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


Selections from William Allingham: A Diary
(S744: 1907)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: The diary of William Allingham (1824-1889), prominent English poet, was edited into publishable form in 1907 by his wife Helen and Dollie Radford. Two entries from the year 1884 involved conversations with Wallace. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S744.htm

    [[p. 329]] August 2, 1884.--Warm--with breeze. Helen, I and Sonny and Evey to Godalming, by invitation, to the Wallaces, Frith Hill, beside the Water Tower. Hot climb. Mr. and Mrs. Wallace in garden. Willy, Violet1--children race about.

    Wallace shows us round his garden--rare plants and flowers--little 'Californian tulip,' light yellow, three petals--green hairs inside--Canadian lily--Flowers of one day. Eucalyptus, three kinds, very tender.

    Sit with Wallace under tree and talk a long while on Spiritualism, apparitions, mediums, etc.--'the Cock Lane Ghost was real (as Johnson believed), but they teased the girl into imposture at last.' He said about one person in ten, probably, is a medium.

    He spoke with unqualified praise of every book and writer on the spiritualistic side--William Howitt, Professor De Morgan, Professor Barrett, F. Myers, etc.--showed us, in a magazine, drawings done by thought-readers. He gave an account, essentially [[p. 330]] Swedenborgian, of the state of spirits in the next world--but he does not take Swedenborg for a prophet.

    I told him of my mentally seeing The Times with a black border one morning before I went into the room where it lay. It was for Prince Leopold's death. He asked do I usually 'visualize' the things I think of? 'Yes, always.' 'I do not at all' (he said) '--my mind has only thoughts.' Then spoke of Galton's division of all minds into the visualizing and the non-visualizing class.

    [[p. 332]] Thursday, November 6, 1884. Tennyson wished me to bring Mr. Alfred R. Wallace to visit him. It was arranged that Wallace and I should go over to-day. Mr. Wallace came by the 12:35 train from Godalming, and Helen and I (she specially invited by Hallam) joined at Witley. At Haslemere we found Hallam with a pony-carriage.

    Tennyson 'not well'--looking languid and rather sad.

    At luncheon, talk about the tropic woods: Wallace said you would find one kind of tree in flower for about a week, and at another time another kind of tree in flower for a short time, but you might come again and again and find no flowers at all; there were never in the Tropics such masses of floral colour as in an English Spring.

    Tennyson was disappointed at this, and asked about the trailing plants. Wallace called them 'glorious,' but more for the rich drapery than the colours. The palm-tops are mostly a grayish green.

    We digressed to novels. Mr. Wallace (rather to my surprise) reads 'a good many in the course of the year,' but does not hurry over them. He and Hallam exchanged names of novels to be ordered from the Circulating Library, Lord Tennyson being an incessant novel-reader. While we were speaking of woods etc. Tennyson said 'Bayard Taylor, who has been everywhere, said the most beautiful sight he ever saw was a wood in Lapland covered with frozen rain and the sun shining on it.'

    Also, 'Sir Robert Kane said the most awful thing [[p. 333]] he ever experienced was the absolute silence of an Arctic winter.'

    Mr. Wallace, Hallam and I went round the grounds, looking at various conifers.

    To the Study. Wallace gave details of table-rapping, table-prancing, and so forth, his own experiences and other people's. He never doubts any statement whatever in favor of 'Spiritualism,' and has an answer to every objection. 'Maskelyne and Cooke do wonderful things.'--'Yes, partly by the help of mediumship.'

    'The "Spirits" often give foolish and misleading answers.'--'Yes, as might be expected; that only proves them to be human beings.'

    'Why noises and motions of tables? Why these particular "Mediums"?'--'Such are the conditions; why, we do not know.'

    Wallace said it was absurd to suppose that Matter could move itself. I ventured to remark that Matter, so far as we can penetrate, does move itself, indeed is perpetually in motion.

    He rejoined that in table-rapping, etc., the phenomena were manifestly governed by an intelligence like our own. The means of communication between the Unseen World and ours were few and difficult.

    Here Tennyson said, 'A great ocean pressing round us on every side, and only leaking in by a few chinks?'--of which Wallace took no notice, but went on to describe instances of spirit-writing on slates, by Slade and others.

    (I fear my tone all through was hardly respectful to the spirits.)

    Somehow or other a sudden digression was made to politics, and Wallace came out with a strong opinion of the worthlessness of the House of Lords and the absurdity of the hereditary principle.2

    Tennyson said, 'I think I respect it more than the other House.'

    Wallace--'The other House wants reforming very badly, no doubt.'

    [[p. 334]] The Duke of Marlborough was mentioned. Wallace denounced the purchase of his Raphael with the public money as 'scandalous'--would not buy any pictures or works of art with the taxpayers' money--'let wealthy men buy and present them to the nation if they think fit.'

    Egypt somehow came in, and Wallace thought we ought to leave the Mahdi alone. He is perhaps a great man, and at all events we know no harm of him.

    Tennyson--'I know no good of him.'

    Allingham--'Would you not like to see the Nile?'

    Tennyson--'I'd much rather see tropical nature, but now I never shall.'

    And then he questioned Wallace again about tropical scenery, producing a poem in MS., from which he read two or three lines about palms and purple seas. He wanted to know if the palm-trees could be seen rising distinct above the rest of the forest.

    Wallace--'Yes, on a hill-side.'

    'What colour are they?'

    'Rather light--gray-green.'

    'Is an expanse of tropical forest dark, seen from above?'

    'Not particularly; less so than an English woodland.'

    Tennyson--'Then I must change the word "dark."'

    Tennyson referred with praise to Wallace's book, Tropical Nature, and remarked, 'You have said something very [[p. 335]] bold about Matter? I think Matter more mysterious than Spirit. I can conceive, in a way, what Spirit is, but not Matter.'

    Wallace--'I conceive Matter not as a substance at all, but as points of energy, and that if these were withdrawn Matter would disappear.'

    Tennyson said this was something like his own notion.

   Wallace--'So far from a material atom being indestructible, I believe that all the Matter in existence might be immediately destroyed by the withdrawal of the sustaining Force.'

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Editor's Notes

1Wallace's two surviving children, William and Violet.
2Wallace didn't think that the courts should involve themselves in the hereditary transfer of property.

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