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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   4 [February 1863]



My dear Lyell

I have just received the great book.—1 very sincere thanks for it. I had intended starting for London yesterday, but have been unable & doubt whether I can this evening.2 But you will see me some morning very soon at your breakfast time, if you shd. be disengaged—

I have turned over pages on species & am very much pleased to see you to hit on many of the points which seem to me most important & not generally touched on by others. I have read last chapt. with very great interest.3 By Jove how black owen will look.4 You are quite civil to him: more civil that I could be. I am getting more savage against him, even than Huxley or Falconer.—5 He ought to be ostracised by every naturalist in England.

You will, I feel sure, give the whole subject of change of species an enormous advance. Farewell | C. Darwin

Your book looks beautiful & I am impatient to begin reading it; but I must get a little more strength.—


The reference is to Lyell’s Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). Evidently CD was sent a pre-publication copy, since, according to an advertisement in the second edition, the publication date of the first edition was 6 February 1863 (C. Lyell 1863b, p. vii). However, John Murray placed a notice in the Athenæum, 7 February 1863, p. 176, stating that the work would appear on 9 February. CD’s annotated copy of C. Lyell 1863a is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 525–7).
CD went to London on 4 February, where he stayed at 6 Queen Anne Street, returning to Down on 14 February 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). On 2 February 1863, Emma Darwin recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that CD was ‘very languid in mg’ and, on 3 February 1863, ‘Ch. ditto’.
Chapter 24 of Antiquity of man is entitled, ‘Bearing of the doctrine of transmutation on the origin of man, and his place in the creation’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 471–506).
Richard Owen had argued that humans should be placed in a distinct sub-class of the mammalia on the premise that the human brain was uniquely distinguished from the brains of apes by virtue of the ‘hippocampus minor’ and other features (Owen 1857). Lyell reviewed the controversy surrounding Owen’s thesis in some detail in the last chapter of Antiquity of man, supporting Owen’s chief opponent in the debate, Thomas Henry Huxley (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 480–500). Owen responded with a long and vitriolic letter to the Athenæum, 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, which fuelled further controversy (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1863] and n. 2; Bynum 1984, pp. 154–8; and L. G. Wilson 1996b, pp. 204–6).
Huxley and Hugh Falconer were both engaged in controversies with Owen. See Correspondence vol. 9, letter to T. H. Huxley, 1 April [1861], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 [April 1861]; Correspondence vol. 10, letter from T. H. Huxley, 9 October 1862 and n. 4; and this volume, letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 January [1863] and nn. 1 and 2, and letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863]. See also Rupke 1994 and Wilson 1996b.


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

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.


Thanks CL for "the great book" [Antiquity of man (1863)].

Richard Owen "ought to be ostracised by every Naturalist in England".

CL’s book will "give the whole subject of change of species an enormous advance".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.287)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3967,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11