Friday, 9 July 2010

RIP Alfred Russel Wallace

I bear a passing resemblance to a vampire. Pale, dark hair, shuns the Sun. So on a very hot July day in my Dorset hometown, (super)naturally, I went to a visit a dead man in a graveyard.

Alfred Russel Wallace died in Broadstone in 1913 and was buried in the local cemetery. His contribution to science is, in my opinion, under-recognised and undervalued. He devised the same theory of evolution as Charles Darwin and the letters sent by Wallace explaining this to him spurred the older man to publish his long-ruminated account, On The Origin of Species, in 1859.

Darwin's book followed a presentation on July 1st 1858 of both accounts of the theory of evolution by natural selection to the Linnaen Society, and although a letter accompanying the papers indicated Darwin's priority, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker stated, "both men deserve ample recognition."

Where is this recognition today? Darwin's face graces the English £10 note. He is interred in Westminster Abbey. Yet this monument to Wallace at his burial site was erected only in 2000 by the A. R. Wallace Memorial Fund. Well, I've written an essay on the topic, but suffice to say, Wallace's divergent views, his conversion to spiritualism and his anti-vaccinationist stance made him unpopular in his later years.

Broadstone remembers Darwin. My parents nearly bought a house on this road - metres from where Wallace, the "grand old man of science", spent his last days. Rest in peace Alfred, and know that although spirits don't exist, vampires are visiting your grave.

1 comment:

  1. Totally with you on this one. Too many forgotten heros in the history of science.