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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   28 January 1878

Busirah | El Biar

Jan 28. 78

My dear Father,

I daresay you remember that just before I started Haughton of Dublin sent me a paper in wh. he professed to give some estimate of geological time.1 I have just been reading it & have come to the conclusion that it is utter rubbish, & am doubting whether it is worth while to show it up as it deserves to be.— If someone who understands this sort of thing does not write against it is very likely to be accepted as gospel by the geologists & that wd. be a great pity. On the other hand if I do write I’m pretty sure to get in Haughton’s ill favour because however civilly I may word it a man can’t like to have his work torn to shreds & I don’t think I cd. criticize without utterly demolishing it. Then again it wd. be rather a bore to go in for it as it wd. take a week or so’s work.

I want to know whether you can give me any advice as to whether you think I’d better write a short note on the subject,— also wd it be more civil if I do, to write first to him & thank him for the copy of his paper & say that I don’t agree with it & intend to give him an opportunity of seeing my objections—2

I write my diary letter on another sheet3

Yours affec | G H Darwin


George left England for Algiers on 11 January 1878 (letter from Emma Darwin to W. E. Darwin, [14 January 1878], DAR 219.1: 103). El Biar is a suburb of Algiers, in the Bouzaréah administrative district. Samuel Haughton’s paper, ‘On a new method of finding the limits to the duration of certain geological periods’ (Haughton 1877), was read at the Royal Society of London on 20 December 1877. Haughton thought the upheaval of Europe and Asia would have caused a wobble in the earth’s axis, which would have taken a determinate amount to time to dissipate; since no wobble was now detectable, the earth in its current form must be at least that old.
George criticised Haughton’s views in a paper read at the Royal Society on 14 March 1878 (G. H. Darwin 1878a). He evidently did write to Haughton: see Haughton’s response in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 27 (1878): 154–5. Haughton had been highly critical of Origin and CD referred to him as an ‘old and bitter opponent’ (Correspondence vol. 24, letter to T. C. Eyton, 22 April 1876).
The ‘diary letter’ has not been found.


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

Haughton, Samuel. 1877. Notes on physical geology.— no. III. On a new method of finding limits to the duration of certain geological periods. [Read 20 December 1877.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 26: 534–46.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Has been reading Samuel Haughton on geological time ["Notes on physical geology, no. III", Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 26 (1877): 534–46]. It is utter rubbish. Asks whether CD thinks GHD should write a critical note on the subject [see Nature 17 (1878): 509–10].

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
El Biar | Algiers
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 65
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11336,” accessed on 1 December 2023,