RECORD: S691a. Wallace, A. R. 1912. [Response to question:] Who are the twenty greatest men? Review of Reviews 45(265): 25.

REVISION HISTORY: Body text helpfully provided by Charles H. Smith from his Alfred Russel Wallace Page

[page] 25

Dr. Alfred R. Wallace.

Our greatest modern man of science is Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, who almost tied with Darwin in the discovery of the great principle which has been the inspiration of modern science. He does not enter into the subject at the same length as Mr. Frederic Harrison, but he makes the very practical suggestion that in compiling lists of great men they should be arranged in chronological order. If this is done it will be found that eleven out of Mr. Carnegie's list of twenty greatest men were born in the eighteenth century, and none were born before the fifteenth.

Dr. Wallace writes:—"Mr. Carnegie's list of the twenty greatest men is the most preposterous I have ever seen! I can only retain one of them—namely, Shakespeare. I daresay I should alter mine a good deal if I had more time to give it. I take 'greatness' to apply to character more than to any one or more striking or useful discoveries which have often been made by very small—and what a Yankee might call a 'one-horse' man. The great difficulty is that around any one supremely great man there is a cluster of others almost as great, who might almost monopolise the whole twenty, as in the case of Socrates and Michaelangelo. I think my list fairly shows the different types of greatness. Scott, Dickens, and R. Owen will be most objected to, but I could give very good reasons for including each of them. I think Jenner in Mr. Carnegie's list is perhaps the very smallest of over-estimated men. Both Columbus and Lincoln seem to me second-rate."

Homer, 10th or 11th century B.C. Buddha, 5th century B.C.
Pericles, about 490 B.C.
Phidias, about 490 B.C.
Socrates, about 469 B.C.
Alexander the Great, B.C. 356-B.C. 323.
Archimedes, B.C. 287-B.C. 212.
Jesus of Nazareth.
Alfred the Great, 849-901.
Michael Angelo, 1475-1564.
Shakespeare, 1564-1616.
Newton, 1642-1727.
Swedenborg, 1688-1772.
Washington, 1732-1799.
Walter Scott, 1771-1832.
Robert Owen of Lanark, 1771-1858.
Faraday, 1791-1867.
Darwin, 1809-1882.
Charles Dickens, 1812-1870.
Tolstoi, 1828-1910.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2012-. Wallace Online. (

File last updated 26 September, 2012