Evolving Thoughts

150 years ago…

Today marks the final day of the month in which, 150 years ago, a naturalist in what is now Indonesia wrote a letter to Charles Darwin in which he gave a theoretical account of how types can evolve by natural selection so that new species will arise. Give it up, folks, for Alfred Russel Wallace.

Darwin’s receipt of this letter dismayed him. He wrote to Charles Lyell, 18 June 1858:

Down Bromley Kent

18th

My dear Lyell

Some year or so ago, you recommended me to read a paper by Wallace in the Annals [a natural history journal], which had interested you & as I was writing to him, I knew this would please him much, so I told him. He has to day sent me the enclosed [manuscript] & asked me to forward it to you. It seems to me well worth reading. Your words have come true with a vengeance that I shd be forestalled. You said this when I explained to you here very briefly my views of “Natural Selection” depending on the Struggle for existence.?I never saw a more striking coincidence. if Wallace had my M.S. sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as Heads of my Chapters.

Please return me the M.S. which he does not say he wishes me to publish; but I shall of course at once write & offer to send to any Journal. So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed. Though my Book, if it will ever have any value, will not be deteriorated; as all the labour consists in the application of the theory.

I hope you will approve of Wallace?s sketch, that I may tell him what you say.

My dear Lyell

Yours most truly

C. Darwin

Lyell, solicitous of his friend’s reputation, came up with a compromise and Darwin’s 1844 Sketch was read to the Royal Society of London along with Wallace’s manuscript, in Darwin’s absence, and so Wallace came to be known as the co-discoverer of natural selection.

The correspondence can be found here.

Comments

  1. #1 Ian
    February 28, 2008

    What an example Darwin sets for those deviants at the Disco Inst. et al. Look at how decent and accomodating he is.

    Contrast that with what Behe did to ERV over the HIV exchange that went on not too long ago, that Ian Musgrave addressed at Panda’s Thumb.

    After all the Darwin-bashing in which the creationists and ID-ists indulge themselves, can you imagine any of their leading light(weight)s behaving like that? Based on their behavior so far, I can’t.

  2. #2 Glazius
    February 28, 2008

    Today marks the final day of the month

    2008. Divisible by 4, not divisible by 100. Leap year.

  3. #3 John S. Wilkins
    February 28, 2008

    Time zone. Australia. Not America.

  4. #4 Brian English
    February 28, 2008

    2008. Divisible by 4, not divisible by 100. Leap year.
    So 2000 wasn’t a leap year then?
    The rule is divisible by four and divisible by 400 but not 100. Or something similar.

  5. #5 Brian English
    February 28, 2008

    Try again: Divisible by 4, but not by 100 unless it’s divisible by 400. How’s that? I suck at maths.

  6. #6 Thony C.
    February 29, 2008

    As 1858 was not a leap year can we assume that Wallace wrote his letter on the 28th of February?

    By the way that letter represents one of the truly momentous moments in the history of science. Thanks for the memory.

  7. #7 John S. Wilkins
    February 29, 2008

    Wallace (Alf? Fred? Freddie?) merely dated his letter “February 1858, Ternate”. I guess his Blackberry was busted.