Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP1333

Sent by:
Francis Hancock Balkwill
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
25 December 1903

Sent by Francis Hancock Balkwill, Haaf Cottage, Yelverton, South Devon to Alfred Russel Wallace [address not recorded] on 25 December 1903.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM


No summary available at this time.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP1333.1112)

A typical letter  .

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/8/145
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Francis Hancock Balkwill Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information






R. S. O.

S[outh]. Devon

Dec[ember] 25. 1903

My dear Sir

In the first place allow me to wish you the Compliments of the Season. You have seen many of these, and still keep eyes & hand & thought clear, which is a wonderful thing after such hardships as you have been through.

I enclose an abstract of my Lecture on the "Arabian Nights"2 which kindly return as it is the only one I have left. The Lecture itself I have; but it would be rather tedious and [[2]] the abstract gives all the important points.

Reflecting on your last letter there is one point you have mentioned but which I think might be emphasized. It is that you had not previously to your writing the "Malay Archipelago"3 [sic] read Hasan's4 [sic] tale.

Now, professionally, I know that it is [a] matter of great difficulty for anyone to render, phonetically, into written words, a sound which has not been so known, previously. If a dozen persons were set to put any natural sound into a written word, for the first time, probably not two of them would write it exactly alike[.] [[3]] An illustration which occurs to me will show what I mean. The Persian monarch's name which comes to us through the Greeks as "Artaxexes5", come[s] through the Jews as "Ahasuerus". –

Now as you had not read the story of Hassan, and, presumably, had not heard of the Wak-Wak Islands6, it follows, that your rendering of the cry of the Birds of P[ara]d[i]se was perfectly original and independant [sic] and therefore that you should have so, almost exactly, reproduced the same word, very much strengthens the if not conclusively (on the top of the other evidence), proves the identification to be correct.


I am | Yours very truly | F H Balkwill7 [signature]


1. Page numbered WP1/8/145 in pencil in top LH corner.

2. Lecture delivered at the Plymouth Literary Institute in which he shows that, in the story of Hasan of El Basrah, as given in Lane's translation of the Arabian Nights, there is an account of the hero's visit to the Aru Islands, which draws on myths and legends which grew around travellers' tales and the plumes of wonderful birds (the Birds of Paradise) which were found there.

3. Wallace, A.R. (1869) The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-utan, and the Bird of Paradise. A Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature. London, Macmillan & Co.

4. In the story, Hasan is a young goldsmith. A Persian stranger offers to teach him how to transmute common metal into gold, but he drugs his food so he falls into a trance, then carries him away on a ship. The scene of the story ranges overland from Baghdad, through Central Asia to China, then to Malaya and thence to the Aru Islands. To his surprise, ARW found that everywhere in the story had a basis of recognisable geographical and biological fact, which suggests that it was based on travellers' tales rather than pure imagination.

5. Artaxerxes I of Persia, fifth King of Persia from 465 BC to 424 BC, the third son of Xerxes I.

6. The 'Isles of Wák-Wák' are the location of the fabulous Wák-Wák tree, described as having fruit in the form of beautiful women that hang off the tree by their hair, as mentioned in the Arabian Nights. The Aru Islands (see Endnote 4) were the "Islands of Wák-Wák" of the story.

7. Balkwill, Francis Hancock (1837-1921). Pioneer of dental articulation (artificial dentures). Author of (1893) The Testimony Of The Teeth To Man's Place In Nature, With Other Essays On The Doctrine Of Evolution Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd., London.

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.