Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP4643

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Sent by:
Abbott Handerson Thayer
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
22 July 1905

Sent by Abbott Handerson Thayer, Monadnock, New Hampshire to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Old Orchard, Broadstone, Dorset] on 22 July 1905.

Record created:
05 August 2014 by Benny, Ruth


Discusses Natural Selection.

Record contains:

  • enclosure (2)
  • letter (1)

View item:

ENCLOSURE (WCP4643.6384)

An enclosure .

Wallpaper birds created by Abbott Thayer for Alfred Russel Wallace.

Held by:
Hope Entomological Library, Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Finding number:
ARW 309
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Abbott Handerson Thayer Literary Estate.

Transcription information




This bit of wall paper represents any animal’s habitual background, and explains at a glance how the same habitat can harmonize with very diverse costumes.

In the great bird of Par[a]dise, green is a small part, corn color (which, in the forest’s bath of green light, becomes the pale green of the more distant and most illumined forest vistas) plays a large part, and tree-trunk-maroon a large one and we find that whereas green parrots haunt the leafiest parts, the Bird of Paradise walks often and climbs on large branches. (This from you)

You can snip out, on this principle, as many different plumages as you please, and all will, like the birds of one home, tend to have wear more or less of each one of the ‘home’s[’] colors, and only long study will show us the why in the birds’ lives[.]


P.S. [1]

The little bird figures in the small envelope are to [be] laid in their respective places in the big piece (on the card). You will see that, placed any where on the card big piece, they do like an animal anywhere in his home pass off their color-patches at worst for occurrences in new places of just so many more places of the pla their homes[’] characteristic colors -- and, when they chance to come exactly into place, they are gone!


P.S. 2

So much is clear, that the mere habit of getting one’s food by reaching down, does if that food be animated and only then, go with, while on the parts that the quarry would see approaching, and

Many herons, eagles, gulls etc. as well as many carnivorous mammals get their food in that way and are colored in conformity. Their heads or bodies showing against the sky would show least, like this card if coloured white.

As to the deer, hares, etc. this all furnishes an escape from the attempt to reconcile the revelation of the fleeing animals’ course to his enemy as well as to his friends.



P.S. 3

This all shows how the wearing of any one of the sets of a region[’]s characteristic colors, as those its sunlit earth and grasses show, or those its green vistas crossed by twigs show, or any other, according to the animal’s life, can be a great factor it in survival and cause as many species as have the same habits to have the colors.

I am well aware how closely much of my theory conforms to your own -- By the way, appendages are a great obliterators and cooperating with matching of background to conceal characteristic contour[s].

I believe this argus pheasant principle may be deep at the root of the extension of butterflies[’] wings.


Small envelope2 bearing the words:

Wallpaper birds to go with the larger piece of wallpaper


1. A note by Abbott H. Thayer stuck onto stiff wallpaper with small envelope attached by cotton.

2. The envelope contains five small cut-outs of birds and there is also a larger cut-out of a bird with this item (too big to fit into the envelope).

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