skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [7 May 1863]1

at J. Wedgwoods Esq2 | Leith Hill Place | Dorking | Surrey


My dear Lyell

When you have time please let me have an answer for Mr. Maw.—3 We shall stay here till Tuesday morning.4 What a poor letter the last one of Falconer’s.5 I was much pleased at the last sentence till I came to the last most unjust words; & never were words more unjust.—6 That beggar Owen sneers well at me & with some justice. I was an ass to write to Athenæum.—7

You alluded in your previous note to Haughton; I received, but did not read, his paper, but shall do.—8 I saw it was the same style of thing, which he has several times published before.—9 He must be a desperately clever fellow; for, amongst other things, he has made very important discoveries in medicine, as he is an amateur attendant on Hospitals!10

Ever yours very truly | C. Darwin

Asa Gray tells me he has written long Review on Decandolle for next Silliman & I fancy will discuss species question;11 he has, also, written a Review on Bates’ Butterflies for a succeeding number.—12


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from George Maw, 25 April 1863, and by the address. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwin family stayed at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, the home of Josiah Wedgwood III, from 6 to 13 May 1863; the only Thursday during this period was 7 May.
Josiah Wedgwood III was CD’s cousin, Emma Darwin’s brother, and the husband of CD’s sister Caroline Sarah (Darwin pedigree).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins returned home on Wednesday 13 May 1863.
The reference is to Hugh Falconer’s letter published in the Athenæum, 2 May 1863, p. 586. The letter formed part of an ongoing controversy between Falconer and Lyell that began with Falconer’s criticisms of Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a) in the Athenæum, 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60, and continued with Lyell’s response in the Athenæum, 18 April 1863, pp. 523–5. Falconer’s main complaint was that Lyell had not given sufficient credit to his or Joseph Prestwich’s contributions to the evidence of human antiquity. See letters from J. D. Hooker, [23 February 1863] and n. 5, and [6 March 1863] and n. 4, and letter from John Lubbock, 7 April 1863 and n. 6.
The reference is to the last paragraph of Falconer’s letter, which gave Lyell credit for his services to geology. Falconer’s last sentence reads (Athenæum, 2 May 1863, p. 586): ‘The day has gone by, when scientific works could be written in the style of Louis Quatorze: La Géologie; c’est moi!—l’Ancienneté d’Homme; c’est moi aussi!’ (I am Geology!— I am also the Antiquity of Man!). Falconer was paraphrasing a quotation attributed to the French monarch Louis XIV: ‘L’Etat, c’est moi.’: ‘The State! I am the State.’ (Harbottle and Dalbiac 1901, p. 92).
CD refers to Richard Owen’s anonymous letter in the Athenæum, 2 May 1863, pp. 586–7, criticising the views on the origin of species and spontaneous generation expressed in CD’s letter to the Athenæum of 18 April [1863] (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VII). For CD’s reply, see the letter to Athenæum, 5 May [1863].
The letter from Lyell has not been found. Samuel Haughton was professor of geology at Dublin University (DNB). There is a lightly annotated copy of S. Haughton 1863 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
S. Haughton 1863 was particularly critical of CD’s reasoning in Origin regarding the role of natural selection in explaining the geometrical configuration of the cells comprising honeycombs. Haughton made the bee cell a test case of the theory of natural selection. He published similar arguments against Origin in S. Haughton 1860a and [S. Haughton] 1860b. See Hull 1973, pp. 216–28.
Haughton had entered the University of Dublin’s medical school in 1859; he graduated in 1862 and was appointed medical registrar of the school (DNB). Haughton had also recently published a paper on the action of poisons (S. Haughton 1862a).
See letter from Asa Gray, 13 April 1863. Asa Gray’s review of A. de Candolle 1862a and 1862b appeared in the May number of the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1863d and 1863e); the journal was commonly referred to as ‘Silliman’s journal’ after its founder, Benjamin Silliman.
CD refers to Gray’s review abstract of Bates 1862 (A. Gray 1863a), which appeared in the November issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts.


Bates, Henry Walter. 1862. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Coleoptera: Longicornes. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 9: 117–24, 396–405, 446–58.

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

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

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.

Haughton, Samuel. 1863. On the form of the cells made by various wasps, and by the honey bee; with an appendix on the origin of species. Dublin: University Press.

Hull, David L. 1973. Darwin and his critics: the reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by the scientific community. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Falconer’s letter [attacking CL, Athenæum 4 Apr 1863, pp. 459–60] is most unjust.

Regrets his letter [to Athenæum, on heterogeny] now criticised by Owen.

Comments on article by Samuel Haughton [On the form of cells made by wasps – with an appendix on the origin of species (1863)].

Mentions forthcoming reviews by Asa Gray [in Am. J. Sci.].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Leith Hill Place
Source of text
DAR 185: 46
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4145,” accessed on 1 June 2023,

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