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Darwin vs Wallace?


Both were very decent gentlemen.

There is no doubt at all that Wallace got it and he got it independently of Darwin. There’s also no doubt at all that Darwin got it more than a decade earlier, just didn’t publish it. He privately wrote it out and the manuscripts exist, there’s no question that Darwin was well on top of the idea a long time before Wallace was. Any suggestion that he plagiarised Wallace is nonsense. If we’re really going to go for the priority of the idea of natural selection…and evolution itself, of course, is much older than either of them; natural selection, um, priority has been claimed for Patrick Matthew, who really did think of it before Darwin, but didn’t seem to grasp the importance of it. It was as though Matthew thought it was obvious, almost trivially obvious, but never published it in such a way that suggested that he realised that he was on to arguably the most important idea anybody ever had. Wallace certainly grasped its importance and so did Darwin much earlier. Darwin, I think, is remembered more than Wallace partly because he got it earlier but more importantly because he wrote On the Origin of Species a year later and that was the thing that actually won the mind, the Victorian mind, round and the world’s mind round. Darwin really went out there and established it as truth. So I think it’s entirely just that Wallace should be given a lot of credit; it’s entirely just that Darwin should be given more. I think we’ve got it just about right, I think Wallace is given a good measure of credit as he deserved. He was a very nice man, they were both extremely nice men, this was one of those cases which might have turned into an ugly priority dispute but never did because both were very decent gentlemen.