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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   4 May [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 4th

My dear Lyell

I have had promised me an arrowhead found by Col. Erskine on his property in peat in Aberdeenshire;2 which I will send you; but the only point of interest about the case, is that vast numbers were found at one place where there were stones fitted for the manufacture.—   I daresay you know about it, but I may mention that John Lubbock tells me that the flint tools in France are found in such vast numbers, in Peat that M. Boucher de Perthes told him that he might take as many as he liked.—3

These facts, to my mind, remove one of the greatest difficulties of the case of the gravel-beds—celts,—namely their surprising numbers.—   I do hope that you will go to France again, & give us lots of Sections.—4 I found that until J. Lubbock drew me a rough section I did not in the least understand their position; & hardly anything seems known about the extension of the beds of gravel, clay &c or their manner of formation. The case seems to me to deserve not day’s but month’s of work—

I will keep Newberry’s paper, as it is very interesting:5 By the way I was much pleased to see how strongly he put the supposed fact that the continent of America has stood there since Palæozoic times.—   I suspect my crude notion of the cause of deposits anterior to the Palæozoic times not being known, will hereafter be found to have truth in it—

I have had brief note from Keyserling,6 but not worth sending you: he believes in change of species,—grants that natural selection explains well adaptation of forms, but thinks species change too regularly, as if by some chemical law, for natural selection to be sole cause of change.—   I can hardly understand his brief note, but this is, I think, the upshot.—

Pray do not forget to look at the Spirifers arranged by Salter.—7

I will send A. Murray’s paper whenever published: it includes speculations (which perhaps he will modify) so rash & without a single fact in support, that had I advanced them, he or other Reviewers would have hit me very hard.—8

I am sorry to say that I have no “consolotory view” on the dignity of man; I am content that man will probably advance & care not much whether we are looked at as mere savages in a remotely distant future.—   Many thanks for your last note—9

Yours affectly | C. Darwin

I have received in a Manchester Newspaper a rather a good squib, showing that I have proved “might is right”, & therefore that Napoleon is right & every cheating Tradesman is also right—10


The date is incorrectly given as ‘January 4th? 1860’ in LL 2: 261.
Henry Knight Erskine was lieutenant-colonel commandant of the Royal Aberdeenshire Highlanders (Army list 1860); his estate was Pittodrie at Chapel of Garioch, Inverurie.
Early in April 1860, John Lubbock travelled with Joseph Prestwich and others to Abbeville, France. They visited Jacques Boucher de Crèvecoeur de Perthes and examined the flint implements he had collected as well as the gravel-beds of the Somme Valley (Hutchinson ed. 1914, 1: 51).
Lyell visited several of the sites that contained worked flints in 1859 and announced his belief that these were implements of early man at the 1859 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to Charles Lyell, 20 September [1859]). He revisited France and also toured sites in Germany in September 1860 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 336).
The note from Alexandr Andreevich Keyserling has not been found, but see the letter to RIMurchison, 1 May [1860].
John William Salter was palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain. At the Museum of Practical Geology, London, he had arranged specimens of the brachiopod genus Spirifer from three Palaeozoic stages, the Devonian, Lower and Upper Carboniferous, using CD’s illustration of the principle of divergence (Origin, facing p. 117) as his model. He glued the spirifers onto a board and arranged them in single, branching lines, with horizontal lines marking the formations. See letter to Andrew Murray, 28 April [1860], and Correspondence vol. 9, letter to T. W. St C. Davidson, 26 April 1861. CD had seen Salter’s arrangement in April 1860 (see letter to Andrew Murray, 28 April [1860]). See also letter from J. B. Jukes, 27 February 1860 and n. 5.
See preceding letter and the letters to Andrew Murray, 28 April [1860] and 28 [April 1860].
The Manchester Guardian, 20 April 1860, p. 4, carried a commentary on Origin entitled ‘National and individual rapacity vindicated by the law of nature’. The article mentioned Louis Napoleon’s recent seizure of Savoy. Only the author’s initials T. H. W. were given.


Army list: The army list. London: printed for the compiler of the annual official army list; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. 1815–1900.

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

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Newberry, John Strong. 1860. Notes on the ancient vegetation of North America; … In a letter to Prof. Dana, dated Santa Fe New Mexico, Oct. 15th, 1859. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 29: 208–18.

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.


Is sending CL an arrow-head. Says John Lubbock tells of vast numbers of flint tools in peat in France. Urges CL to conduct further research on the subject.

Comments on paper by J. S. Newberry concerning palaeozoic deposits in America [Am. J. Sci. 2d ser. 29 (1860): 208–18]

and on A. von Keyserling’s view of species change.

Mentions J. W. Salter’s chart arranging Spirifer.

Comments on Andrew Murray’s paper on the Origin ["On Mr Darwin’s theory of the origin of species", Proc. R. Soc. Edinburgh 4 (1860): 274–91].

A Manchester newspaper article says CD has proved "might is right".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.210)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2782,” accessed on 19 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8