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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   2 December [1859]

Ilkley Wells H. | Otley Yorkshire

Dec. 2d.

My dear Lyell

Every note which you have sent me, has interested me much.— Pray thank Lady Lyell for her remark. In the chapters she refers to, I was unable to modify passage in accordance to your suggestion; but in the final Chapt. I have modified three or four. Kingsley in a note to me had capital paragraph, on such notions as mine being not opposed to a high conception of the Deity. I have inserted it as an extract from a letter to me from a celebrated author & divine.1 I have put in about nascent organs.2

I had greatest difficulty in partially making out Sedgwicks letter, & I daresay I did greatly underrate its clearness.3 Do what I could, I fear I shall be greatly abused. In answer to Sedgwicks remark that my book would be “mischievous”: I asked him whether truth can be known, except by being victorious over all attacks.4 But it is no use.— H. C. Watson tells me that one Zoologist says he will read my book., “but I will never believe it”. What a spirit to read any book in!—

Crawfurd writes to me that his notice will be hostile, but that “he will not calumniate the author”: he says he has read my book “at least such parts as he could understand”.5 He sent me some notes & suggestions (quite unimportant) & they show me that I have unavoidably done harm to subject by publishing abstract; I see he does not even give me credit for knowing anything about the wild Columbidæ allied to the Rock-pigeon! He is a real Pallasian: nearly all our domestic races descended from a multitude of wild species now commingled.—6

I expected Murchison to be outrageous. How little he can ever have really grappled with the subject of denudation.— How singular so great a geologist should have so unphilosophical a mind.—7 I have had second note from Phillips very civil & less decided—says he shall not pronounce against me without much reflexion—perhaps will say nothing on subject.—8 Can he be staggered & have the fear of Oxford before his eyes.— Huxley says Phillips will go to that part of Hell which Dante tells us is appointed for those who are neither on God’s side nor on that of the Devil’s.—

I fully believe that I owe the comfort of the next few years of my life to your generous support & that of a very few others: I do not think I am brave enough to have stood being odious without support. Now I feel as bold as a Lion. But there is one thing I can see I must learn, viz. to think less of myself & my book.

Farewell with cordial thanks | Yours most truly | C. Darwin

I return home on the 7th & shall sleep at Erasmus’es. I will call on you about 10 oclock on Thursday 8th & sit with you, as I have so often sat, during your breakfast.

I wish there was any chance of Prestwich being shaken; but I fear he is too much of a catastrophist.—9


CD had sent Adam Sedgwick’s letter of 24 November 1859 to Lyell. See letter to Charles Lyell,29 [November 1859].
John Crawfurd’s letter has not been located. His review of Origin appeared in the Examiner, 3 December 1859, pp. 772–3.
CD and Lyell had recently discussed Pyotr Simon Pallas’s views on the origin of domestic animals, and dogs in particular. See especially letters to Charles Lyell, 25 October [1859] and 31 [October 1859], and letters from Charles Lyell, 28 October 1859 and 21 November 1859.
Roderick Impey Murchison’s response to the ideas put forward in Origin seems not to have been expressed directly to CD. He was and remained a critic. Writing to his friend the geologist Robert Harkness, he stated that he rejected CD’s Lyellian arguments and denied all CD’s inductions and remained ‘as firm a believer as ever that a monkey and a man are distinct species, and not connected by any links,—i.e. are distinct creations.’ (Geikie ed. 1875, 2: 322).
See letter to John Phillips, 26 November [1859]. In his presidential address to the Geological Society of London on 17 February 1860 (Phillips 1860, p. xxxvi), Phillips stated: we may agree with Mr. Darwin in his more practical view of the derivation of some specific forms of one period from others of earlier date by descent with modification. We may accept all this, and yet consistently retain the conviction that the changes which are possible by such causes are circumscribed within the many essential types of structure which appear to be a part of the plan of creation. See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to John Phillips, 14 November [1860].
Joseph Prestwich, while generally accepting Lyell’s uniformitarian views, nonetheless believed that from time to time the intensity of geological forces had increased, causing large-scale disruptions in the geological record.


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

Origin 2d ed.: 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. 1860.

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.

Phillips, John. 1860. Life on the earth, its origin and succession. Cambridge and London: Macmillan and Co.


Comments on note from Charles Kingsley saying CD’s theory is not opposed to a high conception of the Deity.

Mentions negative views of Origin of Sedgwick, John Crawfurd, Roderick Murchison, John Phillips, and Joseph Prestwich.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.181)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2565,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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