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

 
 
Comments on an Address by Sir Walter Buller
(S514a: 1895)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Untitled and anonymous editorial commentary, apparently by Wallace,1 appearing on page 60 of the 16 May 1895 issue of Nature. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S514A.htm


    Under the title "Illustrations of Darwinism, and other Papers," Sir Walter L. Buller, F.R.S., has sent us a reprint of his presidential address to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1894. Its main subject-matter is a discussion of the various ways in which the peculiarities of structure, colour, distribution and habits of New Zealand birds, serve to illustrate the theory of Natural Selection, and often to afford very strong arguments in its favour. The address is very clear and forcible, full of interesting facts and suggestive observations, and will be read with interest by all naturalists. One or two points only call for any critical observation. Sir W. Buller objects to the Apteryx being classed by Mr. Wallace as among "the lowest birds," because, he says, it is really "an extremely specialised form." But surely the Ratitæ are lower than the Carinatæ; and the Apteryx is specialised so as to be almost the least bird-like of the Ratitæ. If it is not to be classed among the lowest existing birds, where are these to be found? Again, the statement that the larger forms of animals have universally preceded the smaller in geological time (p. 101), is only a half-truth, if so much, since all these large forms have been developed from smaller ones, as shown in the case of the horse, as well as that of the early marsupials of the Mesozoic period. Even more open to objection is the statement (p. 102), that the Siberian mammoth "would clearly have required a growth of tropical luxuriance to satisfy the wants of its capacious stomach"; and that its being found by thousands embedded in ice or frozen soil implies "a revolutionary change of climate." A sufficient answer to which theory is the fact that leaves and cones of firs have been found in the stomach, showing that it fed only a few degrees south of the places where it is now embedded.


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Editor's Note

    1. In an article published in 1897 in the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 1896 (Vol. 29), Buller refers to the passage above, specifically identifying it as a response to materials he had sent Wallace. As of my writing this (4/14/2012), this is the only occasion I am aware of on which Wallace contributed anonymously to Nature as part of an editorial column. However, it is more than possible he made other such contributions, perhaps even many of them.

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