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

 
 
Chat With Dr. Wallace (S735b: 1887)
What Most Impresses Him in America--The Doctor a Reformer as Well as a
Scientist--Land Theories--What He Thinks About Tree Planting, etc.

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An anonymous interview printed on page 2 of the 6 May 1887 issue of The Sioux City Daily Journal (Iowa); this was one of Wallace's stops on his transcontinental lecture tour of 1886-1887. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S735B.htm


     A Journal reporter met Dr. Wallace at the residence of E. P. Stone, where he has been entertained during his stay in Sioux City, and had an informal chat with him.

     The doctor said this was his first visit to the states. He arrived in October last and will return to England in July. Being asked what in this country struck him most he replied, "the American railroad system." To him it was most marvellous, far surpassing in comfort and convenience the railway systems of Europe. He said he was not making special studies in this country, his business being solely to lecture. He referred enthusiastically to his explorations in South America from 1848 to 1852. He was there observing and collecting natural specimens, and the fruits of his work were embodied in the books which made him famous. He said that he believed that the Amazon valley is the richest in the world and capable of supporting a population of several hundreds of millions. He believed that in the future, though it may be years yet, the Amazon valley would afford a theater for the overflow of population in Europe, and perhaps from North America. As yet, however, it has been little occupied and little cultivated. He believed that he was the first scientist who had made a thorough exploration of that country. The direction of emigration from Europe is now, and will for many years continue to be, toward North America, and mainly toward the United States.

     This naturally led the conversation to some well-known social theories which the doctor holds. His talk instantly showed that he is not in love with the movement which has built up so rapidly great centers of population in the cities. He believes that civilization is now in a transitional state; that the tendency to centralization of population in great cities is a one-sided movement, and that the future will bring about a reaction. The great evil, as he views it, is in the system of land tenure, both in this country and in European countries. The doctor is himself a believer in Henry George's idea, that the land should belong to all in common, though he differs with George as to the means by which the community should acquire the title. Henry George's idea is that the title should be acquired by taxation; Dr. Wallace believes that it can be acquired by purchase. Chatting on this subject the doctor said:

     "Suppose that your states, your counties, townships or cities had the right to purchase the lands of private owners, issuing therefor long-time bonds at reasonable interest, a comparatively few years would witness a peaceable possession of all the lands by the several communities. It is the increased population which gives value to land. In a few years, in a country so rapidly settling up as this, the influx of population by itself would enhance the value of the land, and therefore of the rentals of the same, and where such bonds had been issued they could be readily taken up. The community would thus own the land, on this supposition, and it seems to me that methods could easily be devised by which they could be rented out to individuals according to the wants, the ambitions and the capabilities of each one. If you go on as you are now going the time is not far distant when that will come to pass in the states which has come to pass in all European countries, and the lands will be seized into the hands of a few great land owners. I think I can see marked evidences now of a tendency in this direction. The land in the states is rapidly passing out of the hands of the smaller landholders and being centralized into the hands of a few great holders. Of course the evils have not been so severely felt in this country as in European countries because this is newer. This land trouble," said the doctor further, "is practically the sole cause of the discontent in Ireland, and that discontent is almost the sole question disturbing politics in England. It is conceded now by all our public men in England, of all parties, that land tenure in Ireland must be reformed. The tories equally with the liberals, Salisbury as well as Gladstone, understand this. The division is really on the question of methods. Mr. Gladstone proposes to give the oppressed tenantry the right to buy the land, and other politicians propose various ways for helping the tenantry to purchase small holdings. In my view, however, all these reforms are defective. They only remove without curing the real evil. There is another method which I believe to be the only satisfactory one, and that is this: Let the government itself buy out the great land-owners of Ireland and become the landlord, leasing the lands direct to the Irish tenants on reasonable terms, acting, perhaps, through some method of Irish home rule. This, I believe, is the only way in which a permanent cure of Irish landlordism can be effected; for if the tenantry be permitted to become proprietors, going into debt for their holdings, it is only a question of time when the same process of accumulation of great landed estates will again be completed and the same evils thus revived. Of course, the land question is a more urgent one, as I said before, in the European countries than in the United States. I do not believe that the situation in the states is yet ripe for such a change as I have outlined, nor will it be for many years. Indeed, the whole subject is one of such complexity, and of such perplexity, that perhaps it is impossible for anyone to outline now the methods by which reform will ultimately be effected; but I think, as I have said, that there will be progress first in the lines of communal proprietorship, and that such progress will take its first steps in the older countries where the evil is now greatest, and later will reach such newer countries as the United States."

     The doctor alluded, changing the subject, to the systematic tree planting in the western states and territories. The relation of forests to climate, he said, is one to which he has given much study. "Tree planting," said he, "cannot fail to be of the greatest value to the forestless prairies of the northwest. It certainly modifies winds, and it will probably modify rainfall, though it is not so certain about this. One fact is very important about this matter of tree planting. The trees should be planted near the streams. In every country in which the trees have been cut down there have been great floods, and this is especially so where the hillsides have been denuded of the forests. Systematic and extensive tree culture along the minor streams of the northwest will certainly benefit the land. Wherever there is a forest growth moisture is necessarily retained in the soil. Moreover, the mold and the debris which collect under the trees tends to obstruct drainage and thus counteracts the effects of drought. There is no reason why all this benefit cannot be secured to the prairie territory of the northwest by a few years' attention to tree culture.

     The doctor chatted pleasantly on many other topics in the frank and unaffected manner which he shows on the platform before the public. He spoke feelingly of Darwin, with whom he lived on the most cordial personal relations. He regards Darwin as one of the greatest scientists of modern times. He spoke enthusiastically of the self-sacrifice with which his friend devoted himself to scientific research. Darwin was one of the sincerest of men he ever knew. His search was solely for the truth, whatever it might be, and from whatever source it might come. He said that the notion entertained by some that Darwin was a closet philosopher and not distinctively an investigator was an erroneous one. On the contrary Darwin did an incredible amount of original investigating. In his studies, for instance, of domesticated animals and plants, he actually kept all the subjects that he was studying; horses, dogs, pigeons, and an endless variety of other animals. These he reared, cared for and observed, and he labored ceaselessly to do personally as much as possible of the work of observation. No man could be less a theorist in the ordinary sense of the term, or more of an observer in the best sense of the term, than Darwin was.

     Dr. Wallace expressed himself as highly pleased with his visit to Sioux City. He left yesterday for Kansas City, where he has an engagement to lecture.


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