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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Leonard Horner   20 March [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

March 20th

My dear Mr. Horner

I am very much obliged for your Address, which has interested me much.2 I have been particularly glad to see your excellent summary on metamorphism, for I was very ignorant of the recent researches.—3 I thought that I had read up pretty well on antiquity of man; but you bring all the facts so well together in a condensed focus, that the case seems much clearer to me.—4 How curious about the Bible!5 I declare I had fancied that the date was somehow in the Bible.— You are coming out in a new light as a Biblical critic!

I must thank you for your remarks on the Origin of Species (though I suppose it is almost as incorrect to do so, as to thank a Judge for a favourable verdict): what you have said has pleased me extremely.6 I am the more pleased, as I would rather have been well attacked than have been handled in the namby-pamby, old-woman style of the cautious Oxford Professor.—7

I most sincerely hope that Mrs Horner is a little better;8 & with my kindest remembrances to all your party, | pray believe me | My dear Mr Horner | Yours sincerely obliged | Charles Darwin

Emma sends her very kind remembrances.


The year is provided by the reference to Horner’s presidential address (see n. 2, below).
Horner, outgoing president of the Geological Society of London, delivered the presidential address at the society’s anniversary meeting on 15 February 1861 (Horner 1861).
Horner devoted a large part of his address to a discussion of recent studies of the chemical basis of metamorphic phenomena in geology (Horner 1861, pp. xl–lx). He pointed out that the ‘application of chemistry to the explanation of geological phenomena has hitherto received more attention on the continent than with us.’ (Horner 1861, p. xl).
Horner examined in one section of his talk the ‘Evidence of the early existence of the human race’ (Horner 1861, pp. lx–lxxi).
CD refers to Horner’s comment that the marginal notation in standard editions of the English Bible, which assigned the year 4004 B.C. as the beginning of the world, could be traced to the seventeenth century biblical chronology of James Ussher, bishop of Armagh. Referring to recent discussions about the apparent conflict between Genesis and geology, Horner stated: ‘The study of geology has become so general that those who are instructed in its mere elements cannot fail to see the discrepancy between this date and the truths which geology reveals.’ On this basis, he advocated removing this erroneous date from future editions of the Bible in order to ‘best express that entire ignorance of “The Beginning” which no human power will ever be able to dispel.’ (Horner 1861, p. lxx).
Referring to Origin as a ‘remarkable work’, Horner praised CD’s ‘truly philosophic modesty and candour’ in presenting objections to his theory and recommended ‘to the careful study of geologists’ the two chapters on the geological record (Horner 1861, pp. xxxix–xl).
The reference is probably to John Phillips, professor of geology at Oxford and Horner’s predecessor as president of the Geological Society. The previous year, Phillips had briefly mentioned Origin in his presidential address and later criticised CD’s views in his Rede lecture in Cambridge (Phillips 1860).
Ann Susan Horner was suffering from what was regarded as neuralgia. See K. M. Lyell ed. 1890, 2: 307.


Horner, Leonard. 1861. Anniversary address of the president. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 17: xxxi-lxxii.

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.


Comments on LH’s "Anniversary Address of the President", [Q. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 17 (1861): xxxi–lxxii]. Notes LH’s comments on metamorphism, antiquity of man, and the Bible. Thanks him for his remarks on Origin.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Leonard Horner
Sent from
Source of text
Sotheby’s (dealers) (9–10 July 2018, lot 374)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3094,” accessed on 23 February 2020,

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