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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   18 February [1854]

Down Farnborough Kent.

Feb. 18th.—

My dear Lyell

I should have written before had it not seemed doubtful whether you would go on to Teneriffe, but now I am extremely glad to hear your further progress is certain.1 Not that I have much of any sort to say, as you may well believe, when you hear that I have only once been in London since you started. I was particularly glad to see two days since your letter to Mr Horner,2 with its geological news; how fortunate for you that your knees are recovered. I am astonished at what you say of the beauty, though I had fancied it great. It really makes me quite envious to think of you clambering up & down those steep valleys. And what a pleasant party on every return from your expeditions. I often think of the delight which I felt when examining volcanic islands; & I can remember even particular rocks which I struck—& the smell of the hot, black, scoriaceous cliffs—but of these hot smells, you do not seem to have had much.— I do quite envy you. How I should like to be with you, & speculate on the deep & narrow valleys.3

How very singular the fact is which you mention about the inclination of the strata being greater round the circumference than in the middle of the island: do you suppose the elevation has had the form of a flat dome:4 I remember in the Cordillera, being often struck with the greater abruptness of the strata in the low, extreme outermost ranges, compared with the great mass of inner mountains.— I dare say you will have thought of measuring exactly the width of any dikes, at top & bottom of any great cliff, (which was done by Mr. Seale5 at St. Helena) for it has often struck me as very odd, that the cracks did not die out oftener upwards.—

I can think of hardly any news to tell you, as I have seen no one, since being in London, where I was delighted to see Forbes6 looking so well, quite big & burly. I saw at the Museum7 some of the surprisingly rich Gold Ore from N. Wales:8 Ramsay, also, told me, that he has lately turned a good deal of New Red S. into Permian, together with the Labyrinthodon.—9

No doubt you see newspapers & know that E. de Beaumont is perpetual Secretary,10 & I suppose will be more powerful than ever; & Le Verrier has Arago’s place in the Observatory.—11 There was a meeting lately at the Geolog. Socy, at which Prestwich,12 (judging from what R. Jones,13 told me) brought forward your exact theory,14 viz that the whole red clay & flints over the Chalk-plateau hereabout is the residuum from slow dissolution of the chalk!

As regards ourselves, we have no news, & are all well. The Hookers, sometime ago staid a fortnight with us, & to our extreme delight, Henslow came down, & was most quiet & comfortable here. It does one good to see so composed, benevolent & intellectual a countenance. There have been great fears that his heart is affected; but I hope to God without foundation. Hooker’s book is out, & most beautifully got up.15 He has honoured me beyond measure, by dedicating it to me! As for myself, I am got to the p. 112 of the Barnacles,16 & that is the sum total of my History. By the way, as you care so much about N. America, I may mention that I had a long letter from a ship-mate in Australia,17 who says the Colony is getting decidedly republican, from the influx of Americans, & that all the great & novel schemes for working the Gold are planned & executed by these men.18 What a go-a head nation it is.—

Give our kindest remembrances to Lady Lyell and to Mrs. Bunbury & to Bunbury. I most heartily wish that the Canaries may be 10 times as interesting as Madeira, & that everything may go on most prosperously with your whole party.

My dear Lyell, your’s most truly & affectionately | C. Darwin.


Lyell had left London in December 1853 for a geological tour of Madeira with wife Mary and her sister, Frances, and Frances’s husband Charles James Fox Bunbury (F. J. Bunbury ed. 1891–3, Middle life 2: 161; K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 176). The party went on to visit the Canary Islands in February 1854, returning to England in April.
Extracts from Lyell’s letter to Leonard Horner (his father-in-law) are printed in K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 191–3. According to Bonney 1919 (p. 124 n. 1), the manuscript copy of the letter, read by Horner at the 23 February meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society and preserved in the minute book, contains matter omitted from the published version, including a long section on the description of the succession of the rocks and a diagram.
In the letter, Lyell referred to CD stating that: ‘In general this island confirms his doctrine, that if all valleys were cut by rivers alone, they would be very narrow, though they might be of any depth, and that the sea is the great widening power’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 192).
Lyell did believe there had been an ‘original flattened dome’ that during elevation had acquired a more convex form (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 192). A later letter to Horner, 21 February 1854 (ibid., pp. 193–6), contains more information about the geology of the island and Lyell’s reasons for concluding that its volcanic formation was ‘sub-aerial’.
Seale 1834. Robert Francis Seale had also constructed a model of St Helena that CD had studied (Volcanic islands, p. 75 n.).
The Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn Street, London.
Gold deposits had been discovered by the Geological Survey in Wales (see Ramsay 1854).
In his anniversary address to the Geological Society (17 February 1854), Forbes reported that areas of the Permian districts of the Midland counties, including the Shrewsbury and North Wales coal-fields, had ‘been taken from the supposed Bunter sandstone and mapped by Mr. [Andrew Crombie] Ramsay and Mr. [Henry Hyatt] Howell as belonging to the Permian rocks … These facts are also important, since they prove that the Labyrinthodon … is a Permian reptile’ (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 10 (1854): xl).
Of the Académie des Sciences.
Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier succeeded Dominique François Jean Arago as director of the Paris Observatory.
Probably Thomas Rupert Jones, assistant secretary, curator, and librarian of the Geological Society.
At the meeting of 18 January 1854, Prestwich read a paper ‘On the origin of the sand and gravel pipes in the Chalk of the London Tertiary district’ (an abstract appears in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 10 (1854): 241). Jones may have believed that Prestwich was appropriating Lyell’s hypothesis, but in the published paper, Prestwich stated that he fully agreed with the views of William Buckland and Lyell and that his object was ‘to adduce fresh proofs in its favour, and to suggest a general cause for the formation of these peculiar formations’ (Prestwich 1855, p. 69).
Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Himalayan journals (J. D. Hooker 1854a).
CD was correcting the first proofs of Living Cirripedia (1854) (see ‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 5, Appendix I).
Gold had been discovered near Bathurst, New South Wales, in February 1851 by Edward Hammond Hargraves (Hughes 1987, pp. 161–8).


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

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

Hughes, Robert. 1987. The fatal shore: a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia, 1787–1868. London: Collins Harvill.

Ramsay, Andrew Crombie. 1854. On the geology of the gold-bearing district of Merionethshire, North Wales. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 10: 242–7.

Seale, Robert F. 1834. The geognosy of the island St. Helena, illustrated in a series of views, plans and sections; accompanied with explanatory remarks and observations. London.

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.


Comments on CL’s plan to visit Tenerife.

Discusses inclination of strata on islands and around mountains.

Personal affairs of several scientists.

Visit by Henslow.

Notes publication by Hooker [Himalayan journals (1854)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.108)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1553,” accessed on 8 June 2023,

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