skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   6 March [1863]


March 6th

My dear Lyell.

Putting you off was a great & bitter disappointment,1 I shd. so have liked to have talked over many points & Owen’s false letter.2 But I had no choice, & I much fear that Emma is right & that I must knock off all work & all of us go to Malvern for two months.3 I get on with nothing.— Thank you much for your interesting note.—4 Keep Dana—5

I have been of course, deeply interested by your Book:6 I have hardly any remarks worth sending, but will scribble a little on what most interested me. But I will first get out what I hate saying, viz that I have been greatly disappointed that you have not given judgment & spoken fairly out what you think about the derivation of Species.7 I shd. have been contented if you had boldly said that species have not been separately created, & had thrown as much doubt as you like on how far variation & N. Selection suffices. I hope to Heaven I am wrong (& from what you say about Whewell it seems so) but I cannot see how your Chapters can do more good than an extraordinarily able review.”8 I think the Parthenon is right that you will leave the Public in a fog.9 No doubt they may infer that as you give more space to myself, Wallace & Hooker than to Lamarck, you think more of us.10 But I had always thought that your judgment would have been an epoch in the subject.11 All that is over with me; & I will only think on the admirable skill with which you have selected the striking points & explained them.— No praise can be too strong, in my opinion, on that inimitable chapter on language in comparison with species.12

Now for a few trifling criticisms13

p. 187. Sentence beginning “my friend Mr Evans” not clear:14

p. 229 sentence “but long after that period” seems to me awkward & not clear.15

p. 231— “hence there will be passages”   It is not clear whether you refer to glaciers or floating ice-bergs, if the latter might they not have been overturned?16

p. 257. “For Cap—Sullivan read Sulivan17

p. 264— I wonder you did not add a vivid sentence, which you could have done so well, at the end of Glen Roy, on our almost still seeing the glacier lakes.18

p. 278. the number of the p. itself at top is inverted—19

I think the glacier chapters are almost the best in the book.20 The closing pages of Ch. XIV are magnificient, I can use no other term.21 I think this discussion has interested me almost more than the antiquity of man. The gloss of novelty was worn off the latter, yet I have been deeply struck by the effect of the agglomerated evidence.

p. 294   might not you have added preservation of striæ under lakes & according to Smith of J. Hill under tidal fiords.22

p. 323   ought you not to have added a sentence or two on the glacial phenomena of S. America & N. Zealand?23 Have you heard of Haast’s statemts of pre-historic man in N. Zealand?24 I was disappointed that you did not discuss the supposed warmer period after glacial period in N. America—

How admirable are your remarks on Ramsay’s Theory!25

p. 367. I do not know whether Hooker will approve of your coupling his name with mine on mundane glacial period   He has often fought me strongly on it—26 I feel a conviction that no view throws so much light on Geograph. Distrib: Hooker even in his late papers on Fernando Po & Cameroon Mts does not allude to the coldness of the Tropics.27 These latter cases seem to me to prove that Africa was then colder, & this was the only quarter of the globe where full proof was wanting. I think I convinced Hooker that the general phenomena are not explicable on the assumption that one Tropical region remained hot as a refuge for Tropical productions.28

p. 370. 5 lines from bottom   Ought not “polished” to be added before “stone”? as it stands it is very puzzling.—29

p. 374— Wd not S. Africa be a better case with its elephants rhinos. Lions, Hippopotamus &c living in swarms formerly with savage man30

p. 379. I cannot see the force of your argument. Has not the Australian remained a savage to the present day?31

Ch. XXI   I think it wd have been advantageous to have enlarged a little more on Nat. Selec. explaining adaptations; at least this was the turning point with me.32

Wd it not have been well to have given a few more striking instances of rudiments?33

How admirably you treat the imperfection of Geolog. record in many places.34

p. 417   It is of little consequence, but Hooker published his Essay a month after the Origin; see my Hist. Introduct. I asked him.35

p. 421. Who is Sefström? neither Lubbock or I ever heard of him.36

p 446. 14 lines from bottom. A person might say that you thought that bats & rodents were not placentals. you show afterwards that this would be a mistake37

p. 447. The fewness of individuals in Islands I believe, as explained in Origin, wd account for the no great amount of transmutation therein.38

450. What a pity you give Owen’s name of “macrurus” instead of von Meyer’s proper name of Lithographicus.39

p. 469. Any one might argue from the middle paragraph that you were far from believing that man was descended from any animal.40

P. 497 Top of p. Compare mind of dog with its wild aboriginal.41

P. 500. I am surprized at what you say about man & Miocene strata considering great gap between man & other animals.—42

p. 505. Sentence at top of p. makes me groan.43

I suppose you could not lend me Owen’s paper on the Aye Aye? Is the part very expensive? I am sorely tempted to expose in Athenæum what rubbish Owen has written on the subject.44

I know you will forgive me for writing with perfect freedom; for you must know how deeply I respect you, as my old honoured guide & master.— I heartily hope & expect that your Book will have gigantic circulation & may do in many ways as much good as it ought to do.—45

I am tired; so no more. I have written so briefly that you will have to guess my meaning. I fear my remarks are hardly worth sending— Farewell—with kindest remembrances to Lady Lyell | Ever yours | C. Darwin


Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell had planned to visit Down House from 1 to 4 March 1863, but CD cancelled the visit because of ill health (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and 5 March [1863]).
CD refers to Richard Owen’s letter, published in the Athenæum, 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, protesting about his treatment in Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). For CD’s view of Owen’s criticisms, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863], and letter to T. H. Huxley, 26 [February 1863].
CD refers to James Manby Gully’s hydropathic establishment at Great Malvern, Worcestershire.
Lyell’s letter has not been found; however, some indication of its contents is given by the letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863].
CD may refer to the letter from J. D. Dana, 5 February 1863, which he apparently sent with his letter to Lyell of 17 [February 1863]. CD may also have sent a copy of Dana 1863c; however, there is a presentation copy of this work in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD received a presentation copy of Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a) on 4 February 1863 (see letter to Charles Lyell, 4 [February 1863]); there is an annotated presentation copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 525–7).
CD refers to Lyell’s extensive but inconclusive discussion of theories of transmutation of species and organic progression in C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 385–506. On Lyell’s unwillingness to commit himself to a belief in the transmutation of species, see Bartholomew 1973. On CD’s reaction to Lyell’s position, see letter to Asa Gray, 23 February [1863], letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863], and letter to T. H. Huxley, 26 [February 1863].
Lyell’s letter has not been found, but see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863] and n. 16. The reference is to William Whewell, who consistently opposed theories of organic transmutation, including CD’s theory (see Ruse 1991, and Correspondence vol. 8, letter from William Whewell, 2 January 1860). In a letter to Lyell of 28 February 1863 (Todhunter 1876, 2: 429–30), Whewell had written that he was ‘deriving great pleasure’ from reading C. Lyell 1863a, and that he was ‘especially delighted’ with Lyell’s chapter comparing the development of languages and species (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 454–70), which he considered ‘admirably adapted to explain the difficulties and the solutions of the one theory by the other’. However, in the same letter, Whewell reiterated his earlier view that in the ‘palætiological sciences’ (that is, sciences of historical causes), ‘no natural beginning is discoverable’.
The reference is to a review of C. Lyell 1863a published in the Parthenon on 21 February 1863, pp. 233–5. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863], n. 10.
The references are to Alfred Russel Wallace, with whom CD announced the theory of natural selection (C. Darwin and Wallace 1858), Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was one of the first publicly to endorse natural selection (see J. D. Hooker 1859), and Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, whose evolutionary theory Lyell had opposed in his Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3; see also Bartholomew 1973). In C. Lyell 1863a, Lyell discussed Lamarck’s theory in a preliminary chapter on theories of progression and transmutation (pp. 385–406), and went on to describe CD’s theory and discuss possible objections to it (pp. 407–53).
Lyell was a leading figure in the British scientific establishment, whose critical views of transmutation, first enunciated in Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3), had played an important role in the British debate on the subject. Lyell had been CD’s scientific mentor (see, for example, Browne 1995).
In the chapter ‘Origin and development of languages and species compared’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 454–70), Lyell drew on the philological work of Friedrich Max Müller and others, to argue that many of the difficulties that were encountered by naturalists in attempting to explain the origin of species by modified descent were similar to those that had been solved by philologists with regard to the origin of languages. See also letter to Asa Gray, 23 February [1863] and n. 17.
In CD’s copy of C. Lyell 1863a, which is in the Darwin Library–CUL, many of the passages in which CD suggested changes are annotated (see Marginalia 1: 525–7). Some indication of Lyell’s reaction to CD’s comments is given by his notes on a fragment of the envelope to this letter; Lyell wrote: ‘Meridional belts of warm & cold will not explain all the phenomena of distribution of species. | 8. Selection explaining adaptations not enlarged enough | more examples of rudiments | 9. The fewness of individuals in islands prevents transmutation’. See nn. 26–8, 32–3, and 38, below. In addition, Lyell annotated with marginal crosses several of the points raised in CD’s letter that correspond with corrections in the second edition of his book (C. Lyell 1863b; see nn. 14–17, 19, and 29, below). A discussion of the alterations made between the first, second, and third editions of Antiquity of man is given in Grayson 1985.
The reference is to John Evans. The sentence was reworded in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 187).
The sentence was reworded in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 229).
The passage was modified in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 231).
Bartholomew James Sulivan. The name is corrected in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 257).
No such addition was made to the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 264).
The number was corrected in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 278).
In chapters 12–18 of Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 206–368), Lyell discussed recent researches on glaciation, and outlined a chronology of the Pleistocene glacial period. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863].
The last section of chapter 14 was entitled ‘Time required for successive changes in physical geography in the Post-Pliocene period’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 284–9).
J. Smith 1848, p. 18. The Scottish geologist James Smith was known as ‘Smith of Jordanhill’. No such addition was made to the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 294).
No such addition was made to the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 323).
In an address to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, New Zealand, Julius von Haast referred to reports of the discovery of pre-Maori stone implements in Wellington Province (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a, p. 7). Haast sent a copy of his address to CD in November 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Julius von Haast, 9 December 1862, and this volume, letter to Julius von Haast, 22 January 1863).
CD refers to Lyell’s critique of Andrew Crombie Ramsay’s controversial theory that many European and American rock-basins, now containing lakes, owed their origin to glacial erosion (see Ramsay 1862, and C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 311–19). Lyell was one of the leading critics of Ramsay’s theory (see Davies 1969, pp. 305–6, and Correspondence vol. 10). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [1 March 1863] and n. 11. Lyell marked this sentence with a pencilled bracket in the margin and the annotation ‘D’.
Lyell referred to CD’s and Hooker’s belief in the trans-tropical migration of plant species along north-south aligned mountain chains during a global Pleistocene glacial period. For their differences on this subject, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863], n. 17. The sentence remained unchanged in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 367), but see n. 13, above.
CD considered that the recent discovery of temperate plants in the Cameroons Mountains and on Fernando Po provided additional evidence for his belief that temperate species had migrated into the tropical regions during a global Pleistocene glacial period. He refers to Hooker’s paper on the plants of Fernando Po (J. D. Hooker 1861), and probably to an unpublished paper on the plants of the Cameroons Mountains, read before the Linnean Society of London on 5 June 1862 (see Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 6 (1862): cvi; see also Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 June 1862, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 June [1862]). Hooker’s researches on the Cameroons flora were later published as J. D. Hooker 1863b.
The sentence was reworded in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 370).
CD refers to Lyell’s argument that, given the difficulty of exterminating ‘noxious’ quadrupeds in modern times, ‘even with the aid of fire-arms’, it was reasonable to presume that the ‘time demanded for the gradual dying out or extirpation of a large number of wild beasts which figure in the Post-pliocene strata, and are missing in the Recent fauna’, was of ‘protracted duration’; Lyell illustrated the point by reference to the tiger in India. The passage remained unchanged in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 374).
In opposition to the commonly held view that humans had degenerated from a ‘primæval state of superior intelligence’, and that knowledge of the arts and sciences had been ‘supernaturally communicated’, Lyell argued that in such a case, given the ‘improvable nature’ of humans, the progress of civilisation would have been much more rapid than the record of human artefacts showed (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 378–9). These paragraphs were not changed in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, pp. 378–9); Lyell pencilled a question-mark in the margin at this point in CD’s letter.
Lyell outlined CD’s theory in chapter 21 of Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 407–23). This discussion was not enlarged in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, pp. 407–23); however, Lyell marked this sentence of CD’s letter with a pencilled brace in the margin and the annotation ‘D’. See also n. 13, above.
Lyell made reference to only two examples of rudimentary organs (C. Lyell 1863a, p. 413). The paragraph remained unaltered in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 413), but see n. 13, above.
References to the imperfection of the geological record appear throughout the volume, although there is a section dealing specifically with the subject in C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 448–53. CD’s comment was probably prompted by the brief discussion on pp. 414–15, concerning the discovery of missing links.
Hooker’s introductory essay to Flora Tasmaniæ (J. D. Hooker 1859), in which he endorsed CD’s theory of evolution by natural selection, was published on 29 December 1859 (Taxonomic literature); Origin was published on 24 November 1859 (Freeman 1977). CD asked Hooker the date of publication of his essay in the letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 [January 1860] (Correspondence vol. 8); however, Hooker apparently did not reply to the query (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1860]). CD detailed the order of publication in his ‘sketch of the progress of opinion on the Origin of Species’, which was first added as a preface to the American edition of Origin, published in July 1860 (Origin US ed., p. xi). In C. Lyell 1863a, p. 417, Lyell referred to Hooker’s essay as having been published ‘a few months before the appearance of the “Origin of Species’”. In the second edition of Antiquity of man the publication date of Hooker’s essay was given as December 1859 (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 417). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 March 1863], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1863].
In the second edition Lyell changed ‘Sefström’ to ‘Steenstrup’ (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 421). Nils Gabriel Sefström was a Swedish chemist, physician, and natural historian (SMK); Japetus Steenstrup was a Danish zoologist (DSB). CD also refers to John Lubbock. No correspondence between him and CD on this subject has been found.
CD refers to Lyell’s statement that the bats and rodents of Australia had not developed into the ‘higher or placental type’; in the second edition Lyell changed this to read ‘higher placental types’ (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 446). Later in the same section, Lyell stated that the preoccupancy of Australia by marsupials might have ‘checked the development of the placental rodents and cheiroptera’ (C. Lyell 1863a, p. 448).
In a section headed ‘Absence of Mammalia in islands considered in reference to transmutation’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 443–8), Lyell argued that one reason why the bats found in Madeira and the Canary Islands had not given rise, by transmutation, to other mammalian forms, was that there would be occasional crossing of the island bats with individuals arriving from the African continent. CD refers to the statement in Origin, p. 105, that ‘fewness of individuals will greatly retard the production of new species through natural selection, by decreasing the chance of the appearance of favourable variations’. The passage remained unaltered in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 447), but see n. 13, above.
The name Archaeopteryx lithographica was assigned by Hermann von Meyer on the basis of a fossil feather found in the lithographic slate quarries at Solenhofen, Germany (Meyer 1861). When a near-complete fossil skeleton of a bird-like reptile was discovered at Solenhofen shortly afterwards, Andreas Wagner gave it the name Griphosaurus (J. A. Wagner 1861b and 1862). The specimen was first described from personal observation by Owen (Owen 1862a), who gave it the name Archeopteryx macrura, arguing that its identity with Meyer’s specimen could not be satisfactorily established (Owen 1862a, p. 33 n.). Lyell used the name Archaeopteryx macrurus in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 450).
Lyell wrote (C. Lyell 1863a, p. 469): In our attempts to account for the origin of species, we find ourselves still sooner brought face to face with the working of a law of developement of so high an order as to stand nearly in the same relation as the Deity himself to man’s finite understanding, a law capable of adding new and powerful causes, such as the moral and intellectual faculties of the human race, to a system of nature which had gone on for millions of years without the intervention of any analogous cause. If we confound ‘Variation’ or ‘Natural Selection’ with such creational laws, we deify secondary causes or immeasurably exaggerate their influence. This paragraph remained unchanged in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 469), but see letter to Charles Lyell, 12–13 March [1863] and n. 17.
CD refers to a quotation in C. Lyell 1863a, p. 497, from Sumner 1816, p. 19, in which it was argued that the power of ‘progressive and improvable reason’ was ‘man’s peculiar and exclusive endowment.’ In his copy of C. Lyell 1863a, CD wrote in the margin, ‘compared dog & wolf or jackall’; a second note refers to Rengger 1830, stating: ‘Rengger says Monkeys are improvable’ (see Marginalia 1: 525–7). The section remained unaltered in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 497).
Following a discussion of fossil primates in European Miocene strata, Lyell wrote (C. Lyell 1863a, p. 500): But according to the doctrine of progression it is not in these miocene strata, but in those of pliocene and post-pliocene date, in more equatorial regions, that there will be the greatest chance of discovering hereafter some species more highly organised than the gorilla and chimpanzee. The sentence was not changed in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 500).
Lyell wrote (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 504–5): If, in conformity with the theory of progression, we believe mankind to have risen slowly from a rude and humble starting point, such leaps may have successively introduced not only higher and higher forms and grades of intellect, but at a much remoter period may have cleared at one bound the space which separated the highest stage of the unprogressive intelligence of the inferior animals from the first and lowest form of improvable reason manifested by man. In his copy of C. Lyell 1863a, CD underlined the words ‘unprogressive’ and ‘improvable reason’, scored the passage in the margin, and wrote ‘oh’ (see Marginalia 1: 525–7). The substance of the sentence was unchanged in the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, pp. 504–5). See also letter from Charles Lyell, 11 March 1863 and n. 7.
CD refers to Owen 1862c, in which, Lyell had told him, Owen claimed the ‘whole credit of making out the derivation or origin of species’ (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 March [1863] and n. 19). The paper occupied an entire number of the Transactions of the Zoological Society of London (volume 5, number 2); according to the paper covers on CD’s copies of the numbers, in the Darwin Library–CUL, it cost 18s. to fellows of the Zoological Society, and 25s. to the general public. CD was a fellow of the society (Freeman 1978); he started to subscribe to the society’s transactions with this number of the journal. See also letter to Charles Lyell, 17 March [1863].
Antiquity of man was a great commercial success: at the publisher John Murray’s trade sale in November 1862, 4000 copies of the book were sold to book-dealers (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, [10–]12 November [1862] and n. 25). A second edition was published in April 1863, only two months after the first, and by 19 May Lyell reported that 5000 copies had been sold (see K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 375). A third edition was published in November 1863 (Grayson 1985).


Comments at length on CL’s book [Antiquity of man (1863)]. CD is "greatly disappointed that you have not given judgment and spoken fairly out what you think about the derivation of species".

Lists large number of queries concerning minor points.

Praises especially the chapters on language and glaciers.

Comments on the temperature of Africa during the glacial period, especially with regard to the views of Hooker.

Mentions Owen’s paper on the aye-aye [Rep. BAAS 32 (1862) pt 2: 114–16].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell (1st baronet)
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (289)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4028,” accessed on 22 February 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11