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

 
 
Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace (S752a: 1913)
O.M., born January 8, 1823.

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A "third person" interview by Wilkinson Sherren describing the latter's visit with Wallace in late 1912 or early 1913. Printed on page 49 of the 10 January 1913 issue of T. P.'s Weekly. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S752A.htm


     The berries of a thick holly hedge, and the golden clusters of the gorse, shed their defiant brightness on the wintry roadway some hundred yards from "The Old Orchard," Broadstone, where Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, born January 8, 1823, celebrated his ninetieth birthday yesterday (Wednesday). Those roadside patches of indomitable colour seemed like part of summer's glory left in the lap of winter. I saw them as fitting symbols of the Grand Old Man of Science who lives within a stone's throw of their beauty. For, in the winter of extreme old age, Dr. Wallace retains superb mental vigour and buoyant optimism. It is an interesting little point to reflect that Dorset, one of the smallest and most thinly populated counties, is the home of two Members of the Order of Merit, each supreme in his respective sphere--Dr. Wallace in science, and Mr. Thomas Hardy in literature. They have never met, although the distance between them is not great. The deep quietude of Wessex enwraps them both in its distinctive atmosphere.

     The wild bells were soon to ring out the old year, when I approached the beautifully-situated house where Dr. Wallace is spending the evening of his days. Sentiments of decay were in the air, tokens of apparent death were in the landscape, and many people were in the grip of the conventional melancholy associated with the end of December. Personal contact with the eminent biologist is calculated to dispel the sadness associated, not only with the year's passing, but with any view of life which brings a permanent cloud to the brow. A finer mental tonic does not exist than a visit to the veteran, who, when living in the East, committed to paper a theory of natural selection, while unaware of Darwin's cognate researches and speculations.

     In appearance, Dr. Wallace belongs to the shaggy, intellectual giants of the Victorian era, though his innate courtesy, gentleness, and modesty subdue all impression of harshness. He wears a short, white beard, and his thick, white hair is in keeping with his splendid vitality. His ears are of commanding proportions, his domed brow the most magnificent I have ever seen, the eyes gleaming under the shaggy white eyebrows, keenly and kindly. The graving tools of high thinking and noble living have traced lines of dignity on his massively built, though mobile face. His physical health almost equals his mental, and this sanity of mind and body is profoundly impressive.

     His talk is deep, copious and sure, reminding one of the flow of a majestic river. To appreciate the depth and width of his work and interests calls for more time and study than the average man has at its disposal. The list is impressive--"Travels on the Amazon," 1853; "Palm Trees of the Amazon," 1853; "The Malay Archipelago," 1869; "Natural Selection," 1870; "Miracles and Modern Spiritualism," 1874--new edition, 1896; "The Geographical Distribution of Animals," 1876; "Tropical Nature," 1878; "Australasia," 1879; "Island Life," 1880; "Land Nationalisation," 1882; "Bad Times," 1885; "Darwinism," 1889; "Vaccination, a Delusion," 1898; "The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and its Failures," 1898--new edition greatly enlarged, 1903; "Studies, Scientific and Social," 1900; "Man's Place in the Universe," 1903--new edition 1904; "My Life," 1905; "Is Mars Habitable?" 1907; "My Life," condensed in one volume, 1908; "The World of Life," 1910.

     The conviction grew as I renounced myself to Dr. Wallace's conversation, that all his scientific researches and investigations were to him so many profound reasons for his conviction as a citizen that we live in a badly ordered social system. One death from starvation in a populous city would be a greater tragedy to him than the destruction of a constellation. It is significant alike of his social faith and of his alert interest in ordinary affairs that he is an interested reader of "The Daily Citizen." And there is deep, personal significance in the verse printed at the back of the title page of one his books:

I said unto my inmost heart
     Shall I don corslet, helm and shield,
And shall I with a giant strive,
     And charge a dragon on the field.

     He has all the ardent chivalry of the knight of old, and couches his lance in unpopular causes. He is the President of the Land Nationalisation Society, a Spiritualist and an Anti-Vaccinationist. Some there are who think he has invalidated his scientific reputation by turning aside from the narrow path of the specialist. They decry all his work because he is a Spiritualist. Having recently listened to Dr. Wallace talking on all the subjects his name is associated with, I am convinced of the complete harmony of his work as a whole. He is no specialised function, highly trained to only one end, and this is all the more remarkable in an age prone to bend the knee to the god of specialisation. His views as a social student are related, I suspect, to his earlier scientific studies and findings. I venture to suggest that it is his horror of the lack of co-ordinate effort in the social system that led him to become a Socialist. He has answers to all the profound questions that have always puzzled mankind, and their keynote is hope and confidence in the future. It is indeed high time that a just and full estimate of the man and the totality of his work should be written by a competent authority.

     Dr. Wallace sits in his book-lined study, commanding an extensive view of the shimmering waters of Poole Harbour, and is nearer to the burning social problems of the hour than many of us who live within walking distance of the House of Commons. He is at work still, and with eager enthusiasm, but not exclusively, on problems which only a comparatively few trained minds can master. The man in the street, who has neither time nor inclination for recondite scientific study, will be able to understand some of the work Dr. Wallace is at present engaged upon, especially, a treatise to be called, I think, "The Awakening of Labour: Its Claims Socially Just and Nationally Beneficial." This--or any such literary labour--is an amazing undertaking for a veteran now in his ninetieth year. I also found Dr. Wallace turning with deep interest to a consideration of the teaching of Swedenborg, the mystic, and saw on his table a copy of "Heaven and Hell." Kropotkin's "Fields, Factories and Workshops" came in for some words of deep appreciation.

     Evening had set in when I said good-bye to the Grand Old Man of Science, whose faith in the destiny of mankind burns as steadily as the stars that looked down upon his Dorset home.


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