To Charles Lyell [10 December 1859]1
Down Bromley Kent
My dear Lyell
Thank you much for your hints this morning received & all worked in. The Chapt. on Imperfection of G.R. was the first which I had to draw up merely from my copied notes: it was simply impossible for me to refer to works—2 About Missippi, I gave the 100,000 years3 from extract from De Verneuil or d’Archiac (I forget which) paper in the Bulletin, in which your estimate is not referred to.—4 I had fancied that your estimate was much less, & that was sole reason, why I put it in so doubtfully: I have now put it rather bolder.—5 My only wonder is that far more blunders of all kinds have not as yet been detected in all the latter chapters.— About richness of Purbeck beds, I have added for thickness of beds which was the idea in my mind, & I fancy true.6
On Friday I had interview with Sir H. Holland, & found him going immense way with us (ie all Birds from one)—good, as showing how wind blows.—7
I was excessively interested with your celts;8 would it not be worth while to enquire how those Esquimaux who have not iron cut holes in ice for catching fish & Seals, & dig snow-houses &c.— Could this explain your bigger tools? bearing in mind that these savages lived with glacial Elephant & Rhinoceros.—
I have very long interview with Owen, which perhaps you would like to hear about, but please repeat nothing. Under garb of great civility, he was inclined to be most bitter & sneering against me. Yet I infer from several expressions, that at bottom he goes immense way with us.—9 He was quite savage & crimson at my having put his name with defenders of immutability. When I said that was my impression & that of others, for several had remarked to me, that he would be dead against me: he then spoke of his own position in science & that of all the naturalists in London, “with your Huxleys”, with a degree of arrogance I never saw approached.10 He said to effect that my explanation was best ever published of manner of formation of species. I said I was very glad to hear it. He took me up short, “you must not at all suppose that I agree with in all respects”.— I said I thought it no more likely that I shd be right on nearly all points, than that I shd toss up a penny & get heads twenty times running.
I asked him which he thought the weakest parts,—he said he had no particular objection to any part.— He added in most sneering tone if I must criticise I shd say “we do not want to know what Darwin believes & is convinced of, but what he can prove”.— I agreed most fully & truly that I have probably greatly sinned in this line, & defended my general line of argument of inventing a theory, & seeing how many classes of facts the theory would explain.— I added that I would endeavour to modify the “believes” & “convinceds”. He took me up short,—“You will then spoil your book, the charm of(!) it is that it is Darwin himself”.— He added another objection that the book was too “teres atque rotundus”,11 —that it explained everything & that it was improbable in highest degree that I shd succeed in this”. I quite agree with this rather queer objection, & it comes to this that my book must be very bad or very good.— Lastly I thanked him him for Bear & Whale criticism, & said I had struck it out.— “Oh have you, well I was more struck with this than any other passage; you little know of the remarkable & essential relationship between bears & whales”.—12
I am to send him the reference, & by Jove I believe he thinks a sort of Bear was the grandpapa of Whales! I do not know whether I have wearied you with these details which do not repeat to any one.— We parted with high terms of consideration; which on reflexion I am almost sorry for.— He is the most astounding creature I ever encountered.
Farewell my dear Lyell | Yours most gratefully | C. Darwin
I have heard by round about channel that Herschel says my Book “is the law of higgledy-pigglety”.—13 What this exactly means I do not know, but it is evidently very contemptuous.— If true this is great blow & discouragement.
Discuss CL’s suggestions for revisions to the chapter on the geological record [Origin, ch. 9].
Henry Holland’s reaction to the book.
Comments on CL’s work on flint tools of early men.
Describes at length a conversation with Owen concerning Origin. Notes "that at bottom he goes immense way with us", but emphasises Owen’s unfriendly manner. Remarks that Owen accepted a relationship between bears and whales. "By Jove I believe he thinks a sort of Bear was the grandpapa of Whales!"
Has heard Herschel considered his book "the law of higgledy-piggledy".
- historical time
- negative attitude/assessment
- reception of Darwinism
- species, speciation
- specimens / samples
- theory (including philosophy)
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2575,” accessed on 30 September 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2575