As Archivist for the Wallace Correspondence Project, I get to read a lot of Wallace’s letters and embedded amongst all of the intellectual debate are little gems that make you chuckle (or me at least!). The Victorians certainly had a way with words and their turns of phrase are sometimes hilarious, if not mildly offensive, but are above all a delight to read!
As we are well into the third year of the Wallace Correspondence Project and 6 months into Wallace100, I thought I’d share some of the little gems I’ve come across in the letters so far….
On moustaches: “Has Eliza Roberts got rid of her moustache yet? Tell her in private to use tweezers. A hair a day would exterminate it in a year or two without any one’s perceiving.” (WCP365 Wallace to Fanny Sims 10.12.1856).
On scientists: “I have found that a scientist can make an ass of himself as readily as any other man.” (WCP2599 J. Clegg Wright to Wallace 31.08.1893).
On boils: “I long to get into the country guided by your new lights, but I have been now for ten days confined to my room with what is disagreeable though far from dangerous - boils.” (WCP4095 Wallace to Darwin 23.05.1862)
On boils (again): “I am sorry to hear that you are suffering from Boils; I have often had fearful crops: I hope that the Doctors are right in saying that they are serviceable.” (WCP1849 Darwin to Wallace 24.05.1862)
On health: “My health is, & always will be, very poor: I am that miserable animal a regular valetudinarian.” (WCP1849 Darwin to Wallace 24.05.1862)
On handwriting: “I do not know whether you will care to read this scrawl.” (WCP1900 Darwin to Wallace 30.04.1868)
On truth: “I sometimes marvel how truth progresses, so difficult is it for one man to convince another, unless his mind is vacant.” (WCP1900 Darwin to Wallace 30.04.1868)
On spiders: “P.S. A big spider fell close to my hand in the middle of my signature wh[ich]. accounts for the hitch.” (WCP370 Wallace to George Silk 30.11.1858)
On being an enthusiast: “So far from being angry at being called an Enthusiast it is my pride & glory to be worthy to be so called. Who ever did any thing good or great who was not an enthusiast? The majority of mankind are enthusiasts only in one thing, in money-getting; & these call others enthusiasts as a term of reproach, because they think there is something in the world better than money getting.” (WCP371 Wallace to Thomas Sims 25.04.1859)
On not quitting the tropics: “to induce a Naturalist to quit his researches at their most interesting point requires some more cogent argument than the prospective loss of health.” (WCP1454 Wallace to J D Hooker 06.10.1858)
On suffering: “I have myself suffered much in the same way as you describe & I think more severely. The kind of "tedium vitae" you mention I also occasionally experience here. I impute it to a too monotonous existence.” (WCP374 Wallace to Henry Walter Bates 24.12.1860)
On freedom of thought: “Freedom of thought is essential to intellectual progress.” (WCP4866 Wallace to Charles Lyell 10.11.1872)
On the British weather: “I trust you have passed unscathed through the glacial period of January and the semi-tropical period one of February. Already they are bringing me nosegays of wild flowers – primroses, violets and buttercups.” (WCP1661 Richard Spruce to Fanny Sims 27.02.1867) – proving that the British weather was just as odd in the nineteenth century!
On death: “the writer, who has doubtless ere now been gathered to Abraham’s bosom.” (WCP3281 Walter William Skeat to Wallace 11.10.1909)
On the respect of women: “I trust you will not feel put out if, as an individual woman and by a private letter, I venture to offer you homage and thanks for your published utterance respecting women which I have read in the Daily Chronicle of today. At this time of day it is true our prospects are no longer what they were and you as their champion resemble happiness as characterized by Goethe.” (WCP3147 Caroline Augusta Foley to Wallace 04.12.1893)
On gifts of venison: “May I ask your acceptance of this little leg of venison? It is ready to be cooked, I trust you will find it tender.” (WCP3196 Theodora Guest to Wallace 22.08.1900)
On cats: “The cats are all right. Cats always are. They never want enquiring about till they get over 12 years old”. (WCP297 Wallace to his daughter Violet 24.11.1887)
On bacon: “send me the address of the Bacon Man!!” (WCP273 Wallace to Violet 25.03.1896)
All of these letters are available to view on Wallace Letters Online. Why not see if you can find some more hidden gems embedded amongst the intellectual conversations!
Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project