skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [19 March 1868]1

4 Chester Place | N.W


My dear Lyell

Many thanks for the grand Book.—2 I have literally not read a word, except the newspaper, since I have been in London, & I vowed I wd not look at your book; but I became so curious that I broke my vow & began last night the organic part & read some & skimmed provisionally several pages.— I can see that you have given a perfectly fair history of the progress of opinion on Species; but you will perhaps think it would be strange if I did not say so, seeing what high credit you give to me.—3 I see in Table of Contents you allude to Pangenesis,4 which is heroic on your part, as an untried hypothesis is always dangerous ground, & quite delights me. My fear has always been that Pangenesis would be a still-born infant, over whom no one would rejoice or cry.5

I shall be intensely curious to read your Chaptr. on Domestication & even more so on man.—6

With most hearty thanks | Ever yours | C. Darwin


The date is established by the reference to the second volume of Lyell 1867–8 (see n. 2, below) and by an endorsement in an unknown hand.
The second volume of the tenth edition of Lyell’s Principles of Geology (Lyell 1867–8) was published between 16 and 31 March 1868 (Publishers’ Circular, 1 April 1868, p. 179). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Lyell’s book was divided into three major subsections, the last of which was titled ‘Changes of the organic world now in progress’ and included chapters 34 to 49 (Lyell 1867–8, 2: 244–613). Lyell discussed different theories of transmutation of species in chapter 35, variation under domestication in chapter 36, and natural selection in chapter 37 (Lyell 1867–8, 2: 261–328); he referred frequently to Variation and Origin.
In the list of additions and corrections in the preface to the second volume (Lyell 1867–8, 2: vii), Lyell mentioned CD’s ‘doctrine of “Pangenesis”, or the manner in which long-lost characters may be revived in the offspring of cross-breeds’.
CD refers to his provisional hypothesis of pangenesis (see Variation 2: 357–404).
CD refers to chapters 36 and 43 (Lyell 1867–8, 2: 284–315, 464–94).


Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


The second volume of Lyell’s [Principles, 10th ed.] gives a "fair history of the progress of opinion on Species".

Pleased by allusion to Pangenesis: "an untried hypothesis is always dangerous ground".

Looks forward to chapter on domestication and on man.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
London, Chester Place, 4
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.349)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6023,” accessed on 27 November 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16