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

 
 
Extract from a Letter of Mr. A. R. Wallace
to Mr. S. Stevens (S48: 1859)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Portions of a letter to Samuel Stevens communicated to the Zoological Society of London meeting of 22 March 1859, and reported on page 129 of their Proceedings series later that year. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S048.htm


    The following extract from a Letter received by Mr. S. Stevens from Mr. Wallace, dated Batchian, Moluccas, Oct. 29, 1858, was read:--

    "Here I have been as yet only five days; but from the nature of the country, and what I have already done, I am inclined to think it may prove one of the best localities I have yet visited. Birds are as yet very scarce; but I still hope to get a fine collection, though I believe I have already the finest and most wonderful bird in the island. I had a good mind to keep it a secret, but I cannot resist telling you. I have a new Bird of Paradise! of a new genus!! quite unlike anything yet known, very curious and very handsome!!! When I can get a couple of pairs, I will send them overland, to see what a new Bird of Paradise will really fetch. Had I seen the bird in Ternate, I should never have believed it came from here, so far out of the hitherto supposed region of the Paradiseidæ. I consider it the greatest discovery I have yet made; and it gives me hopes of getting other species in Gilolo and Ceram. There is also here a species of Monkey--much further eastwards than in any other island; so you see this is a most curious locality, combining forms of the East and West of the Archipelago, yet with species peculiar to itself. It also differs from all the other Moluccas in its geological formation, containing iron, coal, copper, and gold, with a glorious forest vegetation and fine large mountain streams: it is a continent in miniature. The Dutch are working the coals; and there is a good road to the mines, which gives one easy access to the interior forests.

    "I can do nothing at drawing birds, but send you a horrible sketch of my discovery, that you may not die of curiosity. I am told the wet season here is terrible, and it begins in December; so I shall probably have to leave then."*


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*Editor's Note

On the next page (130) of the Proceedings, the following comments from the meeting were recorded:

    The sketch alluded to in the above extract having been placed in Mr. G. R. Gray's hands for examination and comparison with the other known species, the following notes of that gentleman, relative to it, were read to the meeting:—

    "This Paradise-Bird proves, as Mr. Wallace remarks in his lettre, to be a new form, differing from all its congeners, approaching most nearly to the King Bird of Paradise; but in place of the lengthened caudal appendages, it has, springing from the lesser coverts of each wing, two long shafts, both of which are webbed on each side at the apex. It is the possession of these peculiar winged standards that induces me to propose for it the subgeneric appellation of Semioptera.

    "I have endeavoured to transform the rough sketch into the probable appearance of the living bird; and I further add the provisional specific name of Paradisea wallacii, which appellation I think is justly due to Mr. Wallace for the indefatigable energy he has hitherto shown in the advancement of ornithological and entomological knowledge, by visiting localities rarely if ever travelled by naturalists.

    "I wait for the arrival of the specimens before venturing to give more detailed accounts of its subgeneric characters, or a full description of its coloration, &c., which I hope to have the pleasure of laying before the members at some future meeting of the Society."


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