Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP450

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Annie Wallace (née Mitten)
19 June 1887

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Stockton, California, USA to Annie Wallace (née Mitten), [Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming] on 19 June 1887.

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


In this letter Wallace instructs his wife Annie how to complete his tax return in his absence. Wallace also chastises Annie for not dating her previous two letters to him and states that their daughter has picked up this bad habit, but their son Willie, "shows the hereditary business instinct of the male animal by duly dating"! Wallace bemoans the US government postal weight restrictions affecting his posting of plants back to England. Wallace concludes his letter by stating how miserable California is and that "nowhere in America yet have I seen a place I should like to live in". Plant species mentioned include: Calochortus venustus, Brodicea grandiflora.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP450.450)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/5/34
Copyright owner:
©A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Stockton. Cal.[ifornia]

June 19th. 1887.

My dear Annie

First of all about business matters. The receipts for books, papers, &c. from America should not be returned till the books &c. they refer to have arrived, which may be months afterwards. You cannot acknowledge the receipt of a thing till you have received it. The same with the arrow-heads, books &c. which came from Smithsonian Institute. The Income tax paper was to have been returned within 21 days of the time you received it --19th. of April last. If you have not had trouble about this already I now return it filled up as near as I can. It has to have only my earnings by lectures, articles &c. as all the receipts from Pension, Companies &c. have the Income tax deducted. Last year I think I returned about £100 but I forget exactly, and I put the same for this year, as I cannot possibly tell yet if any profits will be more or less than if I had remained in England. On the cover of the cheque book of last year you will find a note of what I stated[?] last year, and if you have another paper to fill up you can put the same.

I have just returned from the Yosemite & Big Trees, & found your two last letters, one having come from Williams & one direct here. They are both very interesting and I am glad to hear the garden is going on so well. [[2]] You will make quite a gardener with your experiences in weeding. The discovery of the Gentians is very nice & shows you have improved by practice. I am very glad they are doing so well. If dry weather comes you must give them a drenching of water every time you pass them.

Another business detail, you have put no dates to either of your letters so that I cannot tell when they were written or which was written first. Violet has followed your bad example, but Willie shows the hereditary business instinct of the male animal by duly dating although his writing is a most vile scribble. I am glad to hear from Violet that he is looking so well. The place and the living evidently agree with him. I had a letter the same time from your father, but he concludes that he cannot come to the Rocky Mountains as I had half hoped. He tells me about the further improvements in the cottage and of his purchase of a piece of the town field which will give him another garden. I also have a letter from Miss Jekyll telling me that most of the plants I sent have arrived safely & all but the lot from Sioux City in good condition. The next lots from Manhattan and Salina in Kansas I fear will not arrive at all as I have just found that the U.S. Government have reduced the weight allowed in the Foreign Sample Post [[3]] from 12 oz. to 8 ¾ oz. My last parcels were just under 12 oz. so they will doubtless be stopped. I have had a lot of tin boxes made here just before I learnt about the alteration & now they will be useless as they weigh 5 - 6 oz. each & that will allow only 2 oz. for plants & cover. I have however hit upon a new plan which I think will do excellently. I have got a lot of tea lead from the grocers & by wrapping up the plants in that I think they will go safely & well, and with a great saving in weight over boxes. I have already found growing here 3 species of Calochortus all very lovely, and some of them in quantities but they are most difficult to dig up as the tubers are very small and are attached to the stem by a slender & very brittle root which inevitably breaks off & the tuber and can not be found. One day I dug at about 20 specimens and got only 4 - 5 bulbs till I gave it up in despair. The lovely blue lily-like plant that grows on our Cape bulb bed at the further end (Brodicea grandiflora) is very plentiful in the hills growing in the most arid & stony places the leaves dying away just as they do with us. Sometimes among[?] corn it grows like our corn flowers and I have seen it in the middle of a dry dusty wood. In one old bed of a dry reservoir there were thousands [[4]] of the Calochortus venustus, varying from white to pink & purple and masses of the blue Brodicea, but we were going by in a coach to Yosemite & could not stop. Having now travelled 400 - 500 miles in California, I can confidently say that it is a most miserable country to live in (whatever it may be to make money in) I allude of course to people like ourselves who enjoy the country to walk and picnic in. Nowhere have I seen a patch of grass that was not swamp (and very little of that) every where bare earth, dust, or rock under a blazing sun. The dust is horrible on all the roads - exposed for 6 - 7 months to sun. Even the Yosemite Valley was mostly dry & dusty. At 5.. 6 thousand feet elevation in the great pine forests the scenery is grand & sunny [1 word crossed out and illeg.] places charming, but even then, there is no grass & usually bare ground in the woods, & in winter there is snow on the ground for 3 months. Nowhere in America yet have I seen a place I should like to live in; none in which the country can be enjoyed as it can in England. There may be such spots in the South Eastern States as Carolina, Georgia or Alabama, - but there too I fancy there is no grass, and none of the pleasant places so abundant in England. And even the flowers though new & interesting to us are rarely as abundant or so really beautiful as our English or European flowers! I will write to Violet1 about the Yosemite & Big trees;

so now farewell from your affectionate Husband. | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]


1. The text block from "about the Yosemite" to the signature is written vertically up the left side of page 4.

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