Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: The literature cited is identified in the 'Writings on Wallace' section at this site; the "S" numbers given refer to the item entry numbers in the 'Wallace Bibliography' section. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/BIOG.htm
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), English naturalist, evolutionist, geographer, anthropologist, and social critic and theorist, was born 8 January 1823 at Usk, Gwent (now, and at the time of Wallace's birth, Monmouthshire). He was the third of four sons and eighth of nine children of Thomas Vere Wallace and Mary Anne Greenell, a middle-class English couple of modest means. The older Wallace was of Scottish descent (reputedly, of a line leading back to the famous William Wallace of medieval times); the Greenells were a relatively unremarkable but respectable English family who had lived in the Hertford area for generations. Thomas Wallace had trained for the law (and actually was sworn in as an attorney in 1792) but never practiced, income from inherited property securing him a life of leisure for the first fifteen years of his adulthood. With his marriage in 1807 things quickly changed, however, and he was forced into the first of what would turn out to be a long series of relatively unsuccessful ventures, including the publication of a literary magazine.
Young Alfred's childhood was a happy one, but at times difficult for lack of money. Four of his five older sisters did not live beyond the age of twenty-two, and Wallace himself was not always in the best of health. The Wallaces left Usk for Hertford when Alfred was only five. He found the grammar school he attended there rather tedious, but for a time was privy to plenty of good reading materials, his father being a town librarian for some years. About 1835 the elder Wallace was swindled out of his remaining property and the family fell on really hard times; young Wallace was forced to withdraw from school around Christmas 1836 and was sent to London to room with his older brother John. The ensuing several month experience was critical to his future intellectual development, as there he first came into contact with supporters of the utopian socialist Robert Owen. In his autobiography My Life (S729) he recollects that he even once heard Owen himself speak; from that point on he would describe himself in disciple terms.
By mid 1837 he had left London to join the eldest brother, William, in Bedfordshire. William owned a surveying business, and Wallace was to learn the trade. In 1839 he was temporarily apprenticed to a watchmaker, but by the end of the year he was again working with William, now based in Hereford. Over the next several years he picked up a number of trades-related skills and knowledge, particularly in drafting and map-making, geometry and trigonometry, building design and construction, mechanics, and agricultural chemistry. Moreover, he discovered that he really enjoyed the outdoor work involved in surveying. Soon he was starting to take an interest in the natural history of his surroundings, especially its botany, geology, and astronomy. While working in the area of the Hereford town of Kington in 1841 he became associated with the newly-formed Mechanic's Institution there; some months later, after moving over to the Welsh town of Neath, he began attending lectures given by the members of that area's various scientific societies. He also involved himself with the Neath Mechanics Institute, eventually giving his own lectures there on various technical and natural history subjects. The early 1840s also witnessed his first writing efforts: an essay (S1a) on the disposition of mechanics institutes written about 1841 found its way into a history of Kington published in 1845; two of his other essays from this early period (S1 and S623) are discussed in his 1905 autobiography My Life (S729).
In late 1843 a slow work period forced William Wallace to let his brother go. Alfred decided to apply for an open position at the Collegiate School in Leicester, where he was hired on as a master to teach drafting, surveying, English, and arithmetic. Now commenced another period central to his future path. Leicester had some good libraries, and Wallace was able to find and digest several important works on natural history and systematics; moreover, sometime during the year 1844 he made the acquaintance of another young amateur naturalist, Henry Walter Bates. Bates, though two years younger than Wallace, was already an accomplished entomologist, and his collections and collecting activities soon captured Wallace's interest. Around the same time Wallace saw his first demonstration of the practice of mesmerism, then dismissed by most as illusion or trickery. On investigating, however, he found he could personally reproduce many of the effects he had seen exhibited on stage, and learned his "first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men, or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men admittedly sane and honest" (S478).
In February of 1845 his brother William died unexpectedly and Wallace quit his teaching job at Leicester to return to surveying, now going through a boom period. But he soon found that running the business, even with the help of his brother John, involved responsibilities (such as fee collection) that he hated. He still had enough spare time, however, to continue with his natural history-related activities, and was even made a curator of the Neath Philosophical and Literary Institute's museum. He also kept up a correspondence with his friend Bates. A new book by William H. Edwards entitled A Voyage Up the River Amazon suggested a way out of his situation: he would turn professional and launch a self-sustaining natural history collecting expedition to South America. Bates was enlisted (undoubtedly with little effort), and the two young men (at the time Wallace was 25 and Bates 23) left for Pará (now called Belém), at the mouth of the Amazon, on 25 April 1848.
On 28 May 1848 Wallace and Bates disembarked at Pará and began to organize their operations. At first they worked as a team, but in March 1850 or perhaps as much as eighteen months earlier they split up (for reasons that have never been clarified). Wallace centered his activities in the middle Amazon and Rio Negro regions; Bates would remain in Amazonian South America eleven years, securing his permanent reputation as a leading naturalist and entomologist, and contributing significantly to the early development of the theory of natural selection through his elucidation of the concept of mimetic resemblance--"Batesian mimicry"--and various writings on biogeography. Wallace managed to ascend the Rio Negro system farther than anyone else had to that point, and drafted a map of the Rio Negro region that proved accurate enough to become the standard for many years (the map was published as a part of S11).
Apart from playing the role of collector and explorer, Wallace had an overriding reason for coming to the Amazon: to investigate the causes of organic evolution. His contacts with the Owenists had left him with an early interest in social/societal evolution, an interest that had extended itself in the direction of natural science with his mid-1840s readings of two crucial works: Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, and Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Lyell's work had become the bible of uniformitarianism, and instilled in Wallace an appreciation of how long-term change could be effected through the operation of slow, ongoing processes. Vestiges was an early, popular, effort to examine the notion of biological evolution; it was a bit short on its appreciation of mechanism but argued pursuasively against both Creationism and Lamarckism. Wallace was apparently an instant convert to the feature arguments of each work, and very quickly recognized how he might go about demonstrating that evolution did in fact take place: by tracing out, over time and space, the geographical/geological records of individual phylogenies. He soon focused on two particular elements of this study: (1) the way geography limited or facilitated the extension of species range, and (2) how ecological station seemed to influence the shaping of adaptations more than did closeness of affinity with other forms. His investigation of these subjects included efforts to come to grips with the region's ornithology, entomology, primatology, ichthyology, botany, and physical geography, but in the end he was unable to come to any conclusion about the actual mechanism of evolutionary change. He also spent much time studying the ways of the native peoples he worked among, including collecting vocabularies of many of their languages (S714).
By early 1852 Wallace was in ill health and in no condition to proceed any further. He decided to quit South America, and began the long trip back down the Rio Negro and Amazon to Pará. When he finally reached the town on the 2nd of July, he found that his younger brother Herbert had died. Herbert had been working in the area since 1849, but in 1851 tried to return to England from Pará, where he caught yellow fever. Moreover, and further to Wallace's dismay, most of the collections from the preceding two years he had been forwarding down the Amazon had been delayed at the dock at Barra do Rio Negro (Manaus) through a misunderstanding; he would therefore have to secure passage for these as well as himself. Within a few days he had been successful in so doing, and soon set out for England. Unfortunately, on the 6th of August the brig on which he was sailing caught fire and sank, taking almost all of his possessions--including some live animals--along with it. For ten days Wallace and his comrades struggled to survive in a pair of badly leaking lifeboats, then were sighted and picked up by a passing cargo ship also making its way back to England. As luck would have it this vessel was also old and slow, and itself nearly foundered when hit by a series of storms. In all, Wallace's ocean crossing took eighty days.
When Wallace stepped back on English soil on 1 October 1852, he was faced with some decisions. His collections had been insured, but only to an extent buying him some time. He was now twenty-nine and reasonably well-known as a travelling naturalist, but he had not been able to come up with the key to the mystery of organic change. Further, he now had no collections he could study at his leisure that might help him do so. For eighteen months his activities were mixed: a vacation in Switzerland, attending professional meetings and delivering papers, and, finally, the production of two books: Palm Trees of the Amazon and Their Uses (S713) and A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (S714). These made a slight but generally positive impression; the first was an ethnobotanical study based in part on drawings he had managed to save from the ship's fire; the second, a pleasant but not terribly profound account of his four years' work and travels.
With no other prospects immediately apparent, Wallace decided to carry on with his collecting activities. He chose the Indonesian Archipelago for his next base of operations, using his record of accomplishments to that point to secure a grant from the Royal Geographical Society to cover his passage to what was referred to in those days as "the Malay Archipelago." He arrived in Singapore on 20 April 1854, to begin what would turn out to be the defining period of his life.
Wallace's name is now inextricably linked with his travels in the Indonesian region. He spent nearly eight full years there; during that period he undertook about seventy different expeditions resulting in a combined total of around 14,000 miles of travel. He visited every important island in the archipelago at least once, and several on multiple occasions. His collecting efforts produced the astonishing total of 125,660 specimens, including more than a thousand species new to science. The volume he later wrote describing his work and experiences there, The Malay Archipelago (S715), is the most celebrated of all writings on Indonesia, and ranks with a small handful of other works as one of the nineteenth century's best scientific travel books. Highlights of his adventures there include his study and capture of birds-of-paradise and orangutans, his many dealings with native peoples, and his residence on New Guinea (he was one of the very first Europeans to live there for any extended period).
Beyond his travel and collecting activities, Wallace's time in the Malay Archipelago was marked, of course, by the 1858 event that would assure his place in history. Three years earlier he had still been cogitating on the causes of organic evolution when an article by another naturalist prompted him to write and publish the essay 'On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species' (S20), a theoretical work that all but stated outright Wallace's belief in evolution. The paper was seen by Lyell, who thought highly of it and brought it to Darwin's attention. Darwin, however, took relatively little notice.
Now that he had a provisional model of the relation of biogeography to organic change, Wallace quickly applied the related concepts in two further studies, published in 1856 and 1857 (S26 & S38). In February of 1858, while suffering from an attack of malaria in the Moluccas (it is not fully certain which island he was actually on, though either Gilolo or Ternate seems the likely candidate), Wallace suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, connected the ideas of Thomas Malthus on the limits to population growth to a mechanism that might ensure long-term organic change. This was the concept of the "survival of the fittest," in which those individual organisms that are best adapted to their local surroundings are seen to have a better chance of surviving, and thus of differentially passing along their traits to progeny. Excited over his discovery, Wallace penned an essay on the subject as soon as he was well enough to do so, and sent it off to Darwin. He had begun a correspondence with Darwin two years earlier and knew that he was generally interested in "the species question"; perhaps Darwin would be kind enough to bring the work, titled 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type,' (S43) to the attention of Lyell? Darwin was in fact willing to do so, but not for any reasons Wallace had anticipated. Darwin, as the now well-known story goes, had been entertaining very similar ideas for going on twenty years, and now a threat to his priority on the subject loomed. He contacted Lyell to plead for advice on how to meet what just about anyone would have to admit was a very awkward situation. Lyell and Joseph Hooker, a prominent botanist and another of Darwin's close friends, decided to present Wallace's essay, along with some unpublished fragments from Darwin's writings on the subject, to the next meeting of the Linnean Society. This took place on 1 July 1858, without obtaining Wallace's permission first (he was contacted only after the fact).
Whatever one thinks about Wallace's treatment in this matter, the events of summer 1858 did ensure that the world wouldn't have to wait any longer for its introduction to the concept of natural selection. Darwin had been working on a much larger tome on the subject that was still many years away from completion (and in fact never was completed); Wallace's bombshell had the immediate effect of forcing him to get together a more compact, readable, and, ultimately, probably more successful work. On the Origin of Species was published less than eighteen months later, in November of 1859. And, although Darwin would overshadow Wallace from that point on, Wallace's role in the affair was well enough known to insiders, at least, to ensure his future entry into the highest ranks of scientific dialogue. It should in all fairness to Darwin be noted that Wallace took full advantage of this opportunity, an opportunity he might not otherwise have received.
Wallace's discovery of natural selection occurred almost at the midpoint of his stay in the Malay Archipelago. He was to remain there four more years, continuing his agenda of systematically exploring and recording the circumstances of its faunas, floras, and peoples. By the end of his trip (and for the rest of his life) he was known as the greatest living authority on the region. He was especially known for his studies on its zoogeography, including his discovery and description of the faunal discontinuity that now bears his name. "Wallace's Line," extending between the islands of Bali and Lombok and Borneo and Sulawesi, marks the limits of eastern extent of many Asian animal forms and, conversely, the limits of western extent of many Australasian forms.
Wallace left the Malay Archipelago in February of 1862 and returned to England on 1 April. His collecting activities had earned him a sizable nest egg with which he hoped he could retire to a quiet life as a country gentleman. First, however, there was the matter of coming to grips with the implications of his vast personal collection of specimens. For the next three years he immersed himself in them, producing a string of systematic revisions (mainly of birds and insects) and several interpretative works. Over that period (to the end of 1865) he presented at least sixteen papers at professional meetings, to the British Association, and Entomological, Zoological, Linnean, Anthropological and Geographical Societies. He soon met nearly every important English naturalist, and began to count many as friends.
In certain respects, the period 1862 through 1865 also represented a rather difficult time for Wallace. Eager to marry and settle down, he was rebuffed by one woman before wedding the twenty year old daughter of a botanist friend in 1866. Although one of their three children would die only a few years later, their marriage was by all accounts a happy one: his wife Annie proved an excellent companion, and was well enough educated and sufficiently interested to help him from time to time with his work. Further, both Wallaces loved gardening, and spent many hours together pursuing this recreation. The real crisis for Wallace in the years after his return to England revolved, however, around his relation to the theory of natural selection. Although Wallace was known as a co-originator of the natural selection concept, the premature reading of the Ternate essay and Darwin's subsequent publication of On the Origin of Species led everyone to believe he was a full supporter of Darwinian doctrines. Subsequent events would prove he was not.
We unfortunately do not know whether Wallace felt at the time that his 1858 model of natural selection could be extended to explain the origin and/or development of humankind's higher mental and moral qualities. Surprisingly, he wrote not another word about natural selection (at least, in the sense of doing more than just mentioning it) until late 1863 (the classic analysis 'Remarks on the Rev. S. Haughton's Paper on the Bee's Cell, and on the Origin of Species,' S83). In 1864 he presented a milestone paper on the evolution of human races to the Anthropological Society: 'The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced From the Theory of "Natural Selection"' (S93). In this work Wallace sought to reconcile the positions of the monogenists and polygenists on human origins through an application of the general Darwinian model. But by 1865 at the latest (and possibly going back many years), he had been experiencing some doubt as to whether materialistic models, including Darwinism, could account for humankind's higher attributes. He began investigating the philosophy and manifestations of spiritualism, most likely (in my opinion) in an effort to complete what he had started in 1858. The result was a wholly new evolutionary synthesis, one in which a material process (natural selection) was understood to rule at the biological level, while a spiritual one (as described through spiritualism) operated at the level of consciousness. This overall approach was later taken up by the theosophists (Madame Blavatsky et al.), who based most of their more esoteric teachings (including, for example, theories of cyclic reincarnation) on ancient religious and literary texts, but who also acknowledged a role for natural selection in producing a Darwinian kind of material phylogenesis. (Wallace himself, however, would never take much interest in theosophy, considering it much too abstruse.)
Wallace's conversion to spiritualism in the late 1860s took many of his colleagues by surprise (Hooker would later write in disbelief "that such a man should be a spiritualist is more wonderful than all the movements of all the plants"--a play on the title of a then-recently published work by Darwin). Wallace spent a few years urging them to look into the matter in more detail, but few followed his lead. He would remain a spiritualist the rest of his days, never recanting his belief, and publishing some one hundred writings on the subject. It is in fact generally thought that Wallace's thinking regarding the application of Darwinian concepts to the development of humankind's higher attributes changed around 1865 in response to this apparent new influence in his life; I personally feel this is a mis-reading of the situation, and that the apparent "change" in his position simply represented a solidification of an already-existing, but not yet formally stated, evolutionary model.
Whatever one believes about the influences on Wallace's thoughts during this period, there can be no disagreement as to the sudden broadening of his attention that followed soon thereafter. In 1865 he produced his first published writing on politics (S110); in 1866 writings on geodesy (S115 & S116); in 1867 his first of many treatments of glacial features (S124); and in 1869 the first of several essays on museum organization (S143). Primarily, however, he was gaining recognition as one of Darwin's two main (the other being Thomas Huxley) "right-hand men." His most important 1860s works in that direction include S83, S93, S96, S121, S134, S136, S139, S140, S146, and S155. His reputation as a naturalist soon extended itself to the popular arena with the publication of his hugely successful The Malay Archipelago (S715) in early 1869, and the essay collection Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (S716) a year later.
In the decade that followed, Wallace published over 150 works, including essays, letters, reviews, book notices, and monographs. His scientific writings would focus on natural selection, geographical distribution, and glaciology, and include three classic books: The Geographical Distribution of Animals (S718) in 1876, Tropical Nature, and Other Essays (S719) in 1878, and Island Life (S721) in 1880. Each work is still frequently referred to today: S718, for its formalization of the faunal region concept and treatment of zoogeographical methodology; S719, for its attention to the causes and characteristics of tropical floras and faunas (including its discussion of the concept of latitudinal diversity gradients); and S721, for its systemization of island types and biotas, and relation of glaciation processes to the known characteristics of geographical distribution of plants and animals. In Wallace's work in biology and anthropology, further departures from Darwinian thinking were evident. He continued to argue against some of Darwin's positions on human evolution, and in addition the latter's approach to sexual selection and several biogeographic matters. His 1870s writings were also characterized by an increased attention to social issues. In 1870 he spoke out against government aid to science (S157 & S158); in 1873 he produced essays on the Church of England (S225), free trade principles (S231), and the abolishment of trusts (S236); in 1878 he wrote on a suburban forest management issue (S292); and in 1879, again on free trade (S306, S310 & S312).
Meanwhile, personal problems were creating a considerable distraction. Most of the profits accrued from his Malay collections were badly invested, and lost. He was not well suited for most kinds of permanent positions, and despite applying for a number of them never succeeded in landing one. He took on odd jobs (editing other naturalists' manuscripts, correcting state-administered examinations, giving lectures, etc.) to help make ends meet, and moved progressively further and further from London to minimize costs and find more suitable living quarters. In 1870 Wallace took up a 500.-pound challenge from a flat-earther to produce a proof that the earth was not flat; he won the challenge with a neatly conceived demonstration (the so-called "Bedford Canal experiment": S162, S163, S200aa, S202) but, on a technicality, not a penny of the wager, and was seriously harassed by the loser for over ten years (see Garwood 2001 & 2007 and Schadewald 1978). Eventually his financial situation degenerated far enough to cause a friend to intervene; in 1881, with help from Darwin (see Colp 1992), the government was convinced to grant him an annual civil list pension of 200. pounds for his services to science. It was not enough to live on by itself, but it helped.
With the completion of his great works on biogeography, Wallace turned in earnest to social issues in the 1880s. He had been interested for many years in the problems associated with land tenure, and in 1870, at the special invitation of John Stuart Mill, had even become peripherally involved with the latter's Land Tenure Reform Association. But in early 1881, following the publication of his 'How to Nationalize the Land' (S329), he fully committed himself to the debate by helping start the Land Nationalisation Society. He also became its first President, holding that position until his death, over thirty years later (though after 1895 his participation in the organization's work was more inspirational than actual). Wallace's two most important writings on land were his Land Nationalisation (S722), published in 1882, and 1883's 'The "Why" and the "How" of Land Nationalisation' (S365). In these he argued that the State should, over the long-term, buy out large land holdings and then institute an elaborate rent system based on a combination of location-specific and value-added-by-renter considerations. Wallace's writings on land nationalization feature many ideas in advance of their time, including suggestions for the legislated protection of rural lands and historical monuments, the construction of greenbelts and parks, and arguments for suburban and rural re-population and organization. In the early 1880s he also became interested in the anti-vaccination movement. As one of its most powerful spokespersons he would produce a series of impassioned writings (S374, S420, S536 & S616) that featured statistical epidemiological arguments, a great novelty for its time.
Wallace also took up the causes of the labor movement. He was an early proponent of overtime pay rates, but was against strikes: instead, he argued, employees should donate a portion of their pay to funds that could later be used to effect company buy-outs (S560). Eventually he came around to endorsing socialism, but only as late as 1889, on his reading of the American Edward Bellamy's best-selling utopian novel Looking Backward (S418). As mentioned earlier, Wallace had since his early teen years had a genuine love for the work of Robert Owen, but had never quite believed in the large-scale practicality of Owen's approach. Neither had he been quite sure about its possible incursion on individual rights and freedoms. Looking Backward changed his mind on both issues. From 1889 on, Wallace would view socialism as a means whereby the average person might obtain a certain basic and acceptable standard of living; freedom from worrying over basics would then (in theory) allow a re-directioning of attention toward various means of moral/ethical self-improvement (including spiritualism). His motto, first mentioned in a speech in 1892 (S450; later popularized by the English sociologist and writer Benjamin Kidd), would become "Equality of opportunity!", a plea for social justice.
The preceding list by no means exhausts the range of non-natural science-related subjects that Wallace at one time or another addressed. For example, he was an early supporter of women's suffrage, and was much admired by the members of the women's movement for his unqualified stand on the matter. He also came down heavily on many occasions on societal and governmental responses to eugenics, poverty, militarism, imperialism, and institutional punishment. On several occasions (S552, S553, S556 & S557) he wrote on the advantages of implementing a paper money standard; his efforts were later recognized by twentieth century economists interested in currency stabilization theory (the renowned American economist Irving Fisher even dedicated a book to him!). He sparred with the legal system at times, suggesting changes in the means of dealing with inherited wealth and trusts. He wrote two essays (S491 & S635) on how to re-establish confidence in the House of Lords, and one on how to revitalize the Church of England (S225). Many of the more conservative of the social and institutional elite came to wince at the mere mention of his name.
Although Wallace's travels as a self-supporting naturalist/explorer had ended with his return to England in 1862, he did not lead an entirely sedentary life his remaining years. As already mentioned, he began to move away from London as early as the 1860s; by 1881 he was in Godalming, in 1889, Parkstone, and then, finally, Broadstone (near Wimborne, Dorset, and the English Channel) in 1902. For many years (until about 1890) he travelled around the better part of England giving lectures and attending meetings, and even to Scotland and Ireland. He and his wife also spent several vacations and "botanizing excursions" in locations ranging from Wales and the Lake Country to Switzerland. In 1896 he gave an invited lecture on progress in the nineteenth century in the town of Davos in the latter country. But the main adventure of his post-Malay Archipelago life was a ten-month lecture tour to the United States and Canada in 1886 and 1887.
In late 1885 Wallace was invited to give a series of lectures on Darwinism at the Lowell Institute in Massachusetts. Once this obligation was met he would be free to arrange such other lectures as he might wish. For six months in late 1886 and early 1887 he stayed mainly in the vicinities of Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., where he met countless individuals of note, up to and including President Cleveland. In early April of 1887 he set out across the country, reaching California in late May of that year. There he was reunited with his older brother John, who he hadn't seen for nearly forty years. For several weeks he vacationed and lectured; one of his presentations was a talk on spiritualism entitled 'If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?' (S398)--probably the single most successful lecture he ever gave. Significant events from his stay in the San Francisco area included tours of nearby redwood groves (in the company of the eminent naturalist John Muir), Yosemite Valley, and the future site of Stanford University (with Leland Stanford himself, with whom he had become intimate some months earlier in Washington, D.C.). In early July he left California to return eastward, ultimately back to England.
The American tour became the inspiration for Wallace's next major book, in 1889. Titled Darwinism (S724), it consisted largely of the topics he had lectured on, presented one chapter at a time. It did very well, and remains one of his most frequently cited works. Darwinism, while perhaps the highpoint of his later scientific work, was nevertheless only a very small part of it. Although social studies were absorbing more and more of his attention throughout the 1880s and 1890s, he was still left with plenty of time to crank out a steady stream of writings on more scientific subjects. During the 1890s alone he again published a total of over 150 works, dozens of these dealing with evolutionary, biogeographic, and physical geography subjects.
By the turn of the century, Wallace was very probably Britain's best known naturalist. By the end of his life, moreover, he may well have owned (based on evidence gleaned from contemporary sources) one of the world's most recognized names. While simultaneously continuing to publish scores of short works, between the years 1898 and 1910--mostly during his ninth decade--he managed to turn out (i.e., as author and/or editor) well over four thousand pages of monographic writings! His final two books were published in the year of his death, 1913. He remained active into his ninety-first year but slowly weakened in his final months. He died in his sleep at Broadstone on 7 November 1913; three days later his remains were buried nearby. On 1 November 1915 a medallion bearing his name was placed in Westminster Abbey.
Despite Wallace's radical associations and links with spiritualism, he was well honored during his lifetime (and he most likely would have been even more so had he not made it clear early on that he was not particularly interested in receiving honoraria). He was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Dublin in 1882 and Oxford University in 1889, and important medals from the Royal Society in 1868, 1890 and 1908, the Société de Geographie in 1870, the Royal Geographical Society in 1892, and the Linnean Society in 1892 and 1908. He even received the Order of Merit from the Crown in 1908--quite an honor for such an anti-establishment radical. He became a (reluctant) member of the Royal Society in 1893, and at one time or another had professional affiliations with the Royal Geographical Society, Linnean Society, Zoological Society, Royal Entomological Society, Ethnological Society (though apparently not as a member), British Association for the Advancement of Science, Society for Psychical Research, Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Ethological Society (London), British Ornithologists' Union, Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, British National Association of Spiritualists, Land Nationalisation Society, Anti-Vaccination League, and a considerable number of lesser organizations.
Physical descriptions of Wallace dwell on his height (as a young man he was six feet one inch tall), long beard (maintained from his days in the Malay Archipelago on), and snow-white hair (starting in his fifties). He had a fundamentally lean build, and as the years passed came to walk with a bit of a stoop. His eyesight was not strong, with the result that his sparkling blue eyes were framed by spectacles for most of his life. He experienced various illnesses and ailments throughout his life, none of which individually seems to have had any great negative effect on his productivity.
As a person Wallace was decent to a fault; he possessed an apparently infinite tolerance for the weaknesses of others (and was surely victimized on a number of occasions as a result), but he was also known for not suffering fools gladly. He thrived on public debate, but was personally modest, shy, and self-effacing. Still, by all accounts he was good company when at ease, and was much in demand as a public speaker. He also had a solid reputation as a writer and reviewer, and for all his "isms" was generally regarded by his peers as one of the period's greatest scientific reasoners.
The assessment of Wallace's contribution remains a work in progress. In what follows I briefly outline what various sources have pointed to as his noteworthy achievements. The entries are arranged chronologically as possible; most include one or more referrals to related (his own, and secondary source) writings identified in the "Wallace Writings Bibliography" and "Writings on Wallace" sections.
The best overall source of information on Wallace's life is still by far his own My Life (S729), published in two volumes in 1905. Marchant (1916) provides an early biographical review which includes many of Wallace's personal letters. Other general biographies include Cope (1891), Marchant (1913), Hogben (1918), George (1964), Williams-Ellis (1966), Cottler (1966), Fichman (1981), Clements (1983), Hughes (1997), Wilson (2000), Raby (2001), Shermer (2002), Bryant (2003), Fonfría (2003), Fichman (2004), Slotten (2004), Focher (2006), Mashad (2010, 2011), Kutschera (2013). Much information of a general biographical nature is included in Poulton (1923-1924), Huxley (1927), Beddall (1969), McKinney (1972 & 1976), Morgan (1978), Brackman (1980), Brooks (1984), Eaton (1986), Hughes (1989), Quammen (1996), Raby (1997), Gander (1998), Severin (1998), Knapp (1999), Rice (1999), Daniels (2001), Camerini (2002), Berry (2002), Smith (2004), Knapp (2007), Rosen (2007), Beccaloni (2008), Davies (2008), Smith & Beccaloni (2008), Revets (2009), Sochaczewski (2012), Smith & Derr (2013), van Wyhe (2013), van Wyhe & Rookmaaker (2013), Glaubrecht (2013), Preston (2013), Benton (2013), Reisse (2014), and Hemming (2015). For information on archival sources, see the "Wallace Archives" section of this site.