skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. C. Ramsay   [26 June 1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

Sunday Night

Dear Ramsay

I have just finished your little Book2 with great interest.

Your description of the Snowdonian Glaciers3 is most vivid & how it does make me long to wander once again over mountains, which I suppose I shall never be able to do.— But the object of my writing is to beg you to take the trouble to inform me on what authority you state that Drift lies on plains of Siberia & penetrates the valleys of the Altai.4 I had thought there were no erratic boulders in Siberia. Who describes the drift, & where? Will you kindly inform me as this point greatly interests me.—5

Your view of the Lakes in Wales from Glacial action is quite new to me.6

Dear Ramsay | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

I wish to Heaven you would sometime examine Glen Roy & settle origin of parallel Roads; I shd. die easier, if I knew what was the right view, whether I be quite wrong or right.—7 You have paid me a superb compliment about glacial action in N. Wales!8

I look back to that little tour with profound interest. I saw facing Capel Curig9 some fine cases of erratic boulders on ledges on side of mountain, which, I think, is more remarkable than even the perched boulders.

P.S. | Now that I am writing will you let me ask you one more question.

Is it certain that traces of organic remains have been found in the Longmynd Beds?10

And secondly is it (as I suppose) certain that these Beds are lower than Barrande’s primodial zone?11

I have heard the traces of remains in the Longmynd beds so doubted & disputed that I cannot remember what is the final conclusion.—


The Sunday between the letters to A. C. Ramsay, 24 June [1859] and 1 July [1859].
Ramsay 1859. CD’s copy of a differently paginated reprint is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. See letter to A. C. Ramsay, 24 June [1859].
The second part of Ramsay’s text described his geological fieldwork in Snowdonia, North Wales, and the evidence for extensive former ice-action in the region.
Ramsay 1859, pp. 451–2. The passage is marked in CD’s reprint (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL).
When Ramsay republished this essay as a book (Ramsay 1860), he added the information requested by CD in a note. See Ramsay 1860, pp. 90–1.
Ramsay 1859, p. 459. Ramsay proposed that the Welsh lake basins were ground out by a heavy load of ice. When the glacier retreated the hollow became filled with the water drainage of the valley.
In his paper on the parallel roads of Glen Roy (Collected papers 1: 89–137), CD argued that the ‘roads’ along the sides of the valley were old beaches formed by sea and wave action during a former period of submersion. For CD’s defence of this interpretation, see Correspondence vols. 2 and 3, and Rudwick 1974.
Ramsay stated that CD’s work on the action of ice in Llyn Idwal, published in ‘Notes on the effects produced by the ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’ (Collected papers 1: 163–71), was the first ‘classic’ study of the area. See Ramsay 1859, p. 448. Ramsay’s interpretation of glacial phenomena was similar to that proposed by both CD and Charles Lyell: he held that glaciers and floating ice scratched and scoured the rocks when the land was formerly submerged.
CD spent a night at an inn at Capel Curig during a geological expedition in June 1842 to examine glacial action in North Wales. See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to W. H. Fitton, 23 June 1842.
The Longmynd beds in Shropshire were identified as belonging to the Lower Cambrian. For Ramsay’s reply, see the following letter. For the significance of the discovery of organic remains in the Longmynd, see Secord 1986, pp. 281–6.
Joachim Barrande had given the name ‘primordial’ to a fossiliferous deposit near Prague that lay under Silurian rocks.


‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’: Notes on the effects produced by the ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire, and on the boulders transported by floating ice. By Charles Darwin. Philosophical Magazine 3d ser. 21 (1842): 180–8. [Shorter publications, pp. 140–7.]

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

Ramsay, Andrew Crombie. 1860. The old glaciers of Switzerland and North Wales. London. [Vols. 7,9]

Rudwick, Martin John Spencer. 1974. Darwin and Glen Roy: a ‘great failure’ in scientific method? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 5 (1974–5): 97–185.

Secord, James Andrew. 1986. Controversy in Victorian geology: the Cambrian–Silurian dispute. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.


Has finished ACR’s article ["The old glaciers of Switzerland and N. Wales" in Peaks, passes, and glaciers, ed. J. Ball (1859)]. Asks the authority for glacial drifts in Siberia. Wishes ACR would examine the Glen Roy parallel roads and settle the problem.

Asks if it is certain that traces of organic remains have been found in Long Mynd beds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Andrew Crombie Ramsay
Sent from
Source of text
Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine Archives
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2842,” accessed on 13 September 2023,

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