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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Geikie   20 November 1876


20th Nov 1876.

My dear Sir

Many thanks for your interesting letter.1 I feel much gratified with the favourable opinion you have formed of my book on the glacial period.2 Your explanation of the appearances presented by the coarse gravels in the South of England is quite new to me, and the more I think of it, the more feasible does it appear. I shall certainly keep it in view the next time I have an opportunity of visiting a non-glaciated area; and meanwhile I send an account of it to Mr. Skertchley,3 who is a very excellent observer, & will be sure to appreciate it.

I may mention that a few days ago I revisited Brandon to examine for my own satisfaction the evidence which Mr. Skertchley has adduced to show that palæolithic man was an inhabitant of England before the accumulation of the “great chalky boulder-clay”, and after going over the ground I feel sure that he is right.4 The palæolithic beds there are clearly of two ages—namely (a) beds of brick-earth &c. with implements, very sorely denuded, lying below the boulder-clay; and (b) beds of gravel, sand &c. with implements, resting upon the boulder-clay. It is from these latter that all the implements have hitherto been obtained: that is, up to the time when Mr. Skertchley got them in the lower beds.

In speaking of the glacier theory having preceded that of icebergs I was referring to the fact that Agassiz was the first to point out that glaciers had formerly existed in our islands.5 Up to that time (1840) I do not think anyone had suspected that this was the case. But after that time the iceberg theory came prominently forward. No doubt it was not for a number of years subsequently that what is now called the glacier theory came into vogue; and if my work shd. ever come to another edition I will take care to alter the passage you refer to, so as to prevent any misunderstanding.6

I am exceedingly obliged for your kindness in sending me a copy of your “Geological observations”7—a book which I have long wished to possess,— all your other works I have.

You credit me with the authorship of the Life of Murchison—but that was written by my brother (Professor A. Geikie)— There be two Richmonds in the field!8

Again thanking you very much for the trouble you have taken to write me | I remain | very faithfully yours | James Geikie


Sydney Barber Josiah Skertchly.
Skertchly made this point in a letter published in Nature, 21 September 1876, pp. 448–9. For Geikie’s discussion of Skertchly’s research, see J. Geikie 1877, pp. 536–46.
Louis Agassiz pointed out signs of glacial action in the British Isles in Agassiz 1840b, pp. 303–4, 312, 318.
See letter to James Geikie, 16 November 1876 and n. 7, and J. Geikie 1877, p. 24. Geikie rewrote the section on the iceberg hypothesis and the glacial hypothesis in his third edition (J. Geikie 1894, pp. 27–8).
See letter to James Geikie, 16 November 1876. Roderick Impey Murchison’s biography was written by Archibald Geikie (A. Geikie 1875). ‘There be two Richmonds in the field’ is an allusion to William Shakespeare’s Richard III 5: 4: ‘I think there be six Richmonds in the field’.


Geikie, Archibald. 1875. Life of Sir Roderick I. Murchison: based on his journals and letters with notices of his scientific contemporaries and a sketch of the rise and growth of palæozoic geology in Britain. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Geikie, James. 1877. The great ice age and its relation to the antiquity of man. 2d edition. London: Daldy, Isbister & Co.

Geikie, James. 1894. The great ice age and its relation to the antiquity of man. 3d edition, largely rewritten. London: Edward Stanford.

Geological observations 2d ed.: Geological observations on the volcanic islands and parts of South America visited during the voyage of H.M.S. ‘Beagle’. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1876.


Glaciation in the British Isles.

S. B. J. Skertchley’s researches on Palaeolithic man in England [Nature 14 (1876): 448–9].

Letter details

Letter no.
James Murdoch (James) Geikie
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 29
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10460,” accessed on 1 March 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24