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

Some Interesting Quotes from Wallace's Writings

Wallace had a real talent for provocative, lucid exposition. The great American philosopher Charles Peirce once said of him that "he believes in all that he believes down to the very soles of his boots," and how in his opinion he "never wrote a dull line in his life, and couldn't if he tried." In the following selections, arranged chronologically, the reader can sample some of what Peirce was talking about. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/quotes.htm


    [concerning the colors of rivers in the Amazon region . . .] "These various-coloured waters may, we believe, readily be accounted for by the nature of the country the stream flows through. The fact that the most purely black-water rivers flow through districts of dense forest, and have granite beds, seems to show that it is the percolation of the water through decaying vegetable matter which gives it its peculiar colour. Should the stream, however, flow through any extent of alluvial country, or through any districts where it can gather much light-coloured sedimentary matter, it will change its aspect, and we shall have the phenomenon of alternating white and black water rivers. The Rio Branco and most of its tributaries rise in an open, rocky country, and the water there is pure and uncoloured; it must, therefore, be in the lower part of its course that it obtains the sediment that gives it so remarkably light a colour; and it is worthy of note, that all the other white-water tributaries of the Rio Negro run parallel to the Rio Branco, and, therefore, probably obtain their sediment from a continuation of the same deposits; only as they flow entirely through a forest district producing brown water, the result is not such a strikingly light tint as in the case of that river."

--from 'On the Rio Negro,' 1853, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 23: 212-217, on page 213.


    [on adaptations . . .] "In all works on Natural History, we constantly find details of the marvellous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found. But naturalists are now beginning to look beyond this, and to see that there must be some other principle regulating the infinitely varied forms of animal life. It must strike every one, that the numbers of birds and insects of different groups, having scarcely any resemblance to each other, which yet feed on the same food and inhabit the same localities, cannot have been so differently constructed and adorned for that purpose alone. Thus the goat-suckers, the swallows, the tyrant fly-catchers, and the jacamars, all use the same kind of food, and procure it in the same manner: they all capture insects on the wing, yet how entirely different is the structure and the whole appearance of these birds! . . . What birds can have their bills more peculiarly formed than the ibis, the spoonbill, and the heron? Yet they may be seen side by side, picking up the same food from the shallow water on the beach; and on opening their stomachs, we find the same little crustacea and shell-fish in them all. Then among the fruit-eating birds, there are pigeons, parrots, toucans, and chatterers--families as distinct and widely separated as possible,--which yet may be often seen feeding all together on the same tree; for in the forests of South America, certain fruits are favourites with almost every kind of fruit-eating bird. It has been assumed by some writers on Natural History, that every wild fruit is the food of some bird or animal, and that the varied forms and structure of their mouths may be necessitated by the peculiar character of the fruits they are to feed on; but there is more of imagination than fact in this statement: the number of wild fruits furnishing food for birds is very limited, and birds of the most varied structure and of every size will be found visiting the same tree."

--from A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, 1853 (1972 reprint), pages 58-59.


    [on insect collecting in Borneo . . .] "To give English entomologists some idea of the collecting here, I will give a sketch of one good day's work. Till breakfast I am occupied ticketing and noting the captures of the previous day, examining boxes for ants, putting out drying-boxes and setting the insects of any caught by lamp-light. About 10 o'clock I am ready to start. My equipment is, a rug-net, large collecting-box hung by a strap over my shoulder, a pair of pliers for Hymenoptera, two bottles with spirits, one large and wide-mouthed for average Coleoptera, &c., the other very small for minute and active insects, which are often lost by attempting to drop them into a large mouthed bottle. These bottles are carried in pockets in my hunting-shirt, and are attached by strings round my neck; the corks are each secured to the bottle by a short string. The morning is fine, and thus equipped I first walk to some dead trees close to the house frequented by Buprestidae. As I approach I see the bright golden back of one, as he moves in sideway jerks along a prostrate trunk,--I approach with caution, but before I can reach him, whizz!--he is off, and flies humming round my head. After one or two circuits he settles again in a place rendered impassable by sticks and bushes, and when he leaves it, it is to fly off to some remote spot in the jungle. I then walk off into the swamp along the path of logs and tree-trunks, picking my way cautiously, now glancing right and left on the foliage, and then surveying carefully the surface of the smooth round log I am walking on. The first insect I catch is a pretty little long-necked Apoderus sitting partly upon a leaf: a few paces further, I come to a place where some Curculionidae, of the genus Mecopus, are always seated on a dry sun-shiny log. A sweep of my net captures one or two, and I go on, as I have already enough specimens of them. The beautiful Papilios, Evemon and Agamemnon, fly by me, but the footing is too uncertain to capture them, and at the same moment a small beetle flies across and settles on a leaf near me--I move cautiously but quickly on--see it is a pretty Glenea, and by a sharp stroke of the net capture it, for they are so active that the slightest hesitation is sure to lose the specimen. I now come to a bridge of logs across a little stream; this is another favourite station of the Buprestidae, particularly of the elegant Belionota sumptuosa. One of these is now on the bridge,--he rises as I approach,-- flies with the rapidity of lightning around me, and settles on the handle of my net! I watch him with quiet admiration,--to attempt to catch him then is absurd; in a moment he is off again, and then settles within a yard of me; I strike with all my force, he rises at the same moment, and is now buzzing in my net, and in another instant is transferred in safety to my bottle: I wait a few minutes here in hopes that another may be heard or seen, and then go on; I pass some fallen trees, under which are always found some Curculionidae, species of Alcides and Otops,--these I sweep carefully with my net and get two or three specimens, one new to me. I now come to a large Boletus growing on a stump,--I push my net under it, two Thyreopterae run on to the top, I knock one with my hand into my net, while the other has instantly escaped into a crack in the stump and is safe for this day, but his time will come. In some distance now I walk on, looking out carefully for whatever may appear; for near half-a-mile I see not an insect worth capturing; then suddenly flies across the path a fine Longicorn, new to me, and settles on a trunk a few yards off. I survey the soft brown mud between us, look anxiously for some root to set my foot on, and then cautiously advance towards him: one more step and I have him, but alas! My foot slips off the root, down I go into the bog and the treasure escapes, perhaps a species I may never obtain again. Returning to the path, another hum salutes my ear, and the fine Cetonia, Macronota Diardi, settles on a leaf near me, and is immediately secured: a little further, a yellow-powdered Buprestis is caught in the same manner. Having reached the usual limits of my walk in this direction, I turn back . . ."

--from an 1855 letter printed in Zoologist 13: 4803-4807, on pages 4805-4807.


    [on the durian, a tropical fruit . . .] "The Durian grows on a large and lofty forest-tree, something resembling an Elm in character, but with a more smooth and scaly bark. The fruit is round or slightly oval, about the size of a small melon, of a green colour, and covered with strong spines, the bases of which touch each other, and are consequently somewhat hexagonal, while the points are very strong and sharp. It is so completely armed that if the stalk is broken off it is a difficult matter to lift one from the ground. The outer rind is so thick and tough that from whatever height it may fall it is never broken. From the base to the apex five very faint lines may be traced, over which the spines somewhat curve and approximate; these are the sutures of the carpels, and show where the fruit may be opened with a heavy knife and a strong hand. The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the eatable part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. . . . as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed. If I had to fix on two only as representing . . . perfection . . . I should certainly choose the Durian and the Orange as the king and queen of fruits."

--from 'On the Bamboo and Durian of Borneo,' 1856, Hooker's Journal of Botany 8: 225-230, on pages 228-229.


    [on 'running amok' . . .] "The people here [in Celebes] have some peculiar practices. 'Amok,' or, as we say, 'running a-muck,' is common here; there was one last week: a debt of a few dollars was claimed by a man of one who could not pay it, so he murdered his creditor, and then, knowing he would be found out and punished, he 'run a-muck,' killed four persons and wounded four more, and died what the natives consider an honourable death! A friend here, seeing I had my mattress on the floor of a bamboo-house, which is open beneath, told me it was very dangerous, as there were many bad people about, who might come at night and push their spears up through me from below, so he kindly lent me a sofa to sleep on, which, however, I never used, as it is too hot in this country."

--from an 1856 letter printed in Zoologist 15: 5559-5560, on page 5560.


     [on natural selection . . .] ". . . We have also here an acting cause to account for that balance so often observed in nature,--a deficiency in one set of organs always being compensated by an increased development of some others--powerful wings accompanying weak feet, or great velocity making up for the absence of defensive weapons; for it has been shown that all varieties in which an unbalanced deficiency occurred could not long continue their existence. The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow."

--from 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type,' 1858, Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, Zoology 3: 53-62, on pages 61-62.


   [concerning instinct . . . ] "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.'"

--from 'The Ornithology of Northern Celebes,' 1860, Ibis 2: 140-147, on pages 145-146.


    [Wallace, writing from the field to his brother-in-law Thomas Sims in 1861 on the subject of belief . . .] ". . . 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 will 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 to 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 spent, as you know, a year and a half in a clergyman's family and heard almost every Tuesday the very best, most earnest and most impressive preacher it has ever been my fortune to meet with, but it produced no effect whatever on my mind. I have since wandered among men of many races and many religions. I have studied man and nature in all its aspects, and I have sought after truth. In my solitude I have pondered much on the incomprehensible subjects of space, eternity, life and death. 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."

--In Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (Ed. by James Marchant), 1916 (1975 reprint), pages 65-67.


    [concerning Birds of Paradise . . .] "Nature seems to have taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures, 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 are found these wonderful productions of nature. In those trackless wilds do 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 . . ."

--from 'Narrative of Search after Birds of Paradise,' 1862, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1862: 153-161, on page 160.


    [on the responsibility of governments to the exploration of natural history . . .] "It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth's history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation.

    If this is not done, 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 those 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."

--from 'On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago,' 1863, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 33: 217-234, on page 234.


    [on the evolution of civilization . . .] ". . . the absence of civilisation does not necessarily imply the want of capacity to receive it. An external impulse is in every case required; for I believe no instance can be shown of a homogeneous race having made much or any progress when uninfluenced by the contact of other races. Civilisation has ever accompanied emigration 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, in 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, where we impute it to that imaginary power which we designate by the term instinct."

--from 'On the Varieties of Man in the Malay Archipelago,' 1865, Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London 3: 196-215, on page 206.


    [on the distribution of pittas in Indonesia . . .] "Those naturalists (and I fear they are many) who consider that the Darwinian school attempts to explain too much of the mystery of nature will perhaps think that I should give some idea of how this anomalous state of things came about, and, if I neglect to do so, will lay claim to it as a fact in opposition to my own doctrines. Now though I entirely object to judgment being passed on a theory of nature by its power to explain all mysteries--seeing that the most important data for solving such problems as this are almost always wanting--yet in the present case it is by no means difficult to give a fair conjectural explanation. Modification of form is admitted to be a matter of time. The amount of diversity in the organic remains of two beds or strata is a measure of the time between the deposition of those strata. So the amount of diversity in the species of two adjacent islands is the measure of the time those islands have been separated . . ."

--from 'Remarks on the Habits, Distribution, and Affinities of the Genus Pitta,' 1864, Ibis 6: 100-114, on page 111.


    [on the difficulty of establishing a definition of species . . .] "These few examples show, I think, that in every department of nature there occur instances of the instability of specific form, which the increase of materials aggravates rather than diminishes. And it must be remembered that the naturalist is rarely likely to err on the side of imputing greater indefiniteness to species than really exists. There is a completeness and satisfaction to the mind in defining and limiting and naming a species, which leads us all to do so whenever we conscientiously can, and which we know has led many collectors to reject vague intermediate forms as destroying the symmetry of their cabinets. We must therefore consider these cases of excessive variation and instability as being thoroughly well established; and to the objection that, after all, these cases are but few compared with those in which species can be limited and defined, and are therefore merely exceptions to a general rule, I reply that a true law embraces all apparent exceptions, and that to the great laws of nature there are no real exceptions—that what appear to be such are equally results of law, and are often (perhaps indeed always) those very results which are most important as revealing the true nature and action of the law. It is for such reasons that naturalists now look upon the study of varieties as more important than that of well-fixed species. It is in the former that we see nature still at work, in the very act of producing those wonderful modifications of form, that endless variety of colour, and that complicated harmony of relations, which gratify every sense and give occupation to every faculty of the true lover of nature. . . ."

--from 'On the Phenomena of Variation and Geographical Distribution as Illustrated by the Papilionidae of the Malayan Region,' 1866, Transactions of the Linnean Society (London) 25: 1-71, on pages 13-14.


    [on some fundamentals of geodesy . . .] "The fact (universally stated in works on astronomy and geodesy) that degrees of the meridian increase in length towards the poles, on account of the earth's compression at the poles, is, indeed, one well calculated to mystify a mere mathematician, though it is clear enough to anyone who reflects on the various conditions involved in the problem. If we look at the diagram of a sphere, and the space from the equator to the pole be divided into equal parts subtending angles of one degree each at the centre, and we then flatten the poles by cutting off a portion with a curve of greater radius, it is evident that the distance from the pole to the centre of the sphere will be shorter than before, and therefore, that degrees of latitude, measured angularly from that centre, would really diminish in length from the equator towards the poles.

    But in our actual rotating globe, the unequally curved surface is one of equilibrium, owing to the varying centrifugal force at different latitudes; and, as degrees of a meridian can only be measured upon the surface by tangents or perpendiculars to it (obtained by the spirit-level or the plumb-line), it follows that a degree at the pole, measured by an angular instrument from the earth's centre, would not represent a degree of latitude, because the curvature of the polar regions has its centre much further off than the earth's centre of gravity, and a degree measured on the surface would therefore be longer. The centre of curvature of the earth's surface rarely coincides with the centre of gravity, and a plumb-line will therefore not always point directly to that centre. It will do so only at the equator and the pole. Everywhere else adjacent plumb-lines will meet at points within or beyond the centre, according as the curvature of the surface is less or greater than the mean curvature of the globe. The flattened polar regions are, for the geometer, portions of a larger sphere; the protuberant equator (as far as latitude is concerned) is part of a smaller one; and degrees of the meridian measured on these parts must be respectively longer and shorter than what would be due to the mean curvature of the globe . . ."

--from 'Is the Earth an Oblate or a Prolate Spheroid?,' 1866, Reader (London) 7: 497.


    "Beauty of Sunrise [in the tropics]. The first hour of morning in the equatorial regions, possesses a charm and a beauty that can never be forgotten. All nature seems refreshed and strengthened by the coolness and moisture of the past night; new leaves and buds unfold almost before the eye, and young shoots of the bamboo and other plants may be observed to have grown many inches since the preceeding day. The temperature is the most delicious conceivable. The slight chill of dawn, which was itself agreeable, is succeeded by an invigorating warmth; and the bright sunshine lights up the glorious vegetation of the tropics, and realizes all that the magic art of the painter or the glowing words of the poet, have pictured as their ideals of a terrestrial paradise . . ."

--from 'On the Climate & Vegetation of the Tropics,' an unpublished lecture given in Newcastle in 1867.


    [concerning social evolution . . .] ". . . Now, although we have progressed vastly beyond the savage state in intellectual achievements, we have not advanced equally in morals. It is true that among those classes who have no wants that can not be easily supplied, and among whom public opinion has great influence, the rights of others are fully respected. It is true, also, that we have vastly extended the sphere of those rights, and include within them all the brotherhood of man. But it is not too much to say, that the mass of our populations have not at all advanced beyond the savage code of morals, and have in many cases sunk below it. A deficient morality is the great blot of modern civilization, and the greatest hindrance to true progress. . . ."

--from The Malay Archipelago, 1869 (New York Harper edition), page 597.


    [concerning the relation of matter to force . . .] ". . . To say that mind is a product or function of protoplasm, or of its molecular changes, is to use words to which we can attach no clear conception. You cannot have, in the whole, what does not exist in any of the parts; and those who argue thus should put forth a definite conception of matter, with clearly enunciated properties, and show, that the necessary result of a certain complex arrangement of the elements or atoms of that matter, will be the production of self-consciousness. There is no escape from this dilemma--either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter, and in the latter case, its presence in material forms is a proof of the existence of conscious beings, outside of, and independent of, what we term matter.

    The foregoing considerations lead us to the very important conclusion, that matter is essentially force, and nothing but force; that matter, as popularly understood, does not exist, and is, in fact, philosophically inconceivable. When we touch matter, we only really experience sensations of resistance, implying repulsive force; and no other sense can give us such apparently solid proofs of the reality of matter, as touch does. This conclusion, if kept constantly present in the mind, will be found to have a most important bearing on almost every high scientific and philosophical problem, and especially on such as relate to our own conscious existence."

--from the last chapter of Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, 1870, pages 365-366.


    [on the relation of variation to natural selection . . .] ". . . Mr. Bennett next returns to the laws of variation, and, because Mr. Darwin says that we are profoundly ignorant of these (although he himself has done so much to elucidate them), maintains that we cannot really know anything of the origin of species. As well might it be said that, because we are ignorant of the laws by which metals are produced and trees developed, we cannot know anything of the origin of steamships and railways. Spontaneous "variations" are but the materials out of which "species" are formed, and we do not require to know how the former are produced in order to learn the origin of the latter. But though we may not know the laws which determine each variation in detail, the general causes which lead to variation are not difficult to perceive. We do not know all the laws and causes that have given their peculiar form to each mountain or each valley, but we know a good deal of the general causes which have produced them, and we can perceive that the reason no two are exactly alike is, the number and complexity of the causes and the endless variety of conditions under which these causes have acted. In the far more complex operations of the development and growth of organisms, affected as we know they are by almost infinitely numerous and ever varying external and internal causes, it would be a much greater mystery if there were no variations, and if absolutely identical forms were produced by constant diversity of conditions . . ."

--from 'Natural Selection--Mr. Wallace's Reply to Mr. Bennett,' 1870, Nature 3: 49-50, on page 50.


    [concerning the degeneration hypothesis . . .] ". . . we may, I think, draw a yet higher and deeper teaching from the phenomena of degeneration. We seem to learn from it the absolute necessity of labour and effort, of struggle and difficulty, of discomfort and pain, as the condition of all progress, whether physical or mental, and that the lower the organism the more need there is of these ever-present stimuli, not only to effect progress, but to avoid retrogression. And if so, does not this afford us the nearest attainable solution of the great problem of the origin of evil? What we call evil is the essential condition of progress in the lower stages of the development of conscious organisms, and will only cease when the mind has become so thoroughly healthy, so well balanced, and so highly organised, that the happiness derived from mental activity, moral harmony, and the social affections, will itself be a sufficient stimulus to higher progress and to the attainment of a more perfect life."

--from 'Two Darwinian Essays,' 1880, Nature 22: 141-142, on page 142.


    [on natural causation . . .] ". . . Not only does the marvellous structure of each organised being involve the whole past history of the earth, but such apparently unimportant facts as the presence of certain types of plants or animals in one island rather than in another, are now shown to be dependent on the long series of past geological changes--on those marvellous astronomical revolutions which cause a periodic variation of terrestrial climates--on the apparently fortuitous action of storms and currents in the conveyance of germs--and on the endlessly varied actions and reactions of organised beings on each other. And although these various causes are far too complex in their combined action to enable us to follow them out in the case of any one species, yet their broad results are clearly recognisable; and we are thus encouraged to study more completely every detail and every anomaly in the distribution of living things, in the firm conviction that by so doing we shall obtain a fuller and clearer insight into the course of nature, and with increased confidence that the 'mighty maze' of Being we see everywhere around us is 'not without a plan.'"

--from Island Life, 1880 (Third Edition, 1911), pages 544-545.


    [on natural selection and evolution . . .] ". . . 'At first sight it would seem that such feelings as those of abstract justice and benevolence could never have been so acquired, because they are incompatible with the law of the strongest, which is the essence of natural selection. But this is, I think, an erroneous view, because we must look not to individuals but to societies; and justice and benevolence, exercised towards members of the same tribe, would certainly tend to strengthen that tribe, and give it a superiority over another in which the right of the strongest prevailed, and where consequently the weak and the sickly were left to perish and the few strong ruthlessly destroyed the many who were weaker.' Here, then, I fully recognise the power of natural selection to develop some mental faculties; but I go on to show that there are others, as well as some physical characters, which could not have been so developed, and I thence conclude that man was not developed exclusively by natural selection even if animals were so developed, but that in his case 'some higher law' has intervened. This is very different from 'barring' evolution in the case of man, as your reviewer says I do. Mr. Darwin himself admits that natural selection 'has been the main, but not the exclusive means of the modification of organisms,' and I have given reasons why this is still more emphatically true in the case of man; and these reasons have, so far as I know, never been satisfactorily confuted. As to the hypothetical mode by which I suggested that the difficulty might be got over, it remains a mere suggestion, the correctness of which I am by no means anxious to maintain; but that the difficulties I have stated are real difficulties, and as regards natural selection alone insuperable ones, I am as much convinced as ever. Evolution, however, is a very different thing, and I can hardly imagine any mode or origin of man or his faculties which would not be in accordance with that great principle, which is, essentially, the principle of gradual modification under the action of laws, however complex or obscure those laws may be."

--from 'Man and Evolution,' The Daily News (London), 22 Dec. 1883: 6b.


    [on social evils and political wrongs . . .] ". . . I hold with Henry George, that at the back of every great social evil will be found a great political wrong. Let us seek out the wrong thing, and fearlessly put it right; and we shall then find that man is not so completely out of harmony with the universe in which he exists that thousands must starve in the midst of plenty, and that the actual producers of wealth in the wealthiest country in the world must continue to live without enjoying a fair and adequate share of the wealth which they create."

--from 'How to Cause Wealth to be More Equally Distributed,' in Industrial Remuneration Conference: The Report of the Proceedings and Papers, 1885, page 369.


    [on mind and matter . . .] "There is, I conceive, no contradiction in believing that mind is at once the cause of matter and of the development of individualised human minds through the agency of matter. And when, further on, [Mr. Frederick F. Cook] asks, '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.'"

--from 'Harmony of Spiritualism and Science,' 1885, Light (London) 5: 352.


    [on the relation between spiritualism and evolution . . .] "On the spiritual theory, man consists essentially of a spiritual nature or mind intimately associated with a spiritual body or soul, both of which are developed in and by means of a material organism. Thus, the whole raison d'etre of the material universe--with all its marvelous changes and adaptations, the infinite complexity of matter and of the ethereal forces which pervade and vivify it, the vast wealth of nature in the vegetable and animal kingdoms--is to serve the grand purpose of developing human spirits in human bodies.

    This world-life not only lends itself to the production, by gradual evolution, of the physical body needed for the growth and nourishment of the human soul, but by its very imperfections tends to the continuous development of the higher spiritual nature of man. In a perfect and harmonious world, perfect beings might possibly have been created, but could hardly have been evolved; and it may be well that evolution is the great fundamental law of the universe of mind as well as that of matter. The need for labor in order to live, the constant struggle against the forces of nature, the antagonism of the good and the bad, the oppression of the weak by the strong, the painstaking and devoted search required to wrest from nature her secret powers and hidden treasures,--all directly assist in developing the varied powers of mind and body and the nobler impulses of our nature. Thus, 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 any other means."

--from a reprint of the 1885 article 'Are the Phenomena of Spiritualism in Harmony With Science?' in The Christian Register, 4 March 1886: 132.


    [on 'karma' in business and personal relations . . .] ". . . Whenever we depart from the great principles of truth and honesty, of equal freedom and justice to all men whether in our relations with other states, or in our dealings with our fellow-men, the evil that we do surely comes back to us, and the suffering and poverty and crime of which we are the direct or indirect causes, help to impoverish ourselves. It is, then, by applying the teachings of a higher morality to our commerce and manufactures, to our laws and customs, and to our dealings with all other nationalities, that we shall find the only effective and permanent remedy for Depression of Trade."

--from Bad Times, 1885, pages 117-118.


    [concerning testimony Wallace gave at a Royal Commission inquiry on vaccination . . .] "During the course of my examination, I have been asked questions which implied that I had taken up this subject and written on it without the full and accurate information befitting a man of science. I admit that this is, to some extent, true; but my answer is that I did not take it up as a question of pure science. If it had remained a question of medical science and practice, I should not have troubled myself about it, and certainly not have written on it. But from the moment when, through the great influence of the medical profession, a medical dogma was enforced by penal law, it became a question of politics, a question of personal liberty. When almost every week I read of men fined or imprisoned for refusing to subject their children to a surgical operation which they (and I) believed to be, not only useless, but injurious and dangerous, I felt impelled to aid, if ever so little, in obtaining a repeal of a cruel and tyrannical law. I could not wait years to study the question in all its intricacies and obscurities while men were being daily punished, as I believed, unjustly. Liberty is, in my mind, a far greater and more important thing than science . . ."

--from 1890 testimony printed in 1891 in The Vaccination Inquirer and Health Review 12: 164-168, on page 168.


    [concerning attempts to legislate eugenics-based criteria for marriage . . .] "Before proceeding further with the main question it is necessary to point out that, besides the special objections to each of the proposals here noticed, there is a general and fundamental objection. They all attempt to deal at once, and by direct legislative enactment, with the most important and most vital of all human relations, regardless of the fact that our present phase of social development is not only extremely imperfect but vicious and rotten at the core. How can it be possible to determine and settle the relations of women to men which shall be best alike for individuals and for the race, in a society in which a very large proportion of women are obliged to work long hours daily for the barest subsistence, while another large proportion are forced into more or less uncongenial marriages as the only means of securing some amount of personal independence or physical well-being. . . .Can any thoughtful person admit for a moment that, in a society so constituted that these overwhelming contrasts of luxury and privation are looked upon as necessities, and are treated by the Legislature as matters with which it has practically nothing to do, there is the smallest probability that we can deal successfully with such tremendous social problems as those which involve the marriage tie and the family relation as a means of promoting the physical and moral advancement of the race? What a mockery to still further whiten the sepulchre of modern society, in which is hidden 'all manner of corruption,' with schemes for the moral and physical advancement of the race!"

--from 'Human Selection,' 1890, Fortnightly Review 48 (N.S.): 325-337, on page 330.


    [concerning the purpose of thought transference . . .] "In every case that passes beyond simple transference of a thought from one living person to another, it seems probable that other intelligences co-operate. . . The powers of communication of spirits with us, and ours of receiving their communications, vary greatly. Some of us can only be influenced by ideas or impressions, which we think are altogether the product of our own minds. Others can be so strongly acted on that they feel an inexplicable emotion, leading to action beneficial to themselves or to others. In some cases, warning or information can be given through dreams, in others by waking vision. Some spirits have the power of producing visual, others audible hallucinations to certain persons . . ."

--from 'What Are Phantasms?', 1891, Arena 3: 257-274, on pages 272, 273-274.


    [concerning misconceptions as to the nature of capital . . .] "It will be necessary to make a few preliminary observations on the nature of capital, what it is and what it is not. And first, money is not capital. A man may have a houseful of money, but it is not capital till it is converted into tools or raw materials, and even then it will not be productive capital unless it can command both labor and intelligence to utilise it. We often hear the threat that if workmen strike for higher wages capital will go out of the country. That is an idle threat. True capital--railroads, factories, mills, &c., will not pay to carry away; and as for rich people taking money out of the country, that would hurt no one even now, and if we had possession of the land it would be an absolute benefit to us.

    Again, few persons realise how perishable and fugitive is capital. It wants constant looking after and constant renewal. Every few years new and improved machinery replaces the old, and even buildings have to be constantly repaired, and at longer or shorter intervals to be altogether re-built. We see how comparatively unimportant is the value of capital existing at any one time, when we observe the rapid renewal of that which has been destroyed by a great fire, like that of Chicago, or by a foreign invasion like that of France by Germany. In a very few years everything is replaced and everybody seems as well off as before. We also see how rapidly capital is created by the fact that so many wealthy men who now own mills and houses by the score began life with nothing. Capital, like all wealth, is created and grows solely by means of labor and intelligence applied to land or to the products of the land. It is one of the misleading errors of political economists that the three factors of wealth are land, labor and capital. The true factors, as long ago pointed out by our vice-president, Mr. Volckman, are land, labor, and intelligence. These existed before capital was created; and had capital been a necessary factor in the production of capital, then it could never have come into existence at all. It follows that, when the workers have free access to the land, and as the labor is certainly all their own, they only need the intelligence to produce in a very short time all the capital that is needed . . ."

--from Wallace's 1891 Presidential Address to the Land Nationalisation Society, recorded in Report of the Land Nationalisation Society 1890-91, pages 16-23, on pages 19-20.


    [on variation and natural selection . . .] "The proof that there is a selective agency at work is, I think, to be found in the general stability of species during the period of human observation, notwithstanding the large amount of variability that has been proved to exist. If there were no selection constantly going on, why should it happen that the kind of variations that occur so frequently under domestication never maintain themselves in a state of nature? Examples of this class are white blackbirds or pigeons, black sheep, and unsymmetrically marked animals generally. These occur not unfrequently, as well as such sports as six-toed or stump-tailed cats, and they all persist and even increase under domestication, but never in a state of nature; and there seems no reason for this but that in the latter case they are quickly eliminated through the struggle for existence--that is, by natural selection."

--from an 1891 letter printed in Nature 44: 518-519, on page 518.


    [on human evolution . . .] ". . . although the natural process of elimination does actually raise the mean level of humanity by the destruction of the worst and most degraded individuals, it can have little or no tendency to develop higher types in each successive age; and this agrees with the undoubted fact that the great men who appeared at the dawn of history and at the culminating epochs of the various ancient civilizations, were not, on the whole, inferior to those of our own age. It remains, therefore, a mystery how and why mankind reached to such lofty pinnacles of greatness in early times, when there seems to be no agency at work, then or now, calculated to do more than weed out the lower types . . ."

--from 'Human Progress: Past and Future,' 1892, Arena 5: 145-159, on page 149.


    [on marriage and social evolution . . .] ". . . No! What we need are not prohibitory marriage laws, but a reformed society, an educated public opinion which will teach individual duty in these matters. And it is to the women of the future that I look for the needed reformation. Educate and train women so that they are rendered independent of marriage as a means of gaining a home and a living, and you will bring about natural selection in marriage, which will operate most beneficially upon humanity. When all women are placed in a position that they are independent of marriage, I am inclined to think that large numbers will elect to remain unmarried--in some cases, for life, in others, until they encounter the man of their ideal. I want to see women the selective agents in marriage; as things are, they have practically little choice. The only basis for marriage should be a disinterested love. I believe that the unfit will be gradually eliminated from the race, and human progress secured, by giving to the pure instincts of women the selective power in marriage. You can never have that so long as women are driven to marry for a livelihood . . ."

--from 'Heredity and Pre-Natal Influences. An Interview With Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace,' 1894, Humanitarian 4: 80-88, on page 87.


    [on species and genera . . .] ". . . The essential character of a species in biology is, that it is a group of living organisms, separated from all other such groups by a set of distinctive characters, having relations to the environment not identical with those of any other group of organisms, and having the power of continuously reproducing its like. Genera are merely assemblages of a number of these species which have a closer resemblance to each other in certain important and often prominent characters than they have to any other species . . ."

--from 'The Method of Organic Evolution,' 1895, Fortnightly Review 57 (N.S.): 211-224 & 435-445, on page 441.


    [on Darwinism and the laws of growth and development . . .] "A few words are here necessary as to the very common misconception that extreme Darwinians do not recognise the importance of the organism itself and of its laws of growth and development, in the process of evolution. For myself, I may say that no one can be more profoundly impressed by the vast range, by the complexity, by the mystery, by the marvellous power of the laws and properties of organised matter, which constitute the very foundation of all life, and which alone render possible its countless manifestations in the animal and vegetable worlds; while those who have read Weismann's account of the complex processes of development of sperm and germ cells, in his volume on The Germ Plasm, must feel sure that he, at all events, can have no inadequate conception of their importance.

    What Darwinians deny is--as I understand the question--that these laws themselves serve to keep the completed organism in close adaptation to the fluctuating environment, instead of merely furnishing the material which is required for that adaptation. In our view, the fundamental laws of growth and development, through the agency of rapid multiplication and constant variability, provide the material on which natural selection acts, and by means of which it is enabled to keep up the adaptation to the environment (which alone renders continuous life and reproduction possible) during the constant, though slow changes, whether inorganic or organic, by which, in the course of ages, the effective environment of each species becomes more or less profoundly modified. Thus, and thus alone, we believe, are new species produced in strict adaptation to the new environment. So far as rendering possible and actually leading to growth, reproduction, and variation, the fundamental laws are supreme. In securing the development of new forms in adaptation to the new environment, natural selection is supreme. Hence arises the real distinction--though we may not always be able to distinguish them--between specific and non-specific or developmental characters. The former are those definite, though slight modifications, through which each new species actually became adapted to its changed environment. They are, therefore, in their very nature, useful. The latter are due to the laws which determine the growth and development of the organism, and therefore they rarely coincide exactly with the limits of a species. The more important of these latter characters are common to much larger groups, as families, orders, or classes, while others, depending partly on complex and fluctuating influences, are variable even within the limits of a species. Of this kind are the finger-prints, which, like many other minute details of form or structure, vary from individual to individual."

--from 'The Method of Organic Evolution,' 1895, Fortnightly Review 57 (N.S.): 211-224 & 435-445, on pages 443-444.


    [on Darwin's theory of Pangenesis . . .] "The difficulty of conceiving the actual operation of the theory of Pangenesis may be best illustrated by an example. Taking a bird, such as a peacock, the theory implies that not only every cell and fibre of bone, muscle, skin, and all internal organs gives off gemmules which all find their way into every one of the cells constituting the sperm or reproductive fluid, but that every one of the feathers also sends gemmules from each of the cells that build up its wonderfully complex structure, not only in the adult stage, but in the condition they assume in the young and adolescent birds; and further, that every detail of varying colour of the barbs of these feathers send off their gemmules, and that all this inconceivable number of gemmules must travel through the whole structure of the quill, and through all the tissues of the body, till they reach the reproductive organs, and every one of these gemmules must reach all or most of the sperm-cells, failing which there would be a corresponding deficiency in the offspring. But as important deficiencies of feathers, or of colour on the various feathers, which produce the beautiful patterns and ornaments of a bird's plumage only rarely occur, we must assume that the passage of the millions of gemmules from the ends of the feathers of a peacock's train through the whole length of the shaft, and then to the sperm-cells, is almost always successfully accomplished. In addition to the enormous difficulty, on any theory, of conceiving the processes of growth and development of the complex parts of living organisms, we have, on this theory, an equal or greater difficulty in the reverse process, by which the gemmules from every cell get back again to the sperm and germ cells. Without asserting that this process is impossible or inconceivable, it is well to endeavour to realise what it really is and its almost incredible complexity."

--from an 1897 review of Edward Poulton's Charles Darwin and the Theory of Natural Selection printed in Nature 55: 289-290, on page 290.


    [on the explanations provided by the theory of evolution . . .] ". . . evolution implies more than mere continuity or succession--something like growth or definite change from form to form under the action of unchangeable laws.

    The point especially to be noted here is, that evolution, even if it is essentially a true and complete theory of the universe, can only explain the existing conditions of nature by showing that it has been derived from some preexisting condition through the action of known forces and laws. It may also show the high probability of a similar derivation from a still earlier condition; but the farther back we go the more uncertain must be our conclusions, while we can never make any real approach to the absolute beginnings of things. Herbert Spencer, and many other thinkers before him, have shown that if we try to realize the absolute nature of the simplest phenomena, we are inevitably landed either in a contradiction or in some unthinkable proposition. Thus, suppose we ask--is matter infinitely divisible or is it not? If we say it is, we cannot think it out, since all infinity, however it may be stated in words, is really unthinkable.

    If we say there is a limit--the ultimate atom--then, as all size is comparative, we can imagine a being to whom this atom seems as large as an apple or even a house does to us; and we then find it quite unthinkable that this mass of matter should be in its nature absolutely indivisible even by an infinite force. It follows that all explanations of phenomena can only be partial explanations. They can inform us of the last change or the last series of changes which brought about the actual conditions now existing, and they can often enable us to predict future changes to a limited extent; but both the infinite past and the remote future are alike beyond our powers. Yet the explanations that the theory of evolution gives us are none the less real and none the less important, especially when we compare its teachings with the wild guesses or the total ignorance of the thinkers of earlier ages."

--from 'Evolution,' The Sun (New York), 23 December 1900: 4a-4g & 5a, on page 4a.


    [the anthropic principle . . .] "We are situated in a vast universe and are products of it. We cannot detach ourselves from it and say, 'we do not want the rest of the universe; the stars are no good to us; so long as we have our sun all the rest may go.' The universe is a mighty organism; its whole aspect and structure assure us of the fact. We are a portion of it, and owe our position, our surroundings, our very existence to it. Looking at it as an evolutionist, I believe that it is only by tracing it back to some necessary earlier state that we shall be able to form some rational conception of how it has evolved, how it has come to be what it is, how we have come to be where we are. Then, and then only, shall we be able to give any probable answer to the question, What advantages have we derived from our nearly central position?"

--from 'Man's Place in the Universe, A Reply to Criticisms,' 1903, The Independent (New York) 55: 2024-2031, on page 2030.


    [on Great Britain as an international power . . .] "It is a notorious and undeniable fact that we--that is, our Governments--are, with few exceptions, hated and feared by almost all other Governments, especially those of the Great Powers. Is there no cause for this? Surely we know there is ample cause. We have either annexed or conquered a larger portion of the world than any other Power. We have long claimed the sovereignty of the sea. We hold islands and forts and small territories offensively near the territories of other Powers. We still continue grabbing all we can. In disputes with the powerful we often give way; with the weak and helpless, or those we think so, we are--allowing for advance in civilisation--bloody, bold, and ruthless as any conqueror of the Middle Ages. And with it all we are sanctimonious. We profess religion. We claim to be more moral than other nations, and to conquer and govern and tax and plunder weaker peoples for their good! While robbing them we actually claim to be benefactors! And then we wonder, or profess to wonder, why other Governments hate us! Are they not fully justified in hating us? Is it surprising that they seek every means to annoy us, that they struggle to get navies to compete with us, and look forward to a time when some two or three of them may combine together and thoroughly humble and cripple us? And who can deny that any just Being, looking at all the nations of the earth with impartiality and thorough knowledge, would decide that we deserve to be humbled, and that it might do us good?"

--from 'Practical Politics,' The Clarion (London), 30 September 1904: 1b-c, on page 1b.


    [on our treatment of others . . .] "In The Independent Review (April, 1904), it is pointed out that the universal practice of "saving the face" of any kind of opponent rests upon the fundamental idea of the right of every individual to be treated with personal respect. With them this principle is taught from childhood, and pervades every class of society, while with us it is only recognized by the higher classes, and by them is rarely extended to inferiors or to children. The feeling that demands this recognition is certainly strong in many children, and those who have suffered under the failure of their elders to respect it, can well appreciate the agony of shame endured by the more civilized Eastern peoples, whose feelings are so often outraged by the total absence of all respect shown them by their European masters or conquerors. In thus recognizing the sanctity of this deepest of human feelings these people manifest a truer phase of civilization than we have attained to. Even savages often surpass us in this respect."

--from My Life, 1905, Volume 1, page 62.


    [on Wallace's powers of reasoning . . .] "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."

--from My Life, 1905, Volume 2, pages 41-42.


    [Wallace, recalling a dinner engagement . . .] ". . . The conversation turned somehow upon the existence and nature of God. Mr. [George] Grote seemed inclined to accept the ordinary idea of an eternal, omniscient, and benevolent existence, because anything else was almost unthinkable. To which [Mr. John Stuart] Mill replied, that whoever considered the folly, misery, and badness of the bulk of mankind, such a belief was unthinkable, because it would imply that God could have made man good and happy, have abolished evil, and has not done so. I ventured to suggest that what we call evil may be essential to the ultimate development of the highest good for all; but he would not listen to it or argue the question at all, but repeated, dogmatically, that an omnipotent God might have made man wise, good, and happy, and as He had not chosen to do so it was absurd for us to believe in such a being and call Him almighty and good. He then turned the conversation as if he did not wish to discuss the matter further.

    There is one point in connection with this problem which I do not think has ever been much considered or discussed. It is, the undoubted benefit to all the members of a society of the greatest possible diversity of character, as a means both towards the greatest enjoyment and interest of association, and to the highest ultimate development of the race. If we are to suppose that man might have been created or developed with none of those extremes of character which now often result in what we call wickedness, vice, or crime, there would certainly have been a greater monotony in human nature which would, perhaps, have led to less beneficial results than the variety which actually exists may lead to. We are more and more getting to see that very much, perhaps all, the vice, crime, and misery that exists in the world is the result, not of the wickedness of individuals, but of the entire absence of sympathetic training from infancy onwards. . . . It is therefore quite possible that all the evil in the world is directly due to man, not to God, and that when we once realize this to its full extent we shall be able, not only to eliminate almost completely what we now term evil, but shall then clearly perceive that all those propensities and passions that under bad conditions of society inevitably led to it, will under good conditions add to the variety and the capacities of human nature, the enjoyment of life by all, and at the same time greatly increase the possibilities of development of the whole race. I myself feel confident that this is really the case, and that such considerations, when followed out to their ultimate issues, afford a complete solution of the great problem of the ages--the origin of evil."

--from My Life, 1905, Volume 2, pages 254-256.


    [on imperialism . . .] ". . . For nearly twelve years I travelled and lived mostly among uncivilised or completely savage races, and I became convinced that they all possessed good qualities, some of them in a very remarkable degree, and that in all the great characteristics of humanity they are wonderfully like ourselves. Some, indeed, among the brown Polynesians especially, are declared by numerous independent and unprejudiced observers, to be physically, mentally, and intellectually our equals, if not our superiors; and it has always seemed to me one of the disgraces of our civilisation that these fine people have not in a single case been protected from contamination by the vices and follies of our more degraded classes, and allowed to develope their own social and political organism under the advice of some of our best and wisest men and the protection of our world-wide power. That would have been indeed a worthy trophy of our civilisation. What we have actually done, and left undone, resulting in the degradation and lingering extermination of so fine a people, is one of the most pathetic of its tragedies."

--from 'The Native Problem in South Africa and Elsewhere,' 1906, Independent Review 11: 174-182, on page 182.


    [on the origin of ideas and beliefs . . .] ". . . 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 can not 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 utilized; while, if untrue or if not adequately presented to the world, they are rejected or forgotten."

--from 'The Origin of the Theory of Natural Selection,' 1909, Popular Science Monthly 74: 396-400, on page 400.


    [on women's suffrage . . .] "As long as I have thought or written at all on politics, I have been in favour of woman suffrage. None of the arguments for or against have any weight with me, except the broad one, which may be thus stated:-- 'All the human inhabitants of any one country should have equal rights and liberties before the law; women are human beings; therefore they should have votes as well as men.' It matters not to me whether ten millions or only ten claim it--the right and the liberty should exist, even if they do not use it. The term 'Liberal' does not apply to those who refuse this natural and indefensible right. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum."

--from a 1909 letter printed in The Times, 11 February 1909: 10d.


    [on eugenics . . .] ". . . The theory propounded by Malthus is the greatest of all delusions. As man develops towards a higher type; as he becomes more refined and more civilised, so his fecundity decreases. Low down in the scale of life, birth is only limited by available sustenance. But the higher grows the type, the less is the fecundity. This is true, not only of ascending types in the evolutionary scale, but it is also true of ascending man. The fecundity of the slums is much greater than that of Mayfair. As man progresses in comfort and refinement, he tends to have fewer progeny; as witness the millions of India and China, compared with the almost stationary population of England, and the declining native population of France. Besides, if young people continued at school until the age of twenty-five, early marriages would be discountenanced, for public opinion would not tolerate marriage during the educational period.

    But you must not dream that I approve of any of the modern eugenic heresies that are now being advocated. I feel a little sore on this point because in a popular scientific publication that has just been sent to me, I am referred to as spending the evening of my days in furthering the teaching of eugenics. Wherever did I advocate any such preposterous theories? Not a reference to any of my writings; not a word is quoted in justification of this scientific libel. Where can they put their finger on any statement of mine that as much as lends colour to such an assertion? Why, never by word or deed have I given the slightest countenance to eugenics. Segregation of the unfit, indeed! It is a mere excuse for establishing a medical tyranny. And we have enough of this kind of tyranny already . . ."

--from 'The Last of the Great Victorians' (an interview by Frederick Rockell), 1912, The Millgate Monthly No. 83: 657-663, on pages 662-663.


    [on the reception of new truths . . .] "Truth is born into this world only with pangs and tribulations, and every fresh truth is received unwillingly. To expect the world to receive a new truth, or even an old truth, without challenging it, is to look for one of those miracles which do not occur."

--from 'Alfred Russel Wallace' (an interview/obituary by W. B. Northrop), 1913, The Outlook (New York) 105: 618-622, on page 622.

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