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Darwin Correspondence Project


From Charles Lyell   26 December 1836

16 Hart Street, Bloomsbury:

December 26, 1836.

My dear Sir,—

I have read your paper1 with the greatest pleasure, and should like to point out several passages which require explanation, and must have a word or two altered, but it would be impossible in a letter. I have made notes on them, and hope you will call here before you read the paper. Will you come up on Monday, January 2, and come and dine with us at half-past five o’clock, or come at five, and I will go over the paper before dinner? No one dines with us but Mr. and Mrs. Horner and one daughter, and Mr. Horner will be glad to renew his acquaintance with you.2

We dine early, because we have one of our small early tea parties, and one or two are to be here, to whom I should like to introduce you, besides a few whom you know already. If you cannot get here to dinner, you must if possible join the evening party.

The idea of the Pampas going up, at the rate of an inch in a century, while the Western Coast and Andes rise many feet and unequally, has long been a dream of mine.3 What a splendid field you have to write upon!

I have spent the last week entirely in comparing recent shells with fossil Eocene species, identified by Deshayes.4 When some great principle is at stake, all the dryness of minute specific comparisons vanishes, but I heartily long for some one here with a collection of shells, and leisure to talk on these matters with. Lonsdale is overpowered with work. Don’t accept any official scientific place, if you can avoid it, and tell no one that I gave you this advice, as they would all cry out against me as the preacher of anti-patriotic principles. I fought against the calamity of being President5 as long as I could. All has gone on smoothly, and it has not cost me more time than I anticipated; but my question is, whether the time annihilated by learned bodies (‘par les affaires administratives’) is balanced by any good they do. Fancy exchanging Herschel at the Cape, for Herschel as President of the Royal Society, which he so narrowly escaped being,6 and I voting for him too! I hope to be forgiven for that.7 At least, work as I did, exclusively for yourself and for science for many years, and do not prematurely incur the honour or penalty of official dignities. There are people who may be profitably employed in such duties, because they would not work if not so engaged.

Whenever you come up, you must be here on Wednesday, and if you like to dine at the club do so.8 There is no vacancy, but you stand the first of those who are knocking at the door for admission.

Yours very truly, | Charles Lyell.


CD’s paper ‘Observations of proofs of recent elevation on the coast of Chili’ was read at the Geological Society on 4 January 1837 (Collected papers 1: 41–3).
CD had met Leonard Horner while a student at Edinburgh. Horner was Lyell’s father-in-law.
This specific comparison does not occur in the paper as printed in the Proceedings of the Geological Society, vol. 2, 1838 (Collected papers 1: 41–3), though the difference in rates of elevation is clear. The point that CD and Lyell were interested in, however, is that the entire continent is rising, and that the more rapid elevations caused by volcanic action on the west coast are ‘irregularities of action in some more widely extended phenomenon’ (Collected papers 1: 43).
Gérard Paul Deshayes amassed an enormous collection of recent and fossil molluscs. Statistical tables based on Deshayes’s collection provided important support for Lyell’s division of the Tertiary into Eocene, Miocene, and Pliocene. (Lyell 1830–3, 3: 49–60 and Wilson 1972, pp. 259–60, 301–7.)
Lyell served as President of the Geological Society during 1835–6 and again in 1849–50.
In 1830 John Herschel was unsuccessfully nominated for the presidency of the Royal Society as part of an effort to increase the influence of scientists within the organisation. From 1834 to 1838 he carried out important astronomical observations at the Cape of Good Hope.
Lyell actively solicited votes for Herschel (Wilson 1972, p. 304).
Lyell’s club was the Athenaeum. CD became a member on 21 June 1838 (Ward 1926).


Comments on [MS of] CD’s paper ["Elevation on the coast of Chili" (4 Jan 1837), Collected papers 1: 41–3].

Invites CD to dinner. "Don’t accept any official scientific place, if you can avoid it".

Letter details

Letter no.
Lyell, Charles
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
Published in K. M. Lyell (1881) 1: 474–5

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 335,” accessed on 29 July 2016,