My Life

A Record of Events and Opinions

In two volumes

Alfred Russel Wallace

Dodd, Mead & Co, New York



Alfred Russel Wallace is best known for his pioneering work on evolution - and it was his paper on the role of natural selection which triggered Charles Darwin, who had been researching the area for some 20 years, to finally publish On The Origin of Species. As such this book by Wallace is an important work in the history of science.

However it is of particular interest on this web site because of the detailed early chapters which relate to Hertford.

My Relatives and Ancestors includes information on his mother's family, her grandfather William Greenell was mayor of Hertford in 1773 and 1779, and information on why the family moved from Usk (where Alfred was born) to Hertford.

His account of his life in Hertford provides a wonderful insight into the town at the time, with very detailed descriptions - such as this short extract - which really brings a country walk to life:

From the south-west corner of All Saint's Churchyard was a broad pathway bounded by hedges, called Queen's bench Walk, near the top of which was a seat, whence there was a nice view over the town, and the story was that the seat had been put there for Queen Elizabeth, who admired the view. This led into a lane, and further on to an open footpath across a field to Dunkirk's Farm. In this field, about fifty yards to the left, was a spring of pure water carefully bricked round, and as springs were not by any means common, we seldom went this way without running down to it to take a drink of water and admire its purity and upward bubbling out of the earth. At Dunkirk's Farm we crossed the end of Morgan's Walk, a fine straight avenue of lofty elms (I think) about three-quarters of a mile long, terminating in a rather large house - Brickenden Bury. ...

The following extract comes from his detailed description of the Hertford Grammar School where he was educated:

The headmaster in my time was a rather irascible little man named Clement Henry Critwell. He limped very much owing to one leg being shorter than the other, and the foot, I think, permanently drawn up at the instep, but he was very active, used no stick, and could walk along a quickly and apparently as easily as most people. He was usually called by the boys Old Cruttle or Old Clemmy, and when he overheard these names used, which was not often, he would give us a short lecture on the impropriety and impoliteness of miscalling those in authority over us. He was a good master, inasmuch as he kept order in the school, and carried on the work of teaching about eighty boys by four masters, all in one room, with great regularity and with no marked inconvenience. Whatever might be the noise and games going on when he was absent, the moment his step was heard on the porch silence and order at once reigned.

Flogging with a cane was not uncommon for more serious offences, while for slighter ones he would box the ears pretty severely. If a boy did not obey his orders immediately, or repeated his offence soon afterwards, however trifling it might be, such as speaking to another boy or pinching him surreptitiously, he often, without another word, came down from his desk and gave the offender a resounding box on the ear. ...

The chapters on Hertford are an essential read if your ancestors come from the town in the early 19th century and you want a good verbal description of life at the time. It also gives a good impression of everyday life in a small private school.




My Relatives and Ancestors

Usk: My Earliest Memories

Hertford: The Home of My Boyhood

Hertford: My School Life

Hertford: My Home Life

London Workers, Secularists & Owenites

Bedfordshire: Surveying

Bedfordshire: Turvey

Bedfordshire: Silsoe & Leighton Buzzard

Kington & Radnorshire


Shropshire & Jack Mytton


First Literary Events

Remarks on My Character at Twenty-one

London & Leicester

Residence at Neath

The Journey to the Amazon

"In Memoriam"

In London, & Voyage to Singapore

The Malay Archipelago: Singapore, Malacca, Borneo

Celebes, The Moluccas, New Guinea, Timor, Java, & Sumatra

Life in London, 1862-1871: Scientific & Literary Work

Home Life: My Friends and Acquaintances: Sir Charles Lyell



The Alfred Russel Wallace WebSite



The Wallace Online Web Site contain information on all Wallace's writings


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September 2012   Page Created