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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Orton   31 March 1870

Vassar College. | Poughkeepsie, N.Y.,

Mch. 31st 1870

My dear Sir

I wish to thank you for your very great favor of Feb. 24th and for speaking so kindly of my little work.1 I am not blind to its shortcomings, and I trust you will remember it was designed only as a popular description of Equatorial America: details of Science were left to “Bulletins” and “Proceedings”.

If “The Andes and the Amazon” possesses any merit, it should be known that it was written under the inspiration of your own delightful “Voyage”.2

It is not necessary to say that your works are extensively read and thoroughly appreciated in America—

As to the Horse’s tooth from the Valley of Quito, I am of course very anxious to secure Professor Huxley’s opinion;3 yet I should be very sorry to add even a straw to the burden of a man so valuable to Science. I expect you to keep the specimen; and whenever you obtain a judgment upon it, should be glad to learn the decision. I am curious to know if it is distinct from the species found in the lowlands of eastern South America.

I wrote Mr. Hauxwell—the noted English Collector of thirty years residence on the Amazon and now hunting for me, to examine for fossil shells on the Marañon, and Ambiyacu.4 In his reply received a few days ago, he says: I have collected quite a lot of fossil shells for you about thirty miles below Pebas on the opposite side of the river—some large ones; and have been told they are found at Omaguas up the Maranon near Iquitos, and also up the Ambiyacu above Pebas.”5

So that my discovery is confirmed— I have not found a single Naturalist in America who holds Agassiz’s Theory of the Amazon Valley—6

With Sentiments of profound respect, I have the honor to be | Your obedient Servant | James Orton.

Charles Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

Verso of last page: ‘Huxley’ pencil


Orton refers to CD’s letter to him of 24 February [1870], and to his The Andes and the Amazon (Orton 1870).
Orton refers to CD’s Journal of researches.
Orton refers to Thomas Henry Huxley; see letter to James Orton, 24 February [1870] and n. 4.
Orton refers to John Hauxwell. He discussed the finding of fossil shells in the Amazon region in Orton 1870, pp. 282–3. See also Correspondence vol. 17, letter from James Orton, 4 January 1869. Marañnón is a river in Peru, tributary to the Amazon. The Ambiyacu is a river in the Amazon region.
Pebas and Omaguas are towns, and Iquitos a city, in the Loreto province of north-eastern Peru.
Louis Agassiz believed that the sandstone deposits in the Amazon had resulted from glacial drift and showed no sign of marine origin (see J. L. R. Agassiz and Agassiz 1868, pp. 250, 411, and 424, and Orton 1870, p. 282).


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

Orton, James. 1870. The Andes and the Amazon; or, across the continent of South America. New York: Harper.


JO found fossil shells in the Amazon Valley, which discredits Agassiz’s claim of a glacial origin.

Would like Huxley’s opinion of the fossil horse’s tooth from Quito.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Orton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Vassar College
Source of text
DAR 173: 39
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7157,” accessed on 23 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18