Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP5291

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
William Fletcher Barrett
28 January 1882

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming to William Fletcher Barrett [none given] on 28 January 1882.

Record created:
08 May 2013 by Catchpole, Caroline


No summary available at this time.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP5291.5835)

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

Held by:
Cambridge University Library
Finding number:
SPR. MS 3/A4/139
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Private Frith Hill, Godalming.

Jan[uar]y. 18th. 1882

My dear Barrett,2

In answer to some enquiries Mr. Burnett has sent me a list of the committee appointed & resolutions passed by the Soc[iety]. for Psyc[hical]. Res[earch]. but these give little information. What I want to know is that there should be a definite arrangement to publish the results of all observations & experiments worth anything, with the names of the persons who make them; and not spend the funds on a house or expensive rooms, Library &c. -- all very well but not essential to research.

I must say, privately , that the appointment of Mr. Sidgwick3 as President does not give me much confidence. He has been enquiring into the subject years before you began, years before even Crookes4 began, -- [[2]] He has had ample means of experiment, & he has, I know, from records kept by Mr. Myers5 & which he showed me, witnessed a number of most extraordinary phenomena. But during all this time not one word has he said or printed to support those who bear the obloquy of a belief in the phenomena, & when friends have enquired what he has seen he has thrown cold water on the whole thing & has given them to believe it was all a fiasco! How Can such a man as President inspire any Confidence? I feel certain he will not admit the results of enquiry by committees to which he does not belong & I very much doubt if he will give his name to any facts without such qualifications & doubts as [[3]] to render them worse than useless, -- in fact damaging rather than otherwise.

I think first -- everything must be devoted to research & publication of researches -- You will not have too much money for that, I feel none.

2. Definite principles of reporting facts & results must be laid down. E.g. Facts must be reported, & the direct and natural inferences stated, without any regard to preconceived ideas of what is probable a[nd] improbable; -- and, no doubt must [word illeg. crossed-out] be allowed to be expressed in the reports, merely because some member or members of the Committee were absent. If they do not attend the sh[oul]d. be fbound to accept unreservedly the statements of the facts observed by those who do attend; -- further, -- no doubts must be allowed in the Reports as to possible imposture, without direct experimental proof that, under the conditions, imposture [[4]]6 was possible.

This last is of vital importance, because Mr. Myers assured me that Sidgwick, was always making suggestions, of how the phenomena might possibly be produced without ever attempting to show that they sh[oul]d. could possibly be so produced. If this is allowed there is an end to rational enquiry.

Remember Crookes fine electrical test of Eva Fay7. Dr Carpenter8 says it can easily be evaded[?]! The world believes him, & the men who were present -- not one of them have come forward to attest what they witnessed.

Why has S[idgwick]. not said one word to support you on the thought-reading? If he is afraid of his reputation he is not fit to be President.9

Till all the above points are settled, it appears to me premature to appoint these "Committees of Research", and I do not wish to join any society till I know that the actual results of research will be given to the public in a way to carry weight.

Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

P.S. I am delighted that you are interested in the Land Question. I am printing a book on it. Have you read H. George’s10 book -- Progress and Poverty? If not get it.


1. There are a number of inscriptions and catalogue/reference numbers written on the first page of the letter. In the top left hand-hand corner "From A R Wallace" and some associated initials (possibly [?]RS) has been written in broad pencil. In the top right-hand corner, "WALLACE" has been written and, below this, and on separate lines are the numbers "4" and "135". Midway down the letter, in the left hand margin, there is the partial imprint of the stamp of the Society for Psychical Research. Finally, at the bottom of the page, there is a file or catalogue reference: "SPR.MS 3/A4/139".

2. Sir William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1925). Physicist and psychical researcher, and co-founder of the Society for Psychical Research.

3. Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900). English utilitarian philosopher and economist. A founder member and the first President of the Society for Psychical Research. He was President for two periods, 1882-1885 and 1888-1893.

4.Sir William Crookes (1832-1919). British chemist and science journalist. Following the death of a brother in 1867, he became a supporter of psychic phenomena and mediumship.

5. Frederic William Henry Myers (1843-1901). English co-founder of the Society of Psychical Research, of which he became honorary secretary and president. His chief publication was Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, Longmans, Green & Co, London, 1903.

6. The stamp of the Society for Psychical Research is in the right-hand margin, mid-way down the page.

7. Anna Eva Fay (1851-1927). American medium and mind reader. Her ‘act’ was eventually exposed by Harry Houdini.

8. William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885). English physician and invertebrate zoologist. He was a critic of claims of paranormal phenomena, psychical research and Spiritualism.

9. These two sentences are inserted as a post-scriptum between the preceding and following paragraphs. There being insufficient room, second sentence is written vertically, in the lower half of the right-hand margin.

10. Henry George (1839-1897). American writer, politician and political economist.

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