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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Tylor   8 June 1872

Shepley House | Carshalton

June 8 1872

My dear Sir

My brother E B Tylor has mentioned to me that you are not disinclined to look into the evidence for a “Pluvial Period”   This term has been adopted, since I first introduced it, by Prof Morris & Prof T. R Jones in their lectures and in the Geol. Magazine, by Prof Phillips in his lectures and in his new book1

It has met with great opposition at the Geological Society and I have had the greatest difficulty to get any allusion to it permitted in the Quarterly Journal.2 As Mr Belgrand was 20 years later than myself in his idea of great rainfall I thought the late president might have put in a note of reference to some of the papers of which I enclose a list as the argument of Belgrand in 1870 was the same as my own in 18533

I suppose on account of my having opposed the High & low level gravel theory of Prestwich & Lyell some years since (which is now rarely mentioned by any of its supporters) there has been a feeling of opposition against the Wet period as being in bad company4

My paper, which the Council refused to publish Nov 1868 contains some important evidence new facts, & new reasoning, and I hope the Council will allow it to be published as a postponed paper.5 I wish your friend Sir C Lyell would look into the whole subject & particularly at the points of difference—

I have a paper coming on at the Civil Engineers on the Flow of Water and have many new facts about rivers. The Somerset House authorities make such a favour of publishing any thing in the river way that I am obliged to send my paper elsewhere.6 If more mechanical views & reasoning were admitted & considered some of the unsettled questions might be solved in geology.

Mr Lumb of Buenos Ayres died at Carshalton 2 months since   He mentioned you to me in his last illness with great affection7 | Yours Truly Alfred Tylor


Edward Burnett Tylor had visited CD on 6 June 1872 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). In a series of papers read in 1867 and 1868, Alfred Tylor theorised that early post-glacial river gravel deposits could be explained by a ‘Pluvial’ period of higher than normal rainfall (A.Tylor 1867, 1868a, 1868b, 1868c). John Morris was professor of geology at University College, London, and Thomas Rupert Jones was professor of geology at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; the term appears in a report of a Geologists’ Association excursion to Guildford led by Morris (Geological Magazine 6 (1869): 331–3), in a paper ‘On the primæval rivers of Britain’ by Jones (T. R. Jones 1870), and in the report of a lecture by Jones on the geology of the Kingsclere valley (Geological Magazine 8 (1871): 511–15). John Phillips, professor of geology at Oxford, used the term in his Geology of Oxford and the valley of the Thames (Phillips 1871, p. 492).
An abstract of Tylor’s paper on the Quaternary gravels of England, read at the meeting of the Geological Society of London on 6 May 1868, was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (A. Tylor 1868a); it was published in full in the next volume (A. Tylor 1868b). In the discussion following the reading of the paper all nine recorded speakers disagreed with Tylor’s thesis, including Joseph Prestwich, William Boyd Dawkins, Charles Lyell, and Searles Valentine Wood (1830–84) (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 24 (1868): 456).
Tylor read a paper at the Geological Society in December 1852 on the causes of sea-level change and denudation, but it was withdrawn from publication and appeared only as an abstract in the 1853 volume of the society’s Journal (A. Tylor 1852). The abstract does not make explicit reference to a sustained period of increased rainfall. In a recent address to the Geological Society, the outgoing president, Joseph Prestwich, had referred to claims by the French hydrologist François-Eugène Belgrand that evidence from the Seine basin suggested rainfall in the early post-glacial period had been substantially heavier than in modern times (Prestwich 1872, p. lxviii; see also Belgrand 1869). The enclosed list has not been found, but see n. 6, below.
Prestwich, followed by Lyell, had identified two distinct levels of gravel deposits along the river Somme that they considered to be of glacial origin but of different ages (Prestwich 1859, 1862; C. Lyell 1863, pp. 130–44). Tylor had challenged this view, arguing that the gravel deposits were more recent than Prestwich and Lyell suggested, were all of the same age, and were the result of flooding (A. Tylor 1866 and 1867; see also A. Tylor 1872, pp. 498–9).
A paper by Tylor on the formation of deltas was read at the Geological Society meeting of 11 November 1868, but only an abstract of it was published by the society (A. Tylor 1868c); a full version of the paper appeared in the Geological Magazine in 1872, together with an appendix outlining Tylor’s view of the disputes surrounding it (A. Tylor 1872).
The Geological Society had rooms in Somerset House on the Strand in London until 1874. There are no papers by Tylor recorded in the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and no paper on water flow is listed in the bibliography attached to his obituary (Geological Magazine 2 (1885): 142–4).
CD had stayed with Edward Lumb in Buenos Ayres in 1833 during the voyage of HMS Beagle; Lumb had arranged for some of CD’s fossil specimens to be shipped to Britain (Correspondence vol. 1, letter from Edward Lumb, 13 November 1833, and letter from Edward Lumb to J. S. Henslow, 2 May 1834).


Belgrand, François-Eugène. 1869. La Seine. I, Le bassin parisien aux âges antéhistoriques. Paris: Imprimerie Impériale.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Jones, Thomas Rupert. 1870. On the primæval rivers of Britain. Geological Magazine 7: 371–6.

Phillips, John. 1871. Geology of Oxford and the valley of the Thames. Oxford: Clarenden Press.

Prestwich, Joseph. 1859. On the occurrence of flint implements, associated with the remains of animals of extinct species in beds of a late geological period, in France at Amiens and Abbeville, and in England at Hoxne. [Read 26 May 1859.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 150 (1860): 277–317.

Prestwich, Joseph. 1872. Anniversary address of the president. [Read 16 February 1872.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 28: xxix–xc.

Tylor, Alfred. 1852. On changes of the sea level effected by existing physical causes during stated periods of time. Abstract. [Read 15 December 1852.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 9 (1853): 47–9.

Tylor, Alfred. 1866. On the interval of time which has passed between the formation of the upper and lower valley-gravels of part of England and France. [Read 25 April 1866.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 22: 463–8.

Tylor, Alfred. 1867. On the Amiens gravel. [Read 6 November 1867.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 24 (1868): 1–2, 103–25.

Tylor, Alfred. 1872. On the formation of deltas: and on the evidence and cause of great changes in the sea-level during the glacial period. Geological Magazine 9: 392–9, 485–501.


AT is trying to publish his paper with important evidence on "the pluvial period".

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Tylor
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 199
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8376,” accessed on 11 December 2019,

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