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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

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This month’s selected letter was written on 26 June 1898 to Michael Flürscheim (1844-1912), a German economist who worked on economic and social reforms that focused on the single tax, land nationalisation and an improved currency. This letter highlights Wallace’s involvement in socialism; an area he became very involved in later in his life.

 

The short letter begins with Wallace expressing regret that Flürscheim has moved to New Zealand and also that he has, as Wallace writes

 

“given up working primarily for land and social reform & are devoting yourself mainly to the Currency question.”

 

Wallace disagreed with Flürscheim on this matter and believed it wouldn’t “abolish the unemployed, or enable every man to get the whole produce of his labour.”

 

Flürscheim believed currency reform was needed to complement single tax and land reform to cure the ills of society. There were two types of currency reform at the turn of the twentieth century; one where the state would manufacture more money to put into circulation believing this would spur the economy on and the other, which Flürscheim advocated, wanted to replace the currency that was based on gold and silver with something such as a ‘labour note’ - where people could trade in hours of labour.

 

Wallace hoped “we shall soon have you back here working for land reform and the extension of cooperative industry” - two causes Wallace felt very strongly about.

 

Although becoming more active on social matters later on in his life, Wallace first encountered socialist ideas as a young man, being greatly influenced by the writings of Robert Owen (1771-1858). He attended lectures with his brother John when he moved to London at the Hall of Science in Tottenham Court Road.

 

Wallace became President in 1881 of the newly formed Land Nationalisation Society – a society that believed land should be the property of the state to ensure everyone could be free to use and enjoy it equally. He remained its President for 30 years and, as well as calling for public ownership of land, he also advocated the land colony as a solution for unemployment, a pure paper money system (Fiat Money), he supported women’s suffrage and wrote on the dangers and wastefulness of militarism.

 

At the July 1892 meeting of the Land Nationalisation Society, Wallace spoke in his Presidential Address to Herbert Spencer’s newly released book, Justice. Wallace explains that his first encounter with Spencer’s work was reading Social Statics in 1853. He says that through this work he learnt, in Spencer’s words, that “to deprive others of their rights to the use of the earth is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking

away their lives or their personal liberties”.

 

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WP5/1/2: 1892 Report of the Land Nationalisation Society containing Wallace's Presidential address

 

Wallace ended the letter to Flürscheim by informing him he had recently attended a Congress of Spiritualists in London, where he “tried to induce Spiritualists to take up the social problems” - a quote I love, as he seemed to be a man who was never one to pass up an opportunity to recruit more people to the socialist cause!

 

The Wallace Collection webpages contain more information about Wallace's socialism and features key socialist material we hold in the Wallace Family Archive in the library's Special Collections.

 

We have many letters written by Wallace in Wallace Letters Online that discuss and advocate socialism and if you are keen to explore more letters written to Flürscheim, we have 11 of them that you can read here.

 

Check back next month, when I'll be writing about another letter that caught my attention.

 

Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project

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Friday 7 June saw Wallace enthusiasts descend on the University of Bournemouth for a one day conference on Wallace, fittingly held in the Alfred Russel Wallace Lecture Theatre, organised by the Linnean Society and The Society for the History of Natural History.

 

Entitled "Unremitting passion for the beauty and mystery of the natural world" the day included 6 talks about different aspects of Wallace’s life and work, a theatre performance by Theatr na n’Og called "You should ask Wallace" and an evening reception at Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences.

 

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The morning was kicked off by Andrew Sortwell and David Orr Kerr who gave a fascinating talk of following, quite literally, in Wallace’s footsteps with two expeditions to the Amazon, one in 1978 and one in 2007. They shared with us amazing photos of some of locations Wallace would have visited during his 1848-52 expedition there and shared with us photos of native boats, much like Wallace would have travelled in. In 1978 the Wallace Expedition to Amazonia spent three months in remote regions of the Amazon studying the flora and fauna and in 2007, the second expedition involved travelling to the Rio Negro and spending some time in an Indian Reserve. They also visited São Joaquim, now deserted but the village where Wallace nearly lost his life to illness during his expedition. Their talk was fascinating and it was great to see photos of specimens Wallace would have collected and also to see some of David’s beautiful watercolours from the trip.

 

Janet Ashdown, conservator at the Linnean Society was the next speaker and spoke about the project she worked on to conserve Wallace’s 10 notebooks from the Amazon and Malay Archipelago. The Society acquired the notebooks in 1936 after Wallace’s son William offered them via Edward Bagnall Poulton. In 2011 funding was awarded by the Mellon Foundation to digitise the notebooks, but they were in a poor state of repair and needed to be conserved first. Each notebook was in a varying state of disrepair with his Amazon notebook needing the least intervention. There were four notebooks that were really degraded with Janet commenting they had been strangely constructed with straw-board covers. There were also old repairs that had been undertaken and unfortunately old covers had to be permanently removed because of degradation, however they have been kept and the new covers have been modelled closely on the originals. This was a really insightful talk and I enjoyed learning about the method and the time it took to restore these notebooks to their former glory. These notebooks have also just been digitised and are free to view on the Linnean Society’s website.

 

The final talk before lunch was given by Professor Jim Costa on insights and observations into Wallace’s Species notebooks. Professor Costa’s research into these notebooks will be published in October this year in his new book entitled On the Organic Law of Change. The species notebook (held by the Linnean Society, mc. 180) covers the period 1855-1859 whilst he was in the Malay Archipelago, a period of "remarkable creativity" for Wallace as Jim put it which saw the publication of the 1855 Sarawak Law and the 1858 Ternate Essay that saw him catapulted to fame alongside Charles Darwin. Jim also highlights Wallace’s critique of Sir Charles Lyell in his notebook, showing Lyell to be an inspiration to Wallace during this time. Jim has studied, transcribed and annotated the notebook for his new book, which is bound to give new and interesting insights into Wallace and his time spent in the Malay Archipelago.

 

After lunch, I was lucky enough to have been asked to speak about the Wallace Correspondence Project and it was great to be able to share with so many people details about the project and to show people just what an amazing resource Wallace Letters Online is.

 

Also speaking in the afternoon was Annette Lord, a volunteer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History who spoke about Oxford Wallace’s collection, which consists of over 300 paper items in the Wallace archive, mostly letters and postcards dating from 1860 to 1913 and tens of thousands of specimens collected by Wallace and numerous type specimens, including Wallace’s famous giant bee, Megachile pluto. It was really interesting to hear Annette talk about Oxford’s collections on Wallace and she recounted many great stories told in the letters, mostly to Edwards Bagnall Poulton and Raphael Meldola, all of which are available to view on Wallace Letters Online.

 

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Some lovely specimens from the Oxford Wallace Collection

 

The final talk of the day was given by Dr Charles Smith and focused on Wallace and Natural Selection. Charles explored Wallace’s 1858 Ternate paper - the one which he sent to Darwin and was subsequently read with Darwin’s work on 1 July 1858 at the Linnean Society - and asked how much we really knew about Wallace’s own evolution of thought and explored Wallace being influenced by the works of Alexander von Humboldt. A thoroughly interesting talk and a great end to the presentations.

 

We were then treated to an excellent performance by Theatr na n’Og with a play called "You should ask Wallace". The play tells Wallace’s story, with one actor playing Wallace who recounts his childhood, early surveying career and expeditions to the Amazon and Malay Archipelago. They perform the play in schools around Wales and this year are busy with performances to a wide range of audiences. It was excellent and the actor who played Wallace bore more than a passing resemblance to the young naturalist! It’s a great way to engage a younger audience in Wallace’s extraordinary life and to inspire them also and it was really interesting seeing the play as it helps you to better imagine the challenging feats Wallace undertook.

 

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A Q&A session with Theatr na n'Og after their great performance

 

To round off the day there was a drinks reception at Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences, which gave the delegates a chance to chat to one another about the days interesting talks. It was lovely talking to people so enthusiastic about Wallace, in such interesting surroundings, with the Society’s headquarters full of interesting specimens.

 

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The lovely surroundings of the Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences

 

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Wallace and Darwin both honoured at the Society's headquarters

 

I’d like to say a big thanks to the Linnean Society for organising such an interesting day; another great success for Wallace100!

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Dates and times: Every day, 1 July - 23 November, 10.00-17.50 (last admission 17.30)

 

This summer, take time to uncover the extraordinary adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace in a new family friendly trail at the Natural History Museum. Running from Monday 1 July, the Wallace Discovery Trail celebrates his role as the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, with Charles Darwin. The free trail is part of our Wallace100 celebrations, a series of activities commemorating the centenary of Wallace’s death.

 

Wallace was a British naturalist and explorer who collected more than 100,000 specimens on several epic journeys and discovered over 5,000 new species to science. His observations and notes on animal diversity in the Amazon and southeast Asia helped him discover evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin.

 

Follow the trail through the Museum’s iconic building, from the Central Hall to the spirit collection, to discover some of Wallace’s most important specimens and retrace his journey around the world.

 

The trail includes many items that have never been on public display before, revealing highlights from Wallace’s life and work:

 

  • exotic birds, reptiles and insects he collected, among them toucans and birds of paradise
  • his watercolours and drawings
  • tools of his trade, such as his telescope and sextant
  • a portrait, unveiled earlier this year by comedian and Wallace-enthusiast Bill Bailey
  • an adult orang-utan, probably the largest of all the specimens he collected

 

Dr George Beccaloni, curator at the Natural History Museum and expert on Wallace says:

 

‘This trail explores Wallace’s extraordinary adventures in South America and southeast Asia, in his quest to understand how life on Earth evolved. His travels were funded by the sale of animal specimens he collected, and a selection of some of the most spectacular of these will be on display. Wallace achieved his goal and discovered the process of evolution by natural selection while in Indonesia in 1858, a scientific breakthrough that is considered to be one of the most important ever made by anyone. Although Wallace was one of the most famous scientists of his era, he has largely been forgotten. This trail will help to remind people of his extraordinary life and many great achievements.’