Professor Steve Jones wrote for the London Daily Telegraph recently this splendid short biography of Alfred Russel Wallace and his major contributions to 19th century science.

Fourteen years younger, Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the ideas of natural evolution in the 1850s which Charles Darwin had been working on for thirty years. Alfred Russel Wallace was an immensely clever man. This short biography is well worth reading; so please read on . . . 

Alfred Russel Wallace, the man who pre-empted Darwin

Born: January 8, 1823, Llanbadoc    

Died: November 7, 1913, Broadstone, Dorset

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Could you provide a more specific llnk to the Daily Telegraph article? 


Wallace resonates with me because one of his substantial backers was a local person of considerable commerce in my home vicnity.  The following is an article about Wallace published at the time of the 150th anniversary of the publication the Origin of Species.


November 22, 2009 Bryan Ward Jr.: Darwin has link to W.Va. On Tuesday, people around the world will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's history-making book, "On the Origin of Species." Whether you revel in the book or are disgusted by it, you cannot deny its impact on public discourse. While many words will be wasted by partisans trying to convince the other side of their ignorance and error, there is a story behind the rhetoric that shows that ideas themselves are evolutionary, subject to natural selection, and even West Virginians can be a part of it.

Today, when educated people are asked about the creator of the idea of evolution and natural selection, Darwin's name is first and foremost. However, at the time of the publication of his book, he was not solely credited, but instead shared that honor with another naturalist, Alfred Wallace. In fact, it was an essay that Wallace sent to Darwin to pass on to a colleague titled "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type" that sparked Darwin to begin work on his book.

The ideas of evolution and natural selection were delivered to the scientific community in England 18 months before the publication of Darwin's book at a meeting of the Linnean Society, a world-renowned natural history group. Wallace's paper was presented with fragments of Darwin's unpublished papers. Neither man was present. Wallace was in Indonesia conducting research on plant and animal life, and Darwin was represented by a close associate. Following the meeting, both men were jointly credited with the discovery.  History, however, hasn't been kind to Wallace, who, as a recent biography title noted, remained "In Darwin's Shadow."

Another recent book - "Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution," by Iain McCalman - describes the collective process that led to development of the theory of evolution. One chapter in that book is dedicated to Alfred Wallace and the travels, trials and tribulations that led to formation of his evolutionary ideas. In this chapter, it comes to light that a West Virginian actually played a huge role in Wallace's life and scientific discoveries. Even to those who really know West Virginia history, the name William Henry Edwards means little, but during the late 19th century, he was well known.   

In 1846, Edwards published "A Voyage Up the River Amazon." The book chronicled an early natural history trip to the jungle that Edwards took to investigate birds and other wildlife. For those interested in the early natural history field, the book was a bombshell. Edwards gave credence to the wild notions and imagination of young men like Wallace.

Following his trip to the rainforest, Edwards came to what would become West Virginia and opened one of the first commercial coal mines along the Kanawha River, at Coalburg. During a journey to England in 1848 to seek funding for his coal properties, he had a chance meeting with Wallace, which resulted in Wallace and a companion taking a disastrous and almost fatal trip to the Amazon. 

Wallace later returned to England and embarked on work in Indonesia. Edwards, from his home in West Virginia, became a world authority on Lepidoptera, the order of insects that include butterflies and moths. The culmination of his work was ultimately published in a massive three-volume set as "Butterflies of North America," released in 1872, 1884 and 1897. A wonderful collection of journals, notes, correspondence, articles, books and original artwork is housed in the West Virginia State Archives. Among the collection is a series of letters from Wallace who, on a trip to America in 1887, stopped for four days to visit Edwards at his home in Coalburg and to explore the mountains of West Virginia.

As is often the case with history and revolutionary discoveries, the popular notion is simplistic and

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Bryan Ward Jr.: Darwin has link to W.Va.  - Op-Ed Commentaries - The ...

eliminates real and interesting stories behind the events. This story further demonstrates that no one is an island, and that even people in the hills of West Virginia can have a big impact on ideas of a greater world.   

Ward is assistant director of the State Archives.





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