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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   25 September [1859]1

Down, Bromley Kent

Sept. 25th

My dear Lyell

I send by this post 4 corrected sheets.— The sheet with the whale-case has been printed off.—2 I have altered sentence about eocene fauna being beaten by recent, thanks to your remark.— But I imagined that it would have been clear that I supposed the climate to be nearly similar:3 you do not doubt, I imagine, that the climate of eocene & recent periods in different parts of world could be matched. Not that I think climate nearly so important as most naturalists seem to think. In my opinion no error is more mischievous than this.

I was very glad to find that Hooker who read over in M.S. my geographical chapters, quite agreed in the view of the greater importance of organic relations. I shd. like you to consider p. 77 & reflect on case of any organism in midst of its range.—4

I shall be curious hereafter to hear what you think of Distribution during Glacial & preceding warmer period.—5 I am so glad that you do not think Chapt. on Imperfection of Geolog. Record exaggerated; I was more fearful about this Chapt, than about any part—

Embryology in Ch. XIII is one of my strongest points, I think.— But I must not bore you by running on. My mind is so wearisomely full of subject.—

I do thank you for your euloge at Aberdeen.—6 I have been so wearied & exhausted of late, that I have for months doubted whether I have not been throwing away time & labour for nothing. But now I care not what the universal world says; I have always found you right, & certainly on this occasion I am not going to doubt for the first time.— Whether you go far or but a very short way with me & others who believe as I do, I am contented, for my work cannot be in vain— You would laugh if you knew how often I have read your paragraph, & it has acted like a little dram.—

I start for Ilkley Wells House Otley Yorkshire on Sept. 29th, & shall get there, on Oct. 1st 7

Farewell | C. Darwin

Pray give our kindest remembrances to Lady Lyell.—


The year is given by CD’s reference to the proof-sheets of Origin.
Lyell had told CD of a mistake about fossil whales having been discovered in Secondary formations (letter to Charles Lyell, 20 September [1859]). The error was published unchanged in Origin, p. 304.
The sentence occurs in Origin, p. 337: ‘If under a nearly similar climate, the eocene inhabitants of one quarter of the world were put into competition with the existing inhabitants of the same or some other quarter, the eocene fauna or flora would certainly be beaten and exterminated’. CD apparently added the qualifying phrase ‘under a nearly similar climate’.
CD refers to a passage in Origin, pp. 77–8, that emphasises the relative unimportance of adaptation to climate: Look at a plant in the midst of its range, why does it not double or quadruple its numbers? We know that it can perfectly well withstand a little more heat or cold, dampness or dryness, for elsewhere it ranges into slightly hotter or colder, damper or drier districts. In this case we can clearly see that if we wished in imagination to give the plant the power of increasing in number, we should have to give it some advantage over its competitors, or over the animals which preyed on it.
Origin, pp. 365–82.
In his opening address to the geology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Aberdeen (14–21 September 1859), Lyell stated that CD ‘appears to me to have succeeded, by his investigations and reasonings, in throwing a flood of light on many classes of phenomena connected with the affinities, geographical distribution, and geological succession of organic beings, for which no other hypothesis has been able, or has even attempted, to account.’ (Athenæum, 24 September 1859, p. 404). Lyell had read the proof-sheets of the first half of Origin a few weeks earlier (see letters to Charles Lyell, 2 September [1859], and to John Murray, 2 September [1859]). There is a copy of the privately printed version of Lyell’s address in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. The speech was later published in the British Association Report (C. Lyell 1859b).
CD’s plans changed: he did not set out for Ilkley until 2 October 1859 (‘Journal’; Appendix II). See also letter to Charles Lyell, 30 September [1859].


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.


Discusses text of Origin.

Compares Eocene and modern climates.

Mentions Hooker’s view of his geographical [distribution] chapters.

Asks CL’s opinion of his statements on distribution during "glacial and preceding warmer periods".

Mentions chapters on geological record and embryology.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.170)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2494,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

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