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WALLACE, Alfred Russel (1823-1913)

The Malay Archipelago. The Land of the Orang-Utan, and the Bird of Paradise. A Narrative of Travel, with Studies of Man and Nature. In Two Volumes.
London, Macmillan & Co., 1869.

First edition of Wallace's most important work, a fine set in the original decorated cloth. Alfred Russel Wallace, British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist, is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection, which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own ideas in On the Origin of Species in 1859. The Malay Archipelago, which is dedicated to Charles Darwin, chronicles Wallace's scientific exploration, during the eight year period 1854 to 1862, of the southern portion of the Malay Archipelago including Malaysia, Singapore, the islands of Indonesia, then known as the Dutch East Indies, and the island of New Guinea. It was published in two volumes in 1869, delayed by Wallace's ill health and the work needed to describe the many specimens he brought home. The book went through ten editions in the nineteenth century; it has been reprinted many times since, and translated into at least eight languages. The book describes each island that he visited in turn, giving a detailed account of its physical and human geography, its volcanoes, and the variety of animals and plants that he found and collected. At the same time he describes his experiences, the difficulties of travel, and the help he received from different people he met. The preface notes that he travelled over 14,000 miles and collected 125.660 natural history specimens, mostly of insects though also thousands of molluscs, birds, mammals and reptiles. Perhaps the most important discovery being that the archipelago is zoologically divided into two by the deep water straight (Wallace's Line) between Bali and Lombok. As his journey progressed Wallace became a confirmed evolutionist, however, it was not until he was suffering from a fever in the Moluccas that he came up with the theory of natural selection as the method of evolution. Putting his ideas down in a paper over the following two days Wallace sent them off to Charles Darwin, the result being their joint paper which was given to the Linnean Society on 1st July, 1858, (published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, Zoology 3, pp 45-62, in 1858) – the first printed exposition of the "Darwinian" theory of evolution by natural selection. Had not Wallace independently discovered the theory of natural selection, it is possible that the extremely cautious Darwin might never have published his evolutionary theories. Returning to London in 1862, Wallace sold sufficient parts of his collections to obtain income of some £300 per year from the capital raised and began working on The Malay Archipelago. 

Collation: Vol. I. Frontispiece, pp xxiv, 478, 5 maps (two folding), 2 plates, 52 adverts (dated December 1868); vol. II: frontispiece, pp iv, 524. Numerous illustrations in the text. .

Binding: Two volumes. Publisher's green cloth with gilt depictionm of orangutan on front cover and gilt lettering. Bird of Paradise on spine.

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