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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   9 August [1838]

36 Grt. Marlbro’ St.

Aug. 9th.

My dear Lyell

I did not write to you at Norwich for I thought I should have more to say, if I waited a few more days.— Very many thanks for the present of your elements,1 which I received, (& I believe the very first copy distributed) together with your note.— I have read it through every word & am full of admiration of it.— as I now see no geologist I must talk to you about it. There is no pleasure in reading a book if one cannot have a good talk over it.— I repeat I am full of admiration at it.— it is as clear as daylight,—in fact I felt in many parts some mortification at thinking, how geologists have laboured & struggled at proving what seems, as you have put it, so evidently probable.— I read with much interest your sketch of the secondary deposits.— you have contrived to make it quite “juicy”, as we used to say as children of a good story.— There was also much new to me, & I have to copy out some fifty notes & references. It must do good;—the hereticks against common sense must yield— Phillips2 will not surely go on saying that the metamorphic schists are disintegrated granite redeposited. By the way do you recollect my telling you, how much I disliked the manner Phillips referred to his other works, as much as to say, “you must, ought & shall buy everything I have written”. To my mind, you have somehow quite avoided this.— your references only seem to say “I cant tell you all in this work, else I would, so you must go to the Principle,” & many a one, I trust, you will send there, & make them like me adorers of the good science of rock-breaking. You see I am in a fit of enthusiasm; & good cause I have to be, when I find, you have made such infinitely more use of my journal than I could have anticipated.—3 I will say no more about the book, for it is all praise.— I must, however, admire the elaborate honesty with which you quote the words of all living & dead geologists.—

I came up to town on Wednesday night, just two days after you went; & very much disappointed I was to find by your card you were gone.— 4 I thought youhad intended coming to town after your crag expedition, so I had made sure of seeing you, & having some geological talk.— I was very near writing to you from Shrewsbury, but I thought you would be busy & I denied myself the pleasure. My Scotch expedition answered brilliantly.—5 my trip in the steam packet was absolutely pleasant, & I enjoyed the spectacle, wretch that I am, of two ladies & some small children quite sea sick, I being well. Moreover on my return from Glasgow to Liverpool, I triumphed in a similar manner over some full grown men.— I staid one whole day in Edinburgh, or more truly on Salisbury Craigs.— I want to hear, some day, what you think about that classical ground:—the structure was to me new & rather curious,—that is if I understand it right.— I crossed from Edinburgh in gigs & carts, (& carts without springs as I never shall forget) to Loch Leven,—was disappointed in the scenery—& reached Glen Roy on Saturday evening, one week after leaving Marlborough St.— Here I enjoyed five days of the most beautiful weather, with gorgeous sunsets, & all nature looking as happy, as I felt.— I wandered over the mountains in all directions & examined that most extraordinary district.— I think without any exception,—not even the first volcanic island, the first elevated beach, or the passage of the Cordillera, was so interesting to me, as this week. It is far the most remarkable area I ever examined.— I have fully convinced myself, (after some doubting at first) that the shelves are sea-beaches,—although I could not find a trace of a shell, & I think I can explain away most, if not all, the difficulties. I found a piece of a road in another valley, not hitherto observed, which is important; & I have some curious facts about erratic blocks, one of which was perched up on a peak 2200 ft above the sea.— I am now employed in writing a paper on the subject,6 which, I find very amusing work, excepting that I cannot anyhow condense it into reasonable limits. At some future day I hope to talk over some of the conclusions, with you which the examination of Glen Roy has led me to. Now I have had my talk out, I am much easier, for I can assure you Glen Roy has astonished me.—

I am living very quietly, & therefore pleasantly & am crawling on slowly, but steadily with my work. I have come to one conclusion, which you will think, proves me to be a very sensible man,—namely that whatever you say, proves right; and as a proof of this, I am coming into your way of only working about two hours at a spell; I then go out, & do my business in the streets, return & set to work again, & thus make two separate days out of one.— The new plan answers capitally.— After the second half day is finished, I go & dine at the Athenæum like a gentleman, or rather like a Lord, for I am sure the first evening I sat in that great drawing room, all on a sofa by myself, I felt just like a duke.— I am full of admiration at the Athenæum; one meets so many people there, that one likes to see.— The very first time I dined there, (ie last week) I met Dr Fitton7 at the door & he got together quite a party, Robert Brown (who is gone to Paris & Auvergne) Macleay & Dr Boot.—8 Your helping me into the Athenæum has not been thrown away, & I enjoy it the more, because I fully expected to detest it.—

I am writing you a most unmerciful letter; but I shall get Owen to take it to Newcastle.— If you have a mind to be a very generous man, you will write to me from Kinnordy & tell me some Newcastle news,9 as well as about the Crag, & about yourself & Mrs Lyell & every thing else in the world— I will send by Hall10 the Entomological Transactions,—which I have borrowed for you. You will be disappointed in Hope’s papers,11 that is if you suppose my dear friend has a single clear idea upon any one subject.— He has so involved recent insects & true fossil insects in one table, that I fear you will not make much out of it—though it is a subject, which ought, I should think, to come into the Principles. You will be amused at some of the ridiculo-sublime passages in the papers, & no doubt will feel acutely a sneer there is at yourself.

I have heard from more than one quarter, that quarrelling is expected at Newcastle.12 I am sorry to hear it. I met old Jones this evening at the Athenæum, & he muttered something about writing to you, or some one on the subject.—13 I am, however all in the dark,—I suppose, however, I shall be illuminated for I am going to dine with him, in a few days, as my inventive powers failed in making any excuse. A friend of mine dined with him, the other day, a party of four, & they finished ten bottles of wine,—a pleasant prospect for me; but I am determined not even to taste his wine, partly for the fun of seeing his infinite disgust & surprise.—

If you should see anyone at Newcastle, whom you know pretty well from Edinburgh, I should be very much obliged if you could (without giving yourself, or asking your friend to take much trouble) obtain for me a copy of the two-hourly barometrical observations, made at Leith, from 7 oclock in the morning to seven in the evening on Thursday, July the 5th.—I should be very much obliged.— Brewster formerly published them: if they are now published, a reference to where is all I want.—14

There is one other point, by chance, now that you are in Scotland, you might find out for me, that is the height above the sea of Loch Tay, and Loch Dochart and Tyndrum—and Loch Tula or any one of these places.— I have no idea whom to ask, or where to look.— If you should chance to meet any engineer, will you ask him.—15

I pity you the infliction of this most unmerciful letter.— Pray remember me most kindly to Mrs Lyell & to Miss Lyell, when you arrive at Kinnordy, I saw her name in the Landlord’s book of Inverorum.—16 Tell Mrs Lyell to read, the second series of Mr Slick of Slickville sayings,—they are “dreadful odd & amazing comical” as Mr Slick himself would say.— He almost beats Samivel,17 that prince of heroes.— Good night, my dear Lyell—. you will think I have been drinking some strong drink to write so much nonsense,—but I did not even taste Minerva’s small beer to day.—

Yours most sincerely | Chas. Darwin—

P.S. I have seen FitzRoy, who had bought your book. He looked rather black at the preface, made a kind of growl, but then came smooth again.18 I never cease wondering at his character, so full of good & generous traits but spoiled by such an unlucky temper.— Some part of the organization of his brain wants mending: nothing else will account for his manner of viewing things.


C. Lyell 1838. CD’s copy is preserved in Darwin Library–CUL.
CD’s manuscript, Journal and remarks, was ready for press by September 1837, and the proofs were corrected by November; Lyell was thus able to make use of it before publication and included at least ten references to the Journal and remarks in C. Lyell 1838.
Lyell made two trips to examine the Norfolk crag deposits, one in April and another at the end of July. See Wilson 1972, pp. 478–83.
CD departed for Scotland on 23 June in order to explore Glen Roy. He returned to Shrewsbury on 13 July and London on 1 August (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix II).
Lyell attended the annual meeting of the British Association in Newcastle upon Tyne from 20 to 25 August (Wilson 1972, p. 483).
Probably Lyell’s clerk, George Hall.
Frederick William Hope published numerous papers in Transactions of the Entomological Society of London. CD refers here to Hope 1836.
The British Association had been subjected to considerable public criticism. See Orange 1975.
Possibly Thomas Jones.
Refers to Alexander Adie’s ‘Register of the barometer, thermometer, and rain gage, kept at Edinburgh’ which appeared regularly in David Brewster’s Edinburgh Journal of Science. These observations were discontinued in 1832 when Brewster’s journal was merged with the Philosophical Magazine. See Forbes 1861.
Lyell evidently found the altitudes (see Collected papers 1: 105).
Inveroran Hotel, Argyllshire.
‘Samuel’, as pronounced by the elder Sam Weller in Dickens’ Pickwick papers, referring to his son.
The preface (p. vii) reads: ‘Mr. Darwin’s Journal … is still detained, to the great regret of the scientific world, because it is to form part of a larger work, including an account of the Surveys of Captains King and FitzRoy, in South America.’


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

Forbes, James David. 1861. On the climate of Edinburgh for fifty-six years, from 1795 to 1850, deduced principally from Mr Adie’s observations; with an account of other and earlier registers. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 22: 327–56.

Hope, Frederick William. 1836. Observations on succinic insects. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London 1: 133–47.

Journal and remarks: Journal and remarks. 1832–1836. By Charles Darwin. Vol. 3 of Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. London: Henry Colburn. 1839. [Separately published as Journal of researches.]

Lyell, Charles. 1838. Elements of geology. London: John Murray.

Orange, A. D. 1975. The idols of the theatre: the British Association and its early critics. Annals of Science 32: 277-94.

‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’: Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and of other parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an attempt to prove that they are of marine origin. By Charles Darwin. [Read 7 February 1839.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 129: 39–81. [Shorter publications, pp. 50–88.]

Wilson, Leonard Gilchrist. 1972. Charles Lyell. The years to 1841: the revolution in geology. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


Comments on receiving copy of Lyell’s Elements [of geology]. Much is new to CD, and he is copying out notes and references.

Criticises geological work of John Phillips.

Describes expedition to Glen Roy, about which he is writing a paper ["Parallel roads of Glen Roy" (1839), Collected papers 1: 87–137].

Enjoys the Athenaeum Club.

Criticises entomological work of F. W. Hope.

Asks Lyell to obtain for him a copy of barometric readings made at Leith.

Asks him to ascertain altitude of several Scottish lochs.

Comments on FitzRoy’s character.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
London, Gt Marlborough St, 36
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.10)
Physical description
ALS 11pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 424,” accessed on 27 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2