Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP716

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

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset to Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch Sangre Grande, [Trinidad & Tobago] on 4 July 1904.

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


Hopes that Birch has recovered from his illness, and urges him to take care of his health. Suggests collecting localities that would be healthier and provides collecting tips. Also mentions Edward Bagnall Poulton, T.D.A. Cockerel, George Hampson and W.J. Kaye.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • envelope (1)

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LETTER (WCP716.888)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418595
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




July 4th. 1904

My dear Fred

I was very glad to get your last letter, showing that you had recovered from your slight illness at Sangre Grande, though the end of your letter seemed to imply that it still continued in a less degree, and I sincerely hope it has not developed into a fever. However at this distance, with about five or six weeks between the dispatch of a letter and the receipt of the reply it is no good supposing the worst, and I can only hope you are now well, and that you will remember that you must take care of your health more than you found necessary at home where it took care of itself. It is curious that both I and Bates thoroughly enjoyed the first few months at Para, and felt in every way as well as in the finest summer weather at home. I believe most of the illnesses I has in the tropics - fevers of various sorts - were caused by bad or innutritious food, But we arrived at Para in [[2]] April which was the beginning of the dry season and all life was most abundant and active and the weather most delightful. I hope you will have enquired about some dryer locality, as such a place as your present house, in a narrow valley closely surrounded by forest, must be unhealthy at such a time. Would not Sangre Grande itself be better, more exposed to the sun and air, while any patches of forest would afford you fair collecting. Or perhaps there are dryer localities near Port of Spain, or on the west or the North coasts. I shall be anxious to hear, also, if you have been able to make any enquiries yet about Guanoco, the Venezuelan Pitch Lake

I sent your letter to Prof[essor] Poulton telling him I should write to you by next month on the 6th., but not having had any reply am afraid he must be away, so I will reply as well as I can to your queries. Mr. Theo. D. A. Cockerell from Colorado was with me last week and I asked him about the small moths, and he said, that Sir George Hampson had told him that he [[3]] much preferred to have small moths unset, and that they come quite well in pill-boxes between layers of soft paper. So you had better keep to this plan, especially as Janson said the same. The fact is, I suppose, that these great specialists have assistants who relax & set under their own supervision and exactly in the way that they prefer. And as to Hymenoptera, which are one of Mr. Cockerell’s specialties, he says he also would much prefer them unset, as it is easier to examine details of structure when the wings are in the natural position of rest.

Your loss of specimens by mould and mites is a severe lesson against shutting up any specimens until well dried, even for 24 hours. Whether any preservative will obviate the necessity of thorough drying, I do not know, but I thought you had ascertained all this from the various collectors & dealers you had met. I know nothing, practically of modern methods of preserving, but unless you can keep an absolutely poisonous atmosphere around the specimen in bottles or air-tight boxes I do not [[4]] think it would be quite safe. You can easily try experiments by putting a few of the commonest beetles &c. in boxes, with whatever preservatives you have, keep them a week or two and then examine. But for reference specimens in store boxes you must certainly dry thoroughly, either in the sun, or in a current of air indoors. As to your not knowing the plants you see - trees, shrubs, climbers & herbs - you must put up with it; and even if you had Griesbach’s Flora you would be very little better off. You would find only short technical characters of each species, requiring flowers or fruits or both. How many of the forest trees, or climbers, or even shrubs have you yet seen flowers of? Besides, probably two thirds of the forest trees of Trinidad are not yet described! Of the 67 timber trees of British Guiana given in the book of "General Information" - only 23 have the botanical names given, all the rest being unknown, or rather unidentified, a list of the known trees and climbers, with the native names, [[5]] which you might probably obtain at the Botanical Gardens, would be useful, and the characters of the Natural Orders of all the known plants of Guiana & Trinidad, would afford you really all the information that would be mush use to you. You might then familiarise yourself with the Natural Orders so as to be able to determine almost any plant of which you find the flower or fruit. Then you could sketch the flower &c. with the essential parts, section of ovary &c. which might enable a botanist to name the species or determine whether it has been described. As you are so fond of botany I strongly advise you to do this, which will be far better than carrying bulky systematic books about with you, at all events at first. But even then, when you are in full swing collecting insects, shells, and mammals, you will have no time to give to plants.

Mr. Kaye has now published his catalogue of the butterflies of Trinidad & I have asked him to send [[6]] you a copy, which he has promised to do. You will see by it both the richness of Trinidad compared with the other W. indian Islands, & the poverty compared with the mainland. The total number is 289 species, many only known from one specimen, or doubtful. Compare this with Bates’ 550 sp. at Ega and 700 sp. around Para! I dare say the best places in Guiana or Venezuela would be at best equal to Ega, and I hope you will soon get to the latter at "Guanaco."

I shall be very glad to have a few lines from you by every mail, mainly to know that you are alive and at work. Even a postcard would do, as I shall feel anxious till I hear you are quite well again and working successfully. Only write at length when you are quite in the humour & have time.

With very best wishes | Yours very sincerely | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

P.S. No letter from Prof. Poulton yet.

ARW [signature]

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