This article is about the book. For the large island group, see Malay Archipelago.
Title page of first edition
|Author||Alfred Russel Wallace|
|Original title||The Malay Archipelago: The land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise. A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature|
|Illustrator||Thomas Baines, Walter Hood Fitch, John Gerrard Keulemans, E. W. Robinson, Joseph Wolf, T. W. Wood|
|Subject||Natural history, Travel|
|Media type||2 volumes|
The Malay Archipelago is a book by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace which chronicles his 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 has been 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 the different peoples that 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.
The Malay Archipelago attracted many reviews, with interest from scientific, geographic, church and general periodicals. Reviewers noted and sometimes disagreed with various of his theories, especially the division of fauna and flora along what soon became known as the Wallace line, natural selection and uniformitarianism. Nearly all agreed that he had provided an interesting and comprehensive account of the geography, natural history, and peoples of the archipelago, which was little known to their readers at the time, and that he had collected an astonishing number of specimens. The book is much cited, and is Wallace's most successful, both commercially and as a piece of literature.
In 1847, Wallace and his friend Henry Walter Bates, both in their early twenties,[a] agreed that they would jointly make a collecting trip to the Amazon "towards solving the problem of origin of species". (Charles Darwin's book on the Origin of Species was not published until 11 years later, in 1859. It was based on Darwin's own long collecting trip on HMS Beagle, its publication precipitated by a famous letter from Wallace, sent during the period covered by The Malay Archipelago while he was staying in Ternate, which described the theory of evolution by natural selection in outline.) Wallace and Bates had been inspired by reading the American entomologist William Henry Edwards's pioneering 1847 book A Voyage Up the River Amazon, with a residency at Pará. Bates stayed in the Amazons for 11 years, going on to write The Naturalist on the River Amazons (1863); however, Wallace, ill with fever, went home in 1852 with thousands of specimens, some for science and some for sale. The ship and his collection were destroyed by fire at sea near the Guianas. Rather than giving up, Wallace wrote about the Amazon in both prose and poetry, and then set sail again, this time for the Malay Archipelago.
The preface summarises Wallace's travels, the thousands of specimens he collected, and some of the results from their analysis after his return to England. In the preface he notes that he travelled over 14,000 miles and collected 125,660 specimens, mostly of insects: 83,200 beetles, 13,100 butterflies and moths, 13,400 other insects. He also returned to England 7,500 "shells" (such as molluscs), 8,050 birds, 310 mammals and 100 reptiles.[P 1]
The book is dedicated to Charles Darwin, but as Wallace explains in the preface, he has chosen to avoid discussing the evolutionary implications of his discoveries. Instead he confines himself to the "interesting facts of the problem, whose solution is to be found in the principles developed by Mr. Darwin",[P 2] so from a scientific point of view, the book is largely a descriptive natural history. This modesty belies the fact that while in Sarawak in 1855 Wallace wrote the paper On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species, concluding with the evolutionary "Sarawak Law", "Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a closely allied species", three years before he fatefully wrote to Darwin proposing the concept of natural selection.
The first chapter describes the physical geography and geology of the islands with particular attention to the role of volcanoes and earthquakes. It also discusses the overall pattern of the flora and fauna including the fact that the islands can be divided, by what would eventually become known as the Wallace line, into two parts, those whose animals are more closely related to those of Asia and those whose fauna is closer to that of Australia.[P 3]
The following chapters describe in detail the places Wallace visited. Wallace includes numerous observations on the people, their languages, ways of living, and social organisation, as well as on the plants and animals found in each location. He talks about the biogeographic patterns he observes and their implications for natural history, in terms both of the movement of species[b] and of the geologic history of the region. He also narrates some of his personal experiences during his travels.[P 4] The final chapter is an overview of the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural divisions among the people who live in the region and speculation about what such divisions might indicate about their history.[P 5]
The Malay Archipelago was largely written at Treeps, Wallace's wife's family home in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. It was first published in Spring 1869 as a single volume first edition, however was reprinted in two volumes by Macmillan (London), marked second edition the same year by Harper & Brothers (New York). Wallace returned to England in 1862, but explains in the Preface that given the large quantity of specimens and his poor health after his stay in the tropics, it took a long time. He noted that he could at once have printed his notes and journals, but felt that doing that would have been disappointing and unhelpful. Instead, therefore, he waited until he had published papers on his discoveries, and other scientists had described and named as new species some 2,000 of his beetles (Coleoptera), and over 900 Hymenoptera including 200 new species of ant.[P 6] The book went through 10 editions, with the last published in 1890.
The illustrations are, according to the Preface, made from Wallace's own sketches, photographs, or specimens. Wallace thanks Walter and Henry Woodbury for some photographs of scenery and native people. He acknowledges William Wilson Saunders and Mr Pascoe for horned flies and very rare longhorn beetles: all the rest were from his own enormous collection.
The original drawings were made directly on to the wood engraving blocks by leading artists Thomas Baines, Walter Hood Fitch, John Gerrard Keulemans, E. W. Robinson, Joseph Wolf, and T. W. Wood, according to the List of Illustrations. Wood also illustrated Darwin's The Descent of Man, while Robinson and Wolf both also provided illustrations for The Naturalist on the River Amazons (1863), written by Wallace's friend Henry Walter Bates.
one of the most magnificent insects the world contains, the great bird-winged butterfly, Ornithoptera poseidon. I trembled with excitement as I saw it coming majestically towards me,... and was gazing, lost in admiration, at the velvet black and brilliant green of its wings, seven inches across, its golden body, and crimson breast... The village of Dobbo held that evening at least one contented man."— Wallace[P 25]
The Malay Archipelago was warmly received on publication, often in lengthy reviews that attempted to summarise the book, from the perspective that suited the reviewing periodical. It was reviewed in more than 40 periodicals: a selection of those reviews is summarised below.
The Anthropological Review notes that while the descriptions of animal life are "full of interest", "our readers, as anthropologists, will, however, take a keener interest" in the "great man-like ape of Borneo,—the orang-utan, or mias, as it is called by the aborigines". Two pages are taken up with a discussion of the orang utan. The review then turns to Wallace's observations on "the races of man" in the book, observing that the anthropological details given are useful but perhaps chosen to support "a particular theory", namely Wallace's belief that there were eastern and western races—"Malays" and "Papuans", though the boundary between them was east of the Wallace line. The review accepts Wallace's data on natural history, but suspects he was selective in recording details of individuals. It notes that Wallace agreed with French authors that the Polynesians (included in his Papuans) "had a local origin". The review remarks that "Mr Wallace relies more on the diversity of moral features to prove differences of race than on physical peculiarities, although he declares that these are strongly marked" and doubts the difference, and wonders whether the "Javan chief" and the Dyak do not differ more. The review, after ten pages of reflections on race, concludes by recommending the book to its readers as much better than ordinary travel books "and even in the absence of any very stirring incidents" that it will "amply repay the perusal" of both scientific and general readers.
The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London focussed exclusively on the ethnology in the book, praising the value both of the information and of Wallace's "thoughtful and suggestive speculation". The review notes that Wallace identified two "types of mankind" in the archipelago, "the Malayan and the Papuan", and that he thought these two had "no traceable affinity to each other". It remarks that Wallace greatly extends knowledge of the people of Timor, Celebes, and the Maluccas, while also adding to what is known of the Malays and Papuans, reprinting his entire description and his engraving of a Papuan. The reviewer remarks that the portrait "would as well suit a Papuan of the south-east coast of New Guinea as any of those whom Mr. Wallace saw", noting however that the southern tribes are more varied in skin colour. The reviewer disagrees with Wallace about the extension of this "Papuan race" as far as Fiji, noting that there are or were people like that in Tasmania, but that their features and height varied widely, perhaps forming a series. The reviewer disagrees also that the Sandwich Islanders and "New Zealanders" (Maori) are related to the Papuans; and with Wallace's claim that the presence of Malay words in Polynesian languages is caused by the "roaming habits" — trade and navigation – of the Malays, arguing instead that the Polynesians long ago migrated from "some common seat in, or near, the Malay Archipelago". The review ends by stating that despite all these disagreements, it holds Wallace's ethnology in "high estimation".
Sir Roderick Murchison, giving a speech at the Royal Geographical Society, felt able to "feel a pride" in Wallace's success, and in the "striking contributions" made to science. He takes interest in "Wallace's line" which he calls "this ingenious speculation", with "the two faunas wonderfully contrasted" either side of the deep channel between Borneo and Celebes, or Bali and Lombok. He points out the same principle between the British Isles and continental Europe, though there the conclusion is rather that the same fauna and flora is found on both sides. However, Murchison states his disagreement with Wallace's support for James Hutton's principle of uniformitarianism, that "all former changes of the outline of the earth were produced slowly", opining that the Bali–Lombok channel probably formed suddenly. He mentions in one sentence that the book contains "interesting and important facts" on physical geography, native inhabitants, climate and products of the archipelago, and describes Wallace as a great naturalist and a "most attractive writer".
One of the shortest reviews was in The Ladies' Repository, which found it
a highly valuable and intensely interesting contribution to our knowledge of a part of the world but little known in Europe or America. But few of our tourists ever visit it, and scarcely any have ever gone to explore it. Mr. Wallace is not an amateur traveler, making a hasty visit, to return and write a hasty and almost useless book. He is an enthusiastic naturalist, a geographer, and geologist, a student of man and nature.— 
The reviewer notes the region is "of terrific grandeur, parts of it being perpetually illuminated by discharging volcanoes, and all of it frequently shaken with earthquakes." The review summarises the book's geographical reach and style in a paragraph.
The Popular Science Review began by writing that "We never remember to have taken up a book which gave us more pleasure". It was quite unlike the dull journey logs of most travel books; it was "a romance, which is, nevertheless, plain matter of fact". The review especially admires the way that Wallace "has generalised on the facts" rather than just shooting "a multitude of birds" and interminably describing them. The account notes that Wallace was the joint originator of the theory of natural selection, and summarises the discovery of the Wallace line in some detail. The review ends by placing the Malay Archipelago between Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology and Darwin's Origin of Species.
The American Quarterly Church Review admires Wallace's bravery in going alone among the "barbarous races" in a "villainous climate" with all the hardships of travel, and his hard work in skinning, stuffing, drying and bottling so many specimens. Since "As a scientific man he follows Darwin" the review finds "his theories sometimes need as many grains of salt as his specimens." But the review then agrees that the book will "make the world wiser about its more solitary and singular children, hid away over the seas", and opines that no-one will mind paying the price of the book to read about the birds of paradise, "those bird-angels, with flaming wings of crimson and gold and scarlet, who twitter and gambol and make merry among the great island trees, while the Malay hunts for them with his blunt-headed arrows..." The review concludes that the book is a fresh and valuable record of "a remote and romantic land".
The Australian Town and Country Journal begins by stating that
Mr. Wallace is generally understood to be the originator of the theory of "Natural Selection" as propounded by Mr. Darwin, and certainly .. he brings numerous phenomena which he regards as illustrative of that theory very vividly under the notice of his readers, and that, too, as if he were but a disciple of Mr. Darwin, and not an original discoverer.— 
and quickly makes clear that it objects to Wallace's doubts about "indications of design" in plants. Despite this "grave" fault, the reviewer considers the book to be of immense value, and that it would become a standard work on the region. The review quotes a paragraph that paints "a picture of country life in the Celebes", where Wallace describes his host, a Mr. M., who relied on his gun to supply his table with wild pigs, deer, and jungle fowl, while enjoying his own milk, butter, rice, coffee, ducks, palm wine and tobacco. However, the Australian reviewer doubted Wallace's judgement about flavours, given that he praised the Durian fruit, namely that it tastes of custard, cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry "and other incongruities", whereas "most Europeans" found it "an abomination".
Otherwise, the review notes that Wallace seemed to have enjoyed his time in the Celebes, with the hornbills flapping past, and the baboons staring down from their trees, and enjoys his enthusiasm for the birds of paradise. The review is respectful of his account of the Wallace line, having no difficulty agreeing that the Australian-type vegetation continues into the archipelago as far as Lombok and Celebes. It concludes that he covers almost every natural phenomenon he came across "with the accuracy and discriminating sagacity of an accomplished naturalist", and explains that the "great charm" of the book is "a truthful simplicity" which inspires confidence.
The Calcutta Review starts by noting that this is a book that cannot be done justice in a brief notice, that Wallace is a most eminent naturalist, and chiefly known as a Darwinian. the book was the most interesting to cross the reviewer's desk since Palgrave's Arabia (1865) and Sir Samuel Baker's Explorations of the Nile (1866). By combining geography, geology and ethnology into one narrative, the reader is saved "the monotony of traversing the same regions several times". The review describes in detail Wallace's findings of different birds and mammals either side of the Wallace line. It notes Wallace's cheerfulness and good temper in the face of "the difficulties and inconveniences attendant upon foreign travel", such as having to cross "a hundred miles of open sea in a little boat of four tons burthen", which Wallace calmly describes as comparatively comfortable. The reviewer remarks that Wallace was "set down as a conjuror by these simple people" with unimaginable purposes from a faraway country, but is less admiring about Wallace's moralising tone, especially when he supposes that "wild communities" can be happier than "in a more highly civilised society". The review ends with some reflections of surprise on how little-known the Malay Archipelago is in India, given that they were closely connected with Hindu temples in Java and Bali, and hopes that soon there will be some "productions" of the archipelago in the Indian Museum of Calcutta.
The book's fame spread beyond the English-speaking world. R. Radau wrote a lengthy review of Un naturaliste dans l'Archipel Malais in the French Revue des Deux Mondes. Radau notes the many deaths from volcanic eruptions in the archipelago, before explaining the similarity of the fauna of Java and Sumatra with that of central Asia, while that of the Celebes carries the mark of Australia, seeming to be the last representatives of another age. Radau describes Wallace's experiences in Singapore, where goods were far cheaper than in Europe – wire, knives, corkscrews, gunpowder, writing-paper, and he remarks on the spread of the Jesuits into the interior, though the missionaries had to live on just 750 francs a year. Singapore was covered in wooded hills, and the sawn wood and rotten trunks supported innumerable beetles for the naturalist to study. The only disagreeable element was that the tigers that roared in the forest devoured on average one Chinese per day, especially in the ginger plantations.
Radau summarises one passage from the book after another: the orang utans of Borneo wrestling open the jaws of a crocodile, or killing a python; the Timorese walking up tall trees, leaning back on ropes as they pull themselves upwards; the indescribable taste of a durian fruit, at once recalling custard, almond paste, roasted onions, sherry and a host of other things, that melts on the tongue, that one does not want to stop eating; more, the fruit has a repulsive odour, and the tree is dangerous, as the hard and heavy fruits can fall on your head. Radau follows Wallace up to the high plateaux of Java, where there are cypress forests covered in moss and lichen; finally at the summit the vegetation seems European, an island vegetation recalling the resemblance between the plants of the high Alps and of Lapland. And in Celebes, men run amok, generally killing a dozen people before meeting their own death.
Radau returns to food, describing sago and the breadfruit tree. The breadfruit tastes like Yorkshire pudding or mashed potato; with meat it is the best of vegetables; with sugar, milk, butter or molasses, it is a delicious pudding with a special flavour; Radau hopes that perhaps it will one day be found in European markets. As for the sago palm, one tree yields 1,800 cakes, enough to feed a man for a year.
There is torrential rain; there are savages; there are dangerous trips in small boats. Only in the final paragraph does Radau reflect on it all: "We have tried, in this study on Wallace's two volumes, to give an idea of what he saw in his eight year stay in the Far East." He admits he has left out most of the natural history, and regrets not having space for more "charming pages" which would have taken him too far. He joins Wallace in reflecting on the relative state of "civilized" and "savage", wondering which is morally superior, and notes the "nostalgia for the primitive state", concluding that civilisation brings the benefit of reason to restrain hasty action.
an adventurer who does not present himself as adventurous; he is a Victorian Englishman abroad with all the self-assurance but without the lordly superiority of the coloniser; he is the chronicler of wonders who refuses to exaggerate, or to believe anybody else's improbable marvels: what he can see and examine (and, very often, shoot) is wonder enough for him.— Tim Radford
Radford finds "delights on every page", such as the Wallace line between the islands of Bali and Lombok; the sparkling observations, like "the river bed 'a mass of pebbles, mostly pure white quartz, but with abundance of jasper and agate'"; the detailed but lively accounts of natural history and physical geography; the respectful and friendly attitude to the native peoples such as the hill Dyaks of Borneo; and his unclouded observations of human society, such as the way a Bugis man in Lombok runs amok, where Wallace
begins to reflect on the possible satisfactions of mass murder as a form of honourable suicide for the brooding and resentful man who 'will not put up with such cruel wrongs, but will be revenged on mankind and die like a hero.'— Tim Radford
Robin McKie, in The Observer, writes that the common view of Wallace "as a clever, decent cove who knew his place" as second fiddle to Charles Darwin is rather lopsided. Wallace, he writes, is "capable of great insights" in the Malay Archipelago. Travelling over 14,000 miles and collecting 125,000 specimens, he also made "scrupulous notes" for the book which
subtly combines wildlife descriptions, geological musings and tales about the villagers, merchants and sultans he encountered on his travels through the East Indies.— Robin McKie
In McKie's view, Wallace was a gifted writer with "an eye for catchy observation", and this is one of the finest of travel books. McKie liked the account of Wallace's night sleeping "'with half-a-dozen smoke-dried human skulls suspended over my head'".
The researcher Charles Smith rates the Malay Archipelago as "Wallace's most successful work, literarily and commercially", placing it second only to his Darwinism (1889) among his books for academic citations.
The Malay Archipelago influenced many works starting with those of Wallace's contemporaries. The novelist Joseph Conrad used it as source material for some of his novels, including Almayer's Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, and The Rescue. Commentators have suggested it had a particularly profound influence on Lord Jim, crediting it with among other things the inspiration for the character Stein the entomologist. Conrad's assistant Richard Curle wrote that The Malay Archipelago was Conrad's favourite bedside book; Conrad refers directly to what he calls Alfred Wallace's famous book on the Malay Archipelago in The Secret Agent. In his short story, Neil MacAdam, W. Somerset Maugham has the title character read The Malay Archipelago while travelling to Borneo, and its influence can be felt in the story's description of that island.
More recently, the book has influenced a number of non-fiction books including The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (1997), which discussed Wallace's contributions to the field of island biogeography; The Spice Islands Voyage by Tim Severin (1997) that retraced Wallace's travels; and Archipelago: The Islands of Indonesia, by Gavan Daws (1999), which compared the environment described by Wallace with the modern state of the archipelago. The Malay Archipelago is considered to be one of the most influential books ever written about the Indonesian islands. It remains a resource for modern authors of works about the region such as the 2014 book Indonesia Etc, which contains multiple quotations from Wallace's book as well as recommending it as further reading on the geography of Indonesia.
Each edition was reprinted in subsequent years, so for example the tenth edition appeared in 1890, 1893, 1894, 1898, 1902, 1906 and later reprints, so many different dates can be found in library catalogues.
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