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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IN 1858, Darwin, acting upon the advice of Sir Charles Lyell, was writing his views upon natural selection, which was a new term then for a theory never before advanced. One day he received from a friend far away in the Malay Archipelago, an essay entitled ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type,’ which to his great surprise proved to be a skillful exposition of his own new theory. Darwin was too noble for petty jealousies. He gave ungrudging credit to the author, A. R. Wallace, and admitted the value of his paper. It was read before the Linnæan Society in July, 1858, and later published with an essay by Darwin, which was a summary of his great work upon the ‘Origin of Species,’ as far as it was then elaborated.  1
  Darwin never had a more admiring disciple than Wallace, from those early days when their minds thus independently reached the same conclusion, to the time, thirty years later, when Wallace published his capable exposition entitled ‘Darwinism.’ In the meantime, the truths once rejected by scientists themselves had found common acceptation. By his brilliant essays in English reviews, Wallace did much to popularize the new methods of thought. Upon minor points he did not always agree with Darwin, but his faith in natural selection as a universal pass-key was far firmer than Darwin’s own.  2
  Alfred Russel Wallace was born at Usk in Monmouthshire, January 8th, 1823, and received his education at the grammar school of Hertford. Later he was articled to an elder brother, an architect and land surveyor, and practiced these professions for some years. But Wallace had a great love of nature, combined with scientific tastes. It was a time when many brilliant minds in England and elsewhere were roused to an almost passionate investigation of the material world, and felt themselves on the edge of possible discoveries which might explain the universe. Wallace, stimulated by the works of Darwin, Hooker, Lyell, Tyndall, and others, gave up all other business for science in 1845.  3
  Three years later he accompanied H. W. Bates upon an expedition to South America, an account of which he has given in his ‘Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro.’ For four years he lived on the banks of these rivers, studying all the physical conditions, and making valuable botanical and ornithological collections; much of which, however, with important notes, was unfortunately lost at sea. Many others had written of the beauty and luxuriance of equatorial forests, until to most readers they seemed an enchanted land of delight. Wallace described them in a spirit of rigorous truth. His readers felt not only the splendor of color, the lavishness of nature, but also the monotony of this unchanging maturity, and the hidden dangers, the wild beasts, the poisonous plants, and the strange stinging insects hardly distinguishable from the plants which harbored them.  4
  As he demonstrates in his volume upon ‘Island Life,’ the comparative isolation of islands results in an abundance of peculiar species, and renders them particularly valuable for scientific study. After leaving South America, Wallace visited the Malay Archipelago, going from island to island, and studying exhaustively geology and people, fauna and flora. When after eight years there he returned to England in 1862, he took back over eight thousand stuffed birds and ten thousand entomological specimens, including a number never before known, in addition to abundant notes,—material which it took several years to arrange and classify. The collections found a place in the English museums; and in 1869 he published ‘The Malay Archipelago, the Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise,’ which is still considered one of the most delightful books of travel ever written. He excels in showing us flowers and animals alive and at home. Interspersed with graphic stories of adventure are the results of his careful and scientific observation. His style is terse and simple, and his moderation in describing what is novel carries conviction of his truth.  5
  In 1868 the Royal Society of London bestowed its medal on him; and two years later he received the gold medal of the Geographical Society of Paris. Wallace soon won a European reputation; and in 1876 his work ‘On the Geographical Distribution of Animals’ was issued simultaneously in French, German, and English.  6
  After sixty years of intense and laborious devotion to science, having attained the ripe age of eighty-three, Wallace in 1905 published his Autobiography, entitled ‘My Life; a Record of Events and Opinions.’ But eight years of vigorous thinking and lucid writing were left to him. In 1907 appeared ‘Is Mars Habitable?’, in 1911 ‘The World of Life,’ in 1913 ‘Social Environment and Moral Progress,’ and in 1914 (the year after his death) ‘The Revolt of Democracy.’ The titles indicate how wide Wallace’s interests were, and how far he was removed from the narrowness of vision often charged against the modern scientific specialist.  7
  Wallace was an optimist. Through his careful demonstration of the survival of the fittest runs the conviction that these organisms, so surrounded by perils, may be termed happy. The struggle for existence implies satisfaction in that it involves the exercise of healthy faculties. All forms lower than man escape mental anxiety. The element of dread eliminated, why should they not be happy?  8
  For man, Wallace sees something else. He is a stanch believer in spiritualism as a science not yet mastered, but which eventually will explain man’s higher nature. The Darwinian theory not only proves evolution “under the law of natural selection,” he says, “but also teaches us that we possess intellectual and moral faculties which could not have been so developed, but must have had another origin; and for this origin we can only find an adequate cause in the unseen universe of spirit.”  9
 
 
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