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

The Supposed Polar Origin of Life (1886+)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor of the journal Nature (originally with an attachment?) which apparently never saw print. Wallace refers to an endorsement of this theory by Lester Ward, but doesn't say where, and there are no other obvious indications of when this might have been written (though it is almost certainly from after 1886, when Wallace got to know Ward in Washington, D.C.). The two page handwritten manuscript from which this transcription is drawn is part of the Alfred Russel Wallace collection at the Natural History Museum (London), item WP7/132. The ms. contains only a few small edits, so this appears to be the final or near-final version. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/Supposed_Polar_Origin.htm

To the Editor of Nature

    I beg to enclose a short paper on this subject, which I think you might with advantage submit to your readers, in order that some competent physicists may point out what seems to me the utter fallacy of almost all the very positive statements made in it. I have hitherto not thought it worth while to discuss this theory, but when it is endorsed by so well known a botanist as my friend, Professor Lester F. Ward, it demands some notice. I have always considered that the theory is absolutely worthless, for two purely physical reasons. (1) Because, so soon as a continuous crust of moderate thickness was formed over the whole surface of the earth (accepting the theory of its primitive molten condition) the heat of the interior ceased to influence climate which became almost wholly dependent on solar heat, as now. (2) It is almost universally admitted that life began in the ocean, and the very existence of oceans implies that the crust had cooled everywhere below the temperature of boiling water. But when the oceans were formed they must have been, as now, subject to tides and currents, thus equalising the surface-temperature over the greater part of the globe, and still more completely the bottom temperature of all the oceans and seas communicating with them. At the very earliest periods at which we can suppose life to have originated the equatorial waters would probably have been no hotter than now, while they would, as now, have had the advantage of greater uniformity; and it is certain that variation of temperature within very moderate limits is the condition most favourable to organised life. The theory of its polar origin, therefore, seems to me to be unsupported by any evidence.

Alfred R. Wallace

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Copyright: Alfred Russel Wallace Literary Estate.

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