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Record number: WCP378

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
George Silk
22 December 1861

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Lobo Raman, Sumatra Island, [Indonesia] to George Silk, [79 Pall Mall, London, W.C.] on 22 December 1861.

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


Re. plans to return to England; GS's preoccupation with politics; Alfred Russel Wallace's paper on New Guinea Native Trade, Blondin, Mr Fechter; "Great Expectations"; wet season in Sumatra; jungle animals; monkey behaviour; Malay language and customs; [Mony's] book on Java; Dutch and British colonial government; GS's siblings; Marriage, desirable qualities in a wife.

Record notes

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (1)

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LETTER (WCP378.378)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/53
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
21/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Lobo Raman, Sumatra

Dec[embe]r 22nd 1861

My dear George,

Between eight & nine years ago, when we were concocting that absurd book, "Travels on the Amazon & Rio Negro", you gave me this identical piece of paper, with sundry others, -- & now having scribbled away my last sheet of "hot pressed writing" & being just 60 miles from another, I send you back your gift, with interest -- so you see a good action sooner or later finds its sure reward.

I now take my pen to write to you a letter I hope for the last time; -- for I trust our future letters may be viva voce as an Irishman might remark, & our epistolary correspondence confined to notes. In fact I really do think & believe I am coming home, & as I am quite uncertain when I may be able to send you this letter I may possibly not be very long after it. Some fine morning (before the Exhibition opens) I expect to walk into [[2]] 79, Pall Mall; & I suppose I shall there find things in general much about the same as if I had walked out yesterday & come in tomorrow. There will you be seated on the same chair at the same table, surrounded by the same account books, & writing upon paper of the same size & colour, as when I last beheld you. I shall find your inkstand pens & pencils in the same place & in the same beautiful order, which my idiosyncrasy compels me to admire but forbids me to imitate (Could you see the table at which I now write your hair would stand on end at the reckless confusion it exhibits!)[.] I suppose you have now added some half dozen other secretaryships to your former multifarious duties. I suppose that you still come every morning from Kensington & return there in the evening, & that things at the Archdeacons go on precisely and identically as they did eight years ago.. I feel inclined to parody the [[3]] words of Cicero & ask indignantly "How long O Georgius will you thus abuse our patience. How long will this sublime indifference last.".. But I fear the stern despot habit has too strongly [1 word illeg.] your claims, & as after preliminary years of torture the indian fanatic can at last only sleep upon his bed of spikes,-- so perhaps now, you would hardly change that daily routine which has lasted so long, even if the opportunity should be thrust upon you. Excuse me my dear George if I express myself too strongly on this subject which is truly no business of mine but I cannot see without regret my earliest friend devote himself so entirely mind & body to the voice[?] of others. [[4]] It is an age since you wrote to me last & yet you might have found plenty to write about without touching upon Politics "Essays & Reviews" & "the Gorilla War" might have filled a page & you might have told me whether my last paper or "New Guinea native trade" was read at the Geographical, or any notice taken of it. Did you go to see "Bloudiu" have you heard Mr Fechter, have you read "Great Expectations"-- On all these famous matters a line or two from you would have been acceptable, whereas even my last somewhat lengthy epistle has not elicited a word. But I must excuse you; -- writing is too much your daily toil, -- we will make up for it all when I return & I will talk with you & argue with you on every Subject under the sun, -- except party politics.

[[5]] I am here in one of the places unknown to the Royal Geog[raphical] Soc[iety]. situated in the very centre of E[ast] Sumatra, 100 miles from sea all round. It is the height of the wet season, & pours down strong & steady generally all night & half the day. Bad times for me, but I walk out regularly 3 or 4 hours every day, picking up what I can, & generally getting some little new or rare or beautiful thing to reward me. This is the land of the two horned Rhinoceros, the Elephant, the tiger, & the tapir, but they all make themselves very scarce, & beyond their tracks & their dung & once hearing a rhinoceros bark not far off,-- I am not aware of their existence. This too is the very land of monkeys, -- they swarm about the villages & plantations, -- long tailed & short tailed & no tail at all,-- white black & gray, they are eternally racing about the tree tops & gamboling in the most amusing manner. The way they do jump is "a caution to snakes"! They throw themselves recklessly through the air; apparently sure with one of their four hands to catch hold of something. I estimated one jump by a long-tailed [[6]] white monkey, at 30 feet horizontal & 60 feet vertical from a high tree on to a lower one; he fell though however so great was his impetus on to a still lower branch & then without a moments stop, scampered away from tree to tree, evidently quite pleased with his pluck. When you startle a lot & one takes a leap like this, it is amusing to watch the others some afraid & hesitating on the brink till at last they pluck up courage take a run at it, & often roll over in the air with their desperate efforts -- Then there are the long armed apes who never walk or run but travel altogether by their long arms swinging themselves along from bough to bough in the easiest & most graceful manner possible -- But I must leave the monkeys & turn to the men who will more interest you though there is nothing very remarkable in them. They are Malays speaking a curious half unintelligible Malay dialect, -- mahometans but retaining many pagan Customs & superstitions. They are very ignorant, very lazy, & live almost absolutely [[7]] on rice alone, thriving upon it however just as the Irish do or did on potatoes. They were a bad lot a few years ago, but the Dutch have brought them into order by their admirable system of supervision & Government. By the by I hope you have read Mr Moneys book on "Java".-- It is well worth while and you will see how that I had come to the same conclusions as to Dutch colonial government from what I saw in Menado.

Nothing is worse & more absurd than the sneering predjudiced[sic] tone in which almost all English writers speak of the Dutch Government in the East. It never has been worse than ours has been, & it is now much better, & what is greatly to their credit & not generally known, they take nearly the same pains to establish order & good government in those islands & possessions wh[ich] are an annual loss to them, as in those which yield them a revenue. I am convinced their system is right & ours wrong in principle, -- though of course in the practical working there maybe & must be defects, & among [[8]] the dutch themselves both in Europe & India there is a strong party against the present system, but they are mostly merchants & planters who want to get the trade & commerce of the country made free, wh[ich] in my opinion would be an act of suicidal madness, & would moreover injure instead of benefiting the natives.

Personally I do not much like the dutch out here, or the dutch officials; -- but I cannot help bearing witness to the excellencies of their government of native races, gentle yet firm, respecting their manners customs & predjudices[sic], yet introducing everywhere European law order & industry..

Singapore -- January 20th 1862

Thus far had I written when I received yours of Novr 12th. It really pained me to find you so desponding, & surprised me to hear that you are still burthened with the support of relations who I had imagined would by this time have been able even to take upon themselves theburthen you have so long borne. [[9]] Your brothers can surely now support themselves, & I have I think heard that your sister has musical talents & skill to enable her to support herself; -- & I had certainly imagined that she was somewhat of a strong minded young lady who would have scorned vulgar predjudices[sic] & disregarded your wishes on this matter; -- and I must say I should have admired her conduct more had she done so.

On the question of marriage, we probably differ much. I believe a good wife to be the greatest blessing a man can, [1 word deleted illeg.] enjoy & the only road to happiness but the qualifications I should look for are probably not such as would [[10]] satisfy you. My opinions have changed much on this point. I now look at intellectual companionship as quite a secondary matter, & should any good stars now send me an affectionate good tempered & domestic wife, I should care not one iota for accomplishments or even for education.

I cannot write more now. I do not yet know how long I shall be here, perhaps a month.Then ho! For England!..

In haste | yours most affectionately | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

G. Silk Esq.

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