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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   17 [February 1863]

My dear Lyell

The same post that brought the enclosed,1 brought Dana’s pamphlet on same subject.—2 The whole seems to me utterly wild. If there had not been the foregone wish to separate man, I can never believe that Dana or anyone wd have relied on so small a distinction, as grown man not using forelimbs for locomotion, seeing that monkeys use these limbs in all other respect for same purpose as man.—3 To carry on analogous principles (for they are not identical, for in Crustacea the cephalic limbs are brought close to mouth) from Crustacea to the classification of Mammals seems to me madness.—4 Who would dream of making fundamental distinction in Birds, from fore-limbs not being used at all in Birds, or used as fins in Penguins & for flight in other Birds?—

I get on slowly with your grand work,5 for I am overwhelmed with odds & ends & letters—so farewell | My dear Lyell | C. Darwin—

17th Down Bromley Kent


CD refers to Dana 1863c, p. 66; there is a presentation copy of this work, bearing a New Haven postmark, in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In Dana 1863c, p. 66, James Dwight Dana stated that: while all other Mammals have both the anterior and posterior limbs organs of locomotion, in Man the anterior are transferred from the locomotive to the cephalic series. They serve the purposes of the head, and are not for locomotion … Man, in this, stands alone among Mammals.
Dana argued that ‘cephalization’ (see n. 3, above) was a fundamental principle in the classification of zoological life, illustrating his point with reference to crustaceans (Dana 1863c, p. 66).
CD was reading Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a). See also letters to Charles Lyell, 4 [February 1863] and 6 March [1863].


Criticises Dana’s classification of man and his use of fore-limbs as a basis for systematic classification.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.288)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3993,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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