Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP433

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Violet Isabel Wallace
15 January 1887

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, The Hamilton Hotel, Washington D.C., USA to Violet Isabel Wallace, [Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming] on 15 January 1887.

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


Detailed description of a sťance in Boston at which spirits including those of an American Indian and a baby apparently materialised; another sťance at which spirits of Alfred Russel Wallace's Australian cousin Algernon Wilson and a woman who had met Alfred Russel Wallace at Kate Cook's apparently materialised; floral decorations at a dinner in Boston hosted by John M Forbes with guests including Asa Gray, O W Holmes and James Russell Lowell, sending Violet a menu; sending a poem suitable for reciting cut from a magazine; beauty of the city of Washington; lack of lecture engagements, may go to Canada; letter to be forwarded to Violet's aunt Fanny (Sims).

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP433.433)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/5/14
Copyright owner:
©A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information




The Hamilton, Washington, D.C.

January 15th. 1887.

My dear Violet1

Just before I left Boston I went to several séances & saw some wonderful things which I will tell you about. We examined the room, locked the door, and were quite sure nobody could get in. The medium sat behind a curtain in the corner & there was light enough to see any body moving. Then we saw the medium come out with a figure in white, and also a man, to the middle of the room. Afterwards 3 female figures in white came out together. Then a male figure, recognised by a gentleman as his son. Then a tall Indian, who danced spoke, & shook hands with us all. Then a female figure with a baby. We felt its face and hair & kissed it, and it was just like a real live baby! As soon as the séance was over the gas was turned up, the medium came out, & we looked behind the curtain & found nothing but bare walls & a chair. The door was locked, and some gummed paper I had put over it & privately marked was untouched. There were 10 visitors in all. A few days afterwards we had [[2]] a private séance with a party of spiritualists I had met. Many similar figures came, some very perfect. But two asked for me & this was most interesting. A beautiful female figure in white said she had met me in London at Florence Cooks. She certainly resembled the spirit who used to appear with Florence Cook the medium, and I had often seen and talked with her, but no one in America knew of this. She could not speak much, but certainly seemed to recognise me. Some time after an old gentleman asked for me. I went up to the cabinet and found a rather short old gentleman with white hair & beard, dressed in black with a large white shirt front, who bowed and nodded, looked pleased and shook my hand. I could not think who it was, though I seemed to recognise someone. I thought only of my father, but it was not a bit like him, then of Darwin but it was not like him. Then all of a sudden it flashed on me that it was like the last photograph we have of my cousin Algernon Wilson. The whole figure and cut looked like him, only I had imagined him to be tall [[3]] while the figure was about the height of G. Silk2 or a little taller. I then said, "Is it Algernon?" and he immediately shook my hand, nodded his head several times, & patted me on the shoulder & face, seeming delighted that I had recognised him. This astonished me more than anything I have ever seen, as no one in America knows anything of him while, as he has corresponded with me for many years, has written a good deal about me in Australia, and died just as he had arranged to come over to England and visit us, he was more likely than any one else, just now, to come to me.

Just before I left Boston a rich merchant, Mr. John. M. Forbes, invited me to dinner at an hotel and asked Dr. O.W. Holmes3 Dr. Asa Gray4, Hon. James Russell Lowell5, & other celebrated men to meet me. The dinner was first rate. Before every plate was a glass vase full of flowers. I had about 20 lovely rose buds, others had violets, others jonquils, each a different sort of flower, while the whole table was strewn over with maiden-hair fern. I send you the Bill of Fare by book-post. I put up with it a little poem I I6 enclose a letter for Willie which please send him if the holidays are over. [[4]] cut out of a magazine here. It is a lovely thing to recite, if you learn to give it proper expression. Study it well, put yourself in the place of the heroine, and you will make a sensation when you recite it. There is the subject of a whole novel in those few verses.

I have now been here two weeks. It is a most beautiful city -- wide streets all with trees, & plenty of squares & gardens and monuments. It has been very cold & sunny, but is now finer & warmer. The people here are very civil, and are so enthusiastic in their compliments that they make me quite ashamed! Everybody says it is an honour to meet me, that they have read my books all their lives, & have longed to see me, &c. &c. &c. &c. There are grand museums here and I have plenty to do going over them, but I am sorry to say that I have hardly any lecture-engagements yet, unless I go to Canada in the middle of winter. Send this letter to your Aunt Fanny7 to read as I cannot write about the spirits twice over.

With love to Ma8 & Willie9 | Believe me | your affectionate Papa Alfred R. Wallace [signature]


1. Violet Wallace (1869-1945), ARWs daughter.

2. George Silk, Wallaces lifelong friend.

3. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), American physician, poet, professor, lecturer and author.

4. Asa Gray (1810-1888), American botanist.

5. James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), American poet and diplomat.

6. The block of text from "I" to "over" is written vertically up the left margin of p. 3.

7. Frances Sims (neé Wallace) (1812-1893), ARWs sister "Fanny".

8. Annie Wallace (neé Mitten) (1846-1914), ARWs wife.

9. William Greenell Wallace (1871-1951), ARWs son.

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