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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   17 March [1863]

Down Bromley Kent

March 17th

My dear Lyell.

I have been much interested by your letters & enclosure,1 & thank you sincerely for giving me so much time, when you must be so busy.— What a curious letter from B. de P. He seems perfectly satisfied & must be a very amiable man.2 I know something about his errors, & looked at his book many years ago, & am ashamed to think that I concluded the whole was rubbish!3 Yet he has done for man something like what Agassiz did for Glaciers.—4 I am astounded & truly grieved at what I read in your letter to Hooker about Falconer: I never read anything like his conduct about the monkey-case!5

With respect to your reference to Principles, it was in early part that I felt that others might feel bothered:6 I did not mark passages so cannot find without rereading, & I have no strength to spare.—

I cannot say that I agree with Hooker about the Public not liking to be told what to conclude, if coming from one in your position.7 But I am heartily sorry that I was led to make complaints, or something very like complaints, on manner in which you have treated subject; & still more so anything about myself.8 I steadily endeavour never to forget my firm belief that no one can at all judge about his own work. As for Lamarck, as you have such a man as Grove with you, you are triumphant;9 not that I can alter my opinion that to me it was an absolutely useless Book.—10 Perhaps this was owing to my always searching books for facts; perhaps from knowing my Grandfather’s earlier & identically the same speculation.—11

I will only further say that if I can analyse my own feelings (a very doubtful process) it as nearly as much for your sake, as for my own, that I so much wish that your state of belief could have permitted you to say boldly & distinctly out that species were not separately created. I have generally told you progress of opinion, as I have heard it on Species-question. A first-rate German naturalist (I now forget name!!) who has lately published grand folio has spoken out to the utmost extent on the “Origin”.—12 De Candolle in very good paper on Oaks goes, in Asa Gray’s opinion, as far as he himself does;13 but De Candolle in writing to me, says “we” “we” think this & that;14 so that I infer he really goes to full extent with me; & tells me of French good Bot. Palæontologist (name forgotten, Count Laperda or Saperda or some such name) who writes to De Candolle that he is sure that my views will ultimately prevail.—15

But I did not intend to have written to all this. It satisfies me with the final result; but this result I begin to see will take 2 or 3 life-times. The entomologists alone are enough to keep subject back for 12 a century.16

I really pity you having to balance the claims of so many eager aspirants for notice; it is clearly impossible to satisfy all. By the way I can see that Lubbock is not satisfied with notice of his Somme paper!!17 Certainly I was struck with the full & due honour you conferred on Falconer.—18 I have just had note from Hooker;19 I think he forgets that he told me himself date of publication of his Essay.20 I am heartily glad that you have made him so conspicuous; he is so honest, so candid & so modest.21 He tells me that he has got more plants from Cameroon mountains & that he will discuss mundane cold period.—22

I have read Owen’s Aye-Aye:23 I could find nothing to lay hold of, which in one sense I am very glad of, as I shd. hate a controversy; but in another sense I am very sorry for, as I long to be in the same boat with all my friends; & I had written so good a letter(!) all ready, with a blank for his sentence claiming more than he had any right to; but I could pick out no such sentence. Hooker says he so despises him that he cannot hate him:24 I do not know whether this a right frame of mind, but by Jove it is not my frame of mind.

I am heartily glad the Book is going off so well.—25

Ever yours | C. Darwin

I quite agree with what you say about Huxley & about the Review.26 The Review, however, is excellent.— As I have spoken against entomologists; see in next number a notice by me on Bates’ paper on mimetic resemblances;27 it is, I think, worth your reading, & will give you cream of facts.


CD refers to the letter from Lyell of 15 March 1863, of which a portion is missing. He also mentions two items sent either with that letter, or possibly with another letter from Lyell that has not been found; namely, a letter from Jacques Boucher de Perthes to Lyell (see n. 2, below), and a letter from Lyell to Joseph Dalton Hooker, discussing the behaviour of Hugh Falconer (see n. 5, below).
The letter from Boucher de Perthes has not been found (see n. 1, above). See letter to Charles Lyell, 12–13 March [1863] and n. 3.
In the 1840s, Boucher de Perthes discovered shaped flints in Pleistocene deposits in the Somme valley, which he argued in the first volume of his 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 Falconer and Joseph Prestwich. See Grayson 1983. The first volume of Boucher de Perthes 1847–64 is mentioned in CD’s list of ‘Books to be Read’ for the period 1852–60 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *128: 163). On CD’s reaction to Boucher de Perthes’s work, see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 [June 1859].
In the late 1830s, the Swiss-born geologist Louis Agassiz elaborated his belief that there had been a recent ‘Ice Age’ in the northern hemisphere, during which much of Europe had been covered by ice. Following Agassiz’s visit to Britain in 1840, his views prompted a vigorous debate among British geologists, ultimately resulting in a widespread belief in the glacial origin of many geological and geomorphological phenomena (see DSB, and Davies 1969).
Lyell’s letter to Hooker has not been found. In his letter to Hooker of 17 March [1863], CD referred to its being ‘a long P.S.’ addressed to Hooker. The reference to the ‘monkey case’ has not been identified.
In his letter to Lyell of 12–13 March [1863], CD suggested that C. Lyell 1863a contained too many references to the various editions of Lyell’s Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1830–3); Lyell had apparently replied to this observation in the missing portion of his letter to CD of 15 March 1863.
CD refers to his comments on Lyell’s failure publicly to endorse evolution or natural selection in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a; see letters to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and 12–13 March [1863]).
CD’s transmutation notebooks contain many references to Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia (E. Darwin 1794–6), which outlined a theory of species transmutation, and to Lamarck 1809 (Notebooks). On CD’s reactions to these two authors, see also Autobiography, p. 49.
The reference is to Haeckel 1862, in which Ernst Haeckel first publicly endorsed CD’s theory; there is a presentation copy of this work in the Darwin Library–Down. See also letter to Ernst Haeckel, 30 December [1863] – 3 January [1864].
A. de Candolle 1862a. See letter from Asa Gray, 27 January 1863.
The letter from Alphonse de Candolle has not been found, but see the letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 31 January [1863].
CD considered that his theory had been particularly ‘attacked & reviled’ by entomologists (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to H. W. Bates, 22 November [1860]).
CD refers to John Lubbock’s paper reviewing the recent discoveries of prehistoric implements in the Somme valley with respect to the antiquity of the human species (Lubbock 1862c); Lubbock’s paper was not cited in C. Lyell 1863a. No correspondence between CD and Lubbock on this point has been found.
Falconer’s researches were cited repeatedly in C. Lyell 1863a; however, Falconer considered that his work had not been given due credit by Lyell (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1863] and n. 6).
In Antiquity of man, Lyell devoted a separate section to considering Hooker’s views on the transmutation of species (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 417–21). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 March 1863], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 March [1863].
Owen 1862c. See letters to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863] and n. 44, and 12–13 March [1863] and n. 11.
CD refers to Thomas Henry Huxley and the Natural History Review (see letter from Charles Lyell, 15 March 1863 and n. 19).
CD’s anonymous review of Bates 1861 (‘Review of Bates on mimetic butterflies’) appeared in the April 1863 number of the Natural History Review.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

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

Darwin, Erasmus. 1794–6. Zoonomia; or, the laws of organic life. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson.

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.

Haeckel, Ernst. 1862. Die Radiolarien. (Rhizopoda Radiaria.) Eine Monographie. 2 vols. Berlin: Georg Reimer.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1859. On the flora of Australia, its origin, affinities, and distribution; being an introductory essay to the flora of Tasmania. London: Lovell Reeve.

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.

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.

‘Review of Bates on mimetic butterflies’: [Review of "Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley", by Henry Walter Bates.] [By Charles Darwin.] Natural History Review n.s. 3 (1863): 219–24. [Collected papers 2: 87–92.]


His better opinion [of work of Boucher de Perthes].

Explains his position on CL’s treatment of species.

Mentions positive response to his ideas on the part of a German professor [Ernst Haeckel], Alphonse de Candolle, and a botanical palaeontologist [Gaston de Saporta].

Notes negative reaction of entomologists.

Mentions Falconer’s objections [to Antiquity].

Mentions work of Hooker.

Comments on paper by Owen ["On the aye-aye", Rep. BAAS 32 (1862) pt 2: 114–16]

and CD’s review of Bates’s paper [Collected papers 2: 87–92].

Thinks Natural History Review is excellent.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.291)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4047,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

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