skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   27 [December 1859]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Lyell

Owen wrote to me to ask for reference to Clift.1 As my own notes for late chapts. are all in chaos, I bethought me, who was the most trustworthy man of all others to look for references, & I answered myself, “of course Lyell”. In Edit of 1833 Vol. 2. Vol 3. p. 144, you will find reference to Clift in Ed. New. Phil. Journ. no XX p. 394.—2 You will also find that you were greatly struck with the fact itself, which I had quite forgotten. I copied passage & sent it to Owen.—3 Why I gave in some detail references to my own work4 is that Owen (not the first ocasion with respect to myself & others) quietly ignores my having ever generalised on the subject & makes great fuss on more than one occasion at having discovered the law of succession.5 In fact this law with the Galapagos Distribution first turned my mind on origin of species.—6 My own references, are diag Large 8vo Edit 1839 Murrays Edit. 1845.—

p. 210 … … . p 173 On Succession

p. 153 … … . p. 131,132 On splitting up of old

Geograph. Provincesramme (Long before Owen published I had in M.S. worked out the succession of types in Old World.—) as I remember telling Sedgwick, who of course disbelieved it.)

Since receiving your last letter on Hooker, I have read his Introduction as far as p xxiv where Australian Flora begins; & this latter part I liked most in the Proofs.— It is a magnificent Essay.— I doubt slightly about some assertions, or rather shd have liked more facts, as, for instance, in regard to species varying most on confines of their range.— Naturally I doubt a little whether his remarks about “divergence”, & about domestic races being produced under nature, without selection.7 It would take much to persuade me that a Pouter Pigeon or Carrier &c could have been produced by mere laws of variation without long-continued selection; though each little enlargement of crop & beak are due to variation.

I demur greatly to his comparison of products of sinking & rising islands: in Indian Ocean he compares exclusively rising volcanic & sinking coral-isld. 8 The latter have most peculiar soil, & are excessively small in area & are tenanted by very few species: moreover such low coral-islands have probably been often during their subsidence utterly submerged & restocked by plants from other lands. In Pacific Ocean the floras of all best cases are unknown: the comparison ought to have been exclusively between rising & fringed Volcanic isld. & sinking & encircled Volcanic isld.—

I have read Naudin, & Hooker agrees that he does not even touch on my views.—9

I doubt whether Hooker will succeed (anyhow I tried & failed) in keeping parts of Tropics hot, whilst other parts


For CD’s reply to Richard Owen’s request, see letter to Richard Owen, 13 December [1859]. CD refers to Clift 1831.
C. Lyell 1830–3, 3: 144, in which Lyell refers to Clift 1831.
In Origin, p. 339, CD had referred to his own early work on the succession of types rather than citing Charles Lyell or Richard Owen directly. CD cited both the first (1839) and second (1845) editions of Journal of researches.
Owen described the ‘law of succession’ most succinctly in R. Owen 1844, pp. 236–40. He considered that the living organisms of any area were usually of the same general type as the fossil forms, giving as an example the fossil fauna of South America, which includes extinct forms of armadillos and llamas.
For CD’s early recognition of the succession of types, see the famous entry of July 1837 in CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix II, p. 431): In July opened first note Book on “transmutation of Species”.— Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March—on character of S. American fossils—& species on Galapagos Archipelago.— These facts origin (especially latter) of all my views. He opened Origin with this remark (Origin, p. 1).
Hooker 1859, p. viii. The passage is marked in CD’s copy of the work in the Darwin Library–CUL, next to which CD wrote in pencil, ‘without selection doubtful’.
Naudin 1852. See letters to J. D. Hooker, 23 [December 1859] and 25 [December 1859], and to Charles Lyell, 22 [December 1859].


Clift, William. 1831. Report by Mr Clift, of the College of Surgeons, London, in regard to the fossil bones found in the caves and bone-breccia of New Holland. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 10: 394–5.

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

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Naudin, Charles Victor. 1852. Considérations philosophiques sur l’espèce et la variété. Revue Horticole 4th ser. 1: 102–9.

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.


Mentions William Clift ["Report in regard to the fossil bones found in New Holland", Edinburgh New Philos. J. 10 (1830–1): 394–6].

Discusses relations between fossil and living types.

Discusses Hooker’s introductory essay [in Flora Tasmaniae]. Criticises Hooker’s views on flora of rising and sinking islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.187)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2608,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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