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

 
 
How Was Wallace Led to the Discovery
of Natural Selection? (S516: 1895)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor from Adolf Bernhard Meyer printed on page 415 of the Nature issue of 29 August 1895, containing both an old (and important) letter from Wallace, and a new one specifically commenting on Meyer's communication. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S516.htm


     The reviewer of Osborn's "From the Greeks to Darwin" (antea p. 362) says that Marshall quotes the fact of Wallace's being led "to the discovery of natural selection as he lay ill of intermittent fever at Ternate," and refers one to the abridged form of the "Life and Letters of Charles Darwin" for this statement. Having only the original edition in three volumes, from the year 1887, at my disposal, wherein I cannot find it, I would draw attention to my having published the fact as far back as 1870 ("Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Ihre ersten Publicationen über die Entstehung der Arten, nebst einer Skizze ihres Lebens und einem Verzeichniss ihrer Schriften." Erlangen, E. Besold, 8vo. pp. xxiii. and 56, on page xviii.) The remarks to be found there are based upon a letter of Mr. Wallace's dated November 22, 1869, and now before me, a passage of which runs thus:--

     "The paper No. 9 ['on the law which has regulated the introduction of new species' A.N.H. 1855] should be read along with No. 19 ['on the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type' P.L.S. 1858]. When I wrote it I was firmly convinced of the derivative origin of species, but had not arrived at an idea of the process. When I wrote No. 19 at Ternate [in the year 1858] I did not [know] what were Mr. Darwin's views or the nature of the work he was engaged on, except generally that it was on 'Variation.' I hit upon the idea of 'Natural Selection' (though I did not give it that name) while shivering under the cold fit of ague, and I was led to it by Malthus' views on population applied to animals. As soon as my ague fit was over I sat down, wrote out the article, copied it, and sent it off by the next post to Mr. Darwin. It was printed without my knowledge, and of course without any correction of proofs. I should, of course, like this act to be stated."

     This I did in my pamphlet of 1870 on the page quoted, and on page 39, and I hope Dr. Wallace will forgive me for now making known the whole of his highly interesting statement in his own words. Of course I am not sure whether he did not tell or write the same to some one else, though I am not aware that it has been published.

     Ordinary mortals dream nonsense in their fits of fever, a philosopher of Dr. Wallace's standing conceives original ideas!

A. B. Meyer,
Zoological Museum, Dresden, August 19.

     The letter to Prof. Newton, published in the abridged "Life of Darwin," was written in 1887. I had entirely forgotten that I had written on the same subject to Dr. Meyer in 1869, or that he had published anything in reference to it. That letter probably contained my earliest statement on the subject, and it agrees substantially with my later statements.--A. R. Wallace.


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