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'Forgotten father' of evolution Alfred Russel Wallace let Charles Darwin take the credit for the famous theory after he 'grew tired of medals', new letters reveal

  • British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace co-discovered the theory of evolution
  • However his role in forming the famous theory has been overlooked by history
  • Now new letters reveal how Wallace hated publicity and grew 'tired of medals'
  • Letters suggest that Wallace chose to become the 'forgotten father' of evolution

The 'forgotten father' of evolution Alfred Russel Wallace may have let Charles Darwin take the credit for his role in the world-famous theory.

Never-before-seen handwritten notes have revealed how the British biologist hated publicity and 'grew tired of medals' during his lifetime.

The notes suggest that Wallace – who published the theory of evolution alongside Darwin and even coined the term 'origin of species' – may have chosen to become forgotten by history.

The findings stand in stark contrast to previous speculation that Darwin cheated Wallace out of his rightful place in history.

Alfred Russel Wallace s handwritten notes to his editor James Marchant about a book he was writing at the time of his death in 1913 called 'Darwin and Wallace'

Alfred Russel Wallace s handwritten notes to his editor James Marchant about a book he was writing at the time of his death in 1913 called 'Darwin and Wallace'

British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace is often described of the 'forgotten father of evolution'. He is pictured in a painting by John William Beaufort

British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace is often described of the 'forgotten father of evolution'. He is pictured in a painting by John William Beaufort

In a letter to his editor, James Marchant, Wallace said that he was 'rather tired of medals' after being awarded countless scientific awards during his lifetime.

Another note reveals how the biologist refused to be painted by John Collier, the artist responsible for immortalising the face of Charles Darwin.

'I think it possible I may have declined rather abruptly and perhaps Collier may have felt hurt,' Wallace wrote, according to the Guardian.

The handwritten letters are part of a private collection which also includes drafts for a book called 'Darwin and Wallace'.

The draft outline for the book, which Wallace failed to write before his death in 1913, will go on auction next week.

The letters reveal that Wallace hated publicity and grew 'tired of medals'

The draft notes are part of a private collection of letters written by Wallace to his friends and colleagues. The letters reveal that Wallace hated publicity and grew 'tired of medals'

In the draft copy of his book (pictured), Wallace explains how he and Darwin both contributed to the theory of evolution, but consistently refers to the theory as 'Darwinism'

In the draft copy of his book (pictured), Wallace explains how he and Darwin both contributed to the theory of evolution, but consistently refers to the theory as 'Darwinism'

In the drafts, Wallace explains how he and Darwin both contributed to the theory of evolution, but consistently refers to the theory as 'Darwinism'.

The collection also contains a letter from shortly after Wallace's death by his son, William, in which he refuses an offer for his father to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

'Neither my mother nor my father himself would desire it,' William Wallace wrote.

'We all of us are averse from publicity and unnecessary ceremony.'

Wallace refused to be painted by John Collier, the artist responsible for immortalising the face of Charles Darwin in this masterpiece

Wallace refused to be painted by John Collier, the artist responsible for immortalising the face of Charles Darwin in this masterpiece

During his lifetime, Wallace was awarded the Order of Merit, one of the highest honours that can be given to a civilian.

However in a letter to a friend, Wallace said that he declined an invitation to receive the reward at Buckingham Palace because he didn't want to buy a new suit for the occasion.

Dr George Beccaloni, director of the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project, said the 24 letters are 'fascinating'.

'They give a from-the-horse's mouth account of Wallace's views,' he told the Guardian.

'They show Wallace wasn't much of a self-publicist. He missed some very good publicity coups.'

ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Alfred Russel Wallace, a British biologist, was one of the 19th century's most remarkable scientists

Alfred Russel Wallace, a British biologist, was one of the 19th century's most remarkable scientists

Born in 1823, Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the 19th century's most remarkable intellectuals.

Not only did he co-discover the process of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin in 1858, but he also made very many other significant contributions, not just to biology, but also to subjects as diverse as glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology.

His pioneering work on evolutionary biogeography (the study of how plants and animals are distributed) led to him becoming recognised as that subject s father .

Beyond this, Wallace is regarded as the pre-eminent collector and field biologist of tropical regions of the 19th century, and his book The Malay Archipelago (which was Joseph Conrad s favourite bedside reading) is one of the most celebrated travel writings of that century and has never been out of print.

In February 1858 Wallace was suffering from an attack of fever in the village of Dodinga on the remote Indonesian island of Halmahera when suddenly the idea of natural selection as the mechanism of evolutionary change occurred to him.

As soon as he had sufficient strength he wrote an detailed essay explaining his theory and sent it together with a covering letter to Charles Darwin, who he knew from correspondence was interested in the subject of evolution.

He asked Darwin to pass the essay on to lawyer and foremost geologist of his day Charles Lyell if Darwin thought it was sufficiently interesting – probably hoping that Lyell would help to ensure that it was published in a good journal.

Lyell (who Wallace had never corresponded with) was one of the most respected scientists of the time and Wallace must have thought that he would be interested in reading his new theory because it explained the 'laws' which Wallace had proposed in his 'Sarawak Law' paper.

Darwin had mentioned in a letter to Wallace that Lyell had found Wallace's 1855 paper noteworthy.

Unbeknown to Wallace, Darwin had of course discovered natural selection many years earlier.

He was therefore horrified when he received Wallace's letter and immediately appealed to his influential friends Lyell and Joseph Hooker for advice on what to do.

Lyell and Hooker decided to present Wallace's essay, along with two unpublished excerpts from Darwin's writings on the subject, to a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858.

Source: http://wallacefund.info/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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