Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP463

Sent by:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
5 May 1910

Sent by Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch, Theophilo Ottoni, Brazil to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset] on 5 May 1910.

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


Letter with rough ink sketch of a Zeonia butterfly at the top of first page and of Nymphalinae butterfly at the bottom of the last page. Re. delay in leaving Brazil due to photographing local families, problems of portrait photograph; reconsidering move (to British Guiana), correspondence with Mr May and Mr Rodway of Georgetown, Barbados, recent changes in laws on immigration into British colonies, possibility of going to Victoria, Espirito Santo, Brazil as living cheaper and postal service more reliable than in Rio state; nature of entomologists, not all collectors lovers of nature, quotes a John Donne verse (probably as quoted in "Walden" by Thoreau) and Emerson on man and nature; collection for Prof Poulton now complete; recent collections of moths and butterflies including an unknown moth and probable Zeonia and a Nymphalinae butterflies (all described in some detail); long local drought affecting crops and food prices; gardening; asks for news of British parliament and budget; unemployment relief, have Mr Mill's [J S Mill] and Alfred Russel Wallace's schemes been tried; asks for copies of "Intensive Culture" published by the "Clarion" and "New Age" article on "The Art of homemaking" by Walter S Sparrow.; Birch, Frederick R, fl 1897-1910; Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1823-1913; May, ?, fl 1910; Donne, John, 1572-1631; Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862; Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882; Poulton, Sir Edward Bagnall, 1856-1943, knight; Rodway, [indecipherable], fl 1910; Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873; Sparrow, Walter S, fl 1910; New Age, The, 1907-1922

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP463.463)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/6/4
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch Literary Estate.

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information




Th[eophilo]. Ottoni,

May 5th 1910.

Dear Dr Wallace,

We received your p.[ost] c.[ard] last weekend, saying that you were not writing a letter because you were not sure where we should be. Alas we are still here & are likely to remain another 2 months until the work that Ive dropped into is finished. I didnt think it w[oul]d be so hard to have anchor! The fact is Ive had to leave my work of preparing for moving & turn photographer. It all came about thro our desire to have a photo of the really beautiful, -- charming house & grounds of our friend Herr Thomas. They the Ts children of course couldnt keep the secret & so Ive had to photograph seven more families than I wanted to. They (the latter) are of course paying me, but I would rather not have been asked to do it. Ive had no peace the last 3 weeks -- spent 4 plates in vain on one child (the Carl Schulys first) [2 word illeg. crossed out] I wish he moved time exposures & the 3rd time the snapshot proved too short an exposure; the 4th plate I exposed accidently thro being flurried by my efforts & failures to get him at the right moment. He is just at the age where he cant understand what "keep still" means. Two others I have to take over again next Sunday. Then there will be the printing & mounting. I am making the cardboard by pasting sheets of the new lye[?] together. (no cardboard can be had in the town.) Of course I am only using the sheets which dont interest us & am cutting out & saving the articles we want. They are to be "slip in" mounts -- white in front, brown at back. The sheets of N. A. between, for each, pasted with mandiocca starch. Right glad I shall be when theyre all done. I was overwhelmed with orders for photographers with [[2]] a week expressing our desire to the Thomass, & have had to refuse several people already. I expect I cd have work of this kind for a year if I wished.

I am sorry you wrote that about Mr M. on a postcard. As he is a well known man in Rio any post office clerk who could read English would be likely to see it & let him hear of it in some way.

You say you have a better opinion of lovers of Nature. Well, so have I, if they are truly lovers of Nature. But not all collectors of insects are lovers of Nature. From my experience as secretary of an Entomological society I have learnt that there are as many kinds of men amongst collectors as amongst any other class. Some of the craftiest schemers I have heard of, have been entomologists, so called. Tho the study of nature should be part of a philosophers life, it does not make a man a philosopher.

"How happys he who hath due place assigned

To his beasts & disaforested his mind!

Can use his horse, goat, wolf, & evry beast,

And is not ass himself to all the rest!

Else man not only is the herd of swine,

But hes those devils too which did incline

Them to a headlong range, & made them worse."

Sometimes it happens that a mans mind is barren in direct proportion to the richness of he collection he has accumulated. I have not yet met a man who was not limited in some direction. Think of keeping in ones cabinet five whole drawers of one species of moth! Does such a hoarder deserve the name of a man even, let alone that of a [one word illegible crossed out] philosopher? What does Emerson say?: --

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun? [[3]] Loved the woodrose, & left it on its stalk?

O, be my friend, & teach me to be shine[?]

Mr. May who is, I think, "jannock" after all wrote assuring assuring me that Theregopolis was not a place which would satisfy the desires I had expressed in my letters to him & advising me not to go there under the circumstances. He also sent me word about fares to Barbados & stated that if I determined to go Intermediate I should have to be prepared to deposit £30 extra with the Co. in case we were refused a landing at Barbados! This because of certain new laws for immigrants to the Brit. Colonies. So if we are compelled to stay in Brazil for a while I think of going to a place near Victoria Guandu [1 word illeg.] the head of the estuary of the Doce. in Espirito Santo. as there we may be able to live more cheaply than in Rio state & we shall have a more reliable mail service than we have here. Further I shall be able to dispatch my colls. myself without danger from a rattling bumping railway journey. & chance of their going astray.

If we do get clear of this thiefcursed country we may or may not go to B. Guiana, it will depend on what we hear from Mr. Rodway of Georgetown to whom I wrote some time ago. Please address your next two letters after receipt of this here. We have had a very long drought -- the grass in the pasture is all brown & withered & the bean crop all over the region is standing still just before flowering. It is pitiful to see it. Beans are 20 milreis the alqueira in the town, i.e. 3 " 1 ½ for 1/8 of an alqueira about 14 lbs weight. The usual price is 8 to 12 mil. the alqueira.

Fortunately the corn & rice crops were good. They were harvested during March & early April. [[4]] My crop -- the butterflies I mean have been more abundant throughout this drought than I expected they would be. & I have now got for Prof. Poulton a set of most of the species I have taken here. I have also got a lot of fine moths, Erebidae etc. at fruit wh.[ich] I laid many nights in succession along border of forest. One glorious species with light gray forewings & orange h. wings crossed by wavy black bars -- expands about 4 inches. Can you tell me its name? One exquisite little butterfly I must tell you about. Of it I wrote in my diary: - "Coming back about 11 a.m. April 14 I had the great good fortune to take the most wonderful little butterfly I have ever seen -- on the white flowers of the weed like travellers joy -- a delicate long tailed species of Zeonia? In it I have realized at last that old imaginary vision of my boyhood, when I thought I saw just such an insect fly from beneath the coping stone of the wall in Olive Vale Wavertree. For months I used to haunt the place in the hope of seeing another & at last had to believe that I was mistaken; but here, 22 years after, I have actually seen & caught its counterpart, & found that the old earth will sometime & somewhere satisfy ones wildest dreams!" It is only about 1 1/8 inch in expanse but the h. wings are from my recollections quite 7/8 of an inch long from base to tip & twisted once in their length. All the wings are black & the front pair are crossed by a bar of white. There are a few small red spots on body. It seemed marvellous that such a delicate thing could exist at all even in the stillest atmosphere. I dared not let it fly in order to watch how it used those long tails, lest I shd lost it, but from the short flights it took in the next I think they are trailed. Is it new? It seems to be smaller than any I have seen figures of. I have been to the place 6 times since at the same time of day & have examined all the patches of that flower that I know of, but have not seen another. Another fine species now to me is dark blue forest nymphaline 1 ½" in expanse shaped like siderone but having the outer hind angle of forewing formed into a distinct hook thus -- [a sketch of a butterfly appears here]. If you happen to come across its name I shd be glad to know it. We have had nothing lately from our garden except Okra & shayote & squashes, 106 squashes from 8 seeds! everything too dry. But you may be interested to hear that one of the carrots I planted last April 1909. is now bearing seed abundantly. I counted 59 flowering heads on it & there are now still more. Do please send me "Intensive Culture" published by the "Clarion" office [the following text appears on the left margin of the current page] price 3d. We dont know yet whether the Liberals or Conservatives have the majority in Parliament. has the Budget [the following text appears on the right margin of the current page] been passed? Have the unemployed been relieved? Has your and Mr. Mills scheme been tried yet? [the following text appears on the top margin of the current page] The main stem of our biggest squash was 30 yards long by measure & 2 ½ inches thick above root. [the following text appears on the top margin of p. 1] Of the N. A. we specially want Nov. 25 for the 2nd part of the article on the art of homemaking by Walter S. Sparrow. Rough sketch of little Zeonia [a sketch of a butterfly appears here.]

Yours affectionately | Fred. [signature]

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.