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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. C. Ramsay   24 June [1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 24th

Dear Ramsay

I am very much obliged for your extremely kind present of “the Old Glaciers”.2 It is quite admirably illustrated; & I am sure that I shall be much interested by it, when I shortly read it, which will not be for a week or two, as I have another book in hand which I must finish. I am heartily glad to see you in print on so interesting a subject.

Your’s very sincerely & obliged | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I have not been able to resist beginning your Book. I have been much interested (p. 19) about the Jura.3 Do you know that Agassiz has described the Jura blocks as always resting on gravel?4

You will see reference in Appendix to my Journal (1st Edit 1839) p. 618, where I advance same view as yours about transport of Boulders on to the Jura.5 But Lyell tells me that when last there he came to conclusion that it must have been true Glacial action; he grounds his belief chiefly from nature of boulders corresponding with rocks of opposed valleys of Alps.—6

It would be a grand subject for you to investigate in a summer’s tour.—

I believe from what I saw in Chiloe that currents will distribute the boulders in determinate directions.—7


Although the letter is endorsed ‘1858’, this seems to be an error. See n. 2, below.
CD refers to a separately published (and differently paginated) reprint of Ramsay’s chapter on glaciers in John Ball’s Peaks, passes, and glaciers: a series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club. Ball’s book was issued in the last weeks of May 1859 (Publishers' Circular, 1 June 1859, p. 259). The reprinted version is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection--CUL and is inscribed with Ramsay’s compliments.
Ramsay noted the erosion of pebbles in the glacial gravels and thought that this indicated aqueous deposition. In CD’s copy, the passage is marked. CD refers to Ramsay 1859, p. 416.
In Agassiz 1840, pp. 283--9, Louis Agassiz cited this observation to refute Charles Lyell’s explanation of the erratic boulders of the Jura as having been transported by ice blocks.
When Ramsay came to revise his chapter for separate publication (Ramsay 1860) he included a footnote that incorporated this information from CD. See Ramsay 1860, pp. 32--3 n.
Whereas Charles Lyell and CD formerly believed that floating ice had brought erratic boulders from the Alps to the Jura across a vast submerged tract of Switzerland (see C. Lyell 1855, p. 151), Lyell subsequently decided that the absence of marine shells and the position of the boulders in relation to their source indicated that glacier-ice was the effective agent. Lyell travelled in Switzerland to study glacial phenomena in the summer of 1857 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 243--62). Lyell’s change of view was stated in the sixth edition of his Manual of elementary geology (C. Lyell 1865, p. 142).
CD discussed this topic in his paper ‘On the distribution of the erratic boulders and on the contemporaneous unstratified deposits of South America’ (Collected papers 1: 145--63). The boulders of Chiloé Island are described in Collected papers 1: 154--8.


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

Lyell, Charles. 1865. Elements of geology, or the ancient changes of the earth and its inhabitants as illustrated by geological monuments. 6th edition, revised. London: John Murray.

Ramsay, Andrew Crombie. 1860. The old glaciers of Switzerland and North Wales. London. [Vols. 7,9]


Comments on ACR’s "The old glaciers [of Switzerland and N. Wales", in Peaks, passes, and glaciers: a series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, ed. J. Ball (1859)]. Discusses erratic blocks in the Jura. Notes views of Lyell.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Andrew Crombie Ramsay
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine Archives (Ramsay 306: 4)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2291,” accessed on 13 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7