Rainbows and butterflies

There was an article I read in National Geographic on Alfred Russell Wallace published in December 2008. It’s still available online at the National Geographic website. The article describes, amongst other things, how his letter to Darwin sparked Darwin into publishing On The Origin Of Species, a little of his personality, and his methods as a naturalist for commercial and scientific purposes. Just like Stein (or possibly the current of similarity flows the other way round), Wallace collected butterflies and other species of insects. Wallace also had to sell his collections to museums in England to fund his trips around South-east Asia.

Now that I’ve used up a hundred words rambling about Wallace in order to mask my inability to contribute a meaningful post, I would like to say that in reading Wallace’s records about the Dyaks and the region, it is obvious to us that there is that sense of wonder and excitement that exudes from his writing. Yes, Wallace does exoticise us regular folks in the East and we could read some form of colonialism implicit in his writing, but in his defence, is it not natural for people when they come across something that astounds and awes them to embellish accounts and/or come up with speculations? Conrad may have been influenced by Wallace’s descriptions of the region when writing Lord Jim, but excitement and exuberance are replaced with a nagging sense of foreboding in Conrad’s texts.

Darwin never consulted Wallace when he announced their discovery to the Linnean Society, and read his papers along with Wallace’s. Wallace was pleased and flattered, but still preferred enduring the wet weathers, fevers and hardships in the region rather than returning to receive academic praise. How cool is that?

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