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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell   1–2 May 1856

May 1. 1856.

My dear Darwin

As I sent you a list of the land-shells picked up at Down when we were last there1 I wish you, in case you have kept it to put ?? to Helix carthusiana which I still think is among them— But the shell which I meant by that name is I find called by Forbes & Hanley Helix Cantiana Mont. as being the prior name—2 In my own list & perhaps in the one I sent you I find I had added this name of Montagues3 as a synonym—, for I had made no mistake about the species which I meant—

I also find amongst them another shell which I suppose to be Helix rufescens? and the Bulimus which I left unnamed must I think be B. obscurus— The Clausilia which I called C. plicatula ought to have been C. nigricans, according to Forbes & Hanley.

I have met with such a remarkably conical variety of Helix aspersa from Charing Kent, in Woodward collection4 that I cannot regard that shell as quite so constant in England as I told you—& as it is reputed to be. I shd. like to show it to you as I have got this variety

I have just heard from Woodward that his friend Mr C. Prentice of Cheltenham caught that large & most powerful of our water beetles Hydrobius piceus with an ancylus fluviatilis adhering to him! & treating him as he would a stone after the beetle was out of the water.—5 Here is a new light as to the way by which these sedentary mollusks may get transported from one river basin to another— That species of Ancylus seems to have got into Madeira before Man—6 How far can an Hydrobius fly with a favourable gale?

I hear that when you & Hooker & Huxley & Wollaston got together you made light of all species & grew more & more unorthodox— 7

Heer of Zurich has given us a capital essay on the old Atlantis in a new paper just out on the fossil leaves of Madeira— 8 When I go abroad I will lend it to you for now I am always using it.9 He makes out a good case in favour of the old union provided one believes in specific centres. According to any other hypothesis I cannot as yet very well see how to bring the geographl. facts to bear one way or the other— I wish you would publish some small fragment of your data pigeons if you please & so out with the theory & let it take date—& be cited—& understood. 10

With my love to Mrs Darwin & the children ever truly Y | Cha Lyell

To encourage you to get up J. E. Gray’s subdivision of the Genus Helix I may mention that Macandrew brought back from the Salvages a Helix allied to (some think only a var of) Helix pisana a British species11 it was named by some one H. Macandrei & by Lowe who had received it first H. ustulata—12

Gray enters into his catalogue diag Nanina ustulata Salvages

N—— Macandrei do—ramme making two species, & on being asked why he called them Nanina said, because it is the form which belongs to islands in the Pacific! He had imagined the Salvages to be in the Pacific otherwise he should have certainly had some other subgenus assigned to it—! some Atlantic genus of Helicidæ!13

May 2. This letter was not posted yesterday by accident. I went to see poor Curtis the entomologist who being nearly blind by amaurosis was run over 10 days ago by three Cabs & broke a shoulder bone but is doing surprisingly well.14

He told me that a french entomologist brought him a Dytiscus marginalis the large water beetle (which flies about freely) with a small bag of eggs of a water spider under his wings, evidently put there by the parent. It was not a parasitic insect which had done this— He could not look up the case because of his illness & blindness but some day I will get it perhaps—

What unexpected means of migration will in time be found out—15

The multiple creation of Agassiz will one day rank with spontaneous generation but Madeira seems to me to favour the single specific birth-place theory & I long to see your application of any modification of the Lamarckian species-making modification system— Representative forms in closely adjoining islands are great puzzles where the conditions are one would think so nearly the same—16

ever truly yrs | Cha Lyell C Darwin Esq

CD annotations

0.1 May … got this variety 3.4] crossed pencil
4.6 How far … gale? 4.7] ‘I have taken Colymbeste 45 miles fr Land’added pencil
5.1 I hear … unorthodox— 5.2] crossed pencil
6.1 Heer … Madeira— 6.2] scored pencil
6.2 When I … understood. 6.7] crossed pencil
10.1 May 2… . well. 10.3] crossed pencil
13.1 The multiple … Lyell 14.1] crossed pencil
On first page: ‘1817 & Salvages Helix’ brown crayon


The Lyells had visited the Darwins from 13 to 16 April 1856 (Emma Darwin’s diary). Lyell’s list of shells has not been found.
E. Forbes and Hanley [1848–] 1853.
George Montagu was the author of Testacea Britannica (Montagu [1803–8]).
The personal collection of Samuel Pickworth Woodward.
See also Wilson ed. 1970, p. 83. There is a note on this in DAR 205.2: 139.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston had given Lyell a manuscript ‘Catalogue of Madeira & Porto Santo land Mollusca, living and fossil’ in February 1856. Ancylus fluviatilis was included among the living species. See Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 19–27.
Joseph Dalton Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Wollaston had visited CD during the last week of April (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 2 April [1856], n. 2). Lyell had evidently heard about the weekend discussions from Hooker and Huxley, for he recorded other remarks from them about species in his ‘Scientific journal’ (Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 56–7). In a letter of 30 April 1856 to Charles James Fox Bunbury, Lyell stated: ‘When Huxley, Hooker, and Wollaston were at Darwin’s last week, they (all four of them) ran a tilt against species farther I believe than they are deliberately prepared to go. Wollaston least unorthodox. I cannot easily see how they can go so far, and not embrace the whole Lamarckian doctrine.’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 212). CD made notes, dated 28 April 1856, on his conversation with Wollaston. These are preserved in DAR 197.2, together with further notes dated 8 May 1856. In a letter to Lyell dated 12 May 1856 (F. J. Bunbury ed. 1891–3, Middle life 2: 391–2), Bunbury expressed surprise that Hooker was unorthodox and commented: Darwin goes much further in his belief of the variability of species, than I am disposed to do, but even he, I imagine, would not assert an unlimited range of variation: he would hardly, I conceive, maintain that a Moss may be modified into a Magnolia, or an oyster into an alderman; though he seems to hold that all the different forms of each natural group may have sprung from an original stock, even (for instance) that the Ericas of Europe and of the Cape may have had a common origin: which I am not disposed to believe.
Oswald Heer, Swiss palaeontologist and botanist, had visited Madeira for his health in 1850. He had sent Lyell his paper (Heer 1855) on the fossil plants of Madeira (see K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 210–11). To account for the similarity in flora between Madeira and Europe, Heer had suggested that Madeira was at one time connected to Europe and North America. Lyell also entertained the possibility that a land-bridge had previously connected Madeira and Europe (see K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 212, and Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 92–3).
The Lyells left for a tour of the Continent late in July. CD recorded having read Heer 1855 on 7 August 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 20).
During Lyell’s visit to Down in April, CD had told Lyell about his theory of natural selection as a mechanism for species change. Although Lyell had long known about CD’s investigation of the species question, there is no evidence that CD had communicated the substance of natural selection before this date. Lyell’s notes on this conversation, dated 16 April 1856 and headed ‘With Darwin: On the Formation of Species by Natural Selection’, cited, among other things, the example of pigeons. He wrote: ‘The young pigeons are more of the normal type than the old of each variety. Embryology, therefore, leads to the opinion that you get nearer the type in going nearer to the foetal archetype & in like manner in Time we may get back nearer to the archetype of each genus & family & class.’ (Wilson ed. 1970, p. 54). In a letter to Bunbury, 30 April 1856 (see n. 7, above), Lyell again discussed pigeons in connection with CD’s transmutation theory: ‘Darwin finds, among his fifteen varieties of the common pigeon, three good genera and about fifteen good species according to the received mode of species and genus-making of the best ornithologists, and the bony skeleton varying with the rest!’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 213).
Robert McAndrew, Liverpool merchant and yachtsman, had joined the dredging committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1844. He had spent a month in the spring of 1852 collecting molluscs in the Canary Islands and the Madeira group, including the Salvages, later described in McAndrew 1854. CD’s annotated copy of a reprint of this paper is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In his published catalogue of Pulmonata, John Edward Gray, keeper of the zoological department of the British Museum, listed Nanina MacAndrewiana as a species from the Pacific islands (J. E. Gray 1855, p. 125). He also mistakenly gave its habitat as the ‘Great Savage Island’. His species descriptions apparently were not well trusted by contemporary naturalists (see Gunther 1975, pp. 178–9).
CD and Lyell had discussed the topic of migration and the various means of dispersal during Lyell’s visit to Down in April (see Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 52–3). On his return to London, Lyell began his own experiments on the power of seeds to endure salt water, evidently intending to verify CD’s work in relation to the diffusion of plants (see F. J. Bunbury ed. 1891–3, Middle life 2: 389–91).
A reference to Lyell and CD’s discussion of the distinctness of the fauna on individual islets in archipelagos such as the Madeira group and the Galápagos. In his notes relating to this discussion, Lyell recorded: ‘In the Galapagos isles the land shells collected were not numerous, but so far as the evidence went, it corroborates the Mad.a & P.o S.o case in regard to the distinctness of the fauna in each island.’ (Wilson ed. 1970, p. 52)
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the means of geographical dispersal of animals and plants.


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

Gray, John Edward. 1855. Catalogue of Pulmonata or airbreathing Mollusca in the collection of the British Museum. Pt 1. London.

Heer, Oswald. 1855. Ueber die fossilen Pflanzen von St. Jorge in Madeira. [Read 5 November 1855.] Neue Denkschriften der allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften n.s. 5 (1857): paper 2.


Urges CD to publish his theory with small part of data.

Corrects names of land shells on list of shells picked up at Down.

Discusses transport of Ancylus from one river-bed to another by water-beetle.

"I hear that when you & Hooker & Huxley & Wollaston got together you made light of all Species & grew more & more unorthodox."

Mentions discussion of old Atlantis by Oswald Heer.

Comments on Helix and Nanina.

Mentions beetle discovered with small bag of eggs of water-spider under wing.

Madeira evidence favours single species birth-place theory.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 282
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1862,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6