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

We Are Guarded by Spirits,
Declares Dr. A. R. Wallace. (S748a: 1911)

The Great Scientist Who Discovered the Evolution Theory Simultaneously
with Darwin Tells How "Superior Beings Control Mankind."


Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An anonymously-penned interview printed on page 8 of the Magazine Section of the 8 October 1911 issue of The New York Times. Note that the narrative, including some passages quoted as coming directly from Wallace, often deviates the more or less from apparent strict fact. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S748A.htm

     Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace is looked upon in England as "the last of the giants." He belongs to that wonderful group of intellectuals composed of Darwin, Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Lyell, Owen, and other scientists, whose daring investigations revolutionized and evolutionized the thought of the century. Strange to say, though Dr. Wallace is the sole survivor of the mighty coterie here mentioned, he is a recognized leader also among the later group of scientists who dominate the advanced thought of the present day in England, ranking with the late Lord Kelvin and the present Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Prof. Barrett, and others of that ilk.

     I had rather anticipated meeting a somewhat bent and aged old man, showing the full weight of his years. Instead I found a broad-shouldered, angular, long-bearded, blue-spectacled, pale-faced man, tall and straight, with little indication of advanced years, saving his snow white hair and beard.

     He was an awkward-looking man, who seemed, so to speak, too large for himself. His clothes were so ample they seemed to fit him all over rather than at any one place, while his shoes appeared of the iron-clad variety, inclining to the Merrimac rather than to the Monitor style. His bearing betokened independence, and a mind far removed from considerations of dress, though, with all his apparent carelessness, there was an air of cleanliness and neatness, which showed that he still kept in touch with soap, an object which men of advanced years and scientific abstraction are frequently inclined to forget.

     Dr. Wallace walks with a brisk step and talks about common, every-day subjects with a surprising degree of vivacity. He throws a novel light on many topics of the hour, from Socialism to single tax, and is not above displaying a grasp of the most commonplace domestic affairs. Politics, the latest war rumor, the most recent discoveries in science--everything but society gossip--appeals to him.

     A mile walk from the railway station at Broadstone brought us to his cozy country seat known as Old Orchard, owing to the fact that an ancient fruit plantation covered the ground, which the doctor has now turned into an extensive flower garden and chicken farm. A small nook of the actual old orchard remains, however, in order to justify still keeping the name to the place.

     When asked to give an account of his interesting life, Dr. Wallace, after a little modest hesitancy, said:

     "Well, I don't know that there is anything of especial note in my career, except that Darwin and I hit upon the evolutionary idea about the same time, and that fact--the coincidence--has always been considered more or less remarkable. It is a very old story, and before getting to it, I might say a word or two about my early life.

     "I was born a pretty long time ago," smiled the doctor over his glasses, "on Jan 8, 1827,1 to be exact. My people were of Scotch descent, living near Sterling. I left school when about 14 years old and went to work in my brother's office as an architect and surveyor. One of my duties, as I got older, was to collect money from the farmers for certain services, but I must tell you frankly that business always repelled me, and finally I resolved to have nothing to do with it.

     "In order to emancipate myself from office drudgery," continued Dr. Wallace, "I made a proposal to a Mr. Bates that I should be allowed to join a scientific expedition to the Amazon River in South America. To my great delight, my application was accepted.2

     "I had been greatly influenced in selecting this work by reading tales of travel, particularly Humboldt's "Cosmos," and stories of that great explorer's personal travels. Another book that struck my fancy in those days was Edward's "Voyage to the Amazon." It is curious, in looking back over life, to see what small things guide and influence our future.

     "And that reminds me of a pet theory of mine," laughed the doctor, interrupting his own train of thought. "There seems to me unmistakable evidence of guidance and control in not only human affairs, but those of every living creature.

     "Take life, for instance, on the purely physical plane: Consider for a moment the question of nourishment. Men of various races eat different food; men of the same race may follow diets as different as chalk from cheese. But in all cases the main result is the same. Food is converted into blood.

     "That is interesting enough, marvelous enough, but mark what follows: This blood circulating through the body becomes at one point hair, and at another nail; here it transforms itself into bone; there into tissue; at the same moment it changes into skin it changes into nerve; it is at once the bone in my finger and the eye in my head.

     "Materialism forges such words as 'secretion,' but no word signifying unconscious and accidental action can explain this mystery: How does the same fluid, unconsciously and without intelligence, perform these very diverse and marvelous duties?

     "Now, is it not madness to say that blood can do all these things of itself; that, without consciousness and without direction, it flows to a finger tip and accidentally becomes nail, or mounts to the skill and forms brain tissue? Is it more consonant with reason to say that the blood does its work by itself and without meaning, or that it is intelligently controlled to its purpose by a conscious direction? Which is the saner theory?

     "I believe all this to be the guidance of being superior to us in power and intelligence. Call them spirits, angels, gods, or what you will; the name is of no importance. I find this control in the lowest cell. The wonderful activity of cell life convinces me that it is guided by intelligence and consciousness. I cannot comprehend how any just and unprejudiced mind, fully aware of this amazing activity, can persuade itself to believe that the whole thing is a blind and unintelligent accident."

     Dr. Wallace is a member of the London Spiritualist Alliance, and has long been a firm believer in survival of human personality after death. He was convinced of the truths of spiritualism many years ago on investigating certain phenomena produced by a woman medium named Mrs. Marshall.

     The scientist was not converted to belief in spirits, however, until after long investigation. Once satisfied in his own mind, he launched boldly--for it requires courage, even now, for a so-called "scientist" to admit spirit phenomena--upon a campaign of defense of things occult.

     His book "Miracles and Modern Spiritualism" brought down upon his head a perfect tornado of abuse and vituperation; but he held his ground, retracted nothing, and succeeded in influencing a large body of public opinion. With reference to the dogmatic "scientific" view of the day, which seems inclined to sneer at things occult, Dr. Wallace has frequently pointed out that academic science in the past has made some pretty grave mistakes. For instance, the Royal Society itself laughed at Benjamin Franklin's lightning-rod idea; while no less a person than Sir Humphry Davy scoffed at the possibility of lighting London by gas. "Experts" testified that Stephenson's locomotive could never be of commercial use, as it would not be able to attain a speed of twelve miles an hour. All the world knows what scientific convention did to men like Galileo, Harvey, and other pioneers in thought. However, with men like Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Prof. Barrett, and others to uphold him in his view of Spiritualism, Dr. Wallace may consider himself in good company.

     During his early years Dr. Wallace was more or less of an agnostic; but since embracing Spiritualism he has become convinced that nature is ruled by some intimate First Cause, and that, carrying out the behests of this Guiding Purpose, an infinite number of spiritual forces are at work.

     "I think we have got to recognize," said the doctor on this point, "that between man and the ultimate God there is an almost infinite multitude of beings working in the universe at tasks as definite and important as any that we have to perform on earth. I imagine that the universe is peopled with spirits--that is, with intelligent beings--with powers and duties akin to our own, but vaster. I think there is a gradual ascent from man upward and onward, through an almost endless legion of these beings, to the First Cause.

     "Everywhere I turn," added the doctor enthusiastically, "I find a purpose in creation. I cannot examine the smallest or the commonest living thing without finding my reason uplifted and amazed by the miracle, by the beauty, the power, and the wisdom of its creation.

     "I almost think a feather is the masterpiece of nature. No man in the world could make such a thing.

     "It has been estimated that the feather of a heron's wing is composed of over a million parts. The quill is socketed, held together by little contrivances in the nature of hooks and eyes; it is of a material so light that a finger can twist it out of shape, but if it gets pierced or separated by a slight blow it becomes quickly reunited or restored.

     "The beauty of the birds and insects has no explanation in the evolutionary theory. Even Huxley was puzzled by the beauty of his environment.

     "While evolution is a sound hypothesis and every new discovery tends to confirm it, it is not all; it by no means explains everything. It does not explain beauty, for beauty is a spiritual mystery.

     "Evolution--I mean of the safe and sane kind--does not concern itself with the beginnings of things. It merely follows a few links in a fairly obvious chain. As for the chain itself evolution has nothing to say.

     "The more deeply men reflect upon what they are able to observe the more they will be brought to see that materialism is one gigantic foolishness. I think it will soon pass from the mind.

     "At first there was some excuse. Into the authoritative nonsense and superstitions of clericalism, evolution threw a bomb of the most deadly power. Those whose intelligence had been outraged and irritated by this absurd priestcraft rushed to the conclusion that religion was destroyed, and that a little chain of reasoning had explained the whole infinite universe; that in mud was the origin of mind, and in dust its end.

     "That was an opinion which could not last. Materialism is as dead as priestcraft for all intelligent minds. There are laws of nature, but they are purposeful. Everywhere we look we are confronted by power and intelligence. The future will be full of wonder, reverence, and calm faith, worthy of our place in the scheme of things."

     With all Dr. Wallace's interest in things of a spiritual nature, he takes the deepest pleasure in keeping thoroughly up to date. He is the head and front of many reform movements in England, and is President of the Land Nationalization Society, and other organizations. During the recent land agitation in England his book on the subject of land nationalization was extensively quoted, and was reissued to the extent of many thousands of copies.

     He is in sympathy with the "votes for women" movement, and is an out-and-out Socialist. He is also opposed to vivisection. Naturally, his very advanced views on all these subjects have laid him open to considerable adverse criticism; but he has never been afraid of his convictions, and has always been able to give a good account of himself in the various controversies in which he has been involved. His pen has always been on the side of the poor and humble.

     Naturally, the life story of a man who has done so much to form public opinion in these days and whose impress upon the age will be felt long after he has passed away cannot fail to interest the reader. The doctor was asked to narrate some of the principal events of his early life, particularly those happenings which marked a "tendency" in his career.

     "After my return from South America," he said, in response to this request, "I set out on an expedition and spent eight years between Malacca and New Guinea, writing a book on the Malay Archipelago. At this time I was deeply interested in questions of natural selection, and while doing this work prepared a pamphlet on that subject which I sent to my friend Darwin, and asked him to show it to Sir Charles Lyell, then President of the Royal Society. It was this pamphlet of mine which forced Darwin to rush into print, so to speak, with his 'Origin of Species,' on which, I believe, he had been working for twenty years."

     Though Dr. Wallace has always taken a humble and unostentatious attitude in reference to this co-discovery or rather joint announcement with Darwin of the principle of evolution, it must be borne in mind that his honor is equal to that of Darwin. It seems truly a psychic phenomenon that these two friends should have conceived the same idea at almost the same time, and, furthermore, should have decided to announce it to the world at the same time and almost in the same manner.

     "On returning from my travels, I resided in London for some time," resumed the doctor, "but I soon tired of the artificial life of the city. It seems that London and all the great cities of the world are becoming more and more congested.

     "City life, to me, then, was simply intolerable. In 1871 I moved down into the country, and have resided away from crowds ever since. Nothing could induce me to spend a day longer in town than I can possibly help.

     "I am convinced that the life most people live in these congested centres is absolutely false--not false in that it is deliberately untrue or deceitful, but false in that it is not the life conducive to human happiness. I have traveled a great deal, not so much because I wished to travel, but because I wanted to study life in various countries. I am an advocate of the 'simple life,' and believe that a strong reaction is setting in toward a return to more healthful conditions.

     "While the making of money contributes undoubtedly toward creature-comfort and all that, at the same time life in modern cities really destroys the spiritual in man.

     "It is all very well, while on this point," continued the doctor, "for men to try to account for the spirit on a purely material basis, and it may be very satisfactory to some people who do not seriously consider the subject; but if the soul has come into being from what is popularly termed 'the struggle for existence,' how is it that in this very struggle for existence we meet daily with people who are making self-sacrifices, exhibiting wonderful heroism and disinterested affection--live men and women of the day who are actually spending their existence for the sake of others? If every one is merely engaged in the desperate struggle for existence, why should any member of the human family try to help along or support anybody else?

     "Evolution can account well enough for the landgrabber, the company promoter, the trust, and the sweater, but it fails to account for Raphael and Wagner, Swedenborg and Newton. The world has been moved far more by spiritual forces than by material and selfish ones."

     Dr. Wallace cultivates several hobbies on his country place--most of his attention being given to the raising of chickens. Much of his time is devoted to long walks about the country. He is a great student of nature and his mind is always occupied upon close observation of natural objects--insects, flowers, and fossils--on his extensive rambles.

     Though finding much time for his hobbies, he also does a vast amount of work. Hosts of commissions for articles are constantly reaching him from prominent newspapers and magazines in all parts of the world. He does all his own work with a pen, never having cultivated the use of the stenographer or the dictating machine. His average output is about 4,000 words a day. Mrs. Wallace, however, frequently assists him; especially where he requires a "fair copy" of any of his work. She is wonderfully sympathetic in all of her husband's work, indorsing his ideas, sharing his labors, and admiring his triumphs. Though so advanced in years, Dr. Wallace has a far more youthful outlook on life than many men of half his years. His optimistic temperament, calm philosophy, love of nature, and firm belief in a progressive life after death enable him to look into the future with serene equanimity.

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Editor's Notes

1. This should actually read "1823."

2. Other sources, including those authored by Wallace and Bates themselves, indicate that Wallace, not Bates, initiated discussion of a possible collecting trip.

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