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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   26 [September 1860]1

15 Marine Parade | Eastbourne


My dear Lyell

It has just occurred to me that I took no notice of your question on Extinction in St. Helena.2 I am nearly sure that Hooker has information on extinction of plants:3 but I cannot remember where I have seen it. One may confidently assume that many insects were exterminated. By the way, I heard lately from Wollaston,4 who tells me that he has just received eminently Madeira & Canary Isld insect forms from the C. of Good Hope, to which trifling distance, if he is logical, he will have to extend his Atlantis! I have just received your letter; & am very much pleased that you approve. But I am utterly disgusted & ashamed about Dingo; I cannot think how I could have misunderstood the paper so grossly.5 I hope I have not blundered likewise in its coexistence with extinct species. What horrid blundering. I am grieved to hear that you think I must work in the notes in text; but you are so much better judge, that I will obey. I am sorry that you had trouble of returning Dog. M.S,—which I suppose I shall receive tomorrow.—

I mean to give good woodcuts of all chief races of Pigeons.—

Except the C. oenas (which is partly, indeed almost entirely, a wood pigeon) there is no other rock pigeon, with which our domestic pigeon could cross,—that is if several excessively close geographical races of C. livia which hardly any ornithologists look at as true species, be all grouped under C. livia.—

I am writing higglety-pigglety, as I reread your letter.— I thought that my letter had been much wilder than yours.—   I quite feel comfort of writing when one may “alter one’s speculations the day after”.—   It is beyond my knowledge to weigh rank of Birds & monotremes: in the respiratory & circulatory systems & muscular energy I believe birds are ahead of all mammals.—

I knew that you must have known about New Guinea; but in writing to you, I never make myself civil!!.—

After treating of some half-dozen or dozen domestic animals in same manner, as I treat Dogs,—I intended to have a chapter of conclusions.— But Heaven knows when I shall finish, I get on very slowly.— You would be surprised how long it took me to pick out what seemed useful about Dogs out of multitude of details.

I see force of your remark about more isolated races of man in old times, & therefore more in number. It seems to me difficult to weigh probabilities. Perhaps so, if you refer to very slight differences in the races; to make great differences, much time would be required; & then even at earliest period, I shd have expected one race to have spread, conquered & exterminated others.

With respect to Falconer’s series of Elephants, I think case could be answered better than I have in Origin p. 334.—6 All these new discoveries shows how imperfect the discovered series is, which Falconer thought years ago was nearly perfect.—

I will send today or tomorrow two articles by Asa Gray.—7 The longer one (now not finally corrected) will come out in the October Atlantic Monthly & they can be got at Trübners.—8

Hearty thanks for all your kindness. | Ever yours | C. Darwin

Do not hurry over Asa Gray.—   He strikes me as one of the best reasoners & writers, I ever read.—   He knows my Book, as well as I do myself.—


Dated by the relationship to the letter from Charles Lyell, 18 September 1860.
CD discussed the flora of Saint Helena with Joseph Dalton Hooker on several occasions (see particularly Correspondence vol. 3). Hooker used some of his work on the flora of the island in assessing the Galápagos plants collected by CD. See Hooker 1847b, pp. 243–4. See also letter from Charles Lyell, [after 3 October 1860].
Letter from T. V. Wollaston, [16 September 1860].
Hugh Falconer’s recent work on fossil elephants was mentioned in the letter from Charles Lyell, 25 September 1860. The passage in Origin to which CD refers mentions Falconer’s finding that fossil mastodons and elephants arranged in two series, ‘first according to their mutual affinities and then according to their periods of existence, do not accord in arrangement. The species extreme in character are not the oldest, or the most recent; nor are those which are intermediate in character, intermediate in age.’ (Origin, p. 334). CD suggested in response that forms successively produced might not always endure as long as more ancient forms, thereby confusing the record of the appearance and disappearance of forms.
[Gray] 1860c and the third part of [Gray] 1860b. See preceding letter.
The London publishing house founded by Johann Nicolaus Trübner was the English agent Asa Gray normally used for the distribution of his publications.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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 extinction on St Helena.

Madeira and Canary Island insects are found at Cape of Good Hope.

Regrets errors on dingo in his manuscript on the dog.

Discusses crosses among pigeons.

Compares development in birds and mammals.

Plans to write about other domestic animals.

Discusses races of early man.

Falconer’s discoveries of fossil elephants.

Comments on articles by Asa Gray.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.228)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2928,” accessed on 14 April 2021,

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