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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   [15 or 22 September 1843]1

Down, Bromley Kent


My dear Lyell

I have nothing particular to tell you & I do not know whether you are still at Kinnordy, but I must write a few lines, if it is only to tell you that we are alive. I have not been up to town for a long time, owing to our daily-expected confinement, which I heartily wish was over. Beseech MrsLyell to write from your dictation some account of your doings, since leaving London.— The geolog. department of the Brit. Assoc struck me as rather poor; but the other sections very interesting: Zoology was better than it usually is.2 Talking of zoology reminds me that I have had sanguine letters from Waterhouse, who speaks most gratefully (as he ought) of your exertions for him. He expresses a strong hope, that if he gets the place through you, that he may be thrown into your acquaintance & he adds in that case he “shall enjoy his seven shillings a day from the British Museum, as much as most men would ten times the sum”.3

I heard from Lonsdale yesterday; the end of his letter is written in a forlorn spirit He says he is working at a very fine series of Touraine corals (I suppose yours) & that he thinks he is arriving at satisfactory conclusions. Forbes has lent him his recent Mediterranean species.—4 As yet he has only made (if I understand rightly) one identification with recent species & that with a curious, undescribed Escharina from Dartmouth harbour!—

An interesting fact, has lately, as it were, passed through my hands; a Mr Kemp (almost a working man) who has written on “parallel roads” & has corresponded with me, sent me in the Spring some seeds,5 with an account of the spot, where they were found, namely in a layer at the bottom of a deep sand pit, near Melrose, above the level of the river, & which sand-pit he thinks must have been accu- mulated in a lake, when the whole features of the valleys were different— —ages ago, since which whole barriers of rock, it appears, must have been worn down— These seeds germinated freely; & I sent some to Hort. Soc. & Lindley writes to me, that they turn out to be a common Rumex & a species of Atriplex, which neither he, or Henslow (As I have since heard) have ever seen, & certainly not a British plant!!6 Does this not look like the revivification of a fossil seed? It is not surprising, I think, that seeds shd last ten or twenty thousand, as they have lasted two or three in the Druidical mounds & have germinated.—7

When not building, I have been working at my volumecito on the volcanic islands, which we visited; it is almost ready for press; I began working at the M.S. last October, which M.S. I thought two years previously was fit for publication! I have cut away & shortened at a good rate: Lonsdale is going describe a few corallines from a (mountain limestone?) series from Van Diemen’s Land:8 I hope you will read my volume for if you don’t, I cannot think of anyone else who will!—

We have at last got our house & place tolerably comfortable; & I am well satisfied with our anchorage for life. What an autumn we have had; completely Chilian; here we have had not a drop of rain, or a cloudy day for a month— I am positively tired of the fine weather & long for the sight of mud, almost as much as I did when in Peru.

With kind remembrances to Mrs Lyell | Ever yours C. Darwin

If still at Kinnordy pray give my respectful compliments to Mr. Lyell.


Dated from Lyell’s endorsement and the reference to the imminent confinement of Emma Darwin. Henrietta Emma Darwin was born on 25 September 1843.
The British Association had met in August in Cork.
On Waterhouse’s appointment, see letter to G. R. Waterhouse, [November 1843].
Edward Forbes had served as naturalist in the H.M.S. Beacon survey of the Mediterranean from April 1841 to October 1842.
The longevity of seeds was of great interest to naturalists, see Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix VI. According to Stearn 1966, it is unlikely that seeds over 400 years old would germinate.
William Lonsdale, ‘Description of six species of corals, from the Palaeozoic formation of Van Diemen’s Land’, in Volcanic islands, pp. 161–9.


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

Stearn, William T. 1966. Investigations of the viability of ancient seeds. Gardeners’ Chronicle (15 June): 609–10


Mentions expected birth of child [Henrietta Emma].

BAAS meeting.

Comments on letters from G. R. Waterhouse and William Lonsdale.

Describes survival of apparently "fossil" seeds sent by W. Kemp.

Is at work on MS [of Volcanic islands].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.32)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 696,” accessed on 30 September 2023,

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