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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   20 November [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 20

My dear Lyell

I quite agree in admiration of Forbe’s Essay,1 yet, on my life, I think, it has done in some respects as much mischief as good.2 Those who believe in vast continental extensions will never investigate means of distribution. Good Heavens look at Heers map of Atlantis!!3 I thought his division & lines of travel of the British Plants very wild & with hardly any foundation. I quite agree with what you say of almost certainty of Glacial epoch having destroyed the Spanish Saxifrages &c in Ireland.—   I remember well discussing this with Hooker;4 & I suggested that a slightly different or more equable & humid climate might have allowed (with perhaps some extension of land) the plants in question to have grown along the entire western shores, between Spain & Ireland, & that subsequently they became extinct except at the present points under an oceanic climate. The point of Devonshire now has a touch of the same character.—

I demur in this particular case to Forbe’s transportal by ice: the subject has rather gone out of my mind, & it is not worth looking to my M.S. discussion on migration during the Glacial period,5 but I remember that the distribution of Mammalia & the very regular relation of the alpine plants to points due north (alluded to in Origin)6 seemed to indicate continuous land at close of Glacial period.—

Your chapters, to which you allude, must be very difficult, but I shd. think well worth much labour.—7 I fear your volume on Geolog. Hist. of Man will slip through your fingers.—8 (I do not think Hooker has criticised Forbes; H. C. Watson has abused him in the Cybele, but I do not remember that it was at all well done.—)9

I have not had heart to read Phillips yet,10 or a tremendous long hostile Review by Prof Bowen in 4to. Mem. of American Acad. of Sciences.11 (By the way I hear Agassiz is going to thunder against me in the next part of Contributions).— 12 Thank you for telling me of the sale of the Origin, of which I had not heard.—13 There will be sometime,, I presume, a new Edition; & I especially want your advice on one point; & you know I think you the wisest of men, & I shall be absolutely guided by your advice.—   It has occurred to me that it would perhaps be good plan to put a set of notes (some 20 to 40 or 50) to Origin, which now has none, exclusively devoted to errors of my Reviewers.—   It has occurred to me that where a Reviewer has erred a common reader might err. Secondly it will show reader that he must not trust implicitly to Reviewers. Thirdly when any special fact has been attacked, I shd. like to defend it. I would show no sort of anger. I enclose a mere rough specimen, done without any care or accuracy, done from memory alone (to be torn up) just to show the sort of thing which has occurred to me.—   Will you do me the great kindness to consider this well. It seems to me it would have good effect & give some confidence to reader. It wd. horrid bore going through all the Reviews.—

Yours affect | C. Darwin

(Etty goes on pretty well, but is terribly weak.)


* Dr Bree (p.      ) asserts that I explain the structure of the cells of the Hive-Bee by “the exploded doctrine of pressure”.—14 But I do not say one word, which directly or indirectly can be interpreted into any reference to pressure.—

* The Edinburgh Reviewer (vol.  —   p.     ) quotes my work as saying that the “dorsal vertebræ” of Pigeons vary in number. & disputes the fact.—15 I nowhere even allude to the dorsal vertebræ, only to the sacral & caudal vertebræ.—

* The Edinburgh Reviewer throws doubt on these organs being the Branchiæ of Cirripedes. But Prof. Owen in 1854 admits without hesitation that they are Branchiæ, as did John Hunter long ago.—16

* The confounded Wealden calculation, to be struck out. & a note to be inserted to effect that I am convinced of its inaccuracy from Review in Saturday R.17 & from Phillips, as I see in Table of Contents that he attacks it.18

* Mr. Hopkins (Fraser vol.      p.      ) states that I argue in favour of my views from the extreme imperfection of the Geological Record, & says this is the first time in the History of Science he has ever heard of ignorance being adduced as an argument.—19 I am quoting only from vague memory    But I repeatedly admit in the most emphatic language which I can use, that the imperfect evidence, which Geology offers in regard to transitional forms, is most strongly opposed to my views.—   Surely there is a wide difference in fully admitting an objection & in then endeavouring to show that it is not so strong as it at first appears, & in Mr Hopkins assertion that I found my argument on the Objection.—

* I would also put a note to “Natural Selection” & show how variously it has been misunderstood.

* A writer in Eding. Phil. Journal denies my statement that the woodpecker of La Plata never frequents trees:20 I observed its habits during two years, but what is more to the purpose, Azara, whose accuracy all admit, is more emphatic than I am in regards to its never frequenting trees.21 Mr A. Murray denies that it ought to be called a Woodpecker:22 it has two toes in front & two behind, pointed tail-feathers, a long pointed tongue & the same general form of body the same manner of flight, colouring & voice. It was classed until recently in the same genus, Picus, with all other woodpeckers;23 but now has been ranked as a distinct genus amongst the Picidæ.—   It differs from the typical Picus only in the beak not being quite so strong & in the upper mandible being slightly arched. I think these facts fully justify my statement that it is “in all essential parts of its organisation” a Woodpecker.—


E. Forbes 1846. See preceding letter.
In 1856, when he was composing his species manuscript, CD wrote Lyell a long letter expostulating about the ‘ill-service’ done to science by theories of continental extensions such as Edward Forbes’s. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Charles Lyell, 25 June [1856].
Heer 1855. Lyell was more disposed toward Oswald Heer’s hypothesis of a former land-bridge connecting Europe, Africa, and America than was CD. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter from Charles Lyell, 1–2 May 1856.
Natural selection, pp. 534–66. CD discussed this chapter with Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 6).
Origin, p. 367.
Lyell was working on new editions of his Elements of geology (C. Lyell 1865) and Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8).
Lyell published his work on the geological evidence for the antiquity of man in 1863 (C. Lyell 1863).
Hewett Cottrell Watson accused Forbes of plagiarising his subdivisions of the British flora (Watson 1847–59, 1: 465–72). For Hooker’s and CD’s views on the controversy between Watson and Forbes, see Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 3 September 1846], and letter to J. D. Hooker, [3 September 1846].
Bowen 1860b. There is an annotated copy of the review in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See following letter.
Charles Robert Bree made this point, in somewhat different words, in Bree 1860, pp. 165–6. According to CD’s theory of the construction of bees’ cells, it was a combination of the bee’s instinct for beginning cells at the proper relative distance and for building up intermediate planes between the intersection of two spheres, rather than simply pressure, that accounted for the hexagonal shape of the cell. See Origin, pp. 224–35.
[R. Owen] 1860a, p. 522. There is an annotated copy of the review in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
[R. Owen] 1860a, p. 489. For CD’s reaction to Richard Owen’s remarks on this point in the Edinburgh Review, see especially the letter to T. H. Huxley, 9 April [1860]. CD refers to R. Owen 1843 (not 1854) and to the anatomist John Hunter, some of whose writings Owen edited.
An anonymous review of Origin was published in the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, 24 December 1859, pp. 775–6, which criticised CD’s estimate of the time required to denude the Weald in southern England. CD had already corrected his estimate for the revised American edition of Origin and the German translation. See the enclosure to the letter to Asa Gray, 1 February [1860] and n. 16.
See Phillips 1860, pp. 128–30.
Hopkins 1860, 62: 84–5. The article was published in Fraser’s Magazine in two parts, the first in vol. 61 and the second, referred to here, in vol. 62.
Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal n.s. 11 (1860): 289.
Azara 1809, 4: 9–11. CD’s copy of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Murray 1860a, p. 289. CD kept two copies of this review; in the separately paginated reprint (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL), the section on woodpeckers (pp. 18–19) is heavily annotated.
CD originally wrote ‘from the the time of Lichenstein’ after ‘until recently’ in this sentence, but then deleted the phrase (see Manuscript alterations and comments). He refers to Martin Heinrich Karl Lichtenstein, a German naturalist who had collected in South America and had classified several species of woodpecker and piculet.


Agassiz, Louis. 1857–62. Contributions to the natural history of the United States of America. 4 vols. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown & Company. London: Trübner.

Azara, Félix de. 1809. Voyages dans l’Amérique Méridionale. Edited by C. A. Walckenaer, with additional notes by G. Cuvier. 4 vols. and atlas. Paris: Dentu.

Bowen, Francis. 1860b. Remarks on the latest form of the development theory. [Read 27 March, 10 April, and 1 May 1860.] Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 8 (pt 1) (1861): 97–122.

Bree, Charles Robert. 1860. Species not transmutable, nor the result of secondary causes. Being a critical examination of Mr Darwin’s work entitled ‘Origin and variation of species’. London: Groombridge & Sons. Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart.

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

Forbes, Edward. 1846. On the connexion between the distribution of the existing fauna and flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern Drift. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London 1: 336–432.

Heer, Oswald. 1855. Ueber die fossilen Pflanzen von St. Jorge in Madeira. [Read 5 November 1855.] Neue Denkschriften der allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften n.s. 5 (1857): paper 2.

Hopkins, William. 1860. Physical theories of the phenomena of life. Fraser’s Magazine 61: 739–52; 62: 74–90.

Lyell, Charles. 1865. Elements of geology, or the ancient changes of the earth and its inhabitants as illustrated by geological monuments. 6th edition, revised. London: John Murray.

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Phillips, John. 1860. Life on the earth, its origin and succession. Cambridge and London: Macmillan and Co.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1847–59. Cybele Britannica; or British plants and their geographical relations. 4 vols. London: Longman.


Admires Edward Forbes’s theory of continental extensions, but it will discourage investigation of distribution.

Mentions Oswald Heer’s proposed map of Atlantis.

Discusses extinction of plants caused by the glacial era. Migration of plants and animals during glacial period.

Encourages CL’s work [on Antiquity of man (1863)].

Comments on unfriendly reviews. Asks CL’s opinion about including a reply to reviewers in next edition of Origin.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.233)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2989,” accessed on 30 November 2022,

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