Comments extensively on CL's book [Travels in North America (1845)]. Lyell's views on slavery, the clergy, education, and coalfields. Has difficulty in tracing Lyell's course. Comments on geological portions, especially CL's comparisons of living and fossil organisms to those of South America and Tasmania; animal formation of carbonic acid and effects of vegetable decay; Indians' use of lumber. Discusses water-borne transportation of wood, fruit, and seeds. Notes distribution of Arctic flora.
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Lyell
I have been wishing to write to you for a week past, but every five-minute's
worth of strength has been expended in getting out my Second Part. Your note pleased me
a good deal more, I daresay, than my dedication did you, and I
thank you much for it. Your work has interested me much,
& I will give you my impressions, though as I never thought you would care to
hear what I thought of the non-scientific parts, I made no notes nor took pains to
remember any particular impression of
Your account of the religious state of the States particularly interested me: I was surprised throughout at your very proper boldness against the clergy. In your university chapter, the clergy & not the state of Education are most severely & justly handled; and this I think is very bold, for I conceive you might crush a leaden-headed old Don, as a Don, with more safety, than touch the finger of that corporate animal, the Clergy. What a contrast in education does England show itself! Your apology (using the term, like the old religionists who meant anything but an apology) for lectures struck me as very clever: but all the arguments in the world on your side are not equal to one course of Jamieson's Lectures on the other side, which I formerly for my sins experienced. Although I had read about the coal-fields in N. America, I never in the smallest degree really comprehended their area, their thickness & favourable position: nothing hardly astounded me more in your book.—
Some few parts struck me as rather heterogenous, but I do not know whether to an extent
that at all signified. I missed, however, a good deal some general heading, to the
chapters, such as the two or three principal places visited. One has no right to expect
an author to write down to the zero of geographical ignorance of the reader; but I, not
knowing a single place, was occasionally rather plagued in tracing your course.
Sometimes in the beginning of a chapter, in one paragraph your course was traced through
a half-dozen places; anyone, as ignorant as myself, if he could be found, would prefer
such a disturbing paragraph left out. I cut your map loose & I found that a
great comfort: I could not follow your engraved track. I think in a second edition,
interspaces, here & there of one line open,
All the coal-theory appeared to me very good: but it is no use going on enumerating in this manner.— I wish there had been more Nat. Hist; I liked all the scattered fragments.—
I have now given you an exact transcript of my thoughts; but they are hardly worth your reading. I have a few remarks on particular passages, which; however, are very much in the same predicament.
p. 81. Are you sure of the resemblance of the corals, shells, &
insects of Van Diemen's Land & the N.? Surely the insects at least are
different; & are not shells too similar all over the world to offer a good
standard of comparison. You speak also of the analogy of the Arctic & Antarctic
Faunas. In T. del. Fuego, the most southern land, certainly the
mammals, birds, fish, insects & I should have thought shells and corals show
little signs of relations with the N.— In plants there is not only an
analogy, but some of the species are identical.— Perhaps
you have better authority, however, than I am aware of: I sh
p. 138 Would you please to tell me, whether there are any extinct species of Fulgur & Gnathodon in the U.S. or elsewhere?
p. 150—bottom paragraph strikes me as obscure, in fact, I cannot
understand it. I do not see the reason (& it ought to be made very obvious) why
you do not mention in your present sources of Carbonic A. the breathing of all
animals. Is it correct to say one gas absorbs
another? I presume you are certain that the putrefaction of animal matter
yields carbonic acid; I had fancied it yielded little: I think Liebig
Might you not in this discussion, bring more prominently forward the absurdity of arguing from one quarter of the globe, without knowing what was going on in other parts; for instance, whether or not, peat was forming over 1000's of miles in both the N. & S. hemispheres at that period.?
p. 181 Would it not have been better, if you had explained by what meansrain-water could carry away a seam of carbon; for I, for one, do not understandhow.—
Vol II. p. 37 D
Vol II. p 54. Although it may be strictly true that we seldom meet with wood or
fruits floating on the sea, yet this cannot be at all in effect true: for on the
Falklands, the Galapagos, the Radack & the Keeling islands drift-wood &
fruit & seeds are thrown up abundantly: at Keeling the fruit &c
&c almost certainly must have been transported 2000 miles. Heaven knows
how many thousand the northern firs-trees must have travelled which are cast
(together with bamboos & Palms) on the Radack Is
p. 65. Hearne in his Travels gives a grand account of the Buffaloes in the Prairies pushing each over the cliffs of the rivers when rushing to drink. Will the fact, which I give in my Journal bear on this subject, viz that in the droughts, the animals, which drink of the saline streams all perish on the spot.
p. 189. Does not the present Arctic Flora, afford a parallel in extent of distribution, with your carboniferous Flora?
These are my few & unimportant conjectural criticisms or rather
queries,—to some of which I sh
My wife & Baby are going on very well. Thank
Farewell, I congratulate you on having brought out so capital a book as your Travels: I sincerely trust after your return that I shall have, for one, the great pleasure of reading another volume | Ever yours | C. Darwin
P.S. Have you any of my volumes of Lamarck??
- f1 899.f1CD first wrote ‘Wednesday’, then deleted it and wrote ‘(Saturday)’. Saturday, 2 August 1845, seems to be the date that the second number of Journal of researches 2d ed. appeared (Freeman 1977, p. 35): the previous Wednesday was 30 July.
- f2 899.f2See letter to Charles Lyell, [5 July 1845].
- f3 899.f3C. Lyell 1845a.
- f4 899.f4Though he criticised American racial attitudes, Lyell disapproved of the Abolitionist movement and took a pessimistic view of the possibility of emancipation (C. Lyell 1845a, 1: 181–95).
- f5 899.f5CD attended Robert Jameson's lectures at Edinburgh University in 1827 (see Autobiography, pp. 52–3, and Ashworth 1935, pp. 99–101).
- f6 899.f6CD's annotated copy is preserved in the Darwin Library–CUL.
- f7 899.f7Lyell emphasised the essential similarity existing among organisms of a given era, regardless of geographical distribution, asserting particularly the resemblance between the corals, shells, and insects of Tasmania and those of the northern temperate zone. The passages are marked in CD's copy (Darwin Library–CUL) with ‘? ! ?’ and ‘? !! no’ (C. Lyell 1845a, 1: 81).
- f8 899.f8In a somewhat ambiguous passage, Lyell seems to say he has seen fossil shells identical to living members of these American genera.
- f9 899.f9Lyell argued against the theory of Adolphe Théodore Brongniart that in the earliest geological times the atmosphere had been very rich in carbon. Brongniart believed that excess carbon had been absorbed by plants and buried in the great deposits of the Carboniferous, at which time higher forms of animal life were introduced (Brongniart 1828, pp. 251–4). Lyell refuted this view by showing that modern plants do not alter the composition of the atmosphere since there is a constant replenishment of carbon from other sources.
- f10 899.f10Justus von Liebig employed the term ‘eremacausis’ for slow oxidation of organic matter (see Liebig 1840, p. 261).
- f11 899.f11Lyell was thinking of the carbon content of topsoil that had been subsequently covered by other deposits.
- f12 899.f12Lyell (1845a 2: 37) had cited Samuel George Morton's mistaken assertion that canoes hollowed from logs were standard throughout the Americas. In his copy of Lyell's work CD wrote ‘No’ against the passage.
- f13 899.f13Hearne 1795. Samuel Hearne was an explorer and Canadian administrator.
- f14 899.f14Journal of researches 2d ed., p. 134.
- f15 899.f15Lyell (1845a, 2: 188–9) had commented on the similarity between coal plants in North America and Europe, suggesting there was no parallel case at the present day.
- f16 899.f16Lyell's address in London.
- f17 899.f17The Darwin Library–CUL contains only volumes two and four of the seven-volume first edition of Lamarck's Histoire des animaux sans vertèbres (1815–22). They are annotated by CD. All eleven volumes of the second edition (1835–45) are preserved, but are not annotated.