As part of my research I recently came across a lovely short letter written by Alfred Russel Wallace to the students of the University of Colorado after they had sent him a birthday message.
Wallace’s typically charming response (sent 12 January 1912) has been included below along with the flower to which he referred in the text, the Bee Orchid.
According to Charles H. Smith, this letter was originally published in the student newspaper, Silver and Gold, which continued publishing at the University of Colorado until 2009. It was then republished in Science (still very much going strong!) on 29 March 1912.
I first came across it when it was cited (in a slightly abridged form) in Sir Richard Gregory’s Discovery; Or the Spirit and Service of Science in 1916 (Gregory, 1916: 18).
The letter is one of the many examples of Wallace revealing his genuinely never-ending passion for nature and its confusing, fascinating and beautiful variety:
My dear Young Friends:
Thank you much for your very kind greetings. I am much pleased that so many of you are readers of my books. The wonders of nature have been the delight and solace of my life. From the day when I first saw a bee-orchis (Ophrys apifera) in ignorant astonishment, to my first view of the grand forests of the Amazon; thence to the Malay Archipelago, where every fresh island with its marvellous novelties and beauties was an additional delight–nature has afforded me an ever-increasing rapture, and the attempt to solve some of her myriad problems an ever-growing sense of mystery and awe. And now, in my wild garden and greenhouse, the endless diversities of plant life renew my enjoyments; and the ever-changing pageants of the seasons impress me more than ever in my earlier days.
I sincerely wish you all some of the delight in the mere contemplation of nature’s mysteries and beauties which I have enjoyed, and still enjoy.
Yours very truly, Alfred R. Wallace.