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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. H. Howorth   31 December 1873

Derby House Eccles

Decr 31st/73.

My dear Mr Darwin.

I have been away from home for a few days and only received your letter late last night.1

I am writing to thank you very much for the references you have kindly sent me and unless you object I should like in the next letter to Nature to refer to your having previously suggested the corresponding elevation of continents & sinking of the larger oceans.2 The most valuable facts about South America which we owe to you I have in great part abstracted and hope to print them in a paper on the Elevation of the Southern Circumpolar region for the Geographical Society3

The conclusion to which I have come that volcanoes are not found in areas of upheaval, may I think be reconciled with your conclusion previously unknown to me that they are absent from areas of subsidence by an alternative which I meant to state if I did not namely that they are found along the boundary lines between rising and sinking land and perhaps are the vent holes along the fissures by which the heat generated by contraction escapes. I was much startled by a paper in the Philosophical Magazine of last year proving that a contraction of the diameter of the sun to the extent of about 172 feet annually would suffice to produce the terrific heat evolved by it.4 To this I shall refer at greater length in Nature. The most curious part of generalization I arrived at if it be proved by subsequent experiments to be right is that the focus of elevation is in the polar regions and gradually diminishes towards the Equator coinciding with the focus of magnetic intensity but I am most unreasonably boring you with my crudities   it is perhaps natural that a young scholar who owes more than he can tell to your writings should presume somewhat upon your forbearance when he is honoured by becoming your correspondent. I was very sorry to hear from Dawkins5 that you were an invalid. I hope that the cheerful weather we have had lately will have reached you & benefited you. Here we live in a kind of Bastion exiled from the centres of science and art, but we have a few good men, some of whom you will know Roscoe Binny6 and others. Binny told me a curious fact yesterday namely that a long time before the trees in Lancashire die, (you are aware that trees are disappearing most rapidly from the South of the County) they become barren. Oaks beeches etc have ceased for many years to bear fruit in places where swine were formerly fattened on acorns & beech must. This has a curious connection surely with the growing barrenness of the New Zealand women on which I have a very interesting government report.7 and of a similar barrenness in the Sandwich islands.8 and this seems at issue with the mass of facts that prove that dying trees and sickening animals are most fruitful.

I hope at any time that you will make any use of me you can down here. & that you will not fail to let me know if you should ever come within reach of Manchester.

The only book you refer to that I have not seen is one on the geological formation of small islands, I should feel obliged for its full title & will then get it.9 With all the good wishes of the season and many apologies for trespassing so much on your time | I remain | Yours very respectfully | Henry H. Howorth

C Darwin Esq. F.R.S


CD’s letter has not been found, but evidently contained references for Howorth on the topic of volcanoes. Howorth had written a letter, ‘The distribution of volcanoes’, that appeared in Nature, 25 December 1873, pp. 141–2.
In a letter, ‘The shrinking of the Earth and terrestrial magnetism’ (Nature, 15 January 1874, pp. 201–2), Howorth referred to information received in a letter from CD concerning the absence of volcanoes in areas of subsidence, as well as CD’s conclusion that the great continents were rising while the ocean beds were sinking.
Howorth’s paper, ‘Recent changes in the southern circumpolar region’, appeared in 1874 in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and referred to CD’s discussion in Journal of researches 2d ed. of the evidence for the recent elevation of the coast of parts of South America (Howorth 1874, pp. 255–6).
Howorth may refer to an article, ‘The source of solar heat’, in Philosophical Magazine (M. Hall 1872), but the author there claimed that a contraction of 129 feet per annum was sufficient to generate the heat produced by the sun.
William Boyd Dawkins.
Henry Enfield Roscoe and Edward William Binney.
Francis Dart Fenton had reported on the state of the aboriginal inhabitants of New Zealand (Fenton 1859). CD cited Fenton’s report in Descent 2d ed., p. 184 n. 40.
The Sandwich Islands are now Hawaii.
Howorth probably refers to James Dwight Dana’s Corals and coral islands (Dana 1872). In an annotation to an earlier letter from Howorth, CD had written ‘Dana’s work’, probably as a reminder to mention the book (see Correspondence vol. 20, letter from H. H. Howorth, 30 July 1872 and n. 5).


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

Dana, James Dwight. 1872. Corals and coral islands. New York: Dodd & Mead.

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Fenton, Francis Dart. 1859. Observations on the state of the aboriginal inhabitants of New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Government.

Hall, Maxwell. 1872. The source of solar heat. Philosophical Magazine 4th ser. 43: 476–8.

Howorth, Henry Hoyle. 1874. Recent changes in the southern circumpolar region. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 44: 252–62.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.


Thanks CD for subsidence references in response to HHH’s Nature paper ["The distribution of volcanoes", 9 (1874): 141–2].

Hopes to refer to CD’s having previously suggested the corresponding elevation of continents and sinking of the larger oceans in his next letter to Nature [9 (1874): 201–2]. Occurrence of volcanoes at boundary between rising and sinking lands reconciles his views with CD’s.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Hoyle Howorth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 166: 278
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9194,” accessed on 24 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21