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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   21 February [1865]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Feb 21

My dear Lyell

I have taken a long time to thank you very much for your present of the Elements.2

I am going thro’ it all, reading what is new & what I have forgotten, & this is a good deal.

I am simply astonished at the amount of labour, knowledge & clear thought condensed in this work. The whole strikes me as something quite grand. I have been particularly interested by your account of Heer’s work & your discussion on the Atlantic Continent:3 I am particularly delighted at the view which you take on this subject; for I have long thought that Forbes did an ill-service in so freely making continents.4

I have also been very glad to read your argument on the denudation of the Weald5 & your excellent resumé on the Purbeck beds,6 & this is the point at which I have at present arrived in yr book.

I cannot say that I am quite convinced that there is no connection, beyond that pointed out by you, between glacial action & the formation of lake-basins:7 but you will not much value my opinion on this head as I have already changed my mind some half-dozen times.8

I want to make a suggestion to you; I found the weight of your vol. intolerable, especially when lying down;9 so with great boldness cut it into 2 pieces & took it out of its cover; now cd not Murray,10 without any other change, add to his advertisement a line saying “if bound in 2 Vols one shilling or 1/6 extra”.

You thus might originate a change which wd be a blessing to all weak handed readers.

Believe me my dear Lyell | yours most sincerely | Charles Darwin

Originate a second real blessing & have the edge of the sheets cut, like a bound book11

My love to Lady Lyell | E.D.12


The year is established by the reference to C. Lyell 1865 (see n. 2, below).
The sixth edition of Lyell’s Elements of geology (C. Lyell 1865) was published in January 1865 (Publishers’ Circular, 1 February 1865, p. 60). Lyell had offered to send it to CD in his letter of 16 January 1865. CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–Down (see Marginalia 1: 524–5).
See letter from Charles Lyell, 16 January 1865 and n. 19. Lyell preceded his discussion of Oswald Heer’s Atlantis theory with a description of Heer’s research on the Miocene plants and insects of Switzerland (see C. Lyell 1865, pp. 246–73).
Edward Forbes had argued that former land-bridges connecting the Iberian peninsula, the Azores, and Ireland, explained the present distributions of plants and animals (see E. Forbes 1845 and 1846, and Browne 1983, pp. 115–17). Lyell mentioned Forbes’s theory in C. Lyell 1865, p. 267. For CD’s earlier discussions of Forbes’s land-bridges, see, for example, Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [13 March 1846], and Correspondence vol. 6, letters to Charles Lyell, 16 [June 1856] and 25 June [1856]. For CD’s earlier discussions of Heer’s hypothesised continent once connecting Europe and the Americas, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 20 November [1860], Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 [December 1861], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 November [1862]. See also Origin, pp. 357–8.
Lyell discussed the denudation of the Weald, a district between the North and South Downs in Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, and Kent, in C. Lyell 1865, pp. 351–74. In Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3), Lyell argued that marine erosion was the main agent in the formation of the Weald, and he defended this position in C. Lyell 1865, dismissing Joseph Beete Jukes’s and Andrew Crombie Ramsay’s recent reinterpretations of the denudation of the Weald as being brought about by fluvial agents (see Jukes 1862a and Ramsay 1864; see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from A. C. Ramsay, 10 July 1864, and Davies 1969, pp. 347–8). In C. Lyell 1865, p. 365, Lyell referred to ‘recent investigation’ having revealed the long series of ages over which the Weald had been eroded. In Origin, pp. 285–7, CD had calculated that 300 million years were required for marine denudation of the Weald. Owing to criticism, CD halved this period of time in Origin 2d ed., p. 287, and eliminated the entire discussion in Origin 3d ed. (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1860] and n. 16, and letter to Asa Gray, 3 April [1860], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. B. Jukes, 25 May 1862 and n. 4).
The Purbeck beds are discussed in Elements of geology (C. Lyell 1865, pp. 375–91). CD was particularly interested by the section on the imperfection of the fossil record with respect to the Mammalia, pp. 377–84 (see Marginalia 1: 524–5). See Origin, pp. 279–311, for CD’s discussion of the imperfection of the geological record.
The formation of rock-basins had been a controversial topic since Ramsay had introduced his theory of their glacial origin in 1862 (Ramsay 1862). Although Lyell accepted that lakes were common in glaciated areas, he explained their development by the gradual movements of upheaval and subsidence, in combination with fluvial erosion (see C. Lyell 1865, pp. 168–74). See Davies 1969, pp. 304–7.
CD had initially supported Ramsay’s theory of the glacial origin of rock-basins (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862]), but had also been impressed by other opinions, including that of Roderick Impey Murchison (see Murchison 1864a and Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, [23 August 1864]). In the letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 October [1864], CD wrote: ‘I have now come round again, to Ramsay’s view for third or fourth time; but Lyell says when I read his discussion in the Elements I shall recant for fifth time’.
There are in total 809 pages in C. Lyell 1865.
John Murray published C. Lyell 1865.
Sheets containing the printed pages would be folded and bound with the folds left uncut. CD preferred that the publisher cut the sheets, rather than the buyer (see also Correspondence vol. 11, letter to T. H. Huxley, 10 [January 1863]).
Most of the letter is in the hand of Emma Darwin; she refers to Mary Elizabeth Lyell.


Belated thanks to CL for copy of Elements. Praises CL’s work. Notes especially Atlantic continents, the Weald, the Purbeck beds, glacial action, and the formation of lake-basins.

Also mentions account of Heer’s work

and CD’s disagreement with J. D. Forbes.

Suggests that CL have Murray print a two-volume edition [of the Elements].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.306)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4775,” accessed on 15 September 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13