Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP760

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Fred R. Birch

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Old Orchard, Broadstone, Dorset to Fred R. Birch [none given] on September .

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


No summary available at this time.

Record notes

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP760.932)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418773
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Broadstone, [Wimborne]2

Sept[embe]r.. [numbers missing]

My dear Fred

I received yours [of] [word missing] on Saturday evening (Sep. 8), a[nd] [in] accordance with Mr. Thayers wish [I?] sent your previous letter about the [word missing] &c. to Prof. Poulton, &have also to[letters missing] that I have a very long letter of a [word missing] ago from Mr. T.- with photos. of aut[letters missing]3 &will send them if he wishes to see[word missing]

As to your own affairs, you see[m] drawn so many ways that, until you decided on the one course to which [you] are to be subordinated, neither I n[or] [any] one else can advise you usefully[.] [I] therefore only now give my opin[ion] [on a] few of the special points you refe[r] [word missing] health, I am convinced that the [words missing] and general health-condition[s] [in the] forest regions are as [bad] [words missing] in this [words missing] Is [letters missing] 4 [[2]]5 [heal]thier than the N.E. States of [America], with their excessive and sudden [ran]ges of temperature, or than many [par]ts of England: and6 especially healthy [for] children owing to the possibility of their [breathi]ng always in pure air.

[As] to the possibility of living by your own [lab]our on the land, I should say the [ad]vantages of, say, B. Guiana as compared to England or the U.S., are as three or [fou]r to one -- or even more.

As to earning a moderate competence [over] a few years pleasurable work. I know [no] way so sure as collecting in a rich [environmen]t and I can hear of no district [word missing] to be so rich as that to be reached [Los] Iquitos as a centre. For an [?] there is probably nothing to [word missing] [?ote], as it is wonderfully dry [words missing] [distance] of [words missing] hills [[3]]7 and mountains where the rain f[all] [is] very heavy and the vegetation i[s] luxuriant. But, for that reason would probably not be rich in us[able] Spruce found it very rich in plants, [word missing] made continual excursions, of a [few days] or weeks, to all the surrounding un[dergrowth] & forests -- but this would not pay [word missing] entomological collector, and all the [travel/carriage?] is on foot, which is very expensive [at] best8 but I fear a long way behind, [word missing] be one of the old settlements on [the] Demerara9 river, where there are [word missing] villages near and abundant roa[ming] paths10 through the forest.

Now I will say a few words a[bout] Thayers extreme "protection-by-colou[ration".] I have no doubt that there a[re] [words missing] [amass] [had] t[?] [words missing] in h[?] [[4]]11 [?]s of so many mammals & birds [is] [ad]mirable & conclusive, and he has [the] edit of it all over the world. But in [?]ssent extension12 the protection-idea to colouration whatever, I think he is very [clear]ly wrong. Nature is far too complex [and] [ot]her forces are too nicely balanced, [?] [a]lone made of protection in the struggle [for] life to be the almost exclusive one. [I] know that there are extensive groups [of] [in]sects that are in various ways inedible [and] hurtful to the usual enemies of such [crea]tures, and we see also that in a great [diver]sity of these are gaudily or conspicuously [displa]yed; and13 that they do not seek [conseal]ment, as do the protectively coloured [insects?] Then, there is the other set of facts [?]lausal? are protectively coloured [words missing] [?]les are conspicuous -- and [words missing] female [words missing] [?]nest [[5]]14 are just as gaudy & conspicuous [as the] males -, while in the very same [way that] thousands of other birds equally g[audy] & conspicuous in the male, have [word missing] female -- on the upper side at all [word missing] of highly protective colours, and [word missing] all without exception sit on op[en] nests. -- Then there are the [word missing] number of birds, which have, for[?] species, characteristic spots15 or ban[ds on] the wings or tail which are not [used] during flight -- so also the rab[bit] white under-side of tail only [seen] when running -- and the Spring [word missing] white patch above the tail, on [word missing] by the retraction of the hair -- [when] running! Then if 16 we [word missing] these the enormous numbers [words missing] of the cases of [minute?] [word missing] species [words missing] qu[words missing] [[6]]17 [a] [s]tretch of imagination he [de]nied as having been brought [o]ut for purposes of concealment, [and] have probably not less than [the] fourth of all insects which [g]ain the protection they need [in] other ways than by being [con]cealed from their enemies.

Yet there is I think a certain [am]ount of truth in Mr.Thayers [vi]ew dependent on the fact that [the] insect-eating animals have to [lear]n by experience what is inedable [or] dangerous. In his process a [cer]tain "toll" of each species is taken, [and] in many cases it will be an [advan]tage to diminish this "toll", [word missing] [ca]n be done by such an [words missing]ing" [words missing]re, [[7]]18 and with certain enemi[es] [word missing] also tend to concealment [word missing] these cases are I think not numerous, or very important.

There are hardly any combin[ations] of colour which may not in [certain] positions & with certain su[rroundings] become19 hardly visible, but this [is of] very little use to the species [if] its usual positions and hau[nts] is undoubtedly conspicuous [and] the hundreds of Carare of Euch[?] Jacobea I saw the other da[y] exposing themselves on the Rag[?]20I daresay two or three of these [?] so placed on the same pla[ces] [on] the flowers, as to be almost [identical] but that would not affect [word missing] in nature they [words missing] fut[ure] [words missing] [[8]]21 by the great majority of [insec]tivorious animals.

I shall hope to hear soon that [yo]u22 been able with your friends [ass]istance to decide on some [co]urse of action that will be [li]kely to be successful,- and I [al]so hope it will not be one [tha]t will involve giving up your [ca]reer as a collecting & observing [na]turalist for which you are so [pe]culiarly fitted.

Believe me | Yours very Sincerely | Alfred R.Wallace [signature]


1. 14 is written in pencil in the top left corner. Next to this is a blue ink stamp reading ENTOMOLOGY BMNH LIBRARY.

2. Page 1 damaged down right side.

3. May be "attached".

4. Page annotated in pencil 418773 in bottom right corner.

5. Page 2 damaged down left side.

6. they are is written above the line.

7. Page 3 damaged down right side.

8. to Iquitos is written above the line.

9. River in Eastern Guyana.

10. Line may have been drawn between paragraphs rather than under the word paths.

11. Page 4 damaged on left side.

12. of is written above the line.

13. also is written above the line.

14. Page 5 damaged down right side. 5 is written and circled at the top of the page. 15 is written in pencil at top left corner. 418773 is written at bottom right corner.

15. white is written above the line.

16. Mistake scored out.

17. Page damaged down left side.

18. Page 7 is damaged down the right side.

19. "come" has been added later to the end of "be".

20. Possibly a flower name.

21. Page 8 is damaged down the left side and has a blue ink stamp at the top of the page reading, "ENTOMOLOGY BMNH LIBRARY".

22. "have" has been written above the line later.

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