Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP422

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Annie Wallace (née Mitten)
23 October 1886

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, New York Hotel, New York, USA to Annie Wallace (née Mitten), [Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming] on 23 October 1886.

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


Letter from Alfred Russel Wallace to his wife Annie, from New York hotel, (USA), Saturday 23 Oct 1886, continued Monday from 142 East 19th Street New York; re. sea voyage from England, a week of rough weather and seasickness followed by five days of calm; ships food; passengers, one American an accomplished comic actor and singer; charades, concerts and deck quoits; chess with ships doctor and an American passenger; New York harbour, delay at customs, Mr Browne not there to meet him; hotel recommended by Mr Wood, hotel rooms and food; meeting with Mr Browne and transfer to his house; Mrs Browne; meeting with Mayoral candidate Mr George; visit to Central Park; plans to go to Boston on Thursday; Statue of Liberty very fine.

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  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP422.422)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/5/1
Copyright owner:
©A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




New York Hotel

Saturday, Oct 23rd 1886, 10pm

My dear Annie1

On reaching this hotel at 6 this evening I immediately sent off a telegram to your father at Hurst to let you all know that I had arrived safely as I suppose you will be there now.

I will now give you a brief record of our voyage.

Passing Grays I had a good view of the Dell2 standing nobly up above the surrounding houses. By dark we passed Dover and the next day at noon were off Devonshire with a strong head wind and roughish sea. From that time for a whole week we had bad weather -- very strong wind dead against us and a rough sea, and on Wednesday Thursday and Friday a regular storm and hurricane which howled and roared and hissed about us, sent great waves right on to the upper deck, and rolled and tumbled us about continually. During all this twice I took all my meals in my cabin, as whenever I attempted to set [[2]] up at table I got sick. I had had one of the berths made into a sofa and on this I lay all day long dozing and reading in a state of the most abject misery, and to add to my troubles the tea was coarse and barky and the milk wretched preserved stuff. The other food was very good and I bribed the steward to make me some special tea with and an extra pot of hot milk and so managed to survive. During the two worst days the engines had to go at half speed and so we lost much time which we only partly recovered afterward. The ship was a remarkably steady one and even in the height of the storm did not roll or pitch half so much as most ships do. However I had a sickness and got so out of sorts that I came to the conclusion that the less sea voyages I take the better, and that it will not be wise for me to go on round the world. Unless therefore I have some very great temptation I think I shall stick to America as long as I can get away lecturing and come home next summer.

[[3]] Saturday 16th was the first totally calm day and after that, though the wind was often strong and usually dead against us we had tolerably fine weather, and the last 5 days beautifully clear & sunshiny. The doctor was a very pleasant lively man, and he & one or two others put up charades, & concerts about every evening of the last week & we played quoits of on deck, and I had a few games at chess with him and an American gentleman. One of the passengers was a very clever comic actor & singer & made great fun for us. The captain was a jolly rough sort of a fellow with plenty of talk [[4]] almost as positive and argumentative as the illustrious "Harris". The meals were very good but did not well suit me. Breakfast at 8:30 with 3 or 4 kinds of hot meat, chops, sausages &c. jam, marmalade &c. fish, bloaters, ham, & porridge. Bread very "bakery" is sometimes as elastic as a piece of indiarubber. Lunch at 1 -- cold meat, pickles, bread & cheese. No afternoon tea, but dinner at six, with soup and pints, meat pies & stews, curry, sweet puddings, pies &c. then a cup of bad tea. I had continual indigestion & nausea even in the finest weather and it will probably be another week before my stomach regains its proper [1 word illeg.]

[[5]] New York Harbour is like a large irregular lake with rivers opening into it. There are wooded hills on each side but the leaves are beginning to fall, and the colours were not much better than in England. There was delay when we got in as the Captain had to go on shore to find out what part of the docks the ship was to go to, so we did not get to the Custom House Shed till 5 o'clock, & was left there half an hour till our baggage was examined. Mr. Browne3 did not meet me as they had not sent him word of the ship's arrival as he had requested, but he had asked the Custom House Officers to let my baggage pass without delay which they did, and I took a cab to the Hotel which Mr. Wood4 had recommended & then telegraphed to Hurst & to Mr. Browne. He came up in the evening & was very sorry he had not been able to meet me & asked me to go to his house at once, -- but as I had had dinner & unpacked my things I agreed [[6]] to go next morning.

My room in the hotel was on the 4th floor but a lift is continually going up and down so that it is just the same as being one floor up. The passages of the hotel are all carpeted quite over with thick pile carpets with straw or something soft under them so that there is no noise whatever in walking along them. My room was number 416, so that there are probably 500 bedrooms. The Dancing room on the first floor is magnificent with about 30 or 40 round or oval tables to seat 6or 8 persons each. As I was pretty hungry I enjoyed my first dinner in America. I had Cod & oyster sauce -- most delicious then chicken, sweet potatoes and tomatoes then venison & currant jelly with mashed potatoes, to conclude with apple pie and Italian cream -- spiff!! The apple pie being the most delicate & delicious possible. Then Catawba grapes and bananas for dessert. In the evening I went in to Mr. Browne's house for an hour, and on my way back to the Hotel (with him) my foot caught [[7]] in an uneven heavy stone, which threw me forward a couple of steps and then flat on the pavement, against which my head gently tapped. At first I thought my glasses were smashed, but on getting up I found that the side piece was snapped off, the glasses being luckily unbent. My only personal damage was a minute bit of skin rubbed off three of my knuckles while my knees and head on which I fell were not even bruised, & I have not felt the least inconvenience since, which I considered a very narrow escape. In the morning after packing my things I had breakfast about 10 o'clock, where I luxuriated in stewed oysters, two poached eggs and ham, delicious caked rolls cho splendid coca and cream, with grapes to begin & end with. I forgot to say that in the evening about 9, I had tea, bread and butter & baked apples. Mr. Browne came for me about [[8]] 12, and brought Mr. George5, who is full of work & excitement with his candidature for Mayor of New York. We then arranged to have my baggage sent to Mr. Browne's house by a poster, and paid my bill -- 3 1/3 dollars -- which I thought very moderate for the accommodations and feasting. We then went to see the Central Park and spent several hours there. It is the finest park I have ever seen full of natural rocky hills, valleys, & lakes, nicely wooded and with lots of shrubs and flowers. In the spring & summer it must be lovely, but now the leaves are all dried in the trees by a long spell of draught.

Mr. Browne has a very nice luxuriously furnished house. Mrs. Browne is something like him; fat & very jolly. Having no children she keeps a colony of about half a dozen cats, which live in the back covered verandah. On Thursday I am going to Boston & will write again from there. Send this to Mrs. Luis. A brother of a schoolfellow of Willies for was on board!

Your affectionate Husband | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]


1. Annie Mitten Wallace (1846-1914), Wallace's wife

2. Concrete house in Grays built on the instructions of Wallace who lived there from 1872-1876

3. Albert G. Browne (1835-1891), newspaperman who meets Wallace in New York

4. Possibly Revd. John G. Wood (1827-1889), naturalist

5. Henry George (1839-1897), politician, economist and reformer, ran for the Mayor of New York City for the United Labor Party but ultimately lost to Tammany Hall candidate Abram Stevens Hewitt

6. Text in left margin of page 5 reads "The colossal statue of Liberty is on an island in the Harbour & looks very fine"

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