Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Spencer to Howitt


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Aug 23.06

My dear Howitt,

Your letter came as a relief to me. I had the idea that you might, in your kindness of heart, decide to withdraw your papers and, in the interests of Ethnology, felt that this would be a most grave mistake. There has never been such an opportunity of showing Lang in his true light & did I belong to the persuasion of our mutual friend Fison I should verily believe that the lord had purposely delivered him into your hands in order that he might be dealt with as deserves & that the truth should prevail.

To my thinking his letter to the Athenaeum only made matters worse. However he little realized when he gaily wrote his misnamed "Secret of the Totem" what a snag he

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had run up against.

In regard to Frazer I fancy that the matter is to be explained by the fact that June - Oct. are months occupied by the Long Vac. in Cambridge when Frazer would be abroad. I have no doubt but that you will hear from him soon & you may feel perfectly easy in regards to the matter as work such as this is exactly what he would most cheerfully undertake. I do not doubt but that you will soon hear from him. If you do not I know him so well that I can easily write to him about it. I wrote to him by this mail but only received your letter after posting mine in which however I had referred to your new papers so that he is quite sure to write to me about them before long.

I am itching to get onto some

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more ethnologic work but simply cannot. Routine work is all that I can get through at the present time.

I am simply chortling all over at thinking how you have got the ethnologic charlatan tied up in knot from which even he with his almost superhuman power of wriggling & twisting cannot escape. It will go a long way towards clearing the air so far as Australian ethnology is concerned. I only wish in addition that you could have had the chance of enquiring minutely into totemic matters for I feel quite sure that with it? come differences in detail you would have found amongst the S.E. tribes (and certainly amongst the Dieri nation) essentially the same belief of remnants of them such as we meet with the central tribes. AS it is Lang & others argue from the fact that such beliefs or remnants of the same, have not been described by yourself & others that they did not exist.

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We are having a lovely rain down in Melbourne which causes me much rejoicing as my garden sorely needs it. In a month or two it might be gay with flowers.

Please let me know a few days ahead when you are coming down in September. Since writing to you I have been reminded that I asked a friend and his wife from Adelaide to stay a day or two with me during that month on their way through to Sydney. I think they come on Sept. 20th.

Kind regards to Miss Howitt.

Yours very sincerely
W. Baldwin Spencer.

Rights: State Library of Victoria

Document Details

Date Made

Document Details

Letter From
Sir, Spencer, Walter Baldwin
Letter To
Howitt, Alfred William
Number of Pages




State Library of Victoria