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Walter Baldwin Spencer manuscript collection Box 4

5. Henry Balfour to Walter Baldwin Spencer, 28 September 1898 [emphasis added for website not in original]

apologizes for not having written, have had a busy year and have been abroad a bit.

‘Things here are much as heretofore, the chief excitement is caused by Lankester’s translation to a higher sphere + of course the question of his successor. Now I am very sorry that you don’t mean to go in for it, there are so many who would welcome you back here, + you have been gaining so much experience of the A.K. at large. The difficulty, to my mind, about the post is that nearly everyone is a complete specialist, almost a one-group man, and for the purposes of the Honour School it is surely desirable to have as much of a generalist as possible, not too much biased by ideas as to the special + overwhelming claims of any one group.’ Weldon can do this to some extent, Bourne is very estimable and amiable. Had always hoped that BS would come back to England. Look forward to the publication of their work, will be of great value. Comments on Roth’s book ‘The information is most valuable + well collected + illustrated, the deductions must be taken cum grano, the terminology in many instances fairly ‘gives one the blight’! I wonder if he would collect a few specimens for my museum. There are so many things I want. I was of course delighted with the Horn Exped. specimens which are a grand addition to the Museum. I have just received a lot of things from a certain E. Clement who travelled in W. and N.W. Australia up country. He brought back a large collection. Do you know of him? What is your opinion of Louis de Rougemount, we are having a dose of him in England…’ …

‘Tylor is quite well, getting rather old perhaps + he may forget things a bit. He will be back here I fancy about the 10th Oct. I will ask him about Miss Howitt’s ms of which I had not heard, I will ask him to let me see it, + if I can help in the matter I shall be very pleased.’ Discusses what Tylor has done with BS’s proofs. Hope Frazer will refrain from editing BS’s ms.

‘I wrote to Gillen some good time ago asking him if he could very kindly let me have photographs of his natives especially such as deal with arts, customs etc. I have not heard from him + I daresay he is far too busy to attend to ‘begging letters’, so I haven’t worried him again. Photos I find are so important an adjunct to a Museum that I try to beg all I can for a series I am making for the Museum. My funds don’t allow of my buying many in the open Market, + the trade ones are apt to be unsatisfactory + made up.’…

‘I envied Partington his cruise around, I greatly wish I could get to Australia + see the Museums, but I don’t just yet see my way to being away long enough I have no understudy who can do my work in the Museum, + I have some papers I want to get off my hands. Can you or anyone trace out + map the native trade routes in Australia generally. I wish one could feel a bit clear on this point, the general lines of dispersal of ideas from one part to another, + the extent to which the fragments of New Guinea + Madagascar Culture have penetrated along trade routes (or longstanding lines of communication) from the North in to the remoter parts of Australia. I am busy with a monograph (to give it so dignified a title) on the musical bow, + have a very wide distribution for it over the world. So far as I can see the evidence points to dispersal from one or at most two centres, dispersal in early terms, but I don’t want to theorize + shall stick to description so far as possible. The more I go on the more I see that it is still dangerous to form theories, + I prefer to collect + collate + leave the theories to fit themselves onto masses of facts not small groups of indifferently connected examples.

‘I wish that men like Howitt + Fison, Gillen + the ‘Pakeha Maori’ [author of ‘Old New Zealand’] would appear in England + come + chat over pipes now + then.’ Was delighted to see Fison when he was over but little time for quiet talk. …

My work lies amongst the arts + appliances of Man + my main object is to trace the histories of things back as far as possible using modern ‘survivals’ to fill in gaps in the Archaeological record. Customs, myth etc. I hardly dare write about as the difficulty of getting hold of them completely is so great, + it is hard at home to sort the facts from the lies in the ordinary published accounts of more or less inaccurate observers. Moreover Tylor has a natural aptitude for this line of research + I can be relieved of the responsibility which he can so well tackle. He really is wonderful in a way, + is one of the very few stay-at-homes who can make much of the subject. He is at present ramming his head against Totems, + is somewhat fogged just now, but I fancy that your work has clear matters for him, though it is the N. American side of things with which he has been dealing.

‘Anson of All Souls is to be our next Vice Chancellor, I hope that he will view the Museum with a kindly eye, though I have my doubts. Science I fancy does not mean very much to him. Carfax Church has been pulled down leaving the tower only, to the great improvement of the traffic arrangements + also the appearance of that part. The Brit. Assoc. at Bristol was pretty successful, the heat was awful however. We had a few No. 1 size cranks around offering papers, + it was amusing boo[m]ing them off. There were some very good papers too. I was up the Norwegian Coast this summer, mostly north of the circle with my wife + boy. We had a jolly time in the Lofoten Ids. + Tromsö, but the weather was bad + spoilt a lot of small trips I wished to make.’ …

‘Remember me to Fison + Stirling if ever you come across them.’

28. HB to BS, (no date)

was away when your letter arrived, glad the memorial was successful, and that you and Gillen to continue the ground work you have begun, hope you will be able to get to Tommy Roth’s domain and clear up question of totemism which must exist. ‘Shall you be able to make large collections, or will transport be too great a difficulty. Find out all you can in regard to details of belief + practice in ‘Sympathetic Magic’, + ideas which lie at the root of it…Try and get examples as you go along of the best efforts at realistic representations of men + animals, + ask the natives to draw profile faces, + to make the best they can of portraiture. It is rather a chance with quite untaught savages to see how their ideas run.’ All waiting to hear first news from you.

[Comments on death of Acland] ‘Acland was certainly very decrepit, but I was very fond of him + his work in getting the Museum founded + the deep interest he took in it to the end, make one miss him as a founder of science in Oxford. Hatchett Jackson is Radcliffe Librarian now, + the Museum is throwing out pseudopodia in all directions, a new Pathology laboratory, a new Morphological ditto, + a new library are all large additions, + as they are being all built in different styles (some of which are anything definite) the Museum is becoming the most heterogeneous medley of architectural horrors that can be imagined. However inside is better than out. The Pitt Rivers jogs along gaily, + I have had a fine year for accessions. With the Hardy collection I got a large number of good Australian things. Amongst them two of the ‘strangling cords’ which B. Smyth describes. I believe there are but three or so known, though I may be wrong. Also I have a [beaked] boomerang made in two pieces, somewhat thus [sketch], a new type to me. Also many other interesting things which are very good additions.’ …

‘Tylor + Thomson would send greetings in they were here.’

As a P.S. ‘Thanks, I got over my typhoid fever in time, it took 6 months but I put in a trip to S. Africa for the sea voyage, + that was something. The rest was sheer waste.’

[Transcribed by Frances Larson for the Relational Museum project]

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