Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP296

Add to My list
Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Violet Isabel Wallace
22 October 1897

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Corfe View, Parkstone, Dorset to Violet Isabel Wallace [address not recorded] on 22 October 1897.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.


Re. bird behaviour; Violet's expenses and dental treatment; news from her brother William in America; books; "The Arena", Alfred Russel Wallace, Dr Brett and General Dunn buying orchids; anti-vaccination chapter finished, considering publishing as a separate paper.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (2)

View item:

LETTER (WCP296.296)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/2/95
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information




Parkstone, Dorset.

Oct. 22nd. 1897

My dear Violet

In your previous letter you asked me the Conundrum -- why does a wagtail wag its tail. Thats quite easy, on Darwinian principles. Many birds wag their tails. Some Eastern Fly catchers -- also black & white -- wag their long tails up & down when they alight on the ground or on a branch. Other birds with long tails jerk it up in the air when they alight on a branch. Now these varied, like the motions of many butterflies catterpillars[sic] & of many other animals must have a use to the animal, & the most common, or rather the most probable, use is, either to frighten or to distract an enemy. If a hawk was very hungry and darted down on [[2]] on a wagtail from up in the air the wagging tail would be seen most distinctly & be aimed at, and thus the bird would be missed or at most a feather taken out of the tail. The bird hunts for food in the open on the edges of ponds or streams would be especially easy to capture hence the wagging tail has been developed to baffle the enemy. Now for your last letter. I enclose you £.5. In September which I had quite forgotten, which shows the bad effects of advances for bicycles & other superfluities which upset all normal habits of life! Please never do it again! I will pay your dentists bill this time, but you must really make a [[3]] contract next time, or agree to pay him say £ 1 a year to keep you in grinding order. No doubt dentists ought to be a government institution like every thing else! We have a card from Will which I enclose. I suppose he is now somewhere in space between Niagra & Chicago. The Bacon [1 word illeg.] write books. I have two I think, & there are lots more, but I think the "Arena" discussion would suit your friend best, but I am too busy to look them up now. You can take them back after ‘Xmas. I bought about 40 orchids at the sale cheap. Dr. Brett bought 50 and General Dunn about 30 or 40 [[4]] but of the finest sorts so he spent as much as Dr. Brett & myself together. I have now lots to do cleaning, potting, making new stages in Orchid House &c. Gen. Dunn is going to build an orchid house immediately, so now there are three orchid-maniacs -- Thus, "the means to do good deeds makes good deeds done" -- or words to that effect of the Darice William!

Anti-Vaccination chap[ter] nearly done, and dont I give it the Commissioners shot! It is so long, & so strong, and so completely swashing, that I must get it printed separately somehow. Its title will be --

Vaccination a Delusion and a Crime as proved by the Official Evidence in the Reports of the Royal Commission.

There! I am exhausted, & can no more. (even if I had room!)

Farewell | your affectionate Pa | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

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