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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   12 [March 1860]



My dear Lyell

Thinking over what we talked about the high state of Intellectual development of the old Græcians with the little or no subsequent improvement being an apparent difficulty, it has just occurred to me that in fact the case harmonises perfectly with our views.—1

The case would be a decided difficulty on the Lamarckian or Vestigian doctrine of necessary progression, but on the view which I hold of progression depending on the conditions, it is no objection at all & harmonises with the other facts of progression in corporeal structure of other animals.—   For in a state of anarchy or despotism or bad government or after irruption of Barbarians force strength or ferocity & not intellect would be apt to gain the day.—

We have so enjoyed your & Lady Lyell’s visit—2 Good Night | C. Darwin

By an odd chance (for I had not alluded even to subject) the Ladies attacked me this evening & threw the high state of old Græcians into my teeth, as an unanswerable difficulty; but by good chance I had my answer all pat & silenced them.3 Hence I have thought it worth scribbling to you.—


Lyell recorded part of his discussion with CD in his scientific journal (Wilson ed. 1970, pp. 364–5).
Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell had visited Down from 9 to 12 March 1860 (Emma Darwin’s diary).
Probably a reference to Georgina and Ellen Harriet Tollet, childhood friends of Emma Darwin. Emma recorded in her diary on 10 March 1860 that the ‘Tollets’ came and stayed until 14 March. CD’s sister Emily Catherine Darwin was also visiting at the time.


Discusses the intellectual development of the ancient Greeks as an objection to evolution and gives his reply.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.203)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5032,” accessed on 28 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8