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The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 - 1913) was one of the world's most important scientists. His seminal contributions to biology rival those of his friend and colleague Charles Darwin, though he is far less well known. Together Wallace and Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1858, and their prolific subsequent work laid the foundations of modern evolutionary biology, and much more besides.

Wallace made enduring scholarly contributions to subjects as diverse as glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology. His pioneering work on evolutionary biogeography (the science that seeks to explain the geographical distribution of organisms) led to him becoming recognised as that subject’s ‘father’. Beyond this Wallace is regarded as the pre-eminent collector and field biologist of tropical regions of the 19th century, and his book The Malay Archipelago (which was Joseph Conrad’s favourite bedside reading) is one of the most celebrated travel writings of that century and has never been out of print. Wallace was a man with an extraordinary breadth of interests who was actively engaged with many of the big questions and important issues of his day. He was anti-slavery, anti-eugenics, anti-vivisection, anti-militarism, anti-Imperialism, a conservationist and an advocate of woman's rights. He strongly believed in the rights of the ordinary person, was a socialist, an anti-vaccinationist (for rational reasons), and a believer in naturalistic, evolutionary spiritualism. He did not come from a privileged background and was largely self-taught. For a brief biography see http://www.wallaceletters.info/content/mini-biography

The Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP) was founded by George Beccaloni in 2010. Its aims are to locate, digitise, catalogue, transcribe, interpret and publish Wallace's surviving correspondence and other manuscripts. About 5,700 letters to and from Wallace are currently known to survive, and they are held by c. 240 institutions and individuals worldwide. Wallace's letters are a biographical treasure trove, which provides a far better picture of the 'real' Wallace than his heavily edited and censored published writings (e.g. his autobiography My Life (1905) and his letters in Marchant's Letters and Reminiscences (1916)). For example, Wallace never even mentions his wife's name (Annie) in any of his published writings, including his autobiography. The letters are also key to gaining a deeper understanding of his scientific and other work: how and why his ideas arose, and how they evolved over time.

The WCP is unlocking this valuable resource by gathering all the letters together for the first time, and transcribing them so that they can be more easily read and information within them discovered using electronic searches for words and phrases. The vast amount of unpublished information which is coming to light will surely form the basis for numerous articles, scholarly papers, PhD theses and perhaps the first definitive biography.

Epsilon is being used by the WCP's as its online archive of Wallace's correspondence. It replaces our previous archive, Wallace Letters Online, which was last updated in 2015. The process of editing the transcripts and associated metadata is a work in progress which will take many years to complete. Our project’s policy is, however, to make the information we have available to users at the earliest possible opportunity, even if it is incomplete and/or imperfect. For a guide to our data, including the protocols we use for metadata and transcriptions, please see http://www.wallaceletters.info/content/epsilon

Text Online
From:
Stephen Pugh
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
1839-c. 1843
Source of text:
Wallace, A. R. (1905). In: My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions . Vol. 1. London: Chapman & Hall. [p. 143]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Frances ("Fanny") Sims (née Wallace)
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
4? November 1844
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/92/5
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Frances ("Fanny") Sims (née Wallace)
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
June 1845
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/93/4
Summary:

Life with the Jacksons and their ten children pleasant in country home in the woods. Unlike at other plantations, “servants” [slaves] “live well here...not a harsh word said to the poor things.” Servants are permitted to socialize with each other when day’s work is done. Likes country social life among Alabama gentry. Thinks ARW would do well as Engineer and Surveyor in Montgomery.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Lewis Weston Dillwyn
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
25 February 1848
Source of text:
British Library, The: BL Add. 46435 f. 1
Summary:

Responding to ARW for Royal Institution of South Wales, notes that “we have not a single member who knows anything about insects.” Will add ARW’s notes about local insects and glad his “valuable collection will remain at Neath.”

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
10 October 1852
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/25
Summary:

Describes chaotic political situation in Barra; “the President went away & left no one in charge of the state.” Officials have sucked all the money in the Treasury. Worst season of year; no collecting; living on very meager food. Will stay 12 or 15 months although it’s very difficult and is unhappy “buried in forest.” Disturbed by unsettling news of problems in England received via London papers; voyage by river from San Gabriel to San Jeronimo; collecting specimens of ferns; plans to travel with Agostinho; problems with lazy, incompetent Indian servants; wants news of whether Sir Robt Humbugck [sic: Schomburgk] has published on vegetation of Rio Negro.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
March 1853
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/96/9
  • Wallace Family Collection (private collection)
Summary:

Will answer some of your questions. ‘I’ve quite given up on making a fortune in California;” but am financially comfortable, will not return to live in England. Was just elected Superintendent and Chief Engineer of our water company, can have the job as long as I want it. Company has provided a horse, “frequently have to ride 25 or 50 miles per day on rough mountain roads” to maintain water system. Doing good business, will soon be out of debt and into profits. Gives specifications of five mile long water flume, and asks family to check his estimates of daily flow. . Will be able to pay back loans soon.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
James Brooke
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
1 April [1853]
Source of text:
British Library, The: BL Add. 46441 f. 1
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
8 May 1853
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/96/10
  • Wallace Family Collection (private collection)
Summary:

Discusses promising new technology of the Erickkson [sic] (Ericsson) Caloric Engine, an innovative heat transfer machine, fueled by wood or coal. His job as head of the Water project includes “laying out branch ditches, building dams and bridges, fluming across valleys, etc.” Must be on call at any hour “when anything happens to the ditch”; must immediately assemble a crew of laborers to repair damage. He supervises every detail of the whole system, 40 miles long “over roughest country and steepest hillsides.”

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
2 July 1853
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/26
Summary:

Became worried when hadn’t heard from you (ARW); wondered what “catastrophe” found you, “whether you were shipwrecked, or got married” or overdosed “on plum pudding.” Finally learned of the fire that took your ship and collections; sympathize with your “sufferings and irreparable losses” and admire your stoicism. “I [too] have] looked death in the face.” Local Indians became drunk at a public feast and “threatened to murder all the whites” (all three of us). We were obliged to keep “constant [armed] watch for two days and nights.” Had they attacked, they could have easily killed us “for they were 150 against 3.” Local scoundrel named Chagas, “with a face exactly like the back of a Surinam toad” (ie. hideously pock-marked), has been helpful in arranging river expeditions for plant collecting, but “also took a special delight in cheating me.” Currently we’re preparing for a voyage up the Casiquiare, with the intention of entering the Rio Cunucunuma; next year we’ll explore the sources of the Orinoco.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
18 July 1853
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/96/11 WP1/3/96/12
  • Wallace Family Collection (private collection)
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
August 1853
Source of text:
California Historical Society
Summary:

John’s instructions to ARW on paying back debts of 180 lbs borrowed in 1849 to their mother and others. Will also send some beetles he has collected to find out if they may be valuable.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
[William Alexander?] [Bailie-Hamilton?]
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
15 November 1853
Source of text:
Royal Geographical Society: RGS Corr. Block CB4 1851-60 FOREIGN OFFICE
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
11 February 1854
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/96/15
  • California Historical Society
Summary:

One of a set of letters providing in-depth descriptions John Wallace's life in the gold mining town of Columbia, California, building a system to bring water to gold mining operations in the town.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wodehouse
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
24 February 1854
Source of text:
Royal Geographical Society: RGS Corr. Block CB4 1851-60 FOREIGN OFFICE
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wodehouse
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
1 March 1854
Source of text:
Royal Geographical Society: RGS Corr. Block CB4 1851-60 FOREIGN OFFICE
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
James Brooke
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
4 July 1856
Source of text:
British Library, The: BL Add. 46441 ff. 2-5
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
James Brooke
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
5 November 1856
Source of text:
British Library, The: BL Add. 46441 ff. 6-8
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Henry Walter Bates
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
[19 & 23 Nov. 1856]
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM Catkey-418383
  • Marchant, J. (Ed.). (1916). In: Alfred Russel Wallace; Letters and Reminiscences. Vol. 1. London & New York: Cassell & Co. [pp. 64-65]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Charles Robert Darwin
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
1 May 1857
Source of text:
  • British Library, The: BL Add. 46434 ff. 1-4
  • Marchant, J. (Ed.). (1916). In: Alfred Russel Wallace; Letters and Reminiscences. Vol. 1. London & New York: Cassell & Co. [pp. 129-131]
  • Darwin, F. (1909). Some letters from Charles Darwin to Alfred Russel Wallace. Christ's College Magazine: 23(70): 214-231 [pp. 214-217]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
James Brooke
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
31 October 1857
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/9/32
  • Wallace, A. R. (1869). In: The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-utan, and the Bird of Paradise. A Narrative of Travel, With Studies of Man and Nature. Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [p. 98]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project