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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Whewell   18 June [1837]

Dear Mr Whewell.—

Will you have the kindness to answer me the following question. If you would tell me whether I am right or wrong, when we meet at the Geological Council, I should be very much obliged.— I have been much interested on the subject of earthquake waves.— it appears to me, that all that happens is merely a consequence of a common undulation travelling from a little distance in the offing; after stating this case, I have added the following sentence, which I inferred from what you said on this subject at Cambridge, but whether right or quite wrong I do not know.— “In every wave does not the upward impulse of the particles, lessen the lateral pressure both behind and in advance; and in consequence as the undulation travels onward, must not the fluid in advance fall below the general level by as much as, the summit of the wave rises above it?”

I have one other question; I have reason to believe that the superficial parts of solid rock are more fractured than any other part, during an earthquake.— When a solid mass is made to vibrate, is there any particular tendency to fracture, on the surface, where the vibrations pass from the solid mass to the surrounding air, or water?— I though you would allow me to ask you these questions on paper, as you are generally so busy at the Council.—1

I received your signature, for which I am much obliged,2 I hope on Monday it will be handed over either to Ld. Minto3 or to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.—4

Believe me | Yours very truly | Chas. Darwin

36 Grt Marlborough St.— 18th. June.—


These two points are raised in Journal and remarks. The earthquake wave as a ‘common undulation’ is discussed on p. 378, and the fracturing of the surface of rock on p. 371.
Whewell, as President of the Geological Society, signed CD’s request for government funds to pay for the engravings of Zoology (see letter to Francis Beaufort, 16 June 1837).
Gilbert Elliot Kynynmound, 2d Earl of Minto, was First Lord of the Admiralty, 1835–41.
Thomas Spring Rice.


Journal and remarks: Journal and remarks. 1832–1836. By Charles Darwin. Vol. 3 of Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. London: Henry Colburn. 1839. [Separately published as Journal of researches.]

Zoology: The zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. 5 pts. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1838–43.


Asks Whewell questions on earthquake wave action.

Thanks him for signature [to CD’s request to Chancellor of the Exchequer for funds for Zoology].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Whewell
Sent from
London, Gt Marlborough St, 36
Source of text
Trinity College, Cambridge (Add c 88: 3)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 361,” accessed on 13 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2