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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   8 July [1856]

Down Bromley Kent

July 8th.

My dear Lyell

Very many thanks for your two notes1 & especially for Maury’s map:2 also for Books which you are going to lend me.

I am sorry you cannot give any verdict on continental extensions; & I infer that you think my arguments of not much weight against such extensions: I know I wish I could believe.—

I have been having a good look at Maury (which I once before looked at)3 & in respect to Madeira & co, I must say that the chart seems to me against land-extension explaining introduction of organic beings. Madeira, the Canaries & Azores are so tied together that I shd. have thought that they ought to have been connected by some bank if changes of level had been connected with their organic relation. The azores ought too to have shown, more connection with America. I had sometimes speculated whether icebergs could account for the greater number of European plants & their more northern character on the Azores compared with Madeira; but it seems dangerous until boulders are found there.4

One of the most curious points in Maury, as it strikes me, is the little change, which about 9000 feet of sudden elevation would make in the continent visible, & what a prodigious change 9000 feet subsidence would make! Is this difference due to denudation during elevation? Certainly 12,000 feet elevation would make a prodigious change.—5

I have just been quoting you in my essay on ice carrying seeds in S. hemisphere;6 but this will not do in all the cases.— I have had a week of such labour in getting up the relations of all the antarctic floras from Hooker’s admirable works. Oddly enough I have just finished in great detail giving evidence of coolness in Tropical regions during the glacial epoch, & the consequent migration of organisms through the Tropics. There are a good many difficulties, but upon the whole it explains much. This has been a favourite notion with me almost since I wrote on erratic boulders of the south.—7 It harmonises with the modification of species, & without admitting this awful postulate the glacial epoch in the south & Tropics does not work in well. About Atlantis, I doubt whether the Canary islands are as much more related to the continent as they ought to be if formerly connected by continuous land.—

Yours most truly | C. Darwin

Hooker with whom I have formerly discussed the notion of the world or great belts of it having been cooler, though he at first saw great difficulties (& difficulties there are great enough) I think is much inclined to adopt the idea. With modification of specific forms it explains some wondrous odd facts in distribution.

But I shall never stop if I get on this subject, on which I have been at work, sometimes in triumph & sometimes in despair, for the last month.


The notes have not been found, but see n. 4, below.
See letter to Charles Lyell, 16 [June 1856]. CD refers to Maury 1855a, in which there is a detailed map indicating the various depths of the ‘Basin of the North Atlantic Ocean’.
CD’s reading notebook records a different work by Matthew FontaineMaury, also published in 1855 but concerned with sailing directions (Maury 1855b), which he also noted ‘Lyell has’ (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *128: 163).
Lyell’s opinion that icebergs may have contributed to the dispersal of animals and plants was expressed in a note made in his scientific journal after receiving CD’s letter of 5 July (letter to Charles Lyell, 5 July [1856]). In his journal (Wilson ed. 1970, p. 116) Lyell wrote: Letter Darwin July 5, 1856 Icebergs & floating ice between latitudes 35 & 80 in each hemisphere may have been great agents of transporting species & have done much which is attributed to continental extension. Take the Glacial period as a unit & multiply this by all post-miocene Time & the result may afford an amount of geographl. change capable with the additional aid of means of transport & migration of species of carrying them every where even across the line by aid of cold periods & mountainous islands & floating ice & floating timber—
CD cited the ninth edition of Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1853) in Natural selection, pp. 561 and 562.
‘On the distribution of the erratic boulders and on the contemporaneous unstratified deposits of South America’ (Collected papers 1: 145–63).


Thanks CL for loan of [Matthew Fontaine?] Maury’s map.

Discusses possibility of submerged continental extension including Madeira, Canaries, and Azores.

Mentions icebergs as carriers of European plants.

Hooker’s work on Antarctic flora.

Comments on coolness of tropics in glacial period and consequent migrations. Hooker’s views on this.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (134)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1920,” accessed on 17 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6