Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP373

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
George Silk
1 September 1860

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Bessir, Gam Island, [Indonesia] to George Silk [none given] on 1 September 1860.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.
Verified by:
21/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


Re. Leon du Four's "History of Prostitution" and Darwin's "Origin of Species". Two months spent in Ternate dealing with a year's mail, cleaning, arranging and packing collections of birds, insects and shells for shipment to England and preparing for further expeditions; paper on "The native trade with New Guinea" sent to the "Geographical".

Record notes

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP373.373)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/48
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
21/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information





Sept[embe]r.1st, 1860

My dear George1,

It is now ten months since the date of my last letter from England. You may fancy therefore that in the expressive language of the trappers I am "half froze" for news. No such thing. Except for my own private & personal affairs I care not a straw & scarcely even give a thought as to what may be uppermost in the political world. In my situation old newspapers are just as good as new ones & I enjoy the odd scraps in which I do up my birds (advertisements & all) as much as you do your "Times" at breakfast. If I live however to return to Ternate in another month I expect to find such a deluge of communications (including some arrears from you) that I shall probably have no time to answer any of them. I therefore bestow one of my solitary evenings to answering yours beforehand.

[[2]]2 By the bye you do not yet know where I am, for I defy all the members of the Royal Geog[raphic] Soc[iety] in full conclave to tell you where is the place from which I date this letter. I must inform you therefore that is a village on the S[outh] W[est] coast of the island of Waigiou at the N[orth] W[est] extremity of New Guinea. How I came here would be too long to tell, -- the details I send to my mother & refer you to her. While hon[orary] members are shooting Partridges I am shooting or trying to shoot Birds of Paradise,--red at that, as Morris Haggar would say.

But enough of this nonsense. I meant to write you of matters more worthy of a naturalists pen. I have been reading of late two books of the highest interest but of most opposite characters & I wish to recommend their perusal to you, if you have time for any thing but work & politics. They are "Leon Dufours Hist[ory] of Prostitution" & "Darwins origin of species". If there is an English translation of the first [[3]] pray get it. Every student of men & morals sh[oul]d read it, & if many who talk glibly of putting down the "Social Evil" were first to devote a few days to its study they would be both much better qualified to give an opinion on the subject & much more diffident of their capacity to deal with the question. The work is truly a history & a grand one, & reveals pictures of human nature more wild & incredible than the pen of the romancist[?] ever dared to delineate. I doubt if many classical scholars have an idea of what were really the habits & daily life of the Romans as here delineated. Again I say read it.

The other book you may have heard of & perhaps read but it is not one perusal which will enable any man to appreciate it. I have read it through 5 or 6 times & each time with increasing admiration. It is the "Principia" of Natural History. It will live as long as the "Principia" of Newton. [[4]] It shows that Nature is as I before remarked to you a study that yields to none in grandeur & immensity. What are the cycles of Astronomy or even the periods of Geology to the vast depth of time contemplated in the endeavour to understand the slow growth of life upon the earth. The most intricate effect of the law of Gravitation, the mutual disturbances of all the bodies of the solar system are simplicity itself, compared with the intricate relations & complicated struggle which has determined what forms of life "shall exist" & in what proportions. Mr. Darwin has given the world a new science & his name should in my opinion stand above that of every philosopher of ancient or modern times. The force of admiration can no further go!!!


On board [of the] steamer from Ternate to Timor

Jan[uary]. 2nd. 1861

I have come home safe to Ternate & left it again. For two months I was stupefied with my year[]s letters accounts papers magazines & books,-- added to the manipulation cleaning arranging comparing & packing for safe transmission to the other side of the world of about 16,000 specimens of Insects Birds & shells. This has been intermingled with the troubles of preparing for new voyages, laying in stores, hiring men, paying or refusing to pay their debts, running after them when they want to run away,-- going to the town with lists of articles absolutely necessary for the voyage, & finding none of them could be had for love or money,-- [[6]] conceiving impossible substitutes & not being able to get them either,-- & all this coming suddenly upon me as my repose from the fatigues & miseries of an unusually dangerous & miserable voyage and you may imagine that I have not been in any great humour for letter writing.

I have however sent a little paper to the "Geographical"-- on "The native trade with New Guinea". I think I may promise you that in 18 months more or less we may meet again if nothing unforeseen occurs, with wh[ich] information I will conclude.

A. R. W. [signature]


1. George Silk, Wallace’s childhood friend.

2. This is page 3 on the actual layout.

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