Àngel Manuel Hernández Cardona

Articles de plantes

On the bicentenary of the birth of Alfred Wallace

Posted by angelhc a gener 5, 2023

This month of January 2023 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Alfred Wallace, a naturalist who shares with Charles Darwin the merit of having established the theory of evolution through natural selection. Alfred Russel Wallace was born in Usk (Wales) on January 8, 1823. He was the son of Thomas Wallace and Mary Anne Greenell, people of modest means. In 1866 he married Annie Mitten and had three children, of whom only Violet and William survived. He died in Broadstone (England) on November 7, 1913.

In 1848 he went to Brazil with Henry Walter Bates and for a certain time they were together collecting insects and other animals that they later sold to museums and scientific institutions to pay for their expeditions. Later, alone, he explored the northern part of the Amazon. In 1852 he returned to Great Britain, but the ship in which he was traveling on sank, although the passengers and crew were rescued. Unfortunately, Wallace lost his luggage and almost all of his field notes. For almost two years he was able to live with the travel insurance subsidy and was able to write Palm trees of the Amazon and their uses (1853) and A narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853).

From 1854 to 1862 he made important explorations in the Malay Archipelago, where he collected approximately 125,000 specimens, most of them insects, such as the beetle Batocera wallacei, discovered by him in the Moluccas and dedicated to him, but also other animals, such as the unique amphibian Rhacophorus nigropalmatus, better known as Wallace’s flying frog. During his stay in Insulindia, he defined a biogeographic barrier, which in his honor has been called the Wallace line. A chronicle of his work in Malaysia was left written in the book The Malay Archipelago (1869), which carried the suggestive subtitle “The land of orang-utan, and the bird of paradise”.

In 1858 he wrote an essay entitled “On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type”, in which he expounded the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. But instead of publishing it as an article in a scientific journal or even in the form of a pamphlet, he sent the manuscript to none other than Charles Darwin, to whom it came out of the blue. Darwin said that he had already had this idea for a few years and that he was doing a work that developed this theory. Darwin’s friends found a compromising solution by simultaneously publishing Wallace’s essay and a Darwin paper entitled “On the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection”. Although, by all indications, Wallace was the first to note the importance of natural selection in evolutionary processes, no one can underestimate Darwin’s merit in having consolidated the theory with arguments of all kinds, admirably exposed in the book On the origin of species by means of natural selection (1859), one of the capital works of the 19th century. Wallace accepted Darwin’s works well and even wrote a book entitled Darwinism. An exposition of the theory of natural selection (1889).

Alfred Wallace was not limited to the study of nature, but also dealt with issues of agriculture, anthropology, economics, human rights, trade unionism and jurisprudence, among many others. In total he wrote about twenty books and more than seven hundred articles. A little known aspect of his biography is his belief in spiritualism, so in vogue at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, and also that he was in favor of agrarian reform and women’s suffrage, and that he was opposed to militarism and obligatory vaccination. All these aspects were dealt with in his autobiographical book My life (1905).

653-1. Alfred Russel Wallace


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