Alfred Russel Wallace deserves a little fuss today. The wonderful co-father of Evolution was born on this day (08.01) in 1823. He was a wonderful scientist who independently came up with the theory of evolution through natural selection the same year as Charles Darwin. In fact they published their theory together at The Linnean Society of London on the 1st of July 1858. The article named 'On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection' starts with a very English gentleman introduction:
" MY DEAR SIR,—The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all relate to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace."
And goes on to explain that both Wallace and Darwin conceived this theory through their own independent research:
"These gentlemen having independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry; but neither of them having published his views, though Mr. Darwin has for many years past been repeatedly urged by us to do so, and both authors having now unreservedly placed their papers in our hands, we think it would best promote the interests of science that a selection from them should be laid before the Linnean Society."
The story behind his work and his correspondence with Darwin is fascinating in itself (as are the arguments raging around who is the "real" father of Evolution) but here are a few other interesting things to know about this great man:
- A surveyor by trade - Alfred R. Wallace had to leave school at the young age of 12 when his family fell on hard times and at 14 he joined his elder brother's surveying business where he learnt about map-making, geometry, trigonometry, construction, mechanics and other useful skills.
- In 1850 Wallace managed to travel the furthest up the Rio Negro and drafted a map that was used as a standard for many years later.
- He was a big fan of Robert Owen and interested in Owenism (I confess I didn't actually know exactly what this meant other than it being linked to modern socialism and had to look it up, very interesting). Later in his life when he turned his eyes to politics he supported socialism.
- He spent 10 days stranded at sea in a leaking lifeboat with his shipmates after the ship taking him back to England caught fire and sank. Thankfully he was rescued.
- He was firmly anti-Eugenics, a theory of social improvement based on hereditary traits and natural selection that was popular during his time. Eugenics basically means that "fit" individuals should reproduce and "unfit" individuals should not thereby improving the populations over all fitness. Wallace did not believe that this theory would improve society since a corrupt society would have corrupt views on what constitutes a "fit" individual and he also believed social reform was more likely to improve society.
"The world does not want the eugenist to set it straight. Give the people good conditions, improve their environment, and all will tend towards the highest type. Eugenics is simply the meddlesome interference of an arrogant, scientific priestcraft."
- He was an anti-vaccer! Totally against people being forced to undergo a medical process, he was not convinced of the usefulness of vaccinations and when penalties were used he said it was a question of personal liberty and stated that liberty was more important than science.
- And also a huge supporter of the suffragette movement and women's rights, writing:
"As long as I have thought or written at all on politics, I have been in favour of woman suffrage. None of the arguments for or against have any weight with me, except the broad one, which may be thus stated:-- 'All the human inhabitants of any one country should have equal rights and liberties before the law; women are human beings; therefore they should have votes as well as men.' It matters not to me whether ten millions or only ten claim it--the right and the liberty should exist, even if they do not use it. "
- On finance he wrote several papers on implementing a paper money standard. In fact the famous 20th century economist Irving Fisher dedicated his book Stabilizing the Dollar to Wallace in recognition of his work.
- His most successful lecture was on spiritualism entitled 'If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?'
There are many more fascinating facts about this larger than life man who contributed to so many diverse fields of human knowledge! Not bad for a guy who didn't finish school or go to university.
To find out more do click on The Alfred Russel Wallace website. You can also explore his letters online at the Natural History Museums 'Wallace Letters online' website. Wikipedia has a pretty detailed page about him too!