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Wallace's sense of humour and admiration for Darwin

Wallace's sense of humour and admiration for Darwin (page 1)

Catalogue number: WP1/3/54

Letter from Wallace to his brother John in California, praising Darwin's book, humorously replying to a request for silkworm eggs and sending new photographs, dated January 1863.

Wallace wrote to his only surviving brother John in California (USA). Wallace discussed his plans to house his insect collections and urged John to read Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species. He said it had 'revolutionised Natural History and caused more discussions and excitement than any other book on a scientific subject during the present century...'

Wallace then made a rare comment about his involvement in formulating the mechanism of evolution. 'I have some little share in the work myself having discovered the main principle on which the work depends, called by Mr. D[arwin] Natural Selection, and communicated it to him before the work was published.'

Wallace was happy for Darwin to present natural selection to the public, but this letter shows he was quietly rather proud of his contribution to the theory of evolution. Wallace remained a supporter of Darwin and presented many lectures on what he would later call Darwinism.

Wallace says he will try to get some silkworm eggs to send to his nephew in California. He humorously suggests that his brother might be accused of 'inciting others to send dangerous and savage reptiles of the serpent kind, to the personal risk and danger of Uncle Sam's Postal Service' if the eggs were to hatch in the post!

Wallace was a serious and driven naturalist, yet a clever wit and sense of humour comes across in many letters to his family. This is further illustrated by Wallace's comment on previous photos sent to his brother. 'I looked like a spoon and a snuff...' he remarks, and asks John to 'burn and utterly destroy that other vile caricature intended to represent me'. Wallace is much more content with the new photos he is sending, which were taken after Christmas Day when, he jokes, 'the beef and pudding and a little champagne had somewhat restored that ancient jollity...'

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Wallace Letters Online

Letter to Alfred Russel Wallace from the Royal Society, about his Darwin Medal award

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