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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Note on the Smoke Nuisance (November 1858)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Wallace sent this short note home to his friend George Silk with the instruction it be submitted to the Athenaeum for publication (see NHM item WP1/3/45). It was dated 30 November 1858, and postmarked 'Ternate' and 'London' 5 April 1859. It apparently never saw print. It is, if the truth be told, a somewhat unexpected effort, considering Wallace's location and activities at the time. The two page handwritten manuscript from which this transcription is drawn is part of the Alfred Russel Wallace collection at the Natural History Museum (London), item WP1/3/60. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/Note_on_the_Smoke.htm

    How is it that amid the lamentations & grumbling over the incalculable mischief done by London smoke,--masterpieces of art ruined, palaces spoilt before they are finished, life & property lost in November fogs, our streets & squares & noblest public buildings all rendered hideous, our clothes & persons begrimed & our lungs diseased,--there should be no proposals made to go to the fountain head & instead of removing our galleries & museums to a distance from those who most want them, try to get rid of the smoke itself. When the thing is once done, when our city is clean our skies bright our air pure our linen unsoiled & our works of art uninjured, we shall be almost incredulous that such a state of apathy and barbarism could ever have existed. The thing can easily be done;--it is a mere matter of cost, & the expense of rendering each house in London smokeless it is not very difficult to calculate.1 We have the choice of gas, anthracite coal, or of substituting Arnotts or any other smokeless grates & cooking ranges for those now in use, either of which if not absolutely perfect would certainly get rid of nine tenths of the smoke now produced, & would probably soon repay the expense of the change in the saving of fuel. What hardship, what impossibility, what interference with vested rights would there be in compelling by Act of Parliament the use of one or other of these methods, any more than in compelling chimneys to be swept at certain intervals or houses to be built of a certain stability? Why, the mere saving in soap & linen would cover the expense in a few years, to say nothing of the incalculable national & sanitary advantages already alluded to. If the Athenæum & the Times would vigorously take up the question we might yet see our noble city not only the largest & the wealthiest but the cleanest & the healthiest in the world.

Alfred R. Wallace
Batchian, Moluccas. Nov. 1858

Note Appearing in the Original Manuscript

    1. The factories have been parliamentarised but the million domestic hearths are at once more mischievous & easier to deal with.

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Copyright: Alfred Russel Wallace Literary Estate.

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