Finding Letters New to the Wallace Correspondence Project

By George Beccaloni, December 2023

During 2023 I located 100+ letters to and from Wallace which the Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP) didn't previously know about. I am fairly sure that hundreds remain to be found in the archives of libraries and other institutions worldwide, but tracking them down will require a lot more time-consuming detective work. As an example of how we find 'new' letters, here is a brief account of work I did today which MAY have found four we don't have:

Our new volunteer Christine Chua, recently transcribed a typewritten list, probably produced after Wallace's death by his son William, who wanted to sell the books in Wallace's library. It is entitled "Dr A. R. Wallace's Library. List of the principal books" and images of it can be seen in the WCP's old and largely defunct website Wallace Letters Online - see HERE. I saw on the list that 17 of the books contained letters from the authors to Wallace, so I decided to check whether or not we had copies of them. I knew that Wallace's library was bought by Thomas Henry Riches in 1914 (for £200), and that in 1915 he donated the scientific books (300+ volumes) to the Linnean Society of London (as explained HERE), and the 470 books on other 'less scientific' topics to the Hope Department of Entomology Library at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. In 1993 the Hope Library gave these books to Edinburgh University Library - see HERE and HERE

I then spent several hours looking the books up in the Linnean Society and Edinburgh Library's online catalogues, then checking whether we had the letter using EPSILON, our catalogue of Wallace's correspondence. I found that we already had the letters from 11 of the 14 books which the Linnean Society had, and we lacked the letter from the one book in Edinburgh Library which is recorded to have a letter in it. Two of the books on the list could not be found in either library (Franklin's 1904 The Socialization of Humanity and Silver's Mormonism). I have now written to librarians at the Linnean and Edinburgh libraries to ask them to kindly check the books identified in their libraries as containing letters, and if the letters are present, to please send copies to me.

While studying the list of books, one without an inserted letter, by the communist Peter Kropotkin caught my eye. It seems that it was sent to Wallace by Sydney Carlyle Cockerell (see WCP1624) and here is part of the interesting letter that Wallace wrote to Cockerell after he read it (WCP1625). He said:

"I did not write much to Kropotkin about his "Mutual Aid", because, although the book is very interesting and instructive in bringing together the numerous cases in which animals help each other, yet I consider he is quite wrong in his conclusion that this at all affects the question of the severe struggle for existence. This is due to his actual want of practical knowledge of the facts of variation and multiplication in animals, and also to his not having fully grasped the varied modes in which the struggle acts.

He talks of the millions killed by storms, floods &c. as leaving so few that there is no further struggle, — not seeing that all such causes are part of the "struggle". He even states, as his conclusion, that in many cases there is "no competition"! I have noted a large number of cases in which he shows want of appreciation of the actual mode of evolution by natural selection."

Cover (modern edition) of the book Cockerell sent to Wallace

Add new comment

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith