Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP348

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Henry Walter Bates
11 October 1847

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Neath, Glamorganshire, Wales to Henry Walter Bates [none given] on 11 October 1847.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.
Verified by:
22/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


Re. trip to London and Paris; describing the architecture, museums, galleries and boulevards of Paris; the layout and operation of the Jardin des Plantes including a sketched section showing cabinets and cases in its museum of mineralogy; study of insects at the British Museum to name his collection of American Coleoptera; desire to take one family and study thoroughly with regard to the theory of the origin of species; Ray Society; Oken's "Elements of physiophilosophy" and variety, distribution and arrangement of species.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP348.348)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/19
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
22/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information





Oct[obe]r. 11th. 1847

D[ea]r. Bates

Having just returned from our little continental trip I intend giving you a short account of what has most struck me in the fair city of Paris..

I must first premise[?] that having staid a week in London we had only one week left for Paris & so could only see a small part of the wonders of that great metropolis --

We went from London to Dover where we had ab[ou]t 3 hours to spare so we walked up to the castle, saw the celebrated gun called Queen Eliz[abeth]s pocket piece &c. &c. the old Roman tower [[2]] Shakespeares Cliff &c. &c. --

I picked up a few Aphodii but of a common sp.

On out return at Folkestone "Goerius[?] oleus[?]" was abundant all along the Road from the town up to the R[ailwa]y Station --

At Boulogne we were obliged to stay the night & proceeded to Paris by Railroad & Diligence the next day --

The general aspect of Paris is very different from that of London, there is not a street in wh[ich] you do not immediately see the difference -- something in the cut[?] of the houses, principally owing I think to the universal practice of having venetian shutters [[3]] outside all the upper windows --

The most characteristic feature of Paris is however the "Boulevarts" which are a series of fine wide streets in the line of the ancient fortifications of the city -- These contain the finest Houses Cafès & Shops & have 2 or 3 rows of trees on each side between the foot pavement & the road -- sometimes they are wide enough to have two lines[?] of foot pavement with rows of the trees between them & there is sometimes a row between the shops & the footpath -- Many of the trees are Acacias, the foliage [[4]] of wh[ich]. is remarkably elegant and at Night, the rows of gas lamps & the glittering shops among the trees, & the groups of people seated under them sipping the coffee or liqueurs in the open air, form a scene so totally different from anything in this country as to enable you to realize at once that you are in the gay capital of France --

This is in all its perfection on Sunday evening wh[ich]. forms a state [of] greater contrast with the same day in London, where & when the only sounds of mirth are heard from the tavern & gin shop.

[[5]] The number of the Museums & Galleries, Libraries, Public Buildings & Churches to wh[ich]. there is free access, offers a great contrast to our own Capital where there is so little to be seen without favour or payment. Among these places I may mention the Gardens of the Tulleries, the Luxemburgh, the Jardin des Plantes, -- The pictures Galleries & Museums at the Louvre, the Luxemburgh, & Versailles, the Museums of Nat. Hist. & Anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes, the Manufactory of the Gobela [Goblys] Tapestry. The models & at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metièrs beside all the Churches & Public buildings of the City --

[[6]] The generality[?] of the streets of Paris are narrow & poor compared to those of London -- it is in its Public buildings, its squares & fountains its Public Gardens & avenues that it is so much superior --

The Louvre wh[ich]. is a palace devoted to the fine arts is perhaps unequalled in the world whether as regards the superb decorations of the apartments or the treasures or paintings sculpture & antiquities wh[ich]. they contain..

It is impossible to appreciate it in a single visit & still more impossible to convey any idea of it concisely in words --

The superb decorations of the Churches are particularly striking [[7]] to a visitor from a Protestant Country -- The amount of Gold used in decoration every where is amazing -- The interiors of the churches are half covered with it besides a considerable portion of the iron work about the exteriors --

But what you will no doubt most wish to hear about, is the "Jardin des Plantes" -- where I spent two days but for wh[ich]. a week would be insufficient -- you may imagine I had no time for more than a superficial view & could not go into any details Entomological or others.

The gardens comprise a Botanical & Zoological Garden round which are several distinct buildings containing the several museums.. [[8]] The Gardens are divided by long avenues at r[igh]t angles to each other cutting the Gardens up into the several rectangular sections. To these avenues (w[hic]h offer a free view of the Jardin being only separated by an iron fence) & to the Zoological portion, the public have free access, but to the interior of the Gardens & Museums only on particular days & hours & by applying for tickets.

The Zoological Garden is by no means equal to ours of the Regents Park nor the Botanical to that at Kew so I will say no more about them.

One building contains the Geological & mineralogical & the Botanical Museum, & also the Royal Library.

These museums appear more perfectly arranged & with more economy of [[9]] space than in the Br[itish]. Mus[eum].

The Geological & mineralogical collection is all contained [in] one fine room & does not appear near so extensive as that [at] the British Museum though from the mode of arrangement it may be so. I will endeavour to explain this arrangement by a sketch..

[a sketch with labels of the museum arrangement appears here]

Section across Mus. Of Mineralogy Jardin des plantes.

a.a.a. Glass table cases

b.b.b. Upright cases

c.c.c Cabinets of drawers..

d.d. Side Galleries approached by stair cases at the ends --

You will understand I hope by the above, the ingenious management [[10]] by wh[ich]. one room is made to contain with ease specimens wh[ich]. would otherwise occupy several. In this manner the more interesting specimens are exposed to public view while immense numbers of little general interest are contained in Cabinets for the use of the student..

The Botanical Museum is arranged on a somewhat similar Plan & contains specimens of the stems leaves & fruits of Palms & Tropical trees & every vegetable production that can be preserved in cases -- But the most interesting thing in the room is a superb collection of models of Fungi. If you have ever seen the beautiful wax flowers & fruit at Pantheon Bazaar in Oxford St. you are aware how perfectly nature may be imitated in [[11]] wax -- The whole centre of the room is occupied by the fungi in glass cases, you I could only tell they were models, by considering the impossibility of preserving such perishable vegetables in such a lifelike state.

The colour texture & mode of growth are exactly imitated, & you can not be aware without seeing this collection of the extraordinarily varied forms & splendid colours formed in this interesting tribe of vegetables --

There is nothing very peculiar in the arrangement of the natural Hist[ory]. Museum (in anoth[er] building)..

The Quadrupeds & birds are I think not so numerous but better preserved than those of the British Museum -- The reptiles and fishes appear very numerous. [[12]] The insects are in the Bird room and are nicely arranged -- The general collection is in a series of cabinets down the centre of the room -- The cabinets have glazed doors & every draw[er] has on it the names of the Genera it contains -- In small upright cases on the top of the cabinets is a collection of Insects apparently illustrating every genus in the cabinets below & containing besides all the more remarkable species inhabiting France -- By applying to Mr. Milne Edwards I could have got permission to inspect the Cabinets, but of course had no time and having through your note of introduction seen the splendid collections at the British Museums I did not much care ab[ou]t. it.

[[13]] What a treat would a summer in the neighbourhood of Paris be..

Courses of Lectures are being constantly given by the different professors attached to the museums & by subscribing to these lectures you would obtain free access to the Gardens & collections, at all hours --

Any further information respecting Paris you may wish for, I shall be happy to give you another time. I spent 5 hours in going through the Coleoptera at the Brit[ish]. Mus[eum]. & succeeded in naming most of my American Insects.

I was more struck with the Lamellicorns than any other part of the Coleoptera -- Size, form, & colour in them seem preeminent..

The genera Phaneus, Copris, Goliathus & the Cetoniadae [Cetonidae] are inexpressibly magnificent.. [[14]] I begin to feel rather dissatisfied with a mere local collection -- little is to be learnt by it.. I sh[oul]d. like to take some one family, to study thoroughly -- principally with a view to the theory of the origin of species.. By that means I am strongly of [the] opinion that some definite results might be arrived at.. One family of moderate extent would be quite sufficient -- Can you assist me in choosing one that it will be not be difficult to obtain the greater number of the known species --

I took a hasty glance for an hour at the lep Butterflies (they require days) -- What a magnificent collection! -- Mr. Doubleday pointed out to me a sp[ecies]. of Papilo f[ro]m India in wh[ich]. the crimson spots, change when viewed [[15]] in different positions through all the shades of purple, blue, to a pale shining phosphorescent green.

The butterflies are a most difficult order to classify properly, the differences between genera appear so slight & arbitrary while the actual number of sp[ecies]. is so great as to render them quite bewildering. Among my American Coleoptera I have the following..

Megacephala carolina

Cicindela punctulata or fulviventris

Casnovia[?] Pensylvanica

Galerita cyanipennis

Hyboma gibbosa

Copris carolina or biterbulaca[?]

Phaneus carnifex

Bolbocerus farcatus.

Phileurus valgus

Lucanus capreolus

Acmaedera tubulus

Chalcophora virginiensis

Alaus ___? ____ (the ocellated elater)

[[16]] Calopteron reticulata

Oiceoptoma Americana

Prionus imbricornis

P. pocularis

and I have had given me a few sp[ecies]. from the S[outh]. of Europe among wh[ich]. are Pimelia subscabra

an Akis &c &c.

and Cleonus obliquies.

I have my beetles all set out & must now set to at the butterflies &c..

Let me hear from you soon -- There is work published translated by the Ray Soc[iety]. this year I sh[oul]d like much to see Okens Elements of Physiophilosophy -- There is a review of it in the Atheneum. It contains some remarkable views on my favorite subject -- The variations arrangement distribution &c. of species. I suppose there is now[sic] way of getting it but by subscribing again.

I must now conclude

I rem<ain?> | Yours faithfully | 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.