[Transcriber's note: Footnotes moved to end of book.]
Alfred Russel Wallace
Letters and Reminiscences
With Two Photogravures and Eight Half-tone Plates
IN TWO VOLUMES
CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
To the Memory of
These two volumes consist of a selection from several thousands of letters entrusted to me by the Wallace family and dating from the dawn of Darwinism to the second decade of the twentieth century, supplemented by such biographical particulars and comments as are required for the elucidation of the correspondence and for giving movement and continuity to the whole.
The wealth and variety of Wallace's own correspondence, excluding the large collection of letters which he received from many eminent men and women, and the necessity for somewhat lengthy introductions and many annotations, have expanded the work to two (there was, indeed, enough good material to make four) volumes. The family has given me unstinted confidence in using or rejecting letters and reminiscences, and although I have consulted scientific and literary friends, I alone must be blamed for sins of omission or commission. Nothing has been suppressed in the unpublished letters, or in any of the letters which appear in these volumes, because there was anything to hide. Everything Wallace wrote, all his private letters, could be published to the world. His life was an open book—"no weakness, no contempt, dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair."
The profoundly interesting and now historic correspondence between Darwin and Wallace, part of which has already appeared in the "Life and Letters of Charles Darwin" and "More Letters," and part in Wallace's autobiography, entitled "My Life," is here published, with new additions, for the first time as a whole, so that the reader now has before him the necessary material to form a true estimate of the origin and growth of the theory of Natural Selection, and of the personal relationships of its noble co-discoverers.
My warmest thanks are offered to Sir Francis Darwin for permission to use his father's letters, for his annotations, and for rendering help in checking the typescript of the Darwin letters; to Mr. John Murray, C.V.O., for permission to use letters and notes from the "Life and Letters of Charles Darwin" and from "More Letters"; to Messrs. Chapman and Hall for their great generosity in allowing the free use of letters and material in Wallace's "My Life"; to Prof. E.B. Poulton, Prof. Sir W.F. Barrett, Sir Wm. Thiselton-Dyer, Dr. Henry Forbes, and others for letters and reminiscences; and to Prof. Poulton for reading the proofs and for valuable suggestions. An intimate chapter on Wallace's Home Life has been contributed by his son and daughter, Mr. W.G. Wallace and Miss Violet Wallace.
I. WALLACE AND DARWIN—EARLY YEARS
II. EARLY LETTERS (1854-62)
I. THE DISCOVERY OF NATURAL SELECTION
II. THE COMPLETE EXTANT CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN WALLACE AND DARWIN (1857-81)
I. WALLACE'S WORKS ON BIOLOGY AND GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION
II. CORRESPONDENCE ON BIOLOGY, GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION, ETC. (1864-93)
III. CORRESPONDENCE ON BIOLOGY, GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION, ETC. (1894-1913)
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL VIEWS
SOME FURTHER PROBLEMS
APPENDIX: LISTS OF WALLACE'S WRITINGS
LIST OF PLATES IN VOLUME I
A.R. WALLACE (1912)
A.R. WALLACE (SINGAPORE, 1862)
A.R. WALLACE'S MOTHER
A.R. WALLACE SOON AFTER HIS RETURN FROM THE EAST
Alfred Russel Wallace
Letters and Reminiscences
In Westminster Abbey there repose, almost side by side, by no conscious design yet with deep significance, the mortal remains of Isaac Newton and of Charles Darwin. "'The Origin of Species,'" said Wallace, "will live as long as the 'Principia' of Newton." Near by are the tombs of Sir John Herschel, Lord Kelvin and Sir Charles Lyell; and the medallions in memory of Joule, Darwin, Stokes and Adams have been rearranged so as to admit similar memorials of Lister, Hooker and Alfred Russel Wallace. Now that the plan is completed, Darwin and Wallace are together in this wonderful galaxy of the great men of science of the nineteenth century. Several illustrious names are missing from this eminent company; foremost amongst them being that of Herbert Spencer, the lofty master of that synthetic philosophy which seemed to his disciples to have the proportions and qualities of an enduring monument, and whose incomparable fertility of creative thought entitled him to share the throne with Darwin. It was Spencer, Darwin, Wallace, Hooker, Lyell and Huxley who led that historic movement which garnered the work of Lamarck and Buffon, and gave new direction to the ceaseless interrogation of nature to discover the "how" and the "why" of the august progression of life.
Looking over the long list of the departed whose names are enshrined in our Minster, one has sorrowfully to observe that contemporary opinion of their place in history and abiding worth was not infrequently astray; that memory has, indeed, forgotten their works; and their memorials might be removed to some cloister without loss of respect for the dead, perhaps even with the silent approval of their own day and generation could it awake from its endless sleep and review the strange and eventful course of human life since they left "this bank and shoal of time." But may it not be safely prophesied that of all the names on the starry scroll of national fame that of Charles Darwin will, surely, remain unquestioned? And entwined with his enduring memory, by right of worth and work, and we know with Darwin's fullest approval, our successors will discover the name of Alfred Russel Wallace. Darwin and Wallace were pre-eminent sons of light.
Among the great men of the Victorian age Wallace occupied a unique position. He was the co-discoverer of the illuminating theory of Natural Selection; he watched its struggle for recognition against prejudice, ignorance, ridicule and misrepresentation; its gradual adoption by its traditional enemies; and its final supremacy. And he lived beyond the hour of its signal triumph and witnessed the further advance into the same field of research of other patient investigators who are disclosing fresh phases of the same fundamental laws of development, and are accumulating a vast array of new facts which tell of still richer light to come to enlighten every man born into the world. To have lived through that brilliant period and into the second decade of the twentieth century; to have outlived all contemporaries, having been the co-revealer of the greatest and most far-reaching generalisation in an era which abounded in fruitful discoveries and in revolutionary advances in the application of science to life, is verily to have been the chosen of the gods.
Who and what manner of man was Alfred Russel Wallace? Who were his forbears? How did he obtain his insight into the closest secrets of nature? What was the extent of his contributions to our stock of human knowledge? In which directions did he most influence his age? What is known of his inner life? These are some of the questions which most present-day readers and all future readers into whose hands this book may come will ask.
As to his descent, his upbringing, his education and his estimate of his own character and work, we can, with rare good fortune, refer them to his autobiography, in which he tells his own story and relates the circumstances which, combined with his natural disposition, led him to be a great naturalist and a courageous social reformer; nay more, his autobiography is also in part a peculiar revelation of the inner man such as no biography could approach. We are also able to send inquirers to the biographies and works of his contemporaries—Darwin, Hooker, Lyell, Huxley and many others. All this material is already available to the diligent reader. But there are other sources of information which the present book discloses—Wallace's home life, the large collection of his own letters, the reminiscences of friends, communications which he received from many co-workers and correspondents which, besides being of interest in themselves, often cast a sidelight upon his own mind and work. All these are of peculiar and intimate value to those who desire to form a complete estimate of Wallace. And it is to help the reader to achieve this desirable result that the present work is published.
It may be stated here that Wallace had suggested to the present writer that he should undertake a new work, to be called "Darwin and Wallace," which was to have been a comparative study of their literary and scientific writings, with an estimate of the present position of the theory of Natural Selection as an adequate explanation of the process of organic evolution. Wallace had promised to give as much assistance as possible in selecting the material without which the task on such a scale would obviously have been impossible. Alas! soon after the agreement with the publishers was signed and in the very month that the plan of the work was to have been shown to Wallace, his hand was unexpectedly stilled in death; and the book remains unwritten. But as the names of Darwin and Wallace are inseparable even by the scythe of time, a slight attempt is here made, in the first sections of Part I. and Part II., to take note of their ancestry and the diversities and similarities in their respective characters and environments—social and educational; to mark the chief characteristics of their literary works and the more salient conditions and events which led them, independently, to the idea of Natural Selection.
Finally, it may be remarked that up to the present time the unique work and position of Wallace have not been fully disclosed owing to his great modesty and to the fact that he outlived all his contemporaries. "I am afraid," wrote Sir W.T. Thiselton-Dyer to him in one of his letters (1893), "the splendid modesty of the big men will be a rarer commodity in the future. No doubt many of the younger ones know an immense deal; but I doubt if many of them will ever exhibit the grasp of great principles which we owe to you and your splendid band of contemporaries." If this work helps to preserve the records of the influence and achievements of this illustrious and versatile genius and of the other eminent men who brought the great conception of Evolution to light, it will surely have justified its existence.
I.—Wallace and Darwin—Early Years
As springs burst forth, now here, now there, on the mountain side, and find their way together to the vast ocean, so, at certain periods of history, men destined to become great are born within a few years of each other, and in the course of life meet and mingle their varied gifts of soul and intellect for the ultimate benefit of mankind. Between the years 1807 and 1825 at least eight illustrious scientists "saw the light"—Sir Charles Lyell, Sir Joseph Hooker, T.H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, John Tyndall, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Louis Agassiz; whilst amongst statesmen and authors we recall Bismarck, Gladstone, Lincoln, Tennyson, Longfellow, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Ruskin, John Stuart Blackie and Oliver Wendell Holmes—a wonderful galaxy of shining names.
The first group is the one with which we are closely associated in this section, in which we have brought together the names of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace—between whose births there was a period of fourteen years, Darwin being born on the 12th of February, 1809, and Wallace on the 8th of January, 1823.
In each case we are indebted to an autobiography for an account of their early life and work, written almost entirely from memory when at an age which enabled them to take an unbiased view of the past.
The autobiography of Darwin was written for the benefit of his family only, when he was 67; while the two large volumes entitled "My Life" were written by Wallace when he was 82, for the pleasure of reviewing his long career. These records are characterised by that charming modesty and simplicity of life and manner which was so marked a feature of both men.
In the circumstances surrounding their early days there was very little to indicate the similarity in character and mental gifts which became so evident in their later years. A brief outline of the hereditary influences immediately affecting them will enable us to trace something of the essential differences as well as the similarities which marked their scientific and literary attainments.
The earliest records of the Darwin family show that in 1500 an ancestor of that name (though spelt differently) was a substantial yeoman living on the borders of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. In the reign of James I. the post of Yeoman of the Royal Armoury of Greenwich was granted to William Darwin, whose son served with the Royalist Army under Charles I. During the Commonwealth, however, he became a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and later the Recorder of the City of Lincoln.
Passing over a generation, we find that a brother of Dr. Erasmus Darwin "cultivated botany," and, when far advanced in years, published a volume entitled "Principia Botanica," while Erasmus developed into a poet and philosopher. The eldest son of the latter "inherited a strong taste for various branches of science ... and at a very early age collected specimens of all kinds." The youngest son, Robert Waring, father of Charles Darwin, became a successful physician, "a man of genial temperament, strong character, fond of society," and was the possessor of great psychic power by which he could readily sum up the characters of others, and even occasionally read their thoughts. A judicious use of this gift was frequently found to be more efficacious than actual medicine! To the end of his life Charles Darwin entertained the greatest affection and reverence for his father, and frequently spoke of him to his own children.
From this brief summary of the family history it is easy to perceive the inherited traits which were combined in the attractive personality of the great scientist. From his early forbears came the keen love of sport and outdoor exercise (to which considerable reference is made in his youth and early manhood); the close application of the philosopher; and the natural aptitude for collecting specimens of all kinds. To his grandfather he was doubtless indebted for his poetic imagination, which, consciously or unconsciously, pervaded his thoughts and writings, saving them from the cold scientific atmosphere which often chills the lay mind. Lastly, the geniality of his father was strongly evidenced by his own love of social intercourse, his courtesy and ready wit, whilst the gentleness of his mother—who unfortunately died when he was 7 years old—left a delicacy of feeling which pervaded his character to the very last.
No such sure mental influences, reaching back through several generations, can be traced in the records of the Wallace family, although what is known reveals the source of the dogged perseverance with which Wallace faced the immense difficulties met with by all early pioneer travellers, of that happy diversity of mental interests which helped to relieve his periods of loneliness and inactivity, and of that quiet determination to pursue to the utmost limit every idea which impressed his mind as containing the germ of a wider and more comprehensive truth than had yet been generally recognised and accepted.
The innate reticence and shyness of manner which were noticeable all through his life covered a large-heartedness even in the most careful observation of facts, and produced a tolerant disposition towards his fellow-men even when he most disagreed with their views or dogmas. He was one of those of whom it may be truly said in hackneyed phrases that he was "born great," whilst destined to have "greatness thrust upon him" in the shape of honours which he received with hesitation.
From his autobiography we gather that his father, though dimly tracing his descent from the famous Wallace of Stirling, was born at Hanworth, in Middlesex, where there appears to have been a small colony of residents bearing the same name but occupying varied social positions, from admiral to hotel-keeper—the grandfather of Alfred Russel Wallace being known as a victualler. Thomas Vere Wallace was the only son of this worthy innkeeper; and, being possessed of somewhat wider ambitions than a country life offered, was articled to a solicitor in London, and eventually became an attorney-at-law. On his father's death he inherited a small private income, and, not being of an energetic disposition, he preferred to live quietly on it instead of continuing his practice. His main interests were somewhat literary and artistic, but without any definite aim; and this lack of natural energy, mental and physical, reappeared in most of the nine children subsequently born to him, including Alfred Russel, who realised that had it not been for the one definite interest which gradually determined his course in life (an interest demanding steady perseverance and concentrated thought as well as physical enterprise), his career might easily have been much less useful.
It was undoubtedly from his father that he acquired an appreciation of good literature, as they were in the habit of hearing Shakespeare and similar works read aloud round the fireside on winter nights; whilst from his mother came artistic and business-like instincts—several of her relatives having been architects of no mean skill, combining with their art sound business qualities which placed them in positions of civic authority and brought them the respect due to men of upright character and good parts.
During the chequered experiences which followed the marriage of Thomas Vere Wallace and Mary Ann Greenell there appears to have been complete mutual affection and understanding. Although Wallace makes but slight reference to his mother's character and habits, one may readily conclude that her disposition and influence were such as to leave an indelible impression for good on the minds of her children, amongst her qualities being a talent for not merely accepting circumstances but in a quiet way making the most of each experience as it came—a talent which we find repeated on many occasions in the life of her son Alfred.
It is a little curious that each of these great scientists should have been born in a house overlooking a well-known river—the home of the Darwins standing on the banks of the Severn, at Shrewsbury, and that of the Wallaces a stone's throw from the waters of the romantic and beautiful Usk, of Monmouthshire.
With remarkable clearness Dr. Wallace could recall events and scenes back to the time when he was only 4 years of age. His first childish experiment occurred about that time, due to his being greatly impressed by the story of the "Fox and the Pitcher" in AEsop's Fables. Finding a jar standing in the yard outside their house, he promptly proceeded to pour a small quantity of water into it, and then added a handful of small stones. The water not rising to the surface, as it did in the fable, he found a spade and scraped up a mixture of earth and pebbles which he added to the stones already in the jar. The result, however, proving quite unsatisfactory, he gave up the experiment in disgust and refused to believe in the truth of the fable. His restless brain and vivid imagination at this early period is shown by some dreams which he could still recall when 82 years of age; whilst the strong impression left on his mind by certain localities, with all their graphic detail of form and colour, enabled him to enjoy over again many of the simple pleasures that made up his early life in the beautiful grounds of the ancient castle in which he used to play.
The first great event in his life was the journey undertaken by ferry-boat and stage-coach from Usk to Hertford, to which town the family removed when he was 6 years old, and where they remained for the next eight years, until he left school.
The morning after their arrival an incident occurred which left its trace as of a slender golden thread running throughout the fabric of his long life. Alfred, with child-like curiosity about his new surroundings, wandered into the yard behind their house, and presently heard a voice coming from the other side of the low wall, saying, "Hallo! who are you?" and saw a boy about his own age peering over the top. Explanations followed, and soon, by the aid of two water-butts, the small boys found themselves sitting side by side on the top of the wall, holding a long and intimate conversation. Thus began his friendship with George Silk, and by some curious trend of circumstances the two families became neighbours on several subsequent occasions, so that the friendship was maintained until in due course the boys separated each to his own way in life—the one to wander in foreign lands, the other to occupy a responsible position at home.
After spending about a year at private schools, Alfred Wallace was sent with his brother John to Hertford Grammar School. His recollections of these school days are full of interest, especially as contrasted with the school life of to-day. He says: "We went to school even in the winter at seven in the morning, and three days a week remained till five in the afternoon; some artificial light was necessary, and this was effected by the primitive method of every boy bringing his own candle or candle-ends with any kind of candlestick he liked. An empty ink-bottle was often used, or the candle was even stuck on to the desk with a little of its own grease. So that it enabled us to learn our lessons or do our sums, no one seemed to trouble about how we provided the light."
Though never robust in health, he enjoyed all the usual boyish sports, especially such as appealed to his imagination and love of adventure. Not far from the school a natural cave, formed in a chalky slope and partially concealed by undergrowth, made an excellent resort for "brigands"; and to this hiding place were brought potatoes and other provisions which could be cooked and eaten in primitive fashion, with an air of secrecy which added to the mystery and attraction of the boyish adventure.
It is curious to note that one destined to become a great traveller and explorer should have found the study of geography "a painful subject." But this was, as he afterwards understood, entirely due to the method of teaching then, and sometimes now, in vogue, which made no appeal whatever to the imagination by creating a mental picture of the peoples and nations, or the varied wonders and beauties of nature which distinguish one country from another. "No interesting facts were ever given, no accounts of the country by travellers were ever read, no good maps ever given us, nothing but the horrid stream of unintelligible place names to be learnt." The only subjects in which he considered that he gained some valuable grounding at school were Latin, arithmetic, and writing.
This estimate of the value of the grammar-school teaching is echoed in Darwin's own words when describing his school days at precisely the same age at Shrewsbury Grammar School, where, he says, "the school as a means of education to me was simply a blank." It is therefore interesting to notice, side by side, as it were, the occupation which each boy found for himself out of school hours, and which in both instances proved of immense value in their respective careers in later life.
Darwin, even at this early age, found his "taste for natural history, and more especially for collecting," well developed. "I tried," he says, "to make out the names of plants, and collected all sorts of things, shells, seals, franks, coins and minerals. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist ... was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brothers ever had this taste."
He also speaks of himself as having been a very "simple little fellow" by the manner in which he was either himself deceived or tried to deceive others in a harmless way. As an instance of this, he remembered declaring that he could "produce variously coloured polyanthuses and primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids," though he knew all the time it was untrue. His feeling of tenderness towards all animals and insects is revealed in the fact that he could not remember—except on one occasion—ever taking more than one egg out of a bird's nest; and though a keen angler, as soon as he heard that he could kill the worms with salt and water he never afterwards "spitted a living worm, though at the expense, probably, of some loss of success!"
Nothing thwarted young Darwin's intense joy and interest in collecting minerals and insects, and in watching and making notes upon the habits of birds. In addition to this wholesome outdoor hobby, the tedium of school lessons was relieved for him by reading Shakespeare, Byron and Scott—also a copy of "Wonders of the World" which belonged to one of the boys, and to which he always attributed his first desire to travel in remote countries, little thinking how his dreams would be fulfilled.
Whilst Charles Darwin occupied himself with outdoor sport and collecting, with a very moderate amount of reading thrown in at intervals, Wallace, on the contrary, devoured all the books he could get; and fortunately for him, his father having been appointed Librarian to the Hertford Town Library, Alfred had access to all the books that appealed to his mental appetite; and these, especially the historical novels, supplemented the lack of interesting history lessons at school, besides giving him an insight into many kinds of literature suited to his varied tastes and temperament. In addition, however, to the hours spent in reading, he and his brother John found endless delight in turning the loft of an outhouse adjoining their yard into a sort of mechanical factory. Here they contrived, by saving up all their pence (the only pocket-money that came to them), to make crackers and other simple fireworks, and to turn old keys into toy cannon, besides making a large variety of articles for practical domestic purposes. Thus he cultivated the gift of resourcefulness and self-reliance on which he had so often to depend when far removed from all civilisation during his travels on the Amazon and in the Malay Archipelago.
A somewhat amusing instance of this is found in a letter to his sister, dated June 25th, 1855, at a time when he wanted a really capable man for his companion, in place of the good-natured but incapable boy Charles, whom he had brought with him from London to teach collecting. In reply to some remarks by his sister about a young man who she thought would be suitable, he wrote: "Do not tell me merely that he is 'a very nice young man.' Of course he is.... I should like to know whether he can live on rice and salt fish for a week on occasion.... Can he sleep on a board?... Can he walk twenty miles a day? Whether he can work, for there is sometimes as hard work in collecting as in anything. Can he saw a piece of wood straight? Ask him to make you anything—a little card box, a wooden peg or bottle-stopper, and see if he makes them neat and square."
In another letter he describes the garden and live stock he had been able to obtain where he was living; and in yet another he gives a long list of his domestic woes and tribulations—which, however, were overcome with the patience inculcated in early life by his hobbies, and also by the fact that the family was always more or less in straitened circumstances, so that the children were taught to make themselves useful in various ways in order to assist their mother in the home.
As he grew from childhood into youth, Alfred Wallace's extreme sensitiveness developed to an almost painful degree. He grew rapidly, and his unusual height made him still more shy when forced to occupy any prominent position amongst boys of his own age. During the latter part of his time at Hertford Grammar School his father was unable to pay the usual fees, and it was agreed that Alfred should act as pupil teacher in return for the lessons received. This arrangement, while acceptable on the one hand, caused him actual mental and physical pain on the other, as it increased his consciousness of the disabilities under which he laboured in contrast with most of the other boys of his own age.
At the age of 14 Wallace was taken away from school, and until something could be definitely decided about his future—as up to the present he had no particular bent in any one direction—he was sent to London to live with his brother John, who was then working for a master builder in the vicinity of Tottenham Court Road. This was in January, 1837, and it was during the following summer that he joined his other brother, William, at Barton-on-the-Clay, Bedfordshire, and began land surveying. In the meantime, while in London, he had been brought very closely into contact with the economics and ethics of Robert Owen, the well-known Socialist; and although very young in years he was so deeply impressed with the reasonableness and practical outcome of these theories that, though considerably modified as time went on, they formed the foundation for his own writings on Socialism and allied subjects in after years.
As one of our aims in this section is to suggest an outline of the contrasting influences governing the early lives of Wallace and Darwin, it is interesting to note that at the ages of 14 and 16 respectively, and immediately on leaving school, they came under the first definite mental influence which was to shape their future thought and action. Yet how totally different from Wallace's trials as a pupil teacher was the removal of Darwin from Dr. Butler's school at Shrewsbury because "he was doing no good" there, and his father thought it was "time he settled down to his medical study in Edinburgh," never heeding the fact that his son had already one passion in life, apart from "shooting, dogs, and rat-catching," which stood a very good chance of saving him from becoming the disgrace to the family that his good father feared. So that while Wallace was imbibing his first lessons in Socialism at 14 years of age, Darwin at 16 found himself merely enduring, with a feeling of disgust, Dr. Duncan's lectures, which were "something fearful to remember," on materia medica at eight o'clock on a winter's morning, and, worse still, Dr. Munro's lectures on human anatomy, which were "as dull as he was himself." Yet he always deeply regretted not having been urged to practise dissection, because of the invaluable aid it would have been to him as a naturalist.
By mental instinct, however, Darwin soon found himself studying marine zoology and other branches of natural science. This was in a large measure due to his intimacy with Dr. Grant, who, in a later article on Flustra, made some allusion to a paper read by Darwin before the Linnean Society on a small discovery which he had made by the aid of a "wretched microscope" to the effect that the so-called ova of Flustra were really larvae and had the power of independent action by means of cilia.
During his second year in Edinburgh he attended Jameson's lectures on geology and zoology, but found them so "incredibly dull" that he determined never to study the science.
Then came the final move which, all unknowingly, was to lead Darwin into the pursuit of a science which up to that time had only been a hobby and not in any sense the serious profession of his life. But again how wide the difference between his change from Edinburgh to Cambridge, and that of Wallace from a month's association with a working-class Socialistic community in London to land surveying under the simplest rural conditions prevalent amongst the respectable labouring farmers of Bedfordshire—Darwin to the culture and privileges of a great University with the object of becoming a clergyman, and Wallace taking the first road that offered towards earning a living, with no thought as to the ultimate outcome of this life in the open and the systematic observation of soils and land formation.
But the inherent tendencies of Darwin's nature drew him away from theology to the study of geology, entomology and botany. The ensuing four years at Cambridge were very happy ones. While fortunate in being able to follow his various mental and scientific pursuits with the freedom which a good social and financial position secured for him, he found himself by a natural seriousness of manner, balanced by a cheerful temperament and love of sport, the friend and companion of men many years his seniors and holding positions of authority in the world of science. Amongst these the name of Professor Henslow will always take precedence. "This friendship," says Darwin, "influenced my whole career more than any other." Henslow's extensive knowledge of botany, geology, entomology, chemistry and mineralogy, added to his sincere and attractive personality, well-balanced mind and excellent judgment, formed a strong and effective bias in the direction Darwin was destined to follow.
Apart, however, from the strong personal influence of Henslow, Sedgwick and others with whom he came much in contact, two books which he read at this time aroused his "burning zeal to add the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science"; these were Sir J. Herschel's "Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy," and Humboldt's "Personal Narrative." Indeed, so fascinated was he by the description given of Teneriffe in the latter that he at once set about a plan whereby he might spend a holiday, with Henslow, in that locality, a holiday which was, indeed, to form part of his famous voyage.
By means of his explorations in the neighbourhood of Cambridge, and one or two visits to North Wales, Darwin's experimental knowledge of geology and allied sciences was considerably increased. In his zeal for collecting beetles he employed a labourer to "scrape the moss off old trees in winter, and place it in a bag, and likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds were brought from the fens, and thus ... got some very rare species."
During the summer vacation of 1831, at the personal request of Henslow, he accompanied Professor Sedgwick on a geological tour in North Wales. In order, no doubt, to give him some independent experience, Sedgwick sent Darwin on a line parallel with his own, telling him to bring back specimens of the rocks and to mark the stratification on a map. In later years Darwin was amazed to find how much both of them had failed to observe, "yet these phenomena were so conspicuous that ... a house burnt down by fire could not tell its story more plainly than did the valley of Cwm Idwal."
This tour was the introduction to a momentous change in his life. On returning to Shrewsbury he found a letter awaiting him which contained the offer of a voyage in H.M.S. Beagle. But owing to several objections raised by Dr. Darwin, he wrote and declined the offer; and if it had not been for the immediate intervention of his uncle, Mr. Josiah Wedgwood (to whose house he went the following day to begin the shooting season), who took quite a different view of the proposition, the "Journal of Researches during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle," by Charles Darwin, would never have been written.
At length, however, after much preparation and many delays, the Beagle sailed from Plymouth on December 27th, 1831, and five years elapsed before Darwin set foot again on English soil. The period, therefore, in Darwin's life which we find covered by his term at Edinburgh and Cambridge, until at the age of 22 he found himself suddenly launched on an entirely new experience full of adventure and fresh association, was spent by Wallace in a somewhat similar manner in so far as his outward objective in life was more or less distinct from the pursuits which gradually dawned upon his horizon, though they were followed as a "thing apart" and not as an ultimate end.
With Wallace's removal into Bedfordshire an entirely new life opened up before him. His health, never very good, rapidly improved; both brain and eye were trained to practical observations which proved eminently valuable. His descriptions of the people with whom he came in contact during these years of country life reveal the quiet toleration of the faults and foibles of others, not devoid of the keen sense of humour and justice which characterised his lifelong attitude towards his fellow-men.
The many interests of his new life, together with the use of a pocket sextant, prompted him to make various experiments for himself. The only sources from which he could obtain helpful information, however, were some cheap elementary books on mechanics and optics which he procured from the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; these he studied and "puzzled over" for several years. "Having no friends of my own age," he wrote, "I occupied myself with various pursuits in which I had begun to take an interest. Having learnt the use of the sextant in surveying, and my brother having a book on Nautical Astronomy, I practised a few of the simpler observations. Among these were determining the meridian by equal altitudes of the sun, and also by the pole-star at its upper or lower culmination; finding the latitude by the meridian altitude of the sun, or of some of the principal stars; and making a rude sundial by erecting a gnomon towards the pole. For these simple calculations I had Hannay and Dietrichsen's Almanac, a copious publication which gave all the important data in the Nautical Almanac, besides much other interesting matter useful for the astronomical amateur or the ordinary navigator. I also tried to make a telescope by purchasing a lens of about 2 ft. focus at an optician's in Swansea, fixing it in a paper tube and using the eye-piece of a small opera-glass. With it I was able to observe the moon and Jupiter's satellites, and some of the larger star-clusters; but, of course, very imperfectly. Yet it served to increase my interest in astronomy, and to induce me to study with some care the various methods of construction of the more important astronomical instruments; and it also led me throughout my life to be deeply interested in the grand onward march of astronomical discovery."
At the same time Wallace became attracted by, and interested in, the flowers, shrubs and trees growing in that part of Bedfordshire, and he acquired some elementary knowledge of zoology. "It was," he writes, "while living at Barton that I obtained my first information that there was such a science as geology.... My brother, like most land-surveyors, was something of a geologist, and he showed me the fossil oysters of the genus Gryphaea and the Belemnites ... and several other fossils which were abundant in the chalk and gravel around Barton.... It was here, too, that during my solitary rambles I first began to feel the influence of nature and to wish to know more of the various flowers, shrubs and trees I daily met with, but of which for the most part I did not even know the English names. At that time I hardly realised that there was such a science as systematic botany, that every flower and every meanest and most insignificant weed had been accurately described and classified, and that there was any kind of system or order in the endless variety of plants and animals which I knew existed. This wish to know the names of wild plants, to be able to speak ... about them, had arisen from a chance remark I had overheard about a year before. A lady ... whom we knew at Hertford, was talking to some friends in the street when I and my father met them ... [and] I heard the lady say, 'We found quite a rarity the other day—the Monotropa; it had not been found here before.' This I pondered over, and wondered what the Monotropa was. All my father could tell me was that it was a rare plant; and I thought how nice it must be to know the names of rare plants when you found them."
One can picture the tall quiet boy going on these solitary rambles, his eye becoming gradually quickened to perceive new forms in nature, contrasting them one with another, and beginning to ponder over the cause which led to the diverse formation and colouring of leaves apparently of the same family.
It was in 1841, four years later, that he heard of, and at once procured, a book published at a shilling by the S.P.C.K. (the title of which he could not recall in after years), to which he owed his first scientific glimmerings of the vast study of botany. The next step was to procure, at much self-sacrifice, Lindley's "Elements of Botany," published at half a guinea, which to his immense disappointment he found of very little use, as it did not deal with British plants! His disappointment was lessened, however, by the loan from a Mr. Hayward of London's "Encyclopedia of Plants," and it was with the help of these two books that he made his first classification of the specimens which he had collected and carefully kept during the few preceding years.
"It must be remembered," he says in "My Life," "that my ignorance of plants at this time was extreme. I knew the wild rose, bramble, hawthorn, buttercup, poppy, daisy and foxglove, and a very few others equally common.... I knew nothing whatever as to genera and species, nor of the large number of distinct forms related to each and grouped into natural orders. My delight, therefore, was great when I was ... able to identify the charming little eyebright, the strange-looking cow-wheat and louse-wort, the handsome mullein and the pretty creeping toad-flax, and to find that all of them, as well as the lordly foxglove, formed parts of one great natural order, and that under all their superficial diversity of form was a similarity of structure which, when once clearly understood, enabled me to locate each fresh species with greater ease." This, however, was not sufficient, and the last step was to form a herbarium.
"I soon found," he wrote, "that by merely identifying the plants I found in my walks I lost much time in gathering the same species several times, and even then not being always quite sure that I had found the same plant before. I therefore began to form a herbarium, collecting good specimens and drying them carefully between drying papers and a couple of boards weighted with books or stones.... I first named the species as nearly as I could do so, and then laid them out to be pressed and dried. At such times," he continues—and I have quoted the passage for the sake of this revealing confession—"I experienced the joy which every discovery of a new form of life gives to the lover of nature, almost equal to those raptures which I afterwards felt at every capture of new butterflies on the Amazon, or at the constant stream of new species of birds, beetles and butterflies in Borneo, the Moluccas, and the Aru Islands."
Anything in the shape of gardening papers and catalogues which came in his way was eagerly read, and to this source he owed his first interest in the fascinating orchid.
"A catalogue published by a great nurseryman in Bristol ... contained a number of tropical orchids, of whose wonderful variety and beauty I had obtained some idea from the woodcuts in Loudon's 'Encyclopedia.' The first epiphytal orchid I ever saw was at a flower show in Swansea ... which caused in me a thrill of enjoyment which no other plant in the show produced. My interest in this wonderful order of plants was further enhanced by reading in the Gardener's Chronicle an article by Dr. Lindley on one of the London flower shows, where there was a good display of orchids, in which ... he added, 'and Dendrobium Devonianum, too delicate and beautiful for a flower of earth.' This and other references ... gave them, in my mind, a weird and mysterious charm ... which, I believe, had its share in producing that longing for the tropics which a few years later was satisfied in the equatorial forests of the Amazon."
For a brief period, when there was a lull in the surveying business and his prospects of continuing in this profession looked uncertain, he tried watchmaking, and would probably—though not by choice—have been apprenticed to it but for an unexpected circumstance which caused his master to give up his business. Alfred gladly, when the occasion offered, returned to his outdoor life, which had begun to make the strongest appeal to him, stronger, perhaps, than he was really aware.
Early in 1844 another break occurred, due to the sudden falling off of land surveying as a profitable business. His brother could no longer afford to keep him as assistant, finding it indeed difficult to obtain sufficient employment for himself. As Wallace knew no other trade or profession, the only course which occurred to his mind as possible by which to earn a living was to get a post as school teacher.
After one or two rather amusing experiences, he eventually found himself in very congenial surroundings under the Rev. Abraham Hill, headmaster of the Collegiate School at Leicester. Here he stayed for a little more than a year, during which time—in addition to his school work and a considerable amount of hard reading on subjects to which he had not hitherto been able to devote himself—he was led to become greatly interested in phrenology and mesmerism, and before long found himself something of an expert in giving mesmeric demonstrations before small audiences. Phrenology, he believed, proved of much value in determining his own characteristics, good and bad, and in guiding him to a wise use of the faculties which made for his ultimate success; while his introduction to mesmerism had not a little to do with his becoming interested and finally convinced of the part played by spiritualistic forces and agencies in human life.
The most important event, however, during this year at Leicester was his meeting with H.W. Bates, through whom he was introduced to the absorbing study of beetles and butterflies, the link which culminated in their mutual exploration of the Amazon. It is curious that Wallace retained no distinct recollection of how or when he met Bates for the first time, but thought that "he heard him mentioned as an enthusiastic entomologist and met him at the Library." Bates was at this time employed by his father, who was a hosiery manufacturer, and he could therefore only devote his spare time to collecting beetles in the surrounding neighbourhood. The friendship brought new interests into both lives, and though Wallace was obliged a few months later to leave Leicester and return to his old work of surveying (owing to the sudden death of his brother William, whose business affairs were left in an unsatisfactory condition and needed personal attention), he no longer found in it the satisfaction he had previously experienced, and his letters to Bates expressed the desire to strike out on some new line, one which would satisfy his craving for a definite pursuit in the direction of natural science.
Somewhere about the autumn of 1847, Bates paid a visit to Wallace at Neath, and the plan to go to the Amazon which had been slowly forming itself at length took shape, due to the perusal of a little book entitled "A Voyage up the River Amazon," by W.H. Edwards. Further investigations showed that this would be particularly advantageous, as the district had only been explored by the German zoologist, von Spix, and the botanist von Martins, in 1817-20, and subsequently by Count de Castelnau.
During this interval we find, in a letter to Bates, the following allusion to Darwin, which is the first record of Wallace's high estimate of the man with whom his own name was to be dramatically associated ten years later. "I first," he says, "read Darwin's Journal three or four years ago, and have lately re-read it. As the journal of a scientific traveller it is second only to Humboldt's Narrative; as a work of general interest, perhaps superior to it. He is an ardent admirer and most able supporter of Mr. Lyell's views. His style of writing I very much admire, so free from all labour, or egotism, yet so full of interest and original thought."
The early part of 1848 was occupied in making arrangements with Mr. Samuel Stevens, of King Street, Covent Garden, to act as their agent in disposing of a duplicate collection of specimens which they proposed sending home; by this means paying their expenses during the time they were away, any surplus being invested against their return. This and other matters being satisfactorily settled, they eventually sailed from Liverpool on April 20th in a barque of 192 tons, said to be "a very fast sailer," which proved to be correct. On arriving at Para about a month later, they immediately set about finding a house, learning something of the language, the habits of the people amongst whom they had come to live, and making short excursions into the forest before starting on longer and more trying explorations up country.
Wallace's previous vivid imaginings of what life in the tropics would mean, so far as the surpassing beauty of nature was concerned, were not immediately fulfilled. As a starting-point, however, Para had many advantages. Besides the pleasant climate, the country for some hundreds of miles was found to be nearly level at an elevation of about 30 or 40 ft. above the river; the first distinct rise occurring some 150 miles up the river Tocantins, south-west of Para; the whole district was intersected by streams, with cross channels connecting them, access by this means being comparatively easy to villages and estates lying farther inland.
Before making an extensive excursion into the interior, he spent some time on the larger islands at the mouth of the Amazon, on one of which he immediately noticed the scarcity of trees, while "the abundance of every kind of animal life crowded into a small space was here very striking, compared with the sparse manner in which it is scattered in the virgin forests. It seems to force us to the conclusion that the luxuriance of tropical vegetation is not favourable to the production of animal life. The plains are always more thickly peopled than the forest; and a temperate zone, as has been pointed out by Mr. Darwin, seems better adapted to the support of large land animals than the tropics."
We have already referred to the fact that at the very early age of 14 Wallace had imbibed his first ideas of Socialism, or how the "commonwealth" of a people or nation was the outcome of cause and effect, largely due to the form of government, political economy and progressive commerce best suited to any individual State or country. The seed took deep root, and during the years spent for the most part amongst an agricultural people in England and Wales his interest in these questions had been quickened by observation and intelligent inquiry. It is no wonder, therefore, that during the whole of his travels we find many intimate references to such matters regarding the locality in which he happened to find himself, but which can only be noticed in a very casual manner in this section. For instance, he soon discovered that the climate and soil round Para conduced to the cultivation of almost every kind of food, such as cocoa, coffee, sugar, farinha (the universal bread of the country) from the mandioca plant, with vegetables and fruits in inexhaustible variety; while the articles of export included india-rubber, Brazil nuts, and piassaba (the coarse, stiff fibre of a palm, used for making brooms for street sweeping), as well as sarsaparilla, balsam-capivi, and a few other drugs.
The utter lack of initiative, or even ordinary interest, in making the most of the opportunities lying at hand, struck him again and again as he went from place to place and was entertained hospitably by hosts of various nationalities; until at times the impression is conveyed that apart from his initial interest as a naturalist, a longing seized him to arouse those who were primarily responsible for these conditions out of the apathy into which they had fallen, and to make them realise the larger pleasure which life offers to those who recognise the opportunities at hand, not only for their own advancement but also for the benefit of those placed under their control. All of which we find happily illustrated during his visit to Sarawak, in the Malay Archipelago.
The whole of these four years was crowded with valuable experiences of one sort and another. Some of the most toilsome journeys proved only a disappointment, while others brought success beyond his most sanguine dreams. At the end of two years it was agreed between himself and Bates that they should separate, Wallace doing the northern parts and tributaries of the Amazon, and Bates the main stream, which, from the fork of the Rio Negro, is called the Upper Amazon, or the Solimoes. By this arrangement they were able to cover more ground, besides devoting themselves to the special goal of research on which each was bent.
In the meantime, Wallace's younger brother, Herbert, had come out to join him, and for some time their journeys were made conjointly; but finding that his brother was not temperamentally fitted to become a naturalist, it was decided that he should return to England. Accordingly, they parted at Barra when Wallace started on his long journey up the Rio Negro, the duration of which was uncertain; and it was not until many months after the sad event that he heard the distressing news that Herbert had died of yellow fever on the eve of his departure from Para for home. Fortunately, Bates was in Para at the time, and did what he could for the boy until stricken down himself with the same sickness, from which, however, his stronger constitution enabled him to recover.
Perhaps the most eventful and memorable journey during this period was the exploration of the Uaupes River, of which Wallace wrote nearly sixty years later: "So far as I have heard, no English traveller has to this day ascended the Uaupes River so far as I did, and no collector has stayed at any time at Javita, or has even passed through it."
From a communication received from the Royal Geographical Society it appears that the first complete survey of this river (a compass traverse supplemented by astronomical observations) was made (1907-8) by Dr. Hamilton Rice, starting from the side of Colombia, and tracing the whole course of the river from a point near the source of its head-stream. The result showed that the general course of the lower river was much as represented by Wallace, though considerable corrections were necessary both in latitude and longitude. "I am assured by authorities on the Rio Negro region," writes Dr. Scott Keltie to Mr. W.G. Wallace, under date May 21, 1915, "that your father's work still holds good."
In May, 1852, Wallace returned to Para, and sailed for England the following July. The ship took fire at sea, and all his treasures (not previously sent to England) were unhappily lost. Ten days and nights were spent in an open boat before another vessel picked them up, and in describing this terrible experience he says: "When the danger appeared past I began to feel the greatness of my loss. With what pleasure had I looked upon every rare and curious insect I had added to my collection! How many times, when almost overcome by the ague, had I crawled into the forest and been rewarded by some unknown and beautiful species! How many places, which no European foot but my own had trodden, would have been recalled to my memory by the rare birds and insects they had furnished to my collection! How many weary days and weeks had I passed, upheld only by the fond hope of bringing home many new and beautiful forms from these wild regions ... which would prove that I had not wasted the advantage I had enjoyed, and would give me occupation and amusement for many years to come! And now ... I had not one specimen to illustrate the unknown lands I had trod, or to call back the recollection of the wild scenes I had beheld! But such regrets were vain ... and I tried to occupy myself with the state of things which actually existed."
On reaching London, Wallace took a house in Upper Albany Street, where his mother and his married sister (Mrs. Sims), with her husband, a photographer, came to live with him. The next eighteen months were fully occupied with sorting and arranging such collections as had previously reached England; writing his book of travels up the Amazon and Rio Negro (published in the autumn of 1853), and a little book on the palm trees based on a number of fine pencil sketches he had preserved in a tin box, the only thing saved from the wreck.
In summing up the most vivid impressions left on his mind, apart from purely scientific results, after his four years in South America, he wrote that the feature which he could never think of without delight was "the wonderful variety and exquisite beauty of the butterflies and birds ... ever new and beautiful, strange and even mysterious," so that he could "hardly recall them without a thrill of admiration and wonder." But "the most unexpected sensation of surprise and delight was my first meeting and living with man in a state of nature—with absolute uncontaminated savages!... and the surprise of it was that I did not expect to be at all so surprised.... These true wild Indians of the Uaupes ... had nothing that we call clothes; they had peculiar ornaments, tribal marks, etc.; they all carried tools or weapons of their own manufacture.... But more than all, their whole aspect and manner was different—they were all going about their own work or pleasure, which had nothing to do with white men or their ways; they walked with the free step of the independent forest-dweller, and, except the few that were known to my companion, paid no attention whatever to us, mere strangers of an alien race! In every detail they were original and self-sustaining as are the wild animals of the forest, absolutely independent of civilisation.... I could not have believed that there would have been so much difference in the aspect of the same people in their native state and when living under European supervision. The true denizen of the Amazonian forest, like the forest itself, is unique and not to be forgotten."
The foregoing "impressions" recall forcibly those expressed by Darwin in similar terms at the close of his "Journal": "Delight ... is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage ... the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration. A paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood ... yet within the recesses ... a universal silence appears to reign ... such a day as this brings with it a deeper pleasure than he (a naturalist) can ever hope to experience again," And in another place: "Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none can exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; ... temples filled with the various productions of the God of Nature; ... no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body."
In complete contrast to the forest, the bare, treeless, and uninhabited plains of Patagonia "frequently crossed before" Darwin's eyes. Why, he could not understand, except that, being so "boundless," they left "free scope for the imagination."
As these travels, undertaken at comparatively the same age, represent the foundation upon which their scientific work and theories were based during the long years which followed, a glance at the conditions governing the separate expeditions—both mental and physical—may be of some value. The most obvious difference lies, perhaps, in the fact that Darwin was free from the thought of having to "pay his way" by the immediate result of his efforts, and likewise from all care and anxiety regarding domestic concerns; the latter being provided for him when on board the Beagle, or arranged by those who accompanied him on his travels overland and by river. The elimination of these minor cares tended to leave his mind free and open to absorb and speculate at comparative leisure upon all the strange phenomena which presented themselves throughout the long voyage.
A further point of interest in determining the ultimate gain or loss lies in the fact that Darwin's private excursions had to be somewhat subservient to the movements of the Beagle under the command of Captain Fitz-Roy. This, in all probability, was beneficial to one of his temperament—unaccustomed to be greatly restricted by outward circumstances or conditions, though never flagrantly (or, perhaps, consciously) going against them. The same applies in a measure to Wallace, who, on more than one occasion, confessed his tendency to a feeling of semi-idleness and dislike to any form of enforced physical exertion; but as every detail, involving constant forethought and arrangement, as well as the execution, devolved upon himself, the latent powers of methodical perseverance, which never failed him, no matter what difficulties barred his way, were called forth. Darwin's estimate of the "habit of mind" forced upon himself during this period may not inaptly be applied to both men: "Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen, or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which enabled me to do whatever I have done in science."
It may be further assumed that Darwin was better equipped mentally—from a scientific point of view—owing to his personal intercourse with eminent scientific men previous to his assuming this responsible position. Wallace, on the contrary, had practically little beyond book-knowledge and such experience as he had been able to gain by solitary wanderings in the localities in which he had, by circumstances, been forced to reside. His plan of operations must, therefore, have been largely modified and adapted as time went on, and as his finances allowed. To both, therefore, credit is due for the adaptability evinced under conditions not always congenial or conducive to the pursuits they had undertaken.
Although the fact is not definitely stated by Wallace, it may readily be inferred that the idea of making this the starting-point of a new life was clearly in his mind; while Darwin simply accepted the opportunity when it came, and was only brought to a consciousness of its full meaning and bearing on his future career whilst studying the geological aspect of Santiago when "the line of white rock revealed a new and important fact," namely, that there had been afterwards subsidence round the craters, which had since been in action and had poured forth lava. "It then," he says, "first dawned on me that I might perhaps write a book on the geology of the various countries visited, and this made me thrill with delight. That was a memorable hour to me; and how distinctly I can call to mind the low cliff of lava, beneath which I rested, with the sun glaring hot, a few strange desert plants growing near, and with living corals in the tidal pools at my feet!"
Another point of comparison lies in the fact that at no time did the study of man or human nature, from the metaphysical and psychological point of view, appeal to Darwin as it did to Wallace; and this being so, the similarity between the impression made on them individually by their first contact with primitive human beings is of some interest.
Wallace's words have already been quoted; here are Darwin's: "Nothing is more certain to create astonishment than the first sight in his native haunt of a barbarian, of man in his lowest and most savage state. One asks: 'Could our progenitors have been men like these—men whose very signs and expressions are less intelligible to us than those of the domesticated animals; men who do not possess the instinct of those animals, nor yet appear to boast of human reason, or at least of arts consequent on that reason?' I do not believe it is possible to describe or paint the difference between a savage and civilised man. It is the difference between a wild and tame animal."
The last words suggest the seed-thought eventually to be enlarged in "The Descent of Man," and there is also perhaps a subtle suggestion of the points in which Wallace differed from Darwin when the time came for them to discuss this important section of the theory of Evolution. It needed, however, the further eight years spent by Wallace in the Malay Archipelago to bring about a much wider knowledge of nature-science before he was prepared in any way to assume the position of exponent of theories not seriously thought of previously in the scientific world.
In the autumn of 1853, on the completion of his "Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro," Wallace paid his first visit to Switzerland, on a walking tour in company with his friend George Silk. On his return, and during the winter months, he was constant in his attendance at the meetings of the Entomological and Zoological Societies. It was at one of these evening gatherings that he first met Huxley, and he also had a vague recollection of once meeting and speaking to Darwin at the British Museum. Had it not been for his extreme shyness of disposition, and (according to his own estimation) "lack of conversational powers," he would doubtless have become far more widely known, and have enjoyed the friendship of not a few of the eminent men who shared his interests, during this interval before starting on his journey to Singapore.
It was due to his close study of the Insect and Bird Departments of the British Museum that he decided on Singapore as a new starting-point for his natural history collections. As the region was generally healthy, and no part of it (with the exception of the Island of Java) had been explored, it offered unlimited attractions for his special work. But as the journey out would be an expensive one, he was advised to lay his plans before Sir Roderick Murchison, then President of the Royal Geographical Society, and it was through his kindly interest and personal application to the Government that a passage was provided in one of the P. and O. boats going to Singapore. He left early in 1854. Arrived at Singapore, an entirely new world opened up before him. New peoples and customs thronged on all hands, a medley of nationalities such as can only be seen in the East, where, even to-day, and though forming part of one large community, each section preserves its native dress, customs and religious habits. After spending some time at Singapore he moved from place to place, but finally decided upon making Ternate his head-quarters, as he discovered a comfortable bungalow, not too large, and adaptable in every way as a place in which to collect and prepare his specimens between the many excursions to other parts of the Archipelago. The name is now indelibly associated with that particular visit which ended after a trying journey in an attack of intermittent fever and general prostration, during which he first conceived the idea which has made Ternate famous in the history of natural science.
One or two points in the following letters recall certain contrasts similar to those already drawn between Darwin's impression of places and people and those made on the mind of Wallace by practically the same conditions. A typical instance is found in their estimate of the life and work of the missionaries whom they met and from whom they received the warmest hospitality. Their experience included both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and from Darwin's account the former appeared to him to have the more civilising effect on the people, not only from a religious but also from the economic and industrial points of view.
In the "Journal" (p. 419) we find a detailed account of a visit to the missionary settlement at Waimate, New Zealand. After describing the familiar English appearance of the whole surroundings, he adds: "All this is very surprising when it is considered that five years ago nothing but the fern flourished here. Moreover, native workmanship, taught by these missionaries, has effected this change—the lesson of the missionary is the enchanter's wand. The house had been built, the windows framed, the fields ploughed, and even the trees grafted, by the New Zealander. When I looked at the whole scene it was admirable. It was not that England was brought vividly before my mind; ... nor was it the triumphant feeling at seeing what Englishmen could effect; but rather the high hopes thus inspired for the future progress of this fine island."
No such feeling was inspired by the conditions surrounding the Roman Catholic missionaries whom he met from time to time. In an earlier part of the "Journal" he records an evening spent with one living in a lonely place in South America who, "coming from Santiago, had contrived to surround himself with some few comforts. Being a man of some little education, he bitterly complained of the total want of society. With no particular zeal for religion, no business or pursuit, how completely must this man's life be wasted."
In complete opposition to these views, passages occur in the following letters which show that Wallace thought more highly of the Roman Catholic than of the Protestant missionaries. In one place, speaking of the former, he says: "Most are Frenchmen ... well-educated men who give up their lives for the good of the people they live among, I think Catholics and Protestants are equally wrong, but as missionaries I think Catholics are the best, and I would gladly see none others rather than have, as in New Zealand, sects of native Dissenters more rancorous against each other than in England. The unity of the Catholics is their strength, and an unmarried clergy can do as missionaries what married men never can undertake."
As a sidelight on these contradictory estimates of the same work, it should be borne in mind that Darwin had but recently given up the idea of becoming a clergyman, and doubtless retained some of the instinctive regard for sincere Christian Protestantism (whether represented by the Church of England or by Nonconformists), while Wallace had long since relinquished all doctrinal ideas on religion and all belief in the beneficial effect produced by forms of worship on the individual.
Among the regions Wallace visited was Sarawak. Of one of his sojourns here some interesting reminiscences have been sent to me by Mr. L.V. Helmes. He says:
It was in 1854 that Wallace came to Sarawak. I was there then, sent by a private firm, which later became the Borneo Company, to open up, by mining, manufacture and trade, the resources of the country, and amongst these enterprises was coal-mining on the west. Wallace came in search of new specimens of animal and especially insect life. The clearing of ancient forests at these mines offered a naturalist great opportunities, and I gave Wallace an introduction to our engineer in charge there. His collections of beetles and butterflies there were phenomenal; but the district was also the special home of the great ape, the orang-utan, or meias, as the natives called them, of which he obtained so many valuable specimens. Many notes must at that time have passed between us, for I took much interest in his work. We had put up a temporary hut for him at the mines, and on my occasional visits there I saw him and his young assistant, Charles Allen, at work, admired his beautiful collections, and gave my help in forwarding them.
But it was mainly in social intercourse that we met, when Wallace, in intervals of his labours, came to Ku-ching, and was the Rajah's guest. Then occurred those interesting discussions at social gatherings to which he refers in a letter to me in 1909, when he wrote: "I was pleased to receive your letter, with reminiscences of old times. I often recall those pleasant evenings with Rajah Brooke and our little circle, but since the old Rajah's death I have not met any of the party."
Wallace was in Sarawak at the happy period in the country's history. It was beginning to emerge from barbarism. The Borneo Company was just formed, and the seed of the country's future prosperity was sown. Wallace, therefore, found us all sanguine and cheerful; yet we were on the brink of a disaster which brought many sorrows in its train. But the misfortunes of the Chinese revolt had not yet cast their shadows before them. The Rajah's white guests round his hospitable table; the Malay chiefs and office-holders, who made evening calls from curiosity or to pay their respects; Dyaks squatting in dusky groups in corners of the hall, with petitions to make or advice to seek from their white ruler—such would be the gathering of which Wallace would form a part. No suspicion or foreboding would trouble the company; yet within a few months that hall would be given to the flames of an enemy's torch, and the Rajah himself and many of those who formed that company would be fugitives in the jungle....
The Malay Archipelago, in the unregenerated days when Wallace roamed the forests, and sailed the Straits in native boats and canoes, was full of danger to wanderers of the white race. Anarchy prevailed in many parts; usurping nobles enslaved the people in their houses; and piratical fleets scoured the sea, capturing and enslaving yearly thousands of peaceful traders, women and children. The writer was himself in 1862 besieged in a Bornean river by a pirate fleet, which was eventually destroyed by a Sarawak Government steamer with the following result of the fight: 190 pirates and 140 captives were killed or drowned, and 250 of the latter were liberated and sent to their homes; showing how formidable these pirates were. But Wallace, absorbed in his scientific pursuits, minded not these dangers, nor the hardships of any kind which a roving life in untrodden jungles and feverish swamps brings.
When Wallace left Sarawak after his fifteen months' residence in the country, he left his young assistant, Charles Allen, there. He entered my service, and remained some time after the formation of the Borneo Company. Later, he again joined Wallace, and then went to New Guinea, doing valuable collecting and exploring work. He finally settled in Singapore, where I met him in 1899. He had married and was doing well; but died not long after my interview with him. He had come to the East with Wallace as a lad of 16, and had been his faithful companion and assistant during years of arduous work.—L.V.H.
The eight years spent by Wallace in this almost unknown part of the world were times of strenuous mental and physical exertion, resulting in the gathering together of an enormous amount of matter for future scientific investigation, but counterbalanced unfortunately by more or less continuous ill-health—which at times made the effort of clear reasoning and close application to scientific pursuits extremely difficult.
An indication of the unwearying application with which he went about his task is seen in the fact that during this period he collected 125,660 specimens of natural history, travelled about 14,000 miles within the Archipelago, and made sixty or seventy journeys, "each involving some preparation and loss of time," so that "not more than six years were really occupied in collecting."
A faint idea of this long and solitary sojourn in lonely places is given in a letter to his old friend Bates, dated December 24th, 1860, in which he says: "Many thanks for your long and interesting letter. I have myself suffered much in the same way as you describe, and I think more severely. The kind of taedium vitae you mention I also occasionally experience here. I impute it to a too monotonous existence." And again when he begs his friend to write, as he is "half froze for news."
As already stated, Wallace, at no time during these wanderings, had any escort or protection, having to rely entirely upon his own tact and patience, combined with firmness, in his dealings with the natives. On one occasion he was taken ill, and had to remain six weeks with none but native Papuans around him, and he became so attached to them that when saying good-bye it was with the full intention of returning amongst them at a later period. In another place he speaks of sleeping under cover of an open palm-leaf hut as calmly as under the protection of the Metropolitan Police!
Up to that time, also, he was the only Englishman who had actually seen the beautiful "birds of paradise in their native forests," this success being achieved after "five voyages to different parts of the district they inhabit, each occupying in its preparation and execution the larger part of a year." And then only five species out of a possible fourteen were procured. His enthusiasm as a naturalist and collector knew no bounds, butterflies especially calling into play all his feelings of joy and satisfaction. Describing his first sight of the Ornithoptera croesus, he says that the blood rushed to his head and he felt much more like fainting than he had done when in apprehension of immediate death; a similar sensation being experienced when he came across another large bird-winged butterfly, Ornithoptera poseidon.
"It is one thing," he says, "to see such beauty in a cabinet, and quite another to feel it struggling between one's fingers, and to gaze upon its fresh and living beauty, a bright-green gem shining out amid the silent gloom of a dark and tangled forest. The village of Dobbo held that evening at least one contented man."
These thrills of joy may be considered as some compensation for such experiences as those contained in his graphic account of a single journey in a "prau," or native boat. "My first crew," he wrote, "ran away; two men were lost for a month on a desert island; we were ten times aground on coral reefs; we lost four anchors; our sails were devoured by rats; the small boat was lost astern; we were thirty-eight days on the voyage home which should have taken twelve; we were many times short of food and water; we had no compass-lamp owing to there not being a drop of oil in Waigiou when we left; and to crown it all, during the whole of our voyage, occupying in all seventy-eight days (all in what was supposed to be the favourable season), we had not one single day of fair wind."
The scientific discoveries arising out of these eight years of laborious work and physical hardship were first—with the exception of the memorable Essay on Natural Selection—included in his books on the Malay Archipelago, the Geographical Distribution of Animals, Island Life, and Australasia, besides a number of papers contributed to various scientific journals.
A bare catalogue of the places visited and explored includes Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, the Moluccas, Timor, New Guinea, the Aru and Ke Islands. Comparing this list with that given by Darwin at the close of the "Journal," we find that though in some respects the ground covered by the two men was similar, it never actually overlapped. The countries and islands visited by the Beagle came in the following order: Cape de Verde Islands, St. Paul's Rocks, Fernando Noronha, South America (including the Galapagos Archipelago, the Falkland Isles, and Tierra del Fuego), Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, Keeling Island, Maldive coral atolls, Mauritius, St. Helena, Ascension. Brazil was revisited for a short time, and the Beagle touched at the Cape de Verde Islands and the Azores on the homeward voyage.
The very nature of this voyage did not permit Darwin to give unlimited time to the study of any particular spot or locality; but his accurate observation of every detail, together with his carefully kept journal, afforded ample scope and foundation for future contemplation. To Wallace, the outstanding result may be summed up in the fact that he discovered that the Malay Archipelago is divided into a western group of islands, which in their zoological affinities are Asiatic, and an eastern, which are Australian. The Oriental Borneo and Bali are respectively divided from the Australian Celebes and Lombok by a narrow belt of sea known as "Wallace's line," on the opposite side of which the indigenous mammalia are as widely divergent as in any two parts of the world.
To both men Darwin's estimate of the influence of travel may aptly apply in the sense that from a geographical point of view "the map of the world ceases to be a blank ... each part assumes its proper dimensions," continents are no longer considered islands, nor islands as mere specks.
Wallace's homeward journey was not so eventful as the previous one had been, except for the unsuccessful efforts to bring back several species of live birds, which, with the exception of his birds of paradise, died on the way. On reaching London in the spring of 1862, he again made his home with his married sister, Mrs. Sims (who was living in Westbourne Grove). In a large empty room at the top of the house he found himself surrounded with packing-cases which he had not seen for five or six years, and which, together with his recent collections, absorbed his time and interest for the first few weeks. Later, he settled down to his literary work, and, with the exception of one or two visits to the Continent and America, spent the remainder of his life in England—a life full of activity, the results of which still permeate scientific research.
PART I (Continued)
Of the few letters which have been preserved relating to this period, a number have already been published in "My Life," and need not be reprinted here. But in some cases portions of these letters have been given because they bring out aspects of Wallace's character which are not revealed elsewhere. The various omissions which have been made in other letters refer either to unimportant personal matters or to technical scientific details. The first of the letters was written during Wallace's voyage to the Malay Archipelago.
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TO G. SILK
Steamer "Bengal," Red Sea. March 26, .
My dear George,— ... Of all the eventful days of my life my first in Alexandria was the most striking. Imagine my feelings when, coming out of the hotel (whither I had been conveyed in an omnibus) for the purpose of taking a quiet stroll through the city, I found myself in the midst of a vast crowd of donkeys and their drivers, all thoroughly determined to appropriate my person to their own use and interest, without in the least consulting my inclinations. In vain with rapid strides and waving arms I endeavoured to clear a way and move forward; arms and legs were seized upon, and even the Christian coat-tails were not sacred from the profane Mahometans. One would hold together two donkeys by their tails while I was struggling between them, and another, forcing together their heads, would thus hope to compel me to mount upon one or both of them; and one fellow more impudent than the rest I laid flat upon the ground, and sending the donkey staggering after him, I escaped a moment midst hideous yells and most unearthly cries. I now beckoned to a fellow more sensible-looking than the rest, and told him that I wished to walk and would take him for a guide, and hoped now to be at rest; but vain thought! I was in the hands of the Philistines, and getting us up against a wall, they formed an impenetrable phalanx of men and brutes thoroughly determined that I should only get away from the spot on the legs of a donkey. Bethinking myself now that donkey-riding was a national institution, and seeing a fat Yankee (very like my Paris friend) mounted, being like myself hopeless of any other means of escape, I seized upon a bridle in hopes that I should then be left in peace. But this was the signal for a more furious onset, for, seeing that I would at length ride, each one was determined that he alone should profit by the transaction, and a dozen animals were forced suddenly upon me and a dozen hands tried to lift me upon their respective beasts. But now my patience was exhausted, so, keeping firm hold of the bridle I had first taken with one hand, I hit right and left with the other, and calling upon my guide to do the same, we succeeded in clearing a little space around us. Now then behold your friend mounted upon a jackass in the streets of Alexandria, a boy behind holding by his tail and whipping him up, Charles (who had been lost sight of in the crowd) upon another, and my guide upon a third, and off we go among a crowd of Jews and Greeks, Turks and Arabs, and veiled women and yelling donkey-boys to see the city. We saw the bazaars and the slave market, where I was again nearly pulled to pieces for "backsheesh" (money), the mosques with their elegant minarets, and then the Pasha's new palace, the interior of which is most gorgeous.
We have seen lots of Turkish soldiers walking in comfortable irregularity; and, after feeling ourselves to be dreadful guys for two hours, returned to the hotel whence we were to start for the canal boats. You may think this account is exaggerated, but it is not; the pertinacity, vigour and screams of the Alexandrian donkey-drivers no description can do justice to....—Yours sincerely,
ALFRED R. WALLACE.
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TO HIS MOTHER
Singapore, April 30, 1854.
My dear Mother,—We arrived here safe on the 20th of this month, having had very fine weather all the voyage. On shore I was obliged to go to a hotel, which was very expensive, so I tried to get out into the country as soon as I could, which, however, I did not manage in less than a week, when I at last got permission to stay with a French Roman Catholic missionary who lives about eight miles out of the town and close to the jungle. The greater part of the inhabitants of Singapore are Chinese, many of whom are very rich, and all the villages about are almost entirely of Chinese, who cultivate pepper and gambir. Some of the English merchants here have splendid country houses. I dined with one to whom I brought an introduction. His house was most elegant, and full of magnificent Chinese and Japanese furniture. We are now at the Mission of Bukit Tima. The missionary speaks English, Malay and Chinese, as well as French, and is a very pleasant man. He has built a very pretty church here, and has about 300 Chinese converts. Having only been here four days, I cannot tell much about my collections yet. Insects, however, are plentiful....
Charles gets on pretty well in health, and catches a few insects; but he is very untidy, as you may imagine by his clothes being all torn to pieces by the time we arrived here. He will no doubt improve and will soon be useful.
Malay is the universal language, in which all business is carried on. It is easy, and I am beginning to pick up a little, but when we go to Malacca shall learn it most, as there they speak nothing else.
I am very unfortunate with my watch. I dropped it on board and broke the balance-spring, and have now sent it home to Mr. Matthews to repair, as I cannot trust anyone here to do it....
Love to Fanny and Thomas,—I remain your affectionate son,
ALFRED B. WALLACE.
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TO HIS MOTHER
Bukit Tama, Singapore. May 28, 1854.
My dear Mother,—I send you a few lines through G. Silk as I thought you would like to hear from me. I am very comfortable here living with a Roman Catholic missionary.... I send by this mail a small box of insects for Mr. Stevens—I think a very valuable one—and I hope it will go safely. I expected a letter from you by the last mail, but received only two Athenoeums of March 18 and 25....
The forest here is very similar to that of South America. Palms are very numerous, but they are generally small and horridly spiny. There are none of the large and majestic species so abundant on the Amazon. I am so busy with insects now that I have no time for anything else, I send now about a thousand beetles to Mr. Stevens, and I have as many other insects still on hand which will form part of my next and principal consignment. Singapore is very rich in beetles, and before I leave I think I shall have a most beautiful collection.
I will tell you how my day is now occupied. Get up at half-past five. Bath and coffee. Sit down to arrange and put away my insects of the day before, and set them safe out to dry. Charles mending nets, filling pincushions, and getting ready for the day. Breakfast at eight. Out to the jungle at nine. We have to walk up a steep hill to get to it, and always arrive dripping with perspiration. Then we wander about till two or three, generally returning with about 50 or 60 beetles, some very rare and beautiful. Bathe, change clothes, and sit down to kill and pin insects. Charles ditto with flies, bugs and wasps; I do not trust him yet with beetles. Dinner at four. Then to work again till six. Coffee. Read. If very numerous, work at insects till eight or nine. Then to bed.
Adieu, with love to all.—Your affectionate son,
ALFRED E. WALLACE.
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TO HIS MOTHER
In the Jungle near Malacca. July, 1854.
My dear Mother,—As this letter may be delayed getting to Singapore I write at once, having an opportunity of sending to Malacca to-morrow. We have been here a week, living in a Chinese house or shed, which reminds me remarkably of my old Rio Negro habitation. I have now for the first time brought my "rede" into use, and find it very comfortable.
We came from Singapore in a small schooner with about fifty Chinese, Hindoos and Portuguese passengers, and were two days on the voyage, with nothing but rice and curry to eat, not having made any provision, it being our first experience of these country vessels. Malacca is an old Dutch city, but the Portuguese have left the strongest mark of their possession in the common language of the place being still theirs. I have now two Portuguese servants, a cook and a hunter, and find myself thus almost brought back again to Brazil by the similarity of language, the people, and the jungle life. In Malacca we stayed only two days, being anxious to get into the country as soon as possible. I stayed with a Roman Catholic missionary; there are several here, each devoted to a particular part of the population, Portuguese, Chinese and wild Malays of the jungle. The gentleman we were with is building a large church, of which he is architect himself, and superintends the laying of every brick and the cutting of every piece of timber. Money enough could not be raised here, so he took a voyage round the world! and in the United States, California, and India got subscriptions sufficient to complete it.
It is a curious and not very creditable thing that in the English colonies of Singapore and Malacca there is not a single Protestant missionary; while the conversion, education and physical and moral improvement of the inhabitants (non-European) is entirely left to these French missionaries, who without the slightest assistance from our Government devote their lives to the Christianising and civilising of the varied populations which we rule over.
Here the birds are abundant and most beautiful, more so than on the Amazon, and I think I shall soon form a most beautiful collection. They are, however, almost all common, and so are of little value except that I hope they will be better specimens than usually come to England. My guns are both very good, but I find powder and shot in Singapore cheaper than in London, so I need not have troubled myself to take any. So far both I and Charles have enjoyed excellent health. He can now shoot pretty well, and is so fond of it that I can hardly get him to do anything else. He will soon be very useful, if I can cure him of his incorrigible carelessness. At present I cannot trust him to do the smallest thing without watching that he does it properly, so that I might generally as well do it myself. I shall remain here probably two months, and then return to Singapore to prepare for a voyage to Cambodia or somewhere else, so do not be alarmed if you do not hear from me regularly. Love to all.—Your affectionate son,