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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   8 [May 1860]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Lyell

Your letter contained much news for me.—   It is indeed most important that the Cambrian or Barrandes primordial should be getting so much separated (in spite of Murchison) from Lower Silurian: I did not at all know this.1

I fear it is not very likely that I shall be up on 16th (I have written to J. Lubbock)2 though I shd. much like to hear the paper & discussions, for, I am sure that you will both be sorry to hear that Etty is ill with remittent Fever.3 There is at present no cause for anxiety, though she is very ill, & the Fever is sure to run on for a fortnight or three weeks, and anxiety always knocks me up.—

I have sent for Canadian Naturalist;4 if I cannot procure a copy I will borrow yours.— I had letter from Henslow this morning who says that Sedgwick was on last Monday night to open a battery on me at Cambridge Phil. Socy. —5 Anyhow I am much honoured by being attacked there & at Royal Soc. of Edinburgh.—6 With respect to Aster, I remember long ago reading curious paper by Asa Gray & another on Aster, in which they give cases of two forms so very distinct that they must consider them specifically distinct, & yet perfectly united by intermediate varieties or links & they admit that in almost every other case that this suffices to upset two species as distinct.—7 But I do not think it worth while to contradict single cases. Nor is it worth while arguing against those who do not attend to what I state. A moment reflexion will show you that there must be (on our doctrine) large genera not varying—see p. 56 on this subject in 2d Edit of Origin—   Though I do not there discuss case in detail—

It may be sheer bigotry for my own notions, but I prefer to the Atlantis my notion of plants & animals having migrated from old to new world or conversely when climate was much hotter by approximately the line of Behring’s Straits.8 It is most important as you say to see living forms of plants going back so far in time. I wonder whether we shall ever discover the flora of dry land of the Coal period & find it not so anomalous as the swamp or coal-making flora!

I am working away over the blessed Pigeon manuscript;9 but from one cause or another I get on very slowly,—chiefly from my abominable stomach.—

This morning I got letter from Acad. Nat. Sc. of Philadelphia, announcing that I am elected a Correspondent;10— I do not suppose that this is much of honour; but it shows that some naturalists there do not think me such a scientific profligate as many think me here.—

Ever | My dear Lyell | Yours gratefully | C. Darwin

What a grand fact about extinct Stags horn worked by man!—11


In the missing portion of his previous letter, Lyell had evidently mentioned several of the topics to be discussed at the next meeting of the Geological Society of London on 16 May 1860 (see letter from Charles Lyell, 7 May 1860). Édouard Amant Isidore Hippolyte Lartet and Leonard Horner spoke about the evidence for humans having existed contemporaneously with animals that had since become extinct. John Lubbock was also deeply interested in the topic.
An entry in Emma Darwin’s diary on 7 May 1860 records that Henrietta Emma Darwin was suffering from ‘cold & fever’. She had fallen ill on 28 April 1860 (Emma Darwin’s diary).
A review entitled ‘Darwin on the origin of species by means of natural selection’, signed ‘J. W. D.’, appeared in the Canadian Naturalist and Geologist 5 (1860): 100–20. John William Dawson was the editor of the journal. CD’s copy of the article (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL) identifies Dawson as the author; CD also wrote on it: ‘good geologist & Palaeontologist.’
A reference to Andrew Murray’s critique of Origin in a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 20 February 1860 (Murray 1860a).
CD may be referring to Torrey and Gray 1838–43, 2: 104, in which the following statement is included in a passage discussing difficulties in the classification of species of Aster: It must, however, be admitted that, in this as in all large and natural genera, several species which we cannot but consider as distinct (such for instance as A. cordifolius and A. sagittifolius) do frequently present very puzzling intermediate forms;
CD refers to Edward Forbes’s proposed former Miocene continent, across which organisms were supposed to have migrated from Europe to the Azores. CD rejected hypothetical continents and other land-bridges for which there was no obvious geological evidence in favour of occasional and accidental transport of seeds and ova across the intervening ocean. He and Lyell had discussed the subject at length in 1856. See Correspondence vol. 6, especially letters to Charles Lyell, 16 [June 1856] and 25 June [1856], and letters from Charles Lyell, 17 June 1856 and [1 July 1856].
CD was drafting chapters on pigeons that were eventually published in Variation (see ‘Journal’; Appendix II).
CD had been elected as a corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (see letter to Thomas Stewardson, 8 May 1860). The academy, founded in 1812, was one of the most prestigious scientific societies in the United States.
Lartet 1860, p. 472.


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

Lartet, Edouard. 1860. On the coexistence of man with certain extinct quadrupeds, proved by fossil bones, from various Pleistocene deposits, bearing incisions made by sharp instruments. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 16: 471–5.

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.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Did not know about separation between Silurian and Cambrian.

Cannot attend Geological Society meeting.

Etty [Henrietta Darwin] ill.

Sedgwick in his attack at Cambridge Philosophical Society states "there must be [on CD’s theory] large genera not varying".

Discusses migration of plants and animals from Old World to New.

Views of Asa Gray on Aster.

Mentions flora of coal period.

Has been elected to Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.211)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2788,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

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