To Charles Lyell  September 
[36 Great Marlborough Street]
Friday night. September 13th 1
My dear Lyell
I was astonished & delighted at your gloriously long letter, & I am sure I am very much obliged to Mrs Lyell for having taken the trouble to write so much.—2 I mean to have a good hours enjoyment & scribble away to you, who have so much geological sympathy, that I do not care how egotiscally I write. But first for the main object, which makes me write at once— it is about that unfortunate letter of Governor Prescott.—3 I only received one letter from you at Newcastle, & that came single by the post: you had then received the communication, but do not allude to the official document, or to any frank from Lord Northhampton.4 It is very provoking, for I do not know what I shall say to the Council, & no one would much like accepting the offer without actually seeing the very wording of the letter.— If you have not burnt my letter which accompanied it, will you send it to me, as I will endeavour to write the letter from memory with the aid of it.— Could Lord Northhampton have kept it by mistake? If you are sure he gave you a frank for the purpose, I would write to the Secretary of Post Office & find whether it is lying in the dead office from being misdirected.— Will you, also, just look over your papers, once again.— I am very sorry to trouble you— it is hard that all this plague should have been thrown on your shoulders,—but I yet hope the letter may be recovered.
I have got so much to say about all sort of trifling things, that I hardly know what to begin about:—but first pray give my best thanks to Mr Lyell, for his very kind invitation, which it would have been delightful to have accepted, but I am pledged to go to my Uncle’s & to home for a fortnight in end of October,5 & till then I must not give myself even a days holidays.— It is a very very great temptation which I must resist.— I need not say how pleased I am to hear that Mr Lyell likes my Journal— to hear such tidings is a kind of resurrection, for I feel towards my first born child, as if it had long since been dead, buried & forgotten,—but the past is nothing & the future everything to us geologists, as you show in your capital motto to the Elements.6 By the way have you read the article in the Edinburgh Review on M. Comte Cours de la Philosophie, (or some such title)— it is capital— there are some fine sentences, about the very essence of science being prediction,—which reminded me of “its law being progress”.—7
I will now begin & go through your letter seriatim.— I daresay your plan of putting the Elie de Beaumonts chapter separately & early will be very good.—8 anyhow it is showing a bold front in the first edition, which is to be translated into French.— it will be a curious point to geologists hereafter to note how long a man’s name, will support a theory, so completely exposed, as that of De Beaumonts has been by you.— You say, you “begin to hope that the great principles there insisted on will stand the test of time”. begin to hope,; why the possibility of a doubt has never crossed my mind for many a long day: this may be very unphilosophical, but my geological salvation is staked on it. After having just come back from Glen Roy, & found how difficulties smooth away under your Principles, it makes me quite indignant, that you should talk of hoping. With respect to the question how far my coral theory bears on De Beaumont’s theory,—I think it would be prudent to quote me with great caution, until my whole account is published,9 & then you (& others) can judge how far there is foundation for such generalization.— mind I do not doubt its truth,—but the extension of any view over such large spaces from comparatively few facts must be received with much caution.— I do not myself the least doubt that within the recent (or as you, much to my annoyment would call it, Newer Pliocene) period tortuous bands & not all the bands parallel to each other have been elevated, & corresponding ones subsided,—though within this same period, some parts probably remained for a time stationary, or even subsided.—10 I do not believe a more utterly false view could have been invented than great straight lines, being suddenly thrown up.—11
When my book on Volcanos–Coral reefs will be published I hardly know,—I fear it will be at least four or five months, though much the greater part is written,—I find so much time is lost in correcting details, & ascertaining their accuracy. The government Zoological work is a millstone round my neck,—& the Glen Roy paper has lost me six weeks.— I will not however say lost, for supposing I can prove to others satisfaction, what I have convinced myself is the case, the inferences, I think, you will allow to be important.— I cannot doubt the molten matter beneath the earths crust possesses a high degree of fluidity, almost like the sea beneath the Polar ice.—12 By the way I hope you will give me some Sweedish case to quote of shells being preserved on the surface, but not in contemporaneous beds of gravel.—13 I have received a most obliging letter from Sir. D. B.,14 & he communicated some information so useful, that I have written to him again.—
The Winters Bark 15 is a tree, vegetables even in Patagonia not usually being furnished with bark. — I cannot give you the scientific name at present, though it is a well known form.— Speaking of parrots you may say (to avoid S. lat. S. America) in Tierra del Fuego, or near Cape Horn.— In the sentence you ask me to alter, (read)—“….in Tierra del Fuego, including the wooded part immediately north of the Stt of Mag: as well as in the Falkland Isd no reptile…..yet we meet with in the former country…..the guanaco, (a kind of Llama), a deer, fox, puma several small rodents…..& in the Falkland Islands some of these animals”—16 This sentence is now correct, you must harmonize it— Port Famine is in Lat. 53o ’ 38’ S.—
I have forwarded your letter (P. paid) to Dr Richardson at Portsmouth.— I see you there, tell him to write to you at Kinnordy, any time before the end of November. I hope this is a mistake, & you meant to say October.— I shall be grieved if it is true; I trust you will want books, or something will bring you back before then.—17 Remember, what I have often heard you say—the country is very bad for the intellects.— the Scotch mists will put out some volcanic speculations— you see I am affecting to become very cocknefyed, & to despise the poor country folk, who breath fresh air instead of smoke, & see the goodly fields instead of the brick-houses in Marlborough St,—the very sight of which I confess I abhor.—
I am glad to hear what a favourable report you give of the British association; I am the more pleased, because I have been fighting its battle with Basil Hall, Stokes,18 & several others,—having made up my mind from the report in the Athenæum, that it must have been an excellent meeting.— I have been much amused with an account I have received of the wars of Don Roderick & Babbage—19 what a grievous pity it is that the latter should be so implacable, & if one might so call the calculating machine, so very silly.— One regrets such a contest so much the more, from knowing the incomparable superiority, (except in finesse) of the one over the other.—
This is a most rigmarole letter, for after each sentence, I take breath, (& you will have need of it in reading it) & look to yours.— With respect to Blainvilles paper, I saw only an abstract, which would not serve your purpose to quote, so I will not make any full abstracts.— Owen must be a very much superior authority on Marsupials, (if not on every subject) than Blainville,20 whom I have heard is superficial.— I suppose Owen has pointed out to you the internal process in the Stonesfield jaws, which amongst Mammalia, is exclusively confined to the Marsupiata.— By the way Owen talks of the Ornithoryhncus21 as leading off into the reptiles, so that I should think, it was not impossible that some reptiles formerly might have approached nearer to the Mammalian type, than any existing ones now do.—
I suppose you have plenty of work in hand in putting the Principles to rights, after the parturition of the Elements. I see so few people, that I have not heard anything about the latter in the shape of criticism,—but judging from some very unlikely people who have bought it, I should think it must be selling well. Charlesworth, I think, is annoyed that you have not quoted him more about the embedding of of the older shells in the newer beds.—22 But poor Charlesworth is of an unhappy discontented disposition.— he is, moreover, very much to be pitied— the Zoological Soc: are going to give up the Assit. Secretary’s place, & it is feared, that he has a disiase of the heart,—so that altogether he is greatly to be pitied.— My younger sister writes to me from home, that she finds the Elements requires hard reading— I am glad of this, for few are so silly as really to like a very easy book, as everyone has a sort of consciousness, that in such case the subject must be shirked. (videlicet the popularity of Herschels treatise on Nat. Phil. & the still more abstruse one on astronomy).23 NB. Whilst I think of it; do not quote (if by any chance you had so intended) Gould’s case of Water-wagtails, one species peculiar to this country & one to France— the case does not hold good.—24 Will you have the kindness to write soon on the subject of the Newfoundland letter (I wish it was at the bottom of the Polar Sea) & return mine, in case you can find no clue to the real one.—
I wish with all my heart that my Geological book was out— I have every motive to work hard, & will, following your steps, work just that degree of hardness to keep well,—I should like my volume to be out before your new edition of Principles appears.— Besides the Coral theory,—the volcanic chapters, will, I think, contain some new facts.— I have lately been sadly tempted to be idle, that is as far as pure geology is concerned, by the delightful number of new views, which have been coming in, thickly & steadily, on the classification & affinities & instincts of animals—bearing on the question of species—note book, after note book has been filled, with facts, which begin to group themselves clearly under sub-laws.—25
Good night, my dear Lyell, I have filled my letter, & have enjoyed my talk to you, as much as I can, without having you in propriâ personâ. Think of the bad effects of the country. so once more | good night | Ever yours | Chas. Darwin—
Pray again give my best thanks to Mr Lyell.
Comments on an article in Edinburgh Review [by David Brewster, 67 (1838): 271–308] on Comte’s Philosophie positive.
Discusses falsity of Élie de Beaumont’s views of contemporaneous parallel lines of elevation and subsidence.
Owen’s views of relationship of reptiles to birds.
On "question of species" CD has filled notebook after notebook with facts, "which begin to group themselves clearly under sub-laws".
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 428,” accessed on 27 March 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-428