Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP730

Sent by:
[ Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch ]
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
6 March 1905

Sent by [Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch], Carr Place, Belmont, Port of Spain, [Trinidad & Tobago] to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset] on 6 March 1905.

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


Asks for advice on his business with Janson. Is inclined to deal with buyers directly.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP730.902)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418457
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information




Carr Place, Belmont,

P[ort]. of Spain Mar[ch]. 6th [19]05

My dear true friend

It is good of you to go to so much labour on my behalf. I don’t know what I should have done without your help. I feel infinitely indebted to you. A father could not do more for his son than you have done for me. And I, what have I done in return? Nothing, not even got you the mosses & ground orchids & wild pines yet. I shall do tho[ugh]’ at the first opportunity.

3But I thank you most for the love & patience you have shown borne to me, & I want to give the best of myself in return. As the heaven is above the earth -- the life above the body (in which it is manifest) so is goodwill between men us above the material manifestation of it. Soul can only be satisfied by soul. As Thoreau says -- “We should give back life for life”. How true these things are, one only completely realizes after experiencing the opposite & deadly poisonous extreme of man’s nature habits [,] the cold calculating selfishness which is (shame upon us that it should be so) called “business”. I go forth ready to treat [[2]]4 all men as gods -- superior beings, but the moment I come to negotiate for the wherewithal to supply my bodily needs, lo, I have to descend & higgle [sic] & bargain find fault & higgle [sic] & threaten until I feel as if body were conspiring against soul all the world over. When, oh when will men let the good (God) spirit rule in them in place of the do-evil (Devil) spirit? Truly does Thoreau say -- “Trade curses everything it handles.” Half the pleasure I used to derive from the study of nature seems to have departed since I began selling her treasures -- God’s property. I long to be independent of the sale of them -- to become a tiller of the soil, with nature study my recreation once more. In [my] imagination I see a clearing on the bank of some noble river, with plantations of cacao & plantain, coir, & fruit trees & sugar cane & the other necessaries surrounding a cool wide veranda’d [sic] house. & backed by a glorious forest 50 or 1000 miles deep -- an inexhaustible storehouse of wonders in the plant & animal world , to the study of which I could turn with freedom & delight as soon as the necessary for the body labour of the day was performed.

5Why should I conceal from you that I will never be really satisfied, contented until I [[3]]6 reach some such state? The page wherein you describe such a home in “Travels on the Amazon”7 seems the most valuable & sacred of the book (to me) & I turn to it with delight! But I’ve learnt that it will need far more labour than your words suggest to a northerner [to] establish such a paradise.

8If you wrote it for the benefit enlightenment of the emigrant, you should have told him of the great labour required to get each house post out from the forest & each board split for boarding[?] & flooring. & furniture, & the scores of other difficulties he would have to surmount. The thinker speaks to the thinker: only the labourer can speak adequately to the labourer. I hope you will forgive me for saying this. I say it with deep love for you.

In the meantime, before such contentment can be realized, I will strive my level best to collect in a generous spirit thinking of the pleasure & knowledge the people at home will gain rather than the money value of my specimens. Yet even now I am about to discuss the latter!

If I do as you suggest in your last letter i.e. ask for a statement of sales purchasers, price etc it will almost certainly mean that Janson9 will refuse to be my agent. Perhaps this will be for the best, but I’m not sure. I received a letter from him this morning which I [[4]]10,11 am now about to copy to enclose with this that you may advise me on it…

12 I have just finished copying it & want to know what you think. Is it the letter of an honest man or of a schemer? Now read what I have sent him in reply, following your instruction in your last letter….Have I worded it too strongly? I think what you told me to write is as severe as anything in it, is it not? If he takes no heed of this it will prove that he prefers[?] has something to conceal. The worst of the whole matter is that is that he may promise to give a statement, & not give an accurate one. However, I’m beginning to think that it w[oul]d be much better to be employed directly by Mr Druce13 & Mr Schill. In aAll my life I have preferred to deal directly with men rather than indirectly thro[ugh]’ another. So I shall be exceedingly glad if you can arrange with Messrs Druce & Schill to take first pick of everything I send them at a fixed price per specimen. I will endeavour to be ready to go anywhere they wish, but should like to try Guayagauyare S.E. Trin[idad] first, then Santa Catalina on the Orinoco -- just above where the Delta starts to15


1. There is fire damage along the top and bottom edges of the page.

2. There is a stamp placed in the top left-hand corner of the page. It reads: Entomology BMNH Library”.

3. A new paragraph is shown in this transcription as there appears to be a break in Birch’s correspondence. In his letter he chose not to indent at the commencement of new paragraphs.

4. There is fire damage along the top and bottom edges of the page.

5. In the process of transcription, this sentence has been chosen as the commencement of a new paragraph.

6. There is fire damage along the top and bottom edges of the page.

7. Wallace, Alfred Russel. (1853). A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, With an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology, and Natural History of the Amazon Valley. Reeve & Co., London.

8. This entire section of Birch’s letter has been highlighted and struck through obliquely by the author, as if written in error. However, except where indicated in the transcription, none of the individual words have been crossed out or obscured, and it is entirely legible to the reader.

9. Possibly Janson, Oliver Erichson (1850-1925). English entomologist.

10. There is fire damage along the top and bottom edges of the page.

11. Two catalogue/reference numbers are inscribed in pencil in the top left-hand corner of the page. They read: “91” and “418457”.

12. In the process of transcription, this sentence has been chosen as the commencement of a new paragraph.

13. Possibly Druce, Herbert Druce (1846-1913) or Druce, Hamilton Herbert (1869-1922). Both were British entomologists

14, Schill, Charles Henry (1863-1935). British entomologist.

15. The extant letter concludes at this point. There are no further surviving pages.

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