skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To the Secretary, Royal Society1   5 March 1858

Down Bromley Kent

March 5. 1858

Dear Sir

Prof. Smyth’s observations on the Geology & Natural History of Teneriffe do not appear to me precise enough, owing no doubt to the author’s attention having been directed to other objects, for publication in the Philosophical Transactions.2 For instance in the remarks on “Craters of Elevation”, masses of rock & subordinate craters are spoken of as of submarine origin, without any sort of evidence having been advanced: the continuity of not one single sheet of lava in the ancient cliffs of the great crater seems to have been noticed; the proportional width of the radial valleys to the whole crater is not noticed, &c.; and even the remarks on the subsided masses on one side of the Taoro valley,—the most interesting case in the paper—are not given in sufficient detail for anyone, in my opinion, to judge whether they bear out the author’s view that the whole width of the valley has subsided.3 Nor do the observations on the Vegetation appear to me sufficiently novel to deserve publication.

I would suggest that the Author should be asked to draw up an abstract for the Proceedings of any points actually observed by him, rather than of the conclusions, which he has arrived at from, as far as it appears, hardly sufficient grounds.4 The supposed marks of ancient Glaciers should be noticed in any abstract, in order to draw the attention of any future observers. An abstract might be given on the rate of growth of the Dragon-tree.—5

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin To the | Secretary, Royal Society

P.S The paper is returned by the same Post, which takes this.—


George Gabriel Stokes and William Sharpey were the secretaries of the Royal Society in 1858.
Charles Piazzi Smyth had travelled to Tenerife in 1856 in order to make astronomical observations for the British Admiralty. His report included remarks on the natural history and geology of the island. An abstract of the report had been read at a meeting of the Royal Society on 15 June 1857 (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 8 (1856–7): 528–9), and Smyth evidently submitted the full version of his natural history observations to be considered for publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. His astronomical results were written up separately and published in Smyth 1858a.
Charles Lyell later criticised Smyth’s views on subsidence, published in Smyth 1858b, and cited many of the same points that CD raises (see C. Lyell 1859a).
Smyth did not submit an abstract further to the one already published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (see n. 2, above). Instead, he added privately printed notes on natural history to copies of his astronomical paper (Smyth 1858a) and also discussed these topics in his personal account of the expedition (Smyth 1858b).
Smyth published his observations on the dragon-tree in Smyth 1860 and those on the fossils of Tenerife in Smyth 1859.


Smyth, Charles Piazzi. 1859. Teneriffe fossils and Sir Charles Lyell’s notice in the Philosophical Magazine for July 1859. Philosophical Magazine 18: 127–8.

Smyth, Charles Piazzi. 1860. On the manner of growth of Dracæna draco in its natural habitat, as illustrating some disputed points in vegetable physiology. Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh 6: 250–62.


C. P. Smyth’s observations on geology and natural history of Tenerife are not precise enough to warrant publication in Philosophical Transactions. Suggests CPS draw up an abstract, for the Proceedings, of specific points actually observed, rather than conclusions arrived at on insufficient grounds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Royal Society of London
Sent from
Source of text
The Royal Society (RR3: 255)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2234,” accessed on 5 July 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7