Discusses various types of coral reefs on which he has been collecting notes. Views of C. G. Ehrenberg. His conception of the formation of Bermuda.
Pessimistic about the effect of his poor health on his scientific work.
My dear Lyell
Your letter was forwarded me here.— I was the more glad to receive it, as I
never dreamed of your being able to find time to write now that you must be so very
busy, and I had nothing to tell you about myself, else I should have written—
I am pleased to hear how extensive & successful a trip you appear to have
made— you must have worked hard & got your Silurian subject well in
your head to have profited by so short an excursion—
How I should have enjoyed to have followed you about the coral-limestone— I
once saw close to Wenlock, something such as you describe, & made a rough
drawing, I remember, of the masses of coral— But the
degree in which the whole mass was regularly stratified & the quantity
of mud, made me think, that the reefs could never have been like those in the Pacific,
but that they most resembled those on the East coast of Africa,
which seem from charts & descriptions to confine extensive flats &
mangrove swamps with mud—or like some imperfect ones, about the West Indian
I will think of your suggestion of a neutral tint for such coral-reefs, as I am uncertain about, but I almost doubt whether it will be worth while— I shall of course enumerate them.— (N.B. Coral reefs extend along nearly whole line of both coasts of Red Sea) I advise you to leave the Red Sea quite uncoloured, for I have not yet considered all the data I have collected— If Ehrenberg's account of the constitution of the land be correct (as I am inclined to believe) then from Capt Moresby's accounts & charts all ought to be coloured red, for the true reefs certainly are mere fringes to singularly formed land— I much suspect that ancient barrier & encircling reefs, formed by subsidence, have since, within pleiocene period been uplifted & often worn down by surf, & are now only fringed by living reefs— This will I believe make Ehrenbergs, Moresby's & other accounts all harmonize— I doubt whether I shall make any allusion to this view, as it will appear so hypothetical—though to you & your pupils, as a mere theoretical case, it might have been expected to have somewhere occurred.—
The reefs in the West Indies are also obscure in some parts, owing to the accumulation of sediment & the large upward movement, wh has gone on there: the symmetry of reefs seems greatly disturbed every where except in open ocean, or near open ordinary coast-lines: I have not finally considered my portfolio of notes on the West Indies.
Bermuda differs much from any other isl
I remember now, that Bermuda is very like the Bahama banks &
My health has improved a good deal, since I have been in the country, & I believe to a stranger's eyes, I should look quite a strong man, but I find I am not up to any exertion, & I am constantly tiring myself by very trifling things.
My Fathers scarcely seems to expect, that I shall become strong for some years— it has been a bitter mortification for me, to digest the conclusion, that the “race is for the strong”—& that I shall probably do little more, but must be content to admire the strides others make in Science— So it must be, but I shall just crawl on with my S. American work & be as easy as I can.—
I hope I shall just see you, before you start, —but
it is not quite certain, though I think we shall return about 15
My dear Lyell | Believe me your's most sincerely | C. Darwin
If I do not return to London on the 16
- f1 602.f1In June 1841 Lyell travelled to Aymestry in Radnorshire, Wales, where he examined the corals of the Wenlock limestone, a Silurian formation. See Wilson 1972, pp. 515–16.
- f2 602.f2Wenlock Edge, a limestone ridge south of Shrewsbury, the standard geological sequence for part of R. I. Murchison's Silurian system. CD's notes, made in July 1838, are in DAR 5 (ser. 2): 21–2. The drawing is on pp. 119–20 of his Glen Roy notebook (DAR 130).
- f3 602.f3Described in Coral reefs, pp. 188–91.
- f4 602.f4Ibid., pp. 196–205.
- f5 602.f5Plate III (a world map) in Coral reefs is coloured as follows: dark blue for atolls and submerged annular reefs, pale blue for barrier reefs, pale red for fringing reefs, and bright red for volcanoes. Uncoloured coasts signify no reefs, reefs of an irregular form, reefs not based on coral foundation, and certain unusual reefs in the Red Sea (Coral reefs, pp. 119–23).
- f6 602.f6Ehrenberg 1834.
- f7 602.f7Robert Moresby, a naval officer who carried out surveys in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. For this information the editors thank J. D. Brown, Naval Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence. Moresby provided CD with extensive descriptions of coral reefs (see Coral reefs, pp. 22, 83, 191–6).
- f8 602.f8The Lyells were preparing to leave on a year's trip to America.