skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell   [after 3 October 1860]1

wish to understand you can do so—   I merely think that the general public would have been rather more carried along with you if you had in such cases as the eye referred to two or more causes at work some unknown giving rise to variation & even occasionally to the great miracle & mystery of mysteries progression & one well known namely Natural Selection.

ever affectly ys | Cha Lyell

My work on antiquity of Man is entirely suspended tho‘ materials have accumulated but as new Edn. of the Manual has stopped it so may now new or 10th. Ed. of the Principles tho’ each of them will afford opportunity of giving to the world nearly all I can say on the subject2

I have just found the passage in Hooker about extinction in St. Helena which astonished me—   See—Review of Decandolles Geographie Bot— Hooker’s Journal of Botany, vol. 8. p. 54.3

In the separate copy given to me it is in page—31 note that J Hooker seems to say that only a few species of plants out of several hundreds have survived. As Hooker is absent I cannot ask him but do look at the passage—   it will be p 85(?) of Journal— vol. 8.4

He rather puzzles me by saying in same note that the island was first botanized half a century ago—   It was discovered in 1505 I think, & I suppose the forests burnt down long before “it was first botanized—

CD annotations

4.1 I have … p. 54. 4.3] double scored ink
4.1 I have] ‘22’5 added brown crayon
5.1 In … note] double scored ink


Dated by the relationship to the letter to Charles Lyell, 3 October [1860], in which CD asks about Lyell’s work on the antiquity of man. See also n. 2, below.
Lyell’s work on the antiquity of man was published in C. Lyell 1863. This delayed his plans to prepare new editions of his geological texts, the sixth edition of Elements of geology (C. Lyell 1865) and the tenth edition of Principles of geology (C. Lyell 1867–8). There are copies of all these works in the Darwin Library–CUL.
[Hooker] 1856.
[Hooker] 1856, p. 156 n. Joseph Dalton Hooker there described Alphonse de Candolle’s view that the extinction of plant species was sometimes delayed by the longevity of buried seeds. Hooker commented that the native species of Saint Helena that were rendered extinct many years ago had shown no signs of reappearing through the recent germination of long-buried seeds. See also letter to Charles Lyell, 26 [September 1860].
The number of one of CD’s portfolios of notes on palaeontology and extinction.


Lyell, Charles. 1865. Elements of geology, or the ancient changes of the earth and its inhabitants as illustrated by geological monuments. 6th edition, revised. London: John Murray.

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.


CD would have carried the public more if he had explained adaptations by multiple causes, some unknown and some well known, i.e., natural selection.

Discusses Hooker’s views of extinction on St Helena.

Work on antiquity of man suspended.

Stopped by 11th edition of Principles of geology [1872].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.9: 397
Physical description
2pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2937,” accessed on 1 March 2021,

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