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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   7 June [1853]

Down Farnborough Kent

June 7th

My dear Lyell

I was in London for the last Geological,1 & found at my Brother’s two pamphlets from you, one most useful to me, & a packet of Maple Sugar for Lizzie, which pleased her much; & by a great effort she agreed to send you her many thanks;—poor little dear, graciosity, as yet, is not her forte.2 I make the above facts an excuse for writing to you, for I have very little to say. I was extremely sorry to hear of the delay in the opening of the Exhibition;3 but I hope it will not interfere with the Canary Islands.—4

I went up for a Paper by the Arctic Dr. Sutherland on ice-action, read only in abstract, but I shd. think with much good matter.5 It was very pleasant to hear, that it was written owing to the admiralty manual.6 There was also a paper by Trimmer partly on the superficial deposits of Kent,7 Murchison urged his catastrophe view to account for the flints,8 so I gave your view of sub-glacial action & urged where on earth the flood, which divided France & England, could have found so vast a pile of almost clean flints. I stated that one of the arctic navigators, had informed you that the stones on the beach were angular in those countries: & on this head I asked Dr.. Sutherland, & he most strongly confirmed this statement; & I thought you would like to hear this.9 Hopkins10 spoke, he admitted to a considerable extent, the force of my notion of (plastic) icebergs being driven by their momentum over considerable inequalities in an almost straight course.11 Chambers also spoke at length: Have you seen his long & I must say interesting Paper on glaciation in Eding. New. Phil Journal: he actually reproduces Agassiz’s notion of one continuous sheet of ice over the whole northern world, & treats all Icebergians with the most supercilious contempt.—12

I do not know whether you will care to hear the above Report of our meeting; but I do not at all expect you to answer this.—

I did not stay for the battle royal at the Royal Socy. but I see Murchison & Beaufort gained the day, & Capt Inglefield was elected making one more than the proper number of admissions.13

We are all well: I am alone at present; Emma having gone for a few days to her sisters.14 On July 1st. we go for a month, the whole posse comitatus of us, to the Isle of Wight:15 & on our return I hope to go to press with my weariful cirripedes.

My kindest remembrances to Lady Lyell. Ever most truly Your’s | Charles Darwin


The meeting of the Geological Society on 1 June 1853.
Elizabeth Darwin, nearly 6 years old, was slow in developing as a child and was not able to live a fully independent adult life. Very little is known about her, but in the notebook in which observations on the Darwin children are recorded, Emma noted that Elizabeth’s speech at 412 years old was confused; her pronunciation was strange and her phraseology peculiar. By the time she was 5 years old, she had developed ‘a great habit of abstraction going by herself & talking to herself for an hour. She does not like to be interrupted’. (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III, MS pp. 42–42v.) In his letter to W. E. Darwin, 24 [February 1852], CD reported that Elizabeth ‘shivers & makes as many extraordinary grimaces as ever’. Elizabeth lived with CD and Emma in Down and, after CD’s death, remained with Emma in Cambridge and Down (Wedgwood and Wedgwood 1980, pp. 321–2; Emma Darwin (1904), p. 338). Following Emma’s death, she settled in Cambridge. Her sister Henrietta Litchfield, included letters concerning Elizabeth’s voluntary work in 1891 at the infirmary of the workhouse in Cambridge in Emma Darwin (1904), 2: 404–5. In the later edition of Emma Darwin (1915), she noted only Elizabeth’s birth. Gwen Raverat, CD’s granddaughter, who knew Elizabeth towards the end of her life in the 1920s, observed: ‘She was not good at practical things … and she could not have managed her own life without a little help and direction now and then; but she was shrewd enough in her own way, and a very good judge of character.’ (Raverat 1952, pp. 146–7). See also Darwin 1955, pp. 58–9.
Lyell, a permanent member of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, had been asked by the Government to represent science at the New York Industrial Exhibition of 1853 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 187–8). This letter is addressed to Lyell as ‘Commissioner to the Great Exhibition | New York | U.S.’
Lyell intended to visit the islands in the autumn of 1853 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 188). However, the trip was not made until February 1854 (see letter to J. D. Dana, 6 December [1853], n. 13).
Peter Cormack Sutherland served as surgeon on several Arctic expeditions. His paper, Sutherland 1853, was communicated to the Geological Society by Andrew Crombie Ramsay.
A manual of scientific enquiry (Herschel ed. 1849), intended to direct naval officers in their scientific investigations, to which CD had contributed the chapter on geology.
Trimmer 1853, the third part of Joshua Trimmer’s work on the origin of the soils which cover the Chalk of Kent.
The flints are described in Trimmer 1853, pp. 289–90. For Roderick Impey Murchison’s views on the catastrophic origin of the flint drift, see Murchison 1851 which refers to Trimmer 1851, the first part of Trimmer’s work on the origin of the soils which cover the Chalk of Kent.
According to Lyell (and CD), flints and erratic boulders were dropped by icebergs or by local glaciers: flints transported by floods or by surf action on beaches would be rounded. For Murchison’s argument against the agency of ice in the formation of the drift deposits, see Murchison 1851, p. 395. The angular nature of the flints, according to Murchison, indicated ‘a much greater intensity of fracture in former stages of the planet than now’ and that ‘such dislocations must have been accompanied by torrents of water’; ‘ordinary tidal action’, he argued, would have produced ‘water-worn pebbles’ (Murchison 1851, p. 394).
CD eventually published a paper in 1855 on the plasticity of icebergs and their power to make rectilinear grooves across a submarine undulatory surface (Collected papers 1: 252–5).
Chambers 1853a, in which Robert Chambers stated: ‘If any man were to say, that because he can with some difficulty smooth a rough surface of wood with his thumb-nail, therefore his dining-tables must have been fashioned and polished by the joiner with that little instrument alone, I would consider him as advancing a theory fully as tenable as that which consists in attributing all the so-called glacial phenomena to ice-bergs.’ (p. 230).
The Royal Society council meeting for the nomination of fellows took place on 2 June 1853 (Abstracts of the papers communicated to the Royal Society of London 6 (1850–4): 311–12). On this day, sixteen scientific men, including Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield, were elected FRS instead of the fifteen stipulated as the maximum in the rules of the society (Hall 1984, pp. 80–2). Murchison and Francis Beaufort presumably had proposed Inglefield.
Elizabeth Wedgwood and Charlotte Langton. Both lived in Hartfield, Sussex. Emma noted in her diary that she went to Hartfield on 6 June and returned home on 10 June.
This plan was changed. Instead, on 14 July, the family took a house in Eastbourne, Sussex (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 5, Appendix I).


Chambers, Robert. 1853a. On glacial phenomena in Scotland and parts of England. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 54 (1852–3): 229–81.

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

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

Darwin, Bernard. 1955. The world that Fred made: an autobiography. London: Chatto & Windus.

Emma Darwin (1904): Emma Darwin, wife of Charles Darwin. A century of family letters. Edited by Henrietta Litchfield. 2 vols. Cambridge: privately printed by Cambridge University Press. 1904.

Emma Darwin (1915): Emma Darwin: a century of family letters, 1792–1896. Edited by Henrietta Litchfield. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1915.

Hall, Marie Boas. 1984. All scientists now: the Royal Society in the nineteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Raverat, Gwendolen Mary. 1952. Period piece; a Cambridge childhood. London: Faber & Faber.

Sutherland, P. C. 1853. On the geological and glacial phenomena of the coasts of Davis’ Strait and Baffin’s Bay. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 9: 296-312. [Vols. 5,9]

Trimmer, Joshua. 1851. On the origin of the soils which cover the Chalk of Kent. Pt 1. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 7: 31–8.

Trimmer, Joshua. 1853. On the origin of the soils which cover the Chalk of Kent. Pt 3. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 9: 286–96. [Vols. 5,8]

Wedgwood, Barbara and Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1980. The Wedgwood circle, 1730–1897: four generations of a family and their friends. London: Studio Vista.


Describes meeting of Geological Society [1 June 1853].

Mentions his criticism of Murchison’s lecture on flints.

Describes Robert Chambers’ "On the glacial phenomena in Scotland" [Edinburgh New Philos. J. 54 (1853): 229–82].

Mentions controversial election of members to the Royal Society.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.107)
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1518,” accessed on 17 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5