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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [on or before 20 January 1847]


My dear Lyell

That you may not suppose that I have been overrash in generalising my conclusion, I copy following passage, p. 167.1

“As in some cases it appears that where a fissile rock has been exposed to partial metamorphic action, for instance from the irruption of granite,, the foliation has supervened on the already existing cleavage-planes; so, perhaps in some instances, the foliation, of a rock may have been determined by the original planes of deposition or of oblique current-laminæ; I have, however, myself never seen such a case, & I must maintain that in most extensive metamorphic areas, the foliation is the extreme result of that process, of which cleavage is the first effect.”2 &c &c

Ever yours | C. D.


South America, p. 167. This letter probably continues a discussion begun during Lyell’s visit to Down on 16 January 1847. See letter to Charles Lyell, [23 January 1847], and Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [December 1846 – January 1847].
‘Cleavage’ and ‘foliation’ were the terms used to denote the regular fissures of slaty rocks and the divisions of metamorphic schists, respectively. In South America, p. 165, CD stated that, with regard to foliation, ‘Mr. Lyell and most authors believe, that the constituent parts of each layer were separately deposited as sediment, and then metamorphosed.’ This was the point of contention between CD and Lyell. In CD’s view, ‘in most cases foliation and cleavage are parts of the same process: in cleavage there being only an incipient separation of the constituent minerals; in foliation a much more complete separation and crystallization’ (South America, p. 166). He suspected that, ‘the planes of cleavage and foliation are intimately connected with the planes of different tension, to which the area was long subjected, after the main fissures or axes of upheavement had been formed, but before the final consolidation of the mass and the total cessation of all molecular movement’ (ibid., p. 168): ‘this difference in the tension affecting the crystalline and concretionary processes’ (ibid., p. 167). At the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1856, John Phillips, discussing the debate on cleavage and foliation, stated that in some cases foliation was still regarded by ‘Lyell and most writers … as the stratification, or traces of the stratification, of the metamorphic rocks of gneiss and mica-schist’ (Phillips 1856, p. 383).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Phillips, John. 1856. Report on cleavage and foliation in rocks, and on the theoretical explanations of these phænomena.– Part I. Report of the 26th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Cheltenham, pp. 369–96.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.


Quotes from South America [p. 167] on the foliation of metamorphic rocks.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.57)
Physical description
ALS 3pp & C

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1053,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4