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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. C. Ramsay   5 September [1862]1

Cliff Cottage, Bournemouth

Sept. 5

Dear Ramsay.—

Absence from home & severe illness in my family have prevented me from sooner answering your note & thanking you for your paper.—2 It has interested me much, & I am surprised, if you are not, that the Council shd. hesitate about publishing it—3 I dispute that the Council have any right to set up their opinion against yours.— I have been the more interested in your paper from years ago marvelling what could be the meaning of so many lakes in Finland, Scandinavia & N. America.— I could form no conjecture.— As far as I can judge your theory must be right to a large extent, possibly wholly. Would it not be worth while for you to look at maps of rocky mountainous countries within the Tropics. I cannot remember lakes in Brazil. How is it in Ceylon, Sumatra, the Neilgherries? Years ago I worked through all the reported cases of erratic boulders within the Tropics, & all seemed to be mere weathering of granitic rocks in situ, as shown in appendix to 1st Edit of my Journal.—4 Would not something of same kind be worth your consideration? As no doubt you will attend for future to all lakes; it may possibly be worth your notice, that I always heard in T. del Fuego that sealers &c always searched for anchorage at the mouths of the deep fiords which penetrate so deeply the land; & that if they passed the bank at the mouth, no soundings could be obtained. This, I believe, is simply due to detritus there alone being formed & accumulated, from the wear of the exposed coasts on each side of entrance:5 during upheaval, such vast mounds of detritus might possibly bank up the water & form a lake.—

No doubt the great depth of the Italian Lakes is rather a staggerer; but I think your theory must be true to very great extent & seems to me very ingenious & satisfactory. The only doubt which occurs to me is the a priori probability in a much troubled country, that some areas would be lifted up less than others & depressions thus left. I shd. have doubted whether such irregular depressions could be detected by the lines of stratification, & perhaps in part be due to faults.— I remember years ago being struck with frequency of large lakes at base of volcanos, which fact, conjoined with frequency in all parts of world of interstratification of volcanic & lacustrine deposits, led me (together with a few other facts) to believe that very generally large areas subside at the base or near active volcanos.6 Might there not be same tendency near points or ranges, into which much fluid rock has been injected, instead of ejected? Could such depressed areas be detected by stratification? An examination of several mountainous countries within the Tropics would throw much light on this doubt.—

I was pleased to see your concluding sentence on cause of Glacial Period:7 it is an old opinion of mine, over which I have fought battles with Hooker, but never dared with Lyell.8 In M.S. I have even gone into details, in attempting to show that there has been no such vast recent geographical change as could account for such vast climatal change.—9 As for Hopkin’s Gulf-stream change; it is, in my opinion, an empty hypothesis—10

Excuse this scribbling paper worthy of the scribble written on it.—

Again I thank you for your valuable paper & remain | Dear Ramsay | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

Jamieson has smacked my marine view of Glen Roy in splendid & most satisfactory style: he seems a real good observer—11 The shelves are a magnificent record of the Glacial period—


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from A. C. Ramsay, 26 August 1862 (see n. 2, below).
CD refers to the letter from A. C. Ramsay, 26 August 1862, and Ramsay 1862. CD left Down on 13 August 1862, travelling via Southampton to Bournemouth, before returning home on 30 September 1862. Leonard Darwin had been suffering from scarlet fever since June 1862; Emma Darwin developed the disease on 13 August (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), and Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
See letter from A. C. Ramsay, 26 August 1862. In his paper (Ramsay 1862), Ramsay argued for the glacial origin of a number of lake-filled European and American rock-basins, and rejected former explanations of them as structural features associated with synclines, as the results of local subsidence, or as fissures along fault lines. The paper was strongly criticised by Hugh Falconer and others when it was read on 5 March 1862 before the Geological Society of London, of which Ramsay was president, and the council considered not passing the paper for publication in the society’s journal. Two members of the council, Roderick Impey Murchison and Charles Lyell, subsequently attacked Ramsay’s theory in print. For an account of the controversy, see Davies 1969, pp. 303–9.
CD refers to the Addenda to his Journal of researches, pp. 609–29; the discussion of erratic blocks is on pages 612–25.
In South America, p. 24 n., CD described these ‘fiords’ as being much shallower at their mouths than further inland, attributing the phenomenon to the accumulation of sediment formed by the wearing down of the rocks exposed to the open sea.
See Volcanic islands, p. 96 n.
Ramsay concluded his paper by rejecting the theory advocated by Charles Lyell that the elevation and subsidence of landmasses were responsible for large-scale climatic change (Ramsay 1862, p. 204). He stated: I find it difficult to believe that the change of climate that put an end to this [the glacial period] could be brought about by mere changes of physical geography. The change is too large and too universal, having extended alike over the Lowlands of the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres.
CD had told Joseph Dalton Hooker of his disbelief in ‘the Lyellian view that [the] Global Epoch is connected with [the] position of continents’, in his letter of 15 March [1859] (Correspondence vol. 7). CD had opposed Hooker’s hypothesis of former land-bridges as an explanation for the geographical distribution of animals and plants (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 6, letters to Charles Lyell, 16 [June 1856] and 25 June [1856]). Hooker had linked the elevation of such land-bridges to Lyell’s explanation of the causes of climatic change (see J. D. Hooker 1853, pp. xxiii–xxv, and Browne 1983, pp. 133–4).
CD may refer to the manuscript of his projected ‘big book’ on species, written between 1856 and 1858, and published posthumously as Natural selection. CD discussed the Pleistocene glacial period in his draft chapter on the geographical distribution of animals and plants, written in 1856 (Natural selection, pp. 534–66). It was in discussing the abstract of this chapter, drawn up for publication in Origin, that CD broached with Hooker his disagreement with Lyell’s view of the causes of the climatic changes of the glacial period (see n. 8, above). In his letter to Hooker of 30 March [1859] (Correspondence vol. 7), CD explained: I think if I had space & time, I could make pretty good case against any great continental changes since Glacial epoch, & this has mainly led me to give up the Lyellian doctrine as insufficient to explain all mutations of climate.—
The Cambridge mathematician, William Hopkins, had argued that the European glacial period may have been caused by the Gulf Stream being diverted from its course (Hopkins 1852a and 1852b).
In 1839, CD had published ‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’, in which he argued that the series of parallel terraces running along the sides of Glen Roy in Lochaber, Scotland, had been formed by the sea as the landmass of Scotland gradually rose. Rejecting CD’s marine theory, Thomas Francis Jamieson believed that the so-called ‘roads’ represented the shorelines of a series of former lakes, trapped in the glen by ice-flows during a great ‘Ice-Age’ (Jamieson 1863). Jamieson corresponded with CD on the subject in 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9), and CD had recently been informed by Charles Lyell that Jamieson had confirmed his theory following a second visit to the site (see letter from Charles Lyell, 20 August 1862 and n. 1).


Browne, Janet. 1983. The secular ark. Studies in the history of biogeography. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

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

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853. Introductory essay to the flora of New Zealand. 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.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.]

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.

Volcanic islands: Geological observations on the volcanic islands, visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle, together with some brief notices on the geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. Being the second part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1844.


On ACR’s paper on glacial origin of lakes. CD thinks it is correct. Suggests further investigation to corroborate it. His only doubt has to do with areas of great activity.

On ACR’s view of cause of glacial period: CD did battle with Hooker on same point.

T. F. Jamieson has smashed CD’s Glen Roy marine theory in splendid style.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Andrew Crombie Ramsay
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.9: 7 (EH 88205980)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3714,” accessed on 26 September 2022,

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