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

 
 
Presentation of the Royal Medals (S449: 1892)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: At the Royal Geographical Society meeting of 23 May 1892, Wallace was presented with the group's Founder's Medal. Wallace's remarks on that occasion were later printed in the Society's Proceedings series. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S449.htm


     [[p. 485]] The Royal Medals for the Encouragement of Geographical Science and Discovery had been awarded by the Council as follows:--

     The Founder's Medal to Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, the well-known naturalist and traveller in the tropics of both hemispheres, and co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the theory of natural selection, in recognition of the high geographical value of his great works, 'The Geographical Distribution of Animals,' 'Island Life,' and 'The Malay Archipelago.' . . .

[[additional unrelated comments]]

     . . . In presenting the medal to Mr. Wallace, the President addressed him as follows:--I have much pleasure, Mr. Wallace, in handing to you the Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Your devotion to the science, which it is our object to advance, began in very early life, when you accompanied your and our friend Mr. Bates far up the Amazons into regions then hardly known to science. After giving to your countrymen the firstfruits of your observations, you transferred your activity to the opposite end of the world, and for eight years wandered "on from island unto island at the gateways of the day." You enshrined much of the vast amount of knowledge, which you had acquired during these eight years, in your fascinating work on the Malay Archipelago; but not satisfied with having done so, you proceeded, in one important treatise after another, in your 'Geographical Distribution,' in your 'Tropical Nature,' in the 'Island Life' of which you have just given us a new edition, to re-state, to co-ordinate, and to reason in the most lucid manner upon the facts which you had accumulated. In your thoughts, geography and the influence of their environment upon animals had always a very large space. It is chiefly on account of these labours that I have the pleasure of placing in your hands this medal. Some of your friends may wonder that that pleasure did not fall to one of my predecessors; but the answer is, I think, a simple one. No one can with impunity be pre-eminently great in any one department: his greatness in that is quite certain to obscure his merits, however remarkable, in other fields of labour. Your position as a naturalist has somewhat hid from men's eyes your great achievements as a geographer, just as the shadow of Etna falls impartially not only over the hills and valleys, but also over the mountains of Sicily. Personally, I can only rejoice at a circumstance which has given me the privilege of doing what I now do.

     Mr. Wallace replied in the following words:--I have first to thank you for the exceedingly kind and flattering manner in which you have presented me with this [[p. 486]] medal; and as it is now many years since I attended the meetings of the Society, I may perhaps be permitted to say a few words in relation to my earliest journeys. I feel this honour which you have done me to-day to be an exceptionally great one, because I have never considered myself, and never made any claim to the character of, a geographer pure and simple. My travels in various parts of the world have always been in pursuit of the marvels and mysteries of nature. In that pursuit I have been led into very remote districts, and I think, although I may be mistaken, that there are a few remote parts of the world into which I then penetrated which still remain almost or quite virgin ground to the explorer. It is now forty years since I left the valley of the Amazon--forty years of wonderful activity in exploration. Every part of the world has been ransacked more or less by our travellers, and yet I think, as far as my knowledge goes, there are a few places where, as yet, no traveller has followed my footsteps. For example, I may refer to my journey up the great River Uapés, the largest branch of the Rio Negro, which I ascended for upwards of 350 miles, passing 38 distinct cataracts and rapids. I may be wrong, but I have never met with the account of any traveller who followed me there, except my friend Dr. Spruce, the well-known botanist, and he did not go beyond the first cataract. Since the time I left the Amazon the facilities for travelling have been enormously increased. When I ascended the great river from Para to the Rio Negro I was obliged to go in small native boats, travelling along at the leisurely rate of 12-20 miles a day owing to the necessity of travelling either by oars or tracking along the banks, the current being too rapid to sail up. I and my lamented friend Bates had to travel in that way, so that a journey of 1000 miles, now easily done in a week, occupied us ten, or even twelve, weeks; the facilities for travel are now enormously increased. But so vast is that great valley in the ensemble of its branches and tributaries, that there is probably still much unexplored ground in that part of the world. Turning to the Malay Archipelago, no doubt that ground has been well travelled over owing to the facilities for reaching it being greater than on the Amazon. Yet I had experiences and pleasures which probably no other traveller has enjoyed. For instance, I do not think that any other traveller has ever performed a sea journey of 1000 miles in a purely native Malay prau, a vessel with bamboo masts and mat sails, and on which a primitive water-clock was in use for the steersman. In the same way, though the Aru Islands have been visited since by several travellers, I don't think any person has resided there, as I did, for six months, during the whole period when that most interesting fair or market at Dobbo was in full swing--a place where now, as for centuries past, all the races of the Archipelago meet together to carry on trade in the valuable products of that country, chiefly mother-of-pearl shell, trepang, and birds of paradise. Neither do I think that any subsequent traveller has visited, or at all events resided in, the small but interesting island group of Goram, S.E. of Coram, where I stayed for some months. Nevertheless, these journeys are as nothing compared with the wonderful, toilsome, and dangerous explorations which you so frequently have recorded before this Society. No doubt, as the President has said, the honour you have done me to-day depends upon my application to those less familiar branches of Geography, especially the geographical distribution of animals and plants, and the relation of changes in sea and land to their distribution, the causes which led to the various revolutions of climate in past epochs, and the relations of the various races of mankind to each other. It is in recognition of this work, to which, more or less, I have devoted myself for the greater part of my life, that this honour has been done me to-day; and I feel it an exceedingly great honour, and beg to thank the President and Council for it.


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