This is the first of which, I hope, will be daily stories on life and times in the British Isles. This story happened on Thursday 1st July 1858 and was the day a paper by Charles Darwin outlining his theory of evolution by natural selection was presented to the British Linnaean Society. He had finished some 250,000 words on the subject by 18th June 1858 when he received a letter from Alfred Wallace, an English specimen collector working in the Malay Archipelago. Wallace was working on a very similar-looking theory to that of Darwin and, fearing a loss of priority on the subject, Darwin accepted a solution where extracts from both works would be read alternately to the Society.
In the event neither were present at the reading; Darwin was away grieving for his young son who had recently died from scarlet fever; and Wallace was thousands of miles away in Malay. As a result the readings were done by proxy. Wallace’s formulation of the theory had actually predated Darwin’s published contributions but his wide-ranging interests — from socialism to spiritualism, from island biogeography to life on Mars – effectively left the way open for Darwin to develop his view and he took the opportunity.
He promptly began an “abstract” of Natural Selection, which grew into an expanded and more accessible book – ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life’.
The rest, as they say, is history. Most people know the name of Charles Darwin – very few know the name of Alfred Wallace, including your scribe. I have now found him and will tell his story in the not too distant future.
As you can see – this was supposed to have been posted on Saturday 1st July. Probably because of my incompetence it didn’t get posted. Now it has been! Just pretend it’s Saturday todoy and not Monday!