skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. A. Lindvall   16 February 1879


The. 16 Febr. 1879.

Charles Darwin Esqr.

Dear Sir!

Considering You the most competent as well as the most impartial judge in matters of Natural history, I hereby take the liberty to communicate an essay of Outlines of a new Systeme (as far as I know) of Geology. at least there is no harm in hearing the opinion of a practical man on these matters.

As You have a right to know something about the writer I will at once tell You that I am a Selfmade Man of 50 years, who, after studuing at a shipbuilding-school, for the last 30 years have been engaged in the engineering and shipbuilding trade, and now have the position of director and chief Engineer of Bergsund Works, Stockholm, the principal at the port.—1

From childhood an enthusiastic admirer of nature and its history, I have always applied the experiences, acquired from my struggles with the natural powers in daily work, upon the more extensive problems of Geology.—

In studuing the different authors in this Science, I find that most of them have gone the right way—to collect existing facts, yet when going farther and putting them into systeme, it seems me they are drowned in the multitude, just as the Yankee who could not see the town because there was so many houses.—2

In solving a problem, it may be in engineering or in Geology or whatever, we find a great number of powers acting on the question, and now it depends upon the mans ability to decide, which of these powers are essentials and which subordinate.—

To do this justly we must go in the distance as did Camille Flamarion when considering his “Inhabited Worlds”, only taking for our guide the Natural Laws, and so considering all the known facts simultaneously.—3 To reduce a probleme to its simplest form, and so solve it, that is the butt, but lots of people prefer a complicated solution to a very simple one, and an exemple of this kind is Mr Ademar’s explanation of the change of temperature on the Earth, favorably accepted in some quarters.—4

Our country Sweden or Scandinavia present many Geological peculiarities; in most parts, except the southern part Scanie, you will find the Granite or Gneiss peeping up through the soil, and from the hardness of this stone, you can still trace the mode in which they have been rounded off (moutonné).—5

Between the Hills and under the vegetable soil, or layers of clay (in some parts) we always find great masses of what you term Till, a conglomerat of sand, fragments of stone (granite) large and small, mostly with sharp corners but now and then one rounded off, as also a clayish substance.—

But on the lowland plains north of Stockholm, this Till have been, by some mecanical power, formed into long Hills of gravel, some of which can be traced for 100 eng miles or more, all going nearly paralel and from North to South. (see the Map). The upper ridge therof is not horizontal, but following the undulations of the ground.

The interior of these mounds consist chiefly of pure sand in beautiful layers, and layers of rounded stones seldom above 4 in in diam and down to one inch and less.

All our great men have endeavoured to find out the origin of these sandhill.

In 1826 professor Sefström made the observation, that the rifles in the surface of our rounded granite mountains follows a certain law,— they are paralel to the direction of the sandhills in their neighbourhood; and he and Berzelius gave as their decided opinion, that the sandhills as well as the rifles have a commun origin—a mighty Current of water running from North to South.

Not being able to call forth this current, the theory, how probable it was has been abandoned, and given place to the Glacial Theory in which our learned men are as fast frozen in as the Mammouth of Sibiria, although the Sandhills, running paralel to the highlands, by no means can be explained by the Glacial theory.—6

The little pamphlet here enclosed give my opinion on the matter.— Being written in one, to You unknown language, I will give the outlines of its content.7

With pleasure I read your explanation (in the geological Society) about “the paralel Roads of Glen Roy, and have taken it as a proof, that Brittany, in a late Geological period, have been under Water also indicated by the marin shells found at 1400 feet up on the hills in Wales.8

Also Scandinavia has been submerged cirka 600 feet, and if the depression of the both countries were simultaneous, the Tidal Vave performed the same phenomenens round our Island as now exist round Brittany. Every 12th. hour the enormous mass of water had to go round the southern corner of Norway, in or out (see the two Pl. in the Pamphlet).—9

The mighty assistant this current had in denuding our shores, was the drift Ice.

Even now the Northern Baltic is often in winter filled with drifting Ice to a dept of often 20 feet, and just think if such a mass were lowered on the shores every 12th. hour,—stones and sand frozen fast at the bottom—and so this Icemass lifted up by the Tide, and carried along the highland shore, to find its way out in the North sea round the southern corner of Norway,— have You not herein a power which could grind off the mountains at the bottom, wash the sand and roll the stones, as also to form the sandhills paralel to the course of the water?

If we now compare this to the traces left on the mountains surface, we find, that the rifles, after to have for a long while gone North and South, to the south of Stockholm turns gradually to the west, and at Gothenburg go nearly in west direction, and just the same is the case in the southern part in Scanie, or the route the Tidal wave must have followed.— See the small map of Scandinavia.10

But there is an other mighty power which may have contributed in the same way, from observations it is confirmed that the northern part of Scandinavia is rising out of the Water one foot or more in 100 years, and probably the Baltic and the Arctic Sea were combined not long ago.—

If you, in a Northern Country, see a river pouring into a lake, you are quite sure there must be an outlet and if more than one, it takes the nearest.— Now the Gulfstream is such a river pouring into the Arctic Basin, and the outlet or back current goes now partly through Behringssound but the greater part down both sides of Greenland.— But when there was an opening down the Baltic, it would be the nearest way for this backcurrent, carrying with it masses of Ice over the present lowlands of Russia, Germany Denmark Holland and Brittany, at this time more or less inundated.—

The occurence of Erratic Stones from Scandinavia over all these countries indicates this to be acceptable.

Also these Arctic shells, which gives our learned Men so much trouble, are called forth by this theory.—

Now for the change of temperature of northern Europe, we have in Sweden the experience, that in springtime, when the northeast wind is prevailing for a long period, and the drift Ice of the Baltic is forced to our shores, the arrival of Spring is detained as long as this wind prevailes.— If, in those remote times the backcurrent of the cold waters from the arctic sea, half the year filled with drift Ice constantly went down over this central part of Europe, the borders would not be so cold as Greenland, but surely cold enough to admit of the Rendeer and Beer living in Belgium and France.

I hope these hints will be enough to make me understood, and should be very glad to hear your opinion about my explanation of the phenomens— at least Sir Charles Lyell would not have rejected it althogether.

Turning to the more general history of the Earth, we will consider some few cases thereof.—

Professor Hennesey argues that the centre of our Earth is a solid, and his proof therefor is, that the Earths Crust, when cracking by contraction must sink to the centre, being heavier than the fluid mass underneath.— he is quite mistaken, every Ironfounder will learn him that, putting a piece of redhot Iron in the liquid mass, it will float as Ice in water, and probably the same law exist with all minerals, that the stadium of greatest density is a little above the fusing point.11

Everyone conversant with the difficulty of reheating large masses of minerals and still more of nonconducting materials will find the theory now adopted by our Geologists, that the Earth have been repeated times cooled down and reheated, highly improbable, the experience from Jorullo learns, that the lava, half a century after the eruption, was still considerably hot.12

The most probable is that the Earth, from a fluid state has gradually cooled down to what it is now a day, and there is no necessity to proclaim the contrary.

The hotter a mass is the quicker it looses its heat by radiation, and so the Earth must have, comparatively soon, been covered by a thin Crust all over its surface

By contraction this crust cracked, the cracks are filled with fluid, and this is repeated for a long time until the crust have grown mightier, perhaps being in a semi-liquid state. The interior now begin to cool, is reduced in bulk and forces the surface to follow, thereby causing the horizontal compressing strain which have formed all contorsions, crumpling of Rocks, and the undulations of the surface which are still going on, all over the Earths surface.—

At this early period of the Earths existence, and while still nearly redhot, the suns rays had been of little consequence to the Earth,—but soon their activity is visible. The radiation of heat from the Earth in the Equatorial Zone is checked by the heat from the Sun, while it goes on full in the polar Zones;—so at last the day arrived, when the first rain fell at the pole, and this was the signal of great changes in the state of things.—

All the waters of the present Oceans, being at this period held in suspension by the heat,—we may in vain try to form an idea of the torrents of water pouring out over the place where it could condense and the effect it produced there.—

Running down from the polar Zones the water was soon evaporated into steam thereby cooling the part of the surface it had touched, and so gradually widening its territory.—

This must have gone on for years without number until at last the Waters from both Poles met at the equator, and this forced distillation ceased to exist.—

To clear out one of the principal effects of the above, let us for an instant take an exemple from our time. Until 100 years ago, the working of our Iron mines in Sweden, was not made by blasting with powder, but by burning a heap of wood against the side of the rock, and, when sufficiently heated, water was poured upon it causing the breaking of the hard rock to pieces and to atoms.

Just the same must have taken place in the period related above, and You will have sufficiently materials to form the enormous masses of strata and sand which cover our globe’s surface, and which have in later periods been transformed in many different ways.— Considering that the chemical affinities are most active at high temperature they must have contributed considerably to the alteration in this period.—

At last, when the cooling of the polar zones made it possible The first Vegetable and Animal Life arose there, and probably long before the Water had settled on the Equatorial Zone of the Earth.

If this conclusion is right, there is nothing wonderful in finding a tropical Flora in the Coalbeds of Spitzbergen and other Arctic localities,— No hothouse has ever been so well provided with proper heat at the bottom and abundance of rain from above.

Gradually this northern part cooled more and more,—the nature of vegetables and animals there, changed accordingly, until in our time they have nearly ceased to exist, only leaving to the coalbeds to tell the explorer about the abundance of former times.—

As long as the Equatorial part was comparatively hot, the evaporation of water went on faster than now in that part, and the rains in the other Zones of the world must have been heavier in proportion, this must have in a great measure contributed to the denudations of the rocks visible all over the northern hemisphere.

The larger the continents, the larger must the rivers and the temporary inundations have been, and no doubt, the Mammoth of Sibiria have been carried from the interior by such inundations, and buried in the alluvial soil, or carried far out in the Arctic sea and there frozen in.—

Summing up what is said the content will be:

1o. The interior of the Earth is a liquid mass, and the Natural laws are not in opposition to this supposition.—

2o. The cooling of our Globe first began at the poles, and consequently the vegetable and animal life was first started there; and so these parts have undergone all climates from the hottest tropical, to the eternal Ice of our days.—

3o. The rains must have been immense at this period, when all the water of the Earth was in gas form and only the polar countries were cold enough to condens it.—

4th. The Water, when levelling down from the pole, soon met the hot territory, was boiled up, but at the same time causing the breaking up of the mountaines surface, and producing the materials which formed the stratified Rocks.—

5th. As long as the Equatorial Zone had a surplus of heat the rains of other parts were heavier than now, causing denudation and forming Alluvial ground, where fossil Annimals and trees still are to be found.—

6th. The temperature of the Earth as a whole has gone down at a steady pace, the local variations being caused by Geographical alterations.— Especially the cold of middle Europe at a certain period, was occasioned by a current of cold water and drift Ice from the Arctic sea, passing over Finland down to the hearth of Germany, then inundated.— Glaciers existed in the mountaineous districts, but sheets of Ice over the lowlands, as in Greenland—never.

My letter is too long already— if You think it worth the honour, please communicate it to the Geological Society,13 of course in better words than my poor english, writing as I am in a foreign language.

I should feel much honoured to be a member of your said Society.

your humble Servant | C A Lindvall

adress Stockholm Bergsund.


Map of sandhills in central Sweden


CD annotations

31.4 which have formed all contorsions 31.5] cross in margin pencil
32.1 At this early] cross in margin pencil
Top of first page: ‘The conceit of this working man is laughable’ pencil


Lindvall studied shipbuilding at Karlskrona and became director of the Bergsund Mechanical Workshop, Stockholm, in 1874 (SBL).
The reference is to a verse in the American folk-song, Yankee Doodle: ‘Yankee Doodle went to town, to buy a pair of trousers. He swore he could not see the town, for so many houses.’
The French astronomer Camille Flammarion’s La pluralité des mondes habités (The plurality of inhabited worlds; Flammarion 1862) postulated that inhabitants of other worlds would be distinct beings adapted to their own worlds rather than parodies of human beings. The work was translated into several languages including, in 1868, Swedish.
Alphonse-Joseph Adhémar’s Les Revolutions de la mer (Revolutions of the sea; Adhémar 1842) argued that astronomical events produced ice ages on earth and that alternate ice ages in northern and southern hemispheres were related to the precession of the equinox along the orbit of the earth around the sun. Butt: i.e. aim or target.
Rôche moutonnée (or sheepback) is a rock formation created by the passing of a glacier.
Nils Gabriel Sefström published a series of papers that explained the distribution of erratic boulders, eskers, and glacial striae as being the consequence of a major flood (see, for example, ‘Undersökning af de räfflor, hvaraf Skandinaviens berg äro med bestämd riktning fårade, stämd om deras sannolika uppkomst’ (Investigation into the grooves whereof the mountains of Scandinavia are furrowed in a determined direction from their probable point of origin; Sefström 1836)). His teacher, Jöns Jacob Berzelius, was a keen supporter of his flood theory. The glacial theory developed by Louis Agassiz and others in the 1840s explained erosion, distribution of boulder clay, and the extinction of the mammoth by ice sheets covering most of northern Europe, America, and Asia during the Pleistocene period. For more on the rejection of glacial theory in favour of Sefström’s flood theory in Scandinavia in the 1840s and later researcher’s conversion to glacial theory, see Ingólfsson and Landvikc 2013, pp. 35–6.
Lindvall enclosed Försök till förklaring öfver tillkomsten af våra rullstensåsar, refflorna i bergen m. m. (Attempt to explain the arrival of our glaciofluvial eskers, the grooves in the mountains, et cetera; Lindvall 1878). This pamphlet has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
In one of his earliest geological papers, ‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, CD had suggested that the parallel roads of Glen Roy were terraces produced by changing seawater levels, but he had since accepted that they were shorelines of a diminishing ice-dammed lake (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter to John Tyndall, 5 June [1876]). Brittany: Britain.
See Lindvall 1878, plates 1a–2b.
See enclosure (map on cloth). It is reproduced at about 40 percent of the original size, and the two parts have been placed vertically in relation to one another; in the original they are placed horizontally.
Henry Hennessy’s two-part article ‘The figure and primitive formation of the earth, or researches in terrestrial physics’ was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 141 (1851): 495–547. Solid iron does not float in molten iron unless it has absorbed hydrogen (a common contaminant of cast iron), as the solid form is denser; water is one of the few compounds that are less dense as solids than as liquids.
El Jorullo is a cinder-cone volcano in Michoacán, central Mexico.
The source referred to in the map is Erdmann 1868.


Adhémar, Alphonse-Joseph. 1842. Révolutions de la mer. Paris: Carilian-Goeury et V. Dalmont.

Erdmann, Axel. 1868. Bidrag till kännedomen om sveriges qvartära bildningar. Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Söner.

Flammarion, Camille. 1862. La pluralité des mondes habités, étude ou l’on expose les conditions d’habitabilité des terres célestes, discutées au point de vue de l’astronomie et de la physiologie. Paris: Mallet-Bachelier.

Ingólfsson, Ólafur, and Landvikc, Jon Y. 2013. The Svalbard–Barents Sea ice-sheet—historical, current and future perspectives. Quaternary Science Reviews 64: 33–60.

Lindvall, C. A. 1878. Försök till förklaring öfver tillkomsten af våra rullstensåsar, refflorna i bergen m.m., tillhörande de qvartära bildningarna i vårt land. Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Söner.

Sefström, Nils Gabriel. 1836. Undersökning af de räfflor, hvaraf Skandinaviens berg äro med bestämd riktning fårade, stämd om deras sannolika uppkomst. Kongliga Vetenskaps Academiens Handlingar (1836): 141–227.


Outlines his theory to explain the form of certain Swedish sandhills and puts forward his ideas regarding the geological history of the earth.

Letter details

Letter no.
Carl August Lindvall
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 170: 4
Physical description
ALS 11p † map

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11885,” accessed on 17 May 2022,