Skip to page content

Wallace's sense of humour and admiration for Darwin

Full transcription

[page 1]
                     5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, London, W.
                                                 January 2nd. 1863.
Dear John
                   As a new year has just commenced I
will try and turn over a new leaf in the way of writing to
you, though by the way what I am writing is in a very
old leaf indeed, long & reminiscent of my stock of
letter paper which I took out with me to the East
nine years ago. This winter I am spending my
time very comfortably among my collections which I
have got all together in a room on the second
floor, fitted up with shelves all round & crammed
from floor to ceiling with Birds & Insects. I have
plenty to do, & shall have for many years to come
in getting these well arranged, in naming & describing
the new ones & in theorising on their distribution &
origin. I do not know if you have seen the
wonderful book of Mr Darwin's "The Origin of Species"
published about four years ago, which has revolutionised
Natural History & caused more discussion & excitement
than any other book <.....> on a scientific subject
during the present century, I have some little
share in the work myself having discovered the
main principle on which the work depends, called
by Mr. D. Natural Selection, & communicated it to
him before the work was published. The book is
very interesting & if you have not seen it & cannot

[page 2]

get it at Colombia I will if you like
send you a copy. I do not know if you
read much now or have any good
circulating libraries in your place. There have been
many fine works published since I was abroad
which I am now reading up.
    I have still an assistant collecting for me in
the East whose collections are occasionally coming
in. I believe there is much communication between
S. Francisco & the Sandwich Islands. Should you
by chance meet with any naturalist or person having
a taste for Natural History going there; enquire
if they would send me a collection of the birds of
the islands receiving in return Birds or insects from
the Malay Islands.
        You enquire about the Exhibition. To tell you any
thing about it is impossible. It was of course very grand
but there was such an innumerable quantity of things
of every kind to be seen that the mention of any
number will give little idea of the whole. Most
interesting to myself were first the sculpture, - then
the paintings, but these were overwhelming by their numbers;
The glass manufacturers, the French vases, the French silks
& the Indian muslins were all superb,- the machinery
court was wonderful & overwhelming, & the general effect
of the building with the fountains &<...>shrubs under the
domes, the painted roof & the rows of sculpture.
Candelabras, gigantic telescopes, & house decorations on

[page 3]

each side of the central nave, was exceedingly
rich & grand. I did not however go nearly as
often as I had intended, for I found it wearying
& confusing & I believe I did not go more than a
dozen times altogether.
     I have not yet decided about living in the country, for
I have so much to do in London at the British Museum
the Zool. Society & at Mr Steven's that I cannot go far
away, & to be close to Town is quite tantalising as
nothing is to be had but little narrow strips of garden
& small houses at high rents. I shall therefore stay
where I am another year & then decide as to where
I shall fix,- which will partly depend upon whether
I follow your example & plunge in to matrimony.
Owing I suppose to living here so much alone I have
little taste for society & if I go for an evening anywhere
am generally horribly bored & glad it is over.
     About 3 months ago we sent you a box, by
ship, containing sundry articles, & a few more. Hope
they have arrived safe, & that the contents pleased the
big ones & the little ones, including the baby. The photographs
on leather you sent us are very good, & show me a
couple of nephews that I am quite proud of, - & hope
some day to make their acquaintance. One of them
Willy or Herbert or Johnny (I forget which they are such a
lot of them) enquired about some silk worm's eggs:-
When any are to be had I will try & get a few &
send them to try their luck in a letter,- only if the
young'uns sh[oul]d. come out on the way, you may be

[page 4]

indicted perhaps by the P.O. for sending (or inciting others
to send) by Post,- "dangerous & savage reptiles of
the serpent kind, to the personal risk & danger of Uncle
Sam's Postal Service".
    By the bye,- how goes war principles in California?
We here to a man think the Northerners fools & madmen to
think of restoring the Union by such a war. The Northerners
have no more chance against the Southerners than the
English had against the Union - The party fighting
for freedom, & in defence of their own hearths & homes, must
& will gain the day in the long run.
   I send only a half sheet because I enclose two
photos of myself. In the one sent in the box, I looked
a spoon & a snuff,- in the present I am a trifle more
wide awake. I therefore hereby solemnly try & beseech
you, & if necessary do further strictly command you, on
receipt of these, to burn & utterly destroy that other
vile caricature intended to represent me. These
were taken the day after 'Xmas day, when the
beef & pudding & a little champagne had somewhat restored
that ancient jollity which , I fear alas! old age
& infirmities have now somewhat dampened.
     Give my best love to Mary & all the juveniles
& give them all a kiss for me. We are all pretty
well & all send you happy new years, & hope
some day to see you again in this damp old
island. So good bye from
                                       your affectionate
[signed]                          Alfred R Wallace

Go back

Search this collection
Contact us

For enquiries about the Wallace Collection please email the library

Wallace Letters Online

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

View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.

Explore Wallace's correspondence