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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   20 September [1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

Sept 20th

My dear Lyell

You once gave me intense pleasure, or rather delight, by the way you were interested, in a manner I never expected, in my Coral-reef notions;2 & now you have again given me similar pleasure by the manner you have noticed my Species work.3 Nothing could be more satisfactory to me, & I thank you for myself, & even more for the subject-sake, as I know well that sentence will make many fairly consider the subject, instead of ridiculing it. Although your previously felt doubts on the immutability of species,4 may have more influence in converting you (if you be converted) than my Book; yet as I regard your verdict as far more important in my own eyes & I believe in eyes of world than of any other dozen men, I am naturally very anxious about it. Therefore, let me beg you to keep your mind open till you receive (in perhaps a fortnights time) my latter chapters which are the most important of all on the favourable side. The last chapter which sums up & balances in a mass all the arguments contra & pro, will, I think, be useful to you.—

I cannot too strongly express my conviction of the general truth of my doctrines, & God knows I have never shirked a difficulty.— I am foolishly anxious for your verdict. Not that I shall be disappointed if you are not converted; for I remember the long years it took me to come round; but I shall be most deeply delighted if you do come round, especially if I have a fair share in the conversion. I shall then feel that my career is run, & care little whether I ever am good for anything again in this life.—

Thank you much for allowing me to put in the sentence about your “grave doubt”.—5

So much & too much about myself.—

I have read with extreme interest in the Aberdeen Paper about the Flint-tools: you have made the whole case far clearer to me: I suppose that you did not think evidence sufficient about Glacial period.6

With cordial thanks for your splendid notice of my Book | Believe me, my dear Lyell | Your affectionate disciple | Charles Darwin I start for “Ilkley Wells

Hydropathic Establishment

near Otley, Yorkshire”ramme on Oct. 3d. by which time, thank God, I shall have finished last revises, index & all. My health is much broken.—

P.S. I have just received your letter.—7 I much fear it is too late for the Whale correction; but I have written to enquire.—8

I will write again in few days—

Many thanks for the letter just received. It is a horrid bore about the whale.— In Lecture to R.I. Owen showed that he believed in whale.—9


The year is given by CD’s reference to the forthcoming publication of Origin.
Lyell had been greatly interested in CD’s extension of his theory of the reciprocal elevation and subsidence of landmasses to account for the origin of coral reefs. CD’s work on the subject drew the two men together as friends and scientific colleagues during CD’s first months in London after returning from the Beagle voyage. See Correspondence vols. 1 and 2.
Lyell’s letter to CD has not been located, but see letter to Charles Lyell, 25 September [1859].
See Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 265–86.
After listing a number of authorities in palaeontology and geology, including Lyell, who had ‘unanimously, often vehemently, maintained the immutability of species’, CD added: ‘But I have reason to believe that one great authority, Sir Charles Lyell, from further reflexion entertains grave doubts on this subject.’ (Origin, p. 310).
Lyell’s address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science discussed the recent discoveries of flint implements in fossiliferous caves that corroborated, according to Lyell, the great antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1859b). In the letter to Charles Lyell, 2 September [1859], CD asked him how the deposits containing the flints had been formed. Lyell had not discussed the point in his address.
Lyell’s letter has not been located.
CD cited Lyell in Origin, p. 304, on the existence of whales in the Upper Greensand, before the close of the Secondary period (C. Lyell 1857, p. 40). Such cases, CD wrote, showed ‘how liable we are to error in supposing that whole groups of species have suddenly been produced.’ (Origin, p. 303). The example was deleted from the second edition (see letter to Charles Lyell, 24 [November 1859]).
Richard Owen discussed the evidence for cetacean remains in Secondary strata in the twelfth lecture of his course on fossil mammals, delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 12 April 1859 (R. Owen 1859, p. 113).


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

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Thanks CL for his favourable remarks to the Geological Section of the BAAS concerning the forthcoming publication of the Origin. Hopes CL will accept his view of species.

Comments on CL’s paper ["On the occurrence of works of human art in post-Pliocene deposits", Rep. BAAS 29 (1859): 93–5].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.169)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2492,” accessed on 22 April 2024,

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