When Wallace returned home to England in 1862, he found himself in an awkward position. Despite the fact that in the four preceding years he had written virtually nothing that extended Darwinian thinking, on the basis of the Ternate essay he was considered a "Darwin supporter." This was true enough--as far as it went; what was not appreciated, however, was that the emergence of natural selection as a viable concept merely meant that he now had to concentrate on figuring out how, specifically, human beings might be evolving "without ever becoming aware of it."
Not enough attention (in fact just about no attention) has been given to this very curious absence of development of evolutionary ideas in Wallace's writings in the years following the publication of "On the Tendency..." in 1858. Wallace first refers in print (and refers is all he does) to Darwinian natural selection in April 1860.1 The subject did not come up again in his writings--and obliquely at that--until his short discussion of mimicry in "List of Birds Collected in the Island of Bouru" in 1863.2 A few months later, in "Who are the Humming Bird's Relations?," it is referred to twice in passing.3 Not until "Remarks on the Rev. S. Haughton's Paper...", in October 18634--incredibly, over five and one half years after the Ternate essay was written--did Wallace actually develop any natural selection-related ideas in print. Evolutionary--but not natural selection-based--arguments regarding man initially appear in his "On the Varieties of Man in the Malay Archipelago," first presented publicly in September 1863.5
This is not the kind of behavior one might expect from a man who late in life once described himself at this earlier time as follows: "I was then (as often since) the 'young man in a hurry'."6 Except for this one several year period, in fact, Wallace's writing and speaking career was characterized by the way he routinely spoke his mind, and usually sooner rather than later--as is surely indicated by his transmitting the Ternate essay to Darwin to begin with. Yet here he was, taking all the time in the world before actually contributing any substantive thoughts on a theme whose development he already knew would be his life's most important legacy. Doesn't this seem just the slightest bit odd?
Previous Wallace investigators, however, have paid just about no attention to this curious situation, instead choosing to assume a continuity of his evolutionary view through to his return to England in 1862 as the background for his supposed later "change of mind." At that point (1862), as mentioned in Chapter One, he is thought to have become progressively disillusioned with natural selection, perhaps because of his adoption of spiritualism, or increasing judgment that the higher human attributes and/or social development could not be explained through the theory.7
My view of the events following Wallace's return in 1862 is both quite different from, and less complicated than, these scenarios. Let us now consider this different interpretation.
Initially encouraged by the success of the Darwinian formulation of natural selection, Wallace turned to the work of another famous materialist, Herbert Spencer, for inspiration. In 1862 he read Spencer's First Principles and, around the same time, apparently re-read Social Statics.8 In My Life Wallace writes:
In a 2 January 1864 letter to Darwin, Wallace remarks of Spencer:
In this letter Wallace also suggests that Darwin read Social Statics. Spencer's influence on Wallace's thinking was undoubtedly substantial during this period: for example, the combined arguments of Social Statics and First Principles probably convinced him once and for all that evolution unfolded through the application of "persistently directed force." Spiritualism would later lend itself to an extension of this conclusion: that such force was the manifestation of a universal will.11
On at least two later occasions,12 Wallace recalled how during this time he had temporarily slipped into an "individualist" (Wallace usually employed the word "individualist" rather than "materialist") mode of thinking. This effort to make sense of the hierarchical causal structure he still envisioned culminated in two important position papers he presented at scientific meetings in early 1864. These were "The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced From the Theory of 'Natural Selection'," read to the Anthropological Society of London on 1 March 1864, and "On the Phenomena of Variation and Geographical Distribution as Illustrated by the Papilionidae of the Malayan Region," presented sixteen days later to the Linnean Society of London.13
The first paper represented the first time Wallace combined his history-oriented "On the Law..." model with his population/ecological "On the Tendency..." arguments to treat man's evolution. In a letter to Darwin at the time, he remarks:
If, as I have suggested, Wallace had been forestalled in making public his full opinions on the nature of the evolutionary process, it is exactly in this direction that one might have expected him to move. Apart from directly addressing the still very contentious issue of human biological evolution, its emphasis on racial differentiation provided the perfect link to questions bearing on human social and mental evolution. Importantly, and in addition to its building on materialistic Darwinian principles, it makes references to "above nature" influences, viz.: "By his superior intellect he is enabled to provide himself with clothing and weapons..."15 and "By his superior sympathetic and moral feelings, he becomes fitted for the social state..."16--remarks that look forward to his later considerations of supra-biological forces. He still had no handle, however, on where the line should be drawn between the biological and the supra-biological, as is suggested from the inclusion of the lines "If, therefore, we are of opinion that he was not really man till these higher faculties were developed, we may fairly assert that there were many originally distinct races of men; while, if we think that a being like us in form and structure, but with mental faculties scarcely raised above the brute, must still be considered to have been human, we are fully entitled to maintain the common origin of all mankind."17
The second work mentioned above, "On the Phenomena...", constituted his parallel first combination of historical and ecological approaches to the subject of animal evolution. Wallace was uncharacteristically proud of both works, and intent on making sure Spencer knew of them: he sent him a reprint copy of "The Origin of Human Races...," probably as soon as one was available,18 and specially composed an article-length pre-print abstract of "On the Phenomena..." for the 16 April 1864 number of the journal Reader,19 with which Spencer was connected in an advisory capacity.20
As we shall see, Wallace was not entirely happy with the individualism-influenced arguments presented in "The Origin of Human Races...". Nevertheless, by that time he was certainly (and still) convinced that natural selection was, at least within the general limits he had always conceived for it, an absolutely valid concept. Just as certainly, however, he still hadn't arrived at an overall causal structure through which he could interpret its place in evolution as a whole. He had managed to figure out how to connect utility arguments to the outcome of adaptation and avoid first-causes thinking, but this position didn't mean that natural selection could do more than provide a general label for a particular kind of outcome, or represent more than the proximate cause of organic change.
* * *
In Chapter One I discussed in some detail the pattern of Wallace's participation in professional activities during the 1863 through 1867 period, including the fact that his systematics-related writing did tail off markedly in 1865 and 1866. I neglected to mention, however, that over the ensuing four years he embarked upon another "binge" of descriptive biology work that produced ten more publications consuming some 275 pages in print. Clearly, the 1865-1866 period of low production came about for some reason other than his having been left with nothing to do in this direction. It seems apparent that he chose a specific time--early mid-1865--to commence his "investigation." Something must have come up.
In September of 1864 Wallace presented a paper entitled "On the Progress of Civilization in Northern Celebes" at the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings.21 The essay features a description of what Wallace terms "true savage life," and how he felt this had been modified--positively--by the introduction of coffee plantation culture by the Dutch. He leads his discussion to the point of suggesting that initial dealings with completely uncivilized peoples might benefit from an attitude of mild despotism, arguing that:
In this work Wallace is fairly obviously thinking out loud: exploring the kinds of forces that might be employed to raise people's consciousness levels--that is, that might promote development of "informed belief." I believe that this line of reasoning was an important precursor to two involvements in May 1865 that would provide Wallace with the impetus to drop what he was doing and spend a full year examining the literature and phenomena of spiritualism. These involvements have not been recognized previously for the importance they had in Wallace's life because workers have not paid enough attention to the connections regarding uninformed belief and justice, discussed earlier, that continually surface in his writings.
Wallace apparently still was trying to work out a hierarchical causal model accounting for the evolutionary function of ostensibly survival-unrelated characters as the year 1865 began. Earlier I established, hopefully once and for all, that Wallace's intensive investigation of spiritualism began in mid-1865, and that he reached the point of committing himself to promoting its study sometime in early or early mid-1866. Beyond agreeing with Malinchak (1987) that this chronology seems related to the time Wallace would have needed to study and describe his collections within the period preceding that date, however, I offered no explanation for why he decided to fill his time at that point with a study of spiritualism. I just noted that although his systematics production did tail off markedly in 1865 and 1866, over the next three years he again published a large quantity of descriptive biology. Thus, the 1865-1866 period represented a hiatus in his systematics work, not a final tailing off. What are we to make of this?
The themes present in "On the Progress of Civilization in Northern Celebes" are continued a few months later in his next significant writing, "Public Responsibility and the Ballot." This short essay-like letter to the Editor of Reader appeared in its issue of 6 May 1865;23 it constituted a response to comments made in the previous issue by the great English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill. As of its printing Wallace was forty-two and had already published over one hundred writings, but this is the first one that concerned a wholly non-scientific subject. The entire text of this work follows:
If one follows this argument through, it seemingly would suggest that the only way to materially change the implications of a vote--at least in a positive way--is first to produce a voter who "is sufficiently instructed, honest, and far-seeing, [so that] 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." Wallace continues to consider here what it will take to "raise the average intelligence or morality" of people. But how to accomplish such a goal? Wallace thought he knew: there being no merit to uninformed belief, people had to believe--that is, have individual conviction--that, as he later expressed it, "the thoughts we think and the deeds we do here will certainly affect our condition and the very form and organic expression of our personality hereafter."24
Ten days after this work appeared in print, Wallace attended a meeting of the Anthropological Society of London. There, a paper entitled "On the Efforts of Missionaries Among Savages" was read by the Rev. J. W. Colenso.25 Wallace contributed a few comments at the meeting, but it is obvious that the subject began to gnaw at him. The result was another essay, also published in Reader, entitled "How to Civilize Savages." It was printed in the 17 June 1865 issue, apparently after some serious wrangling with the editor as to content.26 Again, the whole note follows.
Wallace evidently has now reached the point of cogitating on exactly what it will take--what kinds of "model institutions"--to deliver forms of instruction serving what might be termed "believable example"; i.e., that will provide a foundation for informed belief. Clearly, inculcation was not enough; further, and building on the thoughts presented in the "Public Responsibility and the Ballot" letter earlier, neither were the opinions of the masses, which could not be depended on to "increase the average intelligence or morality of the country." It was just at this point--probably sometime in June 1865, give or take a few weeks--that Wallace may have had a second revelation regarding the way evolution worked.
Although natural selection had for eons been able to accumulate biological variations through its trial and error enactment process, beyond a certain point this process was not further refinable: that is, it was inherently incapable of reacting constructively to the opportunities for "progress" afforded by the most subtle elements of the natural order. Human beings, possessing the qualities of higher intelligence and moral compass, could bring these to bear in an effort to identify these "most subtle elements"--which latter indeed turned out to be, in good part, those qualities themselves. As part of his debt to Spencer's teachings, Wallace had held for many years that people were due no more nor less than what was implicit as the consequence of their actions: this, nothing more nor less than simple justice. While ignorant beliefs often resulted in actions that were counterproductive, one could apply oneself (in a near Spinozian manner) to a program of self-instruction designed to broaden one's mind and ultimately produce fewer inappropriate actions. Thus, "intelligent conviction," as he termed it in the Sims letter quoted in Chapter One, could be progress-serving. The problem was to find some body of teachings that at one time promoted (1) intelligent examination of the facts and (2) a sense that one's current actions determined, or at least strongly affected, the quality of later experiences (thus providing incentive for commitment). Spiritualism, which claimed that there was a natural afterlife in which the implications of one's biological life experience were simply further lived out, fit this bill perfectly. Further, the "Spirit Realm" was itself alleged to have causal properties: various subtle avenues of communication (e.g., dreams) between the living and "spirits" supposedly existed, in theory contributing to the learning experiences of those still in the living, breathing, state. This was not religious inculcation of the type Wallace objected to; instead its supporters encouraged the interested to investigate and draw their own conclusions. Wallace's own investigation of spiritualism--involving both digesting its literature and examining its manifestations at seances--would soon lead him to believe that spiritualism was genuine in the way it portrayed itself as being.
By mid-1865 Wallace probably had heard enough about spiritualism and its teachings to wonder whether it all might be true. (Later we will take a look at one specific suggestion that has been made regarding just how Wallace might have "heard.") Its followers invited the curious to have a look and decide for themselves--this seemed a reasonable enough proposition, so he began to do so. The events that followed suggest that he proceeded conservatively, in three steps. He would first digest available writings on the subject28 while simultaneously initiating a program of "field study" of the only apparent physical evidence bearing on it: "manifestations" associated with seances. Once he had convinced himself both of the consistency of the philosophical arguments and the investigatory potential of the physical evidence, he would publicly recommend to colleagues that spiritualism be taken seriously and subjected to formal study. Further, however, and beyond this, he would only adopt the belief himself and promote it unreservedly once he had experienced physical phenomena that were fully under his control; i.e., that could be controlled to such a degree as to preclude any chance of fraud.
For several months in mid-1865 Wallace pursued the first of these agenda. Although his early seance experiences were relatively inauspicious, the writings he encountered must have helped to sustain the feeling he was on the right track. Further, there were lessons to be learned from an article by Francis Galton that was published in two parts during the summer of 1865. This article, "Hereditary, Character and Talent,"29 argued, with evidence to back it up, that talent, like any physical character, was hereditary. Galton would go on to suggest that society should be encouraging the talented to intermarry and produce more children, thereby elevating humanity through a form of conscious decision-making that worked alongside natural selection. For Wallace, however, this seemed to be quite opposite to the actual mechanism of natural selection, which effected change not through the elevation of the superior, but through the elimination of the unfit. His solution (only worked out to completion many years later when he adopted socialism30), by contrast, invoked a program of improvement through a particular application of the dynamics of "intelligent conviction": ameliorating social ills so that individuals, especially women, could base their decisions on a mate on the latter's merits, instead of a priori economic dictates. The inferior in mind and body would thus be differentially eliminated for their relatively fewer opportunities to reproduce. Wallace would spend the rest of his life opposing Galton's point of view and what it led to: eugenics.31
By late 1865, if we acknowledge the evidence of Benjamin Coleman's comments noted in Chapter One, Wallace was not yet a full believer. An important connection with that 6 November 1865 "soirée" is worth noting at this point: he was probably there for a specific reason. The fact that Wallace attended the meeting at all is consistent with the idea he was exploring the conceptual potential of the belief at that time, as the featured speaker on the occasion was Emma Hardinge, an American with a reputation as one of the most outstanding lecturers on subjects of a spiritual nature. Her talk for that night, parts of which were later published in The Spiritual Magazine,32 consisted as usual of extemporaneous responses to questions raised on the spot by audience members. Portions of a few of her remarkable comments that night follow:
For Wallace, who had been seeking a view of nature more flexible in its interpretation of human-originated phenomena and experience, these words must have seemed designed for his ears. I expect they became the deciding factor leading him to step two of his conversion process. Although his seance attendances apparently still were not producing evidence definitive enough to convince him of their validity, sometime over the next few months he began to compose a monograph-length essay he titled "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural." This was ready for publication by mid-summer, and was released in installments shortly thereafter in the obscure secularist periodical The English Leader.37
The orientation of this work is revealing. Conscious that he has not yet obtained satisfactorily definitive physical evidence, Wallace concentrates on literature review and producing a philosophical argument for investigating the phenomena. He begins by noting that our senses are limited, and that it is only through the accumulation of knowledge that we have elevated our understanding of physical processes above assumptions of the miraculous. He then argues that the so-called miracles of the past and present most likely represent non-miraculous aspects of natural process that we simply do not yet understand. Next he moves on to a consideration of cryptic forces in nature, and then to some of the recorded evidence of various spiritualistic phenomena. Finally, he treats the theory and moral teachings of spiritualism, drawing very heavily from the writings of Emma Hardinge to complete his review.38
Entirely missing from the treatment are descriptions of any of his own investigations of the phenomena--which, of course, had so far only proved mildly corroborative. Nevertheless, he had done a passably good job of reducing a large and esoteric literature to a readable declaration of its legitimacy for study. Yet it must have been apparent to him that it was going to be difficult to sell the idea through an article that had come out in eight parts in a serial few had probably even heard of. The solution was to circulate privately a pamphlet version of the essay. Exactly when this was done is not known, but likely it was readied a few to several weeks after the last installment of the essay appeared in The English Leader issue of 29 September 1866. The story of Wallace's largely unsuccessful attempts to interest his friends and colleagues in the message of his little monograph is fully revealed in his autobiography.39
Just as "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" was appearing in print, Wallace gave a short speech to the Anthropological Section of the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings. Delivered on 23 August 1866, it contained the following pregnant words of advice:
Surely Wallace had his spiritualism studies in mind when he delivered these remarks.
Wallace may actually have ended up regretting bringing out the pamphlet version of "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" just when he did. The latest date it could have been printed was early to mid November 1866: a cover letter dated 22 November 1866 that accompanied a copy of the work to Thomas Huxley exists.41 Just at this time, and apparently after a search of some months, Wallace finally discovered a friend of the family who demonstrated impressive mediumistic abilities. Wallace's sister Fanny found that a woman who was lodging with her, a certain Miss Nichol (later Mrs. Guppy), was capable of producing some dramatic manifestations, and now Wallace performed a series of tests--in his own quarters--that convinced him once and for all that the physical phenomena of spiritualism were real.
Among the most remarkable early sessions that Wallace carried out with Miss Nichol was one reported in the 1 February 1867 issue of The Spiritual Magazine:
Such a spectacular production of apports--occurring in his own quarters, under his own supervision, and through a medium who was not only not a professional, but a friend of the family--must have floored Wallace. The implications of the event are evident immediately, in his very next writing: a letter to the Editor of the Anthropological Review which appeared in its January 1867 issue. In this letter Wallace defends statements made in his 1864 paper "The Origin of Human Races...", ending his remarks with the intriguing statement:
What kind of "modifications," one wonders, might he be referring to here?
At right around the same time, Wallace must have been putting the final touches on his monographic (it ran to a total of 115 pages in print) systematic review of the butterfly family Pieridae. He presented the paper before the Entomological Society of London on 18 February 1867. Remarkably, Wallace could not resist slipping the following into the introductory portion of this work:
This somewhat out of place remark (especially the very last part of it) would seem to expose a particular enthusiasm for the general point made.
Also interesting is that it is right at this time that Wallace uses the word "evolution" in his writings for the first time. In a letter to the Editor dated 26 November 1866 that appeared in the 1 December 1866 issue of Athenaeum, he uses the term in a fairly innocent fashion in relation to some comments on the subject of mimicry.45 By 1869 and his Lyell review (discussed further below), however, he is more obviously contrasting natural selection with evolution, as at one point he states: "Neither natural selection nor the more general theory of evolution can give any account whatever of the origin of sensational or conscious life."46 His changing thoughts over this period are also mirrored in a small alteration made when he incorporated the essay "A Theory of Birds' Nests," first presented as a paper in 1867 but only appearing in total in print in 1868, into his collection Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection in 1870: in the 1867/1868 version, the text reads "...on the theory of evolution, as worked out in detail by Mr Darwin, a wide range...", whereas in 1870 this had been changed to read "on the theory of evolution and natural selection, a wide range...".47 One thus gathers that his views on the hierarchy of causation involved were in flux over this period.
Wallace continued attending seances through 1867, both with Miss Nichol and the professional medium Mrs. Marshall. Meanwhile, a new flurry of activity was evident in his scientific studies. In the autumn of 1866 (and continuing through to the beginning of 1868) he resumed his contributions to scientific meetings, increased his correspondence (especially with Darwin, over sexual selection and other subjects), and again worked on lengthy systematic reviews. Most of this work constituted inappropriate venues for extended expositions of his new synthesis, however, and it was not until October of 1867 that he was able to find a subject suitable for such discussion. At this time he published a review of the Duke of Argyll's anti-natural selection work The Reign of Law.48
In this remarkable essay Wallace manages to draw together a whole range of arguments against the Creationist "continual interference" model of organic diversity while: (1) restating and updating his "geographical Bauplan" evolutionary model from the 1840s, (2) opening the path leading to the final causes-based evolutionary cosmology of later works such as Man's Place in Nature and The World of Life, and (3) obliquely bringing explanations of the workings of mind and spirit into the picture. Typical of his analysis is the following:
Wallace is not arguing here that humankind is in any sense "above" natural law, but neither does he imply that one need limit considerations of the "appearance of design" to things as straightforward as river channels. These words--written, ostensibly, after he already had accepted all-out spiritualism--are looking towards a kind of design operationalized not by an anthropomorphic God, but instead through a final causes-based Bauplan.
By late 1867, with the help of his wife, Wallace had finally begun to prepare the journal of his Malay travels for publication. This effort would monopolize his attention for just about the whole of 1868, but by the end of that year the lengthy manuscript of The Malay Archipelago was finally to the printers and he was again free to indulge in a full range of intellectual pursuits. Shortly before the work was finished, Wallace attended the annual meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and heard a paper entitled "On the Difficulties of Darwinism" delivered by the Rev. F. O. Morris. When it was done, he offered some comments, apparently including the following remark, which fully previewed future events: "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."50 Obviously, Wallace was now ready to go public with a break from Darwin's views on the origin of the higher human faculties. The immediate problem became a context within which he could fully express such thoughts.
He did not have to wait long for such to materialize. A paper entitled "On the Failure of 'Natural Selection' in the Case of Man," published anonymously in Fraser's Magazine in September 1868,51 provided the stimulus. The author turned out to be William R. Greg, a writer on social issues who would become a key figure in the eugenics movement. In his paper Greg argues that in our society protection of the weak--the poor and the inferior in mind or body--has left natural selection an ineffective agent for improvement. Greg uses Wallace's own reasoning as presented in his 1864 paper to the Anthropological Society as the basis for his argument, pointing to Wallace's insistence that in humans selection had become re-focused at the level of the mind.
Reaction to the paper was considerable, with some early voices of approval, but then increasing criticism. An anonymous analysis in The Spectator appeared a few weeks later in which the writer opined that Greg's argument was flawed, because:
Neither this position nor Greg's original one could have impressed Wallace very much, but somehow he managed to hold back comment for the time being. In January 1869, however, a new evaluation of Greg's reasoning was printed anonymously in the Quarterly Journal of Science.53 This writer concluded that Greg and others had missed the point: selection was still going on, but its nature was changing as humankind evolved:
This analysis did impress Wallace, and for reasons that by now should be evident. In a letter to Darwin dated 20 January 1869 he exclaims: "Have you seen in the last number of the Quarterly Journal of Science the excellent remarks on Fraser's article on Natural Selection failing as to Man? In one page it gets to the heart of the question, and I have written to the Editor to ask who the author is."55 A few lines later he adds: "Perhaps you have heard that I have undertaken to write an article for the Quarterly (!) on the same subject [i.e., Lyell's Principles of Geology], to make up for that on 'Modern Geology' last year not mentioning Sir C. Lyell."56
The "Quarterly" article57 Wallace alludes to is of course the one in Quarterly Review in which he owns up to the revelation he had in mid-1865, as eventually confirmed in his mind by late 1866. The "higher attributes" of human beings actually did have evolutionary utility: they supported the contacts with the "Spirit Realm" that would help to move us in a direction of greater social responsibility, away from self-centered actions. This was beyond the realm of biological natural selection directly to effect, but nevertheless part of the overall evolutionary program for humankind as it advanced from a savage to a civilized state.
That Wallace finally came out on this matter in this particular work is not surprising. Although the immediate reason for undertaking the task might have been, as he states above, to "make up" for Lyell's mistreatment in the earlier work, it was also a perfect opportunity to review Lyellian uniformitarianism thoroughly, to place Darwinian principles within its context, and to cap the synthesis with his new thoughts on the subject. Indeed, this is exactly what he accomplishes. He starts out with a historical review of what geology as a field was like before Lyell's ideas took hold, then proceeds to a lengthy discussion of climate changes as evidenced by the geological record, only reaching the matter of Lyell's adoption of Darwinian ideas on organic evolution two-thirds of the way through the text. Considering the fact he recognizes the latter as "the great distinguishing feature of this edition" [of Principles of Geology], this may initially appear a little strange. Not so, however, if it is part of his object to point out that ideas on even the most thoroughly worked out subjects may be subject to alteration or adjustment. To discuss this matter he begins anew, not merely describing Lyell's thought process, but going back to explain the deficiencies of Lamarck's views and why Darwinian principles are superior. In fact, he spends a whole ten pages describing the various kinds of evidence for Darwinian natural selection before finally arriving at the culmination of his discussion: seven short paragraphs explaining in brief why, after supporting all that has preceded, he yet feels that "more recondite" forces act to shape the moral and intellectual evolution of humankind. He still believed that natural selection was self-enacting (though set within a larger framework), however, as is apparent from the following passage, taken from this source:
Here Wallace is still looking at natural selection as "the secondary result of the powers of nature"; i.e., as a principle or law subservient to more profound forces--a general view of natural organization, I submit, he held as early as the mid-1840s. Eventually, once it was demonstrated to him that migration to a socialistic state was feasible, he would additionally welcome that society-directed element into his overall evolutionary model.
It should be noted here that the publication of the Quarterly Review article was actually preceded by several weeks by the issuance of The Malay Archipelago, which closes with the following remarks:
This epilogue represents the true continuation of the thoughts expressed in the 1864-65 works on "informed belief" discussed earlier. Further, it is the perfect complement to the last seven paragraphs of the Quarterly Review article, which focus on the relation of natural selection to human biological change rather than social and moral change. Here, however, the latter focus is more appropriate as Wallace reflects on what constitutes the "perfect social state" and how informed belief can contribute to its development. As he says to end the first paragraph: "In such a state every man would have a sufficiently well-balanced intellectual organization to understand the moral law in all its details, and would require no other motive but the free impulses of his own nature to obey that law."
From his many later writings on the subject (including those sampled earlier in Chapter 1), it can be seen that Wallace had by now come to the conclusion that the "Spirit Realm" described by spiritualist prophets such as Stainton Moses constituted a natural domain within which the trace of organic evolution was continued--in the same way the latter continued, was intimately linked with, and depended on, the inertia of continuing forms of inorganic evolution. The critical connection for Wallace would have been his recognition that, given the supposed nature of the spirit realm, the higher faculties of man did in fact have utility. But this was not a function contributing only to biological survival, and thus devolving from causes dictated by conditions of the immediate physical environment. Instead, the refinement of the higher faculties made possible a continuing elevation of function after the biological death of the individual within a purely psychic (or "will-expressed") domain of organization. Higher spiritual development meant a greater capacity for identifying (and setting into action) new causal forces contributing to the overall evolutionary progression (much as biological evolution had secondarily modified the evolution of physical systems such as the atmosphere).
Wallace apparently felt that the formal languages of thought--logic and mathematics, for example--did no more than to serve belief.60 Both logic and mathematics could be called upon to help identify and characterize any evidence adjudged, of course, but ultimately a belief confirmed by the evidence of the senses--including the ramifications of others' beliefs--was the final object of learning-based knowledge, not a detached logical shorthand. Wallace's style of thinking is therefore more realistically relatable to pragmatism than it is to naturalism, unless one is willing to acknowledge a form of naturalism that includes psychophysical elements. Will existed prior to force, which itself was prior to matter. Causal continuity was best addressed in terms of will, not matter; thus, coincidence of structure and function should not be held to offer proof that the former "caused" the latter. The brain, for example, was not to be construed as the "cause" of conscious awareness; rather, it was a structure that had evolved pursuant to the final cause of consciousness. As he put it in 1885 in a letter published in Light: "[To the question] 'Does mortality give consciousness to spirit, or does spirit give consciousness for a limited period to mortality?' I would reply, 'Neither the one nor the other; but, mortality is the means by which a permanent individuality is given to spirit'."61
As just noted, Wallace's adherence to an evidence-based form of inquiry suggests a not-distant affinity with the school of thought that later came to be known as pragmatism. And, as it so turns out, both Charles Peirce and William James maintained a lifelong interest in Wallace's work. The two were in their impressionable twenties when the debate over evolution was new and at its height, and both men later spoke very appreciatively of Wallace's powers of logical argumentation. The connections are in fact intriguing enough to deserve a short aside here, and beg for more concerted study.62
It is well known that in mid-life James became a spiritualist, in good part as a result of his discovery of the famous medium Mrs. Leonora Piper in early 1885. (Piper, a trance writer, allowed herself to be subjected to test conditions so extreme--including being removed from her home in Boston to undisclosed locations in England for months at a time, and providing readings for subjects randomly brought in off the street--that a number of former skeptics turned believers accordingly.) James in fact attended at least one seance with Wallace during the latter's visit to Boston in 1886 to give a series of lectures at the Lowell Institute.63 Could James, who may well have been connected either directly or indirectly with that organization (surely at the very least he knew most of its members), been the leading reason for Wallace's invitation, in late 1885, to speak there? The timing of the invitation is too intriguing to ignore; was James interested in getting Wallace's views on this new subject that had so completely captured his attention? Lending credence to this suspicion is the knowledge that research by James biographer Gerald Myers has revealed that James's first professional publication was an anonymous--and very approving--review of "The Origin of Human Races..."64 James, moreover, was a close associate of Chauncey Wright, and the latter figure was one of the best known reviewers and philosophers of literary Darwinism of that period. Further, James almost certainly knew of Wallace's natural history writings and had for some time, as he accompanied Louis Agassiz on a collecting expedition to the Amazon region in 1865 and undoubtedly had read Wallace's A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro.
Peirce, for his part, also apparently followed Wallace's career rather closely, and some of the most remarkable things ever said about Wallace's work appeared in his reviews of Studies Scientific and Social and My Life in The Nation in 1901 and 1906, respectively.65 Considering the path of Peirce's own career, nothing could be more poignant than the following commentary, incorporated into the second of these two notices:
And from the first review:
Could it be that both men looked to Wallace as something of a role model--at least to the extent that he represented living proof that a pragmatic view of nature and society, taken through to its logical conclusion, leads to the discovery of significant truths?
In any case, Wallace's approach to spiritualism itself seems little different from that he applied to the consideration of any other subject he took up.68 His attraction to automatic slate-writing, apparitions, and so forth almost assuredly had nothing to do with a "religious conversion" occasioned by "disappointment" over natural selection. Instead, he considered spiritualism to be what might be termed "evolutionary psychology"--a "new branch of anthropology," as he put it in 1866 in a letter to Thomas Huxley.69
In sum, Wallace "believed" in the tenets of spiritualism for exactly the same reason he "believed" in natural selection (or, for that matter, any other concept he had come to accept as being valid within certain limits)--they were substantiated by "facts":
And from the Preface to On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1875):
Though it is apparent that Wallace came to believe that creative diversification was in the broadest sense purposeful (i.e., was part of a universal process evolving enlightened spirituality), there is nothing to suggest that he thought the alleged "spirit realm" itself was constituted in a fashion necessitating fundamentally exceptional treatment in a conceptual/analytical sense:
Within this cosmology, natural science as we usually conceive it was effectively restricted to the study of emergent origins; that is, to those classes of efficient causes that could be attached to specific immediate results, whether these led to permanent structural divergences or reversible ecological relationships. In a letter printed in Marchant (1916/1975) referring to the then recent publication of his book The World of Life, in 1910, Wallace notes:
In 1909, in another letter,74 he writes: "Another point I am becoming more and more impressed with is, a teleology of fundamental laws and forces rendering development of the infinity of life-forms possible (and certain) in place of the old teleology applied to the production of each species." "Growth, etc., etc." are thus recognized as properties of nature "more recondite" than natural selection per se, though the latter is still viewed as a law of interaction supporting a progression of changing life forms within the constraining operation of these properties. When one began to look beyond the fact of change (and toward the overall context of its "accumulations"), however, Wallace preferred to view the forms of interaction (for example, gravity, natural selection, and spiritualization) propelling the whole process as operating in hierarchical conjunction with one another. Wallace would probably have agreed that gravity could not explain why dogs have eyes and choose to walk uphill some of the time for the same general reasons that natural selection could not provide a reason for the creation of a great symphony or the acts of a martyr. At the same time, he believed there was nothing in his approach that either contradicted or discouraged working within a conventional materialistic framework (which, in its own fashion, filled in the pieces one at a time by concentrating on the evidence-based elucidation of increasingly subtle efficient causes).
There seems little reason to complain that Wallace's natural science studies (e.g., in biogeography, glaciology, and the individual applications of natural selection) "suffered" after 1865 from any apparent spiritualism-related concepts. Nor should they have. When Wallace felt that the subject of interest could be analyzed adequately on the basis of efficient causes, there was no need to bring questions regarding indeterminate confining functions into the discussion. For man, cosmological subjects (i.e., "beginnings" and "ends," in both a spatial and temporal sense), and all social issues, however, the extenuating circumstances of the "more recondite forces" operating became directly relevant. Humankind, for example, was increasingly to become the architect of its own further evolutionary diversification (i.e., as a spiritual being):
Wallace viewed social cooperation as the road to the development of higher awareness in the individual. Society was thus pictured as an evolving "collective will" that was slowly but surely transcending the constraints imposed by environment and restrictive historical customs. In the early stages of this process scattered civilizations had arisen, their eventual declines being more attributable to a lack of collective social wisdom in not recognizing the need for establishing non-materialistic goals than to any simple physical, moral, or intellectual inferiorities on the part of their citizens individually. One should not underestimate the weight of these ideas on Wallace's thoughts in general. Given his very early-developed Owenite ideals, it is just as likely--perhaps more likely--that his acceptance of the degeneracy theory of social evolution shaped his biological theorizations as vice versa. In this regard it should be noted that he refers to the concept of social degeneracy as early as 1843 in a work called "The South-Wales Farmer" that reached publication only in 1905 as part of My Life.76 The basic idea of the degeneracy theory appears in many different aspects of his writing, as explained earlier. And, predictably, he continued to defend the idea in print right to the end.77
Wallace reasoned that evolution of the "collective will" would accelerate only once the physical necessities of life had been made equally available to all, allowing people the leisure time to pursue more varied and consciousness-expanding interests. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of his social criticism was aimed at what he felt were the institutions standing in the way of "equality of opportunity" for the general populace. Typical of Wallace's efforts in this direction was his leadership of the land nationalization movement; as President of the Land Nationalisation Society for over thirty years he fought a battle for land reform energized by the objective of breaking up large land holdings.78 Meanwhile, he despised the many crude attempts to apply Darwinism to social analysis by analogy; in his view, an over-emphasis on individualistic forms of competition within society led, among other things, to wars, a discriminatory distribution of wealth, and addiction to a consumptive materialism that was both individually and collectively counter-evolutionary.79
While spiritualist philosophy helped Wallace recognize a transitory function in existing imperfections (these forced a process of moral advance through "character-building": mankind's own route of changing without being "aware of it"), human progress in general was measured through their absolute rate of elimination. Such progress could not be contextualized within simplistic material "one cause-one effect" frameworks: the more "human" the problem, the more its just solution lay in terms of evolutionarily-consistent goals, as opposed to reactions arising from the consumptive inertia of tradition or habit. One of Wallace's most ingenious combinations of immediate- and final causes-based reasoning in a social theory context related natural selection to the women's rights movement. On a number of occasions80 he argued that natural selection would only reassume an important role in human evolution when women no longer needed to marry for reasons of economic security, and could instead select mates purely on consideration of their moral qualities.
* * *
Before closing here, I feel I should specially comment on some conclusions that have been drawn by author Ross Slotten in his recently published biography of Wallace.81 While Slotten does an excellent job of documenting and relating most of Wallace's activities and involvements, I feel that the section on his adoption of spiritualism represents a low point in his discussion. Slotten argues that a certain Miss Leslie's break-off of a marital engagement with Wallace around October 1864 left Wallace so despondent that he was unable to continue his professional life for nearly two years (until early or mid-1866, around the time he married his eventual wife). Thus in theory, his decision to start attending seances in July 1865 was triggered, at least proximately, by a simple need for some emotional support.
There are several reasons why this hypothesis will not wash. First, it is not true that Wallace's involvement in professional science was much, if any, disturbed by the event. After October 1864 and running through May 1865 he was present and contributing to the six scientific societies he kept up with at about the same average rate he had been over the thirty month period preceding October 1864. And between October 1864 and June 1865, moreover, no fewer than twelve of his writings/commentaries reached print--a rate of publication just about matching his career standard. It may be true that for a while he was distracted enough not to keep up his same earlier rate of work on birds, but it may also be that by that point he had largely exhausted his efforts in that direction: he would only even eventually turn out two more medium-sized (thirty-six and twenty-nine pages) systematic works on birds, though after 1866 his systematic biology studies on insects would extend to several hundred pages.
Further, it should be pointed out that the chronology of all this just does not make sense. Why would a full nine months have passed before Wallace's production and dissociation with his professional activities began to drop off (as it did after June 1865)? And it should not be ignored that Raby, Shermer, and Slotten himself have concluded that Wallace began socializing with his eventual wife Annie in early 1865 (they married on 5 April 1866); thus the surmise would be that by July 1865 he was already entering into a generally happier period in his life.
Next, there is no evidence that Wallace ever experienced any great "comfort" (at least in terms of relief from an emotional stress) from his involvement with spiritualism. Neither I nor anyone I have contacted about this point can recall ever seeing anything linking Wallace to spiritualism-focused religious groups, including attending any of their services. His interest in the study appears to have been strictly related to "the facts," and anything greater in an emotional sense that he gained from his involvement seems due more to a satisfaction with his operating cosmology than it might have with conventional forms of socially-mediated healing.
Again, just what kind of comfort could Wallace have expected to receive at that time from such a move? Otherwise put, what do seances have to do with curing problems stemming from being jilted? This line of reasoning might hold had he just lost a relative, fiancee, or friend through death, and wanted some kind of reassurances, but hardly under these conditions.
It is also important to point out that the kind of incidental involvement Slotten has proposed--related to a single and discrete source of emotional stress--does not explain why Wallace continued to take spiritualism so seriously as an intellectual pursuit right through to the end of his days. This is indicative of a strong intellectual commitment extending far beyond those immediate circumstances.
Lastly, Slotten's suggestion does not explain the neat progression of ideas related to "informed belief" that Wallace was developing at the same time, as explained earlier. Neither does it help us understand why the progressive development of this theme seemed to end abruptly after June 1865, resuming only in his closing words of The Malay Archipelago--which, it should be remembered, appeared just a few weeks before his Quarterly Review article did. The answer here is that it didn't really end: it was continued through his writings on spiritualism, notably in "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural."
Nevertheless, Slotten does make one point that seems likely to be correct: that Wallace's sister Fanny may have been the immediate link triggering Wallace's study of spiritualism just when he did, beginning in mid-1865. At that point she was apparently already a believer and she, Wallace, and their mother were living together in early 1865. Wallace and his sister were close, and it might well have taken the advice of a close friend or relative at that point to cause him to take the plunge. Still, in my opinion it is unlikely that he would have proceeded had he not been progressing in a suitably parallel intellectual direction; further, moving in the circles he did it is likely that it would have been just a matter of time before he commenced his investigations, even had his sister not been around.
Notes, Chapter Five
1. S57, p. 146.
2. S72, pp. 26-28.
3. S77, pp. 8489, 8490.
5. S82, pp. 209-210.
6. S656, p. 7.
7. Kottler (1974), p. 190, also offers that "It has been suggested to me that Wallace's conception of natural selection differed from Darwin's conception; unlike Darwin's, it could not in fact explain man's intellectual and moral nature. According to this viewpoint, the source of Wallace's recognition of natural selection's adequacy in the origin of man was his own conception of the nature of natural selection rather than his belief in spiritualism..." but quickly rejects this notion.
8. Per S329, p. 735.
9. S729 ii, pp. 23-24.
11. See S716, 1st ed., pp. 366-368, for Wallace's argument relating force to will (including the conclusion that matter must be energy!). Although Spencer may have first planted this train of thought in Wallace's mind, it was probably not fully engaged until he came upon Emma Hardinge's writings, as we will see later.
12. In a letter to Keir Hardie published in Labour Leader in 1896 (S528) he writes: "...in middle life, while chiefly engaged in scientific work, I was influenced by the individualistic teaching of Herbert Spencer. Nine years later, on p. 104 of Volume 1 of My Life, he says, in referring to Robert Owen: "later in life my very scanty knowledge of his work was not sufficient to prevent my adopting the individualist views of Herbert Spencer and of the political economists..."
15. S93, p. clxviii.
16. ibid., p. clxviii.
17. ibid., p. clxvi.
19. Reader, 16 April 1864, pp. 491-493.
20. For a period Reader became Wallace's favorite publication venue: at least fifteen of his letters, notes, and abstracts appeared in that journal between late 1863 and 1866. This is an important fact. It indicates that as of 1863--before his involvement with seances or his failed marriage engagement--Wallace was already involved in thoughts extending beyond his purely scientific studies.
21. S104 (abstract), Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1864, London, 1865, pp. 149-150.
22. S104, Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London (1866), 4, n.s., pp. 61-70, on p. 67. Wallace read this version of the paper to the Society at their meeting of 24 January 1865.
24. S451, p. 648. The article this excerpt was taken from was published in 1892 for inclusion in a new edition of Chambers's Encyclopædia, but note how similar the thoughts expressed are to those found in one of his earliest known writings, S1 (from 1843). Also consider how this train of thought eventually led to words expressed in S243, "In Defence of Modern Spiritualism," and slightly re-written as follows for inclusion in 1894's "Why Live a Moral Life?" (S506, p .9): "...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, by repeated experiences, becomes convinced of the absolute reality and the complete reasonableness of these facts regarding the future state--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."
26. S729 ii, pp. 52, 54.
28. In My Life he reported: "During this time I was reading almost everything I could obtain upon the phenomena..." (S729 ii, p. 279).
31. Wallace spent much of the late 1860s and 1870s trying to convince his contemporaries that spiritualism provided a direct path forward toward the goal of improving the levels of intelligent conviction in the population, with minimal success. His increasing interest in social and economic matters as he aged likely developed as he came to accept that societal inequities were a prior issue: i.e., that a social system he sometimes described as being "rotten at the core" could not be expected to lead to the luxury of clear, unbiased reasoning as to one's means of self-improvement.
32. "Miss Emma Hardinge." The Spiritual Magazine 6(12) (1865), pp. 529-543. Hardinge's remarks were shortly thereafter compiled and published by F. Farrah in the Spring of 1866 as the now extremely rare 122 page monograph Extemporaneous Addresses.
37. S118. Wallace apparently had completed the work no later than the middle of July 1866, as a note on page 9 of The English Leader issue of 21 July 1866 confirms that they had received his manuscript and were ready to give it 'immediate attention'; i.e., prepare it for print. It is probably no coincidence in this respect that the last lecture in Emma Hardinge's tour was given on 24 June 1866 (per mention in the National Reformer issue of 1 July 1866): just in time for Wallace to hear or read before putting the finishing touches on his manuscript.
38. Quotations from Hardinge in fact make up over three full pages of the pamphlet version of S118 (The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural: Indicating the Desirableness of an Experimental Enquiry by Men of Science Into the Alleged Powers of Clairvoyants and Mediums, London, 1866), extending over large sections of pages 50 through 54. Hardinge (1823-1899) was well known to the spiritualist communities on both sides of the Atlantic at that point. Wallace would have had easy access to her previous writings, which included transcriptions of lectures she had delivered in earlier years. An annotated copy of her pamphlet On Ancient Magic and Modern Spiritualism, published in 1865 or 1866 (and representing another lecture in the soiree series, this one given on 4 December 1865), is still to be found among the materials from his personal library held by the Special Collections unit at the Library of the University of Edinburgh. In The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural his quotations from Hardinge are taken from her essay "Hades," included in her Six Lectures on Theology and Nature, published in Chicago in 1860.
39. S729 ii, pp. 277-281. Also see Kottler (1974) and Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), pp. 417-419. Wallace's account in My Life is a bit disjointed chronologically, and must be read with care.
40. S119, pp. 93-94.
41. Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), pp. 417-418. The pamphlet was likely printed after the work's initial serialized run was completed. Not only does this seem likely a priori, but the pamphlet version, despite being produced from the same typesetting of the text, includes a couple of notes and edits and an Introduction not present in the original serialization. The timing of the release of the pamphlet is itself interesting. If it was distributed before Wallace's first convincing seances with Miss Nichol, which is likely, this suggests that he was satisfied with the essay's basic arguments in favor of the reasons for studying spiritualism even before he had received any personally convincing direct evidence of its supposed manifestations. If it was distributed after he had received such confirmations, this too is interesting because it implies he felt the a priori arguments were so strong that he didn't even need to bother augmenting them with his own observations at that point.
Two further points regarding The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural should be made. First, and beyond the overall tone and approach of the work, Wallace makes his specific purpose for writing it known on pages 7 and 8: ". . . Let us now return to the consideration of the probable nature and powers of those preter-human intelligences whose possible existence only it is my object to maintain . . ." [my italics]—again, this is not the phraseology of a full convert, but instead of one who wishes to bring notice to a possible subject for research.
Second, one specific link to the earlier-discussed "advantages of varied knowledge" theme that appears in the work should be pointed out. On pages 34-35 of the pamphlet version Wallace writes ". . . these descriptions, taken as a whole, give us a far more exalted, and at the same time more rational and connected view of spirit life, than do the doctrines of any other religion or philosophy; while they are certainly more conducive to morality, and inculcate most strongly the importance of cultivating to the uttermost every mental faculty with which we are endowed . . ."
44. S127, p. 309.
45. S123, p. 716.
46. S146, p. 391.
48. S140. This was only the second book review Wallace had published; a few months earlier he had prepared one for the same journal on Quatrefages de Bréau's book Les Polynésiens et Leurs Migrations.
49. ibid., pp. 479-480.
50. S142a, p. 373.
51. W. R. Greg (anon. in source), "On the Failure of Natural Selection in the Case of Man." Fraser's Magazine 78 (September 1868), pp. 353-362. See discussion by R. J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (Chicago & London, 1987), pp. 172-176.
58. ibid., pp. 383-384.
59. S715, 10th ed., pp. 455-457.
60. In 1877 he wrote: "The direct testimony of the educated senses guided by reason is of higher validity than any complex results of reason alone," and that it was better to accept the "uniform and consistent testimony of our senses" (S283, p. 698).
61. S383, p. 352.
70. S729 ii, p. 349.
71. S717, pp. vi-vii.
72. S379, p. 809.
75. S545, p. 335.
79. For Wallace's views on the "might vs. right" issue, see S549, S567, S580, and S659. For his opinion of eugenics, see S737 (an interview by Sarah A. Tooley), S750 (an interview by Frederick Rockell), and S733. Wallace's social criticism writings are voluminous. For an introduction, see S727 ii, S723, S726, S734, and Charles H. Smith, ed., Alfred Russel Wallace; An Anthology of His Shorter Writings (Oxford, etc., 1991), pp. 119-216.