Alfred Russel Wallace


Alfred Russel Wallace : biography

df=y August 1 – 7 November 1913

Accounts of his studies and adventures there were eventually published in 1869 as The Malay Archipelago, which became one of the most popular books of scientific exploration of the 19th century, and has never been out of print. It was praised by scientists such as Darwin (to whom the book was dedicated), and Charles Lyell, and by non-scientists such as the novelist Joseph Conrad, who called it his "favorite bedside companion" and used it as source of information for several of his novels, especially Lord Jim.Slotten p. 267.

Return to England, marriage and children

In 1862, Wallace returned to England, where he moved in with his sister Fanny Sims and her husband Thomas. While recovering from his travels, Wallace organised his collections and gave numerous lectures about his adventures and discoveries to scientific societies such as the Zoological Society of London. Later that year, he visited Darwin at Down House, and became friendly with both Charles Lyell and Herbert Spencer.Shermer pp. 151–52. During the 1860s, Wallace wrote papers and gave lectures defending natural selection. He also corresponded with Darwin about a variety of topics, including sexual selection, warning colouration, and the possible effect of natural selection on hybridisation and the divergence of species.Slotten pp. 249–58. In 1865, he began investigating spiritualism.Slotten p. 235.

After a year of courtship, Wallace became engaged in 1864 to a young woman whom, in his autobiography, he would only identify as Miss L. However, to Wallace’s great dismay, she broke off the engagement.Shermer p. 156. In 1866, Wallace married Annie Mitten. Wallace had been introduced to Mitten through the botanist Richard Spruce, who had befriended Wallace in Brazil and who was also a good friend of Annie Mitten’s father, William Mitten, an expert on mosses. In 1872, Wallace built the Dell, a house of concrete, on land he leased in Grays in Essex, where he lived until 1876. The Wallaces had three children: Herbert (1867–1874), Violet (1869–1945), and William (1871–1951).Slotten pp. 239–40.

Financial struggles

In the late 1860s and 1870s, Wallace was very concerned about the financial security of his family. While he was in the Malay Archipelago, the sale of specimens had brought in a considerable amount of money, which had been carefully invested by the agent who sold the specimens for Wallace. However, on his return to the UK, Wallace made a series of bad investments in railways and mines that squandered most of the money, and he found himself badly in need of the proceeds from the publication of The Malay Archipelago.Slotten pp. 265–67.

Despite assistance from his friends, he was never able to secure a permanent salaried position such as a curatorship in a museum. In order to remain financially solvent, Wallace worked grading government examinations, wrote 25 papers for publication between 1872 and 1876 for various modest sums, and was paid by Lyell and Darwin to help edit some of their own works.Slotten pp. 299–300.

In 1876, Wallace needed a £500 advance from the publisher of The Geographical Distribution of Animals to avoid having to sell some of his personal property.Slotten p. 325. Darwin was very aware of Wallace’s financial difficulties and lobbied long and hard to get Wallace awarded a government pension for his lifetime contributions to science. When the £200 annual pension was awarded in 1881, it helped to stabilise Wallace’s financial position by supplementing the income from his writings.Slotten pp. 361–64.

Social activism

John Stuart Mill was impressed by remarks criticizing English society that Wallace had included in The Malay Archipelago. Mill asked him to join the general committee of his Land Tenure Reform Association, but the association dissolved after Mill’s death in 1873. Wallace wrote only a handful of articles on political and social issues between 1873 and 1879 when, at the age of 56, he entered the debates over trade policy and land reform in earnest. He believed that rural land should be owned by the state and leased to people who would make whatever use of it that would benefit the largest number of people, thus breaking the often-abused power of wealthy landowners in British society. In 1881, Wallace was elected as the first president of the newly formed Land Nationalisation Society.