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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   31 May 1876

Trin. Coll.

Thursd. May. 31. 76.

My dear Father,

I’ve been very lazy about writing but I’ve been so saturated with Mathcs. that I’ve hardly been rational. After untold bunglings I’ve at last got my paper into some sort of shape, & I’ve actually done the fatal deed of writing to Adams.1 I shall be in an awful fright when he looks at it—if he will do so. I have improved the Mathcs. so much that it all deals in generalities up to the last & then by putting a few numbers in a pretty simple formula it comes out at once. I have worked out 5 different kinds of continents in a very short space   The seasons will remain exactly the same, i.e the sun is vertically overhead in the same latitude as before on the 21st. of June; but the Equator is slightly shifted, so that if a man was standing on a spot on the Tropical line during the whole time of the rising of the continent his latitude wd. be slightly altered— In other words the latitude of every place on the globe is changed, but by different amounts in different places.


The greatest result is the one shown in this figure. The world is shown in 2 hemispheres as usual; the shaded part is a shelving table-land with sloping shores & the dotted part is a sea (without any water in it), & the center of the tableland is 10,000 feet high & the center of the sea 10,000 feet deep. Then the change in latitude of the places in the shaded part is 1o35′ & those places wd. have pro tanto a warmer climate. I can see no reason why in geological periods the pole might not wander 5o to 10o from it’s original position. What a change in climate there wd. be in Europe with no Gulf Stream & London in lat. 60o instead of 51o! My formula will do your problem of the present continents2 & what is more to take any combination of them at will, by merely picking a few numbers out of a short table which I propose to make—e.g to combine the rise of S. America with the fall of the Pacific.

I’ve had a very wild idea to-day wh. I shall suggest to Adams. It seems to me that one can connect the obliquity of any one of the planets with its density & if we cd. get their rate of cooling we cd. from their present density & obliquity calculate how long it is since they were nebulous   It’ll probably turn into a gigantic mare’s nest.3 However it’s a big notion & I shall be curious to see what Adams thinks of it.

Horace is so very short in his letter that I don’t make out what’s the matter & whether he’s only a little seedy in his usual manner. I hope we shall manage to try the planet together at Clerkenwell.4

Fred Pollock was here on Sunday & tells me that they got about £500 for Clifford & this will give him a good holiday & a good tip too.5 But as he’s as poor as a rat I think it’s well bestowed. He was also asked by Ed. of the ‘Saturday’ to see if I’d ever review scientific books for him & so I’ve said perhaps. I think rather he was asked to recommend someone. Moulton is so busy with law that he’s had to give it up6

F. Balfour has been made a lecturer, wh. I’m sorry for in some ways, tho’ it’ll be excellent for the place.7

What a monstrous perversion of the Vivisec. Commissions recommendation this bill is.8 Foster says if it passes as it is, it’ll absolutely close the physiolog. School here;9 but I think that’s rather too strong a view. Rayleigh is going to propose a lot of amendments in the Lord’s wh. Frank B. has been talking to him about.10

Frank (D.) was to have come here on Sunday with Crawley but he did’nt come, nor was he at Physiolog. Soc dinner on Friday.11 I do’nt know why.

Yours affectionately | G H Darwin

What big political News!12


George sent a draft of his paper on the effects of geological change on the position of the earth’s axis of rotation (G. H. Darwin 1876b) to John Couch Adams.
CD had asked what the effect would be on the earth’s axis of rotation if the present positions of land and sea were reversed (see letter to G. H. Darwin, 2 May [1876]).
Far from becoming a mare’s nest, George’s idea resulted in his publication ‘On a suggested explanation of the obliquity of planets to their orbits’ (G. H. Darwin 1877).
Horace Darwin had invited George to Clerkenwell, London, to see the machine he had devised to demonstrate planetary motion (letter from Horace Darwin to G. H. Darwin, 25 May 1876 (DAR 258: 861)); on 29 May he sent a telegram to George to cancel the meeting because he was unwell (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [30 May 1876] (DAR 219.9: 135)).
Frederick Pollock was one of William Kingdon Clifford’s closest friends. When Clifford had to take a six-month leave of absence from his job at University College, London, owing to pulmonary disease, Leslie Stephen began a subscription to enable him to travel to Spain and Algiers. (ODNB.)
John Fletcher Moulton had practised as barrister in London since 1874, when he also commenced private experiments in electricity that resulted in his being elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1880 (Moulton 1922, pp. 36. 110–14). Philip Harwood was the editor of the Saturday Review.
Francis Maitland Balfour was appointed lecturer on animal morphology at the University of Cambridge in 1876 (Alum. Cantab.).
The Royal Commission on vivisection had met from July to December 1875, and had submitted a report in January 1876, recommending the regulation of painful experiments on animals under certain conditions (Report of the Royal Commission on vivisection). A bill was presented in the House of Lords on 15 and 22 May that was more restrictive than the Royal Commission’s report recommended, requiring that vivisection only be performed if it promised new discoveries that were medically beneficial, and prohibiting it completely on dogs and cats. For more on the differences between the Royal Commission report and the proposed bill, see French 1975, pp. 115–16.
Michael Foster was praelector in physiology at Trinity College, Cambridge.
John William Strutt, third Baron Rayleigh, and other members of the House of Lords introduced changes to the bill, which was amended further in the House of Commons before passing into legislation in August as the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 (see French 1975, pp. pp. 123–44). Frank B.: Francis Maitland Balfour.
Francis Darwin and Charles Crawley. Francis was unable to attend the dinner of the first annual meeting of the Physiological Society on 26 May 1876 because of a cold (see letter from Francis Darwin, 27 May 1876 and n. 6).
The Times, 31 May 1876, pp. 7 and 11, reported the ‘astounding news’ from Constantinople (now Istanbul) of the deposition on 30 May 1876 of Abdülaziz, sultan of Turkey and ruler of the Ottoman Empire, and of his replacement by Murad V. This event preempted intervention into the affairs of Turkey by the European powers that had ratified a memorandum drawn up in Berlin in early May 1876 threatening such action if Abdülaziz did not quell the insurrection in the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire by introducing reforms. The British government under Benjamin Disraeli had opposed intervention in the affairs of Turkey, and rejected the Berlin Memorandum. Following the deposition of the sultan on 30 May, seen as the beginning of a reformist era in Ottoman affairs, the British refusal to approve the Berlin Memorandum was portrayed as a diplomatic triumph. See Wirthwein 1935, pp. 44–9. The deposition of Abdülaziz, and the threat of war receding, led to an increase in the stock market, especially in railway stocks and shares (The Times, 31 May 1876, p.12).


Alum. Cantab.: Alumni Cantabrigienses. A biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1922–54.

Darwin, George Howard. 1877. On a suggested explanation of the obliquity of planets to their orbits. Philosophical Magazine 5th ser. 3: 188–92.

French, Richard D. 1975. Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian society. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Moulton, Hugh Fletcher. 1922. The life of Lord Moulton. London: Nisbet & Co.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Report of the Royal Commission on vivisection: Report of the Royal Commission on the practice of subjecting live animals to experiments for scientific purposes; with minutes of evidence and appendix; 1876 (C.1397, C.1397-1) XLI.277, 689. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.

Wirthwein, Walter George. 1935. Britain and the Balkan crisis: 1875–1878. New York: Columbia University Press.


His paper on the alterations of the poles and changes in level of continents is in shape.

Sends Cambridge news.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 53
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10519,” accessed on 28 March 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24