Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP390

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Thomas Sims
20 January 1851

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Guia, Upper Rio Negro to Thomas Sims [none given] on 20 January 1851.

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


Wallace tells of the post he has recently received from Mr Stevens (re the safe arrival of his Rio Negro birds), his cousins George Wilson and Percy Wilson, his brother John, his mother and sister Fanny, and Illustrated London News. Since arriving in Guia 3 months ago Wallace says he has not been idle but has not been very successful in his collecting. Wallace talks of travelling up stream with some Indian hunters, surviving on farinha and salt, and limited luck in finding Gallos de Serra, insects or other birds. He tells of his plans to travel into Venezuela near to the source of the Rio Negro and then up the River Vaupes or Isanna (for anthropological and geographical interest rather than to enhance his collections. Wallace also tells of his publishing plans, specifically: His journal, an illustrated volume on fishes of Brazil, an illustrated volume on palms, an illustrated map of the "Physical History of the Great Amazon valley, comprising its Geography, Geology, distribution of Animals and Plants, Meteorology & the history & Languages of the Aboriginal tribes", and describing his collection of butterflies. Wallace asks that this information be treated as confidential and talks of missing home.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP390.390)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/73
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
22/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Guia, upper Rio Negro,

Jan. 20th. 1851

My dear Thomas

The "Correio" or post from Barra arrived here three days ago, and brought me letters from home of May 1st. and July 12th. 1850. together with one from Mr Stevens of the latter date informing me of the safe arrival of my Rio Negro birds. There were also letters from my cousins George & Percy Wilson and a small packet of Illustrated London news which are always most acceptable..At the same time I received three letters from John the first of his that have reached me dated respectively Jan. 1st., April 20 Feb 26, and April 29th. 1850 and giving me full accounts up to the termination of his wood cutting expedition..My Mother & Fanny seem to think his misfortunes were partly his own fault & that he should not have undertaken the job, but as it was not the time to go to the mines, his only choice was to work or be idle, & I think he did perfectly right to undertake it..

In our next we shall hear how he gets on at the mines, if he goes there, but as his letters are so long reaching me I have told him not to write to me for the future but that you will forward me the letters you receive from him,-- which I hope for the future will be done.. I shall of course keep them safe for they are very well written & if I were in England, to arrange and cut out unnecessary parts I would publish them.. I write to you because I have much to say that more particularly concerns you, but my Mother & Fanny must consider the letter also to them as much as if I had addressed them directly.. You have not doubt received the letters I wrote you from Barra on receipt of your last and also those I wrote on the voyage here. I have now been here three months but have not been very successful in my collections. However I have not been idle and send a small box to Mr Stevens containing one which he will forward to you & which I will say more about by and bye.1 [[2]] I have been spending a month with some Indians 3 days journey up a narrow stream -- From there we went ½ a days journey through the forest to a "serra" or rocky mountain where the celebrated Gallos de Serra breed. But we were there very unfortunate for though I had with me 10 hunters & we remained nine days at the Serra suffering many inconveniences, (having only taken farinha and salt with us) I only got a dozen Gallos whereas I had expected in less time to have arranged fifty. Insects there were none at all & other good birds excessively rare -- My canoe is now getting ready for a further journey up to near the Sources of the Rio Negro in Venezuela where I have reason to believe I shall find Insects more plentiful and at least as many birds as here -- On my return from there, I shall take a voyage up the great River Vaupes or another up the Isanna, not so much for my collections which I do not expect to be very profitable there, but because I am so much interested in the country & the people that I am determined to see & know more of it and them than any other European traveller -- If I do not get profit I hope at least to get some credit as an industrious and persevering traveller -- You ask me about my book, and I will now give you my present ideas & intentions on that important subject -- 1st. then my journal goes steadily on, and I am inclined to think it is now better written and more interesting than the part you have -- That will I think have to be cut down & corrected a little, and I by the time I get home the whole will I think form a pretty thick volume -- 2nd. I am preparing a work by which I think I shall obtain some credit, namely, one on the fishes of this country, which I intend to contain figures of all the species -- I am very much interested in them and have already made drawings of one hundred different kinds almost all since leaving [[3]] Barra and I believe I have not yet got half the Rio Negro species -- In the Amazons there are great numbers of kinds not found in these black waters and in the temperate regions of the Andes others different from these of the hotter low lands so that, if I am enabled successfully to prosecute my voyage there I have no doubt of getting an immense number of species,-- and perhaps the greater part of them are yet undescribed. I also write full descriptions to accompany the figures and notes of their habits &c whenever I can obtain information -- The figures [hole in paper] take great pains with & find I can do them [hole in paper] I think to those of some of the best works [hole in paper] History ---

3rd. I am also making characteristic sketches of the Palms with descriptions & notes of their uses &c. they are numerous. I am already acquainted with forty different species and have drawn thirty -- so that by the time I return they will also probably have increased sufficiently to form a volume --

4th. I am collecting information, & thinking about a work on the Physical History of the Great Amazon valley, comprising its Geography, Geology, distribution of Animals and Plants, Meteorology & the history & Languages of the Aboriginal tribes -- to be illustrated by a great map showing the colour of the waters, the extent of the flooded lands, the boundaries of the great forest district &c, &c --

I shall have a good deal of information, from personal observation & from the Indians, on the habits & natural history of the animals of the country which may perhaps amount to sufficient for a separate little work - as comparatively little is known of many of the animals of this country, [1 word crossed out and illeg.] more than except stuffed specimens --.2

[[4]] And lastly there will be my collection of Butterflies which some day will furnish me work describing the new species which are very numerous. --

These are my present ideas as to what I shall give to the public on my return & you will see that I have plenty of work for two or three years, as all will require more or less research in Museums & Libraries to make them as complete as I should wish any thing I publish, to be. I give you all this for your own private information & do not wish it to [hole in paper] public, as there is "many a slip [hole in paper] [between the cup] and the lip" & I may never be able to do half I should wish -- If you asked as to what I intend publishing on my return, you may say, that, besides any journal I shall probably publish some works on the Natural History of the Country. You may perhaps imagine the from the way in which I talk of journeys to the Andes that I have no desire to return home -- But if you think so you are greatly mistaken -- not a day or a night passes that I do not think of all of you -- Whatever inconveniences I suffer, I endure patiently considering that having passed through them will only enhance the pleasure of returning home again. And it is only because I am determined to return with satisfaction & credit to myself & to you all that I have resolved on thoroughly investigating this wonderful country, not merely seeing and doing what others have done before me, but adding something to the stores of science, and giving some information to the world that I alone shall be able to do -- It is this that impels me3


1. The text "Of course direct to Barra as before." is written vertically up the left hand margin of the page.

2. The following text is written vertically up the left hand margin of the page: "The newspapers sent are very irregular, almost every other week being absent, so that many interesting things alluded to I cannot read -- Try and send them regularly -- tied up with string & sealed & tell me in your letters if they the no.[number] sent. I now receive a dozen some of them only payments[?] --"

3. The letter is incomplete and ends here.

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