Field of Science

The 150th Anniversary

As reported by Aydin Örstan, it was 150 years ago today that the theory of natural selection of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace was presented to a meeting of the Linnean Society. Neither Darwin nor Wallace was present when it happened - Darwin's 19-month old son had died from scarlet fever only a few days earlier, while Wallace was still in Malaysia. Instead, the three letters (two by Darwin and one by Wallace) were presented in their place by Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, the latter having withdrawn one of his own papers in order to present the letters. The presentation seems to have been something of a non-event - while Joseph Hooker was many years later to recollect that the scholars attending the meeting sat stunned by the import of what they were hearing, it seems more likely from the dearth of responses closer to the time that they were merely worn out after a long and busy meeting. Darwin himself was to later record that, "Nevertheless, our joint productions excited very little attention, and the only published notice of them which I can remember was by Professor Haughton of Dublin, whose verdict was that all that was new in them was false, and what was true was old." Like so many significant events, its importance was not to be recognised until later.

REFERENCES

Moody, J. W. T. 1971. The reading of the Darwin and Wallace papers: an historical "non-event". J. Soc. Biblphy nat. Hist. 5 (6): 474-476.

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