Anthropological Society of London
Why do you think Alfred Russel Wallace’s scientific reputation was eclipsed? Discuss in an essay of not more than 1200 words what evidence could be drawn upon to answer this question. Alfred Russel Wallace was a nineteenth century surveyor who early in his lifetime discovered the theory of natural selection. In my essay I intend to answer the question of why I believe Wallace’s scientific reputation was eclipsed. I shall accomplish this by drawing on evidence to support my opinions.
Wallace was a Welshman from humble beginnings; in actual fact this modest start to life equipped him with the understanding and compassion he would later need for his interest in socialism. ‘… Alfred picked up the political values that stayed with him more or less for life: human nature is perfectible through education and changed environments; all humans are equal partners in progress. ‘ (Block 4, 2003, p110-p111) At this time in the country there was a large demand for surveyors, this was due to a change in the way farmers paid tithes.
‘A “rent charge” was substituted, based on the average value of titheable produce and the productive quality of the land. The charge was apportioned property-by-property or field-by-field, and required an accurate survey. ‘ (Block 4, 2003, p111) However the ‘rent charge’ seemed only to benefit the owners of the land, not the farmers working it, as a result there was an uprising within the farming community. Wallace was witness to this and sympathized with their plight, this consequently added to his knowledge of politics and socialism.
In 1843 at the age of twenty he wrote his first essay entitled ‘The South-Wales Farmer’ which demonstrated his awareness and experience of the farmers dilemma. During the late nineteenth century Wallace returned to his socialist roots after reading Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards, 2000-1887. Then in 1890 more than ten years after he had left The British Association for the Advancement of Science he began work on a new essay in which he applied his scientific knowledge to Bellamy’s utopian novel.
Alfred Russel Wallace had always been controversial; he was controversial to professional ‘scientists’ who had studied at Cambridge or various other prestigious universities. These scientists condemned DIY science research by the unqualified. Wallace of course had no formal training; he had only worked as a surveyor and observed the natural world around him. These educated i?? lite were also ardently opposed to pseudo-science such as phrenology and mesmerism. Phrenology is the study of the cranial bumps on the head to discover ones character and mesmerism is our modern day hypnotism.
These were both were notions he believed in. Wallace had no reservations going against conventions ‘He sought out radical allies in the new, men-only Anthropological Society of London. ‘ (Block 4, 2003, p132) In my opinion I believe that personal circumstances such as being rejected for marriage are what helped and aided him down the path to spiritualism, bearing in mind that Wallace was already a believer in mesmerism. ‘No sooner had his fianci?? e misled him that he entrusted himself to female mediums, staking his scientific reputation on their integrity.
‘ (Block 4, 2003, p143) He had had a curiosity in spiritualism before he even attended a si?? ance, but remained unconvinced. However before long Wallace was converted and thoroughly believed in the ‘table-moving’, he now immediately began applying his scientific knowledge to better understand it. Wallace believed that he had discovered in spiritualism the ‘scientific solution to a scientific problem’ (Block 4, 2003, p143) He went to countless si?? ances in order to further his knowledge of the subject, and often held them in his own house, at this stage an excited Wallace was fully caught up in the craze.