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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   1 October [1861]

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

Oct 1st

My dear Lyell

Thank you for the most interesting correspondence.1 What a wonderful case that of Bedford. I thought the problem sufficiently perplexing before, but now it beats anything I ever heard of. Far from being able to give any hypothesis for any part, I cannot get the facts into my mind.— What a capital observer & reasoner Mr Jamieson is.2 The only way that I can reconcile my memory of Lochaber with the state of the Welch valleys, is by imagining a great barrier, formed by a terminal moraine, at the mouth of the Spean, which the river had to cut slowly through, as it drained the lowest Lake, after Glacial period.— This would, I can suppose, account for the sloping terraces along the Spean. I further presume that sharp transverse moraines would not be formed under the waters of the Lake, where the glacier came out of L. Treig and abutted against opposite side of valley.— A nice mess I made of Glen Roy!3 I have no spare copy of my Welch paper;4 it would do you no good to lend it, I suppose.— I thought that there must have been floating ice on Moel Tryfane.— I think it cannot be disputed that the last event in N. Wales was Land Glaciers.— I could not decide where action of Land Glaciers ceased & marine glacial action commenced at the mouths of the valleys.—5

What a wonderful case the Bedford case.—6 Does not the N. American view of warmer or more equable period after great Glacial period become much more probable in Europe?—7

But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.— I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchids8 & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am | Ever yours | C. Darwin


Letter from Charles Lyell, 30 September 1861, and, presumably, some correspondence from Thomas Francis Jamieson (see n. 2, below).
Jamieson and Lyell had been corresponding about the glacial phenomena of Scotland, with Lyell forwarding Jamieson’s letters on to CD. A major point of the correspondence was Jamieson’s argument that the so-called parallel roads of Glen Roy had been formed by glacial lakes rather than by arms of the sea, as CD supposed. See letters to Charles Lyell, [15 September 1861] and 22 September [1861], letter from Charles Lyell, 30 September [1861], and Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix IX.
‘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’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, pt 1 (1839): 39–81; Collected papers 1: 89–137. See also Rudwick 1974.
See letter from Charles Lyell, 30 September [1861]. CD believed that the erratic boulders near the summit of Moel Tryfan in North Wales had been transported on floating ice at a time when Moel Tryfan was submerged (see Collected papers 1: 167–9). In his letter to Lyell of 27 September 1861, Jamieson pointed out that CD’s explanation of the physical features of Caernarvonshire was inconsistent with his explanation of the formation of the parallel roads of Glen Roy (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix IX). For Jamieson’s views on the sequence of glaciation, marine submergence, and re-elevation of land in Scotland, see Jamieson 1860a and 1862.
James Dwight Dana had proposed a second, post-glacial warm period in North America on the basis of certain fossil remains uncovered in post-Pliocene deposits. Assuming a migration of northern plant species both before and after the worldwide cold period, Asa Gray had adopted this view to help account for the general similarity of European and American floras (A. Gray 1858–9). For the discussion of this point in CD’s correspondence, see Correspondence vol. 7, letters to J. D. Hooker, 11 May [1859], and to Asa Gray, 11 November [1859] and 24 December [1859].
John Murray published Orchids in May 1862.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

Gray, Asa. 1858–9. Diagnostic characters of new species of phænogamous plants, collected in Japan by Charles Wright, botanist of the US North Pacific Exploring Expedition … With observations upon the relations of the Japanese flora to that of North America, and of other parts of the northern temperate zone. [Read 14 December 1858 and 11 January 1859.] Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 6: 377–452.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.


The flint tools found at Bedford.

Further discussion of Jamieson’s theory of the formation of the roads of Glen Roy by a glacial lake. Comments on formation of Glen Spean terraces. Mentions glaciers in North Wales.

Agreement with John Murray to publish [Orchids].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.266)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3272,” accessed on 19 July 2024,

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