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

Alfred Russel Wallace: A Capsule Biography

The Origins of an Evolutionist (1823-1848)
Travels in the Amazon and Malay Archipelago (1848-1862)
Wallace the Evolving Polymath (1862-1880)
Wallace the Social Radical and "Grand Old Man of Science" (1880-1913)
Wallace's Accomplishments: A Summary List
Biographical Sources

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: The literature cited is identified in the 'Writings on Wallace' section at this site; the "S" numbers given refer to the item entry numbers in the 'Wallace Bibliography' section. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/BIOG.htm

The Origins of an Evolutionist (1823-1848)

    Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), English naturalist, evolutionist, geographer, anthropologist, and social critic and theorist, was born 8 January 1823 at Usk, Gwent (now, and at the time of Wallace's birth, Monmouthshire). He was the third of four sons and eighth of nine children of Thomas Vere Wallace and Mary Anne Greenell, a middle-class English couple of modest means. The older Wallace was of Scottish descent (reputedly, of a line leading back to the famous William Wallace of medieval times); the Greenells were a relatively unremarkable but respectable English family who had lived in the Hertford area for generations. Thomas Wallace had trained for the law (and actually was sworn in as an attorney in 1792) but never practiced, income from inherited property securing him a life of leisure for the first fifteen years of his adulthood. With his marriage in 1807 things quickly changed, however, and he was forced into the first of what would turn out to be a long series of relatively unsuccessful ventures, including the publication of a literary magazine.

    Young Alfred's childhood was a happy one, but at times difficult for lack of money. Four of his five older sisters did not live beyond the age of twenty-two, and Wallace himself was not always in the best of health. The Wallaces left Usk for Hertford when Alfred was only five. He found the grammar school he attended there rather tedious, but for a time was privy to plenty of good reading materials, his father being a town librarian for some years. About 1835 the elder Wallace was swindled out of his remaining property and the family fell on really hard times; young Wallace was forced to withdraw from school around Christmas 1836 and was sent to London to room with his older brother John. The ensuing several month experience was critical to his future intellectual development, as there he first came into contact with supporters of the utopian socialist Robert Owen. In his autobiography My Life (S729) he recollects that he even once heard Owen himself speak; from that point on he would describe himself in disciple terms.

    By mid 1837 he had left London to join the eldest brother, William, in Bedfordshire. William owned a surveying business, and Wallace was to learn the trade. In 1839 he was temporarily apprenticed to a watchmaker, but by the end of the year he was again working with William, now based in Hereford. Over the next several years he picked up a number of trades-related skills and knowledge, particularly in drafting and map-making, geometry and trigonometry, building design and construction, mechanics, and agricultural chemistry. Moreover, he discovered that he really enjoyed the outdoor work involved in surveying. Soon he was starting to take an interest in the natural history of his surroundings, especially its botany, geology, and astronomy. While working in the area of the Hereford town of Kington in 1841 he became associated with the newly-formed Mechanic's Institution there; some months later, after moving over to the Welsh town of Neath, he began attending lectures given by the members of that area's various scientific societies. He also involved himself with the Neath Mechanics Institute, eventually giving his own lectures there on various technical and natural history subjects. The early 1840s also witnessed his first writing efforts: an essay (S1a) on the disposition of mechanics institutes written about 1841 found its way into a history of Kington published in 1845; two of his other essays from this early period (S1 and S623) are discussed in his 1905 autobiography My Life (S729).

    In late 1843 a slow work period forced William Wallace to let his brother go. Alfred decided to apply for an open position at the Collegiate School in Leicester, where he was hired on as a master to teach drafting, surveying, English, and arithmetic. Now commenced another period central to his future path. Leicester had some good libraries, and Wallace was able to find and digest several important works on natural history and systematics; moreover, sometime during the year 1844 he made the acquaintance of another young amateur naturalist, Henry Walter Bates. Bates, though two years younger than Wallace, was already an accomplished entomologist, and his collections and collecting activities soon captured Wallace's interest. Around the same time Wallace saw his first demonstration of the practice of mesmerism, then dismissed by most as illusion or trickery. On investigating, however, he found he could personally reproduce many of the effects he had seen exhibited on stage, and learned his "first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men, or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men admittedly sane and honest" (S478).

    In February of 1845 his brother William died unexpectedly and Wallace quit his teaching job at Leicester to return to surveying, now going through a boom period. But he soon found that running the business, even with the help of his brother John, involved responsibilities (such as fee collection) that he hated. He still had enough spare time, however, to continue with his natural history-related activities, and was even made a curator of the Neath Philosophical and Literary Institute's museum. He also kept up a correspondence with his friend Bates. A new book by William H. Edwards entitled A Voyage Up the River Amazon suggested a way out of his situation: he would turn professional and launch a self-sustaining natural history collecting expedition to South America. Bates was enlisted (undoubtedly with little effort), and the two young men (at the time Wallace was 25 and Bates 23) left for Pará (now called Belém), at the mouth of the Amazon, on 25 April 1848.

Travels in the Amazon and Malay Archipelago (1848-1862)

    On 28 May 1848 Wallace and Bates disembarked at Pará and began to organize their operations. At first they worked as a team, but in March 1850 or perhaps as much as eighteen months earlier they split up (for reasons that have never been clarified). Wallace centered his activities in the middle Amazon and Rio Negro regions; Bates would remain in Amazonian South America eleven years, securing his permanent reputation as a leading naturalist and entomologist, and contributing significantly to the early development of the theory of natural selection through his elucidation of the concept of mimetic resemblance--"Batesian mimicry"--and various writings on biogeography. Wallace managed to ascend the Rio Negro system farther than anyone else had to that point, and drafted a map of the Rio Negro region that proved accurate enough to become the standard for many years (the map was published as a part of S11).

    Apart from playing the role of collector and explorer, Wallace had an overriding reason for coming to the Amazon: to investigate the causes of organic evolution. His contacts with the Owenists had left him with an early interest in social/societal evolution, an interest that had extended itself in the direction of natural science with his mid-1840s readings of two crucial works: Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, and Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Lyell's work had become the bible of uniformitarianism, and instilled in Wallace an appreciation of how long-term change could be effected through the operation of slow, ongoing processes. Vestiges was an early, popular, effort to examine the notion of biological evolution; it was a bit short on its appreciation of mechanism but argued pursuasively against both Creationism and Lamarckism. Wallace was apparently an instant convert to the feature arguments of each work, and very quickly recognized how he might go about demonstrating that evolution did in fact take place: by tracing out, over time and space, the geographical/geological records of individual phylogenies. He soon focused on two particular elements of this study: (1) the way geography limited or facilitated the extension of species range, and (2) how ecological station seemed to influence the shaping of adaptations more than did closeness of affinity with other forms. His investigation of these subjects included efforts to come to grips with the region's ornithology, entomology, primatology, ichthyology, botany, and physical geography, but in the end he was unable to come to any conclusion about the actual mechanism of evolutionary change. He also spent much time studying the ways of the native peoples he worked among, including collecting vocabularies of many of their languages (S714).

    By early 1852 Wallace was in ill health and in no condition to proceed any further. He decided to quit South America, and began the long trip back down the Rio Negro and Amazon to Pará. When he finally reached the town on the 2nd of July, he found that his younger brother Herbert had died. Herbert had been working in the area since 1849, but in 1851 tried to return to England from Pará, where he caught yellow fever. Moreover, and further to Wallace's dismay, most of the collections from the preceding two years he had been forwarding down the Amazon had been delayed at the dock at Barra do Rio Negro (Manaus) through a misunderstanding; he would therefore have to secure passage for these as well as himself. Within a few days he had been successful in so doing, and soon set out for England. Unfortunately, on the 6th of August the brig on which he was sailing caught fire and sank, taking almost all of his possessions--including some live animals--along with it. For ten days Wallace and his comrades struggled to survive in a pair of badly leaking lifeboats, then were sighted and picked up by a passing cargo ship also making its way back to England. As luck would have it this vessel was also old and slow, and itself nearly foundered when hit by a series of storms. In all, Wallace's ocean crossing took eighty days.

    When Wallace stepped back on English soil on 1 October 1852, he was faced with some decisions. His collections had been insured, but only to an extent buying him some time. He was now twenty-nine and reasonably well-known as a travelling naturalist, but he had not been able to come up with the key to the mystery of organic change. Further, he now had no collections he could study at his leisure that might help him do so. For eighteen months his activities were mixed: a vacation in Switzerland, attending professional meetings and delivering papers, and, finally, the production of two books: Palm Trees of the Amazon and Their Uses (S713) and A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (S714). These made a slight but generally positive impression; the first was an ethnobotanical study based in part on drawings he had managed to save from the ship's fire; the second, a pleasant but not terribly profound account of his four years' work and travels.

    With no other prospects immediately apparent, Wallace decided to carry on with his collecting activities. He chose the Indonesian Archipelago for his next base of operations, using his record of accomplishments to that point to secure a grant from the Royal Geographical Society to cover his passage to what was referred to in those days as "the Malay Archipelago." He arrived in Singapore on 20 April 1854, to begin what would turn out to be the defining period of his life.

    Wallace's name is now inextricably linked with his travels in the Indonesian region. He spent nearly eight full years there; during that period he undertook about seventy different expeditions resulting in a combined total of around 14,000 miles of travel. He visited every important island in the archipelago at least once, and several on multiple occasions. His collecting efforts produced the astonishing total of 125,660 specimens, including more than a thousand species new to science. The volume he later wrote describing his work and experiences there, The Malay Archipelago (S715), is the most celebrated of all writings on Indonesia, and ranks with a small handful of other works as one of the nineteenth century's best scientific travel books. Highlights of his adventures there include his study and capture of birds-of-paradise and orangutans, his many dealings with native peoples, and his residence on New Guinea (he was one of the very first Europeans to live there for any extended period).

    Beyond his travel and collecting activities, Wallace's time in the Malay Archipelago was marked, of course, by the 1858 event that would assure his place in history. Three years earlier he had still been cogitating on the causes of organic evolution when an article by another naturalist prompted him to write and publish the essay 'On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species' (S20), a theoretical work that all but stated outright Wallace's belief in evolution. The paper was seen by Lyell, who thought highly of it and brought it to Darwin's attention. Darwin, however, took relatively little notice.

    Now that he had a provisional model of the relation of biogeography to organic change, Wallace quickly applied the related concepts in two further studies, published in 1856 and 1857 (S26 & S38). In February of 1858, while suffering from an attack of malaria in the Moluccas (it is not fully certain which island he was actually on, though either Gilolo or Ternate seems the likely candidate), Wallace suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, connected the ideas of Thomas Malthus on the limits to population growth to a mechanism that might ensure long-term organic change. This was the concept of the "survival of the fittest," in which those individual organisms that are best adapted to their local surroundings are seen to have a better chance of surviving, and thus of differentially passing along their traits to progeny. Excited over his discovery, Wallace penned an essay on the subject as soon as he was well enough to do so, and sent it off to Darwin. He had begun a correspondence with Darwin two years earlier and knew that he was generally interested in "the species question"; perhaps Darwin would be kind enough to bring the work, titled 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type,' (S43) to the attention of Lyell? Darwin was in fact willing to do so, but not for any reasons Wallace had anticipated. Darwin, as the now well-known story goes, had been entertaining very similar ideas for going on twenty years, and now a threat to his priority on the subject loomed. He contacted Lyell to plead for advice on how to meet what just about anyone would have to admit was a very awkward situation. Lyell and Joseph Hooker, a prominent botanist and another of Darwin's close friends, decided to present Wallace's essay, along with some unpublished fragments from Darwin's writings on the subject, to the next meeting of the Linnean Society. This took place on 1 July 1858, without obtaining Wallace's permission first (he was contacted only after the fact).

    Whatever one thinks about Wallace's treatment in this matter, the events of summer 1858 did ensure that the world wouldn't have to wait any longer for its introduction to the concept of natural selection. Darwin had been working on a much larger tome on the subject that was still many years away from completion (and in fact never was completed); Wallace's bombshell had the immediate effect of forcing him to get together a more compact, readable, and, ultimately, probably more successful work. On the Origin of Species was published less than eighteen months later, in November of 1859. And, although Darwin would overshadow Wallace from that point on, Wallace's role in the affair was well enough known to insiders, at least, to ensure his future entry into the highest ranks of scientific dialogue. It should in all fairness to Darwin be noted that Wallace took full advantage of this opportunity, an opportunity he might not otherwise have received.

    Wallace's discovery of natural selection occurred almost at the midpoint of his stay in the Malay Archipelago. He was to remain there four more years, continuing his agenda of systematically exploring and recording the circumstances of its faunas, floras, and peoples. By the end of his trip (and for the rest of his life) he was known as the greatest living authority on the region. He was especially known for his studies on its zoogeography, including his discovery and description of the faunal discontinuity that now bears his name. "Wallace's Line," extending between the islands of Bali and Lombok and Borneo and Sulawesi, marks the limits of eastern extent of many Asian animal forms and, conversely, the limits of western extent of many Australasian forms.

Wallace the Evolving Polymath (1862-1880)

    Wallace left the Malay Archipelago in February of 1862 and returned to England on 1 April. His collecting activities had earned him a sizable nest egg with which he hoped he could retire to a quiet life as a country gentleman. First, however, there was the matter of coming to grips with the implications of his vast personal collection of specimens. For the next three years he immersed himself in them, producing a string of systematic revisions (mainly of birds and insects) and several interpretative works. Over that period (to the end of 1865) he presented at least sixteen papers at professional meetings, to the British Association, and Entomological, Zoological, Linnean, Anthropological and Geographical Societies. He soon met nearly every important English naturalist, and began to count many as friends.

    In certain respects, the period 1862 through 1865 also represented a rather difficult time for Wallace. Eager to marry and settle down, he was rebuffed by one woman before wedding the twenty year old daughter of a botanist friend in 1866. Although one of their three children would die only a few years later, their marriage was by all accounts a happy one: his wife Annie proved an excellent companion, and was well enough educated and sufficiently interested to help him from time to time with his work. Further, both Wallaces loved gardening, and spent many hours together pursuing this recreation. The real crisis for Wallace in the years after his return to England revolved, however, around his relation to the theory of natural selection. Although Wallace was known as a co-originator of the natural selection concept, the premature reading of the Ternate essay and Darwin's subsequent publication of On the Origin of Species led everyone to believe he was a full supporter of Darwinian doctrines. Subsequent events would prove he was not.

    We unfortunately do not know whether Wallace felt at the time that his 1858 model of natural selection could be extended to explain the origin and/or development of humankind's higher mental and moral qualities. Surprisingly, he wrote not another word about natural selection (at least, in the sense of doing more than just mentioning it) until late 1863 (the classic analysis 'Remarks on the Rev. S. Haughton's Paper on the Bee's Cell, and on the Origin of Species,' S83). In 1864 he presented a milestone paper on the evolution of human races to the Anthropological Society: 'The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced From the Theory of "Natural Selection"' (S93). In this work Wallace sought to reconcile the positions of the monogenists and polygenists on human origins through an application of the general Darwinian model. But by 1865 at the latest (and possibly going back many years), he had been experiencing some doubt as to whether materialistic models, including Darwinism, could account for humankind's higher attributes. He began investigating the philosophy and manifestations of spiritualism, most likely (in my opinion) in an effort to complete what he had started in 1858. The result was a wholly new evolutionary synthesis, one in which a material process (natural selection) was understood to rule at the biological level, while a spiritual one (as described through spiritualism) operated at the level of consciousness. This overall approach was later taken up by the theosophists (Madame Blavatsky et al.), who based most of their more esoteric teachings (including, for example, theories of cyclic reincarnation) on ancient religious and literary texts, but who also acknowledged a role for natural selection in producing a Darwinian kind of material phylogenesis. (Wallace himself, however, would never take much interest in theosophy, considering it much too abstruse.)

    Wallace's conversion to spiritualism in the late 1860s took many of his colleagues by surprise (Hooker would later write in disbelief "that such a man should be a spiritualist is more wonderful than all the movements of all the plants"--a play on the title of a then-recently published work by Darwin). Wallace spent a few years urging them to look into the matter in more detail, but few followed his lead. He would remain a spiritualist the rest of his days, never recanting his belief, and publishing some one hundred writings on the subject. It is in fact generally thought that Wallace's thinking regarding the application of Darwinian concepts to the development of humankind's higher attributes changed around 1865 in response to this apparent new influence in his life; I personally feel this is a mis-reading of the situation, and that the apparent "change" in his position simply represented a solidification of an already-existing, but not yet formally stated, evolutionary model.

    Whatever one believes about the influences on Wallace's thoughts during this period, there can be no disagreement as to the sudden broadening of his attention that followed soon thereafter. In 1865 he produced his first published writing on politics (S110); in 1866 writings on geodesy (S115 & S116); in 1867 his first of many treatments of glacial features (S124); and in 1869 the first of several essays on museum organization (S143). Primarily, however, he was gaining recognition as one of Darwin's two main (the other being Thomas Huxley) "right-hand men." His most important 1860s works in that direction include S83, S93, S96, S121, S134, S136, S139, S140, S146, and S155. His reputation as a naturalist soon extended itself to the popular arena with the publication of his hugely successful The Malay Archipelago (S715) in early 1869, and the essay collection Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (S716) a year later.

    In the decade that followed, Wallace published over 150 works, including essays, letters, reviews, book notices, and monographs. His scientific writings would focus on natural selection, geographical distribution, and glaciology, and include three classic books: The Geographical Distribution of Animals (S718) in 1876, Tropical Nature, and Other Essays (S719) in 1878, and Island Life (S721) in 1880. Each work is still frequently referred to today: S718, for its formalization of the faunal region concept and treatment of zoogeographical methodology; S719, for its attention to the causes and characteristics of tropical floras and faunas (including its discussion of the concept of latitudinal diversity gradients); and S721, for its systemization of island types and biotas, and relation of glaciation processes to the known characteristics of geographical distribution of plants and animals. In Wallace's work in biology and anthropology, further departures from Darwinian thinking were evident. He continued to argue against some of Darwin's positions on human evolution, and in addition the latter's approach to sexual selection and several biogeographic matters. His 1870s writings were also characterized by an increased attention to social issues. In 1870 he spoke out against government aid to science (S157 & S158); in 1873 he produced essays on the Church of England (S225), free trade principles (S231), and the abolishment of trusts (S236); in 1878 he wrote on a suburban forest management issue (S292); and in 1879, again on free trade (S306, S310 & S312).

    Meanwhile, personal problems were creating a considerable distraction. Most of the profits accrued from his Malay collections were badly invested, and lost. He was not well suited for most kinds of permanent positions, and despite applying for a number of them never succeeded in landing one. He took on odd jobs (editing other naturalists' manuscripts, correcting state-administered examinations, giving lectures, etc.) to help make ends meet, and moved progressively further and further from London to minimize costs and find more suitable living quarters. In 1870 Wallace took up a 500.-pound challenge from a flat-earther to produce a proof that the earth was not flat; he won the challenge with a neatly conceived demonstration (the so-called "Bedford Canal experiment": S162, S163, S200aa, S202) but, on a technicality, not a penny of the wager, and was seriously harassed by the loser for over ten years (see Garwood 2001 & 2007 and Schadewald 1978). Eventually his financial situation degenerated far enough to cause a friend to intervene; in 1881, with help from Darwin (see Colp 1992), the government was convinced to grant him an annual civil list pension of 200. pounds for his services to science. It was not enough to live on by itself, but it helped.

Wallace the Social Radical and "Grand Old Man of Science" (1880-1913)

    With the completion of his great works on biogeography, Wallace turned in earnest to social issues in the 1880s. He had been interested for many years in the problems associated with land tenure, and in 1870, at the special invitation of John Stuart Mill, had even become peripherally involved with the latter's Land Tenure Reform Association. But in early 1881, following the publication of his 'How to Nationalize the Land' (S329), he fully committed himself to the debate by helping start the Land Nationalisation Society. He also became its first President, holding that position until his death, over thirty years later (though after 1895 his participation in the organization's work was more inspirational than actual). Wallace's two most important writings on land were his Land Nationalisation (S722), published in 1882, and 1883's 'The "Why" and the "How" of Land Nationalisation' (S365). In these he argued that the State should, over the long-term, buy out large land holdings and then institute an elaborate rent system based on a combination of location-specific and value-added-by-renter considerations. Wallace's writings on land nationalization feature many ideas in advance of their time, including suggestions for the legislated protection of rural lands and historical monuments, the construction of greenbelts and parks, and arguments for suburban and rural re-population and organization. In the early 1880s he also became interested in the anti-vaccination movement. As one of its most powerful spokespersons he would produce a series of impassioned writings (S374, S420, S536 & S616) that featured statistical epidemiological arguments, a great novelty for its time.

    Wallace also took up the causes of the labor movement. He was an early proponent of overtime pay rates, but was against strikes: instead, he argued, employees should donate a portion of their pay to funds that could later be used to effect company buy-outs (S560). Eventually he came around to endorsing socialism, but only as late as 1889, on his reading of the American Edward Bellamy's best-selling utopian novel Looking Backward (S418). As mentioned earlier, Wallace had since his early teen years had a genuine love for the work of Robert Owen, but had never quite believed in the large-scale practicality of Owen's approach. Neither had he been quite sure about its possible incursion on individual rights and freedoms. Looking Backward changed his mind on both issues. From 1889 on, Wallace would view socialism as a means whereby the average person might obtain a certain basic and acceptable standard of living; freedom from worrying over basics would then (in theory) allow a re-directioning of attention toward various means of moral/ethical self-improvement (including spiritualism). His motto, first mentioned in a speech in 1892 (S450; later popularized by the English sociologist and writer Benjamin Kidd), would become "Equality of opportunity!", a plea for social justice.

    The preceding list by no means exhausts the range of non-natural science-related subjects that Wallace at one time or another addressed. For example, he was an early supporter of women's suffrage, and was much admired by the members of the women's movement for his unqualified stand on the matter. He also came down heavily on many occasions on societal and governmental responses to eugenics, poverty, militarism, imperialism, and institutional punishment. On several occasions (S552, S553, S556 & S557) he wrote on the advantages of implementing a paper money standard; his efforts were later recognized by twentieth century economists interested in currency stabilization theory (the renowned American economist Irving Fisher even dedicated a book to him!). He sparred with the legal system at times, suggesting changes in the means of dealing with inherited wealth and trusts. He wrote two essays (S491 & S635) on how to re-establish confidence in the House of Lords, and one on how to revitalize the Church of England (S225). Many of the more conservative of the social and institutional elite came to wince at the mere mention of his name.

    Although Wallace's travels as a self-supporting naturalist/explorer had ended with his return to England in 1862, he did not lead an entirely sedentary life his remaining years. As already mentioned, he began to move away from London as early as the 1860s; by 1881 he was in Godalming, in 1889, Parkstone, and then, finally, Broadstone (near Wimborne, Dorset, and the English Channel) in 1902. For many years (until about 1890) he travelled around the better part of England giving lectures and attending meetings, and even to Scotland and Ireland. He and his wife also spent several vacations and "botanizing excursions" in locations ranging from Wales and the Lake Country to Switzerland. In 1896 he gave an invited lecture on progress in the nineteenth century in the town of Davos in the latter country. But the main adventure of his post-Malay Archipelago life was a ten-month lecture tour to the United States and Canada in 1886 and 1887.

    In late 1885 Wallace was invited to give a series of lectures on Darwinism at the Lowell Institute in Massachusetts. Once this obligation was met he would be free to arrange such other lectures as he might wish. For six months in late 1886 and early 1887 he stayed mainly in the vicinities of Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., where he met countless individuals of note, up to and including President Cleveland. In early April of 1887 he set out across the country, reaching California in late May of that year. There he was reunited with his older brother John, who he hadn't seen for nearly forty years. For several weeks he vacationed and lectured; one of his presentations was a talk on spiritualism entitled 'If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?' (S398)--probably the single most successful lecture he ever gave. Significant events from his stay in the San Francisco area included tours of nearby redwood groves (in the company of the eminent naturalist John Muir), Yosemite Valley, and the future site of Stanford University (with Leland Stanford himself, with whom he had become intimate some months earlier in Washington, D.C.). In early July he left California to return eastward, ultimately back to England.

    The American tour became the inspiration for Wallace's next major book, in 1889. Titled Darwinism (S724), it consisted largely of the topics he had lectured on, presented one chapter at a time. It did very well, and remains one of his most frequently cited works. Darwinism, while perhaps the highpoint of his later scientific work, was nevertheless only a very small part of it. Although social studies were absorbing more and more of his attention throughout the 1880s and 1890s, he was still left with plenty of time to crank out a steady stream of writings on more scientific subjects. During the 1890s alone he again published a total of over 150 works, dozens of these dealing with evolutionary, biogeographic, and physical geography subjects.

    By the turn of the century, Wallace was very probably Britain's best known naturalist. By the end of his life, moreover, he may well have owned (based on evidence gleaned from contemporary sources) one of the world's most recognized names. While simultaneously continuing to publish scores of short works, between the years 1898 and 1910--mostly during his ninth decade--he managed to turn out (i.e., as author and/or editor) well over four thousand pages of monographic writings! His final two books were published in the year of his death, 1913. He remained active into his ninety-first year but slowly weakened in his final months. He died in his sleep at Broadstone on 7 November 1913; three days later his remains were buried nearby. On 1 November 1915 a medallion bearing his name was placed in Westminster Abbey.

    Despite Wallace's radical associations and links with spiritualism, he was well honored during his lifetime (and he most likely would have been even more so had he not made it clear early on that he was not particularly interested in receiving honoraria). He was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Dublin in 1882 and Oxford University in 1889, and important medals from the Royal Society in 1868, 1890 and 1908, the Société de Geographie in 1870, the Royal Geographical Society in 1892, and the Linnean Society in 1892 and 1908. He even received the Order of Merit from the Crown in 1908--quite an honor for such an anti-establishment radical. He became a (reluctant) member of the Royal Society in 1893, and at one time or another had professional affiliations with the Royal Geographical Society, Linnean Society, Zoological Society, Royal Entomological Society, Ethnological Society (though apparently not as a member), British Association for the Advancement of Science, Society for Psychical Research, Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Ethological Society (London), British Ornithologists' Union, Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, British National Association of Spiritualists, Land Nationalisation Society, Anti-Vaccination League, and a considerable number of lesser organizations.

    Physical descriptions of Wallace dwell on his height (as a young man he was six feet one inch tall), long beard (maintained from his days in the Malay Archipelago on), and snow-white hair (starting in his fifties). He had a fundamentally lean build, and as the years passed came to walk with a bit of a stoop. His eyesight was not strong, with the result that his sparkling blue eyes were framed by spectacles for most of his life. He experienced various illnesses and ailments throughout his life, none of which individually seems to have had any great negative effect on his productivity.

    As a person Wallace was decent to a fault; he possessed an apparently infinite tolerance for the weaknesses of others (and was surely victimized on a number of occasions as a result), but he was also known for not suffering fools gladly. He thrived on public debate, but was personally modest, shy, and self-effacing. Still, by all accounts he was good company when at ease, and was much in demand as a public speaker. He also had a solid reputation as a writer and reviewer, and for all his "isms" was generally regarded by his peers as one of the period's greatest scientific reasoners.

Wallace's Accomplishments: A Summary List

    The assessment of Wallace's contribution remains a work in progress. In what follows I briefly outline what various sources have pointed to as his noteworthy achievements. The entries are arranged chronologically as possible; most include one or more referrals to related (his own, and secondary source) writings identified in the "Wallace Writings Bibliography" and "Writings on Wallace" sections.

  • in 1851 ascends the Rio Negro/Uaupés River in South America farther than any previous European; constructs a dependable map of the course of the river (S11, S714; Beddall 1969, Knapp 1999, Lima 2013, Egerton 2022)
  • in 1852 advances the riverine barrier hypothesis of species distribution patterns in Amazonia (S8; Colwell 2000, Gascon et al. 2000, Patton et al. 2000, Hall & Harvey 2002, Racheli & Racheli 2004, Marsh et al. 2007, Zhang et al. 2007, Funk et al. 2007, Michaux 2008, Díaz-Muñoz 2012, Fernandes et al. 2012)
  • through his four-year collecting expedition to Amazonia (1848-1852) becomes recognized as an expert on the region's natural history (S3-S13, S713, S714; Archer 1855, Beddall 1969, Pires 1974, Balick 1980, Ewan 1992, Williams 1994, Dickenson 1996, Maslow 1996, Raby 1997, Knapp 1999, Camerini 2002, Knapp et al. 2002, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2003, Michaux 2008, Alves 2011, Egerton 2012, Glaubrecht 2014, Hemming 2015, Lima 2020, Guhl 2021d, Limeira-DaSilva 2022)
  • is the first to classify the Amazon and its tributaries into black-, white-, or clear-water types (S714; Pires et al. 2016, Stefanelli-Silva et al. 2019)
  • adopts the position, unusual for nineteenth-century workers, that uncivilized peoples are on the whole neither morally nor intellectually inferior to civilized peoples (Anderson & Perrin 2007, Ballard 2008, Schmitt 2009, Tsao 2010, Limeira-DaSilva et al. 2016)
  • in 1855 writes and publishes essay connecting the facts of geographical and geological distribution to evolution (S20; Hamilton 1856, George 1964, McKinney 1966 & 1972, Brooks 1984, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2003, Lieberman 2005, Costa 2013, Partridge 2020)
  • in 1855 engages in the first extensive collecting efforts and field studies on the orangutan (S23, S24, S26, S30, S715; Harrisson 1960, Camerini 1996, Quammen 1996, Raby 1997, Daws & Fujita 1999, Tsao 2013, van Wyhe & Kjaergaard 2015, Shmuely 2020)
  • investigates and describes the faunal discontinuity now known as "Wallace's Line," c1856-1862 (S31, S53, S78, S715; Mayr 1944, Simpson 1977, George 1981, Whitmore 1981, Camerini 1993, Quammen 1996 & 2008, Benton 1997, Diamond 1997, Van Oosterzee 1997, Armstrong 1998, Clode & O'Brien 2001, Erdelen 2001, Metcalfe et al. 2001, Brown & Guttman 2002, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2003, Sweet & Pianka 2003, Dunn 2004, Beck et al. 2006, Michaux 2008 & 2010, Balke et al. 2009, Carstensen & Oleson 2009, Cox et al. 2010, Esselstyn et al. 2010, Müller et al. 2010, Lohman et al. 2011, Stelbrink et al. 2012, Sysling 2019)
  • engages in some of the first extensive collecting efforts and field studies on birds of paradise, c1857-1860 (S37, S48, S55, S67, S715; Camerini 1996, Quammen 1996, Raby 1997, Daws & Fujita 1999, Fox 2001, Scholes & Laman 2015)
  • in 1858 writes and publishes essay introducing the concept of natural selection (S43; Boyd 1859, Hussey 1859, Anonymous 1860, Haughton 1860, Meyer 1870, Linnean Society 1908, Eiseley 1958, McKinney 1966 1969 & 1972, Beddall 1968 1972 & 1988, Moody 1971, Brooks 1972, Bowler 1976, Brackman 1980, Brooks 1984, Bowler 1989, Smith 1992, Gardiner 1995, Stevens 1995, England 1997, Moore 1997, Coronado 2002, Dawkins 2002, Campbell 2003, Horta 2003 & 2003, Kutschera 2003, Radick 2003, Bulmer 2005, Hull 2005, Paterson 2005, Carmo & Martins 2006, Quammen 2006, Beccaloni 2008, Davies 2008, Guerrero 2008, Caponi 2009, Gayon 2009, González Recio 2010, Lloyd et al. 2010, Davies 2012, Smith 2012, van Wyhe & Rookmaaker 2012, Costa 2013 2013 & 2014, Smith 2013, van Wyhe 2013, Gayon 2016, Smith 2016, Costa 2019, Ginnobili & Blanco 2019, Smith 2022)
  • in 1858 becomes one of the first Europeans to set up a residence in New Guinea (S51, S65, S715; Howes 2012, Owen 2020)
  • opines that Papuans are not Malays (S51, S301, S715; Goh 2007, Ballard 2008)
  • defends and eventually institutionalizes the faunal realms classification scheme of Philip L. Sclater (S52, S360, S494, S500, S718; Heilprin 1883 & 1884, Blanford 1890, Clarke 1894, Hedley 1900, Schmidt 1954, George 1964, Nelson 1978, Smith 1989, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2003, Escalante et al. 2010, Kreft & Jetz 2010, Proches & Ramdhani 2012, Holt et al. 2013, Ebach 2013, Rueda et al. 2013, Whittaker et al. 2013, Carmo 2021, Ali & Heaney 2021)
  • in 1860 suggests that an international review board be established to settle questions regarding competing claims of priority in zoological nomenclature (S63, S205; Costa 2013, Costa 2019)
  • collects 125,660 specimens (mostly birds and insects) during the eight-year (1854-1862) expedition to the Malay Archipelago (S715; George 1979, Baker 1996, Quammen 1996 & 2008, Camerini 1996 & 1997, Raby 1997, Severin 1998, Daws & Fujita 1999, Clode & O'Brien 2001, Glaubrecht 2002, Glaubrecht & Kotrba 2004, Tuen & Das 2005, Polaszek & Cranbrook 2006, Cranbrook 2008, Fagan 2008, McCarthy 2009, Loxdale 2010, Sochaczewski 2012, Cranbrook & Mann 2016)
  • in 1863 proposes a Darwinian explanation for the hexagonal construction of bees' cells (S83)
  • in 1864 introduces a model of human racial differentiation based on the theory of natural selection (S93; Hunt 1866, Greg 1868, Patterson 1871, Young 1970, Kottler 1974, Koch-Weser 1977, Schwartz 1984, Richards 1987, Shermer 1991, Vetter 1999, Fichman 2001 & 2004, Cremo 2003, Alter 2007, Benton 2008 & 2009, Lyons 2019)
  • in 1864 introduces the concept of polymorphism (S96, S98; George 1964, Blaisdell 1992, Mallet 2004, 2008 & 2009, Caro et al. 2008, Kunte 2009)
  • in 1864 suggests that female butterflies may be more variable than males (S96; Kunte 2009, Punzalan & Hosken 2010, Oliver & Monteiro 2011)
  • makes fundamental early contributions to the theory of mimicry (S72, S96, S98, S121, S123, S134, S176, S272; Sharp 1867 & 1870, Bennett 1870 1870 & 1877, Murray 1871, Poulton 1890, Syme 1891, Remington 1963, George 1964, Kimler 1983, Blaisdell 1992, Diamond 1994, Mallet 2004 & 2009, Franks 2005, Greene & McDiarmid 2005, Caro et al. 2008, Kunte 2008, Forbes 2009, Penniston 2009, Stevens 2016)
  • constructs an evolutionarily-consistent theory of the necessity of aging and death (S419, S649a; Rossler et al. 1995, Travis 2004, Dytham & Travis 2006, Yun et al. 2006, Leslie 2006)
  • initiates the study of protective coloration in plants and animals, including inventing the concepts of "alluring colors," "deflexion colors," "warning colors," and "disruptive colors" (S129, S134, S138, S143b, S257, S272, S304, S318, S724; Jenner Weir 1869 & 1870, Rooper 1870, Allen 1878 & 1879, Bland 1879, Meldola 1885 & 1885, Poulton 1890, Steffen 1890, Distant 1891, Harpur 1891, Bulman 1898, Pike 1914, Longley 1917, George 1964, Cronin 1991, Blaisdell 1992, Hill 2002, Sherratt 2002, Caro 2005, Franks 2005, Speed & Ruxton 2005 & 2005, Kilner 2006, Speed & Ruxton 2007, Westmoreland & Kiltie 2007, Caro et al. 2008, Soler & Moreno 2012, Stevens & Merilaita 2011, How & Zanker 2014, O'Hanlon et al. 2014, Stevens 2016, Caro 2017, McEntee et al. 2021, Hedley & Caro 2022)
  • in 1867 opines that Polynesian peoples are not of Malayan origin (S131, S142aa, S167; Davis 1873, Whitmee 1873, Wake 1881, George 1964, Vetter 1999)
  • in several essays contributes suggestions for the design of museums (S143, S170, S401, S402, S404, S405; Griffiths 1996, Winsor 2000, Voss & Sarkar 2003)
  • in The Malay Archipelago (1869) produces a study that becomes the most famous work ever written on its subject, and one of the greatest nineteenth century scientific travel books (S715; Whedon 1869, Wight 1877, Macmillan 1908, Reid 1962, Bastin 1986, Mehmet 1992, Pannell 1992, Morgan 1996, Quammen 1996, Raby 1997 & 2008)
  • in 1869 is one of the first to describe surface manifestations of internal soliton waves (S715; Kathirithamby 2005)
  • becomes known as the greatest living authority on the Indonesian region (Quammen 1996 & 2008, Daws & Fujita 1999, Tuen & Das 2005, Reeuwijk 2013)
  • in 1870 advances an estimate of the age of the earth based in part on inferences drawn from land surface erosion rates (S146, S159, S367, S721; Dawkins 1870, Reade 1883 & 1883, Hobson 1892 1893 & 1895, Upham 1893, Sollas 1895 & 1895, Marchant 1916, George 1964, Albritton 1984, Shipley 2001)
  • becomes known as one of Darwin's most persistent and successful defenders (S83, S107, S108, S140, S155, S175, S198, S210, S724)
  • in 1873 suggests an explanation for how animals can sometimes find their way home from long distances (S222, S227, S228; Anonymous 1873 & 1873, Brewer 1873, Darwin 1873, Robertson 1873, Romanes 1873 & 1873)
  • in 1874 is the first to link bird migration to natural selection (S244; Newton 1874)
  • in 1876 Wallace is the first to discuss the characteristics of the Great American Interchange--the exchange of faunal elements between North and South America during the middle and late Cenozoic Era (S718)
  • presents a range of evidence defending the permanence of the continental masses and oceanic basins (S269, S453, S718, S721; Gardner 1881 & 1881, Blanford 1892 & 1892, Jukes-Browne 1892 1892 & 1893, Mill 1893, Fichman 1977, Michaux 1991, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2003, Smith et al. 2019)
  • promotes the use of ecogeographically-arranged displays of animal and plant forms in book figures and museum displays, leading to the development of the "faunal diorama" (S401, S718; Griffiths 1996, Winsor 2000, Voss & Sarkar 2003, Cornish 2015)
  • in 1877 is one of the first to ask why color vision has evolved, and to suggest a possible answer (S272)
  • in 1877 introduces the concept of recognition marks (S272, S389, S395, S485, S724, S732; Cockerell 1897, Ingersoll 1897, George 1964, Cronin 1991, Caro et al. 2008, Weldon & Burghardt 2015)
  • in 1878 is one of the first to consider the causes of latitudinal diversity gradients and related aspects of (what are now known as) r- and K-selection (S289, S290; Bermingham & Dick 2001, Mittelbach et al. 2007, Roy & Goldberg 2007, Aliabadian et al. 2008)
  • in 1879 describes the causes of disjunct distribution patterns (S302; George 1964, Donoghue 2011)
  • develops the first theory of the causes of continental glaciation combining geographical and astronomical factors (S313, S325b, S520, S521, S721; Gardner 1880, Haughton 1880 & 1881, Rae 1881, Croll 1872 1875 1884 1884 1885 & 1885, Ball 1896, Culverwell 1896, Marchant 1916, George 1964, Tinkler 2008, Smith 2019)
  • makes early contributions to the systematic classification of island types (S316, S393, S465, S721; Jukes-Browne 1893, Cain 1984, Quammen 1996, Michaux 2000, Agnarsson & Kuntner 2012, Heaney 2013)
  • in 1880 presents the theory of alpine corridor dispersal to explain the existence of temperate and arctic plants in lower latitude locations (S721, S724)
  • in 1880 becomes a vocal supporter of the ideas of American economist Henry George, helping him gain prominence (S369, S722; Marshall 1883 & 1883, Bear 1884, McDonnell 1884?, Ley 1888, Lange 1902, Helfand 1977, Plowright 1987, Silagi 1989, Andelson 1993, Jones 1994, Fichman 1997, Gaffney 1997, Stack 2008)
  • develops a model of rent assessment based on (1) the location of a parcel of land relative to other services, plus (2) value added to the parcel by the renter (S329, S365, S466, S471; Kinnear 1881, Swinton 1881 & 1881, Gaffney 1997, Gardiner 2000, Stack 2008, Collard 2019)
  • is one of the first to draw attention to and provide evidence for the mouth-gesture theory of the origin of language (S169, S337, S518; Clarke 1881, 1882, 1883 & 1895, Johnston 1896, Paget 1951, George 1964, Deacon 2010, Balari & Lorenzo 2014, Bickerton 2014, Wolfe 2016)
  • in 1882 proposes that greenbelts be established near urban areas (S722; George 1964)
  • in 1882 proposes that rural areas and historic monuments receive legislated protection (S722; George 1964)
  • in 1882 makes the suggestion that explosives be stored underwater (S562a, S729)
  • in 1882 draws attention to, and extends, Müller's work on mimicry (S353, S359; Distant 1882, Meldola 1883, Blakiston & Alexander 1884, Remington 1963, George 1964, Kimler 1983, Caro et al. 2008, Sherratt 2008)
  • in his analyses of small-pox incidence becomes one of the first to use statistical arguments in an attempt to resolve an epidemiological question (S374, S376a, S420, S536, S616; Bond 1898 1898 & 1898, Williamson 1898, Creighton 1900, Anonymous 1901, Clements 1983, Hodge 1902, Scarpelli 1985 & 1992, Fichman & Keelan 2007, Fichman 2008, Weber 2010, Greydanus 2012, Flannery 2015, Fichman 2019)
  • in 1885 expresses support for creating a minimum wage standard (S375, S734)
  • in 1885 suggests it become law that all manufactured goods carry labels specifying their component materials, and that standards for those materials be set and administered by institutions representing each class of manufactures (S723)
  • through the book The Malay Archipelago becomes one of the most important influences on the writings of novelist Joseph Conrad (Clemens 1939, Sherry 1966, Saveson 1970, Hunter 1983, Houston 1997, Hampson 2000, Stape 2000, G. Moore 2007, Raby 2008, Bignami 2011d, Parrinder 2017)
  • in 1889 describes what is now known as the "Wallace Effect," the process of selection for reproductive isolation (S724; Marchant 1916, Mayr 1959, Grant 1966 & 1994, Sawyer & Hartl 1981, Barton 2000, Ollerton 2005, Silvertown et al. 2005, Ritchie 2007, Johnson 2008, Barton & Rodriguez de Cara 2009)
  • in 1889 discusses the significance of symmetrical color patterns in animals (S724; How & Zanker 2014, Caro 2017)
  • criticizes eugenics and develops a model of "human selection" based on elevating the economic status of women and letting voluntary selective marriage weed out less fit individuals (S427, S445, S649, S733; Simpson 1890, Butler 1903, Hartog 1908, Clements 1983, Paul 2003 & 2008, Fichman 2019)
  • draws attention to work being done to investigate Southern Hemisphere glaciation episodes (S172, S456, S472, S480, S482; Blanford & Blanford 1892, Howorth 1893, Officer 1893, Thiselton-Dyer 1893)
  • in 1893 advances the opinion that the Australian aborigines are a Caucasian people (S583, S720; Anderson & Perrin 2007)
  • makes contributions to the theory of ice movement in glaciers (S124, S184, S233, S462, S481, S484; Tinkler 2008, Smith 2019)
  • in 1893 all but proves Sir Andrew Ramsay's glacial origin theory of alpine lake basins (S462, S481, S484, S489; Argyll 1893, Howorth 1893 1893 1893 & 1894, Officer 1893, Oldham 1893 & 1894, Bonney 1894, Tinkler 2008, Smith 2019)
  • in 1898 becomes an early proponent of using paper money as the standard of value (S552, S553, S556, S557; Fisher 1914 & 1920, Patinkin 1993, Collard 2009 & 2019)
  • points to deserts and volcanoes as representing important sources of material for condensation nuclei, with special emphasis on the role of dust (S547, S728)
  • in 1899 suggests that employees collectively put aside pay otherwise lost to strikes for the longer-term purpose of company buy-outs (S560, S618b)
  • in 1899 suggests using fire hoses as a means of riot control (S567)
  • in 1903 becomes one of the first to identify the range of concepts inherent in what is now known as the "anthropic principle" (S606, S728, S732; Flammarion 1903, Maunder 1903, Monck 1903, Turner 1903, Tipler 1981, Gould 1983, Kazyutinsky & Balashov 1989, Balashov 1991, Shermer 1995, Dick 1996 & 2008, Phillips 2008, Flannery 2008, Packer 2012, R Smith 2019)
  • in the early 1900s pioneers the field of exobiology with studies on the likelihood of life-sponsoring conditions in other parts of the universe (S602, S728, S730; Flammarion 1903, Gore 1903, Maunder 1903, Monck 1903 & 1903, Pickering 1903, Ramsay 1903, Turner 1903, Wells 1903, Coupe 1906, Tipler 1981, Kevin 1985, Livi 1990, Dick 1996 & 2008, Cirkovic 2005, Gonzalez 2005, Lane 2011, Kutschera 2012, Brake 2012, Packer 2012, R. Smith 2019, Smith 2022)
  • in 1907 debunks Percival Lowell's idea that Mars is inhabited (S730; Coupe 1906, Lowell 1908, Sagan 1970, Hoyt 1976, Heffernan 1981, Hetherington 1981, Gould 1996-1997, Zahnle 2001, Dick 2008d, Lane 2011, R. Smith 2015 & 2019)
  • in 1907 predicts that the polar caps of Mars are made of frozen carbon dioxide, not frozen water (S730; also S728; Sagan 1970, Zahnle 2001)
  • in 1910 becomes an early supporter of the idea that the animal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene might have been due to over-hunting by prehistoric humans (S732)
  • in 1913 expresses support for paying double-time rates for overtime work (S734; Marchant 1916 (1891 letter from ARW to his daughter))
  • eventually attains status as history's pre-eminent tropical naturalist (S713, S714, S715, S719, S720; Beddall 1969, George 1979, Quammen 1996, Raby 1997, Severin 1998, Rice 1999, Camerini 2002, Tuen & Das 2005, Fagan 2007, Schmitt 2007, McCarthy 2009, Flannery 2010, Hemming 2015, Smith 2021)
  • eventually becomes known as the "father of zoogeography" for his many contributions to this field (S20, S53, S78, S715, S718, S719, S721; George 1964, Browne 1983, Brooks 1985, Ghiselin 1993, Quammen 1996, Bueno H. et al. 1999, Taylor 2000, Glaubrecht 2002, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2003, Bueno H. & Llorente B. 2005, Moore 2005, Michaux 2008, McCarthy 2009, Carmo 2012, Egerton 2012, Gunnell 2013, Smith 2021)
  • Biographical Sources

       The best overall source of information on Wallace's life is still by far his own My Life (S729), published in two volumes in 1905. Marchant (1916) provides an early biographical review which includes many of Wallace's personal letters. Other general biographies include Cope (1891), Marchant (1913), Hogben (1918), George (1964), Williams-Ellis (1966), Cottler (1966), Fichman (1981), Clements (1983), Hughes (1997), Wilson (2000), Raby (2001), Shermer (2002), Bryant (2003), Fonfría (2003), Fichman (2004), Slotten (2004), Focher (2006), Mashad (2010, 2011), Glaubrecht (2013), Kutschera (2013), Manna (2017), Medina Precioso (2021), Costa (2023). Much information of a general biographical nature is included in Poulton (1923-1924), Huxley (1927), Beddall (1969), McKinney (1972 & 1976), Morgan (1978), Brackman (1980), Brooks (1984), Eaton (1986), Hughes (1989), Quammen (1996), Raby (1997), Gander (1998), Severin (1998), Knapp (1999), Rice (1999), Daniels (2001), Camerini (2002), Berry (2002), Smith (2004), Knapp (2007), Rosen (2007), Beccaloni (2008), Davies (2008), Smith & Beccaloni (2008), Revets (2009), Sochaczewski (2012), Smith & Derr (2013), van Wyhe (2013), van Wyhe & Rookmaaker (2013), Glaubrecht (2013), Preston (2013), Benton (2013), Reisse (2014), Hemming (2015), and many other sources. For information on archival sources, see the "Wallace Archives" section of this site.

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