Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823–1913)

Citation metadata

Date: 2007
Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Rev. ed.
Publisher: Facts On File
Series: Facts on File Science Library
Document Type: Biography
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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About this Person
Born: January 08, 1823 in Usk, United Kingdom
Died: November 07, 1913 in Broadstone, United Kingdom
Nationality: British
Occupation: Naturalist
Full Text: 
Page 749

Wallace, Alfred Russel (1823–1913)

Welsh
Naturalist

Alfred Wallace developed a theory of natural selection independently of CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN, and the two delivered their ideas jointly, though Darwin's name attached itself singularly to the theory of evolution through propriety and the circumstance that his ideas were more fully developed and backed by evidence. Besides being one of the original proponents of the theory of evolution, Wallace made contributions to the scientific fields of ethnology, zoogeography, geology, vaccination, and astronomy.

Wallace was born on January 8, 1823, in Usk, Monmouthshire, Wales, the eighth of nine children born to Thomas Vere Wallace and Mary Anne Greenell. Wallace married Annie Mitten in April 1866. Together the couple had three children—Herbert, who died at the age of four; Violet; and William.

Wallace's formal education ended when he was 14; he traveled to London to apprentice as a surveyor under his brother William from 1838 to 1843, when business declined. Wallace then became a master, teaching English, arithmetic, surveying, and elementary drawing between 1844 and 1845 at Collegiate School in Leicester, where he met the entomologist Henry Walter Bates. Wallace enticed Page 750  |  Top of ArticleBates into exploring the Amazon River in South America, which they did in tandem from 1848 to 1852. Unfortunately Wallace lost the specimens he had collected in a fire that sank his ship in the Atlantic on August 6, 1852. However, he recorded his impressions of the expedition in the 1853 book A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro.

Wallace conducted an eight-year tour of the Malay Archipelago between 1854 and 1862, when he collected about 127,000 specimens. During this time he wrote the paper “On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species,” which caught Darwin's attention upon its publication in 1855. Wallace argued for the evolution of species from closely allied species. It was in February 1858, however, while experiencing an attack of malaria at Ternate in the Moluccas and reading Thomas R. Malthus's Essay on Population, that Wallace first conceived the idea of survival of the fittest; he summarized the idea over three successive evenings and sent it to Darwin in the next mail, which left Ternate on March 9, 1858. Upon receipt of the manuscript Darwin recognized the coincidence of his own and Wallace's ideas about evolution.

On July 1, 1858, Wallace read to the Linnaean Society his paper “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type,” demonstrating species' struggle for existence, reproduction rates, and food supply dependence, all of which contributed to his theory. Darwin read an abstract of his larger theory of evolution, which he was preparing for publication in On the Origin of Species. Both scientists gained instant notoriety, though Darwin eclipsed Wallace as the proprietary theorist.

In the 1870 text Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection Wallace posited his differences with Darwin, including Wallace's assertion that human intelligence did not evolve by natural selection alone but was derived in part from external influence such as a spiritual connection. In 1889, Wallace published Darwinism, and though it posited further differences with Darwin, it summarized Darwinian evolutionary theory very well.

In 1869 Wallace published The Malay Archipelago, in which he divided the archipelago into the western islands of Borneo and Bali, with affinities to Asia, and the eastern islands of Celebes and Lombok, with affinities to Australia. What's known as Wallace's line divides the islands, as mammals on the Asian side advanced further than their more primitive counterparts on the Australian side of the line. Wallace followed up on these ideas in 1876 with the two volumes of Geographical Distribution of Animals and in 1880 with Island Life.

Wallace received several awards from the Royal Society, which elected him a member in 1893, including the 1868 Royal Medal, the 1890 Darwin Medal, and the 1908 Copley Medal. From the Linnean Society of London he received the 1892 Gold Medal and the first Darwin-Wallace Medal in 1908. In 1910 he received the Order of Merit from the British government. He died on November 7, 1913, in Broadstone, Dorset.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX4065100912