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Alfred Russel Wallace by Asienreisender

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2013 by Thim Kwai

In 1854 a man arrived in Singapore who can be counted as one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a former land surveyor from England, who spent already a couple of years in the tropical Amazon region collecting animals came to expand his collection and studies in the Malay Archipelago. In the following eight years he made 70 journeys through the whole, huge archipelago. In 1858 he came to the clear and elaborated conclusion that animals are not representing a fixed shape and capabilities, but being highly versatile, ever adapting to their changing environments. Species are undergoing a permanent change respective development, and the driver for that change is natural selection.

Russel wrote a great deal of essays on this topic and sent letters to England to reconfirm his position. One of his pen pals was Charles Darwin, an already accepted member of the scientific community in England. Darwin became over the time more and more impressed by Wallace’s ideas, particularly when he received a letter in June 1858, in which Wallace outlined the ‘theory of evolution’. That was exactly the concept which was stored in Darwin’s drawers since 17 years, who hesitated to publish it. Wallace even used mostly the same key terms for his theory as Darwin did.

The arrival of Wallace’s letter made history. Darwin decided now to publish his main work ‘On the Origins of Species’ (1859), a book which changed the world.

Alfred Russel Wallace is the ‘man in Darwin’s shadow’, the widely forgotten co-discoverer of the ‘theory of evolution’, what was in the 19th century still called the ‘Darwin/Wallace theory of evolution’. He travelled and studied great parts of the Malay Archipelago, a huge area what is now covered by the states of Malaysia and Indonesia, and published his experiences of the journeys in his splendid two volumes ‘The Malay Archipelago’ (1869). It is one of the finest travel narratives ever written.


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