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Information on astronomy and the death of Bates

Information on astronomy and the death of Bates (page 1)

Catalogue number: WP1/2/83

Letter from Wallace to his daughter Violet describing how planets line up together and the death of his old friend Bates, dated February 1892.

This letter seems to be in response to a question asked by Violet. Wallace explains 'why Venus and Jupiter were in conjunction' (lined up in their orbits), enclosing a diagram to help. This could be advice to help Violet teach her primary school pupils. The content is rather complicated compared to what children might be taught today.

Best known for his work as a naturalist and for his ideas on evolution and biogeography, this letter hints at Wallace's breadth of knowledge. He was educated up to the age of 14 and was then purely self-taught. Wallace wrote a number of articles on the subject of astronomy including the books Man's Place in the Universe (1903), The Wonderful Century (1903 edition) and Is Mars Habitable? (1907).

Wallace informs Violet that 'poor Mr. Bates is dead...weakened by constant indoor London life, the influenza was too much for him'. Bates is his old friend Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892). They met in Leicester and shared a passion for entomology (the study of insects). Together they made their first expeditions to the Amazon in 1848.

Bates was most famous for his theory of mimicry, now called Batesian mimicry. An example is the hoverfly and the wasp. The stinging wasp advertises that it is not edible with its black and yellow stripes. The hoverfly doesn't sting, but has evolved a similar colour and pattern. Predators, like birds, are fooled by this and so avoid wasps as well as the harmless hoverflies.

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Letter to Alfred Russel Wallace from the Royal Society, about his Darwin Medal award

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