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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [3 December 1859]1



My dear Lyell

I forget whether you take in Times: for the chance of not doing so I send the enclosed rich letter.— It is, I am sure, by FitzRoy;2 for he wrote to me the other day on population of world not having increased,3 & in his Voyages there is the pebble theory.4 It is a pity he did not add his theory of the extinction of Mastodon &c from the door of ark being made too small.5 What a mixture of conceit & folly, & the greatest newspaper in the world, inserts it!

Ever yours | C. Darwin

I have had letter from Carpenter this morning: he reviews me in National.6 He is convert, but does not go quite as far as I—but quite far enough; for he admits that all Birds from one progenitor; & probably all fishes & reptiles from another parent. But the last mouthful chokes him—he can hardly admit all Vertebrates from one parent.— He will surely come to this from Homology & Embryology.—

I look at it as grand having brough round a great physiologist, for great I think he certainly is in that line.—

How curious I shall be to know what line Owen will take,—dead against us I fear; but he wrote me a most liberal note on the reception of my Book, & said he was quite prepared to consider fairly & without prejudice any line of argument.7


The Saturday following the notice in The Times mentioned in the letter (see n. 2, below).
The Times, 1 December 1859, p. 8, carried a letter signed ‘Senex’ that commented on the consequence of revising the antiquity of man in the light of the recently discovered flint implements being discussed in scientific circles. CD’s name was linked with that of Leonard Horner in supposing that mankind had existed for 14,000 years, a point that had been made in Horner 1858 (see letter to the Secretary, Royal Society, 22 March 1858). CD’s identification of the author as Robert FitzRoy was correct (see n. 3, below, and Mellersh 1968, pp. 271–2).
FitzRoy’s letter to CD has not been found, but he recounted its contents in a letter to William Hepworth Dixon, the editor of the Athenæum, on 29 November 1859, a copy of which is in DAR 221. FitzRoy told Dixon about his letter to the The Times (see n. 2, above). He also stated that he agreed with the critical review of Origin published in Athenæum, 19 November 1859, pp. 659–60. He went on to say (DAR 221): Remarkably—I had just glanced at his book, the day before that Athenæum appeared—and at once wrote to express my alarm at his extreme views.— I noticed a few salient points, (also remarked in the Critique) and ended by saying— “My dear old friend—I, at least, cannot find anything ”ennobling“ in the thought of being a descendant of even the most ancient Ape”. He has not replied. I presume that Darwin’s whole time for some years has been so much engrossed by his own avocations—his pigeon and rabbit breeding and his microscopic investigations—that he has scarcely used a telescope—for a wide range, and comprehensive view—has hardly read the works of later Authorities—except those bits of them which he could use in his own work. This used to be his habit—and the consequence was partial instead of fair results.
Narrative 2: 667. FitzRoy maintained that rounded pebbles did not necessarily indicate previous water action; the stones might have gained their shape through volcanic activity.
FitzRoy had written in Narrative 2: 671: ‘As the creatures approached the ark, might it not have been easy to admit some, perhaps the young and the small, while the old and large were excluded?’
CD may be referring to the letter from Richard Owen, 12 November 1859. Owen’s critical review of Origin appeared in Edinburgh Review 111 (1860): 487–532.


Horner, Leonard. 1858. An account of some recent researches near Cairo, with the view of throwing light upon the geological history of the alluvial land of Egypt. Pt II. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 148: 53–92. [vols. 7,8]

Mellersh, Harold Edward Leslie. 1968. FitzRoy of the Beagle. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.

Narrative: Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836. [Edited by Robert FitzRoy.] 3 vols. and appendix. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

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.


Encloses a letter from FitzRoy to the Times.

Mentions letter from W. B. Carpenter accepting single progenitor for major animal classes.

Speculates about Richard Owen’s opinion.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.182)
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2567,” accessed on 14 September 2023,

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