skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell   23 April 1855

23d Ap. 1855.

My dear Darwin

I have seen a good deal of French Geologists & Paleontologists lately1 & there are many whom I should like to put on the R.S. Foreign list2 such as Archiac,3 Constandt Prevost4 & others— But the man who has made the greatest sacrifices & produced the greatest results, who has in fact added a new Period to the calendar is Barrande.5

The importance of his discoveries as they stand before the public fully justify your choice of him but what is unpublished & which I have seen is if possible still more surprising—

Thirty genera of Gasteropods (150 species) & 150 species of Lamellebranchiate bivalves in the Silurian! All obtained by quarries opened solely by him for fossils. A man of very moderate fortune spending nearly all his capital on Geology & with success—

E. Forbes’ polarity doctrines are nearly overturned by the unpublished discoveries of Barrande—6

I have called Barrandes new period Cambrian (see Manual 5th. Ed) & you will see why. I could not name it Protozoic but had Barrande called it Bohemian I must have adopted that name—7

All the French will rejoice if you confer an honor on Barrande—

Sincerely yr | Cha Lyell

Dana is well worthy of being a Foreign member—8

Should you succeed in making Barrande F.R.S. send me word—9


Charles and Mary Lyell had visited Mary’s sister and her husband, Leonora and George Pertz, in Berlin in February and March 1855 and stopped in Paris on their way back to England (Wilson ed. 1970, p. xl).
Under the Statutes of 1847, the Royal Society council could, from time to time, put in nominations for foreign membership, not exceeding, with those already elected, fifty. CD attended meetings of the council of the Royal Society on 21 and 23 April at which the nominees for election to foreign membership were discussed.
étienne Jules Adolphe Desmier de Saint-Simon, Vicomte d’Archiac, author of the multi-volume Histoire des progrés de la géologie (Archiac 1847–60). CD’s copy of the first volume is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Louis Constant Prévost was a supporter of Lyell’s principle that geological causes should be explained in terms of causes now in operation.
The first volume of Joachim Barrande’s great work on Silurian fossils (Barrande 1852–1911) had received much praise during 1854 (see Forbes 1854c). He divided the Silurian system into eight stages, identifiable by their fossil fauna, which were then correlated with those of the standard British sequence as described by Roderick Impey Murchison. The first or ‘primordial’ fauna was eventually considered, after years of controversy between Murchison and Adam Sedgwick, as a new basis for demarcating the Cambrian system (Secord 1986, pp. 277–86, 291–4). Barrande had been elected a foreign member of the Geological Society on 3 May 1854 (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 11 (1855): viii).
See Forbes 1854c, pp. lxxvii–lxxxi, for Forbes’s explanation of his theory of polarity. Forbes used the absence of Lamellibranchiata in palaeozoic rocks to support his views (p. lxxix): Lyell believed that Barrande’s discovery of 150 species of lamellibranchs in the Silurian would, therefore, overturn Forbes’s theory.
Lyell used the term ‘Cambrian’ in a sense entirely different from that of its author, Adam Sedgwick. He believed that geological classifications ought to be founded on fossil faunas alone and in successive editions of his Elements of geology argued that only evidence of a separate group of fossils below the lower Silurian would justify a separate name. In his view, Barrande had supplied precisely that evidence. See C. Lyell 1855, p. 454–5, in which Lyell explained Barrande’s work and his use of the expression ‘protozoic schists’ to describe the fossil fauna of particular Bohemian strata.
James Dwight Dana was not elected until 1884.
Barrande was one of nine candidates proposed for foreign membership at the Royal Society council meeting of 23 April, but he was not on the final list of nominations for election and was never elected to membership (Royal Society council minutes).


Archiac, Etienne Jules Adolphe Desmier de Saint-Simon, Vicomte d’. 1847–60. Histoire des progrès de la géologie de 1834 à 1845. 8 vols. Paris.

Barrande, Joachim, et al. 1852–1911. Systême silurien du centre de la Bohême. 8 parts in 28 vols. Prague: the author.

Secord, James Andrew. 1986. Controversy in Victorian geology: the Cambrian–Silurian dispute. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.


CL would like to put Joachim Barrande on the Royal Society’s foreign list. Of French geologists and palaeontologists, he is the man who has made the greatest sacrifices and produced the greatest results.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine Archives (Huxley 6: 7)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1672,” accessed on 19 April 2021,

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