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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   23 November [1859]

Ilkley Wells. | Otley Yorkshire

Nov. 23d

My dear Lyell

You seem to have worked admirably on species-question: there could not have been better plan than reading up on opposed side. I rejoice profoundly that you intend admitting doctrine of modification in your new Edition.1 Nothing, I am convinced, could be more important for its success. I honour you most sincerely:—to have maintained, in the position of a master, one side of a question for 30 years & then deliberately give it up, is a fact, to which I much doubt whether the records of science offer a parallel. For myself, also, I rejoice profoundly; for thinking of the many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years, often & often a cold shudder has run through me & I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy. Now I look at it as morally impossible that investigators of truth like you & Hooker can be wholly wrong; & therefore I feel that I may rest in peace.

Thank you for criticisms, which, if there be 2d. Edit. I will attend to.2 I have been thinking that if I am much execrated as atheist &c, whether the admission of doctrine of natural Selection could injure your Works; but I hope & think not; for as far as I can remember the virulence of bigotry is expended on first offender, & those who adopt his views are only pitied, as deluded, by the wise & cheerful bigots.—

I cannot help thinking that you overrate importance of multiple origin of dogs.3 The only difference is that in case of single origin all difference of the races has originated since man domesticated the species; in the case of multiple origin part of difference was produced under natural conditions.—

I shd infinitely prefer the theory of single origin in all cases; if facts would permit its reception. But there seems to me some a priori improbability, (seeing how fond savages are of taming animals) that througout all time & througout all the world, that man shd have domesticated one single species alone of the widely-distributed genus Canis. Besides this the close resemblance of at least three kinds of American domestic dogs, to wild species still inhabiting the countries where they are now domesticated, seems to almost compel admission that more than one wild Canis has been domesticated by man.—

I thank you cordially for all the generous zeal & interest you have shown about my Book & I remain my dear Lyell | Your affect friend & disciple | Charles Darwin

Sir J. Herschel, to whom I sent copy, is going to read my Book.4 He says he leans to side opposed to me. If you shd. meet him, after he has read me, pray find out what he thinks. For of course he will not write; & I shd excessively like to hear whether I produce any effect on such a mind.5


Lyell’s scientific journals indicate that he intended to address CD’s theory and the question of species transmutation in the next edition of his Principles of geology (Wilson ed. 1970). However, he altered his plans and first discussed CD’s views in his Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863). He expanded upon his discussion in the tenth edition of Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8), completely reworking the chapters in Book III concerning the species question.
CD refers to letters from Charles Lyell, 28 October 1859 and 21 November 1859, and to others that are now missing. At the time this letter was written, CD had apparently not yet received the letter from Charles Lyell, [22 November 1859], since it is only mentioned later, in the letter to Charles Lyell, 24 [November 1859].


Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Thanks CL for his decision to accept CD’s "doctrine of modification" [in Elements of geology, 6th ed. (1865)]. Believes it "morally impossible that investigators of truth, like you and Hooker, can be wholly wrong". Does not think CL’s decision will injure his works.

Thinks CL overrates importance of multiple origin of dogs.

Mentions sending copy of Origin to Herschel. Asks CL about Herschel’s reaction.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.176)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2543,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

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