Alfred Russel Wallace


Alfred Russel Wallace : biography

df=y August 1 – 7 November 1913

In the next year, he published a book, Land Nationalisation; Its Necessity and Its Aims, on the subject. He criticised the UK’s free trade policies for the negative impact they had on working-class people.Slotten pp. 365–72. In 1889, Wallace read Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy and declared himself a socialist.Slotten p. 436. Ideas like these led him to oppose eugenics, an idea supported by other prominent 19th-century evolutionary thinkers, on the grounds that contemporary society was too corrupt and unjust to allow any reasonable determination of who was fit or unfit.Slotten pp. 436–38.

In the 1890 article "Human Selection" he wrote "Those who succeed in the race for wealth are by no means the best or the most intelligent…". In 1898, Wallace wrote a paper advocating a pure paper money system, not backed by silver or gold, which impressed the economist Irving Fisher so much that he dedicated his 1920 book Stabilizing the Dollar to Wallace. Wallace wrote articles on other social and political topics including his support for women’s suffrage, and the dangers and wastefulness of militarism.Slotten pp. 366, 453, 487–88.Shermer pp. 23, 279.

In 1899, Wallace published a book entitled The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Its Failures about developments in the 19th century. The first part of the book covered the major scientific and technical advances of the century; the second part covered what Wallace considered to be its social failures including: the destruction and waste of wars and arms races, the rise of the urban poor and the dangerous conditions in which they lived and worked, a harsh criminal justice system that failed to reform criminals, abuses in a mental health system based on privately owned sanatoriums, the environmental damage caused by capitalism, and the evils of European colonialism.Slotten pp. 453–55.

Wallace continued his social activism for the rest of his life, publishing the book The Revolt of Democracy just weeks before his death.

Wallace continued his scientific work in parallel with his social commentary. In 1880, he published Island Life as a sequel to The Geographic Distribution of Animals. In November 1886, Wallace began a ten-month trip to the United States to give a series of popular lectures. Most of the lectures were on Darwinism (evolution through natural selection), but he also gave speeches on biogeography, spiritualism, and socio-economic reform. During the trip, he was reunited with his brother John who had emigrated to California years before. He also spent a week in Colorado, with the American botanist Alice Eastwood as his guide, exploring the flora of the Rocky Mountains and gathering evidence that would lead him to a theory on how glaciation might explain certain commonalities between the mountain flora of Europe, Asia and North America, which he published in 1891 in the paper "English and American Flowers".

He met many other prominent American naturalists and viewed their collections. His 1889 book Darwinism used information he collected on his American trip, and information he had compiled for the lectures.Shermer pp. 274–78.Slotten pp. 379–400.

Wallace assembled a huge collection of flora and fauna which were kept in "cabinets." Only one of these collections remains in its original cabinet. It consists of 1,700-items consisting of a variety of insects, including butterflies, beetles, moths, shells, flies, bees, praying mantises, tarantulas, seedpods, a hornet’s nest, and a small bird. A collector named Robert Heggestad found this cabinet/collection in Washington DC in 1979 and purchased it for $600 (not knowing who had assembled it). Heggestad began documenting references in Wallace’s work to specimens in the cabinet, resulting in a 62-page report to support the theory that the collection once belonged to Wallace. He also employed graphologist Beverley East to verify the handwriting on the collection. It is Wallace’s only known personal collection still in its original cabinet.