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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell   20 August 1862

Freshwater Gate, Isle of Wight:

August 20, 1862.

My dear Darwin,—

Mr. Jamieson of Ellon has been again to Lochaber, and confirms his former theory of the glacier lakes.1 The chief new point is a supposed rise at the rate of a foot per mile of the shelves as we proceed from the sea inland. It seems to me to require many more measurements, before we can rely on it. He found some splendid moraines opposite the mouth of Glen Trieg. He found some shells of Arctic character in the forty feet high raised beach of the Argyllshire coast, and has asked me to learn about one of them, of which he sends a drawing.

I fell in yesterday in my walk with Mr. A. G. More, whom you cite in your orchid book.2 He considers you the most profound of reasoners, to which I made no objection, only being amused at remembering that, such being the case, you had performed a singular feat, as the Bishop of Oxford assured me, of producing ‘the most illogical book ever written.’3

We shall be here for a week longer. I have been with my nephew Leonard4 to Alum and Compton Bays.

Ever most truly yours, | Charles Lyell.

P.S. I have just come upon a passage in Hooker’s Essay on Flora of Australia p. VII5 which makes me wish much to have a line from you. He says, “Species, genera & orders of most complex structure are the best limited, Dicot. better than Monocot. Dychlandia better than Ach   He adds in note p. VII. that the highest order of plants manifest their physical superiority, in their greater extent of variation, which is of a higher order than mere complexity or specialization of organs.”6 Now this agrees with my idea of persistent types, in lower classes of animals (mollusca e.g.) more rapid variation in mammalia—but you say 1st. Ed. Origin. p 168. “Organic beings low in the scale of Nature are more variable, than those which have their whole organization more specialized.” My old axiom 1832, was the longevity of species in the mollusca exceeding that in the class mammalia, which would chime in with Hooker, but I think you somewhere lay down principles in accordance with this law?7 | C. L.


This letter was previously published in Correspondence vol. 10, without the postscript, which was subsequently found at Kinnordy. Thomas Francis Jamieson visited the Scottish district of Lochaber in August 1861 to examine the so-called ‘parallel roads’ of Glen Roy (see Correspondence vol. 9). In 1839, CD had published a paper in which he argued that the ‘roads’, a series of terraces running parallel to each other along the sides of the glen, were the remains of beaches formed by the sea as the landmass of Scotland gradually rose (‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’). Following his own observations, however, Jamieson concluded that during a great ‘Ice-Age’, ice-flows had trapped a series of lakes in the glen, and that the ‘roads’ represented the shorelines of those former lakes. While CD at first appeared to have conceded defeat on the question, stating that his paper had been ‘one long gigantic blunder’ (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Charles Lyell, 6 September [1861]), subsequent letters indicate that he was reluctant to abandon his own explanation (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix IX). Jamieson made a second visit to the site in July 1862 (see Jamieson 1863, p. 240); Lyell subsequently sent CD Jamieson’s letter describing his visit (see Correspondence vol. 10, enclosure to letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862]).
In addition to assisting CD with a number of experiments in 1861, Alexander Goodman More had supplied CD with orchid specimens from the Isle of Wight (see Correspondence vol. 9). His assistance is acknowledged several times in Orchids (see Orchids, pp. 67, 95 n., 99, and 101 n.).
In his letter to CD of [13–14 February 1860] (Correspondence vol. 8), Lyell reported that Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford, had maintained that Origin ‘was the most unphilosophical [book] he had ever read.’
Dychlandia: actually Dichlamydeae. Ach: Achlamydeae. Lyell cited Hooker for this information in C. Lyell 1873, p. 495. A dichlamydeous flower is one with both calyx and corolla, and an achlamydeous flower is one with neither.
The ‘axiom [of] 1832’ is in Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3, 3: 140): ‘the longevity of species in the mammalia is, upon the whole, inferior to that of the testacea. … Their more limited duration depends, in all probability, on physiological laws which render warm-blooded quadrupeds less capable, in general, of accommodating themselves to a great variety of circumstances, and consequently, of surviving the vicissitudes to which the earth’s surface is exposed in a great lapse of ages.’ See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Charles Lyell, 22 August [1862].


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

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1859. On the flora of Australia, its origin, affinities, and distribution; being an introductory essay to the flora of Tasmania. London: Lovell Reeve.

Jamieson, Thomas Francis. 1863. On the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and their place in the history of the glacial period. [Read 21 January 1863.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 19: 235–59.

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Lyell, Charles. 1873. The geological evidences of the antiquity of man, with remarks on theories of the origin of species by variation. 4th edition, revised. London: John Murray.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.

‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’: Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and of other parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an attempt to prove that they are of marine origin. By Charles Darwin. [Read 7 February 1839.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 129: 39–81. [Shorter publications, pp. 50–88.]


Jamieson has revisited Glen Roy and confirmed his theory of glacier lakes.

A. G. More considers CD the most profound of reasoners.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3691,” accessed on 22 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10