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Record number: WCP1330

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Sent by:
? W. Armstrong
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
20 December 1887

Sent by ?W. Armstrong, 1349 L. St. N. W., Washington, D.C., USA to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming] on 20 December 1887.

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23 May 2011 by NHM


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LETTER (WCP1330.1109)

A typical letter  .

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/8/142
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the W. Armstrong Literary Estate.

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Transcription information




1349 L. St[reet]. N. W. Washington D.C.

Dec[ember] 20 1887

Dr Alfred R. Wallace

My Dear Friend:

Mrs A. and I arrived here on the 1st. inst[ant]., but did not go to the Hamilton2, because, before coming here, we had secured very satisfactory accommodations at this excellent boarding house, which has been our Washington home for many years. We have the same formerly occupied by our old friends Admiral Jouett3 & wife, and are very comfortably conditioned everyway [sic]. Last winter, our coming to Washington from Atlanta so late as February, prevented our getting suitable rooms here, and hence "The Hamilton", and the pleasure of so happily making the acquaintance of yourself and the Holmans4, et alia.

This house is a large one, on L. St[reet]. opposite the Unitarian Church, cor[ner]. 14th. St[reet]. and so near the Hamilton that I use the U. S. mail box there for our own mail matter. On Dec[ember]. 7th. while there on that business, Mr Wood, the clerk, handed me your very welcome letter. The Holmans, Mr. Lyman5, and Mrs C. H. Hibbert6 have had the pleasure of reading it, and warmly reciprocate your kindly remembrance.

Mrs. Hibbert is a warm friend of yours, and I was glad to learn [[2]] had been able to be of some service to you in Cincinnati, of her agency in which you had no knowledge. Indeed she does not know of my now mentioning it. She desires me to tell you that the Boston "Society for Psychical Research"7 has entirely changed its attitude toward spiritualism, ceasing to deny its manifestations, and in an article in the N[ew]. Y[ork]. Herald8 asks for communications on the subject from all in the United States. She is now quite well and sends kindest regards9.

Mr. Darius Lyman, who is now out of office, and practising law at No. 1008 J. St[reet] N. W, tells me that in a few days he will send you the detailed account you desired of the formation of those parafine[?] hands. The Holmans, all, were much pleased to hear from you, and bade me give you their kindest greetings, as did also Mr. Lyman.

The long and unintended delay in writing this has been occasioned by the time consumed in my efforts to obtain for your friend Mr Myers10, the information he wishes as to the Edmonds11 MSS [manuscripts]. I remembered that the Judge10 had but one child, his daughter Laura12 (Mrs Ja[me]s. S York;) and that she, and I think her husband also, had died some years ago. My reading, last winter of the Judge[']s and Dr Dexter's13 two volumes, entitled "Spiritualism"14 published in N[ew]. Y[ork]. in 1853 and 1854 [sic] by Partridge & Brittain, left on my mind an impression that in the first volume some few of the records in question were used, and that quite explicit reference was made to these records was made in the Introduction to the 1st. volume. Some days elapsed before I could get the books, and when I did so I found15 [[3]] that the substance of a few of the early seances [sic] was given, but not in the original 'question and answer' form in the records, as I remembered a few pages of them which, at the Judge's request, I copied for him while I was Supreme Court Clerk at Chambers &c (1850 to 1853) sometime [sic] in 1851 or 1852. I found also that the Judge refers in that Introduction to certain details as "only a small part of what I have recorded in five large volumes of Manuscript". I was at a loss to determine who to write to for information as to those volumes, but on looking again through the Introduction aforesaid, I happily came upon a reference to the Judge's daughter[']s "little son" as being ill at Ogdensburgh [sic] N[ew]. Y[ork]. on the S[ain]t. Lawrence River, where her husband's parents resided; and it occurred to me that that son might still be living, and I determined to find, if practicable, how the fact was. I at once consulted a New York Directory, and there to my great gratification found the name of "J. W. Edmonds York, lawyer, 137 Broadway, house 278 Fourth Avenue". I thereupon wrote to Mr. York stating the desire of Mr. Myers to obtain the loan and use of the five volumes of Manuscripts referred to in his grandfather's book and stating that, from what you wrote, I had no doubt liberal compensation would be paid for the same. I mailed the letter on the 14th. inst[ant]. and am awaiting the answer. Yesterday I wrote again to Mr. York a remindatory [sic] note. In each of these two letters I enclosed a stamp for return postage, so that ordinary courtesy would necessitate an answer, which, it occurred to me, it was just possible16 [[4]] he might feel inclined to give, if he had become hostile to Spiritualism because of the unfortunate social, political and financial results of its advocacy to his grandfather, and thus indirectly its unfavorable [sic] influence perhaps upon his own personal fortunes. It may, however, be that the only cause of his not yet answering is that he is out of town, or ill, and that his letters are kept, awaiting his return or his recovery17.

I have concluded to write to you without further waiting, promising to write again, if Mr. York answers. I will endeavor [sic] to get Mr. Myers work to which you refer from the Congressional Library, and read it before leaving here in February.

I was much pleased to find that you had been able to see so much of our country, and that you were so well-pleased with it, and with Washington especially. Mrs A. and I like this city very much, preferring it to any other, and we will doubtless (D.V.)18 spend a portion of every winter here.

At our cottage home in Milford, P[ennsylvani]a. on the upper Delaware19 we spent all of last summer, excepting a while at Boston, and a fortnight at Ashbury Park, a city on the Atlantic coast of New Jersey just South of Long Branch, where we have spent a few weeks every summer for seven years in succession.

November we spent, as usual, in New York city, very pleasantly. We are now here for December and January, purposing [sic] to spend February in Atlanta, and March, April & May in making our first tour [[5]]20 west of the Mississippi, including Colorado, Utah, California and perhaps Alaska, spending some weeks at Los Angeles until the cold weather is over, and then a few weeks in San Francisco, afterward visiting the Big Trees21 and the Yosemite Valley22. After returning from Alaska, we will probably come East by the Northern Pacific, and visit the Yellowstone National Park23, and S[ain]t. Paul & Minneapolis, Nebraska and Kansas -- How glad I would be were it practicable to have the pleasure of your company on this extensive tour –

It is quite possible of course that something may occur to prevent our starting, or, after we have started, to greatly restrict our travels. "Man progreses [sic] but God disposes" --

I have has quite an interesting experience at Keelers24 recently, including my first slate writing yesterday, in which, with my own newly bought and thoroughly cleaned pair of slates, held in clear daylight above the table, by Keeler's hands on one side and mine on the other, the two slates securely fastened by my handkerchief, binding them tightly together, with a small bit of pencil of this size and shape (rectangle approx 5mm x 2mm drawn) inclosed [sic], there were written

25I find I err as to this – The slate containing my brother[']s message, and the young girl[']s interlined through it, I find from its size was one of two slates furnished by Keeler. My two contained on our three of the four other messages, the other of those two slates the topmost containing the message from David Austen Wells26 written evidently upward.

five communications to me, purporting to be from my mother, my wife's mother, my wife's elder brother, a young girl boarding house acquaintance, and my own brother, the latter communication describing his own death at sea in 1856, sinking into darkness from an extemporised ladder raft, which failed him because of closed buckets27 [[6]] (upon which its floating depended) having been suddenly swept away; of his thoughts and feelings as he went down into the darkness; his finding himself after awhile [sic] in a "world of life and activity", so natural that he "did not know that he had entered the spirit life until he was told so", and of his satisfaction with that life; that he preferred it to this life, and would not change back. These communications, and another on a different slate from my wife's younger brother (David Austen Wells, (no relation that we know of to the political economist of the same name) the other brother being Halsted Wells28) were, all six, written in different hands, those from my mother, and the two other ladies, being written in a very fine hand, that from the young girl I referred to having been singularly written between the lines of my brother[']s communication, and evidently afterward [sic]. I knew of the general fact that my brother had been probably lost from the ladder, but the matter of the buckets having been the bouyants [sic] (to coin a word) of the ladder, I had never known or thought of -- As to each of the communications, I should add that before any whatever came, I had at Mr. Keeler[']s request, written to each of the parties who communicated, or purported to communicate and 3 others on little slips of about 4 square inches in size a few words. There are in some of these communications several expressions so unlikely to be those of the persons represented -- as they talked or wrote in this life, as to attract my attention, and cast the shadow of a doubt as to whether29 [[7]] the writing was really the language of those purporting to write. It occurred to me that these variances from the natural style of the named writer might have come from the changing to his own style of expression by the actual spirit writer of the words which were uttered to him by the spirit of whom the writer was the amanuensis. I am loth [sic] to think that there is any deception in the matter; but it is evident that the handwriting in neither of the communications is that of the person purporting to write. Have you had any experiences of such variations from the natural style of supposed writers from the spirit world, and what do you think of such? I should add that the evening following the slate writing in question (last evening) I had a tablet communication thrown from behind the screen you will remember at 416 -- 12th. S[tree]t. purporting to be from Halsted Wells, the writing of which is very similar to that from the same person on the slate – In both slate and tablet however, the name "Halsted" is spelled differently from my brother in law[']s name in that it was spelled "Halstead", he never having used that "a" in his signature -- Of course this variance might have arisen, as before suggested as to the other kinds of variance from the actual writers of all the communications being but amanuensis30 -- [[8]] I ought perhaps to add as to the slate writing preliminaries that Mr Keeler requested me to write slowly the messages I addressed on the small pieces of tablet paper, which I to some extent did, and all my writing was in his presence, he sitting opposite me at the same table. Had he been able to read as I wrote, or clairvoyantly to read the messages after they were written and folded small, (which I understood him to say he did (or could) not,) and could his mind be read by spirits around him; or if they read my mind, or the messages written by me. -- and were some of those spirit slate writers expert deceivers -- then the identity [sic] of the named writers of the messages (or authors of the messages, for as before remembered none of them were in the handwriting of the persons purporting to sign them.) might be regarded as perhaps doubtful, the names in the slate messages being just those I had written in my messages, and the substance of the slate communications being, except in my brother's case, of very a general nature, altho'[ugh] quite reasonably responsive in most cases, and position on the point of the continued life of the soul -- My brother's message alone had in it a name of which I had made no mention, and had no thought or knowledge and contained a special fact that I had no idea of before reading it in his message -- I am strongly disposed to regard these slate writings as from the parties named, and feel hardly the shadow of a doubt that this is the fact as to my brother's. But that the writing on the slates, fastened together as I have described, was by spirits or intelligent beings, able to write under conditions which no person in the flesh could possibly write under, is certain31– I had intended to write of certain colloquies and communications by means of a telegraph ticker attached to the table in the cabinet between two expert telegraphers in the circle here, and a deceased telegrapher on the other side called Jack Samson32, well known to the telegrapher Mr. Pearson33 in the Circle

34the simple sounds of the ticker being read by the ear.

but I have already written at much greater length than I intended -- I will only add that what purported to be the spirit of Th[oma]s[?] Carlyle35 wrote on a tablet to Mr Pearson predicting great results from this new mode of communication -- Please write to me again when you have opportunity --

Yours fraternally in the brotherhood of the searchers for Truth | W[illia]m H Armstrong36 [signature]


1. Page numbered WP1/8/142 [1 of 2] in pencil in top RH corner. The following post script is written across the top of the page:

"P.S. Dec[ember]. 21. No letter yet from Mr. York – Let me say as to the spiritual telegraphy that it has been practised to a considerable extent recently at Cleveland, O[hio]."

2. Hamilton Hotel located at 1001 14th Street, N.W., Washington D.C., one block South of L. Street N. W.

3. Jouett James Edward (1826-1902). Rear Admiral in the United States Navy during the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War.

4. Holman, William Steele (1822-1897). American judge & politician.

5. Lyman, Darius (no dates available), Washington resident and believer in spiritualism.

6. Hibbert, Mrs C.H. No information.

7. The American Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1884 in Boston Massachusetts.

8. Large distribution newspaper based in New York City, first published on May 6, 1835.

9. The passage "..Psychical Research … sends kindest regards" is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

10. Myers, Frederic William Henry (1843-1901). English poet, classicist, philologist and a founder of the Society for Psychical Research. His ideas about a "subliminal self" were influential in his time, but not accepted by the scientific community.

11. Edmonds, John Worth (1816-1874.) One of the most influential early American Spiritualists. After a great public career, as a member of both branches of the New York State Legislature and, for some time, President of the Senate and Judge of the Supreme Court of New York, he resigned the judiciary on account of the outcry raised against his Spiritualistic beliefs.

12. Edmonds, Laura (Mrs. James S. York). Daughter of Judge John Worth Edmonds (see Footnote 10)

13. Dexter, George T (c1819 - c1863). New York physician, initially sceptical of spiritualism but became a medium himself and explained the phenomena in Spiritualism, two volumes co-authored with Judge John W. Edmonds of the New York Supreme Court (see Endnote 14).

14. Edmonds, J. W. & Dexter, G. T. (1853) Spiritualism (Vol. I) Partridge & Brittain, New York; Edmonds, J. W. & Dexter, G. T. (1855) Spiritualism (Vol. II) Partridge & Brittain, New York.

15. The passage "..been occasioned by the time…when I did so I found" is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

16. The whole text on page 3 of the letter is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

17. The passage "..he might feel disinclined…his return or his recovery" is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

18. Deo volente (Lat. God willing)

19. The Delaware River flows for 330 miles from New York through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

20. Figure 2 written in ink in top LH corner of page. Page numbered WP1/8/142 [2 of 2] in pencil in top RH corner.

21. Californian redwood Sequoia sempervirens includes the tallest living trees on Earth. The Redwood National and State Parks are located along the coast of Northern California.

22. A glacial valley in Yosemite National Park in the Western Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California.

23. A national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, extending into Montana and Idaho. Established in 1872, it was the first national park in the world.

24. Keeler, Pierre L. O. A. (no dates available). American slate-writing medium. Slate writing is a method of allegedly communicating with spirits using writing. A medium would typically take a standard piece of slate in a wooden frame, place a piece of slate pencil on it, and hold it under the table, thumbs on top. After an interval, scratching would be heard, and the slate would have writing on it.

25. A sign before the word "five" indicates that the following text written vertically in the LH margin should be inserted at this point.

26. Younger brother of author's wife. No information.

27. The passage "I have had quite an interesting experience…because of closed buckets" is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

28. Elder brother of the author's wife. No information.

29. The whole text on page 6 of the letter is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

30. The whole text on page 7 of the letter is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

31. The passage "I ought perhaps to add…possibly write under, is certain" is highlighted by a vertical line in red pencil in the LH margin.

32. Unidentified spiritual communicant.

33. Unidentified spiritual medium.

34. A sign after the word "Circle" indicates that the following text written vertically in the LH margin should be inserted at this point.

35. Carlyle, Thomas (1795-1881). Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher. Considered one of the most important social commentators of his time.

36. Armstrong, William H. (No dates available) American spiritualist, of Milford, Pennsylvania.

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