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Reviews Martin Fichman. An Elusive Vidorian: the Evolution of AlfredRüssel Wallace. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004. x+382 pp. $40.00. Alfred Rüssel Wallace was one of the most important and productive of the Victorians, a scientist who was clearly also a sage, and whose work, down to his death in 1813, requires at least five fuU pages of tight, single spaced bibUography to Ust. Everyone knows about WaUace primarily in relation to Darwin, and the story of the way his essay, "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type" (1858), forced Darwin to rush to produce the famous abstract that, the conventional history has it, transformed science and Western Culture: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for life (1859). It was a kind of historical fluke that it is "Darwinism" we know rather than "WaUaceism," and we know as weU that although Darwin had certainly worked out the basic outlines of his theory close to two decades before WaUace's 1858 essay reached him, it required Darwin's network of sociaUy and inteUectuaUy connected friends to devise a respectable strategy by which Darwin could preserve his priority, pubUsh WaUace's essay, as he was asked to do, and proceed immediately to write the book that would introduce evolution by natural selection to an audience broader than the Linnaean Society. From this episode, WaUace has conventionaUy emerged as a nice and somewhat secondary figure, a good scientist indeed, but one who constandy deferred to Darwin inteUectuaUy and sociaUy, even writing his own book about natural selection and calling it Darwinism (1889). Part of what has kept WaUace so completely in the shadow of Darwin is the fact that he got deeply involved in spiritualism, to Darwin's great disappointment, and that after the extraordinary initial agreement about the workings of natural selection, WaUace graduaUy pulled away from Darwin on the question of whether natural selection could account for the fuU development, inteUectual and ethical, of humans. But this basicaUy correct understanding of WaUace is a mere caricature of the man and his work and entirely underestimates his stature within late Victorian and Edwardian culture as a scientist and sage. Martin Fichman's new book does more than any previous one to make clear WaUace's stature among his contemporaries and the importance of his contributions both 92volume 30 number 1 Reviews to science and to social and poUtical thinking. In linking WaUace with such otherwise better known thinkers as WilliamJames and Charles Sanders Pierce, and with many of the most important thinkers on social and scientific issues on both sides of the Adantic, Fichman transforms WaUace from a secondary figure to one of the first rank. History has made him secondary to almost aU the people with whom he worked, who exchanged ideas with him, and who reviewed him with enthusiasm. But that's not the way it was, and Fichman here tries to undo that history. It was partly WaUace's absolute inteUectual independence that made it difficult to assign him a clear and dominant place in the activity of Victorian inteUectual culture. He may have been gullible about spirituaHsm but he insisted on being scientific about it and dissociated himself from much that was cranky and fraudulent; he may have been wildly Utopian about his brand of sociaHsm, but he based his views on what he understood to be clear biological conditions. Clearly, WaUace was in many ways a more attractive figure than Darwin who, kindly and thoughtful as he was, was yet supported by the ekte culture of England, while WaUace - like Huxley, though in a very different mode — had to struggle his way out of an unpromising background and remained always, as Mrs. LyeU thought him, just a bit "shy, awkward, and quite unused to good society" (142). Mrs. LyeU seems to have been something of a snob, and WaUace was, by and large, at least after he estabHshed his scientific reputation, much more highly regarded, even sociaUy. But Mrs. LyeU put her finger on what might weU help account for WaUace's secondariness — precisely his not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 92-97
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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