Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, A Series of Essays, 1870. Alfred Russel Wallace.

Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, A Series of Essays, 1870

London: Macmillan, 1870. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION OF WALLACE’S ESSAYS ON NATURAL SELECTION, INCLUSIVE OF HIS FIRST WRITING ON THE TOPIC OF NATURAL SELECTION WITH RESPECT TO MAN. Wallace’s thesis argues that natural selection alone is unable to account for human intellect and consciousness and therefore cannot fully explain the evolution of man. Prior to this work, Wallace’s independently proposed theory of natural selection prompted Darwin to publish his own earlier than intended. Still “the scientific friendship between Wallace and Darwin has become one of the most famous relationships in the history of science” (Browne, Wallace and Darwin, Current Biology 23, 2013).

Alfred Russel Wallace was a Welsh naturalist, explorer, collector, geographer, anthropologist, biologist, and 19th century’s leading expert on the spatial distribution of species; his work correlating distribution with geography both current and throughout geological change led to his sometimes being called ‘father of biogeography’ (Nature Knowledge Project).

Wallace and Darwin’s relationship could have been ugly. “One day in 1858, while feverish and confined to his hut on the island of Ternate (now in Indonesia), Wallace had a realization. He came to understand how species evolved - they changed because the fittest individuals survived and reproduced, passing their advantageous characteristics on to their offspring. Wallace immediately wrote to someone he knew was interested in the subject, Charles Darwin” (McNish, Natural History Museum of London).

Wallace’s letter outlined “his own theory of evolution by natural selection; [still] the relationship was characterized throughout by personal generosity and high scientific esteem. No two authors thrown together in such a fashion tried harder than Darwin and Wallace to treat each other fairly. Wallace greatly admired On the Origin of Species. In turn, Darwin regarded Wallace as the one man who truly understood the idea of evolution by natural selection” (Browne).

“Darwin had been working on the very same theory for 20 years, but was yet to publish. He sought the advice of his friends, who determined that the ideas of both men would be presented at a meeting of the Linnean Society [Wallace’s paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Darwin’s writings in 1858]. Darwin's masterpiece, The Origin of Species, came out the following year. From that time on, Darwin overshadowed Wallace and it has usually been his name alone associated with the theory of evolution by natural selection. Wallace expressed no resentment at this - in fact he was Darwin's greatest fan. His role in the matter, and Darwin's support, ensured his entry to the highest ranks of the scientific establishment” (McNish).

While Darwin was still revising his manuscript for The Descent of Man (published in 1871), the debate over human evolution grew more public. In 1869, Wallace had already expressed reservations as to “the application of natural selection to the development of the higher intellectual faculties of humans… [and he expressed] these ideas more fully in the collection of essays [offered here]” (Darwin Project).

“Despite their increasing theoretical differences, both men worked as they had in the past to sustain goodwill and mutual respect. Wallace’s new book, titled Contributions to the theory of natural selection, was dedicated to Darwin. When he received the book, Darwin was full of praise for Wallace’s ‘modesty and candour’. ‘I hope it is a satisfaction to you to reflect – & very few things in my life have been more satisfactory to me – that we have never felt any jealousy towards each other, though in one sense rivals’ (letter to A. R. Wallace 20, April 1870)” (ibid). Item #1106

CONDITION: London: Macmillan. 8vo. [xvi], 384, [2]. Former institutional copy with a few light interior stamps. Handsomely rebound in half-calf over marbled paper boards; gilt-lettered spine. Solid, tight, clean. Very good +.

Price: $975.00