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Wallace, Alfred Russel

Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) was an English naturalist, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist famous for having formulated, simultaneously with Charles Darwin, a theory about the origin of species by natural selection. Wallace was born in Llanbadoc, Monmouthshire, Wales, on January 8, 1823, and died at Broadstone in Dorset, England, on November 7, 1913.

Among his many distinctions Wallace was awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 1868 and the Copley Metal and the Order of Merit both in 1908; he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1893. His most important work, Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, was published in 1870, and in it he differed from Darwin, contending that mankind had not, like other animals, been produced by the unaided operation of natural selection, but that other, some nonphysical, causes had operated.

Wallace was active in social matters, supporting the rights of workers and admiring Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward, which appealed to many Theosophists also. He was interested in Spiritualism and other psychic phenomena and in 1875 published On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (revised and expanded third edition in 1896), in which he gave experimental reasons for his beliefs. He had joined the Theosophical Society in 1876, shortly after its foundation. When H. P. BLAVATSKY sent ISIS UNVEILED to Wallace at its publication, he replied on January 1, 1878, as follows: “Dear Madam, / I return you many thanks for the handsome present of your two very handsome volumes. I have as yet only had time to read a chapter here and there. I am amazed at the vast amount of erudition displayed in them and the great interest of the topics on which they treat. Moreover, your command of all the refinements of our language is such that you need not fear criticism on that score. Your book will open up to many spiritualists a whole world of new ideas, and cannot fail to be of the greatest value in the enquiry which is now being so earnestly carried on. / I beg you to accept my carte de visite [a small photographic portrait mounted on a card], which I regret is not a better one, and remain, / Dear Madam, / Yours with sincere respect, / [signed] Alfred R. Wallace” (printed in the Adyar Theosophist 7: 27 [April 1906]: 559).

He had earlier been in correspondence with H. S. Olcott, who had sent Wallace a copy of his book People from the Other Worlds (1875).

Philip Sydney Harris

John Algeo

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