skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   25 [November 1859]

Ilkley Wells House | Otley, Yorkshire


My dear Lyell

I have received your letter of the 24th. 1 It is no use trying to thank you; your kindness is beyond thanks. I will certainly leave out Whale & Bear.—2

With respect to Pheasants crossing, I have inserted a sentence: in my fuller M.S. I have the case worked out at length. The Japan & English pheasant are utterly dissimilar, & the other two must be considered as close but distinct species. There is no doubt about their blending; but whether the exact half-bred birds would be quite fertile int se I could not make out. In whole districts our English pheasant P. Colchicus has, I think certainly been modified by crossing with P. torquatus.3

But as my M.S is at home I fear I can now add nothing, even if I had time. So it must be with mistaken instincts.4 I should like to tell you one funny blunder in instinct of Wood ant, which I made out last summer. (No, it is too long story).—5

The Edition was 1250 copies. When I was in spirits I sometimes fancied that my book wd be successful; but I never even built a castle-in-the air of such success as it has met with; I do not mean the sale, but the impression it has made on you (whom I have always looked at as chief judge) & Hooker & Huxley. The whole has infinitely exceeded my wildest hopes.—

Farewell.— I am tired for I have been going over the sheets.— My kind friend farewell | Yours | C. Darwin


Lyell’s letter has not been found.
The passage occurs in Origin, p. 184: In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, … I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale. In the second edition, CD inserted ‘almost’ before ‘like a whale’ in the first sentence and deleted the second sentence. CD later regretted having done so, but it was never restored in subsequent English editions (see Peckham ed. 1959, p. 333).
Lyell had questioned CD closely on the implications for CD’s species theory of hybrid sterility and the laws of variation. See letters from Charles Lyell, 28 October 1859 and 21 November 1859. CD discussed his views on the topic in his letter to Charles Lyell, 23 November [1859]. In Origin, p. 253, CD stated that pheasants were a genus in which hybrids were perfectly fertile. In the second edition, CD added an extra sentence: ‘There is no doubt that these three pheasants, namely, the common, the true ring-necked, and the Japan, intercross, and are becoming blended together in the woods of several parts of England.’ (Origin 2d ed., p. 253; Peckham ed. 1959, p. 433).
Lyell had offered several examples in response to CD’s remark in Origin, p. 211, that ‘certain instincts cannot be considered as absolutely perfect; but as details on this and other such points are not indispensable, they may be here passed over.’ See letter from Charles Lyell, [22 November 1859].
CD refers to observations of Formica rufa made during his stay at Moor Park in July 1859. He saw large numbers of ants labouring to carry pupa-cases unnecessarily long distances from the nest, seemingly in mistaken imitation of the instinct for transporting pupae to new nests. His note describing this case, headed ‘July 23/59/’ and marked ‘Mistaken Instinct’, is in DAR 205.11 (2): 96.


Origin 2d ed.: 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. 1860.

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.


Discusses corrections for second edition [of Origin]. Will leave out the reference to whale and bear. Discusses pheasant crosses. Success of the book.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.179)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2552,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

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