Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Wallace's "Australasia" (S317: 1879)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed in the 30 October 1879 issue of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S317.htm


     [[p. 625]] Allow me to thank the writer of the review in Nature, vol. xx. p. 597, for some valuable criticisms of my book. It is quite refreshing after the common-place praises of most reviews to have one's errors pointed out and omissions noticed, and I hope to make use of such corrections in a forthcoming new edition. At the same time there are a few points on which I wish to say a word. In the first place the book is not a scientific work, but one of a series intended, as expressly stated, "for general reading." This is, of course, no excuse for errors, but it is a sufficient reason for giving general rather than detailed descriptions of weapons, canoes, &c., and for occasionally stating roughly the size of an article even when it varies greatly, in order to give definite ideas to readers who may be complete strangers to the whole subject.

     I quite agree with my reviewer, that too much is included to be properly treated in one volume, but that was a matter dependent on the arrangement of the series, over which I had no control; and as I had in the earlier portion of the work overrun the space allotted me, I was obliged to restrict my notices of many parts of Polynesia, which is no doubt the most imperfect portion of the volume. It is here that the original work is most utilised, and it will be found that most of the passages criticised (including that in which I am charged with "becoming quite poetical") are Hellwald's. Of course, I should have corrected all his small inaccuracies, but it was almost impossible to do so without rewriting his work altogether. No doubt a very interesting volume could be written on Polynesia alone by the aid of the German authorities referred to by the reviewer; but when I state that the time allowed me for the composition of the entire work was six months, and that I actually completed it in eight, it will be seen that I was compelled to limit myself in the study of authorities as well as in the space I could devote to particular islands.

     I think my reviewer forgets the character of the book as essentially geographical, when he objects to my treating New Zealand apart from Polynesia; hence I cannot admit the soundness of his criticism on the comparison of the characters of the Fijians and Polynesians, a comparison which, if I remember rightly, is that of an author who knew them both thoroughly--the Rev. G. Turner. I must also demur to the implication that land can never have extended where there is now a sea 2,000 fathoms deep. I suggest (p. 564) an extension of New Zealand as far as the Kermadec Islands as having possibly occurred "at some remote epoch," and I certainly fail to see its impossibility; yet this is what is suggested by my reviewer's remark, that unfortunately there is a depth of 2,000 fathoms between [[p. 626]] them, and that such an extension "cannot therefore have existed." Moreover, the beautiful map of ocean depths with which the volume is illustrated shows a somewhat less depth than 2,000 fathoms on a slightly curved line between the islands, and I believe about the same depth exists between Madagascar and Africa, which have certainly at one time been joined.

     There are some other matters touched upon on which I still venture to differ from my reviewer, especially as to the marvellous character of the Easter Island and other remains, and as to the value of the substitution of more for less liberal sectarian teaching in the Sandwich Islands; but on these points I have quoted authorities of considerable weight, and I leave my readers to form their own opinion. As to all matters of fact, I gladly accept correction from one who evidently writes with the advantage of a personal acquaintance with most of the countries referred to in his article.

Alfred R. Wallace


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