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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   12–13 March [1863]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Lyell

I thank you for your very interesting & kind, I may say charming letter.1 I feared you might be huffed for a little time with me; I know some men would have been so.2 I have hardly any more criticisms, anyhow worth writing. But I may mention that I felt a little surprise that old B. de Perthes was not rather more honourably mentioned.—3 I would suggest whether you could not leave out some references to the “Principles”;4 one for the real Student is as good as a hundred; & it is rather irritating & gives feeling of incompleteness to general reader to be often referred to other book.— As you say that you have gone as far as you believe on species-question,5 I have not a word to say; but I must feel convinced that at times, judging from conversation, expression, letters &c, you have as completely given up belief in immutability of specific forms, as I have done.— I must still think a clear expression from you, if you could have given it, would have been potent with the public, & all the more so, as you formerly held opposite opinion.—

The more I work the more satisfied I become with variation & n. selection; but that part of the case I look at as less important, though more interesting to me personally. As you ask for criticisms on this head (& believe me, I shd. not have made them unasked) I may specify (p. 412, 413) that such words as Mr D “labours to show”—“is believed by the author to throw light”, would lead a common reader to think that you yourself do not at all agree, but merely think it fair to give my opinion.—6

Lastly, you refer repeatedly to my view as a modification of Lamarcks doctrine of development & progression;7 if this is your deliberate opinion there is nothing to be said—; but it does not seem so to me; Plato, Buffon, my grandfather before Lamarck & others propounded the obvious view that if species were not created separately, they must have descended from other species:8 & I can see nothing else in common between the Origin & Lamarck. I believe this way of putting the case is very injurious to its acceptance; as it implies necessary progression & closely connects Wallace’s & my views with what I consider, after two deliberate readings, as a wretched book; & one from which (I well remember my surprise) I gained nothing.9 But I know you rank it higher, which is curious, as it did not in the least shake your belief.— But enough & more than enough. Please remember you have brought it all down on yourself!!—

March 13th— I must add that Henrietta,10 who is a first rate critic & to whom I had not said a word about Lamarck, last night said, “Is it fair that Sir C. Lyell always calls your theory a modification of Lamarcks? Why is it more a modification of his, than of any one’s else?” Do not allude to this, for I do not suppose she would at all approve of my quoting her appropriate (in my opinion) criticism.— I have more trust in your judgment than in my own, so I hope you may be right, as far as mere policy is concerned, in your very gentle statement of your belief.—

Many thanks about Aye-Aye paper; I have written to Sir Henry.—11

I am very sorry to hear about Falconer’s “reclamation”;12 I hate the very word, & have a sincere affection for him.— I have been much interested in Athenæum controversy:13 how well Mr Flower puts in the way in which Owen has falsely dragged in size of brain.—14 Your answer seemed to me very good; except I regretted your too great civility in saying that Owen must have forgotten what he said in Annals; it was a brazen lie, & ought not, I think, to have been treated so delicately.—15

Did you ever read anything so wretched as the Athenæum Reviews of you, & of Huxley especially Your object to make man old, & Huxley’s object to degrade him. The wretched writer has not a glimpse what the discovery of scientific truth means.—16 How splendid some pages are in Huxley; but I fear the book will not be popular.

I have just reread your letter; it seems that I mentioned the sentence “Should it ever become highly probable”: I remember determining not to mention it; but it seems that I was overtaken.17

Ever my dear Lyell | Yours most truly | C. Darwin

I keep very queer in health, & we have resolved, eheu eheu, to start for Malvern after Easter holidays.—18


CD refers to Lyell’s reaction to the criticisms of C. Lyell 1863a that CD made in his letter of 6 March [1863]. In his letter to CD of 11 March 1863, Lyell stated: ‘Pray write any criticism that occurs to you; you cannot put them too strongly or plainly.’ CD’s annotated copy of C. Lyell 1863a is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 525–7).
In the 1840s, Jacques Boucher de Perthes discovered shaped flints in Pleistocene deposits in the Somme valley, which, he argued in the first volume of Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes (Boucher de Perthes 1847–64), were human artefacts contemporaneous with the associated Pleistocene fossils. His explanation was initially widely rejected, but his findings were confirmed following visits to the location in 1858 and 1859 by Hugh Falconer and Joseph Prestwich. See Grayson 1983. Boucher de Perthes’s research and collections are mentioned several times in C. Lyell 1863a; however, CD apparently considered that he was not given due credit for his priority in determining the prehistoric nature of the Somme artefacts.
Lyell referred to several editions of his Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3).
In the second edition of Antiquity of man, ‘labours to show’ is changed to ‘argues’, and ‘is believed by the author to throw light’ is changed to ‘would throw light’ (C. Lyell 1863b, pp. 412, 413).
CD refers to Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, and Erasmus Darwin, both of whom were mentioned in passing in CD’s ‘Historical sketch of the recent progress of opinion on the origin of species’ (Origin 3d ed., pp. xiii–xiv n.) The reference to Plato is probably to Timaeus, 69B–C, a passage brought to his attention in a letter from G. H. K. Thwaites, 15 May 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10). See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter from R. E. Grant, 16 May 1861. In his ‘Historical sketch’, CD, like Lyell, treated Lamarck as ‘the first man whose conclusions on this subject excited much attention’ (Origin 3d ed., p. xiii).
CD apparently refers to Philosophie zoologique (Lamarck 1809), which contains the most detailed exposition of Lamarck’s transmutation theory; there is an annotated copy of the first volume of a later edition of this work (Lamarck 1830) in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 477–80). On 18 May 1839, CD noted in his reading notebook that he had read this work (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 15a); there are frequent references to it in his transmutation notebooks from 1837 onwards (see Notebooks). CD also refers to Alfred Russel Wallace, with whom he announced the theory of natural selection in 1858 (C. Darwin and Wallace 1858). Unlike CD and Wallace’s theory of transmutation, Lamarck’s theory posited a natural tendency toward organic complexity (DSB). See also Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [11 January 1844].
CD had asked whether he might borrow Lyell’s copy of the part of the Transactions of the Zoological Society of London containing Owen 1862c (see letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and n. 44). Lyell appears to have replied to this request in a missing portion of his letter to CD of 11 March 1863. CD himself bought a copy of the number, which is now in the Darwin Library–CUL. The reference may be to Henry Holland, although no such letter has been found.
CD refers to the controversy following the publication of a letter by Richard Owen in the Athenæum, 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3. See letter from J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1863], n. 2. Some of Owen’s charges were rebutted in a letter from George Rolleston, published in the Athenæum, 28 February 1863, p. 297. Lyell published a reply to Owen’s letter in the Athenæum, 7 March 1863, pp. 331–2, which also contained a further letter from Owen. For CD’s view of Owen’s criticisms, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863], and letter to T. H. Huxley, 26 [February 1863].
In a second letter to the Athenæum, published with his first on 7 March 1863, pp. 331–2, Lyell enclosed an extract from a letter sent to him by William Henry Flower, which repudiated Owen’s claims concerning disputed brain specimens. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and n. 25.
The reference is to an article by Owen that appeared in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Owen 1861a; see Athenæum, 7 March 1863, p. 331). See also the following letter and n. 4.
C. Lyell 1863a was reviewed in the Athenæum, 14 February 1863, pp. 219–21, and T. H. Huxley 1863b in the Athenæum, 28 February 1863, pp. 287–8. According to the publisher’s marked copies of the Athenæum (City University Library, London) the reviews were written by John R. Leifchild.
CD refers to C. Lyell 1863a, p. 469, which states: we ought by no means to undervalue the importance of the step which will have been made, should it ever become highly probable that the past changes of the organic world have been brought about by the subordinate agency of such causes as ‘Variation’ and ‘Natural Selection.’ This passage is not mentioned in the extant text of the letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863], although CD did criticise an earlier passage on the same page (see letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and n. 40); it may have been one of the passages criticised in a letter from Joseph Dalton Hooker to Lyell (see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 March 1863] and n. 6). Lyell did not refer to the passage in his letter to CD of 11 March 1863, but it was probably discussed in a postscript to the latter that has not been found (see also n. 11, above). In the second edition (C. Lyell 1863b, p. 469), the phrase ‘should it ever become highly probable’ was altered to read ‘should it hereafter become the generally received opinion of men of science (as I fully expect it will)’.
Eheu: ‘an interjection of pain or grief, ah! alas!’ (Latin; Lewis and Short 1969). CD refers to James Manby Gully’s hydropathic establishment in Great Malvern, Worcestershire.


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

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

Grayson, Donald K. 1983. The establishment of human antiquity. New York: Academic Press.

Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine. 1830. Philosophie zoologique, ou exposition des considérations relatives à l’histoire naturelle des animaux; à la diversité leur organisation … et les autres l’intelligence de ceux qui en sont doués. New edition. 2 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine. 1809. Philosophie zoologique; ou exposition des considérations relatives à l’histoire naturelle des animaux; à la diversité de leur organisation … et les autres l’intelligence de ceux qui en sont doués. 2 vols. Paris: Dentu; the author.

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.

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.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.


[On Antiquity of man] CD is "convinced that at times … you have … given up immutability". "A clear expression from you, if you could have given it, would have been potent with the public."

Objects to CL’s description of CD’s view "as a modification of Lamarck’s doctrine". Quotes Henrietta [Darwin]’s observations on this description.

Comments on CL’s controversy with Owen concerning the human brain.

The controversy between Falconer and CL.

The "wretched" review of CL [Antiquity of man, Athenæum 14 Feb 1863, pp. 219–21] and Huxley [Man’s place in nature].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.290)
Physical description
ALS 8pp, CL note

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4038,” accessed on 8 June 2023,

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