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

The English Naturalist (S735: 1886)
Arrival of Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace in Boston. -- His Lowell
Lectures on the Darwinian Theory. -- Dr. Wallace
Talks on English Social Questions.

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An anonymous interview printed on page thirteen of The Sunday Herald (Boston) of 31 October 1886. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S735.htm

    Though many of the most distinguished men of letters and science in England have appeared before the Lowell Institute as lecturers upon its foundation, few have crossed the Atlantic who have greater and better deserved scientific fame than England's greatest living naturalist, Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace. His immediate purpose is to give a course of eight lectures before the institute, but these will be followed by other engagements in different cities and by the delivery of other lectures than those set down in the Lowell course. He has of late years made extensive studies of social questions, in which he has had much sympathy on some points with Mr. Henry George,1 and is prepared to lecture, in addition to his strictly scientific course, on "Social Economy vs. Political Economy"; on "The General Causes of Depression of Trade and Poverty Among Civilized Communities"; and on "Private Property in Land Inconsistent with the Permanent Well-Being of Nations." The Lowell lectures will deal with "The Darwinian Theory," and will cover the ground which Dr. Wallace has been over repeatedly in his different volumes. The great attraction of this course will be the fact that the man who divides with Darwin the honor of the discovery of the law of natural selection is expounding the principles which he had a principal part in making known. Dr. Wallace is a man considerably above the medium height, is not at all a typical Englishman, has a slight stoop that shortens his height and is rising 60 years of age. He wears glasses and has a fresh countenance. His hair is white rather than gray and his beard is worn rather heavy, and is nearly white. He has a venerable look, and might be taken to be older than he is. His face lights up in conversation, and there is nothing in his manner or features to distinguish him from an American. He has the bearing of an ordinary citizen rather than that of a scientist, but there is a strong individuality beneath the quiet exterior, and, after the first steps of acquaintance are entered upon, he reveals himself as a very agreeable gentleman. His presence is so good, and his enunciation is so clear for an Englishman, that he ought to be easily heard by his audience, which, at least on Monday night, will be as distinguished as any that has greeted an English lecturer before the Lowell Institute for some time. Visiting the Herald office yesterday, he was asked if he were willing to give his views on some of the burning questions which are at this moment agitating the minds of the English and Irish people. He willingly assented to meet a representative of the Herald for this purpose, and the following statement of his views, as expressed in the course of conversation, will quite fully introduce him for the first time to the American people.

    "How long since you arrived in this country, Dr. Wallace?"

    "A week today."

    "You came, I believe, to deliver a course of lectures before the Lowell Institute?"

    "Yes; primarily, that gave me an inducement to come to this country."

    "What is to be the scope of those lectures?"

    "They will treat of the two main subjects by which I have illustrated the Darwinian theory; first the phenomena of what I term island life, that is, the geographical distribution of animals and plants as illustrated by islands; the other subject is the colors of animals and plants as illustrating the Darwinian theory. These two topics form the body of the lectures I am to give, four on one of the divisions and three on the other."

    "They will be intended to confirm the Darwin theory?"

    "They will show how wide is the theory as applied to the animal and plant kingdom."

    "You are related to that theory as a discoverer yourself, are you not?"

    "Yes, I arrived at the theory independently of Darwin, no doubt, and communicated it to him before he had published anything on the subject."

    "What have been your relations with Darwin on this central subject?"

    "We have been on the most friendly terms throughout up to the very time of his death; we were always exceedingly friendly."

    "You must be represented in a greater or less degree in the forthcoming memoir by his son."

    "No doubt many of our letters will at least appear."

    "This is an instance of two men working independently who have each arrived at a discovery of the same great and fundamental law?"

    "Yes, and it has frequently occurred in science; but a singular thing is that, as Darwin has shown in the preface of his later editions of the 'Origin of Species,' there were three or four who arrived at the same theory clearly, but none of them saw the application of it; he and I were the first who saw the wide application of the theory."

    "Who were those earlier discoverers?"

    "They were most of them men entirely unknown; one was a man named Mr. Patrick, a Scotch gardener, who wrote a book on 'Arboriculture and Forestry.' In the appendix to this book he gives, almost apropos of nothing, a brief statement of this theory, but he didn't see any further application of it than to one thing. I think he applied it to men, to races of men. However, he certainly, as Darwin and everybody who has read it admits, clearly saw the fundamental theory of natural selection, but he didn't see that it could be applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdom."

    "I suppose that the majority of scientific men in America today are evolutionists."

    "Yes, and I think you may say the majority of the civilized world."

    "What does the position of Agassiz2 have to do with the belief in natural selection?"

    "Agassiz was a strong opponent of Darwin to his death."

    "Yes, but since his death scientists in this country have pointed out that, if Agassiz had not been too obstinate on the point of the theory for creationism, if I may use the word, he would have been one of the primary discoverers of the evolution theory."

    "He ought to have been, no doubt, from his researches. He had laid the ground for it, as it were, and then went off on a tangent. He was not logical; he did not draw logical conclusions from his own knowledge."

    "Prof. Le Conte3 of California, I think, brought that out in an article on Agassiz since his death, and it has also been brought out by one or two Cambridge men since. What, may I ask, is the present state of scientific opinion in England with regard to Darwinism?"

    "Well, there is a considerable amount of opposition to the extreme doctrines of Darwin, but not among naturalists themselves; in the outside scientific world there is that opposition. Difficulties are met with and dwelt upon very largely, but I believe myself that those difficulties chiefly arise from an entire misconception of what Darwin's theory really is, and the basis on which it rests; and the object of my first lecture is to clear away these criticisms, and show that the most of Darwin's theory is perfectly sound."

    "Isn't there a good deal of religious hostility connected with it?"

    "Not much, except to the part regarding man. Of course, there are always two parties; there is the extreme agnostic party who try and work Darwinism and evolution so as to do away entirely with the spiritual nature of man, and to make out that he is descended from the animals, and when he dies that is the end of him, and, as that party is very aggressive, of course it excites antagonism. The German school and Haeckel4 are great upholders of that view, and he is followed much by the younger men now studying the subject in England. They are largely tinged with the extreme materialistic views advocated by Tyndall, and somewhat by Huxley5 and others."

    "Isn't that fact to be regretted?"

    "I think it is a wrong conclusion that they have drawn from the evidence; I don't think the evidence warrants the conclusion; still, their conclusions have been reached like most people's on general grounds, and they seize whatever they can to support it."

    "You give these lectures at the Lowell Institute, and then, perhaps, you have further plans for visiting the country and taking a wider range."

    "I propose to try and obtain engagements for lectures over as wide an area as I can, so as to get a view of as much as possible of the United States. I also intend to go to California in the spring."

    "You will then combine American travel with scientific instruction?"

    "Yes; I see already that it will be of extreme interest to me to see the country physically, and also to see the development of it."

    "Besides your literary work you have also been interested in the political movements in England?"

    "Greatly interested, of late years at all events."

    "How do you regard the coming democracy in England?"

    "I regard it, in the first place, as inevitable, and in the next place as, on the whole, leading to good. I think that the better class of workingmen will uphold the democracy in England; they are intelligent, and they are quite well educated; I do not think they will do anything violent, but that they will be more practical and more just than the aristocratic government that we have had."

    "But this advent of democracy makes great changes in a government based upon a constitutional monarchy?"

    "I don't think it will affect the constitution practically, except as regards of House of Lords; probably the change will not come very rapidly."

    "Doesn't it throw the centre of authority in England more definitely and distinctively into the House of Commons than ever before?"

    "No doubt it will; therefore the House of Lords will have to give way to such reforms as may follow, but I think the people, when they realize their power, will find so much to do in practical legislation, that the more sensible of them, who are returned to Parliament, will find that it will only waste time to make fundamental, organic changes in the government; there are innumerable practical reforms wanted and needed in England, that must of necessity occupy attention at once."

    "What is the range of them?"

    "I regard as fundamental the one that will give the people more power over their own country and more access to their land. The great and primary evil in England, and, as I believe, the source of much of its great diversity of conditions and the extreme contrasts of wealth and poverty, arises from the rigid monopoly of land in comparatively few hands and the bad use that has been made of that land; that is to say, the way it has been used as a source of social and political power without any regard to the rights or well being of the community at large."

    "The new voter is going to have a large hand in this coming deal of affairs."

    "Yes, of course; though we have not universal suffrage, still we have what is called household suffrage, and as soon as the people, the workers, find out how to combine, they will really have all the power in their hands; hitherto they have not found out that, and there are a few matters of detail, in the way in which the elections are managed which has caused them great difficulty. They are still not free; even the ballot does not prevent intimidation, corruption and bribery; intimidation especially; and so long as the land is in the hands of individuals who have the power to eject and punish their tenants to an extent which is enormous, it is practically a life-and-death matter to many of them, and so long as that exists there will be intimidation."

    "But that power does not exist in England as it does in Scotland and Ireland."

    "In Ireland land has been treated as a source of wealth and income, and nothing else; but the power to use it injuriously, and the actual exercise of that power, is just the same in England as in Ireland; that is to say, on any great estate in England the tenants are all expected to vote as the landlord wishes that is the rule."

    "If they are intimidated in that way, what chance is there for a new political deal?"

    "Though they are intimidated, public opinion is very much opposed to it, and at every fresh election a greater number of landlords are behaving honorably and giving freedom, as far as they can, to their tenants, and that will increase, and also numbers of the men will submit to anything rather than be intimidated, and the case of every man who is punished by being turned out of his house or his workshop on account of his way of voting will go all over the country, and in the end will result in giving greater freedom."

    "What, in your opinion, is to be the outcome of the agitation as to the nationalization of land?"

    "It is exceedingly difficult to predict what it will be, but it has led to the acceptance by all parties of reforms and of ameliorations of the lot of the poor workingman, which were never thought of ten, or even five, years ago. The giving power to municipalities to purchase land in order to be divided among laborers in small holdings has just now been adopted by Lord Randolph Churchill, though a few years ago it was supposed to be one of the schemes altogether out of the range of practical politics. That is the first step."

    "That comes from the conservative side."

    "Yes, because they see that the feeling of the country is too powerful to resist."

    "How far will the present administration be likely to yield this point?"

    "I should think quite as much as the Liberal party would."

    "Then Mr. Gladstone gains his points by a negative pressure?"

    "Yes, Mr. Gladstone may find most of his measures carried by the opposite party, I am inclined to think."

    "How does this gradual change of opinion in England in regard to the relations of the working people to the land affect the Irish question?"

    "The Irish, hitherto, have not in any way recognized land nationalization as the proper thing; they have always been working to get personal proprietorship in the widest sense. This means that every cultivator of land should be the absolute possessor of it; but now there is a slight indication that they are beginning to see how much better it will be for Ireland, when the land is purchased of the landlords, that it should become the property of the Irish government or belong to it, instead of to any individuals, and I have been led to understand that even Mr. Parnell will favor such a plan when a settlement comes to be made; that is, when the land is purchased from the Irish landlords, instead of being sold again out and out to the Irish tenants, it will be let to them in some way on long leases instead of being sold to them."

    "Practically, then, the land will be in their power?"

    "It will be in their power if they see sufficient advantage in it, which hitherto they have not done, because the feeling in Ireland as in America is so great in favor of private possession of land. Everybody in Ireland wants to get private possession of land the same as in America; therefore, this move is very difficult in Ireland."

    "Still, you think this is to come as a wise settlement?"

    "It is, as the only settlement, because in the case of small proprietors, there is nothing to prevent their getting into hard places and in need of money, and getting their land mortgaged to money lenders and in the end its going to the capitalists; and then there will be the re-creation of estates, and this whole thing will have to be done over again by another generation."

    "What is your conviction in regard to home rule for Ireland?"

    "My conviction is that it is not only the only permanent settlement, but the only just thing to do, and the only thing that will perfectly heal the long continued antagonism between England and Ireland."

    "On what terms would you have it granted?"

    "The plan that I have myself suggested, and which seems to me best suited to satisfy all parties, is that the relation between England and Ireland should be that of the different provinces of Canada, which are, I believe, situated very similarly to the different states of the Union here. There is not so much independence in the provinces of Canada, but I think it would satisfy the wishes of the Irish and give complete security to England."

    "That is similar to the plan advocated by Mr. Matthew Arnold, a provincial system, by which each section that naturally belongs to itself is to have its own local matters treated by a subordinate and lower assembly?"

    "Yes, only I would make Ireland, as a whole, equivalent to one province, not divide it up into four provinces. The difficulty remains, of course, with regard to the Protestant North, and there it appears to me that they should not be forced into a union; that is to say, each county in the North should vote by itself and should determine whether it will remain united to England or throw in its lot with Ireland; I think that would prevent the dreadful revolution that will, I fear, occur if they are forced to join Ireland. If Belfast and the Protestant districts remained under British rule and all the rest of Ireland were practically independent, I think that, after a few years, the feeling of nationality would assert itself, and that they would voluntarily make some terms with Ireland, and that would be done without any of the difficulties which would arise were they forcibly united with Ireland."

    "Looking at this question of Irish independence, is there a possibility of industrial interests in Ireland beyond those connected with agriculture?"

    "My opinion is that no country can beneficially develop its industrial resources except on the basis of a sound and prosperous agriculture, and this is the true course of development. I consider that the land of a country should be utilized to its fullest extent, and out of this would arise emergencies which would develop manufactures and industrial occupations; these should arise naturally; but if you attempt to force on industrial pursuits while the country remains uncultivated and the agriculturalists and the men who work on the land remain poor, I think you will produce evil results by leading to the growth of great cities while the country remains uncultivated and unpopulated."

    "Isn't Ireland behind England, or even America, in agriculture?"

    "It is no doubt behind, but this is almost wholly due to the cruel oppression of the agriculturalists, who have never had any chance of accumulating any capital whatever, because any improvements made on the land have been immediately absorbed by a rise in the rent, and they have been robbed of everything that they have done to improve the land and improve the country."

    "If home rule were granted and all of Ireland but the Protestant section were homogeneous under this rule, it is likely that the industrial activity of Ireland would be much developed?"

    "I think so in due time, but I don't think it would require much at first, because there is so much to do in developing agriculture. Much of the country is uncultivated; almost as much so as it is in Scotland; great areas of land have been turned into grazing farms hundreds of miles in extent, but that can all be brought back into civilization again."

    "How will the nationalization of land affect this?"

    "I think some system of land nationalization, which will enable the people to obtain land for the purpose of cultivation, is the only thing that will bring back these large areas into cultivation, because they are now held by large proprietors, who get a return from them for very little risk and no expenditure of capital."

    "How can this nationalization be effected while the land is held by these large proprietors?"

    "On that point, though I greatly admire the philosophy and theory of Mr. Henry George, I differ from him as to how it can be brought about. I maintain that it can only be done properly by recognizing fully the equitable rights of those who now have the possession of the land--the existing land owners--and by some form of payment which will give them full and complete compensation for their land. I believe this may be done; for the land may be bought of the existing landlords at a fair and proper value, and at the same time the country could be benefited enormously by becoming sole possessor of the land. This can be done profitably, because the land absolutely and necessarily increases in value by the growth of population. During the last 40 years the whole land of Great Britain, urban and rural, has increased in value 2 per cent. per annum. There is no reason to think that this increase will cease, and if it goes on, and the land is paid for at its full value, that increase of 2 per cent. per annum in value will enable the purchase money to be paid off completely in about 50 years, and then the state will become absolute possessor of the revenue of the land, and other taxes will be totally unnecessary."

    "That looks toward the millennium."

    "I think it is as near a fiscal millennium as can be arrived at. There is another source of increased revenue that the state would derive in England, and that is the great amount now wasted in management, as it is called. All great estates employ a considerable number of agents, sub-agents, and bailiffs, lawyers, etc., to assist in the management of estates, and the management expenses will amount in many cases to 15 or 20 per cent. so that the actual rental of an estate is much greater than the real rental received by the landlord. Now, if nationalization was effected as we propose, all improvements on the land, such as buildings, fences, etc., would remain private property, leaving only the land itself as nature made it (and that which man did not make ought never to be private property), to become the property of the state, then no management whatever would be required, and all these management expenses would be saved, and the tenant would be paying ground rent only; and everything that could be injured or taken away would be the tenants' own private property; and that would be security for their payments to the state, because, if a man does not pay his ground rent he will be liable to have his whole farm sold to make that up, and he is not likely to do that. That being the case, the state will require no management whatever, and the rent will be simply equivalent to a tax; and the whole of this 15 to 20 per cent. will be saved to the state, and that is another source of revenue which the state will obtain and will enable it to pay off the land bonds given to the landlords and redeem the whole debt at an earlier period than otherwise."

    "How far does this plan for the distribution of the land, the placing it in the hands of the people, agree with Mr. Gladstone's Irish land bill?"

    "Mr. Gladstone's Irish land bill adopted the principle of paying landlords only for their net rents while the gross rents would remain payable by the tenants, but he did not recognize land nationalization at all, but only the Irish desire to have the land for themselves, for the tenants. So he made provision that the tenants should become the absolute owners of the land by paying a moderate rental for a term of years."

    "How far has this land movement to do with socialism in England?"

    "In public opinion it is associated with socialism, but in reality it is a totally distinct thing, and has nothing whatever to do with it. Land nationalization, as advocated by the Land Nationalization Society, does not make any step toward socialism whatever. It leaves personal freedom to labor and accumulate wealth just as it is now."

    "But are not the English Socialists aiming at this question of equalization of rights which will include this land nationalization?"

    "They include that in their programme, but their method of dealing with it afterward is different. They propose that the land shall be managed by the state, which will also possess all the manufactures and mills, and that everything a man does shall be done under state management, and we object to that."

    "That is reproduced in our landlord farming in the West in America?"

    "To some extent, yes, and I presume you don't consider it beneficial. I am myself entirely and wholly opposed to socialism, not as a principle which may some time come into action, but as unsuited to men in their present development. Individualism, properly supplemented by equality of rights and advantages in the world, is, I believe, that which will lead best to the development of man's higher nature, certainly for a very long time to come."

     "There is no stronghold for socialism in this country; we feel that our institutions have accomplished much of the work that socialism is intended to do in the European countries."

    "I was not aware whether there was any body of Socialists in this country or not; there have been more attempts to carry socialism into practice here than in England."

    "This is, I believe, your first visit to America?"

    "Yes, it is my first visit to the states."

    "How are you impressed so far by your visit among us?"

    "That is exceedingly difficult to say. I was impressed with the wonderful activity, life and movement in New York, and the facilities for locomotion which exist there to a marvellous extent; it surpasses even London, I think, in this immense activity."

    "Have you had an opportunity as yet to see many of our citizens?"

    "I have hardly seen any one as yet; the weather has been bad, and I have been trying to see the country a little. I am more interested myself in nature at large. A new country like this has great interest to me in its physical aspects particularly."

    "Are you making a great many notes of these as you go about?"

    "I am not much of a bookmaker unless I think I have something that is worth saying, or that I think is new, but I anticipate great pleasure in travelling through this country."

    "May there be a possibility of a book on the features of this country interesting to naturalists at some time?"

    "I am afraid my travelling will be too hasty to do anything of that kind, especially in a country so vast as this, and you have many men who have studied it thoroughly and have done and said everything that can be said about it very much better than I could."

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Editor's Notes

1Henry George (1839-1897), American economist, social theorist, and writer.
2Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), Swiss-born American zoologist and glaciologist.
3Joseph Le Conte (1823-1901), American geologist.
4Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), German zoologist and evolutionist.
5John Tyndall (1820-1893), Irish physicist, and Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), English biologist and philosopher.

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