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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [3 January 1850]

Down Farnborough Kent

Thursday Evening

My dear Lyell

I have strongly recommended a map of Santorin & suggested, also, a map of Palma, which I think very desirable, though not, of course, necessary.— Your paper has interested me very much; justice was not done it in abbreviating any part of it in its reading at the Socy.—1 It will be a thorn in the side of E. de Bt.—2 At p. 20 do you not make a mistake? you say channel is as deep, within a “few inches”, diag as the crater: now by your own showing there is 213 or 18 fathoms or 108 ft. difference.—



It may not be worth altering, but I think you overlook the cream of my case of tuff-strata at Galapagos, viz that the beds form narrow streams, hollow within from the setting of the outside crust, & therefore no one cd here suppose that we had once horizontal strata uplifted: inclination was measured from 25 o to 30o.—:3 You might explain this in bracket after words strata of tuff (known to have flowed as streams &c &).—4

I must trouble you with one other suggestion which from the discussion & from what I heard people say, appears to me very desirable, viz that at some such place as head of p. 3, you shd state in one or two sentences what is subject of dispute—viz whether the crateriform hollows have been produced by elevation, on the one hand or on the other by engulfment explosion, or other means—& not whether the surrounding strata have been a little more or less elevated.— And as a consequence of this difference of origin, whether the mountain was formed, like an ordinary volcano, or whether lava-streams were first poured out on a level or concave surface—or something to above effect.—5 Do think of this Suggestion.—

Your’s most sincerely | C. Darwin.

I cannot doubt that St. Jago, Mauritius & St. Helena are Craters of Denudation; but I can hardly stomach (though I do not doubt much denudation) Palma, without seeing my way how the Sea is to deepen the head of a long narrow Bay.—

P.S. I have opened my letter (& in doing so made a horrid mess) to say that I quite agree that this Diagram with diagram is unimportant,6 description being so clear.—

Forbes is going to read Edinburgh Royal Soc. some great Paper7 on Italian volcanos & very oddly the E.R.S. have referred it to me.—


Lyell’s paper ‘On craters of denudation’ had been read on 19 December 1849. CD may have been asked by the Geological Society to referee it for publication in the Quarterly Journal of the society. Maps of Santoriní and Palma were included in the printed version (C. Lyell 1850a, pp. 208, 216). The caldera of Palma was well known as an example of a ‘crater of elevation’, having been described in Buch 1825.
Jean Baptiste Armand Louis Léonce Élie de Beaumont, who had adopted Christian Leopold von Buch’s crater of elevation theory of the origin of volcanoes. According to this theory, a catastrophic eruption burst through strata that had been elevated by pressure building up from below. Ejected ash and lava flowed out over the sides of the crater. Lyell’s paper reiterated his belief in the gradual growth of volcanic cones and explained the great craters of Palma, Santorin, and elsewhere as the result of the denuding action of the sea.
Volcanic islands, p. 106 n.
Lyell did not follow this suggestion. His only reference to Galápagos volcanic formations is to the crater of James Island (C. Lyell 1850a, p. 232).
See C. Lyell 1850a, pp. 209–12.
See letter to Charles Lyell, [18 November 1849]. The drawing was omitted in C. Lyell 1850a.


Buch, Christian Leopold von. 1825. Physicalische Beschreibung der Canarischen Inseln. Berlin.

Forbes, James David. 1850. On the volcanic formations of the Alban Hills, near Rome. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 2: 259–61.

Volcanic islands: Geological observations on the volcanic islands, visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle, together with some brief notices on the geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. Being the second 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. 1844.


Discusses CL’s paper, "On craters of denudation" [Q. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 6 (1850): 207–34], which "will be a thorn in the side of É[lie] de B[eaumont]". Notes evidence from Galapagos overlooked by CL. Mentions other examples of craters.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.90)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1287,” accessed on 29 March 2023,

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