Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
'It was with much surprise and regret that I learnt from your letter that there were any near living relatives of the Mr. Sellar mentioned in my book, and that some of the statements about him, at all events, were incorrect.
'To me of course he was only a name, and as the events happened sixty-six years ago, and have always been referred to this forty years as matter of history, without apparently any protest from his relatives, it is absurd now to talk about libel.1
'Numerous writers have referred again and again2 to Mr. Sellar, and always in the same terms of strong condemnation; and when I took my facts from Mr. Mackenzie's pamphlet (sent me by himself), and considered his position as editor and historian, living in the very district where the scenes referred to happened, I had every right to think I had the best authority.
'So far then as to the historical correctness of what I have written, even where I have slightly altered Mr. Mackenzie's statements and conclusions, I should be prepared to justify them from collateral facts and testimony; but, now that I know that it becomes a question of personal feeling to living descendants of the individual referred to, I am quite prepared to express my regret, that I should unconsciously have hurt their feelings, and also to do what I can to obviate it for the future.
'It is, however, not easy to decide how this can best be done.'
[[Mr. Sellar's Notes]]
1. [There was some misconception here. No threat or suggestion of an action for libel against Mr. Wallace was ever made by any member of Mr. Sellar's family. The law of England with respect to libels on dead men was well known to them.--T.S.]
Dear Sir,--Thanks for your letter and enclosure. If I were satisfied of the general incorrectness of McLeod's narrative, of course I would not reprint any part of it; but the evidence that seems so clear to you against it does not have the same weight with me.
In the first place, a report of the trial issued by the defendant's counsel, from his own notes, is only ex parte evidence. It would be his duty to make it as favourable as possible to his client; and we all know how the force and meaning of evidence may be altered by very slight modifications or suppressions. If you can refer me to any independent and unbiased report, as in an Edinburgh newspaper, for example, I will gladly examine it, and endeavour to arrive at the truth.
Again, I know too much of the blundering of lawyers, and the cowardice of witnesses when, as in this case, to give evidence of the truth might be ruin to them, to consider that the trial necessarily gives a complete and accurate account of what occurred.
[[p. lxxx]] However improbable the cruelties to the Highlanders related by McLeod may seem, we have a mass of independent evidence of similar events happening again and again in Scotland and Ireland.
I must also remark that it is altogether the fault of your family that these allegations are now reproduced. They appeared first, not in any obscure way, but in a series of letters in an Edinburgh newspaper extending over several months. If these had been objected to as untrue, or stopped as libels, at the time, no more would have been heard of them. But they were, apparently, allowed to appear without protest, and were afterwards republished in a pamphlet form, under the authority of independent persons at Greenock. It is owing to this re-issue that they have become so widely known, and are so frequently quoted as authority; and certainly this double appearance, notwithstanding the result of the trial, is primâ facie evidence of their general truth, or at all events of the bona fides of the writer, who, after so many years, could have nothing to gain by telling deliberate falsehoods known to be so by other witnesses.
I cannot therefore but think that, however little blame may attach to Mr. Sellar, yet the main character of the events which happened is fairly given in McLeod's narrative, though, of course, many details may be inaccurate.
I remain, yours faithfully,
Dear Sir,--The mass of papers sent me add nothing to the information already given, and on which I cut out all allusion to your father from my book.
The only matter that could possibly alter my opinion of the general nature of the Sutherland clearances would be a full report of the trial, and this is what you have not sent me. I therefore have no grounds for rejecting the evidence accepted by so many Scotchmen and Highlanders for so many years.
I return all the papers you ask for, and am,
Dear Sir,--I return you the report of the trial, which I have carefully read. While admitting fully the legal exculpation of Mr. Sellar by the verdict and the balance of evidence taken, I do not see that that evidence in any way invalidates the general statements of McLeod.
I have written to Messrs. Trübner to correct the date you refer to, both in the stereo plates and the copies unsold.
Dear Sir,--I think you are unreasonable in expecting me to do more than I have done; but I will endeavour to explain precisely my present standpoint.
The jury and the judge acquitted your father of the offences charged against him on a balance of evidence. This the judge expressly stated. I accept that acquittal. But the acquittal does not disprove the facts alleged, only that Mr. Sellar was not responsible for them. I, however, have additional evidence of these facts--not laid before the jury--in the narrative of McLeod, and taking the whole together, I am of opinion that the facts of injury done to the people are substantially proved. When there is a conflict of evidence I claim a right to form my own judgment [[p. xc]] --and I have formed it. I accuse no individual; but I quote a narrative which it appears to me was not invalidated by the conflicting evidence of the trial, and I refuse to conceal what I believe to be important facts of history.
I am sure that no impartial person, looking at the trouble I have taken to take out every possible clue to your father's name (and considering the extreme difficulty of getting a copy of McLeod's pamphlet, the reference to it as an authority is only nominal), will consider that I have published anything 'calumnious.'
Dear Sir,--I have read all the documents and papers you have sent me, and see no reason to change the view I have already expressed. Our correspondence on the subject must therefore cease.