Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP715

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
19 June 1904

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, [Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset] to Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch [none given] on 19 June 1904.

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


Discusses how flying fish may appear to fly and offers advice on eating and staying healthy in the tropics.

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  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP715.887)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418585
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




[MS burned]

June 19th. 1904

My dear Fred

I was pleased to have your Journal of the voyage to read. No doubt you enjoyed yourself as the only passenger! Your dissertations on the Flying Fish are very interesting but of course you are aware that it is denied that they actually fly; and to prove it you must show that they rise in the air after the initial jump, by motion of pectoral fins. I am inclined to think myself that repeated rises during the lung undulating flights are produced by the action of the tail, by the fish turning on its side when the downward motion of the tail will cause an upward rise of the body. But the question is whence comes the onward impulse during the long flights of 60 to 100 yards, I think you said. That could all be from the initial lead out of the water, and it seems as if the propulsion must be caused by the pectoral fins. Did you actually see the double motion of these [1 word illeg.] flight, backwards & forwards or up and down, rapidly repeated? Your observation [[2]] will have to be very precise and often repeated to satisfy the biological authorities on this point. The whole problem is, are the pectoral fins a parachute and balancer, or are they real organs of propulsive flight?

I have got from the library of the R. G. Society, Stark’s Guide and History of Trinidad; an American book published in 1896. It contains a fair large-scale map of the Island, by which I saw that Sangre Grande is a river flowing East, and that there is a road from Valentia crossing it near the crossing that the settlement of Sangre Grande is situated and it looks very promising if there is virgin forest around it and plenty of paths & roads and new clearings to make it accessible and productive. In another book I have, the Dry season is said to be February March & April. While June to August is very wet, & on to January still wet. I am afraid therefore you have lost the best season unless Sangre Grande is rather exceptionally dry. [[3]] But the most important part of Stark’s book to me (& probably to you) is, that he went up the Orinoco to Bolivar, and also to the recently worked great Petroleum lake of Venezuala, a little north of the Orinoco Delta and near the foot of the Eastern mountain range of Venezuela.

From his account Bolivar is in a wretched barren country, no forest and quite hopeless for a naturalist; while of the small place, on the way there he says hardly anything, but Barraueas at the head of the Delta would seem the more likely place as a road is marked on his map starting from it right across the country to Cumana on the N. Coast. But the pitch-lake and its settlement of Guanoco is quite different. [1 word illeg.] is only three days journey from Port of Spain, whence a railway of 5 miles through the forest goes to the lake. This and the whole country round for hundreds of miles is leased to an American Company, and Mr. Carner, an Enquirer, is (or was) the Manager. It has been worked now for about 12..14 years and no doubt a good deal of clearing and woodcutting must be always going on there. The forests all around are said to be magnificent, swarming with game of every description, and in the centre of the wildest and least [[4]] explored parts of S. America & of the Indies. It seems to me likely to <be> one of the richest and least explored tracts of Eastern South America yet remaining, probably richer than any part of Brit. Guiana, while the great ease of getting there, the freedom from Government red-tapes, and the advantage of being among Americans, who would, I am sure, welcome and help you in every way, would be enormous. There are also lots of absolutely uncivilised indians in the forest around, while, as many of the labourers are sure to be Spaniards you would have the advantage of learning the language. Another advantage id that you would go direct from Port of Spain [7 words obscured at stained fold] there at once in your head quarters with no further expense of traveling. Stark says, at the end of his very short account, that the journey from Trinidad is "a trip unequaled in the world, never to be forgotten." It is therefore most important for you to ascertain when the Manager comes to Port of Spain, and then be sure to go and see him and ascertain all about the place, the wet and dry seasons there, and if he will allow you to live there, for collecting only. Trinidad is only a temporary make-shift. Guiana would be the real thing. Everything would be worth collecting there. [[5]] [MS burned] written the preceding to post to you tomorrow when I recieved yours of May 26th. from Sangre Grande. I hope by the time this reaches you, you will have recovered your health, and be able to collect quietly and efficiently. I have a very strong opinion as to the cause of your weakness and general sufferings, and believe you are totally on the wrong tack. I feel sure that the want of nourishing food on the voyage, caused your system to be weakened, and the sudden violent exertion at Grenada, the exposing yourself to various irritations & extensive sun-burns, followed by the worries of landing at Trinidad & going to Sangre Grande, have thoroughly disorganized your alimentary system, and impoverished your blood and rendered you unable to stand heat or exertion. But this should be only temporary. Instead of your blood being "too thick!" it is too thin - that is impoverished, and you will never be well till you take the most nourishing food you can get, and as much of it as you can enjoy and digest. Do not take "Euo" or any [marginal emendation through page break; written up left side of page] [MS burned] this letter must be nearly 3 weeks s[MS burned] sincerely hope you may have recove[MS burned] [[6]] medicine, and drink freely whenever you are thirsty. The incessant perspiration in the tropics [MS burned] ample fluid to replace it. As you do not eat me<at?> you should eat two eggs at each meal, especi<aly> when there is no fish, - also eat cheese in modera<tion> [MS burned] the most varied vegetables you can get, and plen<ty> of fruit, especially bananas, plantains, and oranges. The cooked plantains, either roasted or fried, are admirab<le>. Also take plenty of preserved milk if no other is to be had, and plenty of butter, to make up for the absence of meat-fat. Do not be afraid of eating too much. You can’t eat too much in such a climate, when doing anything, & you want to get up strength which is only to be got through nourishing food. You really want more food, and more nourishing food, in the tropics than in England, and I hope before you get this you will have seen the error of your ways, you can no<t> more drive a steamer with paper instead of coals than k<eep> up health & strength without good nourishing food, a<nd> plenty of it.

[[7]] [MS burned] send your letter to your sister tomorrow, and to explain that she & your mother are not to be frightened at your weakness, & that you will soon be well again. You are evidently not yet in a place good for collecting but the house in the forest may do, and they will surely let you have it, I should think, and it would be well if you had told him you had a Colonial Office letter of Recommendation to B. Guiana. Also, be sure and ask permission to cut a few trees. for firewood say, & to clear a few paths. Then in the next month you ought to do something. Your collecting so far amounts to about one day’s fair work in a really good locality. I would not collect any birds in Trinidad, if I were you. Stick to insects, mammals, & landshells. I see there are some limestone or living rocks all over the island so you will have a chance of getting some good shells. Is there such a road to the forest-hut & cn you not have a country car? But I hope you will not take more than is necessary there at first. [Following parenthetical note amended to bottom of page] (Now read the other sheet)

[[8]] Having read the account of Guanoco and [MS burned] Venezuelan Pitch Lake, I think you will see the [MS burned] advantage to yourself of going there (if you can) soon as you have taken the cream off the collecting at Sangre Grande, as it will be no further off [MS burned] time, and perhaps less in expense than going to any new locality in Trinidad, which the chances of a rich collecting ground and abundance of new species will be incomparably superior. The situation bears nearly the same relation to the Rinoco valley that Para does to that of the Amazon, and it may be equally rich. If si it will serve as your head quarters for two or three years, and the quick communications with Trinidad will render it as convenient for sending off your collections, getting stores &c. as if you were in any of the remotest parts of that island. It being an American Company and far removed from the inhabited parts of Venezuela you will; be free from all danger from Revolutio[MS burned].

Let me know what you think of it | Believe me, yours very sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Aug. 11. 1904

Original signature given to Mr. A. B. Carr Caparo Trinidad

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