Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace

A British naturalist, explorer, zoologist, botanist, geologist and anthropologist, Alfred Russel Wallace was a brilliant man in an age of brilliant men. He was the discoverer of thousands of new tropical species, the first European to study apes in the wild, a pioneer in ethnography and zoogeography (distribution of animals). He was a co-discoverer of the laws of natural selection with Charles Darwin, although it is famously known as "Darwin's theory" [1]. Wallace collected natural history specimens with an extraordinary passion; he was able to see and admire the beauty of everything that he could possibly find, an example of which we can see in one of his quotes:

I found ... a perfectly new and magnificent species [of butterfly] ... The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced ... On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt ... like fainting ... so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause [2].

Wallace was one of a kind scientist; he was noble, generous and at the same time outspoken about his religious and political beliefs. His strong advocacies of utopian socialism, pacifism, wilderness conservation, women's rights, psychic research, phrenology, Spiritualism and his campaign against vaccination, outraged colleagues [3]. Unlike Darwin, Wallace's achievements are all the more remarkable, because he had to finance his expeditions by selling thousands of natural history specimens, mainly insects. From 1848 until 1852, Wallace collected, explored and made numerous discoveries despite malaria, fatigue and the most meager supplies in the Amazon rain forests [1].

Unfortunately, all his immense collection of preserved insects, birds and reptiles, and menagerie of live parrots, monkeys and other...

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