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The Hampden-Wallace Libel Case (S248b: 1875)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed in the 19 March 1875 issue of the Chelmsford Chronicle. Unfortunately for Wallace, there was lasting aftermath from the Bedford Canal experiment of 1870 when the loser of the wager, a Mr. Hampden, continued to plague him and his family for years. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S248B.htm

To the Editor of the Chelmsford Chronicle.

     [[p. 4]] Sir.--I should not have thought it necessary to say another word on the matter between myself and Mr. Hampden, had you not last week addressed a kind of expostulation to myself. Your remarks show that you are ignorant of certain facts which in the opinion of impartial lookers on, as well as of all my friends, render the course you suggest altogether out of the question. I beg, therefore, to be allowed to state, as briefly as I can, what these facts are.

     1. It is not the case, as you seem to suppose, that the experiment I tried was sure to succeed. It was to be made on a canal in a fen district, and was strictly limited by Mr. H. to the space of a few weeks in the months of February and March, 1870. It is well known that unusual refraction sometimes raises distant objects so as to neutralize or even reverse the evidence of curvature. Had this happened on the only fine day we found for the experiment I should most certainly have lost my £500. (See Flammarion's work on "The atmosphere" for such cases of unusual refraction).

     2. Mr. Hampden, however, had no such doubts on his side, for the excellent reason that he believed the experiment had been repeatedly tried on the very spot in question, by Parallax himself, the teacher of Mr. H. on this matter. In "Zetetic Astronomy, the earth not a globe," by Parallax, pages 11 to 13, are full details of those experiments, with diagrams, which he states have been repeated many times during 24 years! This was the very book which converted Mr. Hampden. If either of us, therefore, is liable to the charge of having wagered on what he believed to be a certainty, it is Mr. Hampden, not me.

     3. Mr. Hampden chose for his referee a man who had for years been a disciple of "Parallax"--had written a book adverting the flatness of the earth--and this book (stock and copyright) had been purchased from him by Mr. H. about two months before the experiment. Yet, in face of my written stipulation that Mr. Hampden's referee should not be a "personal acquaintance" of his, this man was appointed, and accepted by me in full confidence that I should not be deceived. I and my friends, as well as the Editor of the Field (Mr. J. H. Walsh) [[p. 5]] considered the appointment of this man by Mr. Hampden as grossly improper and unfair at the very outset. (Field, March 26th, 1870.)

     4. From the moment the experiment was made Mr. Hampden has claimed to have won the wager, on the ground that the water is really a plane, and that my experiment showed it to be so! And he still persists in this view, claiming not only the money he lost but my money which he says he has won. I have numerous letters extending over nearly five years, in which he declares that he will never leave me in peace until I have paid him the whole £1000.

     I leave your readers therefore to judge what my position would have been had I given Mr. Hampden back his money (and thus, in his view, have acknowledged my failure to prove what I had undertaken to prove) unless I were also prepared to pay him another £500. They will also judge whether Mr. Hampden's conduct from the first has deserved any such consideration on my part. And finally I leave them to form their own judgment as to whether, after suffering five years of unceasing libels, and after having spent very large sums in the civil and criminal litigation he has forced upon me, and which is not yet terminated, I owe him any such consideration now.

     The facts here stated can be almost all proved by reference to papers issued by Mr. Hampden himself and his referee Mr. Carpenter.

Alfred R. Wallace.

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