skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   27 and 28 April [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 27th. —

My dear Lyell

Thanks for Newberry:2 I will read it in about a week’s time & will keep it, if useful to me; otherwise will return it to you.— I quite agree that the non-comittal men do not always most help on science.

I sent you a day or two ago, the clever review by Laugel3 & President of Tyneside Naturalists’ Address.—4

With respect to Dogs (& several other domestic animals) I have always thought the case must remain doubtful, but I think the argument strongly preponderate in favour of the multiple origin.5 I shd. not like to commit myself to names until I can weigh all the evidence in mass. I do not at all believe that Owen did not know perfectly well some of the wild Canidæ to which I alluded.6 The case has been too often discussed from time of Pallas to present day for him not to know.7 Looking to Dogs of world, I believe in their blood, more or less mingled, there is the blood of the European Wolf—two very distinct N. American wolves; probably the Guyana dog or wolf; probably (for I think argument of Pallas & lately of Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire have much weight) of several so-called species or wild races of Jackall.—8

I will compile facts in my present volume;9 but it seems to me more prudent not to enter on detail on this doubtful subject in the Origin.—

Dawson’s remark on variability of Canidæ may be true, but I suspect he would find it very hard to prove.—10

My dear Lyell | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

Please return the 3 Reviews whenever you have quite done with them.

P.S.— Apr. 28th | I have received your various budgets. I am extremely obliged for drawings & have sent them to Paris, with strictest injunctions about care & their return.—11

I presume that Carpenter would call the Vertebrata a class, & the Birds an order; but this certainly is not usual.12 But to estimate the values of groups has always been found hopelessly difficult.—

The case of Spitz Dog is (from me probably) originally from Bechstein,13 but no particulars are given.— I think the Sheep & Goat in Chile is nearest case of reversion to one pure parent by repeated crosses.— But no one can doubt that this could be easily effected, seeing that the number of generations in which it can be done with various plants was well ascertained by Gartner & I think by Kolreuter.—14 By the way it has been effected with the very distinct Phasianus colchicus & versicolor,—not that I have compared the reverted breed with the original.—15

I see that I have misunderstood you, & you mean reversion when the hybrids are bred inter se. The case you allude to seems very wonderful & improbable, & I must endeavour to find out where described. It almost passes my belief!

I have been much interested by your closing remarks. I cannot explain why, but to me it would be an infinite satisfaction to believe that mankind will progress to such a pitch, that we shd. be looked back at as mere Barbarians.—16 I have received proof-sheets (with a wonderfully nice letter) of very hostile review by Andrew Murray, read before Royal Soc. of Edinburgh.—17 But I am tired with answering it. Indeed I have done nothing this whole day but write letters, so no more.—

My dear Lyell | Ever Yours | C. D.


Dated by the reference to John Strong Newberry’s paper on North American fossil plants (see n. 2, below).
An annotated copy of Newberry 1860 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. It is inscribed: ‘Sir Chas Lyell with the respects of J. S. Newberry’. Newberry was an American geologist who had studied the Cretaceous flora and fauna of the south-western part of the United States.
Laugel 1860.
Henry Baker Tristram was president of the Tyneside Naturalists’ Field Club in 1860. In his presidential address of 29 March 1860, Tristram criticised Origin (Tristram 1860, pp. 218–28).
CD and Lyell had carried on a lengthy discussion about the origin of the different breeds of domestic dogs in October and November 1858. See Correspondence vol. 7. Lyell inclined towards upholding descent from a single ancestor, whereas CD favoured multiple origin. CD discussed the issue in Variation 1: 15–33. CD consulted Lyell about the topic again in September 1860 (see letters to Charles Lyell, 23 [September 1860] and 26 [September 1860]).
In his review of Origin, Richard Owen had referred to CD’s belief that domestic dogs had descended from several wild species ([R. Owen] 1860a, p. 528): It may be so; but what are the species here referred to? Are they known, or named, or can they be defined? If so, why are they not indicated, so that the naturalist might have some means of judging of the degree of probability, or value of the surmise, and of its bearing on the hypothesis?
Pyotr Simon Pallas had written extensively on the origin and variation of domestic animals. CD had studied his writings closely (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 7a, 10a, 13a).
Pallas 1780 and I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1854–62, 3: 107, are cited on this point in Variation 1: 16 n. 2. CD had recently obtained the first part of the third volume of I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1854–62 (see letter to Williams and Norgate, 6 March [1860]).
CD began work on Variation in March 1860 (see ‘Journal’; Appendix II).
Lyell had been reading John William Dawson’s Archaia (Dawson 1860a), a treatise on the relationship between cosmogony and natural history (see Wilson ed. 1970, p. 371). In the chapter on the unity and antiquity of man, Dawson discussed the topic of variability within species; stating his belief that wolves and foxes were very prone to vary, he went on to say (Dawson 1860a, pp. 254–5): Constitutional liability to vary is sometimes connected with or dependent on extreme simplicity of structure, in other cases on a high degree of intelligence and consequent adaptation to various modes of subsistence. Those minute, simply organised, and very variable creatures, the Foraminifera, exemplify the first of these apparent causes; the crafty wolves furnish examples of the second. Lyell subsequently wrote to Dawson about this work and defended CD’s view of the unlimited variability of species (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 332–3).
Budget: ‘The contents of a bag or wallet; a bundle, a collection or stock.’ (OED). The drawings that Lyell sent CD have not been identified.
This point relates to a discussion included in William Benjamin Carpenter’s recent review of Origin ([Carpenter] 1860b). Carpenter queried the extent to which natural selection could operate. He allowed that all birds could have arisen from one progenitor since they showed little divergence from a common type, but not that birds could have originated from the same line as reptiles or mammals. He advocated separate creation for ‘each of the great types’ and for humans (see [Carpenter] 1860b, p. 404). Lyell made notes on these points in his scientific journal (Wilson ed. 1970, p. 378). Carpenter’s review is also mentioned in an entry dated 25 April 1860 that is headed ‘With Darwin’ (Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 372–3). CD visited Lyell in London on 22 April 1860 (see letter to Charles Lyell, 15 April [1860]).
Bechstein 1793–1805 is cited in Variation 1: 31 as the authority for statements on the Spitz (Pomeranian) dog. CD’s annotated copy of the work is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Karl Friedrich von Gärtner and Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter. CD’s annotated copies of Gärtner 1844 and 1849 are in the Darwin Library–CUL. His abstracts of Kölreuter’s papers are in DAR 116.
See Natural selection, p. 432 and n. 2. Phasianus colchicus is the common pheasant; P. versicolor is known as Diard’s pheasant.
Lyell discussed this point in his scientific journal (see Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 374–5, 379).


Thanks CL for loan of paper by J. S. Newberry ["Notes on the ancient vegetation of N. America", Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 29 (1860): 208–18].

Mentions reviews of the Origin.

Discusses evolution of the domestic dog, especially with respect to the views of Owen, Pallas, and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.

Mentions W. B. Carpenter’s views on taxonomy.

Discusses hybridisation of plants and animals.

Comments on progress in human evolution.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell (1st baronet)
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (209)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2771,” accessed on 24 November 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8