Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace

18darwin_190 Olivia Judson over at her NYT blog The Wild Side:

[I]n June of that year [1858], Darwin received a package from a young man named Alfred Russel Wallace; in the package, Wallace enclosed a brief manuscript in which he outlined the principle of evolution by natural selection. 

What happened next is famous in the history of biology. On July 1, 1858, Wallace’s manuscript, as well as a couple of short statements on natural selection by Darwin (a segment of the 1844 manuscript, and part of a letter he’d written in 1857), were read at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London. The meeting had been organized by some of Darwin’s scientific friends to establish his priority in the discovery.

Of the material presented that night, the manuscript by Wallace is, in some respects, the more impressive: it is clearer and more accessible. Yet it is Darwin we celebrate; it is Darwin who, like a god in a temple, sits in white marble and presides over the main hall at the Natural History Museum in London. Why?

The reason is the “Origin.” Without the publication of the “Origin” the following year, the meeting at the Linnean Society could well have passed unnoticed, the Darwin-Wallace statements going the same way as those by Matthew and Wells. Indeed, the meeting had so little impact at the time that, at the end of the year, the president of the Linnean Society said, “The year which has passed has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionize, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear.”