Forthcoming Book: "Dear Sir: Sixty-Nine Years of Alfred Russel Wallace Letters to the Editor" edited by Charles H. Smith and Kelsey Patterson

Leading Wallace scholar, Charles H. Smith of Western Kentucky University, is just finalising a new publication edited by himself along with Kelsey Patterson.

The book will include over 200 letters to the editor by Alfred Russel Wallace published between 1845 and his death in 1913.

Here is the abstract:

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), colleague of Charles Darwin, co-discoverer of the principle of natural selection, “father” of the field of evolutionary biogeography, vocal socialist and spiritualist, land reform theorist, intense social critic, etc., etc.,
was one of the most captivating figures of his time. Wallace began his professional career through two great natural history collecting expeditions, one to the Amazon and the other to the Australasian Archipelago; so successful were these that many observers would place him as the front-ranking field naturalist of all time. After he returned to England in 1862, however, his professional emphasis shifted toward writing. His published works included more than twenty books and close to a thousand other items: technical scientific papers, essays, commentaries, book reviews, and, not least, some three hundred letters to the Editor. It is in the last that his temperament comes out most strongly, and it is our privilege in the present work to reproduce more than two hundred of these, extending to all of his many intellectual passions. The philosopher Charles Peirce once wrote of Wallace that he “never wrote a dull line in his life, and couldn’t if he tried”, and the reader here can expect to be entertained accordingly.

The work is being divided into 10 main sections:

  1. Early Letters, 1845 to 1862
  2. Natural Selection, Adaptation and Darwinism
  3. Anthropology/Human Evolution
  4. Spiritualism and Related Subjects
  5. Geology and Physical Geography
  6. Biogeography
  7. Land Reform and Economic Issues
  8. Social and Political Issues
  9. The Anti-Vaccination Campaign
  10. Miscellaneous Subjects

This really reveals the breadth of Wallace’s writing throughout the course of his life. And, as the blurb notes, the letters to the editor Wallace published often show his temperament more clearly on the vast array of issues that interested him.

It will be very interesting to see what additional material is used to enhance these published letters to the editor which are already accessible through Smith’s excellent Alfred Russel Wallace Page (see the Wallace Resources and Bibliography for more).


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