skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project


To Charles Lyell   [2 June 1847]1



My dear Lyell

I return the Whewell correspondence2 with thanks: I do not know whether you thought any answer of Whewell’s was enclosed with your’s; such certainly was not the case.— I like your letter very much, & admire your cool boldness. The Master of Trinity must have been surprised at being argued with on terms of such perfect equality; & if he thought you meant to publish it, I am not the least surprised at his calls & civilities to avoid anything so unpleasant.

I, also, return Silliman3 & am glad to have seen Dr Morton’s arcticle:4 my opinion, of it, as you ask for it, is that it is in main part, a merely tabulated compilation from Griffith’s Cuvier,5 with a few other facts interpolated. He is, I think, too credulous; but it is a pretty good compilation: his worse fault is that he has not gone to his original source,—thus he makes a great flourish about perfect fertility of the genus Crax:6 whereas the original authority, namely Temminck says speaking of these hybrids, “a great number are quite sterile, others have bred once, & a smaller number have produced a good many young,”7 & it is not stated that the crosses have been inter-se; on the other hand between two other species of Crax it is stated that the crosses were with either parent: no doubt by these crosses a multitude of hybrids have been produced, but there is a want of exactness in the manner Morton gives the facts.— Again, he takes as his single instance of a bigeneric cross in plants, a case which has been tryed in vain in England & of which the accuracy has been publickly challenged.—8 In conclusion, therefore, I do not think Dr Morton a safe man to quote from, without going to his authority; nor has he discovered any recondite authorities.

What a capital Journal Silliman’s is; there is always something of interest in it.

Farewell | Ever yours | C. Darwin

Dr Morton quotes Temminck as authority for two wag-tails crossing in wild-state,9 in case you shd believe this from the high authority of Temminck, I may just add that the species have only quite lately been made out (if they now are) in Motacilla & that this very cross has been doubted by good authority.— He makes confusion about the crossing of crows, by supposing that the common crow C. corone!! is different from carrion crow & thus makes hybrids between 3 nominal species—whereas there is doubt about any on account of black varieties of the Royston Crow10 so I cd go on, but will not waste your & my own time


Dated on the assumption that CD met Lyell at a council meeting of the Geological Society on 26 May (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix I) and received the papers which are being returned in the letter. The next time that CD attended the council, on 9 June 1847, is not a likely date for receipt of the papers because it does not leave enough time for CD to have read the papers before discussing them in the letter to J. D. Hooker, [10 June 1847].
The correspondence had to do with university reform. Lyell had criticised English universities in his Travels in North America (C. Lyell 1845). William Whewell, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, published a reply (Whewell 1845, ch. 2, sec. 2) and wrote a letter of remonstrance to Lyell. In a letter to George Ticknor, 2 April 1847, Lyell wrote: ‘There is a move now in the right direction; but the clerical influence arrayed against all progressive sciences, whether physical or literary, is too powerful to be easily overcome.’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 127; see also Bailey 1963, p. 168).
American Journal of Science and Arts, founded by Benjamin Silliman, often referred to as Silliman’s Journal.
Morton 1847, in which Samuel George Morton discussed hybridity in animals and its bearing on the origin of the races of man.
Griffith et al. 1827–35.
Morton 1847, p. 204.
The passage CD cites is in Temminck 1813–15, 3: 13. In it, Coenraad Jacob Temminck discussed the hybrids resulting from the interbreeding of different species of Crax (a genus of curassow) under domestication. The text reads: ‘Des individus nés de ces alliances illégitimes, un grand nombre s’est trouvé infécond, d’autres ont été fécondés une seule fois, et n’ont jamais produits depuis; le plus petit nombre a produit tantôt des individus semblable à la mère, et le plus souvent, décorés d’un plumage nouveau, tenant à la fois de l’une et de l’autre espèce.’
Morton 1847, p. 210. The cross is between a horseradish and a cabbage.
Morton 1847, p. 207, citing Temminck 1820–40, 1: 254. The original reads: ‘J’ai acquis la certitude que dans nos contrées occidentales, cette espèce [Motacilla lugubris] s’accouple avec la Bergeronnette grise [Motacilla alba] et produit des individus tapirés de noir et de cendre clair.’
Morton 1847, p. 207. The carrion crow and the common crow are the same bird, Corvus corone. It was a matter of debate whether the hooded or Royston crow was a separate species, C. cornix, or a variety of C. corone.


Comments on correspondence between CL and Whewell [concerning university reform].

Criticises S. G. Morton’s "Hybridity in animals" [Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 3 (1847): 39–50, 203–12].

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Lyell, Charles
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (60)
Physical description
3pp † & C

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1093,” accessed on 24 August 2016,