No corrections yet
ADELAIDE: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 1913.
The late Dn.. Alfred Rus^el Wallace was the last personal liiik between the present generation of scientists and the famous naturalist -whose name will alwava be indissoluble associated with
the theory of organic evolutjoa. The renerable philosopher, Avhose death was recorded in our .cable .messages on Saturday,' retained in extreme old,agb so much mental vigour and freshness of thought that those wlip knew him only through the medium of his books experienced; difficulty in realizing that the- brilliant author of 'Man's Place in! the Universe' was ^a nonagenarian, whose fame in some respects ante dated that of Huxley and Tyndall, and whose first literary production was published- more than half a century ago. His early work -as a scientist, and his valuable contributions to the specu lative thought of the middle decades of the nineteenth century, were to a cer tain extent overshadowed by the phenomenal achievements of his great contemporary and :co-worker. Charles Darwin, with whom he shared the honour of having first given expression to the evolutionary hypothesis as it is now commonly understood. ' In some respects', however, the two men whose, lives were so closely united by circum stances ,arid personal friendship were' strangely dissimilar. Darwin's keen and powerful intellect was associated with an instinctive appreciation of the ?value of evidence, and an infinite capa city for specialization, which the younger savant admitted that he could not equal. 'I have felt all my life; and still feel,' he wrote some years- ago, 'the' most 'sincere satisfaction that it ?was not left for me to attempt to write the 'Origin of Species^.. . . I recog nise' that I donotposseasthose diverse qualities which- in- their harmonious^ combination mark out Mr. Darwin as: the mail best fitted for the great work; he accomplished.' Tet few. mortals; have been more lavishly _ endowed wlth| jneninl- ability tarn iflerveraatHe''.vetiS%
?an -who penned that graceful tribute o his great co-operator. It has been ?aid that a cultured person should enow everything 'of ' something and something of everything. Assuming :hat definition to be accurate, it would lot be difficult to prone that the late Or. Wallace was one of the most highly cultured men on the planet. For many rears prior to his death he 'was ad mittedly the greatest living exponent )f the Darwinian theory of evolution; ind his essays dealing with that theme ire probably the T)est short statements jf the problem in existence. Still he found- time to write an elaborate treatise, .on. 'Miracles and Modern Spiritualism,' to discuss the social and political problems of the day, and to :ross 'swords with' the' disciples of Tenner. on the subject of vaccination. His masterly philosophical speculations ?egarding man's place in the Universe svere read with equal avidity by lay men, and astronomers; and some of the most charming Nature studies in Eng list literature ar% found in liis popiilar iescriRtiye, works. , His. fascinating essny on 'The Importance of Dust' — in which he showed how the particles of matter floating in the air are not only essential to life, but are also the cause.. of. some of the most beautiful phenomena in Nature— rhas been aptly described as one .of the fairy tales of science. . .. .'.' ... It- would be difficult to conceive of a more remarkable coincidence than that which ocenfred in connection- with .the discovery of the law of natural selec tion and Its application to the problem of the origin' of species. The episode, which practically ? forced ' Darwin to publish ' his epoch-making book ten rears before he had intended to send it to.' theV press,'. Is oner of thei most romantic :. recorded ' in the annals of scientific, research; and the manner in wtflch both of the great- thinkers, acted when they ascertained that they had arrived at.th6same goal almost simul taneously was worthy of the momen ioUs'opcasloni^'.Their' friendship was not': ruffled : for a .nioment- by petty wrangling concerning their respective claims to priority, although it must have been a crushing blow to Darwin— who had been laboriously collecting evidence for nearly 20 years-^-when he received ?? ithrough the post ?Wallace's rough sketch;; which, to iise his own words,- smashed all his originality. :In a letter written to Sir Charles Lyell at the time he remarked:— 'I never saw a more striking poinnlilpnpp- if Wniinpp
liad' liad my MS. sketch, written in 1844, -he -could not have made a better short abstract. Even his. terras now 3tand vat i the headof my chapters.' Actlrig on the' advice of his friends, Darwin modified his determination not toreveal, his .secret to the ; wor.ld until le iiad completed his;1 Investigations, with the result that the first edijtion of 'The Origin of Species' arid Dr. Wal lace's, essay- ? were ? published simul taneously. . From that time until the snd of, Darwin's life the twonien did all in their-power to assist each other, and. long after the fragile body of the older ? scientist had been ' laid to , rest Dr. _ Wallace wrote'a graceful tribute to1 his lamented 'friend, claiming for- hlm Belfonlythe position df being' the idVd cate of pure Darwinism! He recog nised that the success of the theory- of natural selection had been due almost entirely. .to! the marvellous skill. With which his great contemporary had collated and presented to the 'scientific world the mass of data which he ad duced . in support of the hypothesis— altiiough- in later years Dr. Wallace suppleniented and , strengthened tlie ariginal evidence 'by many-new facts. It hh'd:always been considered a weak ness In Darwin's ; work that' he based his deductions mainly on the variation in domestic; anjniate; and cultivated plants.' In 1S80 Dr.- Wallace published an ' important ' reply to criticisms of evolution, in whiqli .he ?endeavoured to 'secure a firm foundation for the theory in variation of organisms in a state of Nature.' The last chapter in the book is especially interesting, be cause it contains an exhaustive state ment.- 6t the. .author's views regarding the- materialistic conceptions 'of 'the Universe which became prevalent during the latter part of the nineteenth century. He refuted the allegation that this i 'hopeless -and soul-deadening belief was' . inseparable ' . from the theory of. '/organic evolution; and de clared ill' unequivocal language that a belief in the spiritual nature of man was not in any way inconsistent with the Darwinian hypothesis.-' '-'AVe who accent the. existence, of a sniritual
svorld, can look upon the universe as a ?rand consistent whole, adapted in all its parts to the development of spiritual beings capable of indefinite life and perfectibility. ... Beings thus trained and' strengthened by' their sur roundings; and possessing latent facul ties capable of such noble development, are surely destined for 'a higher and more permanent existence.' When those significant phrases were written the great naturalist and philosopher was at the zenith of his mental power, and the views expressai contained the substance of his final 'scientific deduc tions from the biological, geological, and psychological investigations , of the last century. The passages quoted are typical of a great deal of- the late Dr. AYallace's recent writing. Mr. Harold Begbie has said that when the venerable scientist ?denounced in conversation the mate rialism of the age his .auditors were conscious of a kind of heroism, an 'order of knight-errantry, rare and wonderful in the intellectual world.' On many occasions he fought strenu ously for what he conceived to be the truth, although it would have been better for his reputation and his posi tion in the realm of. science If he had remained silent He never shrank from encountering opposition, and his profound sense of the subordination of the physlcal'to the spiritual'save' to his writings a distinctive and lofty tone. Endorsing the view that during the.. whole process of. the rise,- growth, and extinction of past forms of life the earth was being prepared for the ulti mate man, he promulgated the doctrine that ''much of the wealth and luxuri ance of living thinps'-the 'infinite variety of form . and structure, the exquisite grace and beauty in bird and insect, In flower and 'foliage— may hive been mere by-prodnets o$ the grand mechanism we call Nature— -the pne^and j_pnly method of developing iaiSatnlty'.'!- ' 'Staiii-iifr declared, js the
superlative of Nature; and the object of his book, 'Man's Place in the Uni verse,1', was to show that the supreme purpose of the cosmos 'was the 'pro- duction and development of the living soul in the. perishable body of man.' His theory was criticised on the ground that if this planet were the only^ in habited or habitable world in space, the means employed were altogether disproportionate to the end secured. His reply was— 'We ourselves are the sole and sufficient. result of .the Uni verse.' Many of his views have been endorsed by some of the leaders of the new 'school of physicists!' of which Sir Oliver' Lodge is a conspicuous repre sentative. Dr. Wallace's popular books did a great deal to counteract the materialistic views of1 Huxley and Spencer,' and those 'who still cling to the old faith which they ignored owe him a debf; of gratitude for his persis tent efforts to supply a scientific basis for the belief that there is in man a higher nature, which could not -have been evolved solely by the struggle for material existence.