Charles Darwin wrote Origin of Species which is correctly considered to be one of the most influential books ever written. I first read it and several other of his books in the 60s and they have had been a guiding star to much of my life's voyage. However, as much as I love and respect Darwin he must be taken to task for what I believe were some egregious and probably intentional oversights. He was careful thorough out his published works to give credit where credit was due, at least in the assigning to appropriate individuals where he obtained much of his specific examples which were used as proofs for his arguments. However, I suggest, he was not so scrupulous when it came to assigning where he got his basic ideas. He gives us the impression that the idea of the principles of evolution came to him after years of amassing huge quantities of data, through carefully reasoned thought and sudden flashes of insight which he then put aside for some twenty years before publishing, even though he knew it was one of the most important discoveries of all time. This appears as plausible to me as my finding a buried pirate treasure and not bothering to spend any of the gold. Darwin was very ambitious for recognition as shown by the fact that he worked so very hard thinking about his subject matter and published so very much in all sorts of fields. Why would he ignore what even relatively uninformed people outside of his field instantly recognized as an idea of world shaking historical importance. The most obvious answer is that he didn't realize what an important idea it was until Alfred Russell Wallace wrote him two letters (one from Sarawack and one from Ternate) from the East Indies explaining it to him. Darwin admits as much himself. But then he also admits that he, started working at that time on book Origin of Species, as a full time project, before Wallace could get back to England and upstage him. Darwin had of course collected an enormous mass of material from all over the world which was destined to be used in some book; but it was collected to develop a theory of evolution? Perhaps, but he himself must not have believed he had a good grip on the operative factors, or else he would have published many years earlier.
Before Wallace left on a trip to the East Indies for a several year trip he is reported to have had a brief conversation with Darwin. This may have been largely about the Amazon river basin where Wallace had already spent several years but they probably discussed at some point what species were in a general sense because that is what they dealing with all the time. Defining species are and what a specific species itself is seems to be a major industry in various circles to this day. But basically it comes down to any, at some point, living thing with enough unique qualities that it can be talked about in exclusion to similar things. Darwin says he did some preparatory work on Origins after his conversations with Wallace, but admits that he didn't do much until Wallace sent him the second letter. All of these facts Darwin admits rather begrudgingly. He must admit it because by that time it is known to other prominent people such as Hooker what Wallace had discovered. Wallace's letter to Darwin was written rather hurriedly because the mail boat was soon leaving Ternate, where Wallace was staying in the Moluccas for England. He had only three days to write it. He says that he was in his sick bed with a bout of malaria and could barely move. Even so, the letter makes very good reading. In short, if Wallace had sent his letter to a publisher instead of to Charles Darwin he would be the famous person responsible for the theory of Natural Selection and not Darwin ... and Darwin knew it.
There is even some suspicion that Darwin's letter to Hooker was written after Darwin read Wallace's letter because the proofs that Darwin chooses to explain his theory, at that time, are the same ones that Wallace sent to him in the letter from the Moluccas. Later Darwin uses other examples. It is very curious that of the millions of species of living things and other ways of discussing the exponential growth of living things, as explained by Thomas Malthus sixty years earlier using humans, that Darwin chooses the same creatures, namely a family birds, that Wallace had used in his letter. The only person to have seen this letter and the one which Darwin supposedly wrote in 1839 and again as a fair copy in 1843 to Hooker was Hooker. But, the 1843 letter was a fair copy. A fair copy letter is sort of like a photocopy today except that the sender usually polishes up the hand written copy a bit before sending it to the recipient. The letter even though sent to Hooker would probably have been back in Darwin's possession because in those days, when people spent a lot of time writing a letter it was expected that it would be sent back to the writer for their personal records. Thus the letters that Hooker has supposedly read earlier are both suspect. It is only these wealthy mens honorable status which makes the suspicious provenance of these letters acceptable. But what is the higher honor in this case? Should these two British gentlemen with the highest possible credentials let a poverty stricken uneducated commoner steal the greatest intellectual prize of history? Remember, this is back in the days of empire and social standing really meant more than life it self, which is why there were duels. In contrast to Darwin's and Hooker's wealth, fame, power and position, Alfred Russell Wallace was very poor. It appears that up till the time in the Moluccas he was supporting himself collecting beetles and butterflies and selling them to collectors. Fortunately, for Wallace there was one the recurrent Beetle-manias going on in England at the time, but still it couldn't have been much of an income. If Wallace had died of his bout with malaria after sending his letter I doubt if we would ever have heard of him.
But wait, there's more. There is little problem of a book by Patrick Mathew called,Naval Timber. In an appendix to this seemingly obscure book is as good a five page description of the theory of Natural Selection as has ever been written. This appendix was written at such a fundamental level that some of its basic ideas have only become recently recognized for their profound value. Such things as co-evolution, and absolute depletion of Earth's resources to the feeding of the human biomass's demands are clearly stated and outlined. Mathew's book was written some thirty years before the theory of natural selection was created. But, Mathews called his idea "Natures Law of Selection" not "Theory of Natural Selection" and it was based on his "circumstance-adaptive law" not "survival of the fittest". Here is a short clip of what Mathews published in 1831...
"those only come forward to maturity from the strict ordeal by which Nature tests their adaptation to her standard of perfection and fitness to continue their kind by reproduction. From the unremitting operation of this law acting in concert with the tendency which the progeny have to take the more particular qualities of the parents, together with the connected sexual system in vegetable, and instinctive limitation to its own kind in animals, a considerable uniformity of figure, colour, and character, is induced, constituting species; the breed gradually acquiring the very best possible adaptation of these to its condition which it is susceptible of, and when alteration of circumstance occurs, thus changing in character to suit these as far as its nature is susceptible of change."
Mathews published this very specific theory thirty years before Darwin published his theory of Natural Selection with its law of survival of the fittest and ten years before Darwin even makes the vaguest claim of having had the general idea for the origin of species. Darwin never wrote down his theory and didn't share the idea with anyone at that time. If anyone other than the wealthy, well connected, and famous aristocrat had made such an unsubstantiated and flimsy claim they would have been ignored. Totally ignored!
There is the problem of the obscurity of Patrick Mathews book to be considered. Would Darwin or the Captain of the Beagle have taken such an obscure book on the voyage? Just how obscure would a book on navel timber been in 1831 when the Beagle set sail on a world cruise of discovery and mapping? In this particular case to not have had that particular book on board would have been remiss, for the simple reason that one of the goals of the voyage was to find naval timber. In those days of wooden ships and iron men Europe had been practically stripped bare of the quality of timber needed to build top quality wooden ships. It was a national crisis. Britain was more dependent upon the sea than the other European nations and therefore would have felt the shortage of naval timber more acutely than the others. Therefore, since this is a government sponsored voyage and the government is keenly interested in navel timber they would have seen to it that that exact book was on board and if it wasn't on board they would have sent it to them on occasional mail packet ships that contacted them. Captain Fitzroy may have been responsible for the ship and its mission but the botanist on board would be responsible for identifying the desirable botanical items and this book would have been required reading. That Darwin understood the implications of the theory at that time is doubtful because if he had understood the content better he would have structured his career differently and wouldn't have spent nine years studying barnacles after having the idea and starting even the outline of the book. And then he only begins the book because of Wallace's observations. It seems plausible that Wallace brought the book back to Darwin's attention during their conversations in 1854. Darwin may not have picked it up after the Beagle returned to England because he was very busy for the next several years consolidating the collections which he had made throughout the world. Is it possible that he simply forgot or didn't realize the import of the theory and got distracted by snails, barnacles and earthworms. They are awfully important, you know, and very interesting. And if that isn't enough here is always beetles. Why disturb ones studies of barnacles with an idea that will make one arguably the most famous person in the world for the next thousand years? The obvious answer is that Mathew, Wallace, and Darwin didn't understand the importance of the idea until Wallace goaded Darwin with Mathews' theory. Finally, in 1859 they had enough understanding to pursue the idea, and Darwin was in a position to rapidly pull together a mountain of disparate data into a hastily written book which even he admits was a poorly written rush to press. And why did Darwin rush Origin to press? Obviously to beat Wallace out of his claim to priority. If Wallace had sent his letter from the Moluccas to any publisher other than Charles Darwin he would now be the famous person and Darwin would have been relegated to the fascinating realm of earthworms, barnacles and beetles.
Liability disclaimer statement: These Probaways contain new and unique information that has been created, tested and retested by me alone. You must approach these findings and materials very carefully as your results may differ greatly from my experience and I can offer no recompensation of any kind for any injuries.