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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell1   6 October 1860

The geographl. vars. of some species on the American & European sides of the Atlantic, Vanessa Atalanta, Pteris aquilina, remarkable. See p. 700, 9th. Ed. Principles.2 The time required by 910 th. of the living species to accommodate themselves to the new circums. will never be granted. Not that a red Indian might not be developed into something as good or better than a White Man but as it wd take 10,000 or more years & he is not allowed as many centuries    he must be improved off the face of ye earth & he is therefore not transmutable for any practical purpose of salvation in this world.

In no other way can any theory of developt. or transmutn. be reconciled with the stationary conditn. of species in general, or the fact that they are dying out instead of becoming altered when their existence is at stake.

Letter to Darwin Oct 6. 1860


The text of the letter has been taken from a copy in Lyell’s scientific journal. It is also printed in Wilson ed. 1970, p. 499, though not in the form of a letter. The phrase ‘Letter to Darwin’ has been associated with a following passage discussing Apteryx. Although Lyell had corresponded with CD about Apteryx (letter from Charles Lyell, 30 September 1860, and letter to Charles Lyell, 3 October [1860]), the layout of the text seems to indicate that it was the discussion about ‘Varieties’ rather than that on ‘Apteryx’ that formed the substance of a letter to CD. Moreover, in his letter to Lyell, 8 October [1860], CD refers to Lyell’s ‘case of Red Indian’.
Lyell refers to the section in C. Lyell 1853 in which he discussed the effects of changes of climate on the distribution of species. Species, he stated, would probably be exterminated before they could adapt to changing circumstances.


Wonders why the coracoid bone in the flightless Apteryx is so large when the clavicles are reduced. The clavicles are even separate in the ostrich. The large coracoid in reptiles is explained by the connection to the forelimbs.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
Kinnordy MS, Charles Lyell’s journal VII, pp. 21–2
Physical description
ACC 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2940A,” accessed on 21 June 2021,

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