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Letter 1186

Darwin, C. R. to Lyell, Charles

[16 June 1848]

    Summary Add

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    Comments on Ann Susan Horner's escape in a dangerous incident at sea.

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    Compares addresses by William Buckland and CL, delivered at recent meeting of the Geological Society.

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    Discusses the views on Glen Roy in Chambers' Ancient sea-margins [1848].

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    Speculates that Chambers wrote Vestiges [of creation (1844)].

Transcription

Down Farnborough Kent

Friday.

My dear Lyell

I did not hear till after I saw you on Wednesday at the Council, of the wonderful escape Miss. S. Horner has had. Emma wanted to write to Mrs Lyell to say how astonished & shocked she had been at my account of what very little I knew; but she is poorly enough & so I write to say how heartily we congratulate you all on her safety, but congratulation is not the proper word, for one feels that the risk has been too great & dreadful.

Mr Horner, I know, always had a horror of the sea & now it is indeed justified.—

I was at the evening meeting but did not get within hail of you. What a fool (though I must say a very amusing one) Buckland did make of himself. Your speech was refreshing after it & was well characterised by Fox (my cousin) in three words “What a contrast”! That struck me as a capital speculation about the Wealden Continent going down. I did not hear what you settled at the Council; I was quite wearied out & bewildered.

I find Smith of Jordan Hill has a much worse opinion of R. Chambers' book than even I have. Chambers has piqued me a little; he says I “propound” & “profess my belief” that Glen Roy is marine & that the idea was accepted because the “mobility of the land was the ascendant idea of the day” He adds some very faint upper lines in Glen Spean, (seen, by the way, by Agassiz), & has shown that Milne & Kemp are right in there being horizontal aqueous markings (not at coincident levels with those of Glen Roy) in other parts of Scotland, at great heights, & he adds several other cases. This is the whole of his addition to the data. He not only takes my line of argument from the buttresses & terraces below the lower shelf & some other arguments, (without acknowledgment), but he sneers at all his predecessors not having perceived the importance of the short-portions of lines intermediate between the chief ones in Glen Roy, whereas I commence the description of them with saying, that “perceiving their importance I examined them with scrupulous care” &c & expatiate at considerable length on them.

I have indirectly told him I do not think he has quite claims to consider that he alone (which he pretty directly asserts) has solved the problem of Glen Roy.

With respect to the terraces at lower levels coincident in height all round Scotland & England, I am inclined to believe he shows some little probability of there being some leading ones coincident, but much more exact evidence is required.— Would you believe it credible; he advances as a probable solution to account for the rise of Great Britain; that in some great ocean 120th of the bottom of the whole aqueous surface of the globe has sunk in (he does not say where he puts it) for a thickness of 12 a mile, & this he has calculated would make an apparent rise of 130 feet. If he be, as I believe, the Author of the Vestiges this book for poverty of intellect is a literary curiosity.— I have written all this, as I believe it may save you reading the Book: it is to the best of my Belief, an honest account.

My dear Lyell | Yours most truly | C. Darwin

I shall be in London I trust, before you go, & you must let me pay you a tea or breakfast call.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 1186.f1
    CD attended a council meeting of the Geological Society on Wednesday 14 June (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix I).
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    f2 1186.f2
    Ann Susan (Susan) Horner, daughter of Leonard Horner, was Charles Lyell's sister-in-law. She had been visiting Rome with Frances Joanna and Charles James Fox Bunbury, her sister and brother-in-law, and on her return was shipwrecked in the Ariel off the Vado Rocks, near Livorno (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 137 n.; F. J. Bunbury ed. 1891–3, Middle Life 1: 386–7, 389).
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    f3 1186.f3
    William Buckland, who probably commented on Mantell 1849 (see n. 6, below).
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    f4 1186.f4
    Lyell may also have commented on Mantell 1849, in addition to reading a paper by Henry Davis (Davis 1849).
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    f5 1186.f5
    William Darwin Fox, a close friend of CD since their time at Cambridge University (Correspondence vol. 1).
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    f6 1186.f6
    Gideon Algernon Mantell read a paper on organic remains recently discovered in the Wealden formation to the Geological Society on 14 June (Mantell 1849). CD is probably referring to comments made in discussion afterwards. In his journal, Mantell recorded: ‘Read my paper on the Wealden, and exhibited my jaw of the Iguanadon. A very full meeting … The affair passed off capitally; every one was in good humour, and I had every reason to be gratified with the cordial manner in which this fortunate confirmation of my early researches was received’ (Curwen ed. 1940, p. 223).
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    f7 1186.f7
    James Smith of Jordanhill had written papers on the changes of level in the land and sea on the west coast of Scotland (J. Smith 1836) and in the Mediterranean (J. Smith 1847a).
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    f8 1186.f8
    Chambers 1848, pp. 108–9.
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    f9 1186.f9
    William Kemp, who described terraces in the valley of the Gala in Kemp 1843, pp. 33–4. The terraces are discussed in Chambers 1848, pp. 182–90.
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    f10 1186.f10
    See letter to Charles Lyell, [11 October 1847], in which CD is jubilant that the other ‘parallel roads’ at Galashiels appeared to be at the same level as those of Glen Roy.
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    f11 1186.f11
    Chambers 1848, p. 319. Chambers cited CD's theory of coral reef formation as justification for his own suggestion.
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    f12 1186.f12
    Robert Chambers's authorship of Vestiges of the natural history of creation ([Chambers] 1844) was widely known by 1854 (A. Desmond 1982, p. 210 n. 28). See Correspondence vol. 3, letters to J. D. Hooker, [7 January 1845], and to W. D. Fox, [24 April 1845], for CD's response to the book; for his guess that Chambers was the author, see letter to J. D. Hooker, [18 April 1847]. Lyell and others at the British Association meeting in Oxford in June 1847 rejected the geological arguments put forward by Chambers on the grounds they were too like those of Vestiges. Andrew Crombie Ramsay recorded in his diary (Geikie 1895, 4: 103): At eleven the business began with Chambers's paper on Raised Beaches. He certainly pushed his conclusions to a most unwarrantable length, and got roughly handled on account of it by Buckland, De la Beche, Sedgwick, Murchison, and Lyell. The last told me afterwards that he did so purposely that C. might see that reasonings in the style of the author of the Vestiges would not be tolerated among scientific men.
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