From Charles Lyell 16 January 1865
January 16, 1865.
My dear Darwin,—
I was so busy with the last chapters of my new edition of the ‘Elements’ before I left town a month ago,2 that I did not reply to your kind letter3 about my after-dinner speech on your Copley medal at the Royal Society anniversary.4 I have some notes of it, and hope one day to run over it with you, especially as it was somewhat of a confession of faith as to the ‘Origin.’ I said I had been forced to give up my old faith without thoroughly seeing my way to a new one.5 But I think you would have been satisfied with the length I went. The Duke of Argyll expresses in his address to the Edinburgh Royal Society very much what I have done (‘Antiquity of Man,’ p. 469), that variation or natural selection cannot be confounded with the creational law without such a deification of them as exaggerates their influence.6 He seems to me to have put the difficulty pretty clearly, but on the other hand he has not brought out as fully as I should have liked him to have done, the great body of evidence so admirably brought to bear in your work, in proof of the bond of mutual descent, and the manner in which species and genera branched from common ancestors. He did not entertain this idea till he had read your book, and he is now evidently impressed with it, as I am; and he would, I think, go the whole length, were it not for the necessity of admitting, in order to be consistent, that man and the quadrumana came from a common stock. He does, indeed, in defiance of consistency, admit for the humming-birds what he will not admit for the primates, and Guizot’s theology is introduced to support him;7 but the address is a great step towards your views—far greater, I believe, than it seems when read merely with reference to criticisms and objections. The reasoning about materialism appears to me admirably put,8 and his definition of the various senses in which we use the term ‘law’;9 though, having only read the speech once, I am not yet able to judge critically on all these points. He assumes far too confidently that the colours of the humming-birds are for mere ornament and beauty.10 I can conceive a meaning in your sense for the advantage of the creature, or of its friends and enemies, in every coloured ray of light reflected from the plumes.11 We must indeed know far more than we do before we can dogmatise on the irrelevancy of particular colours to the well-being of a species. He ought also to define beauty, and tell us whether it is in reference to man or bird. I have no objection to the idea of beauty or variety for its own sake, but to assume it so positively is unphilosophical.
We have been about three weeks at Berlin, and I had some good geological talk with Ferdinand Roemer, Beyrich, Von Kœnen, Gustav Rose, Ewald, Dr. Roth, and Dove the meteorologist, besides Ehrenberg, Magnus, Lepsius, and Du Bois- Reymond,12 and an animated conversation on Darwinism with the Princess Royal, who is a worthy daughter of her father, in the reading of good books and thinking of what she reads.13 She was very much au fait at the ‘Origin’ and Huxley’s book, the ‘Antiquity,’ &c. &c.,14 and with the Pfahlbauten Museums which she lately saw in Switzerland.15 She said after twice reading you she could not see her way as to the origin of four things; namely the world, species, man, or the black and white races. Did one of the latter come from the other, or both from some common stock? And she asked me what I was doing, and I explained that in recasting the ‘Principles’ I had to give up the independent creation of each species.16 She said she fully understood my difficulty, for after your book ‘the old opinions had received a shake from which they never would recover.’ I shall be very glad to hear what you think of the Duke of Argyll’s comments on the ‘Origin’.17 I think that your book is a vast step towards showing the methods which have been followed in creation, which is as much as science can ever reach, and the Duke, I think, has not fully appreciated the advance which has been made, even in his own mind.
I had hoped that a copy of the ‘Elements’18 would have been sent to you while I was still at Berlin. You will find much that is new, and nothing, I think, clashing with the ‘Origin’. Please read my description of the Atlantis theory.19 I fear I shall return and find the book still unborn, which is too bad of the printer. Please let me know how your health has been during the last four weeks.
Ever most truly yours | Charles Lyell.
P.S. In an article in the Berlin ‘Punch’ on the Pope’s encyclical, in which all the innovations which trouble his Holiness are enumerated, ‘Die Darwinische Lehre die uns alle Affen macht’ was not forgotten.20
Dover: January 19.
His view of Origin.
Belief of Duke of Argyll that substituting "variation" and "selection" for creation deifies them.
Thinks Argyll would accept evolution except for man.
A’s view of humming-birds.
Describes discussion with [Victoria,] Princess Royal of Prussia, about evolution.
New edition of Elements consistent with Origin.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4746,” accessed on 24 January 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-4746