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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. F. Jamieson to Charles Lyell   17 October 1862

Ellon Aberdeensh.

17 Oct 62

My Dear Sir Charles,

I return you Mr. Darwin’s too flattering letter and am glad to find that he thinks his difficulties about Glen Roy sufficiently answered.1

With regard to the lakes I think Ramsay’s idea is good altho he may push it too far.2 It seems to me intelligible only on the supposition that whenever you have a glacially formed lake in a rock basin there must have been a spot of soft or more easily eroded rock otherwise how would the scooping commence.— Dr. Hooker says that glaciers sometimes raise their beds by accumulating debris underneath.3

Your explanation of the larger lakes not being filled up owing to the occupation of the hollow by the ice seems to me imperfect in as much as it does not account for the original formation of the hollow—.4

Your case of Zurich is very interesting.5

I think Ramsay should have shown that glaciers have the immense scooping power which he requires— as that is begging a good deal of the question.

I should like to know also how he explains the absence of lakes in the Himmalaya seeing how large the glaciers were there.

Your suggestion of a subsidence occurring in part of the course of a long valley ought I think to account for some lakes. and I think lines of fracture would account for others— Ramsay’s arguments against these latter seem to me not conclusive. for altho the original yawning chasm may have been removed by denudation yet the deepseated fractures would have a tendency to gape again during fresh movements of disturbance—6

However I am very much inclined to think that a great many lakes have been formed in the way Ramsay suggests— It is difficult otherwise to account for their immense number in those northern countries which have been so much ice worn.

I am glad to see that Mr Darwin thinks Dr Tyndall’s explanation of the glacial period insufficient—7 for I cannot see how it will answer for all that he supposes. Really will no astronomer come to the rescue and give us a lift with this great ice affair.8

I am | My Dear Sir Charles | Your very obed. serv | Thos. F. Jamieson.

P.S. I hope Mr. King will publish his lists of Clyde &c shells—giving those of each locality separate with the comparative prevalence of each species—9 I have often urged Mr. Smith of Jordanhill to make out accurate local lists but in vain.10

T. F. J.


CD had asked Lyell to forward to Jamieson his letter of 14 October [1862].
The reference is to Andrew Crombie Ramsay’s controversial theory, detailed in Ramsay 1862, that many European and American rock-basins, now containing lakes, owed their origin to glacial erosion (see letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862] and nn. 8 and 9).
J. D. Hooker 1854b, 2: 121 n.
Lyell’s letter has not been found; however, Lyell was the leading critic of Ramsay’s theory (see Davies 1969, pp. 305–6).
In Ramsay 1862, pp. 192–3, Ramsay argued that the absence of freshwater strata in the Alps intermediate in age between the close of the Miocene and the start of the Pleistocene glacial epoch, constituted further evidence that the Alpine lakes did not exist before the glacial epoch. Lyell had apparently told Jamieson of evidence he had collected showing that there were strata of the sort referred to by Ramsay on the shores of the lake at Zürich; Lyell cited this case as evidence against Ramsay’s theory in C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 314–6.
In his paper, Ramsay had argued against the possibility of the great Alpine lakes being the result of structural features associated with synclines, or local subsidence, or fissures along fault lines (Ramsay 1862, pp. 188–90).
This is apparently a reference to CD’s comment that John Tyndall, who was primarily a physicist, was going beyond his expertise in writing about glacial phenomena (see letter to Charles Lyell, 14 October [1862] and n. 12).
The reference is probably to the geologist, Samuel William King, a friend of Lyell’s, who had helped him with a number of geological investigations (DNB). Lyell had apparently sent Jamieson one of his letters from King at the end of September, in which King described a shelly deposit that had a bearing on Jamieson’s views concerning the raised beaches of Scotland and the lower level of the Scottish landmass in the recent geological past (see the letter from Jamieson to Lyell of 29 September 1862, which is in Edinburgh University Library, Gen. 112: 2853–4). No publication by King on this subject has been found.
The Scottish geologist and antiquary, James Smith of Jordanhill, had published extensively on the raised beaches of the west coast of Scotland, and especially those in the Clyde basin (DNB, RSCSP). However, his catalogues of shells, published in J. Smith 1839b, pp. 89–97, were not arranged by location.


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.


TFJ returns CD’s "too flattering" letter concerning Glen Roy [see 3761]. Further discussion of [A. C.] Ramsay’s, [J. D.] Hooker’s, and CL’s arguments about the formation of glacial lakes.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Francis Jamieson
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Ellon, Aberdeenshire
Source of text
The University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections (Gen. 112/2859–60)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3757F,” accessed on 4 June 2023,

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