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


Wallace. (S735d: 1887)

Editor Charles H. Smith’s Note: An anonymous interview printed on page 3 of the 24 May 1887 edition of the San Francisco Examiner. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S735D.htm


He Says the Land Should Belong to the State, Not to Men.


Glimpses of the Men Who Popularized Science--Darwin, Huxley, Spencer.

     Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace, the celebrated English scientist, who has been lecturing with such marked success throughout the Eastern states during the past winter, arrived in San Francisco by the overland train yesterday and is stopping with his brother, who is an old resident of Stockton, at the Baldwin. Dr. Wallace accorded a very pleasant interview to an Examiner reporter last evening, in which the great scientist reviewed the principal incidents of a long, laborious and illustrious career in the world of science, not the least interesting part being a reference to his association with the immortal Darwin.

     "Yes, without any knowledge of the line of thought either was pursuing in his voyages of discovery, both Darwin and myself came to the same conclusion on the theory of evolution, the origin of species and the doctrine of natural selection. In 1854 I sailed for the Malay archipelago, where I spent eight years. When I had been there about two years I wrote a paper to Darwin setting forth my views and asking that he show it to Sir Charles Lyell. He did so, and they two showed it to Sir Joseph Hooker.


     "All were surprised and delighted. Darwin had already prepared papers on the subject, but only his more intimate scientific associates had been admitted to a conference upon them. When mine appeared there seemed no longer any excuse for delay in proclaiming the news, and Darwin was urged to the publication of his own papers and mine together, which was accordingly done. Thus was the foundation laid for his first and most remarkable work, known to the world as the 'Origin of Species.'"

     "What have you published in that line?"

     "In 1870 I published 'Contribution to the Theory of Natural Selection,' and in 1876 an elaborate work, in two volumes, on 'The Geographical Distribution of Animals.' That year I was President of the Biological Section at the meeting of the British Association at Glasgow. Two years later I published a volume on 'Tropical Nature,' containing my views on the colors of natural objects, on sexual selection, the geographical distribution of animals and plants and allied topics. In 1880 I published 'Island Life,' in which the principles established in the 'Geographical Distribution of Animals' are applied to explain in detail the phenomena presented by the fungi and floras of the chief islands of the globe, while a general solution is attempted of the difficult problem of geological climates.

     "Since then I have turned my attention to social and political problems, and in 1882 I published 'Land Nationalization, Its Necessity and Its Aims,' In which I deal with the whole question of land tenure, and propose what I regard as a practical scheme of occupying ownership under the State in order to remedy the numerous evils of the present system, which I enumerate therein. So favorably have my ideas been received by many that a society has been organized in England for the purpose of advocating them."


     "What are the principal features of your plan?"

     "The fundamental principles upon which I start are substantially the same as those of Henry George, but my application of them is quite different. For instance, I do not believe that land should be subject to individual ownership, because it is something a man cannot increase in value by any act of his own, its value being determined wholly by its sparseness or density of population. Therefore, let the State own it."

     "Would not that entail jobbery, corruption and all the evils which attend centralization of power?"

     "Not at all. I do not mean the State in that sense. I mean villages, towns, counties or districts."

     "How shall these come into their possession?"

     "By purchasing the land at its present value, giving bonds for payment. The interest can be paid out of the rents, and when the bonds have become due the land will have enhanced so much in value that the accumulated and payable rents will pay off the bonds."

     "Are you sure of that?"

     "Yes, sir. Even in England, where land is not thought to enhance much with time, the average annual increase of values is 2 per cent, while here in the United States it is often enormous, and cases of permanent depreciation are rare."

     "What do you do with the rents after the property is paid for?"

     "They should be applied to all the purposes for which taxes are now levied."

     "In this manner you would obviate the payment of taxes entirely?"

     "Exactly, and man would escape from one of the twin evils--'Taxes and Death.'"

     "What does Harry [[sic: Henry]] George say to all that?"

     "I can’t get him to look at it my way at all."



     "He says that the scheme is impracticable in the United States. I see great obstacles in the way to it myself. Landowners have bought for speculative purposes mostly, and would be loath to give it up, and, of course, they would oppose any legislation looking to that end."

     "How is it in England?"

     "Well, we are about as bad off there as you are here. Experiments must be tried outside somewhere, say in Australia or New Zealand. In fact, the movement has already touched them there. Recent Parliaments have enacted laws against the further alienation of the public domain, and some have gone so far, I believe, as to declare that lands already sold must revert to the Government to which it originally belonged. A curious incident occurred down there which illustrates our theory admirably. It was in Adelaide, I believe. When that city was in embryo an Englishman bought a lot for $5 and transferred it to his coachman. Both returned to England. The coachman died. Recently his heirs discovered the deed, and on making inquiries they learned that the property as worth $100,000. Now, tell me what they or the coachman, or his master had ever done toward the enhancement of that bit of land?

     "Evidently nothing."

     "Then who were entitled to it?"

     "The heirs, I suppose."

     "No, sir. Not at all. The people who had built up Adelaide were the only ones entitled to it. Here we are in a magnificent hotel. The ground it stands upon is worth thousands of dollars a square foot. Who made this piece of ground so valuable?"

     "Lucky Baldwin would beg consideration at our hands just here, I fancy."

     "Well, in so far as he is one who has helped to build up the city he is entitled to his part, and every other man who has labored here is also entitled to his part."


     "How is Gladstone affected toward your theories and the association?"

     "Gladstone is circumspect, as all great statesmen are presumed to be. Viewed from his standpoint, the question is not yet ripe for legislation, and until then he would not make it a subject for public consideration, but he is thoroughly in harmony with us on the question. When he was standing for election from Midlothian four years ago, he said in one of his speeches, "Land differs from all other property inasmuch as it is not the product of human labor, nor capable of increase in value through the agency of any one individual, and therefore, if it be thought expedient and for the good of the community that landlords should be expropriated, Parliament has the right to expropriate them."

     "What does John Bright say?"

     "I don’t think John Bright ever said anything about it. John Bright never had but two ideas. One of them was great, and made him so. In its reflected glory he has lived all these years, or rather he has become fossilized therein. In his dreams, I have no doubt, he murmurs, 'Corn law and Cobden; free trade for England.'"

     "It has become a sort of nightmare with him, eh?"

     "Yes, and he cannot awake to the issues of the day. He has forsaken Ireland. But he was always eloquent, and to-day can make a fine speech on 'Free Trade for England,' and 'Peace.'"

     "Of course Huxley and Spencer are with you?"

     "You are quite safe in that assumption. Why, Spencer was the founder of the fundamental principle of it all. In his 'Social Statics' he clearly demonstrates that it is an absolute and great wrong to society for a man to become possessed of great landed estates."


     "By the way, what is 'Our Philosopher' doing nowadays?"

     "He is trying to finish his autobiography, but he is quite feeble, and it is slow work. He expected much from his trip to the United States, but I do not think it improved his health at all."

     "How is Huxley?"

     "Oh, he has given up all active work--for good and all, I fear. He is worse than Spencer."

     "Who is coming to the front to occupy your places?"

     "That is a question asked and answered by Grant Allan a few months ago," said Dr. Wallace, with a pleasant smile. "It was an admirably written article entitled 'Our Noble Selves.' Though Allan did not append his name to the article, I know he was the author, and I agree with him in the main. He holds that in science, art, literature and all the leading walks of life there is a grand army of young men ready to step to the front and hold their position with as great distinction as those who are laying down their arms. This is true, but they will find one indispensable and all important factor missing.”

     "What is that?"

     "Opportunity. Just think of it for a moment. When I mention the names of Newton, Harvey and Columbus, you instinctively recall a great event connected with each name--in fact, inseparable from it. Gravitation was waiting to make some man famous till Newton came; the circulation of the blood, for Harvey, and America for Columbus. What would Grant have been but for the war? Except in the domain of electricity, I see but little opportunity for the coming scientist. In our own special field of labor, Darwin cleared away the obstructions that marred our view, and all that is left for his successors is to work up details."


     "How has your visit to the United States impressed you?"

     "Very favorably, indeed. I arrived here in October last, and have learned something about your Eastern winters, enough to say from my few hours experience in San Francisco and California that I was at the wrong side of the continent for physical comfort. I think that the thing which will most favorably impress all Europeans is your railroads. Such methodical arrangement of details come to one with all the gratefulness of a new-born luxury. They are far superior to anything we have there.

     Another thing which struck with equal, if not greater force, but from the other side, was the tremendous extent to which your forests have been denuded; and in crossing the continent I was pained to observe how rich lands had been about half worked out and then abandoned. Richer land could not be found anywhere the world over. Even the hill tops where the rocks jutted out would grow anything, and yet, there was an air of neglect and abandonment ever presenting itself. This is all wrong. Another extraordinary circumstance which struck me, namely, the high price of land.

     Actually, it is much higher than in England. In the neighborhood of insignificant little towns it costs more than in the suburbs of London. In view of the vast tracts of land on every hand, this condition of things seems quite paradoxical."


     The crowded columns of the Examiner preclude publication of more of this interview, which embraced a hundred topics, the learned gentleman being a brilliant and easy conversationalist, which, combined with the fact that he is the most eminent living naturalist in the world, makes him a delightful associate, in whose company the hours seem but minutes.

     But San Franciscans will have an opportunity of judging for themselves just so soon as the gentleman recovers from the fatigue of his journey across the continent. They will find him a hale and hearty old English gentleman of 65 years, over six feet in height and well proportioned, with mild blue eyes and benevolent aspect of countenance. His hair and beard are snow white, which enhances the charm of his appearance.

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