Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP706

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Sent by:
Fred R. Birch
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
14 February [1904]

Sent by Fred R. Birch, ?Waverly to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Old Orchard, Broadstone, Dorset] on 14 February [1904].

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


Relates his impressions on returning to Oxford. Professor Poulton was exceedingly kind to him and Birch was able to make many sketches of insects.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP706.878)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418356
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Fred R. Birch Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information




Wave[MS burned]

Feb. 14[MS burned]

Dear Mr. Wallace

I got home last night after two days at Oxford & two elsewhere visiting friends.

Thanks for sending pen. I am glad to see it again as I was afraid it had jerked out of my pocket [MS burned] is too good a friend to lose.

I had to change trains four times between Broadstone & Oxford in Poole, Winchester, Basingstoke, & Reading! What a hoary[?] old place Oxford is! There one can easily realize the middle ages. It seemed to me as <if> I had actually dropped b<ack?> 500 years into some quaint [MS burned] [[2]] [MS burned] town on the continent [MS burned] the soothsayer and alchemist [MS burned] still be found. But the [MS burned]ball gear of the students seemed strangely out of keeping with the rest! My short life there was passed between Wykeham House & the Museum.

Besides this I had only time to look into one or two quadrangles on my way to the station, so that it remains almost as fair & mysterious in my thought as ever. The only thing that jarred upon me was the universal robe of darkness which prevailed. Such soulkilling uniformity is disgusting painful to a naturalist who, of all men, should rejoice in individuality. It really did seem absurd to see some fine strapping young fellow swinging along in all the vigour of early manhood yet consenting to wear that [incon?]venient [comp]lete vesture - a mere appendage tacked [on] which at once proclaimed him as [[3]] one of a genus rather than [MS burned]. I preferred the football gear; there seemed too much slavish following [of] fashion. Why will not men fol<low> their own genius rather than that of their mentors who have already succumbed to custom? When they <do> they will be as interesting as nature.

[Entire following paragraph crossed out] Besides this I wondered how and which/who forms two or more species from [MS burned] of them were running their rather irrep[MS burned] How could trees be beautiful if they [MS burned] into debt with their extravagant easy way of living did not carry out their own peculiar character to the ends of their smallest branches. So i believe with men - es[MS burned] should be a species in himself! What is the use of being the most adaptible creature on the earth if he can’t be? It is a shame we cannot make our own precedents! There, I’ve had my rave and I expect you think me silly, but no, you won’t, you are an out & out radical & I rejoice at it. [end crossed out section]

Prof. Poulton was exceedingly kind <to> me. He showed me all he could [MS burned] [[4]] [MS burned] Besides about 1000 drawers [MS burned] which I examined myself. [He] showed me his collection of Membracida [MS burned]ly the most curiously developed insect [I] ever saw, or ever expect to. I took sketches <of> nearly all the genera of these. The first evening I learnt some things of value from [MS burned] Dr Evans who has been curator of G[eorge]town museum for the last 2 years and who returned to England in Oct[ober]. The 2nd evening I read [MS burned] Ps. paper on Mimicry in the Trans. [1 word illeg.][MS burned] & on Thursday morning saw the Membrasida [to] which part of the paper refered. The same morning also I signed the agreement slightly altered [MS burned] you drew up. My captures are to remain all together until I return so that I can indicate wh[ich] species took most of my time & attention & point them in if they if any of the species have any value beyond what I have received for them [by] reason of extra labour in procuring I may be able to indicate them easily. The arrangement I made was to leave it wholly to Prof. P to say when he thought [MS burned] earned the £10. I have to [MS burned] direct to the Mus[eum]. He seemed [MS burned] me to send direct to the museum.

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