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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Maclaren1   [c. February 1843]2

Dear Sir

PS. Wd you be so kind sometime to return me this, as I shd be very sorry to be without a copy


This note is written in pencil on CD’s annotated copy of a pamphlet reprint of Maclaren’s review of Coral reefs in the Scotsman (Maclaren 1842). CD’s annotations, which appear to be addressed to the author, generally suggest some restatements of the text, e.g., ‘frequently’ for ‘occasionally’; ‘nearly’ and ‘in most cases’, where the text has no qualification. Where Maclaren had stated that the word ‘atoll’ is ‘borrowed from the South Sea Islanders’, CD has written ‘No! inhabitants of the coral-islands in the [’middle of the‘ del] Indian Ocean.’ Where Maclaren had cited the case of 20 atolls forming ‘one vast atoll … with a lagoon in the interior of unfathomable depth’, CD has written, ‘probably not correct, [’or‘ del] not quite justifiable; too bold’, and added, ‘I have thrown out as mere speculation that these atolls have originated by the subsidence of [’a reef‘ del], one great isld. but it [above del ’there‘] is rather [above del ’no trace‘] too bold to call the space between the two rows of atolls a lagoon’. Maclaren’s paragraph describing fringing reefs was deleted by CD and, on a separate piece of paper (DAR 69: 54), CD suggested it be replaced by: “Fringing reefs” resemble barrier reefs except in being of less dimensions; where the adjoining sea is deep, they extend a very little distance from the shore, & have no interior lagoon channel; where the sea is shallow, they extend further, & they then have an interior lagoon channel, but this is never of considerable depth, namely above four fathoms & very seldom above two fathoms. Finally, where Maclaren has characterised volcanoes as ‘agents of elevation’, CD has written, ‘Is it not more probable, that Volcanos are one of the effects of some primary cau[se]?— Remember Scandinavian elevation. I send you a copy of a paper of mine, wh. bears on this subject.—’ This last probably refers to ‘On the connexion of certain volcanic phenomena’, Collected papers 1: 53–86, which concludes that volcanoes and mountain-chains are secondary effects of ‘one great motive power’ (p. 80).
Dated on the assumption that the postscript and annotations (described in n. 1, above) were written after publication of Maclaren 1843, since CD’s annotations contain some factual corrections that Maclaren would probably have included in his version for the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal had he received them before publication.


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

Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Maclaren, Charles. 1842. Coral islands. (From the Scotsman of 29 October and 9 November 1842). Pamphlet reprint. [Edinburgh.]

Maclaren, Charles. 1843. On coral islands and reefs, as described by Mr Darwin. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 34: 33–47.


[Written on CD’s annotated copy of a pamphlet reprint of CM’s review of Coral reefs.] CD asks CM to return the pamphlet to him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Maclaren
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 69: A94v
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 661,” accessed on 25 February 2021,

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