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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. C. Symmes   6 February 1874

Hamburg v. d. Höhe

6 2. 1874

Mr. Darwin,

Honored Sir.

I take the liberty of sending you an extract entire, from the “Louisville (Kentucky) Commercial of 15.1.74”, (just sent me by my eldest brother), and will ask you if you are the “Dr. Darwin” mentioned therein: and of asking what is the “Golden Secret”?1 I read the/your name when a boy—(& am now 50)—of course, & always ‘wondered’. I know the idea on which your present great renown rests—only superficially, I must confess, however; for I have been always inclined to such, as the only “skylight” I could see in “a’ this muddle”,—Nature and thus, I needed no demonstration—and I bid you and your Idea the very heartiest “God-speed!” possible.

I am a graduate of West Point, (1847) a ‘retired’ officer of the Ordnance Corps, and a Physicist, durch liebe.2 I profess to have the idea—which is as weighty, physically, as yours is, psychically—that “all atoms revolve”. To demonstrate this truth visibly—to the bodily eye—is the aim of my life, now. It has other things in its train, of which there is no need to speak— I have been, long, drawn to write you, but had no decent excuse. And I now embrace this bit of a one, to hold my open palm to you—contrary to my practise, as to the English I have met—as becomes the younger man, to his bigger, elder, brother-Naturforscher.3

You—of “Beagle” memory—were often mentioned to me in 1840–5, by Dr. Hunter, of Kentucky,4 always, with honor. He was “a most remarkable man”—see Dickens, for explanation of this adjective in America5—and many thought him ‘cracked’, but not I.

You may recollect to have heard of “Symmes’s Hole”, in its day. My father died in "29. If my “demonstration” is ever made, as I hope to make it, it will also show the truth or falsity of his inferences as to the Earth’s Crust. Excuse me that I “speak in riddles”. I know that I am talking to “a fellow of infinite”—patience.

Respectfully | Jno. Cleves Symmes | Capt. U.S. Army.

P.S. To correct the point. The first John Cleves Symmes, who owned all the land between the two Miami rivers, and founded Cincinnati thereon, was my father Jno. Cleves Symmeses Uncle; & also father-in-law to President Harrison.6


Symmes’s eldest brother was probably Americus Symmes. In the Louisville Commercial, 15 January 1874, p. 7, an article appeared headed ‘An interesting relic’, in which was reproduced an 1818 circular by John Cleves Symmes (1780–1829) about his hollow-earth theory, popularly known as Symmes’ Hole. In the circular, Symmes announced that he had ready for the press a treatise in which he would prove his theory, and also disclose ‘Doctor Darwin’s Golden Secret’. Symmes’s treatise was never published, but ‘Doctor Darwin’s Golden Secret’ was apparently an allusion to Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic garden (E. Darwin 1789–91), part 1, canto 4, IX.1, which refers to the ‘Golden Secret’ of ‘the chain, that binds, Or guides the changeful pinions of the winds’. Symmes accounted for the long continuation of some winds, and regular monsoons, by winds being sucked into one polar opening in the hollow earth and discharged through the other ([McBride] 1826, p. 36; see also Sinnema n.d.).
Durch Liebe: for love (German).
Naturforscher: natural scientist (German).
Dr Hunter of Kentucky has not been identified. CD took part in the voyage of HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836 (see Correspondence vol. 1).
Symmes probably refers to Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, in which the phrase ‘one of the most remarkable men in our country’ is used of several characters (Dickens 1844, pp. 202, 205, 206, 262, 390, 396).
John Cleves Symmes (1742–1814), who migrated to Ohio in 1788 (ANB), was the uncle of Symmes’s father, John Cleves Symmes (1780–1829). Symmes also refers to William Henry Harrison.


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

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

Darwin, Erasmus. 1789–91. The botanic garden; a poem, in two parts. Pt 1. The economy of vegetation. London: J. Johnson. 1791. Pt 2. The loves of the plants. With philosophical notes. Lichfield: J. Jackson. 1789.

Dickens, Charles. 1844. The life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. London: Chapman and Hall.

[McBride, James.] 1826. Symmes’s theory of concentric spheres: demonstrating that the earth is hollow, habitable within, and widely open about the poles. Cincinnati: Morgan, Lodge and Fisher.

Sinnema, Peter W. n.d. 10 April 1818: John Cleves Symmes’s ‘No. 1 circular’. BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Edited by Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. (accessed 2 January 2013).


Believes that he has an important physical theory: all atoms revolve.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Cleves Symmes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 339
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9269,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22