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Alfred Russel Wallace: Evolution of an Evolutionist.

Chapter One. Belief and Spiritualism.

    There remain many uncertainties about Wallace's various positions, but one thing we absolutely can be sure of is that he was, for the majority of his adult life, a practicing spiritualist. Theistically-inclined scientists have been by no means rare, of course; on the other hand, relatively few scientists have attempted to advance models of nature that directly integrate materialistic and spiritual elements. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin immediately comes to mind as another name in this arena, but in his case the theistic teleology invoked is easily seen as both prior and explicit, and the materialism a derivative, if complementary, device. In Wallace's work, by contrast, a logic-based naturalism is the elemental component, but it is a naturalism so comprehensive as to directly incorporate moral, ethical--and some would say, theistic--concerns. The American philosopher Charles Peirce once referred to him in the following wonderfully descriptive terms:

Not quite a typical man of science is Wallace; not a man who observes and studies only because he is eager to learn, because he is conscious that his actual conceptions and theories are inadequate, and he feels a need of being set right; nor yet one of those men who are so dominated by a sense of the tremendous importance of a truth in their possession that they are borne on to propagate it by all means that God and nature have put into their hands--no matter what, so long as it be effective. He is rather a man conscious of superior powers of sound and solid reasoning, which enable him to find paths to great truths that other men could not, and also to put the truth before his fellows with a demonstrative evidence that another man could not bring out; and along with this there is a moral sense, childlike in its candor, manly in its vigor, which will not allow him to approve anything illogical or wrong, though it be upon his own side of a question which stirs the depths of his moral nature.1

    Among Wallace's contemporaries only Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) could match him in shear breadth of interest and creative energy. Unlike Spencer (who Wallace once referred to as a "thinking machine"), however, Wallace's attention was always focused on the world of actual events. He was one of the most perceptive observers of his (or any) time, and this skill was comprised equally of sympathetic, reasoning, and classificatory abilities. His synthetic abilities were not so much strong as they were implicit, flowing naturally from a powerful talent at reasoning things to their elemental level, and abetted by an insatiable curiosity. Writer Frank Harris, who knew him for many years, described him as follows:

He was interested in every phase of thought; the connection between mathematics and metaphysics, the provoking laws that govern chances and regulate coincidences, the mysterious movements of the human spirit by contradictories, by analogies, by merely verbal dissonance and assonance, the gropings of consciousness in the child, the senile decay of mind and memory, the higher law of sex unions--he had studied all of them and said something worthful about most of them. And under the panoply of knowledge his mind moved freely; he questioned this axiom and rejected that much-vaunted conclusion without a shadow of hesitation. Bit by bit he impressed me as some natural force impresses despite its simplicity.2

    Wallace's lack of formal education (he left school at age thirteen) and relatively low social status were never any impediment to his personal progress as a thinker. Lacking neither self-confidence nor courage in his convictions, he was ever ready to take up a cause he thought was worth defending. Though generally modest and self-effacing, he was willing to give at least one frank appraisal of his abilities in his autobiography My Life in 1905:

...This rather long digression may be considered to be out of place, but it is given in order to illustrate the steps by which I gradually acquired confidence in my own judgment, so that in dealing with any body of facts bearing upon a question in dispute, if I clearly understood the nature of the facts and gave the necessary attention to them, I would always draw my own inferences from them, even though I had men of far greater and more varied knowledge against me. Thus I have never hesitated to differ from Lyell, Darwin, and even Spencer, and, so far as I can judge, in all the cases in which I have so differed, the weight of scientific opinion is gradually turning in my direction. In reasoning power upon the general phenomena of nature or of society, I feel able to hold my own with them; my inferiority consists in my limited knowledge, and perhaps also in my smaller power of concentration for long periods of time.

With Huxley also I felt quite on an equality when dealing with problems arising out of facts equally well known to both of us; but wherever the structure or functions of animals were concerned, he had the command of a body of facts so extensive and so complex that no one who had not devoted years to their practical study could safely attempt to make use of them. I therefore never ventured to infringe in any way on his special departments of study, though I occasionally made use of some of the results which he so lucidly explained...3

    Wallace's mental explorations led him to just as many interesting places as his physical ones did. Certainly his association with spiritualism stands at or near the top of the list in this regard. But previous attempts to understand Wallace's attraction to spiritualism, and in turn its relation to his thinking on other subjects, have largely ignored the very subject that would make a sound appreciation possible. That subject is belief. Wallace had, as it turns out, a well-developed position on the matter of the relation of belief to observation, and it was a position that he apparently held literally his entire adult life. It is the purpose of this chapter to illuminate that position, and to show how it contributed to several other key elements of his thinking.

    The most cogent general analyses of Wallace's beliefs, particularly in reference to spiritualism, and how these affected his later thinking on evolution and other subjects, are by R. Smith (1972), Kottler (1974), Schwartz (1984), Oppenheim (1985), and Malinchak (1987). Before we proceed further, a quick review of these sources is in order.

    Roger Smith's essay represented an important step forward in the understanding of Wallace's work in general with its recognition of the interdependent nature of his ideas: "...Whereas it has been customary to consider his thought as primarily biological and his digressions into phrenology, spiritualism, socialism, and ethnology as peripheral, these apparently diverse subjects were in reality aspects of a unified interpretation of the world in terms of humanitarian values."4 Smith decides that "A consideration of Wallace's philosophy of nature...leads to the conclusion that he saw and intended no discontinuity between general and human evolution and that it is a mistaken view to recognize such a discontinuity."5 Smith takes relatively little notice of Wallace's adoption of spiritualism in his analysis, however, preferring to attribute his rejection of the all-sufficiency of natural selection in particular to a posed incompatibility of its logic with his utopian social views, especially to the extent that the principle of utility could not be used to account for the higher human faculties.

    Smith's analysis is one of the most succinct descriptions of Wallace's overall intellectual world view to date. Nevertheless, the work does not address the sizable issue of how any of the strands of this world view might have come together. For example, with respect to the effects on his thinking of spiritualism in particular, he merely states "...it is not clear when or why he became involved with spiritualism."6 Again: "...it remains an historical problem to determine how far the teleology of the later work was present in his thought during the earlier period."7

    Kottler spends a goodly portion of his lengthy study on the special problem of the chronology of Wallace's involvement with spiritualism and its effects on his thoughts on evolution and the origin of man. He comes to the more directed conclusion that Wallace's belief in psychical phenomena "deeply influenced his evolutionary thought;"8 i.e., that "...spiritualism stimulated Wallace to reconsider the utility of various human features"9 and in turn became the efficient cause of his divergence of viewpoint from Darwin on the issue of man's origins. Kottler also entertains--but ultimately rejects as unlikely--two additional scenarios that might explain Wallace's divergence from Darwin's views on man: (1) that he had "two independent grounds for his divergence--scientific and spiritual;" i.e., that he had "originally concluded that natural selection was inadequate in the origin of man on the basis of his utilitarian analysis of various human features"10 and (2) that "the source of Wallace's recognition of natural selection's inadequacy in the origin of man was his own conception of the nature of natural selection rather than his belief in spiritualism."11

    Schwartz's essay is primarily concerned with showing how Wallace's views on man might have pushed Darwin into writing The Descent of Man, but he also gives attention to the spiritualism issue, deciding that Wallace's position on man must have begun to shift before he committed himself to spiritualism in 1865. He opines "Wallace's departure from the Darwinian point of view of the origin of man resulted from his inability to bridge his scientific and moral beliefs;"12 that "Wallace's belief in social equality and political reform conflicted with the ineluctable operations of natural law (including natural selection)."13

    Oppenheim provides an excellent overall review of Wallace's spiritualist leanings and activities, dwelling on what she views as his inability to reject "the dividing line between science and spiritualism" and desire to "eliminate the aura of the supernatural that clung to spiritualist phenomena."14 Still, she is unable to decide "whether spiritualism alone can explain Wallace's rejection of natural selection as the sole agent of evolutionary change where the human race was concerned. Because he did not specifically combine his spiritualist convictions with biological arguments until 1889, he seemed to base his revised evolutionary views on considerations of utility... It does appear that Wallace's doubts about natural selection first arose from evidence acquired at the séance table, not from biological or geological discoveries that forced him to reconsider his initial theory of evolution in respect of humanity."15

    Malinchak examines the story of Wallace's intellectual development from a largely sociological perspective. Regarding the man/natural selection question, she advises "It was only after Wallace engaged in his extensive studies in spiritualism and became convinced of the genuineness of spiritualistic phenomena that he began to inject quasi-religious notions of the guidance of higher intelligences in the development of the human mind into his scientific arguments."16 Malinchak nevertheless does not specifically refer Wallace's conversion to spiritualism to causes rooted in his natural selection views, apparently preferring to interpret it as a residual effect of some of his early experiences with the supernatural, and of period social and intellectual trends.

    Some other writers who have contributed to the discussion include Tracy (1985), Barrow (1986), Wiggins (1988), DeCarvalho (1988-1989), Scarpelli (1993), and Pels (1995).

    To summarize... The position now generally held is that Wallace was led to spiritualistic belief as a function of his final (perhaps disillusioned) inability to view human evolution in entirely materialistic terms--in particular, as the result of the limitations of natural selection. In this view, spiritualism may have provided Wallace with a previously missing religious element in his life--one which also explained (away) the intellectual and moral development of the human race.

    It seems to me, however, that these conclusions represent a mis-reading of the sum of facts now available. My assessment of the situation is that Wallace had from the very beginning been pursuing a course of investigation that inherently (and, to a large extent, unwittingly) denied priority to materialistic interpretations of nature, and that only through natural selection and spiritualism was he able to forge a synthesis compatible with a naturalistic kind of logic. Consistent with this idea, I shall take the position that all events in Wallace's intellectual evolution after 1858 are entirely predictable given conclusions he had reached by that year. We will begin by reviewing the facts of Wallace's conversion to spiritualism.

    As is now well known from both his own writings and secondary analysis,17 Wallace was first introduced to occult phenomena when he attended a lecture-demonstration on mesmerism given by a Mr. Spencer Hall in 1844. Sometime earlier, he had read George Combe and become interested in related phrenological subjects.18 At that early date, there were few believers in mesmerism. Indeed, the common opinion, especially within the scientific and medical communities, was that its supposed physical manifestations were the stuff of hoax and trickery. Wallace attended the lecture as a nonbeliever; shortly afterward, however, he found himself able to induce the same effects that he had witnessed on stage on subjects of his own choosing, and eventually became a skilled practitioner of the art.19 This had a profound effect on him, as he learned, in his own recollection, "my first great lesson in the inquiry into those obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men, or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men admittedly sane and honest."20

    For Wallace, the implications of this "great lesson" were profound. It forced its way into his thinking at two distinct, but fully complementary, levels. In the more general sense, new discoveries--no matter how unusual--were deserving of detached and rational study, not ignorant, ill-informed disbelief. More specially and in particular, what we would now term "paranormal" phenomena were not to be branded unworthy of attention a priori. We may be quite sure that the overall lesson was in fact both fully absorbed and later acted upon: Wallace argued these points very frequently in his later works. One clear example is afforded by statements incorporated into a short address he prepared for his honorary appointment as President of the Department of Anthropology, Section D, Biology, at the autumn 1866 meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. This address features the following cautionary remarks:

Now it is our object as anthropologists to accept the well-ascertained conclusions which have been arrived at by the students of all these various sciences, to search after every new fact which may throw additional light upon any of them, and, as far as we are able, to combine and generalize the whole of the information thus obtained. We cannot therefore, afford to neglect any facts relating to man, however trivial, unmeaning, or distasteful some of them may appear to us. Each custom, superstition, or belief of savage or of civilised man may guide us towards an explanation of their origin in common tendencies of the human mind. Each peculiarity of form, colour, or constitution may give us a clue to the affinities of an obscure race. The anthropologist must ever bear in mind that, as the object of his study is man, nothing pertaining to or characteristic of man can be unworthy of his attention. It will be only after we have brought together and arranged all the facts and principles which have been established by the various special studies to which I have alluded, that we shall be in a condition to determine the particular lines of investigation most needed to complete our knowledge of man, and may hope ultimately to arrive at some definite conclusions on great problems which must interest us all--the questions of the origin, the nature, and the destiny of the human race. I would beg you to recollect also that here we must treat all these problems as purely questions of science, to be decided solely by facts and by legitimate deductions from facts. We can accept no conclusions as authoritative that have not been thus established. Our sole object is to find out for ourselves what is our true nature, to feel our way cautiously, step by step, into the dark and mysterious past of human history, to study man under every phase and aspect of his present conditions, and from the knowledge thus gained to derive (as we cannot fail to do) some assistance in our attempts to govern and improve uncivilized tribes, some guidance in our own national and individual progress.21

    Wallace had surely spent a considerable portion of his travel years mulling over the basic validity of his "great lesson," especially in its relevance to the customs and beliefs of the many native peoples among whom he lived and worked. Their religions, superstitions, and cosmological traditions especially attracted his attention, and once he had returned to England he made frequent use of his observations in subsequent writings. This included "great lesson"-related commentary: Wallace's contempt for a priori dismissal of native beliefs is implicit in the following passage from his review of Edward Tylor's book Primitive Culture in 1872:

...Equally unsatisfactory is the practice of leaving out of view, in theories of mental development, the numerous well-established cases of abnormal mental phenomena which indicate latent powers in man beyond those usually recognised. These are looked upon as obscure diseases of the nervous system, and although their occurrence is very rare to individual experience, the records of them are now sufficiently voluminous to furnish comparable cases to almost all that occur. They can thus be grouped into classes, and this fact, of each one forming an item in a group of analogous cases, is supposed to preclude the necessity of any attempt at a rational explanation of them. This is the method very largely adopted by Mr. Tylor, who in treating of the beliefs, customs, or superstitions of mankind, seems often to be quite satisfied that he has done all that is required when he has shown that a similar or identical belief or custom exists elsewhere...

...It is therefore at least a possible solution of the problem of animism, that the uniformity of belief is due in great part to the uniformity of the underlying facts; and a work on the development of religion and mythology should fairly grapple with the question, "How much of truth is at the bottom of the so-called superstitious beliefs of mankind?" But our author avoids all such inconvenient enquiries by means of his infallible nostrum. A fact or a belief occurring once only might require explanation, but if a second or an analogous fact or belief can be found elsewhere, the whole thing becomes clear. "Second sight," for instance, occurs among savages as well as in Scotland. Nothing more is required, according to Mr. Tylor, to prove that it has no existence at all, except as a mere "belief." Those curious phenomena which have been recently investigated by Mr. Crookes and other Fellows of the Royal Society, and which are declared to be realities by members of the French Institute, by American judges and senators, and by many medical and scientific men in this country, are treated in exactly the same way. Something closely related to them is recorded by classical writers, and occurs now among savage tribes. It is therefore clearly a case of "survival of old beliefs," and no further notice need be taken of it. Mr. Tylor even goes so far as to say that for his purpose it really matters little whether they are true or not. In order to arrive at true results as to the origin, nature, and development of men's beliefs, it matters not whether their foundation is fact or imagination! This belief of Mr. Tylor seems to the present writer as completely an hallucination as any to be found recorded in his volumes...

...These examples (and many others might be adduced) should teach us, that it is unsafe to deny facts which have been vouched for by men of reputation after careful enquiry, merely because they are opposed to our prepossessions. A work like the present, one-sided though it be, furnishes much evidence to support the views of those who maintain that a considerable portion of the so-called superstitions of mankind repose upon facts; that these facts have been almost always misunderstood and misinterpreted in past ages, as they are now by the ignorant and among savages; and that, until they are recognised as possible realities, and studied with thoroughness and devotion and a complete freedom from foregone conclusions, it is hopeless to expect a sound philosophy of religion or any true insight into the mysterious depths of our spiritual nature.22

    A reply from Tylor regarding what he viewed as a basic similarity between mesmerism and mediumistic trances prompted further caustic remarks by Wallace the next week:

The two classes of phenomena, therefore, differ fundamentally; and it is a most convincing proof of Mr. Tylor's very slender acquaintance with either of them, that he should even suggest their identity. The real connection between them is quite in an opposite direction. It is the mediums, not the assistants, who are "sensitives." They are almost always subject to the mesmeric influence, and they often exhibit all the characteristic phenomena of coma, trance, rigidity, and abnormal sense-power. Conversely, the most sensitive mesmeric patients are almost invariably mediums. The idea that it is necessary for me to inform "spiritualists" that I believe in the power of mesmerisers to make their patient believe what they please, and that this "information" might "bring about investigations leading to valuable results," is really amusing, considering that such investigations took place twenty years ago, and led to this important result--that almost all the most experienced mesmerists (Prof. Gregory, Dr. Elliotson, Dr. Reichenbach, and many others) became spiritualists!23

    Nor was the "great lesson" of his youth forgotten in Wallace's later years. In his essay "The Birds of Paradise in the Arabian Nights" in 1904 he remarks:

in the whole range of the Arabian Nights...all its natural or magical journeys by land or by sea, all its descriptions of countries and islands, and all its references to their natural products or the customs of their inhabitants, are in every case founded upon some more or less fragmentary or misunderstood observations of the facts of nature, distorted in proportion to the number of transmissions they have passed through, overlaid by a mass of magic and mystery due to the exuberance of the Eastern imagination, but always, when these various sources of error are fairly allowed for, showing, to the careful enquirer, the original substratum of truth.24

    Thus, even from stories "overlaid by a mass of magic" one could, with careful consideration, glean important truths.25

*                *                 *

    Given the turn of mind just described, it is less surprising a priori that not long after his return to England in 1862 Wallace began to look into the by-then well-established, but still-growing, spiritualism movement. Just how long after his return this effort began, however, has remained an unresolved question. The chronology of his adoption of spiritualism--whether Wallace was predisposed against uninformed disbelief or not--is important, because it bears directly on the state of his thoughts on human evolution during this critical period in his life, and especially on the rationale for certain wordings in his influential 1864 essay on the origin of human races, "The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced From the Theory of 'Natural Selection'."26 Malcolm Kottler refers the beginning of Wallace's interest to the year 1865, stating "...from 1862 to 1865 there is no evidence of any interest by Wallace in spiritualism."27 But it should be noted that Wallace himself specifically pointed to the year 1862 on at least one occasion: as part of his testimony in 1907 in the fraud trial of medium J. N. Maskelyne;28 he also rather vaguely refers to 1862 in a late interview:

When I returned from abroad I had read a good deal about Spiritualism, and, like most people, believed it to be a fraud and a delusion. This was in 1862. At that time I met a Mrs. Marshall, who was a celebrated medium in London, and after attending a number of her meetings, and examining the whole question with an open mind and with all the scientific application I could bring to bear upon it, I came to the conclusion that Spiritualism was genuine. However, I did not allow myself to be carried away, but I waited for three years and undertook a most rigorous examination of the whole subject, and was then convinced of the evidence and genuineness of Spiritualism.29

    A second interview, from 1904, includes the unsupported statement that "from the year 1863, from the very beginning of his scientific career... [he] has been the avowed champion of spiritualism."30 In both My Life31 and the 1875 sketch "Notes of Personal Evidence,"32 moreover, he notes that he was aware of writings on spiritualist phenomena even while traveling in the East; that is, before 1862.

    But "Notes of Personal Evidence" also contains the seemingly definitive statement "It was in the summer of 1865 that I first witnessed any of the phenomena of what is called Spiritualism, in the house of a friend."33 In the same work (p. 135) he mentions that the first of his several visits with the spiritualist medium Mrs. Marshall took place in September 1865; he also refers (p. 139) the initiation of his sittings with Miss Nichols, another medium, to November 1866. The date 1865 can also be inferred from testimony Wallace provided during the Henry Slade trial of late 1876: "I have been investigating this subject for eleven years,"34 and from a letter of his printed in the London Times of 4 January 1873: "I began the investigation about eight years ago..."35

    More interesting, perhaps, is a passage reported in an interview printed in The Bookman in January 1898:

When I returned from abroad in 1862 I read about spiritualism, and, like most people, thought it all imposture, delusion, idiocy. I met people, apparently intelligent and sane, who assured me they had experienced wonderful things. Mrs. Marshall was as that time a celebrated medium in London, and after close examination I became convinced that the phenomena associated with her were perfectly genuine. But it took three years' further investigation to satisfy me that they were produced by spirits.36

    These words introduce a new and important complication that needs to be addressed. If one takes them as accurately representing the matter, Wallace may well have begun attending seances (at least Mrs. Marshall's) in September 1865, but then taken another two or three years to fully adopt the spiritualist explanation for what he was witnessing. Otherwise put, it took him a while to accept the evidence of his senses--after first deciding to allow the evidence of his senses a sizable say in the matter. This turns out to be, as we shall see, a most reasonable interpretation of the entire related chronology of events, and it is somewhat surprising that no one has explored it to any extent thus far. The alternative view--that Wallace more or less suddenly began investigating seance phenomena at the same time he became a believer--seems, even in the absence of any other kind of information, unlikely a priori.

    In any case, we are left with a several year period (roughly, 1864 to 1869) during which Wallace was apparently exploring spiritualism-related concerns for uncertain reasons. It would appear that these reasons cannot be satisfactorily identified on the basis of Wallace's words alone, but fortunately additional kinds of evidence can be brought to bear. Malinchak (1987) has pointed out that it is logical to expect that Wallace's investigations could only have reached a consuming level after 1865, at which point his natural history collections would have been demanding less of his time. The actual record of his publication activities supports this theory; between May 1862 and December 1864 he produced thirteen works of systematic revision, but in 1865 only three, and in 1866, one. Still, he was not so busy during this period that he was unable to give attention to other subjects--between May 1862 and December 1864 he published at least thirteen additional writings, in 1865 four, and in 1866 six.

    A further significant clue bearing on this matter comes from a very obscure published source. Volume 1 No. 1 of The Spiritual News of 1 December 1870 contains a short note describing discussion that followed the presentation of Wallace's first public address on spiritualism, "An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky, and Others, against Miracles" (S174). The chairperson of the proceedings, a leading spiritualist writer and publisher named Benjamin Coleman, is quoted in this source as having stated on that occasion that "it was just five years ago" that he (Coleman) began the series of meetings which Wallace's address continued, and that at "the very first meeting held in that room in connection with Spiritualism, Mr. Wallace was present as a strong disbeliever." That meeting, at which the eminent lecturer Emma Hardinge spoke, took place on 6 November 1865.37 This supports the position that as of late 1865, Wallace was still, at the very least, uncommitted.

    It is additionally revealing to note that over the twelve month period July 1865 to June 1866 only one of Wallace's publications (S114) was of any real length (and this, a systematics work on pigeons published in October 1865, might very well have been written some number of months earlier). Further, in a letter to Darwin dated 2 October 1865 he writes: "...I am ashamed of my laziness. I have done nothing lately but write a paper on Pigeons for the Ibis..."38 During this period, therefore, he really did significantly curtail his writing activities, and, one suspects, was probably engaged in various "spiritualism investigation" efforts. The final confirmation of this surmise may be found in the pattern of Wallace's attendance of scientific meetings over the period 1862 through 1867. On returning to English soil in the Spring of 1862, Wallace was apparently eager to get himself involved in the various scientific discussions of the day. Within a month he was beginning to attend scientific meetings of professional societies, and over the next five years may have been present at as many as a hundred or more of these, sitting quietly and listening, or contributing papers and discussion. In all seven organizations were involved: the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ethnological Society of London, the Anthropological Society of London, the Entomological Society of London, and the Linnean Society of London. I have chronologically charted out Wallace's attendance at meetings over the 1862 through 1867 period, and made the following interesting discovery: between the middle of June 1865 and the middle of June 1866 Wallace attended only one meeting held by any of these seven bodies (on 4 July 1865 he attended a meeting of the Ethnological Society and commented on a paper on phrenology--see S113a). This, despite the fact that in both the preceding and following one year periods he attended and spoke at a minimum (that is, contributed a paper or discussion to the meeting) of eleven. Clearly, around May 1865 he had made a conscious decision to re-orient his priorities for the time being.39

    To summarize, although it remains quite possible that Wallace actually did begin giving at least some attention to spiritualism very soon after his return from the East, it was apparently three years or more before he really started taking the subject to heart. There can be no question, however, that by early or mid-1866 he had crossed the line in this respect. "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural," a lengthy (nearly monographic) essay on the subject, was composed no later than in the early to mid-summer of that year. The history of the execution of this work is unknown; in the Preface to the first edition of On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (S717) Wallace merely comments that it had been "written in 1866 for the pages of a Secularist periodical."40 It appears that, in contrast with the better known "A Defence of Modern Spiritualism" (S243)--composed at the request of editor John Morley of the Fortnightly Review after the leadership of the journal The Spiritualist had appealed to him to invite Wallace to discuss the subject41--the earlier study was prepared at Wallace's own initiation. Some considerable effort was required to determine that it first appeared in print between 11 August and 29 September--in installments--in a weekly called The English Leader. Shortly after this initial run was completed it was reprinted as a pamphlet for, as Wallace put it, "private circulation."42

    Kottler (1974) provides a long and excellent description, taken largely from My Life, of Wallace's attempts at this time to get his colleagues to investigate spiritualism on their own. "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" figured centrally in these efforts. Through it Wallace hoped that he could show that the subject was worthy of a scientific approach. The subtitle of the work is given as: "indicating the desirableness of an experimental enquiry by men of science into the alleged powers of clairvoyants and mediums." Indeed, the entire work, fifty-seven pages in length, may be read as an argument to this effect. Wallace starts by advancing that "the apparent miracle may be due to some yet undiscovered law of nature," then continues on to describe the various ways of looking at the phenomena involved as being "natural." Anecdotal evidence is then presented in quantity from prominent persons one might suppose to have been dependable sources. The work wraps up with discussions of the theory and moral teachings of spiritualism--ostensibly in an effort to show why it is worth taking the time to get involved with the subject at all.

    Considering the publication date of this work, and the other evidence presented earlier, Wallace's final decision to publicly promote spiritualism as a subject worthy of investigation may thus be narrowed down to the window of time encompassing the first several months of 1866. Still, it cannot be concluded from this chronology that by that time he had actually fully embraced the belief. Recalling the passage from the interview printed in The Bookman, given above, and the fact that through 1866 and 1867 he continued to attend seances, it is more likely that he waited another three years before finally accepting the validity of the phenomena. Apart from Kottler (1974), who alludes to this but does not develop the idea to any extent, investigators have generally ignored the possibility that Wallace might have gone through a two stage process in adopting spiritualism. It took him about a year (early or mid 1865 to early or mid 1866) to come to the decision that spiritualism was worthy of peer-involving close study; over the following two to three years he continued to aggressively investigate the subject (including looking into the physical evidence of spirits) until reaching a point (late 1868 or early 1869) of actually wholeheartedly embracing the belief himself.43 This common-sensical understanding of his chronology of interest is in fact sustained by the various pieces of evidence presented above, and is further supported by the fact that his first publically expressed dissension from Darwinian views on human nature took place at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in September 1868. This was followed several months later by the famous Quarterly Review article of April 1869 in which his divergent views were more dramatically made known.44

    We will have a good deal more to say on the matter of Wallace's conversion in Chapter Five, especially as events of 1865 through 1869 contributed to his decision to embrace spiritualism at that particular time.

*                *                *

    So far so good, but appreciation of the ultimately more important matter--the philosophical context of Wallace's conversion--has been dogged by a lack of attention to three important matters. These are: (1) the likely mis-assumption that his "investigation" of spiritualism consisted largely or only of "field work," as it were, in the realm of mediated seance; (2) a general lack of acquaintance with the moral tenets of spiritualism and the possible grounds for accepting them; and (3) the very real possibility that Wallace's model of natural selection had never been conceived to treat of man's spiritual development, and that his evolutionary synthesis was still incomplete at the time he was first fully exposed to pertinent spiritualist beliefs and phenomena.

    We cannot doubt, on the basis of dozens of separate references from himself and others, that Wallace's "investigation" of spiritualism in the 1860s and afterward included his attending numerous seances. Further, there is every reason to believe that through this experience he gained a first-hand acquaintance with the range of supposed spiritualistic "contact phenomena" (e.g., spirit materializations, apports, table-rappings, automatic slate-writing, etc.). Whether these experiences were "genuine" can of course be debated, but such discussion serves little purpose here: the question, rather, is what Wallace believed, and how such belief led him down the path he eventually followed. Especially to the point, why was he willing to "go public" with his support for investigating spiritualism before he had attained a convincing (to him, at least) level of control on his own experimentation?

    Much has been made in the literature of the history of the spiritualism movement of the gullibility of those who attended seances. Unquestionably, a good deal of fraud was going on, and probably Wallace's and other scientists' attempts to provide controlled experimental settings as often as not were not up to the level of sophistication of the deception. In Wallace's defense, however, it should be noted that a number of the early sittings he took part in were carried out in his own lodgings. Further, some of the people Wallace investigated were friends of the family and/or amateurs who did not charge fees.

    The whole of the debate regarding genuineness is in the last word largely immaterial: Wallace did in fact adopt the belief, the real question of import being why he did so, and why so many others (the vast majority of whom were unwilling to go to such extreme ends to examine the question) did not. Certainly it must be admitted that in one sense or another Wallace was predisposed to accepting--absolutely--what his eyes suggested was so. Charles Peirce once justly described him as believing "in all he believes down to the very soles of his boots."45 Peirce (whose opinion on this matter surely should be treated with some respect) also describes him as "a great scientific reasoner...where he differs most from received opinions his arguments are in general the most carefully considered and consequently the strongest."46 But in the same work Peirce also states: "yet his narrow training has rendered him an easy mark for whatsoever evil spirit there may be, personal or not, that beguiles men into sophistries, confusions, and rash assumptions."47

    It is all too easy, however, to leap to the facile conclusion that Wallace was simply, in Peirce's terms, "beguiled." As noted earlier, the common wisdom on this matter has it that Wallace was experiencing profound second thoughts on the validity of natural selection (for either, or both, scientific or moral reasons) and was looking for a way out of the dilemma. In my opinion this point of view represents a half-truth only. Instead, it appears to me that Wallace's acceptance of spiritualism turned neither on his biological studies nor on the decisiveness of his seance experiences, but ultimately on the long-term implications of his lifelong convictions on the nature of belief.

    In defending this assertion, I need first point out that Wallace's investigation of spiritualism extended to more than personal observation of the feats of mediums. It was not Wallace's habit to leap into a discussion without thoroughly preparing himself first; in fact, judging from statements gleaned from several sources,48 he invariably began the investigation of any new subject with an exhaustive literature review. In this instance it appears he again read everything he could "lay his hands on" as--or possibly or probably before--he undertook his intensive program of seance attendance.49 Consistent with this knowledge, Wallace's writings on spiritualism--including "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural," written rather early on with respect to his overall program of seance attendance--do in fact display the same commanding knowledge of the related literature that is evident in his treatments of other subjects.

    Through this literature review he would have learned not only of the phenomena associated with purported contacts with spirit beings, but of the relevance of these to the philosophical, historical and moral teachings of the movement as well. Research on Wallace's association with spiritualism has unfortunately usually emphasized the sensationalism attached to his seance experiences instead of getting to the heart of what it was that attracted him to the belief to begin with. I have already mentioned how Wallace's "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" contained argumentation designed to assure potential investigators of the subject that they were dealing with truly "natural" phenomena. This is by no means the only place in which he makes this point, however. Related arguments also permeate his other two most significant writings on spiritualism, "A Defence of Modern Spiritualism," and "An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky, and Others, Against Miracles." Further examples may be found in several other of his writings. For example, there is the following passage from the 1885 essay "Are the Phenomena of Spiritualism in Harmony With Science?":

Now, modern Spiritualism rests solely on the observation and comparison of facts in a domain of nature which has been hitherto little explored, and it is a contradiction in terms to say that such an investigation is opposed to science. Equally absurd is the allegation that some of the phenomena of Spiritualism "contradict the laws of nature," since there is no law of nature yet known to us but may be apparently contravened by the action of more recondite laws or forces. Spiritualists observe facts and record experiments, and then construct hypotheses which will best explain and co-ordinate the facts, and in so doing they are pursuing a truly scientific course.50

    This insistence on the "naturalness" of spiritualism forces us to confront the notion that it is not a religion--at least not in the usual sense of that term. Thus "The spiritualist, though he does not claim infallibility, believes he is dealing with facts; he insists that his faith is constructed to conform to the facts, as contrasted with a change of facts to conform to faith."51 This basis in what might be described as "psycho-naturalism" places spiritualism squarely within the realm of theosophy. Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines "theosophy" in its more specific sense as "the beliefs of a modern movement originating in the United States in 1875 and following chiefly Buddhist and Brahmanic theories especially of pantheistic evolution and reincarnation."52 Theosophy is actually not markedly in disagreement with materialist interpretations of evolution; in fact, it elucidates a process that both incorporates it, and extends beyond it.53

    Significantly, the view expressed in spiritualist (and other theosophical) writings is that the chain of natural causality extends continuously, and back and forth, between the psychic (i.e., aspatial) and physical (i.e., spatial) domains. The sensational manifestations of this continuity allegedly occurring during seances and analogous conditions are, it has usually been supposed, the only aspects of it whose causes might readily be distinguished from the ordinary "material" phenomena of nature. Wallace and other spiritualists argued that the evidence for at least some of the "miracles" that have allegedly occurred throughout human history is quite satisfactory, but that such events represent products of a natural (i.e., non-"miraculous"), continuing interaction with "spirit beings" rather than otherwise wholly inexplicable first causes. Miracles were thus assigned natural causes--if one could accept that causal continuity in this instance was maintained by yet poorly understood, but nevertheless real, forces.

    Wallace's (and many other investigators') interest in such contact phenomena was primarily that there appeared to be no other avenue through which the subject could be explored objectively. Most spiritualists undoubtedly adopted the belief on faith (i.e., that observable "spirit manifestations" indicated that the "spirit realm" actually existed) and on the strength of its moral teachings. The more strictly personal experiences some claimed to have had (involving, for example, Swedenborgian out-of-body travel), even if thought to have natural causes, did not seem to lend themselves to the methods of scientific investigation available at that time.

    This is not to argue, of course, that many believers in spiritualist doctrines are not pursuing additional agendas. To this day there are many who through guilt or innocent concern will do whatever they feel they must to alleviate personal pain--including, for example, attempts to contact deceased relatives--and such needs have often opened the gates for unscrupulous opportunists. Wallace himself has occasionally been marginalized as turning to spiritualism in an effort to bring closure of this sort: his younger brother Herbert had died while in the Amazon during a probably misguided effort to turn him into a professional natural history collector, and it has been supposed by some that Wallace's adoption of spiritualism was related to this painful incident in his life. I think this is a ridiculous inference. Apart from the fact that he never reports any such contact intentions in his writings (nor any results), the overall program of Wallace's life was not of such narrow dimension as to have left him prone to manipulation stemming from such an event, painful though it was to him. Wallace's agenda had to do with evolution, and any and all forces that might contribute to it--including spirits.

    Wallace's recognition of the principle of natural selection in 1858 forced the then thirty-five year old naturalist into the unanticipated role of celebrity. There is nothing in the Ternate essay (or his subsequent recollections of its writing54), however, to indicate he foresaw the degree and immediacy of natural selection's impact on the intellectual community. The main reason for this, I suggest, is that at that time he considered the concept only a partial solution to a more general set of problems he had been working on for about fifteen years. The remainder of the solution--as a continuation, not reversal, of thought--occurred to him only as he became familiar with the writings of spiritualism. It was almost certainly the moral, historical and philosophical themes of the belief and their relation to the subject of natural causation that really attracted him to the movement. In these themes he recognized an informal characterization of natural processes which operated in a manner transcending, yet complementing, natural selection. These views were acceptable to Wallace because they were consistent with his Rationalist approach to the assessment of evidence, his position on the meaning of continuity of cause and effect, and the generally "progressive" attitude he had maintained since adolescence.

    Wallace distilled the teachings of spiritualism in a number of his later writings. Excerpts from several of these follow for the sake of illustration and later reference:

...The universal teaching of modern spiritualism is that the world and the whole material universe exist for the purpose of developing spiritual beings--that death is simply a transition from material existence to the first grade of spirit-life--and that our happiness and the degree of our progress will be wholly dependent upon the use we have made of our faculties and opportunities here...55

...we are, all of us, in every act and thought of our lives, helping to build up a mental fabric which will be and constitute ourselves in the future life, even more completely than now. Just in proportion as we have developed our higher intellectual and moral nature, or starved it by disuse, shall we be well or ill fitted for the new life we shall enter on. The Spiritualist who...knows that, just in proportion as he indulges in passion, or selfishness, or the reckless pursuit of wealth, and neglects to cultivate his moral and intellectual nature, so does he inevitably prepare for himself misery in a world in which there are no physical wants to be provided for, no struggle to maintain mere existence, no sensual enjoyments except those directly associated with sympathy and affection, no occupations but those having for their object social, moral, and intellectual progress--is impelled towards a pure and moral life by motives far stronger than any which either philosophy or religion can supply...56

...our condition and happiness in the future life depends, by the action of strictly natural law, on our life and conduct here. There is no reward or punishment meted out to us by superior beings; but, just as surely as cleanliness and exercise and wholesome food produce health of body, so surely does a moral life here produce health and happiness in the spirit-world...57

...all the material imperfections of our globe, the wintry blasts and summer heats, the volcano, the whirlwind and the flood, the barren desert and the gloomy forest, have each served as stimuli to develop and strengthen man's intellectual nature; while the oppression and wrong, the ignorance and crime, the misery and pain, that always and everywhere pervade the world, have been the means of exercising and strengthening the higher sentiments of justice, mercy, charity, and love, which we all feel to be our best and noblest characteristics, and which it is hardly possible to conceive could have been developed by other means...58

...Not only is a healthy body necessary for a sound mind, but equally so for a fully-developed soul--a soul that is best fitted to commence its new era of development in the spirit world. Inasmuch as we have fully utilised and developed all our faculties--bodily, mental, and spiritual--and have done all in our power to aid others in a similar development, so have we prepared future well-being for ourselves and for them...59

    The preceding selections feature the following essential ideas: (1) the human being's full span of individual existence extends onward to a period following biological death; (2) the characteristics of conscious existence during this alleged later period are determined primarily by the level of intellectual and moral development attained during one's biological life experience; (3) this intellectual and moral development is a function of the degree of willful rejection of materialistic, self-centered goals and the adoption of an explorative, non-pre-judging, and socially-conscious attitude; and (4) there is, overall, a continuity of just cause and effect in nature which cannot for long be circumvented, and which complements individual action, sooner or later, with no more nor less than a commensurate reaction. Theme four would have been the one that most impressed Wallace initially. We shall return to this subject in a moment.

    The relevance of these four themes to Wallace's adoption of spiritualism can be better appreciated after examining words he set out some twenty years before being introduced to spiritualistic phenomena (indeed, before the beginning of "Modern Spiritualism"--in 1848--itself60). In late 1843, while employed as a surveyor for his older brother William, Wallace composed (and apparently delivered) a lecture entitled "The Advantages of Varied Knowledge." Portions of the essay are reproduced and discussed in his 1905 autobiography My Life. From this source61 the following significant passages may be noted:

[on gaining "a general acquaintance with history, biography, art, and science":] ...There is an intrinsic value to ourselves in these varied branches of knowledge, so much indescribable pleasure in their possession, so much do they add to the enjoyment of every moment of our existence, that it is impossible to estimate their value, and we would hardly accept boundless wealth, at the cost, if it were possible, of their irrecoverable loss. And if it is thus we feel as to our general store of mental acquirements, still more do we appreciate the value of any particular branch of study we may ardently pursue... here we see the advantage possessed by him whose studies have been in various directions, and who at different times has had many different pursuits, for whatever may happen, he will always find something in his surroundings to interest and instruct him...

[on gaining "a knowledge of the elementary laws of physical science":] ...He who has extended his inquiries into the varied phenomena of nature learns to despise no fact, however small, and to consider the most apparently insignificant and common occurrences as much in need of explanation as those of a grander and more imposing character. He sees in every dewdrop trembling on the grass causes at work analogous to those which have produced the spherical figure of the earth and planets; and in the beautiful forms of crystallization on his window-panes on a frosty morning he recognizes the action of laws which may also have a part in the production of the similar forms of planets and of many of the lower animal types. [my italics] Thus the simplest facts of everyday life have to him an inner meaning, and he sees that they depend upon the same general laws as those that are at work in the grandest phenomena of nature...

...It would be a curious and interesting thing to have a series of portraits taken of a person each successive year. These would show the gradual changes from childhood to old age in a very striking manner; and...might elucidate the problem of how far the mind reacts upon the countenance. We should see the effects of pain or pleasure, of idleness or activity, of dissipation or study, and thus watch the action of the various passions of the mind in modifying the form of the body, and particularly the expression of the features... [my italics]

...Can we believe that we are fulfilling the purpose of our existence while so many of the wonders and beauties of the creation remain unnoticed around us? [my italics] While so much of the mystery which man has been able to penetrate, however imperfectly, is still all dark to us? While so many of the laws which govern the universe and which influence our lives are, by us, unknown and uncared for? And this not because we want the power, but the will, to acquaint ourselves with them. Can we think it right that, with the key to so much that we ought to know, and that we should be the better for knowing, in our possession, we seek not to open the door, but allow this great store of mental wealth to lie unused, producing no return to us, while our highest powers and capacities rust for want of use?...62

...can any reflecting mind have a doubt that, by improving to the utmost the nobler faculties of our nature in this world, we shall be the better fitted to enter upon and enjoy whatever new state of being the future may have in store for us?

    These passages reflect the views of the then twenty year old Wallace on the reasons for--and advantages of--pursuing an ongoing program of many-directioned self-education and rational, moral and intellectual exploration. Nor are these the only such remarks expressed by Wallace at this time. In the essay "An Essay, On the Best Method of Conducting the Kington Mechanic's Institution,"63 probably composed even earlier (about 1841) but re-discovered only in the late twentieth century, Wallace advises that

...it is the society's duty, both to supply the materials for diffusion of scientific and historical information,--and by subsequent proceedings, which we shall point out, endeavour to create or increase a taste for seeking it...64

...Periodical publications, even the best and most scientific, cannot be expected to do more than advert to general principles, and describe improvements and extensions of science as they occur--but they cannot treat fully upon any one subject, much less on the whole range of human knowledge. By these alone, therefore, curiosity is excited, but not satisfied, which state of feeling, if long continued, generally leads to indifference or disgust. A library of good and valuable books will obviate this, by giving each an opportunity of studying whatever he may consider most interesting or useful...65

...As the means of inciting to the acquirement of knowledge on all subjects, of creating a wish for information on what have been hitherto considered as abstruse branches of knowledge, but which are frequently among the most interesting and generally useful,--and of inspiring a desire for diving deeper into its inexhaustible stores not yet exposed to the scrutinizing gaze of man, such an institution as this, conducted in the way we have described, will be invaluable...66

    The messages in these two early essays and the spiritualism-related excerpts presented earlier have much in common with respect to the way they portray the ideal "life strategy;" the only real difference, in fact, lies in spiritualism's specific referral to an afterlife ("Advantages..." only goes so far as to consider "whatever new state of being the future may have in store for us"). In both sets of writings, moreover, appear the essence of his belief in the connection between justice and natural causality, and it is this connection that represents the cornerstone of his entire life's work.

    Wallace's scientific philosophy rests on two basic ideas regarding the relation of cause to effect. The first is that the occurrence of action--any action--unaccompanied by equal and commensurate reaction is unthinkable. The doctrine of first causes therefore seemed irrational to him: it accepted the notion of effect without relatable, comprehendable cause. It is not clear exactly when this element of Wallace's thinking first established itself, but his reading of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology in the mid 1840s possibly represented the eventual deciding influence in the context of natural science. Lyell's uniformitarian geological views provided Wallace with an understanding of cause-and-effect that appealed only to continuously-acting and, importantly, observable and verifiable, forces. It is likely, however, that the roots of this kind of thinking in Wallace's mind extend much further back yet--perhaps to the period of his contact with a London-based Owenite group in 1837, as we shall discuss shortly.

    Fully as central to Wallace's cosmology as the "equal and commensurate reaction" concept, however, were the implications stemming from his idea that "just" effect emanated from cause. Supposing that only a limited range of "equal and commensurate" reactions could derive from any given cause at any given time, and accepting that the consequences of any given cause were more or less restricted to some predominantly closed and limited domain (including nature in general), it seemed reasonable to believe that such consequences would eventually feed back on the agent of causation. Wallace considered such feedback inevitable--and, as a truism, "just"--whether the reinforcement involved was perceived as being of an immediately positive, constructive, nature or not.

    Wallace's utterly uniformitarian position on the meaning of "just" reaction provided Wallace with a neutral starting point for his ideas on all subjects. Consider, for example, his views on morality. Those who could not see or understand the negative implications of their own actions were merely amoral, and even the bad implications themselves had the extenuating positive effect of providing instruction for any outside party receptive enough to benefit from such consideration.67 The relative morality of behaviors could thus be assessed, with adoption or rejection following as a function of considered appraisal. At the same time, however--and most importantly--one should not think that new and higher moral conceptions were constantly emanating from human beings de novo; this contradicted his ideas on continuity of cause and effect. Instead, such notions "come to us--we hardly know how or whence, and once they have got possession of us we can not reject or change them at will;"68 i.e., they originate beyond the immediate domain of human consciousness, and are merely "applied" (or better yet, "redirected") through human action.

    Wallace's position on the role of "just reaction" in progressive society was given greater focus when he read Herbert Spencer's Social Statics in 1853. In My Life he writes:

Soon after I returned from the Amazon (about 1853), I read Herbert Spencer's "Social Statics," a work for which I had a great admiration, and which seemed to me so important in relation to political and social reform... the whole work, and more especially the chapter on "The Right to the Use of the Earth," made a permanent impression on me.69

    Clearly, Wallace immediately latched onto Spencer's "social justice" concept. Spencer argued that each individual should receive no more nor less--especially no more--than was his or her just due, a position Wallace would fully endorse to the end of his days. There is little difficulty understanding how this fit into the "Advantages..." argument: social evolution had to be a progressive function of the most intelligently and morally conceived actions (i.e., causes). And, in fact, Wallace would later use such ideas as the foundation for his views on land reform. As part of his annual Presidential address to the Land Nationalisation Society in 1892 he wrote:

soon after I returned from my travels in the Amazon Valley, I read his book on Social Statics, and from it first derived the conception of the radical injustice of private property in land. His irresistible logic convinced me once for all, and I have never since had the slightest doubt upon the subject. He taught me, that "to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or their personal liberties"; and when he added, that however difficult it might be to find a practical means of restoring the land to the people yet "Justice sternly commands it to be done," a seed was sown in my mind which long afterwards developed into that principle of the separation of the inherent value of land from the improvements effected in or upon it, which was the foundation of the proposals in my article "How to Nationalise the Land," and this article led to my association with Mr. Swinton, Dr. Clark, and other friends in the formation of our Society.70

    Actually, the concept of "just reaction" is not at its core a strictly morality-based construct. Although one might apply it logically in many directions within the social sphere to defend the rights of individuals--and Wallace did--it more generally reduces to a statement about uniformitarian forms of causation: the notion that event C can always be explained on the basis of the combination of identifiable causes A and B interacting in some particular way. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Wallace's adoption of the principle led him to parallel positions within the natural sciences. One of the most significant of these from a conceptual standpoint is how he dealt with instinct.

    Instinct represented a particularly difficult challenge for Wallace's point of view. Instinctive reactions come close to appearing as though they had no immediate cause--that is to say, are in some sense first causes. Wallace's approach to the matter is at its core a defensive one: he usually attempts to argue that particular instincts represent learned behaviors, and may thus be discounted as instinctual. Consider the following excerpts:

...It has been generally the custom of writers on natural history to take the habits and instincts of animals as the fixed point, and to consider their structure and organization as specially adapted to be in accordance with them. But this seems quite an arbitrary assumption, and has the bad effect of stifling inquiry into those peculiarities which are generally classed as "instincts" and considered as incomprehensible, but which a little consideration of the structure of the species in question, and the peculiar physical conditions by which it is surrounded, would show to be the inevitable and logical result of such structure and conditions. I am decidedly of the opinion that in very many instances we can trace such a necessary connexion, especially among birds, and often with more complete success than in the case which I have here attempted to explain. For a perfect solution of the problem we must, however, have recourse to Mr. Darwin's principle of "natural selection," and need not then despair of arriving as a complete and true"theory of instinct..."71

...A fair consideration of all these facts will, I think, fully support the statement with which I commenced this article, and show that the mental faculties exhibited by birds in the construction of their nests are the same in kind as those manifested by mankind in the formation of their dwellings. These are, essentially, imitation, and a slow and partial adaptation to new conditions. To compare the work of birds with the highest manifestations of human art and science is totally beside the question. I do not maintain that birds are gifted with reasoning faculties at all approaching in variety and extent to those of man. I simply hold that the phenomena presented by their mode of building their nests, when fairly compared with those exhibited by the great mass of mankind in building their houses, indicate no essential difference in the kind or nature of the mental faculties employed. If instinct means anything, it means the capacity to perform some complex act without teaching or experience. It implies innate ideas of a very definite kind, and, if established, would overthrow Mr. Mill's sensationalism and all the modern philosophy of experience. That the existence of true instinct may be established in other ways is not improbable, but in the particular case of birds' nests, which is usually considered one of its strongholds, I cannot find a particle of evidence to show the existence of anything beyond those lower reasoning powers which animals are universally admitted to possess...72

...It appears to me that instinct should be defined as--"the performance by an animal of complex acts, absolutely without instruction or previously-acquired knowledge." Thus, acts are said to be performed by birds in building their nests, by bees in constructing their cells, and by many insects in providing for the future wants of themselves or their progeny, without ever having seen such acts performed by others, and without any knowledge of why they perform them themselves. This is expressed by the very common term "blind instinct." But we have here a number of assertions of matters of fact, which, strange to say, have never been proved to be facts at all. They are thought to be so self-evident that they may be taken for granted. No one has ever yet obtained the eggs of some bird which builds an elaborate nest, hatched these eggs by steam or under a quite distinct parent, placed them afterwards in an extensive aviary or covered garden, where the situation and the materials of a nest similar to that of the parent birds may be found, and then seen what kind of nest these birds would build. If under these rigorous conditions they choose the same materials, the same situation, and construct the nest in the same way and as perfectly as their parents did, instinct would be proved in their case; now it is only assumed, and assumed, as I shall show further on, without any sufficient reason. So, no one has ever carefully taken the pupæ of a hive of bees out of the comb, removed them from the presence of other bees, and loosed them in a large conservatory with plenty of flowers and food, and observed what kind of cells they would construct. But till this is done, no one can say that bees build without instruction, no one can say that with every new swarm there are no bees older than those of the same year, who may be the teachers in forming the new comb. Now, in a scientific inquiry, a point which can be proved should not be assumed, and a totally unknown power should not be brought in to explain facts, when known powers may be sufficient. For both these reasons I decline to accept the theory of instinct in any case where all other possible modes of explanation have not been exhausted...73

...In the chapter on the "instinct to use clothing," we have another example of our author's want of rigid impartiality. He endeavours to show that some animals use clothing, and that some men do not, and that it is, therefore, no distinctive character of man. His examples of dressed animals are hermit crabs and the larvæ of Phryganea and Tinea; and although he adduces instances of unclothed men, he has in no way accounted for that sense of shame which he maintains is not innate, and which yet has, even more than the necessity for warmth, led to the practice of clothing among so many peoples...74

...Mr. Morgan discusses at considerable length the question of whether the effects of use and disuse are hereditary. He admits the very imperfect character of the evidence in favour of the proposition that they are so, and he adduces, as in his opinion one of the best cases, "the instinctive avoidance" of nauseous and stinging insects by most birds. As neither the nauseous taste nor the stings are usually fatal, the avoidance of them is not of eliminating value, and cannot, therefore, have been produced by natural selection. Hence he thinks the inheritance of individual experience probable. But the "instinctive avoidance" is here assumed, whereas there is now good reason to believe that in the case of nauseous insects, and probably also of stinging insects, the avoidance is the result of individual experience or observation. Some of the most curious phenomena of mimicry can only be explained on this hypothesis...75

    These examples, from a more than thirty year period (1860-1892), by no means exhaust Wallace's various considerations of the subject of instinct. As is especially clear from the first of the five, Wallace felt that biological adaptation was little more than the "just" result of the interplay of ambient biological and environmental conditions; that is, a logical outcome of conceivable forces. The weak or maladapted individual was less successful in passing on its traits; the broadly adapted population tended to persist at the expense of maladapted ones. These "just results," however, were no more than the logical implications of confining ecological realities. Biological evolution, on the other hand, occurred as: (1) selection forces acted on such pre-existing variation (i.e., the existing "biological domain") and (2) variation itself was introduced as a function of biological and extra-biological forces of whose causes and actions we were still largely ignorant. We will have more to say on this subject in the following chapters.

*                *                *

    The general point I wish to make here is that as of 1853 (or even 1843) the only feature distinguishing Wallace's general philosophy of life from that later endorsed by spiritualists was the latter's assignment of their rationale for moral behavior to a specific final cause--the "carrot" of continuing personal evolution in the "afterlife." We need address a basic question in this connection: Did Wallace in fact maintain fundamentally the same philosophical perspective between 1843 and the date of his adoption of spiritualism (about 1866)?

    In view of Wallace's subsequent activities, it can hardly be doubted that over the next two decades he followed the advice offered in his 1841 and 1843 essays to a tee. Certainly his experiments with mesmerism shortly thereafter attest to his inquisitiveness, as do his later adoption of an evolutionary perspective (as established by McKinney 1966 & 1969) and explorations and natural history and ethnological investigations in the tropics. In the last context his appreciations of tropical peoples are particularly refreshing: he avoided prejudgment, especially the trap of using the state of so-called "civilized Europe" as a basis for assessing degree of moral advance in other cultures.76

    The sentiment that a many-directioned (and, when specifically referred to human beings, intelligently and morally-directed) experience is fundamentally valuable to the individual actually does consistently surface in Wallace's writings over the next twenty years, and in a great variety of contexts. Take, for example, the implied basis for his assessment of the relative level of civilization attained by various native peoples:

The Dyaks are more lively, more talkative, and less diffident than the American [Indians], and therefore pleasanter companions. They have more amusements and are more social, while at the same time they have less variety of weapons, and are less skilful in their methods of obtaining game and fish. Both these circumstances will lead us to place them one degree higher in the scale of civilization... Dyak youths...have their social games, their trials of strength and skill... They possess...numerous puzzles and tricks with which they amuse themselves... These apparently trifling matters are yet of some importance, in arriving at a true estimation of their social state. They show that these people have passed beyond that first stage of savage life in which the struggle for existence absorbs their whole faculties, in which every thought and every idea is connected with war or hunting or the provision for their immediate necessities. It shows too an advanced capability of civilization, an aptitude to enjoy other than mere sensual pleasures, which, properly taken advantage of, may be of great use in an attempt to raise their social and mental condition.77

    Or the following, on the "robustness" of natural forms of selection:

In the wild animal, on the contrary [i.e., as contrasted with domesticated forms], all its faculties and powers being brought into full action for the necessities of existence, any increase [of power or capacity in an organ or sense] becomes immediately available, is strengthened by exercise, and must even slightly modify the food, the habits, and the whole economy of the race. It creates as it were a new animal, one of superior powers, and which will necessarily increase in numbers and outlive those inferior to it... Domestic animals are abnormal, artificial; they are subject to varieties which never occur and never can occur in a state of nature: their very existence depends altogether on human care; so far are many of them removed from that just proportion of faculties, that true balance of organization, by means of which alone an animal left to its own resources can preserve and continue its race.78

    The general idea that many-directioned efforts are likely to yield the most productive long-term results is evident in the following selections--extending across the whole of Wallace's career--as well:

...It is only at a later period that we observe the tree to be suffering, and in the parts most affected we discover the Scolyti to have been at work, and erroneously impute the mischief to them... It now becomes a question whether the supposed criminals are not really our benefactors,--teaching us, by their presence, that there is something wrong, before we could otherwise perceive it. We may then be induced to inquire into the state of the soil or of the atmosphere, and be led to examine what diseases or what enemies may be at work on the roots or on the foliage of our trees as the points most likely for decay and death to originate in...79

...I am convinced that no man can be a good ethnologist who does not travel, and not travel merely, but reside, as I do, months and years with each race, becoming well acquainted with their average physiognomy and their character, so as to be able to detect cross-breeds, which totally mislead the hasty traveller, who thinks they are transitions!...80

...Your ingenious arguments to persuade me to come home are quite unconvincing. I have much to do before I can return with satisfaction of mind; were I to leave now I should be ever regretful and unhappy. That alone is an all-sufficient reason. I feel that my work is here as well as my pleasure; and why should I not follow out my vocation? ...I am engaged in a...study...of the relations of animals to space and time, or, in other words, their geographical and geological distribution and its causes. I have set myself to work out this problem in the Indo-Australian Archipelago, and I must visit and explore the largest number of islands possible, and collect materials from the greatest number of localities, in order to arrive at any definite results... I could never now give my whole mind to any work apart from the study of which I have devoted my life.81 So far from being angry at being called an enthusiast (as you seem to suppose), it is my pride and glory to be worthy to be so called. Who ever did anything good or great who was not an enthusiast? ...It strikes me that the power or capability of a man in getting rich is in an inverse proportion to his reflective powers and in direct proportion to his impudence...82

...Nature seems to have taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures [birds of paradise], may not lose value by being too easily obtained. First we find an open, harbourless, inhospitable coast, exposed to the full swell of the Pacific Ocean; next, a rugged and mountainous country, covered with dense forests, offering in its swamps and precipices and serrated ridges an almost impassable barrier to the central regions; and lastly, a race of the most savage and ruthless character, in the very lowest stage of civilization. In such a country and among such a people ...they display that exquisite beauty and that marvellous development of plumage, calculated to excite admiration and astonishment among the most civilized and most intellectual races of man...83

...Civilisation has ever accompanied migration and conquest--the conflict of opinion, of religion, or of race. In proportion to the diversity of these mingling streams, have nations progressed in literature, the arts, and in science; while, on the other hand, when a people have been long isolated from surrounding races, and prevented from acquiring those new ideas which contact with them would induce, all progress has been arrested, and generation has succeeded generation with almost the same uniformity of habits and monotony of ideas as obtains in the animal world...84

...There are speculations which are framed to support a foregone conclusion, and which ignore all but the one class of facts which may be deemed favourable. Such are altogether valueless, and deserve all the neglect that they can receive. But when the contriver of a hypothesis has no preconceived opinions to support, when he weighs and sets against each other all the conflicting facts and arguments which bear upon the question, and when his sole object is to discover what supposition will harmonise the greatest number of facts and contradict the fewest, then his speculations deserve some consideration, until they can be overthrown by positive evidence, or until some other hypothesis can be framed which shall, on similar grounds, be better worthy of acceptance...85

...The Conirostres and Dentirostres...are professedly founded on one character only, and not on general structure; and it is therefore not to be wondered at, that in their attempts to pay some little regard to natural affinities, while forcing the genera and families into these divisions, no two naturalists should be able to arrive at the same results...86

...my object has been to show the important bearing of researches into the natural history of every part of the world upon the study of its past history. An accurate knowledge of any group of birds or of insects, and of their geographical distribution, may assist us to map out the islands and continents of a former epoch; the amount of difference that exists between animals of adjacent districts being closely dependent upon preceding geological changes. By the collection of such minute facts alone can we hope to fill up a great gap in the past history of the earth as revealed by geology...87

...It has always seemed to me that the adoption of the minimum legal age which qualifies a person to hold property and to occupy the simplest public offices, as sufficient also to qualify for choosing the national representatives or for being chosen as a legislator, is a very great political blunder. With us, most men of twenty-one have only just finished, and many have not yet finished, their education, whether intellectual or industrial; while few persons at that age have given any serious thought to politics, have made any study of the duties and rights of citizens, or have had any real experience to guide them in forming an independent judgment on the various political and social questions of the day. In this respect, most savage and barbarous nations set us a good example: with them, it is the elders who rule; and the very name of chief is often synonymous with "old man." The most suitable age to be fixed as that of political maturity should certainly not be below thirty, while I myself consider forty to be preferable...88

...It rests on the principle that, in an industrial community, those only are fit to be rulers who have for many years formed integral parts of it, who have passed through its various grades as workers or overseers, and who have thus acquired an intimate practical acquaintance with its needs, its capacities, and its possibilities of improvement. Persons who had themselves enjoyed the advantages of the system, and who had suffered from whatever injudicious restrictions or want of organisation had prevailed, and who had nearly reached the age of retirement from the more laborious work, would be free from petty jealousies of their fellow workers, and would have no objects to aim at except the continued success of the colony and the happiness of all its inmates. On this principle those who had worked in the colony for at least fifteen or twenty years, and who had reached some grade above that of simple workmen, should form the governing body, appointing the superintendents of the various departments, and making such general regulations as were needed to ensure the prosperity of the community and the happiness of all its members...89

...It seems, however, to be a very irrational conclusion that because a person is legally responsible for his actions at this age he is also capable of forming a sound judgment on a matter of such importance and difficulty as choosing the individuals best fitted to form the legislature of a powerful and highly civilised nation. To perform such a duty the voter should, in the absence of all real knowledge of the actual laws and constitution of his country, at least have acquired some general acquaintance with men and things, and some experience of life in its social, municipal, and national aspects. But with most men and women of this age, and usually between the ages of twenty and thirty, such knowledge or experience has not been acquired. The great majority have barely completed their intellectual or technical education, or that manual training which gives them the power of earning the full wage in their respective callings. Many are wholly occupied in maintaining the struggle for life; others devote their leisure to various forms of sport; while even those who are of a more reflective nature, and take every opportunity afforded them for reading or for the pursuit of some branch of science, are not thereby fitted to form an independent judgment on the various difficult and controversial questions which divide political parties. Nothing can give this but experience, slowly and painfully gained through observation of, and contact with, his fellow-men in the varied relations of life--in the capacity of buyer and seller, of wage-earner or wage-payer, as juryman or witness, parish-councillor, guardian, or any other capacity that brings him into active relations with his fellows and enables him to form an opinion as to their intellectual capacity or moral character. It may be safely stated that every five years of added experience of this kind renders a man better fitted than before to have a voice in choosing the legislative body, into whose hands are committed the great issues of war or peace, of misery or well-being, of oppression or of justice, for the whole nation. It therefore seems to me to be one of the greatest of political errors to entrust this important duty to the crude intelligence, the scanty experience, and the usually prejudiced judgment of that portion of the citizens who have only just emerged from a state of legal disability and educational pupilage. The various considerations here set forth lead me to the conclusion that in order to obtain the best judgment of the nation in the choice of representatives, those only should vote who have attained the age of forty years. This, of course, is so great a departure from what has hitherto been the rule that it is not at all likely to be adopted, but it seems to me that it expresses something like the ideal to be aimed at...90

    Finally, there is the following passage from a letter of 15 March 186191 to Wallace's brother-in-law, Thomas Sims:

...You intimate that the happiness to be enjoyed in a future state will depend upon, and be a reward for, our belief in certain doctrines which you believe to constitute the essence of true religion. You must think, therefore, that belief is voluntary and also that it is meritorious. But I think that a little consideration will show you that belief is quite independent of our will, and our common expressions show it. We say, "I wish I could believe him innocent, but the evidence is too clear;" or, "Whatever people may say, I can never believe he can do such a mean action." Now, suppose in any similar case the evidence on both sides leads you to a certain belief or disbelief, and then a reward is offered you for changing your opinion. Can you really change your opinion and belief, for the hope of reward or the fear of punishment? Will you not say, "As the matter stands I can't change my belief. You must give me proofs that I am wrong or show that the evidence I have heard is false, and then I may change my belief'?" It may be that you do get more and do change your belief. But this change is not voluntary on your part. It depends upon the force of evidence upon your individual mind, and the evidence remaining the same and your mental faculties remaining unimpaired--you cannot believe otherwise any more than you can fly.

Belief, then is not voluntary. How, then, can it be meritorious? When a jury try a case, all hear the same evidence, but nine say "Guilty" and three "Not guilty," according to the honest belief of each. Are either of these more worthy of reward on that account than the others? Certainly you will say No! But suppose beforehand they all know or suspect that those who say "Not guilty" will be punished and the rest rewarded: what is likely to be the result? Why, perhaps six will say "Guilty" honestly believing it, and glad they can with a clear conscience escape punishment; three will say "Not guilty" boldly and rather bear the punishment than be false or dishonest; the other three, fearful of being convinced against their will, will carefully stop their ears while the witnesses for the defence are being examined, and delude themselves with the idea they give an honest verdict because they have heard only one side of the evidence. If any out of the dozen deserve punishment, you surely agree with me it is these. Belief or disbelief is therefore not meritorious, and when founded on an unfair balance of evidence is blameable.

Now to apply the principles in my own case. In my early youth I heard, as ninety-nine-hundredths of the world do, only the evidence on one side, and became impressed with a veneration for religion which has left some traces even to this day. I have since heard and read much on both sides, and pondered much upon the matter in all its bearings. ...I think I have fairly heard and fairly weighed the evidence on both sides, and I remain an utter disbeliever in almost all that you consider the most sacred truths. I will pass over as utterly contemptible the oft-repeated accusation that sceptics shut out evidence because they will not be governed by the morality of Christianity. You I know will not believe that in my case, and I know its falsehood as a general rule. I only ask, Do you think I can change the self-formed convictions of twenty-five years, and could you think such a change would have anything in it to merit reward from justice? I am thankful I can see much to admire in all religions. To the mass of mankind religion of some kind is a necessity. But whether there be a God and whatever be His nature; whether we have an immortal soul or not, or whatever may be our state after death, I can have no fear of having to suffer for the study of nature and the search for truth, or believe that those will be better off in a future state who have lived in the belief of doctrines inculcated from childhood, and which are to them rather a matter of blind faith than intelligent conviction.

    The Sims letter is one of the most important of all of Wallace's writings, public or private. Not only does it all but prove that as of 1861--that is, three years after his formulation of natural selection--Wallace was experiencing no pangs of guilt related to his rejection of religious views, but it also succinctly roots his reasons for such rejection in his convictions regarding the value of belief. Belief had no intrinsic merit; only a continuing unbiased examination of the facts pertaining to any given question resulted in values that were progress-serving. Superficial or prejudging evaluations generated actions likely to be inconsistent with the greater reality, and thus deserving of rejection by that reality.

    "Progress" thus occurred only as individual human beings combined a willingness to re-evaluate positions with a receptivity to constructive change. Considering (as discussed in the passage assigned to note 84), Wallace extended this understanding to account for the way society in general "progressed." His approach to classification (per note 86), moreover, suggests he had concluded that success within the biological world was, in like fashion, a function of a well-rounded adaptation to multiple influences. In the biological context, of course, the analog to such "continual re-evaluation of position" was achieved rotely, forced by ambient ecological/environmental circumstances; nonetheless, those individual organisms (or populations) that were capable of responding productively to the widest range of relevant constraints were the ones that generally prevailed in the struggle for existence.92 Thus, whether one was considering the evolution of organisms or social systems, it was possible to view progress as being facilitated by actions deriving from a wide-ranging experience (again, whether "experience" was achieved deliberately, through a coupling of conscious effort and receptivity, or probabilistically, in response to complex interactions of impinging biological forces; for example, at the population level).93

    The extent to which Wallace had at an early age digested the role of belief in effecting progress is evidenced by his incorporation of the subject into the very first published writing of his of which we know--the essay on the organization of mechanics' institutions composed about 1841 (and published in 1845):

The correction of false ideas and incorrect opinions on well-known principles of science are not among the least benefits that would accrue from such a course as we have recommended. How many having imbibed a false opinion, and having embraced it for a time, as a certain and undoubted fact, are, on seeing it contradicted without a clear explanation, more apt to doubt the truth of the principle they have misunderstood, than willing to acknowledge that they have been so long in error. As the means of inciting to the acquirement of knowledge on all subjects, of creating a wish for information on what have been hitherto considered as abstruse branches of knowledge, but which are frequently among the most interesting and generally useful,--and of inspiring a desire for diving deeper into its inexhaustible stores not yet exposed to the scrutinizing gaze of man, such an institution as this, conducted in the way we have described, will be invaluable.94

    Wallace's youthful conclusions regarding the interrelationship of justice, merit and belief are critical to understanding the directions his thinking took in 1858 and afterward. Apparently, he had been cogitating on such matters from a very early age; in My Life95 he notes that he first came into contact with the arguments of skeptics in his early teens. At that time he read Thomas Paine's Age of Reason and the works of Robert Owen and his son Robert Dale Owen, and began considering the question of the origin of evil. An especially important influence, apparently, was the message of a tract called Consistency, penned by Robert Dale Owen. Wallace found the younger Owen's criticism of the doctrine of eternal punishment fully convincing, reporting that he "thoroughly agreed with Mr. Dale Owen's conclusion, that the orthodox religion of the day was degrading and hideous, and that the only true and wholly beneficial religion was that which inculcated the service of humanity, and whose only dogma was the brotherhood of man."96

    It should come as no surprise that Wallace put the "no merit to uninformed belief" argument to direct use on a number of later occasions. Some examples follow:

...we maintain that any temporary influence whatever, which would induce a man to vote differently from what he would have done by his own unbiassed judgment, is bad--that a man has a perfect right to uphold the interests of his class, and that it is, on the whole, better for the community that he should do so. For, if the voter is sufficiently instructed, honest, and far-seeing, he will be convinced that nothing that is disadvantageous to the community as a whole can be really and permanently beneficial to his class or party; while, if he is less advanced in social and political knowledge, he will solve the problem the other way, and be fully satisfied that in advancing the interests of his class he is also benefiting the community at large. In neither case, is it at all likely, or indeed desirable, that the temporary and personal influence of others' opinions at the time of an election, should cause him to vote contrary to the convictions he has deliberately arrived at, under the continued action of those same influences, and which convictions are the full expression of his political knowledge and honesty at the time?...97

...We next find the broad statement that the idea of duty is not universal among men, but no evidence is offered, except that no one act is held to be a duty universally, or the contrary. But this is to mis-apprehend the real question, which is rather, whether there is any race of men among whom nothing is considered a duty. Is there any race with whom there are not certain acts which the majority do, or refrain from doing, independently of any fear of punishment, but because they believe them to be right or wrong? And is there, on the other hand, any race of animals whose actions are influenced in the same way?...98

...The belief of a future life has been bound up with, and perhaps rested upon, the belief in the existence and occasional appearance on earth of spiritual beings, and the spirits of the dead, and of such popular phenomena as ghosts, visions, warnings, premonitions, etc. Beliefs of this nature prevailed almost universally up to about two centuries ago, when they came to a comparatively sudden end, and have since been treated by the educated in general as fables and superstitions, and this view has become so general and so ingrained that many people will not allow that the question is even open to discussion at all, even to admit the possibility of such phenomena as actual facts, but consider it the mark of ignorance and degrading superstition. This almost sudden revulsion of feeling (for it is a mere feeling, not belief founded on knowledge and enquiry) may be, I think, clearly traced to the current action of two powerful causes: one of them the witchcraft mania of the middle ages, the other the rise of physical science...99

...They mean, as clearly as words can convey meaning, that each one's work during the week, that work which is the duty of our lives, and by which we maintain ourselves, is to cease on the Sabbath; and that the law is especially to apply to all servants of every kind, and to all beasts of burthen, which are included under the generic term 'cattle.' This being the commandment, how is it obeyed by those who uphold the sanctity of the law; by those who are continually urging others to keep the Sabbath; by those who take every opportunity of putting in force human laws against Sabbath-breakers? Are not manservants and maidservants all at work on Sunday? Are not servants and horses employed by the thousand to take people to church on Sunday? Many persons, if asked why they go to church or chapel, will say that it is to save their souls or to please God, and yet they seem to think that they may break what they believe is God's own commandment week after week, without any chance of displeasing Him or of losing the souls they are so anxious to save. What makes the matter worse is that, while they are thus disobeying the scriptural commandment in the most flagrant manner, they are salving their consciences by abstaining, and trying to force others to abstain, from things which are not forbidden by the commandment, and which are not in any way opposed to its spirit...100

...Religious belief would...furnish an adequate incentive to morality, if it were so firmly held and fully realised as to be constantly present to the mind in all its dread reality. But, as a matter of fact, it produces little effect of the kind, and we must impute this, not to any shadow of doubt as to the reality of future rewards and punishments, but rather to the undue importance attached to belief, to prayer, to church-going, and to repentance, which are often held to be sufficient to ensure salvation, notwithstanding repeated lapses from morality during an otherwise religious life. The existence of such a possible escape from the consequences of immoral acts is quite sufficient to explain why the most sincere religious belief of the ordinary kind is no adequate guarantee against vice or crime under the stress of temptation...101

...I look upon the doctrine of future rewards and punishments as a motive to action to be radically bad, and as bad for savages as for civilized men. I look upon it, above all, as a bad preparation for a future state. I believe that the only way to teach and to civilize, whether children or savages, is through the influence of love and sympathy; and the great thing to teach them is to have the most absolute respect for the rights of others, and to accustom them to receive pleasure from the happiness of others...I cannot see that the teaching of all this can be furthered by the dogmas of any religion, and I do not believe that those dogmas really have any effect in advancing morality in one case out of a thousand...102

...I have long since come to see that no one deserves either praise or blame for the ideas that come to him, but only for the actions resulting therefrom. Ideas and beliefs are certainly not voluntary acts. They come to us--we hardly know how or whence, and once they have got possession of us we cannot reject or change them at will. It is for the common good that the promulgation of ideas should be free--uninfluenced by either praise or blame, reward or punishment. But the actions which result from our ideas may properly be so treated, because it is only by patient thought and work, that new ideas, if good and true, become adopted and utilised; while, if untrue or if not adequately presented to the world, they are rejected or forgotten...103

*                *                *

    By 1862 and his return to England Wallace was a celebrity, and any concerns he may ever have ever felt over the validity of his personal philosophy of life had long since left him. Consider, therefore, the kind of effect spiritualist philosophy most likely would have had on him at that point. First, it concerned an occult subject--one, moreover, whose phenomena some were trying to attribute to a mechanism with which he was personally familiar: mesmerism. Each of these circumstances would have held interest for him. Not only could he personally contribute to the discussion as mesmerism pertained to it,104 but as a habitual champion of unappreciated causes, he would have enjoyed trying to right what he perceived to be naive criticisms of a poorly understood subject. Second, the moral teachings of spiritualism were directly relatable to phenomena that appeared to be, at least in some instances, verifiable, and were thus believable. Here, it seemed, was another aspect of the natural world inviting detached exploration by the intelligent skeptic, and Wallace was by nature both skeptical and insatiably curious. Third, the teachings themselves avoided dogma, instead encouraging the individual to respond as his or her personal assessment of the facts warranted. No unmeritorious belief here: this was not religion--at least not of any variety depending on the kind of inculcation and blind acceptance to which Wallace objected. The teachings were also perfectly in line with the ideas on continuity of causality Wallace had reasoned out and adopted some twenty or more years earlier. In short, he recognized in spiritualism elements of a truly "natural" philosophy: it gave a logical, testable accounting of how just cause and effect are related at the level of human consciousness, moral and intellectual behavior, and evolution. Spiritualism, moreover, endorsed his program of "balancing evidence" (as so succinctly described in the letter of 15 March 1861 to his brother-in-law); i.e., its proponents concurred with his earlier-expressed feeling that there was to be no fear of suffering "for the study of nature and the search for truth." His familiarization with spiritualism could only have fortified his already existing negative impression of conventional theism: the less one depended on opinions served up by unquestioning authority, the better.

    On the basis of the connections set out above alone, it is not difficult to understand why Wallace adopted the belief. He recognized in the movement something quite distinct from rote acceptance of unverifiable doctrines (i.e., religion), investigated on this basis, and was convinced (rightly or wrongly) by what he found.

    Later we examine in some detail the final page of this story: the specific events which I feel propelled Wallace into closely studying and adopting spiritualistic beliefs at the time he actually did.

    Analysis of Wallace's intellectual development before--or after--1858 should not rest on undefendable assumptions. It cannot be admitted as demonstrated (and in fact the issue is hardly ever even raised) that the teachings of spiritualism are fundamentally inconsistent with nature as the latter is more conventionally interpreted, and, more importantly, these teachings are, in point of fact, neither anti-evolutionary nor anti-"progressive." In my opinion, Wallace viewed them as relaying an evolutionary interpretation of reality, and as being, to a close approximation, compatible with the then-developing materialistic interpretations of biological evolution. Of course, if it is argued a priori that spiritualism and evolution must represent mutually incompatible conceptual domains, one inexorably arrives at the facile conclusion that upon accepting spiritualistic beliefs Wallace must have had a change of mind regarding natural selection's relation to man's higher faculties. But the fundamental principles of Wallace's approach to the study of man/nature had been set in his mind well before he finally stumbled onto natural selection, and given the fact that he repeatedly re-affirmed his belief in those principles in his writings over a span of seventy years--that is, over a period beginning well before 1858--it is extremely difficult to believe that either natural selection or spiritualism had any profound effect on re-directing them. His relation of the two ideas is the product of his personal evolution of thought, not its cause.

    At this point we turn to a re-examination of some of the other things that were on Wallace's mind before 1858, and how these helped shape his formulation of natural selection in that year.

Notes, Chapter One

1. Peirce (1901), p. 36.

2. Harris (1920), p. 104.

3. S729 ii, pp. 40-41.

4. R. Smith (1972), p. 178.

5. ibid., p. 191.

6. ibid., p. 186.

7. ibid., p. 189.

8. Kottler (1974), p. 145.

9. ibid., p. 191.

10. ibid., p. 189.

11. ibid., p. 190.

12. Schwartz (1984), p. 288.

13. ibid., p. 286.

14. Oppenheim (1985), p. 320.

15. ibid., p. 324.

16. Malinchak (1987), p. 109.

17. S717 (1901 rev. ed.), pp. ix-x, 126; S729 i, pp. 232-233; Kottler (1974), pp. 164-165; Malinchak (1987), pp. 32-33.

18. S729 i, p. 234.

19. S729 i, pp. 233-236 & ii, pp. 275-276.

20. S478 (Two Worlds reprint), p. 440.

21. S119, pp. 98-99. It is worthwhile to note that Wallace gave this talk just as his essay "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" (S118) was beginning to appear in serialized form in print.

22. S207, pp. 69-71.

23. S208, p. 364.

24. S615, pp. 569-570.

25. In this particular work, Wallace traces the identity of what one might presume to be a mythical land to an actual place, the island of Aru in Indonesia.

26. S93.

27. Kottler (1974), p. 167.

28. S637, p. 557: "It was in 1862 I began to investigate the phenomena of Spiritualism..."

29. S753, p. 621. The wording in this passage is similar to that in the one assigned to note 36 below, and probably represents an imprecise paraphrasing effort from that earlier original.

30. S742, p. 77.

31. S729 ii, p. 276.

32. Written for inclusion in the first edition of On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (S717, 1901 ed., on p. 131).

33. S717, 1901 ed., p. 132. Wallace specifically refers to notes taken during that first sitting, which took place on 22 July 1865.

34. S261, p. 161a.

35. S219, p. 10e.

36. S738, p. 123.

37. The Spiritual Magazine 6(12), December 1865, p. 529.

38. Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), p. 137.

39. Wallace might have been attending meetings during this one year period but not contributing any material or discussion, but this would not have been in character. At the very least it can be confidently stated that for a year or so he became a non-contributor. It is also very interesting that in the six years following his return to England, Wallace both attended and presented at each late summer annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science--except the one held in 1865.

40. S717 (1896 George Redway ed.), p. v.

41. The Spiritualist 4(19), 8 May 1874, p. 220.

42. See Kottler (1974) and My Life (S729 ii, pp. 280-281) for discussion.

43. As Pels (1995), pp. 74-75, notes, Wallace's addition of "Notes of Personal Evidence" to "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" for inclusion in On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism in 1875 was probably in part precipitated by his wish to indicate that since the time of the August-September 1866 publication of the second, he had witnessed spiritualistic manifestations in a private house and without the assistance of paid mediums. As Pels indicates, this would have borne on readers' appreciation of what constituted "reliable evidence." Thus, one can infer that as of that time he supported spiritualism at least to the extent of recommending its study to others, but that it was only later that he obtained this additional proof of its legitimacy and fully adopted it. Such proof began to emerge shortly thereafter, as in November of 1866 Wallace began attending sittings given in his own house by a Miss Nichol, a medium discovered by his sister. Some of the phenomena reported at these occasions were quite extraordinary, including apports; see S126 and S132, Kottler (1974), and "Notes of Personal Evidence" for related matter. (On page 126 of "Notes of Personal Evidence, for example, he mentions how "In the first edition of this Essay [i.e., the 1866 version of "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural"] I did not introduce any of my own observations, because I had not then witnessed any such facts in a private house, and without the intervention of paid mediums, as would be likely to satisfy my readers.")

44. S142a and S146. In late August 1868, around the time he was putting the final touches on his book The Malay Archipelago, Wallace attended the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings at Norwich. There he was present at the delivery of a paper by the Rev. F. O. Morris entitled "On the Difficulties of Darwinism," and at the end of the paper he made some comments. The latter were included in the Athenæum issue of 19 September 1868, and included the following statement: "With regard to the moral bearing of the question as to whether the moral and intellectual faculties could be developed by natural selection, that was a subject on which Mr. Darwin had not given an opinion. He (Mr. Wallace) did not believe that Mr. Darwin's theory would entirely explain those mental phenomena." The existence of these remarks was first reported in C. Smith (2004). Some seven months later, in April 1869, the more celebrated Quarterly Review article was published which led to Darwin's "I hope you haven't murdered our own child" remark.

45. Peirce (1906), p. 160.

46. ibid., p. 161.

47. ibid., p. 160.

48. Notably, Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), pp. 353, 363-364; S729 ii, pp. 100-101, 231, 233, 243, 350-351, 353; S741, p. 176.

49. S729 ii, p. 279; also see Malinchak (1987), pp. 80-82.

50. S379, p. 809.

51. J. P. Williams, "Spiritualist groups," Encyclopaedia Britannica (fifteenth ed., 1975), Vol. 17, pp. 511-513, on p. 513.

52. Merriam, Springfield, MA, 1966, on p. 916.

53. It is well known that the leader of the theosophy movement, Madame Helena Blavatsky, was interested in getting Wallace's support for it. Blavatsky sent Wallace a copy of her most important book, Isis Unveiled, after it was published in 1877 (S624). Wallace was appreciative and complimented her on her efforts, but never showed any interest in theosophical doctrines. In 1904 he wrote a short essay (S618a) on the subject of reincarnation (one of theosophy's central ideas) in which he referred to it as a "grotesque nightmare."

54. Especially, S459a; S516; S599; S676; S726, pp. 138-139; and S729 i, pp. 359-363. For comment, see Brooks (1984), p. 179; and McKinney (1972), pp. 80-81.

55. S451, p. 648.

56. S506, p. 9.

57. ibid., p. 12.

58. S379, p. 810. Wallace took a lifelong interest in the question "Why does suffering exist?" He discusses his early fascination with the problem in S729 i, pp. 87-89. See S324 and S729 ii, pp. 237-238, for two of his typical treatments of the matter; as late as 1910 he was still commenting on related matters: see "Is Nature Cruel?," Chapter 19 of The World of Life (S732). Wallace considered it one of spiritualism's strongest philosophical points that it offered a logical answer to this question.

59. S545, p. 335. In addition to the works just quoted, see S398, S717, and S750 for other typical writings. Wallace published some one hundred essays, lectures, reviews, notes, and letters to the Editor on spiritualistic subjects.

60. The epoch of "Modern Spiritualism" began in 1848 when the young sisters Kate and Margaret Fox, of Hydeville, New York, reputedly entered into communication with an entity or force that was causing an intermittent commotion of loud raps and knocks in their house. Mediumistic involvement followed, during which a message proclaiming the dawn of a new era was "received." Various organizations quickly sprang up to study both the manifestations being reported, and their philosophical context.

61. S1, pp. 201-204.

62. Wallace closed his paper "On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago" (S78), read to the Royal Geographical Society on 8 June 1863, with the following remarks: "If...[the European powers do not undertake comprehensive natural history collecting programs in the areas they are colonizing] ...future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of these records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown." These sentiments are very close to those expressed in this section of "Advantages...". McKinney (1976) interprets this passage as possibly signifying a pre-1864 religious conversion on Wallace's part, but I feel it is probably better to regard it as a straightforward re-statement of a philosophical position he had adopted much earlier.

63. In Richard Parry, ed., The History of Kington (Kington, 1845), pp. 66-70. See Hughes (1989) for discussion.

64. ibid., p. 67.

65. ibid., p. 67.

66. ibid., p. 69.

67. Wallace was not generally inclined toward pure moralizing; he probably felt that such inculcation had little effect on producing "informed belief." Still, on at least one occasion he deliberately does so, most probably in an attempt to teach by example. In Volume One of My Life, he spends the better part of a chapter describing the life and exploits of one Jack Mytton, a notorious miscreant of the early nineteenth century who had been born wealthy but had philandered away a fortune and died in prison.

68. S656, p. 11.

69. S729 ii, p. 235.

70. S450, Land and Labor, p. 1.

71. S57, pp. 145-146.

72. S136, p. 420.

73. S164, pp. 204-205.

74. S217, p. 469.

75. S432, p. 340.

76. Wallace has been cited in many sources for his period-atypical enlightened view of uncivilized peoples. In view of the deplorably misleading remarks of Pannell (1992), however, a few representative reminders of this generosity of viewpoint are worth reproducing:

The more I see of uncivilised people, the better I think of human nature on the whole, and the essential differences between so-called civilised and savage man seem to disappear. [from an 1855 letter reproduced in Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), p. 45]

I have lived a month with the Dyaks and have been a journey about sixty miles into the interior. I have been very much pleased with the Dyaks. They are a very kind, simple and hospitable people, and I do not wonder at the great interest Sir J. Brooke takes in them. [from an 1855 letter reproduced in Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), p. 48]

...after dusk, the house was crowded with young men and boys... They were mostly fine young fellows, and I could not help admiring the simplicity and elegance of their costume... The costume of the Dyaks on ordinary occasions, though scanty, is highly becoming, but when they attempt to make themselves extremely fine on state occasions, they only succeed in becoming ridiculous. In civilized countries it is the same... [Wallace's italics] The moral character of the Dyaks is undoubtedly high. They are truthful and honest to a remarkable degree...above most uncivilized, and perhaps also above most civilized, nations. (S29, pp. 195, 197, 204-205)

[in reference to the natives of the Aru Islands] Here, as among the Dyaks of Borneo and the Indians of the Upper Amazon I am delighted with the beauty of the human form, a beauty of which stay at home civilized people can never have any conception. What are the finest grecian statues to the living moving breathing forms which everywhere surround me... [from Wallace's Field Journal, quoted in Brooks (1984), p. 170]

It is clear, therefore, that a low state of material civilisation is no indication whatever of inferiority of character... we find that the supposed great mental inferiority of savages is equally unfounded. The more they are sympathetically studied, the more they are found to resemble ourselves in their inherent intellectual powers. Even the so-long-despised Australians--almost the lowest in material progress--yet show by their complex language, their elaborate social regulations, and often by an innate nobility of character, indications of a very similar inner nature to our own... we find in the higher Pacific types, men who, though savages as regards material progress, are yet generally admitted to be--physically, intellectually, and morally--our equals, if not our superiors. (S649, pp. 18, 21)


Chapter Six of Social Environment and Moral Progress, one of Wallace's very last works, is entitled "Savages Not Morally Inferior to Civilized Races." At one point in this discussion he states "Many other illustrations of both intelligence and morality are met with among the savage races of the world; and these, taken as a whole, show a substantial identity of human character, both moral and emotional, with no marked superiority in any race or country" (S733, p. 43). It would appear therefore that he had not changed his mind on this matter even by this late date.

77. S29, p. 204.

78. S43, pp. 60-61.

79. S54, pp. 219-220. This passage represents a thinly-veiled admonition against jumping to conclusions on the basis of incomplete information.

80. S729 i, p. 366.

81. These last six sentences closely echo sentiments expressed in "Advantages..." (S1, p. 201).

82. S729 i, pp. 367-369.

83. S67, p. 160. These words practically glow with the idea that the best efforts tend to produce the most rewarding discoveries. The same concepts are also evident in the following excerpt from the 1870 letter to Nature entitled "Government Aid to Science" (S158, p. 315):

The only logical foundation for advocating the furtherance of scientific discovery by the expenditure of public money, would be the belief that science can be most successfully pursued by those whose chief object is to make practical and valuable discoveries; whereas the whole history of the progress of science seems to me to show that the exact opposite is the case, and that it is only those who in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice give up their time, their means, even their lives, in the eager and loving search after the hidden secrets of Nature, who are rewarded by those great discoveries from which spring a rich harvest of useful applications.

84. S82, p. 206. This paper, "On the Varieties of Man in the Malay Archipelago," was first presented publicly in September 1863 at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In it Wallace expands on his views regarding how individual persons "progress" (i.e., as the function of a many-directioned learning process) to a parallel prescription for success at the societal level. This theme is present, explicitly and/or implicitly, in many other of his writings, and throughout his career, e.g.: S65 (1862), S152 (1869), S257 (1876), and S445 (1892). One suspects that his conclusions on this score were among his earliest intellectual achievements, emerging at the same time as his thoughts on the "advantages of varied knowledge." From his essay on "The South-Wales Farmer," written in 1843 but remaining unpublished until appearing on pp. 206-222 of Vol. 1 of My Life (S729), the following passage might be noted in this regard:

[The South-Wales farmers'] system of farming is as poor as the land they cultivate. In it we see all the results of carelessness, prejudice, and complete ignorance. We see the principle of doing as well as those who went before them, and no better, in full operation; the good old system which teaches us not to suppose ourselves capable of improving on the wisdom of our forefathers, and which has made the early polished nations of the East so inferior in every respect to us, whose reclamation from barbarism is ephemeral compared with their long period of almost stationary civilization. The Welshman, when you recommend any improvement in his operations, will tell you, like the Chinaman, that it is an "old custom," and that what did for his forefathers is good enough for him. (p. 207)

85. S82, pp. 214-215.

86. Wallace favored basing classification on multiple character traits. In fact, as we shall see later, he was not averse to applying even behavioral characters to classification efforts in an effort to draw into consideration as many pertinent criteria as possible. For two other discussions featuring his support of multiple character-based classification, see S77 and S88.

87. S78, pp. 233-234.

88. S491, p. 118.

89. S512, p. 23 (from Forecasts of the Coming Century reprint).

90. S632, pp. 4-5.

91. Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), pp. 65-67.

92. Such "roteness of re-evaluation" implies that there is a degree of environmental control over the nature of organic change, but this understanding does not demand outright determinism. See C. Smith (1986) for related discussion.

93. In My Life (S729 ii, p. 272) Wallace writes: "Equality of opportunity is, as Herbert Spencer has shown in his Justice, the correlative of natural selection in human society, and thus has a broad foundation in the laws of nature."

94. S1a, p. 69.

95. S729 i, pp. 87-89.

96. ibid. i, pp. 88-89.

97. S110, 1865.

98. S217, pp. 470-471.

99. S398, p. 3529.

100. S505, p. 605.

101. S506, pp. 8-9.

102. From a letter from Wallace to the biologist George Rolleston reproduced in S729 ii, pp. 52-54. Quote from p. 54.

103. S656, 1908, p. 10.

104. As he did, for example, in a review (S207) of Edward Tylor's Primitive Culture, letters to Nature (S208) and The Daily News, London (S263 and S264), and a review (S270) of William B. Carpenter's Mesmerism, Spiritualism, etc., Historically and Scientifically Considered.



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