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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Robert Chambers   [June 1848]1


My dear Sir

I have read all your work with much interest; I think you have done a real good service to Geology in calling attention to your sea margins & comprehending them under one general point of view.—2 Your work must have been very expensive; with all the surveys & illustrations, & I sincerely hope the sale will return some part of your outlay. It is quite curious to me, how many of your sketches remind me of what I have seen in S. America.

I will first make some remarks on Glen Roy, which is a subject that has always interested me beyond perhaps its just merit, & about which I feel much a personal interest, for I shd have been more sorry to have been proved wrong on it, than upon almost any other subject. Mr Milne, as you know, at first staggered me in favour of the glacier view, but I had quite recovered that & had resumed my old state of positiveness.3 I [illeg] [illeg] Mr M wrong about bottom of valley All this, I think, has made me the more pleased with your coming to the same conclusion as I did. Your faint terraces above the lower one (No 4) in Glen Spean, is an important addition to the data. High mark. Kemp, Milne & especially yourself I have been surprised at your stating that the lines between 2 & 3 in Glen Roy “though not unknown to former observers, have not been by them thought worthy of serious notice”.4 Why this fact & its full bearings are most carefully pointed out by me at p. 61 where I remark that it “deserves particular attention” “perceiving its importance, I examined it with scrupulous care”. &c &c5 It was this case & the gradual thinning out of the lines round Bohuntine (as I have particularly described) which chiefly led me to the marine theory; for during my first two days I was a convert to the lacustrine theory.6 Your line argument is almost the same as the same with mine; for in the section of my P in T7 I go into detail p. 49 et seq on the terraces & mounds below shelf (4) in Glen Spean (& like such parts) & show, as I [consider] that if formed by the check given to river born detritus, at surface level slow retreat of the sea; an idea was a new one in those days.—8 You might have added another green patch, marking a land-strait, for the Kilfinnan terrace, which, is, as I have described on a dead level with one.—9 Have you not observed, (I did so) that where these level landstraits occur, (whether there are terraces or not) that there are generally slight buttresses on the sides above them; I have always thought this somewhat important. Such occur at the head of the Spey; I heartily wish you had worked out that point, for to my mind it is one of the most important points. Valleys of Gr Glen

So much for Glen Roy, which no doubt & very justly, you think subordinate in importance to the general question of the coincident levels of the shelves at distant points.


Dated on the basis that CD had evidently just received a copy of Chambers 1848, published between 30 May and 13 June (Publishers’ Circular, no. 258, 15 June 1848).
Chambers 1848. CD’s copy is in the Darwin Library–Down.
See letter from Robert Chambers to David Milne, 7 September 1847, and letters to Charles Lyell, 8 [September 1847]; to Robert Chambers, 11 September 1847; and to David Milne, 20 [September 1847].
Chambers 1848, p. 115.
See CD’s Glen Roy notebook (Notebooks), in which he discussed a possible lacustrine origin for the ‘roads’.
Presumably by ‘P in T’ CD means his paper in the Transactions, that is, ‘Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy’, Collected papers 1: 89–137, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, pt 1 (1839): 39–81.
Collected papers 1: 101–4.
Kilfinnin (see Collected papers 1: 92).


Chambers, Robert. 1848. Ancient sea margins. Edinburgh.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’: Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and of other parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an attempt to prove that they are of marine origin. By Charles Darwin. [Read 7 February 1839.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 129: 39–81. [Shorter publications, pp. 50–88.]


Congratulates RC on his work on Scottish sea-margins [Ancient sea-margins (1848)].

Discusses Glen Roy; Milne staggered him in favour of the glacier view, but now his opinion has reverted.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Chambers
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 50: C1–C2
Physical description
Adraft 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1182,” accessed on 12 August 2020,

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