skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   14 [June 1860]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Lyell

We have been grievously disappointed in Etty having retrograded a little.1 I cannot work, so will pass a little time in scribbling to you.—   I copy extract from letter of Blyth, who expresses much gratitude to you for interest about the Chinese Expedition.—2 I enclose letter of Hopkins, thinking that you might like to see it.— I fancy he is horrified about man; I have told him that I thought man must be included under same category with animals.3

I return by this Post 4 Pamphlets (Binney sent today by mistake in duplicate).4 I do not see much in Binney. Lowels review is pleasantly written; but it is clear he is not naturalist.5 He quite overlooks the importance of accumulation of mere individual differences; & which I think I can show is great agency of change under domestication. It is no wonder Agassiz denies varieties in animals, when he calls even the same forms in two distant countries, two species.—6

I have not finished Schaafhausen,7 as I read German so badly: I have ordered copy for self & shd. like to keep yours till my own arrives; but will return it to you instantly if wanted.— He admits statements rather rashly, as I daresay I do.—   I see only one sentence as yet at all approaching nat. selection.8

There is notice of me in penultimate nor of “All the Year Round”, but not worth consulting; chiefly a well-done hash of my own words.—9 Your last note was very interesting & consolatory to me.10

I have expressly stated that I believe physical conditions have more direct effect on Plants than on animals.—   But the more I study the more I am led to think that natural selection regulates in a state of nature most trifling differences.—   As squared stones, or bricks, or timber are the indispensable materials for a building & influence its character; so is variability not only indispensable, but influential; Yet, in same manner, as the architect is the all-important person in a Building, so is Selection with organic bodies.—

I do not in least understand what A. Murray meant by Agassiz & ab ovo; but I did not much puzzle my brains on subject.—11

My dear Lyell | Yours affect. | C. Darwin

Blyth says in Sabines Translation of Wrangell’s Voyage Introduction p. 117 there is account of Flint tool fd. in ice.—12 Bears perhaps or Mastodon in ice &c. Worth looking to, I shd think    Blyth thinks Esquimaux had no iron tools, when first discovered, refers to some Essay by Sir J. Richardson13


Edward Blyth’s letter has not been found, but see the letter to Charles Lyell, 1 [June 1860].
William Hopkins’s letter has not been found. In the second part of his review of Origin (Hopkins 1860, 62: 88), Hopkins stated that he considered ‘the most difficult and most important point’ of any transformist theory was ‘the transition in passing up to man from the animals next beneath him, not to man considered merely as a physical organism, but to man as an intellectual and moral being.’
[Lowell] 1860. The wealthy Bostonian John Amory Lowell was a patron of the sciences, particularly of botany. He was an active member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Dupree 1959).
Louis Agassiz often described as two species forms that would today be identified as geographical varieties or subspecies. See Winsor 1979, p. 105.
CD’s copy of Schaaffhausen 1853 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Bound with it is a manuscript translation of pp. 423–4, possibly in the hand of Camilla Ludwig, the Darwins’ governess. CD marked on the translation the following passage: ‘Many species may have kept true during a long period, only a few individuals, with a gradually changing formation, may have separated from them, and thus new varieties or species may have been formed beside the original species. Species are independent, without connecting links, (gradual transitions) because these have not been preserved’. CD quoted this statement in the revised historical sketch he added to the third edition of Origin (1861).
All the Year Round was a popular weekly magazine edited by Charles Dickens. The unsigned notice appeared in the issue of 2 June 1860 (All the Year Round 3 (1860): 175–8, 293–9).
Lyell’s letter has not been found.
The passage reads (Murray 1860a, p. 290): The distinctive character of Mr Darwin’s theory is not development ex ovo; that is the theory of Oken, of Agassiz, of the author of the “Vestiges of Creation”; … of Bonnet and of Priestley, who .   .   . held “that all the germs of future plants, organical bodies of all kinds, and the reproducible parts of them, were really contained in the first germ.” Andrew Murray refers to Lorenz Oken, Louis Agassiz, Robert Chambers, Charles Bonnet, and Joseph Priestley.
Sabine ed. 1840, p. cxvii. The book had been translated from Wrangel 1839 by Elizabeth Juliana Sabine. CD first read this work in 1840 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 10a).
Probably J. Richardson 1852, p. 322, in which John Richardson mentioned the use by the Eskimo of wood or bones for tools and other implements.


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

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1959. Asa Gray, 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Hopkins, William. 1860. Physical theories of the phenomena of life. Fraser’s Magazine 61: 739–52; 62: 74–90.

[Lowell, John Amory]. 1860. Darwin’s Origin of species. Christian Examiner and Theological Review 5th ser. 6: 449-64.

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.

Richardson, John. 1852. Eskimos, their geographical distribution. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 52 (1851–2): 322–3.

Schaaffhausen, Hermann. 1853. Über beständigkeit und Umwandlung der Arten. Verhandlungen des Naturhistorischen Vereines der preussischen Rheinlande und Westphalens 10: 420–51.

Winsor, Mary Pickard. 1979. Louis Agassiz and the species question. Studies in History of Biology 3: 89–117.

Wrangel, Ferdinand Petrovich. 1839. Reise des Kaiserlichrussischen flotten-lieutenants Ferdinand v. Wrangel längs der nordküste von Sibirien und auf dem Eismeere, in den Jahren 1820 bis 1824. Nach den handschriftlichen journalen … von G. Engelhardt. Berlin.


Mentions letters from Edward Blyth and William Hopkins.

Sees little in review of Origin by J. A. Lowell [Christian Examiner (1860): 449–64].

Sees only one sentence approaching natural selection in paper by Hermann Schaaffhausen. Emphasises importance of natural selection.

Comments on Agassiz’s view of species.

Cites account of flint tools in travel book by F. P. Wrangell [Narrative of an expedition to the Polar Sea (1840)]. Mentions Eskimo tools.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.216)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2832,” accessed on 9 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8