Friday, December 31, 2010

Someone Who Deserves More Credit

Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was a contemporary of Darwin and a collecter of exotic specimens. A few years after Darwin's famous voyage Wallace made an expedition to Malaysia and spent several years there. Unlike Darwin who'd had a top notch education, was from a successful family, and was employed as the Beagle's naturalist and so was paid, roomed, and fed, and well off after he returned to England, Wallace was a self-made man who was funding his own adventures in Malaysia from the sale of the specimens he sent back. Before that Wallace had been in South America for several years, collecting live specimens and preserving others, but on the voyage back to England his ship had caught fire and everyone had been forced to abandon ship, leaving the ship and most of the specimens (Wallace had possessed the presence of mind to save a few sketches) to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic. However his agent had sold the specimens he had managed to ship back to England and with this money and despite this misfortune he had determined to travel to Malaysia. In Malaysia he had lived a tough life, sleeping in a hut on stilts in the humid heat of the jungle, listening to the rumblings of distant tigers in the night. He went out every day collecting insects, and became fascinated with the many flashy butterflies of the area. In the process he developed the theory of evolution /independently of Darwin./ He sent many letters back to England, publishing in minor journals, hoping to gain opinions on his radical ideas. And they were radical, so radical that Darwin had not yet published the ideas he'd been sitting on for some time. Wallace also sent a paper he wrote on evolution to his friend Darwin for academic criticism. Darwin finally published, and though Wallace had independently come to the same ideas and published earlier Darwin was showered with praise and immortalized as the father of the theory of evolution. Still, Wallace never begrudged his friend the fame. For starting over when his ride home from South America went down in flames, for braving the jungles of Malaysia, for publishing without thinking of social consequences, and for his willingness to take a back seat to his friend Darwin I think Alfred Russel Wallace deserves more credit.

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