skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. A. Darwin   [before 30 November 1864]1

Dear Charles

Lyell2 told me an anecdote which amused me. Sabine3 said to him in a triumphant tone, well it is’nt for the Origin that the medal is given,4 & Lyell answered, oh of course not, I understand, quite right, that is known all thro’ Europe, so it would be quite useless giving the medal for that but the other things are not so well known, & it will be useful for that. Sabine was taken quite aback & sheltered himself behind the proposers.5 Lyell says he shall attend the dinner & express his feelings on the Origin.6 What a pity you cant be there,7 & yet if you were it could not be done so well



The date is established by the reference to the dinner that followed the anniversary meeting of the Royal Society of London on 30 November 1864 (see n. 6, below).
Charles Lyell.
The reference is to Edward Sabine, president of the Royal Society.
The Council of the Royal Society had voted to award CD the Copley Medal on the basis of his ‘important Researches in Geology, Zoology, and Botanical Physiology’ (Royal Society, Council minutes, 3 November 1864). In his letter of 3 November 186[4], Hugh Falconer said that CD’s friends on the Council had not failed to stand up for Origin. Sabine’s anniversary address, delivered at the Royal Society on 30 November 1864, said that Origin was not among the publications considered as grounds for the award. A controversy arose over Sabine’s remarks on Origin, and whether they accurately represented the views of the Council (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 December 1864, letter from T. H. Huxley to J. D. Hooker, 3 December 1864, and Appendix IV).
CD had been nominated for the Copley Medal by George Busk; Hugh Falconer had seconded the nomination. Erasmus Alvey Darwin apparently alludes to the formal motion that was made by Busk and Falconer to propose CD for the medal. This motion contained no mention of Origin (Royal Society, Council minutes, 23 June 1864).
Lyell made a speech at the anniversary dinner on 30 November 1864. In his letter of 16 January 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13), Lyell referred to his speech as ‘somewhat of a confession of faith as to the ‘Origin’ ’. Lyell’s speech is printed in Bartholomew 1975–6. See also Appendix IV.
CD did not attend the 30 November meeting because of fears of poor health (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 November [1864]).


Bartholomew, Michael J. 1975–6. The award of the Copley Medal to Charles Darwin. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 30: 209–18.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.


Gives Lyell’s report of conversation with Sabine about the grounds for the award of CD’s [Copley] Medal.

Letter details

Letter no.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 105: B33
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4688,” accessed on 16 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12