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Darwin Correspondence Project

To James Lamont   25 February [1861]1

Down. | Bromley. Kent.

Feb. 25.

Dear Sir

I am extremely much obliged for your very kind present of your beautiful work “Seasons with the Sea-Horses”;—and I have no doubt that I shall find much interesting from so careful and acute an observer as yourself.2

Dear Sir. | Yours sincerely obliged— | Charles Darwin.

P.S. I have just been cutting the leaves of your book & have been very much pleased & surprised at your note about what you wrote in Spitzbergen.— As you thought it out independently, it is no wonder that you so clearly understand Natural Selection, which so few of my Reviewers do or pretend not to do.3

I never expected to see anyone so heroically bold as to defend my bear illustration—4 But a man who has done all that you have done must be bold!— It is laughable how often I have been attacked and misrepresented about this Bear— I am much pleased with your remarks and thank you cordially, for coming to the rescue.—


The year is provided by the reference to Lamont 1861, which was published between 14 and 28 February 1861 (Publisher’s Circular 1861, p. 102).
CD’s presentation copy of Lamont 1861 is in the Darwin Library–Down. For the earlier correspondence between CD and Lamont, see Correspondence vol. 8, letter from James Lamont, [23 February 1860], and letter to James Lamont, 5 March [1860].
In describing the natural history of Spitsbergen, Lamont stated his opinion ‘that an attentive study of the Arctic animals is capable of mightily strengthening the theory of progressive development, first suggested by the illustrious Lamarck, and since so ably expounded and defended, under somewhat modified forms, by the author of the “Vestiges of Creation,” and by Mr. Charles Darwin.’ (Lamont 1861, pp. 271–2). Lamont illustrated this assertion by citing his view that the brown bear was the progenitor of the modern polar bear, speculating that brown bears had been transported by ice to Greenland and Spitsbergen. Assuming that those of the palest colour and with the greatest amount of external fat would have had the best chance of survival, he stated that the ‘process of natural selection would do the rest, and Ursus arctos would, in the course of a few thousands, or a few millions of years, be transformed into the variety at present known as Ursus maritimus.’ (Lamont 1861, p. 274). In a note, Lamont said that although these remarks were written in Spitsbergen before Origin was published, he ‘did not claim any originality’ for his views (ibid., p. 275 n.).
Citing CD’s reference in Origin, p. 184, to the black bear seen swimming with its mouth open and catching insects in the water, Lamont stated that he saw no difficulty in such a bear developing through natural selection, as CD had said, into a creature more aquatic in structure and habits until it became as ‘monstrous as a whale’ (Lamont 1861, pp. 277–82). CD had altered the passage for the second edition of Origin and removed it from subsequent editions (Peckham ed. 1959).


[Chambers, Robert.] 1844. Vestiges of the natural history of creation. London: John Churchill.

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

Lamont, James. 1861. Season with the sea-horses; or, sporting adventures in the northern sea. London.

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.

Peckham, Morse, ed. 1959. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: a variorum text. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Comments on JL’s Seasons with sea-horses [1861]. Thinks JL bold to defend his bear–whale illustration.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
James Lamont, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 29
Physical description
C 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3071,” accessed on 16 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9