 June 1898 to Michael Flürscheim (1844-1912), a German economist who worked on economic and social reforms that focused on the single tax, land nationalisation and an improved currency. This letter highlights Wallace’s involvement in socialism; an area he became very involved in later in his life.
The short letter begins with Wallace expressing regret that Flürscheim has moved to New Zealand and also that he has, as Wallace writes
“given up working primarily for land and social reform & are devoting yourself mainly to the Currency question.”
Wallace disagreed with Flürscheim on this matter and believed it wouldn’t “abolish the unemployed, or enable every man to get the whole produce of his labour.”
Flürscheim believed currency reform was needed to complement single tax and land reform to cure the ills of society. There were two types of currency reform at the turn of the twentieth century; one where the state would manufacture more money to put into circulation believing this would spur the economy on and the other, which Flürscheim advocated, wanted to replace the currency that was based on gold and silver with something such as a ‘labour note’ - where people could trade in hours of labour.
Wallace hoped “we shall soon have you back here working for land reform and the extension of cooperative industry” - two causes Wallace felt very strongly about.
Although becoming more active on social matters later on in his life, Wallace first encountered socialist ideas as a young man, being greatly influenced by the writings of Robert Owen (1771-1858). He attended lectures with his brother John when he moved to London at the Hall of Science in Tottenham Court Road.
Wallace became President in 1881 of the newly formed Land Nationalisation Society – a society that believed land should be the property of the state to ensure everyone could be free to use and enjoy it equally. He remained its President for 30 years and, as well as calling for public ownership of land, he also advocated the land colony as a solution for unemployment, a pure paper money system (Fiat Money), he supported women’s suffrage and wrote on the dangers and wastefulness of militarism.
At the July 1892 meeting of the Land Nationalisation Society, Wallace spoke in his Presidential Address to Herbert Spencer’s newly released book, Justice. Wallace explains that his first encounter with Spencer’s work was reading Social Statics in 1853. He says that through this work he learnt, in Spencer’s words, that “to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking
away their lives or their personal liberties”.
WP5/1/2: 1892 Report of the Land Nationalisation Society containing Wallace's Presidential address
Wallace ended the letter to Flürscheim by informing him he had recently attended a Congress of Spiritualists in London, where he “tried to induce Spiritualists to take up the social problems” - a quote I love, as he seemed to be a man who was never one to pass up an opportunity to recruit more people to the socialist cause!
We have many letters written by Wallace in Wallace Letters Online that discuss and advocate socialism and if you are keen to explore more letters written to Flürscheim, we have 11 of them that you can read here.
Check back next month, when I'll be writing about another letter that caught my attention.
Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project
Friday 7 June saw Wallace enthusiasts descend on the University of Bournemouth for a one day conference on Wallace, fittingly held in the Alfred Russel Wallace Lecture Theatre, organised by the Linnean Society and The Society for the History of Natural History.
Entitled "Unremitting passion for the beauty and mystery of the natural world" the day included 6 talks about different aspects of Wallace’s life and work, a theatre performance by Theatr na n’Og called "You should ask Wallace" and an evening reception at Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences.
The morning was kicked off by Andrew Sortwell and David Orr Kerr who gave a fascinating talk of following, quite literally, in Wallace’s footsteps with two expeditions to the Amazon, one in 1978 and one in 2007. They shared with us amazing photos of some of locations Wallace would have visited during his 1848-52 expedition there and shared with us photos of native boats, much like Wallace would have travelled in. In 1978 the Wallace Expedition to Amazonia spent three months in remote regions of the Amazon studying the flora and fauna and in 2007, the second expedition involved travelling to the Rio Negro and spending some time in an Indian Reserve. They also visited São Joaquim, now deserted but the village where Wallace nearly lost his life to illness during his expedition. Their talk was fascinating and it was great to see photos of specimens Wallace would have collected and also to see some of David’s beautiful watercolours from the trip.
Janet Ashdown, conservator at the Linnean Society was the next speaker and spoke about the project she worked on to conserve Wallace’s 10 notebooks from the Amazon and Malay Archipelago. The Society acquired the notebooks in 1936 after Wallace’s son William offered them via Edward Bagnall Poulton. In 2011 funding was awarded by the Mellon Foundation to digitise the notebooks, but they were in a poor state of repair and needed to be conserved first. Each notebook was in a varying state of disrepair with his Amazon notebook needing the least intervention. There were four notebooks that were really degraded with Janet commenting they had been strangely constructed with straw-board covers. There were also old repairs that had been undertaken and unfortunately old covers had to be permanently removed because of degradation, however they have been kept and the new covers have been modelled closely on the originals. This was a really insightful talk and I enjoyed learning about the method and the time it took to restore these notebooks to their former glory. These notebooks have also just been digitised and are free to view on the Linnean Society’s website.
The final talk before lunch was given by Professor Jim Costa on insights and observations into Wallace’s Species notebooks. Professor Costa’s research into these notebooks will be published in October this year in his new book entitled On the Organic Law of Change. The species notebook (held by the Linnean Society, mc. 180) covers the period 1855-1859 whilst he was in the Malay Archipelago, a period of "remarkable creativity" for Wallace as Jim put it which saw the publication of the 1855 Sarawak Law and the 1858 Ternate Essay that saw him catapulted to fame alongside Charles Darwin. Jim also highlights Wallace’s critique of Sir Charles Lyell in his notebook, showing Lyell to be an inspiration to Wallace during this time. Jim has studied, transcribed and annotated the notebook for his new book, which is bound to give new and interesting insights into Wallace and his time spent in the Malay Archipelago.
After lunch, I was lucky enough to have been asked to speak about the Wallace Correspondence Project and it was great to be able to share with so many people details about the project and to show people just what an amazing resource Wallace Letters Online is.
Also speaking in the afternoon was Annette Lord, a volunteer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History who spoke about Oxford Wallace’s collection, which consists of over 300 paper items in the Wallace archive, mostly letters and postcards dating from 1860 to 1913 and tens of thousands of specimens collected by Wallace and numerous type specimens, including Wallace’s famous giant bee, Megachile pluto. It was really interesting to hear Annette talk about Oxford’s collections on Wallace and she recounted many great stories told in the letters, mostly to Edwards Bagnall Poulton and Raphael Meldola, all of which are available to view on Wallace Letters Online.
Some lovely specimens from the Oxford Wallace Collection
The final talk of the day was given by Dr Charles Smith and focused on Wallace and Natural Selection. Charles explored Wallace’s 1858 Ternate paper - the one which he sent to Darwin and was subsequently read with Darwin’s work on 1 July 1858 at the Linnean Society - and asked how much we really knew about Wallace’s own evolution of thought and explored Wallace being influenced by the works of Alexander von Humboldt. A thoroughly interesting talk and a great end to the presentations.
We were then treated to an excellent performance by Theatr na n’Og with a play called "You should ask Wallace". The play tells Wallace’s story, with one actor playing Wallace who recounts his childhood, early surveying career and expeditions to the Amazon and Malay Archipelago. They perform the play in schools around Wales and this year are busy with performances to a wide range of audiences. It was excellent and the actor who played Wallace bore more than a passing resemblance to the young naturalist! It’s a great way to engage a younger audience in Wallace’s extraordinary life and to inspire them also and it was really interesting seeing the play as it helps you to better imagine the challenging feats Wallace undertook.
A Q&A session with Theatr na n'Og after their great performance
To round off the day there was a drinks reception at Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences, which gave the delegates a chance to chat to one another about the days interesting talks. It was lovely talking to people so enthusiastic about Wallace, in such interesting surroundings, with the Society’s headquarters full of interesting specimens.
The lovely surroundings of the Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences
Wallace and Darwin both honoured at the Society's headquarters
I’d like to say a big thanks to the Linnean Society for organising such an interesting day; another great success for Wallace100!
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:
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.’
This month’s letter was written was written by Wallace to his good friend Edward Bagnall Poulton (1856–1943) on 28 May 1889 and it is a letter that reveals much about Wallace’s character. The main reason for Wallace sending Poulton this letter was to inform him he had declined an honorary D.C.L. (Doctor of Civil Law) from Oxford University which he had been informed of by Professor Price. Wallace writes:
"You will probably be surprised and disgusted to hear that I have declined it."
He gives his reasoning for declining the D.C.L. to Poulton as a "profound distaste for all public ceremonials" and says that attending such a ceremony would be "positive punishment". He explains that health problems, work commitments and moving to a new cottage in Parkstone, Dorset all mean he is unable to "rush away to Oxford" to receive the honorary degree.
Wallace’s language may seem quite ungrateful to what is in reality a huge honour which reflected his reputation in the wider academic community, but I think this is a good example of how humble and in a way dismissive Wallace was about his achievements in the academic world. In all of his extensive scientific work he didn’t need honours bestowed on him from institutions or societies; he was more interested in using his work to educate others.
He ends his letter to Poulton by writing; "really the greatest kindness my friends can do me is to leave me in peaceful obscurity, for I have lived so secluded a life that I am more and more disinclined to crowds of any kind."
And that, you may think is the end of that little story. Not so, however. Sadly, we don’t have Poulton’s reply to this letter but we do have the next letter Wallace sent to Poulton on 2 June 1889. It’s obvious from Wallace’s first paragraph that Poulton has tried to convince Wallace to accept the honour and whatever he wrote obviously worked as he writes,
"I am exceedingly obliged by your kind letters, and I will say at once that if the Council of the University should again ask me to accept the degree to be conferred in the Autumn as you propose, I could not possibly refuse it."
Although somewhat a reluctant acceptance, it is at least an acceptance. Wallace goes on to write, in a typical self-deprecatory fashion,
"I really feel myself too much of an amateur in Nat[ural] Hist[ory], and altogether too ignorant (I left school - a bad one - finally, at 14) to receive honours from a great University. "
When I first read this sentence, it truly astounded me to think that Wallace saw himself as merely an "amateur". Education or not, Wallace did so much to change our view of the natural world; he was a visionary of his age. Later letters to Poulton in November 1889 discuss arrangements for the D.C.L. ceremony which was officially awarded to him on 26th November.
Whilst researching this blog, I came across a passage in Wallace’s autobiography My Life, volume 2 (p. 201-202) which recorded the event. He wrote,
"In the autumn of this year the University of Oxford did me the honour of giving me the honorary degree of D.C.L., which I went to receive in November, when I enjoyed the hospitality of my friend Professor E. B. Poulton."
No mention is made in his autobiography of his initial refusal of the honour or of not feeling worthy enough for such an accolade and this is one the reasons why the letters are so important to the study of his life. They give a more honest representation of emotions and opinions. Of course, I’m sure he wouldn’t lie in his autobiography but one could infer after reading that passage, Wallace was nothing but delighted at such an honour when initially that couldn’t be further from the truth. Either that or he simply forgot he was very wary about accepting the D.C.L. in the first place!
Wallace wrote extensively to Poulton and you can read the letters here. If you don’t already, then follow the Library and Archives on twitter, where we’re tweeting weekly about Wallace as part of the Wallace100 celebrations. Also watch out for the next instalment of Letter of the Month in June.
Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project
By Tony Whitten, Regional Director, Asia-Pacific, Fauna & Flora International
Included in the Waigeo chapter of The Malay Archipelago is an engraving of a hut Wallace lived in whilst staying at Bessir (now Yenbesir) village while he was focusing on collecting the Red Bird of Paradise. During the first ‘In the Wake of Wallace’ cruise in January 2012, I paid a visit to this village to present a copy of the Indonesian-language edition of Wallace's book – Kepulauan Nusantara - to the Head of the village. I started to think how it might be possible to reconstruct the hut and during the following year I worked with the cruise owners and Rosita ‘Mona’ Tariola of Conservation International who occasionally visited the village in the context of a marine conservation programme.
We ensured that the reconstruction was as faithful as possible to the measurements in Wallace’s text and to the illustration, and by Christmas 2012 it was ready. On the following cruise shortly after this I took the first group of visitors to see it. The exact location of the original hut is in doubt, but we are told that the grandfather of the man on whose land the hut was built used to say that a European lived in the spot where the new hut stands.
Luckily we had someone (a former President of the Law Society) with us who is the same height as Wallace (6’ 1”) so we had the perfect means of imagining Wallace in and under his hut. The shape is slightly different from the illustration, but I checked the measurements and they are fine. The bindings, etc. are all done without nails and the walls are made from the leaf bases of palms as was traditionally done. The men who built it are quite proud that they now have an example of a house from former times. It is near the path to a Red Bird of Paradise viewing site so that tour groups can take in both during their visits and the owner may even let people stay in it for a consideration.
The photos show the hut and the builders. I have also included a view of Yenbesir, and also of Fruin, the village where Wallace stayed with the Chief before going across to Yenbesir.
This is Wallace's description of the hut:
"It was quite a dwarf's house, just eight feet square, raised on posts so that the floor was four and a half feet above the ground, and the highest part of the ridge only five feet above the flour. As I am six feet and an inch in my stockings, I looked at this with some dismay; but finding that the other houses were much further from water, were dreadfully dirty, and were crowded with people, I at once accepted the little one, and determined to make the best of it. At first I thought of taking out the floor, which would leave it high enough to walk in and out without stooping; but then there would not be room enough, so I left it just as it was, had it thoroughly cleaned out, and brought up my baggage.
The upper story I used for sleeping in, and for a store-room. In the lower part (which was quite open all round) I fixed up a small table, arranged my boxes, put up hanging-shelves, laid a mat on the ground with my wicker-chair upon it, hung up another mat on the windward side, and then found that, by bending double and carefully creeping in, I could sit on my chair with my head just clear of the ceiling. Here I lived pretty comfortably for six weeks, taking all my meals and doing all my work at my little table, to and from which I had to creep in a semi-horizontal position a dozen times a day; and, after a few severe knocks on the head by suddenly rising from my chair, learnt to accommodate myself to circumstances. We put up a little sloping cooking-but outside, and a bench on which my lads could skin their birds. At night I went up to my little loft, they spread their mats on the, floor below, and we none of us grumbled at our lodgings."
Sculptor Anthony Smith writes:
The rather spooky-looking plaster outline of Wallace shown in my last post has now been fleshed-out with a surface layer of clay and is now looking a lot more human. There are many possible sculpting materials, but I have found nothing better than a good quality water-based sculpting clay, which is similar to common potters clay, but with no grit or 'grog', which gives it a nice smooth finish.
I have begun by sculpting Wallace more-or-less nude, so that all of the limbs and muscle groups are correctly modelled, and it is onto this naked form I will soon be adding the clothes (again, all in clay). In order to get all the anatomy and the folds of the clothes correct I am working with a model with a similar physique to Wallace, who will also be wearing the same sorts of clothes that Wallace wore when out hunting specimens in the jungles of the Malay Archipelago. Quite a lot of research has gone into tracking-down the correct clothing, based on Wallace's own writings and the advice of experts, and I now have a Victorian 'hunting-shirt', just like the ones Wallace describes himself as wearing.
"To give English entomologists some idea of the collecting here, I will give a sketch of one good day’s work. Till breakfast I am occupied ticketing and noting the captures of the previous day, examining boxes for ants, putting out drying-boxes and setting the insects of any caught by lamp-light. About 10 o’clock I am ready to start. My equipment is, a rug-net [bag-net], large collecting-box hung by a strap over my shoulder, a pair of pliers for Hymenoptera, two bottles with spirits, one large and wide-mouthed for average Coleoptera, &c., the other very small for minute and active insects, which are often lost by attempting to drop them into a large mouthed bottle. These bottles are carried in pockets in my hunting-shirt, and are attached by strings round my neck; the corks are each secured to the bottle by a short string". Wallace in a letter to Stevens from Sarawak in 1855
Since the statue of Wallace is around 10% larger than life-size, I am constantly taking measurements from my model and doing enlargement calculations before making the additions to my sculpture.
We don't want to give too much of the design away at this stage, so future posts will be limited to written descriptions and perhaps a few detail shots. All will be revealed on 7 November at the unveiling!
A free one day conference about Wallace will be held at the Museum on Wednesday 23 October 2013. This event is aimed at people who are interested in Wallace's natural history collections and want to find out more about the Wallace-related material kept in the Museum.
In the afternoon there will be a unique chance to join an exclusive tour of the Museum Library's Rare Books Room, showcasing manuscripts, artwork, publications and specimens collected by Wallace. Places are limited, so it is essential to book your place in advance. For more information and to register go to the Museum's Wallace conference webpage.
Note that the Museum's conference follows on from a two day discussion meeting about Wallace's legacy at The Royal Society, London, which is being held on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 October. This meeting will discuss Wallace's major scientific interests, including evolution, natural history, biogeography, animal colouration, sexual selection and astronomy. It will also examine current thinking on issues that preoccupied him, including his contributions to the social sciences. This event is intended for researchers in relevant fields. It is free to attend but places are limited.
This month’s letter was written to Henry Eeles Dresser (1838-1915), an English ornithologist, on 28 April 1871 - a time when Wallace was well and truly settled back into life in England after his expeditions to the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago.
I chose this letter as it reveals not only information about the next big publication he was working on but also more about another great passion he had; building houses. Wallace lived in a fair few places throughout his life; on his return to England from the Malay Archipelago in 1862 he rented a few different properties in London, before building his first house, The Dell, in Grays Essex, living there from 1872-1876. He then moved again and rented three different houses, one in Surrey and two in Croydon, before building his second home Nutwood Cottage in Godalming Surrey, living there from 1881-1889. In 1889 he moved west to Dorset, renting and then buying Corfe View in Parkstone. He built his last home, Old Orchard in Broadstone, Dorset, and lived there from 1902 until his death in 1913.
His training as a land surveyor early on in his life no doubt had an enormous impact on his ability to plan his houses as he wanted them - his superb draughtsmen skills are reflected in some original plans we hold in the Wallace archive in the Museum’s library.
Above: Ground plan of The Dell, by Wallace c. 1871 (WP4/1/3).
The Dell - the first house he built is the one he references in his letter to Dresser. He begins by apologising to him for not replying to a letter Dresser sent on the 6 February. He explains, “I obtained a piece of land I had been trying after for a year & a half, & have ever since been so busy clearing, roadmaking, & planting, & preparing for building a house, that insects, birds, & Geog. Distribution have alike been driven out of my head”
Plan of the front view of The Dell, c.1871 (WP4/1/4).
It took a year to build the Dell and he moved in on 25 March 1872. Prior to this, he was renting a house in Barking, East London, which isn’t too far away from Grays. His move to Grays and desire to build a house was no doubt partly influenced by his young family. He had married Annie five years previous in 1866 and three children quickly arrived; Herbert in 1867, Violet in 1869 and William in 1871. A move to Grays, which was surrounded by countryside, whilst still being close to London by train for business, seemed the best of both worlds.
The Dell, the first house Wallace built, once complete.
© A. R. Wallace Memorial Fund & G. W. Beccaloni
The Dell was one of the first houses in England to be built mainly of concrete, facilitated by a cement works nearby. The architect was Thomas Wonnacott of Farnham and it is the only house Wallace built that still survives - today it is privately owned but can still be seen from the road. The Wallace Memorial Fund designed and paid for a commemorative Thurrock Heritage Plaque to be placed on The Dell in 2002. Quite timely for this blog post also is the fact that The Dell has just been put on the market. Anyone rich enough and who wanted to, could live in the house that Wallace built!
Whilst at The Dell, Wallace wrote and published one of his landmark texts - The Geographical Distribution of Animals: With a study of the Relations of Living and Extinct Faunas as Elucidating the Past Changes of the Earth’s Surface. It is also the other reason I chose this letter to feature as letter of the month. Wallace writes to Dresser, after urging him to write a paper on the “Birds of Scandinavia & Northern parts of the Palearctic Region”, that he expects he won’t have time until the autumn to “work at the subject of Geog. Distribution… when I hope to be settled in my new abode”.
In fact, Wallace wasn’t able to really start work on Geographical Distribution in earnest until 1874 due in part to problems with assembling the taxonomic classifications for many types of animals, which were not clearly defined and in flux during this period. Philip Lutley Sclater had developed an earlier map showing the world distribution of birds which Wallace built on and expanded in his study to include mammals, reptiles and insects. Wallace's landmark text spilt the world into six distinct zoogeographic regions (known as Wallace's Realms) which are still in use today and he is known as the “father of evolutionary biogeography” because of his contribution to the founding of the subject.
Wallace had been observing the geographical distribution of species since his time in the Amazon from 1848-1852 and continued these observations in the Malay Archipelago. He would make notes during his travels on this topic and he gradually realised that the species of a particular region are generally more closely related to each other than they are to species in other regions. It was only realised much later that the reason that Wallace's Realms more-or-less correspond to the Earth's continents is a result of plate tectonics.
The ‘Wallace Line’, named in his honour, separates the zoogeographic regions of Asia and Australasia and was discovered by Wallace in June 1856 as he made the short 22 mile journey from Bali to Lombok. He observed many distinct differences amongst the animal species on the two islands. One example that illustrates the many differences he observed is the presence of cockatoo’s on Lombok, which were generally found to have a mainly Australasian distribution. No doubt his early surveying training also had a part to play in this work, as it gave him a keen sense of how things are spatially arranged.
The Wallace Collection pages on the Museum’s website features key items from the Wallace archive, including a section on architecture and plans of the three houses he built, as well as some observations made by Wallace on geographical distribution.
If you don’t already, then follow the Library and Archives on twitter, where we’re tweeting weekly about Wallace as part of the Wallace100 celebrations. Also watch out for the next instalment of Letter of the Month in May.
Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project
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.
See my earlier post for more information about the book.