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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   20 October [1861]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct. 20th

My dear Lyell

Notwithstanding the Orchids, I have been very glad to see Jamieson’s letter: no doubt, as he says, certainty will soon be reached.1

With respect to the minor point of Glen Roy, I cannot feel easy with a mere barrier of ice; there is so much sloping stratified detritus in the valleys: I remember that you somewhere have stated that a running stream soon cuts deeply into a glacier.— I have been hunting up all old references & pamphlets &c on shelves in Scotland & will send them off to Mr. J., as they may possibly be of use to him; if he continues the subject. The Eildon Hills ought to be especially examined. Amongst M.S. I came across a very old letter from me to you, in which I say “If a glacialist admitted that the sea, before the formation of the shelves, covered the country (which would account for the land-straits above the level of the shelves) & if he admitted that the land gradually emerged; & if he supposed that his lakes were banked up by ice alone, he would make out, in my opinion, the best case against the marine origin of the Shelves”.—2 This seems very much what Mr J. & you have come to. The whole Glacial Theory is really a magnificent subject.—

I have been working terribly hard lately (for me) at Orchids. The subject is, I fear, too complex for the Public & I fear I have made a great mistake in not keeping to my first intention of sending it to Linnean Socy.; but it is now too late, & I must make the best of a bad job.—

Yours affecy | CDarwin


The reference is to a letter to Lyell from Thomas Francis Jamieson, 14 October 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix IX). Jamieson was investigating the ‘parallel roads’ of Glen Roy. He had found evidence to support the view that the ‘roads’ were the beaches of former glacial lakes, not, as CD had maintained in a paper of 1839, beaches made by the sea at different periods during the elevation of the land. See letter from T. F. Jamieson, 3 September 1861.
See Correspondence vol. 4, letter to Charles Lyell, 8 [September 1847]. CD’s version is a paraphrase of the original letter.


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


Continued discussion of Jamieson’s Glen Roy theory. Mentions river erosion of glaciers. Quotes from old letter to CL [1116].

Is working hard on orchids; fears subject is too complex for the public.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.268)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3291,” accessed on 22 September 2020,

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