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

 
 
Visit to Alfred Russel Wallace, June 27, 1904.
Broadstone Junction.

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: The Alfred Russel Wallace collection at the Natural History Museum (London) contains a typescript of notes (NHM WP2/6/3/11) recorded by Mrs. Wilmatte P. Cockerell of a visit she and her husband (Theodore, the biologist) made to Old Orchard in June 1904. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/Visit_to_Alfred.htm


    The most wonderful man! As our visit went on we were more and more impressed with his wide interests and active sympathy.

    The Japanese-Russian war was most actively and intelligently discussed. So great was his interest that in the afternoon when we visited Corfe Castle he carefully read the announcements of the latest news and called across the platform for a paper in order to get detailed information. He had great delight in the Japanese victory, set forth in the paper purporting to be the fifth edition. That he said was quite American, tho the American papers were certainly vastly inferior to the English in most ways. He explained to us at great length the art of physical culture as practiced in the education of the Japanese.

Favorite Child Story

    "To me," he said, as we sat in the twilight looking out over the old orchard at Poole Harbor in the distance, "to me, this is the most charming and delightful of children's stories," and then he went on to tell with all the charm of the born narrator how a little girl was one day allowed to have dinner with her mother. The dinner was quite grand and the little girl was much impressed. At last she said, "Mother, does God have a dinner like this every day?" Her mother spoke quite sternly and bade the child not to talk of such things,--that God did not have dinner. The child was silent and thoughtful for some time but at last broke out with, "Perhaps, he has an egg with his tea."

Ghost Stories

    One evening we had a most delightful time talking about ghosts. Dr. Wallace, being himself what we should call a spiritualist, sees in most ghost stories a foundation of fact; and pointing as they must (according to his ideas) to the world's dawning consciousness of a spiritual universe, he finds them of greatest interest.

    "Do you believe in ghosts, Mrs. Cockerell," he asked in a half serious manner which confused me a bit for I was not accustomed to discussing my ideas of ghosts. "We have not seen any," Theo explained, and the conversation went on.

    The ghost story published by Dickens but afterwards published by the man who knew the ghost Dr. Wallace thought the most delightful of all ghost stories. The ghost in that instance had a clear and definite good to perform and then he went on to tell us the story. His dramatic instinct must be very strong--he is, as we would say of a man with this gift alone, a born story teller. Dr. Wallace is a born so many things! I have never known a person with such catholic tastes and such varied and extensive reading.

    There was another ghost story from the Spanish that was said to be better than this one of Dickens but he had thus far been unable to find it.

    He had just been reading J- an English man's account of the Welsh people, their ballads, language, etc. In one place the writer says the Welsh were rather indignant that an Englishman should listen to their talk. "Well," J. answered, "I am willing that you should listen to me," and he told them this ghost story, the most wonderful ever told! "There," said Dr. Wallace, "I thought at last that I was to get at this story, but J. only says they were completely won by it."1

    However Dr. Wallace said a friend much skilled in searching out old books was on the track of this wonderful ghost story and he hoped soon to see it. Then he could judge if it were better than the one published by Dickens.

    He spoke of the fact that Weismann was bringing together all his published work. Weismann he held was the greatest of living naturalists.

    Lloyd Morgan, he considered second. His work in young chicks, ducks, and lambs, he thought of the greatest interest and importance. His work setting forth the conclusions was to him the most interesting book he had ever read--barring Darwin's.

    He then went on to tell us how the most careful and painstaking of investigators might be misled, Some man had worked on the same problem as that which later engaged Morgan and arrived at quite different results. The curious thing was that this man was himself converted by his own observations and this seemd to the public to be proof uncontrovertible.

    Morgan showed that the chicks had feelings, etc. but not knowledge--that they were afraid of everything--that judgment was necessary only once, but was absolutely necessary once. The experimenter before Morgan had failed to keep exact track and what he took for a first experience was in reality a second.

Reasons for the Disappearance of Insects from New Forest.

    Some one had just written an article setting forth the reasons for the disappearance of insects from the New Forest which he thought very highly of. It was thought by some, he said, that the numbers of insects collected, tended to reduce the number but that seemed to him quite incredible for the number collected was certainly a very small fraction of those destroyed in other ways. The fact was that the oak patches, which in the days of oak ships were carefully preserved, were now given over to cedar clumps; the cedars not only failed to furnish food to the oak feeding larvæ, but killed all undergrowth which otherwise would furnish food for numerous species.

    The government, he thought, ought to recognize this and return to oak forestry, for the cedar brought very little money and certainly was not a good tree for the English climate.

The Relation of the Nutrition of the Body to Health.

    He thought the popular idea that what was one man's meat was another man's poison was very true; That many people went through life diseased, often dying before their time, simply because there was not sufficient nourishment in the food they took to keep their bodies in health. He himself had been a good illustration of this fact. Suffered with asthma--first when chilled by going on tender to steamer from Quebec--suffered on voyage across but was completely cured apparently on reaching land, but later in life (70?) it returned at frequent intervals and stayed for longer and longer times until life became a burden.

    Bruce Joy came down to make a bust [medallion?] of him and found him in a wretched state because of the asthma but said quietly that he could tell him how to rid himself of it. The method he had tried himself and had from the great American specialist, Salisbury. It was to leave off starchy foods--take roast beef and a great deal of hot water. In a very little time Wallace said he felt immensely better and since then he had adhered to the diet suggested though he had not been obliged to be very particular and during the time since Bruce Joy gave him the advice he had never had the least touch of asthma and was greatly benefitted in health in every way. His "Man's Place in the Universe" could not possible have been written except for his improved health. His life that had become a burden, was a real joy, he said. Growing out of that we had a most interesting discussion on the nutrition of the body. Dr. Wallace maintained that nutrition meant everything and that the saying "What is one man's meat is another man's poison" was very true and it was not, he said, any question of imagination, but a real physical constitution. He spoke in this connection of the case of Scudder, the celebrated entomologist, who could not be in a room with a dog. One evening a number of scientific men--Scudder and others--had met at the place of a friend. During the evening Scudder suddenly bade them good bye and whispered a few words to the host. "It was quite impossible," the man said, "he had given special orders that his dog should be kept tied," but Scudder hurried away and the dog was soon after discovered in an adjoining room. The odor, Dr. Wallace thought, gave rise to a sickness perhaps resembling hay fever.

    I was much interested to hear all this for from a man believing absolutely in a spirit apart from the body, I had expected that he would have great faith in the prevalent idea of the great power of mind on the body.

    "The charm of your husband to us," said Mrs. Wallace, "is his love of all nature. I remember his picking up a slug and stroking it." "Birch," said Dr. Wallace to my husband "is the most enthusiastic lover of all natural phenomena like you."

Visit to Corfe Castle

    One afternoon Dr. Wallace took us to Corfe Castle. It was evidently not the idea of the household to leave guests to their own devices for we were looked after most assiduously, some member of the family being always ready to see that we were being entertained.

New Place.

    I had hunted for just such a place as this for three years, he told us, and this I discovered quite by accident. A friend brought me to see the view and as I looked out past the old orchard into the stretch of moor toward the harbor I knew it was the very place. "Was it possible to secure the place?" I asked my friend and he said it certainly was since it belonged to Lord S. who would sell anything if the price was forthcoming. I began negotiating at once and after about three months the place was mine. He pointed out a splendid tree a few feet beyond his boundary. I was tempted to enlarge my grounds so that I might take in that tree but it is just as well that I didn't for as it is I find as you Americans graphically express it, "I have bitten off more than I can chew."

    The second morning we walked about the garden which was indeed wonderful for growing side by side were rare and beautiful plants from the most distant parts of the world. An Iris from Japan shaded a small creeper from South Africa and plants from the Himalayas and Brazilian Alps grew in a bed with South European and African species.

    The charm of it all lay not alone in the love of the owner and his knowledge of the habits and variations in plant life and structure, but greatly in his delight in the beauty of form and elegance of color. The third morning he said with all the eagerness of an unspoiled child, "Now we will go around the garden and see the plants that have opened during the night." And so from plant to plant we went, catching the morning's brightness in the newly blown rose, or iris.

    This love of the exquisite in form and color and the choice and elegant words with which he described them were surely those of an artist or poet.

    But the practical side of gardening was not neglected, for the cabbages and beans and peas grew to perfection, and the luscious strawberries which he himself picked for breakfast were a treat long to be remembered.

    He delighted in the woods about his place and even a part of his own small holding was left wild and he simply introduced more shrubs in the undergrowth or flowers in the sward.

    There is certainly nothing finer in world than the grass grown buttercup and daisy dotted sward of an English orchard and Dr. Wallace had been abroad enough to appreciate to the full the beauties of an English landscape.

    He told us how when he first spent a spring in America he had the keenest delight in the flowers, "But it was only the novelty, he explained, and later I came to appreciate the richness of the flora of England." California, he thought, probably had a lovelier flora than England but the Eastern United States certainly does not have.

    Of all the wonders of America, he thought there was nothing quite unique except the big trees. He expressed the greatest admiration for John Muir. He told us about Muir's love for the great trees and said that his description of the splendid giants was actually the work of a genius.

    He was busy on his biography which he said was being written to please his English and American publishers who had been very anxious for it since the great success of "Man's Place in the Universe."

    Some one had written him a gorgeously flattering letter, he told us, one morning at breakfast, and at another time he told us with much amusement how a clergyman had written him simply sending a reference to a certain passage in Genesis. He doubtless thought, Dr. Wallace said, that he had quite completed the argument. He had offered a clincher as it were.


Note Appearing in the Original Typescript

    1. I think this refers to something in George Borrow.


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