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Record number: WCP4641

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Sent by:
Raphael Meldola
Sent to:
Edward Bagnall Poulton
23 February 1914

Sent by Raphael Meldola, 6 Brunswick Square, London, WC to Edward Bagnall Poulton Wykeham House, Banbury Road, Oxford on 23 February 1914.

Record created:
05 August 2014 by Benny, Ruth


The Fund is now £236. Marchant wants to issue order for medallion of ARW. Asks if Poulton can get the unpaid promises to him. Miss B. is in town & is going to bring some boxes of Java butterflies for Meldola to hand over to Poulton for the Hope Museum. She will let him know the history of the collection.

Record contains:

  • enclosure (1)
  • letter (1)

View item:

ENCLOSURE (WCP4641.6388)

An enclosure .

Held by:
Hope Entomological Library, Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Finding number:
ARW 286
Copyright owner:
©Imperial College London

Transcription information




My acquaintance with A.R.W began about the year 1880 when I was actively engaged in connection with the affairs of the newly launched E[ssex] F[ield] C[lub] when newly launched a Soc. in the work of wh. it The We were anxious to secure for our young Soc[iet]y the sympathy & support of the leading [word crossed out] naturalists of the period & my first personal visit to A[lfred] was [word crossed out] made by appointment when he lived in St. Peter's R[oa]d, Croydon. As the outcome of that interview he became one of the first hon[orary] members of the Club in the work of which he took an active great interest & on many occasions attended the outings & took part in the discussions. [word crossed out] On two noteworthy occasions he delivered formal lectures at special meetings convened for the purpose. Before 1880 I had seen A[lfred] [word illeg.] only two but once or twice at meetings of the Entom[ological] Soc[iety] & at that time as an ardent "Darwinian" I was much impressed by the outward manifestation of admiration which always accompanied his appearance at the meeting because I knew from personal contact with most of the leaders of that branch of Zool[ogical] Soc[iety] that his views were by no means found favour in the sight orthodox circles of the Soc[iet]y & many years

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-cal stimuli are in these cases limited to two. But there is physical evidence in support of the view that a molecule in which the atoms are capable of assuming two or more different configurations may in the presence of various solvents exist in varying proportions in two or more forms simultaneously. In such cases two or more atomic configurations [are?] may be said to be adapted to a particular environment. [We] have here the chemical analogue of a dimorphic or a polymorphic species. Now what the biologist requires in order to [words crossed out] bridge the gap between living & dead carbon compounds may possibly be an internal mobility or lability of the order indicated -- not a restricted tautomerism, but a comparatively unlimited responsivity to varying environments; a highly enhanced faculty of tautomerisation. The survival of carbon compounds may from this point of view be the result either of extreme stability, under as in ordinary pyrogenic synthesis, or the results of extreme internal lability leading conferring adaptability to variable conditions, such adaptability enabling these particular atomic groupings to resist the decay destructive agencies. Like oxidation & so forth If there is anything in this suggestion then the [word crossed out] development of life has been is just as much a process of selection as is the subsequent differentiation of living organic matter into specific forms. Out of numbers of primordial synthetical products containing carbon compounds none have survived but the stablest "mineral" compounds, such as carbon dioxide on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the lineal descendants of those protoplasmic corpuscles to which the most highly susceptible tautomerisable compounds gave rise. Modern physiological research, & especially the work of Bayliss & Starling, favours the view that in the lowest forms of protoplasmic life the responsivity is even now of a purely chemical character.

I am fully aware that this discussion amounts to [word crossed out] little more than a restatement of the old problem [words crossed out] not of the origin but of the development of living from lifeless matter a point which Spencer has of course dealt with in general terms. All that is claimed is that the problem case has possibly been stated in more specific terms than hitherto & certainly in a more distinctly Darwinian sense. At certain stages of scientific development it is always useful to raise questions even if the present state of knowledge does not admit of their being answered. But out of this treatment of the subject there arises a further question which may be worthy of further some consideration. It has already been suggested that on a globe cooling down from an igneous state & containing carbon as an element the probabilities are that many compounds of this element would be formed. Now the elements essential for living matter are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen & oxygen &, without raising the at present unanswerable question as to the precise order of combination & the nature of the primordial "organic" compounds, it may safely be asserted is quite certain that a molecule composed of these four elements even in its simplest form, is already a [something crossed out] highly complex compound from a purely chemical point of view and, as such, admits of numerous possible configurations or, in other words, would be capable of existing in several isomeric or tautomeric forms. If only one such quaternary compound were synthesised we should therefore have several possible starting points for future development, & if several such compounds were synthesised there would be an abundant supply of raw material for the selective action of the environment. If the principle of multiple synthesis be conceded then the earth [I] or the ocean in azoic times may have been as colonised by organic compounds as it [words crossed out] subsequently became by living organic matter during the early stages of the life period development of living matter. The question that [end of page]

*See particularly the "Principles of Biology"

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