Wallace & Darwin in the latest issue of Archives of Natural History

In the latest issue (Oct. 2008) of Archives of Natural History:

Alfred Russel Wallace, journalist
CHARLES H. SMITH
Archives of natural history. Volume 35, Page 203-208

To date little attention has been paid to how Alfred Russel Wallace’s skill as a writer helped advance his career. Here, a small discovery is reported which contributes to such an understanding: Wallace apparently had a standing arrangement with a London magazine to provide eyes-in-the-field reports when he set out for Singapore in early 1854.

Correspondence of Charles Darwin on James Torbitt’s project to breed blight-resistant potatoes
M. DEARCE
Archives of natural history. Volume 35, Page 208-222

The most prolific of Darwin’s correspondents from Ireland was James Torbitt, an enterprising grocer and wine merchant of 58 North Street, Belfast. Between February 1876 and March 1882, 141 letters were exchanged on the feasibility and ways of supporting one of Torbitt’s commercial projects, the large-scale production and distribution of true potato seeds (Solan um tuberosum) to produce plants resistant to the late blight fungus Phytophthora infestans, the cause of repeated potato crop failures and thus the Irish famines in the nineteenth century. Ninety-three of these letters were exchanged between Torbitt and Darwin, and 48 between Darwin and third parties, seeking or offering help and advice on the project. Torbitt’s project required selecting the small proportion of plants in an infested field that survived the infection, and using those as parents to produce seeds. This was a direct application of Darwin’s principle of selection. Darwin cautiously lobbied high-ranking civil servants in London to obtain government funding for the project, and also provided his own personal financial support to Torbitt.

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