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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   10 May [1872]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 10th

My dear Lyell

I received yesterday morning your present of that work, to which I for one, as well as so many others, owe a debt of gratitude never to be forgotten.—2 I have read with the greatest interest all the special additions; & I wish with all my heart that I had the strength & time to read again every word of the whole book. I do not agree with all your criticisms on natural selection; nor do I suppose that you would expect me to do so. We must be content to differ on several points. I differ most about your difficulty (p. 496) on higher grades of organisation being evolved out of lower ones.3 Is not a very clever man a grade above a very dull one; & would not the accumulation of a large number of slight differences of this kind lead to a great difference in the grade of organization? And I suppose that you will admit that the difference in the brain of a clever & dull man is not much more wonderful than the difference in the length of the noses of any two men. Of course there remains the impossibility of explaining at present why one man has a longer nose than another. But it is foolish in me to trouble you with these remarks, which have probably often passed through your mind. The end of this chapter (XLIII) strikes me as admirable & grandly written.4

I wish you joy at having completed your gigantic undertaking, & remain my dear Lyell, Your ever faithful & now very old pupil | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the reference to the eleventh edition of Lyell’s Principles of geology, which was published in 1872 (C. Lyell 1872).
There is a annotated copy of the eleventh edition of Lyell’s Principles of geology in the Darwin Library–CUL (C. Lyell 1872; see Marginalia 1: 544–5). CD had had a copy of the first volume of the first edition (C. Lyell 1830–3) with him on the Beagle (see Correspondence vol. 1); this copy is also in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 530–1).
In C. Lyell 1872, 2: 501 (end of chapter 43), Lyell pointed out that scientific discoveries and new theories were often resisted, and wished that they might instead be welcomed, even if they offended the supposed dignity of the human race.


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

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Lyell, Charles. 1872. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 11th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.


Comments on CL’s Principles of geology, 11th ed.

Discusses natural selection in man.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.415)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8314,” accessed on 14 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20