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

 
 
Dr. A. R. Wallace & Sir W. M. Ramsay's Theory
(S645: 1907)

Did Man Reach His Highest Development in the Past?

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Wallace's letter to the Editor is the featured element in this story, printed on page 336 of the 13 September issue of Public Opinion (London). To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S645.htm


     Dr. A. R. Wallace, the distinguished scientist, writes to the Editor of Public Opinion respecting Sir W. M. Ramsay's article, summarised in this paper last week.

     Sir W. M. Ramsay contended that "degeneration was the outstanding fact in religious history, and that the modern theory often takes the last product of degeneracy as the facts of primitive religion. Having attained this view I recognise that it was the basis of the Pauline philosophy." It is of this theory that Dr. Wallace writes thus:

     "I have been much interested in the account you have given of Sir William Ramsay's article in the Contemporary Review on the Philosophy of Religion, and so far as your extracts and remarks go I am largely in sympathy with it. So far back as 1876 I expressed very similar views as to the early civilisation and intellectual development of mankind as Sir W. Ramsay holds in regard to his religious development. I was led to give attention to this subject by reading an address to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool in 1873 by a very acute and philosophical thinker, Mr. Albert Mott, in which he maintained that 'our most distant glimpses of the past are still of a world peopled, as now, with men both civilised and savage'; and, further, 'that we have often entirely misread the past by supposing that the outward signs of civilisation must always be the same, and must be such as are found among ourselves.'

Man at His Highest

     "It was in my address to the Biological Section of the British Association at Glasgow that I somewhat developed these ideas, passing in review the sculptures of Easter Island, the North American earth mounds, and the Great Pyramid, as well as 'the elevation, at once intellectual and moral, displayed in the writings of Confucius, Zoroaster, and the Vedas,' and reaching the conclusion that 'man's intellectual and moral development reached almost its highest level in a very remote past.' My final conclusion was thus expressed: 'If the views now advanced are correct, many, perhaps most, of our existing savages are the descendants of higher races; and their arts, often showing a wonderful similarity in distant continents, may have been derived from a common source among more civilised peoples.'

     "These views I still hold, and they enabled me, in 1892, when studying the Australian type, for the purpose of a new edition of 'Stanford's Compendium of Geography,' to reach the conclusion that the Australian aborigines are really a degraded outlier of the great Caucasian type of man--that they are closely allied to ourselves, and are known, by all who have sympathetically studied them, to have many good qualities, both moral and intellectual. This view of their affinities is now generally accepted by anthropologists, and is adopted by Prof. J. W. Gregory in the last edition of the same work just published, and the result of a personal study of the natives in the interior of the country. This conclusion is especially interesting as at once raising what had previously been almost always classed among the very lowest of human races to a place in close affinity with the very highest.

Decadence of the Australian Aborigines

     "My British Association Address is republished in my 'Natural Selection and Tropical Nature'; while an extended chapter on the 'Affinities and Origin of the Australian and Polynesian Races' is contained in the first volume of my 'Studies Scientific and Social.' In this chapter I have stated somewhat fully the reasons for my conclusion, illustrated by photographs, both of Australians and of the various other low types of unmistakably Caucasian origin. Some of these photographs will, I think, surprise those who have been accustomed to look upon the aborigines of Australia as very little higher than the anthropoid apes."


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