Early in the summer
of 1858, a young naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace, then in the Malay
archipelago, sends Darwin a 20-page letter. While only a brief sketch, Darwin is
shocked to find "this essay contained exactly the same theory as mine." Ironically,
"Mr. Wallace expressed the wish that if I thought well of his essay, I should send
it to Lyell for perusal."
Alfred Russel Wallace's essay, On the Tendency of Varieties
to depart indefinitely from the Original Type, is far from Darwin's massive
accumulation of facts, and his ideas about evolution differ to some extent. Yet
Wallace's work is the final push for Darwin to publish.
Thomas Huxley, another confidant, will become known as "Darwin's
bulldog." Darwin writes of Huxley, "His mind is as quick as a flash of lightening
and as sharp as a razor. He is the best talker whom I have known."
Darwin's friends console and council him. They arrange to read
Wallace's paper, preceded by parts of Darwin's unpublished manuscript, at a meeting
of the Linnean Society, Britain's leading body devoted to natural history. After
the meeting, the president laments that the year has not "been marked by any of
those striking discoveries which revolutionize" science.
Darwin muses in his old age: