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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. F. Jamieson   6 September [1861]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Sept 6th

Dear Sir

I thank you sincerely for your long & very interesting letter. Your arguments seem to me conclusive.1 I give up the ghost. My paper is one long gigantic blunder.2

I suppose & hope that you will publish an account of what you have observed.3 The case seems very interesting. What a wonderful record of the old icy lakes do these shores present! It really is a grand phenomenon. I have been for years anxious to know what was the truth, & now I shall rest contented, though ashamed of myself.— How rash it is in science to argue because any case is not one thing, it must be some second thing which happens to be known to the writer.—4

I will take the liberty to forward your letter to Sir C. Lyell, as I am sure he would like to read it.—5

With very sincere thanks. Pray believe me, my dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Did I not say that you would be able to settle the question?—6


CD refers to his paper ‘Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and of other parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an attempt to prove that they are of marine origin’, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1839): pt 1, 39–81. The paper presented evidence supporting a marine rather than a lacustrine theory to explain the phenomena. For CD’s reluctance to accept that his explanation was a ‘gigantic blunder’, see Rudwick 1974.
Jamieson published the results of his study of the parallel roads of Glen Roy in 1863 (Jamieson 1863).
In his Autobiography, p. 84, CD called his paper on Glen Roy ‘a great failure’ and stated that he was ‘ashamed of it’, partly owing to his faulty scientific methodology: Having been deeply impressed with what I had seen of the elevation of the land in S. America, I attributed the parallel lines to the action of the sea; but I had to give up this view when Agassiz propounded his glacier-lake theory. Because no other explanation was possible under our then state of knowledge, I argued in favour of sea-action; and my error has been a good lesson to me never to trust in science to the principle of exclusion.
In his paper, Jamieson referred to the encouragement he had received from CD and from Charles Lyell (Jamieson 1863, p. 240): Sir Charles Lyell suggested to me, when in London in 1861, to visit the district in order to get more evidence on the subject; and this was further urged by Mr. Darwin, who candidly admitted that, not having glacier-action in view when he was there, he had since, to some extent, doubted his own observations. He furnished me with some useful maps and memoirs bearing upon the problem, and likewise indicated several points worthy of particular attention.
With the exception of the letters preserved in the Lyell correspondence, CD’s letters to Jamieson have not been found. See, however, Jamieson’s correspondence with Lyell, in which he mentions CD (Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix IX). Two further letters were published in McConnochie 1901.


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

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

Jamieson, Thomas Francis. 1863. On the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and their place in the history of the glacial period. [Read 21 January 1863.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 19: 235–59.

McConnochie, Alexander Inkson. 1901. Across Creag Meaghaidh. Cairngorm Club Journal 16: 232–40.

Rudwick, Martin John Spencer. 1974. Darwin and Glen Roy: a ‘great failure’ in scientific method? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 5 (1974–5): 97–185.


Has read TFJ’s letter on Glen Roy. His arguments seem conclusive. CD gives up the ghost. "My paper is one long gigantic blunder." How rash it is "to argue that because a case is not one thing it must be some second thing which happens to be known to the writer".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Francis Jamieson
Sent from
Source of text
National Library of Scotland (MS. 5406, ff. 167–8)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3247,” accessed on 27 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9