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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   14 October [1862]1

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

Oct 14th

My dear Lyell

I return Jamieson’s capital letter.2 I have no comments, except to say that he has removed all my difficulties & that now & for ever more I give up & abominate Glen Roy & all its belongings.— It certainly is a splendid case & wonderful monument of the old Ice Period.—3 You ought to give a woodcut.—4 How many have blundered over those horrid shelves!5

That was a capital paper by Jamieson in last G. Journal:6 I was never before fully convinced of the land glacialisation of Scotland before; though Chambers tried hard to convince me.—7

I must say I differ rather about Ramsay’s paper;8 perhaps he pushes it too far. It struck me the more from remembering some years ago marvelling what cd be the meaning of such a multitude of Lakes in Finland & other northern districts. Ramsay wrote to me & I suggested that he ought to compare mountainous Tropical regions with Northern regions.— I could not remember many lakes in any mountainous Tropical country.9 When Tyndall talks of every valley in Switzerland being formed by glacier, he seems to forget there are valleys in the Tropics;10 & it is monstrous in my opinion the accounting for glacial period in Alps by greater height of mountains, & their lessened heights, if I understand, by glacial erosion.—11 Ne sutor ultra crepidam, I think applies in this case to him.—12 I am hard at work on “Variation under Domestication”.13

Ever yours | C. Darwin

P.S. I am rather overwhelmed with letters at present, & it has just occurred to me that perhaps you will forward my note to Mr Jamieson; as it will show that I entirely yield. I do believe every word in my Glen Roy paper is false—


I have been again at Lochaber this summer, and have come away more convinced than ever of my last years views of the Glen Roy Lakes. I made a careful measurement with a good spirit level of the height of the lowest line near the mouth of Glen Roy and make it 854 feet above the mean sea level—starting from an advance mark at Bridge of Roy. Another measurement I made about six miles east—up Glen Spean—indicates a rise of about a foot in the mile fully in the line as you go east. Circumstances prevented me getting to the E. end of L. Laggan, but I hope to get there at some future time— meanwhile my recollection of that locality leads me to think that this slight elevation to Eastward will be borne out there also—

The Glen Arkaig glacier has been the main agent in blocking up Glen Gluoy & the mouth of Glen Spean but has been aided in the latter case by the neighbouring ice streams in particular by one from the longest corry on the N. flank of the Ben Nevis ridge called Corry N. Youn.16

I also discovered the most beautiful set of moraines that I believe will be found in the United Kingdom.!

Good instances of Moraines have been always a desiratum in this country but I think these will satisfy everybody that sees them. They are the work of the old Glen Treig glacier but at such a distance from the mouth of the glen as to have eluded the observation of former visitors. I noticed part of them from the shoulder of a hill last year & it was one of my objects this season to revisit them— They have a sweep of several miles, forming a sort of huge semi circle—tier within tier—in many places almost as regular as a railway embankment— the inner one is composed in many parts wholly of large blocks of syenite, often from 10 to 15 feet in length, without the intermixture of earthy matter, which makes it very striking— these have been pushed by the glacier before it in certain places off the syenitic mass up hill & left upon the gneiss on the N. side of Glen Spean— The retreat of the ice has left a smooth space like a bay within these moraines almost free of blocks—

These moraines are as fine a sight as the Glen Roy lines themselves & to a geologist— as interesting. their fine preservation is certainly a treat.

—Another object of my visit as you are aware was to ascertain the relation of the Glen Roy lakes to the great submergence— with this view I examined the lower part of Glen Nevis which as it opens out upon an arm of the sea I thought most suitable to throw light upon the question— The result was that nothing appeared to indicate that Glen Nevis had been occupied by the sea since the glacier left it— The moranic hillocks even at its mouth seem to have remained undisturbed by any marine action, with this exception, that the great 40 foot terrace of the West Coast can be distinctly traced up to the mouth of the glen and apparently extending across it up to Bannavie17 & fringing the bottom of the moranic heaps with a flat surface of shingle— This would seem to place the Glen Roy glacier lake period after the great submergence and before the era of the 40 foot old coast line of Argyleshire— This was what I expected— But I don’t know how to reconcile it with Chamber’s account of the Glen Iorsa moraine in Arran being slung over upon the old beach for I should think the Glen Nevis glacier would have protruded longer than most others in Scotland18

—Half a mile below Fort William I discovered a famous section of this old 40 foot terrace or ancient coast line— its height at the mouth of Glen Nevis is 40— or 43 feet above the mean sea-level— this section contained a bed of shells—some of which are arctic— an hour or twos search yielded me the following;

Modiola modiolus— abundant

Astarte elliptica— numerous

[ditto] compressa 4 specimens

Pecten opercularis several

Nucula. 1. app. N. nucleus–

Pilidium fulvum. a few

Anomia ephippium several

Puncturella noachina 2.

Trophon clathratus numerous

[ditto] scalariforme. 1. imperfect

Lacuna vincta. numerous

Littorina expansa several

(Lochus expansus, Brown & Smith)

[ditto] littorea 1. large specimen

[ditto] rudis 5. some of these perhaps young of L. littorea

Natica clausa 8. or 9.

Trochus cinerarius several

[ditto] tumidus 2. or 3.

Buccinum undatum. a few broken

Bela trevelliana. 1. specimen

Bela. undetermined sp. 7.

Rissoa striata. 2.

Chiton. fragment of a large species

Echinus. some plates & spines

The prevalence of Littorinæ & Lacuna are good evidence of a coast or shore line— the shells seemed to have been mostly all dead ones, several of them are pierced by a boring mollusk—. all the species range into shallow water except the Puncturella, Pilidium, & Nucula, which are in small numbers and had been drifted— we often get such thrown up on our coast here—

The prevailing littorina was as you see the Arctic variety of L. littoralis— and all the naticus were N. clausa.

This would seem to shew that the arctic shells lingered in our seas till a later period than has been hitherto supposed.

In 1860 I found at Otter ferry at Loch Fyne just a little above high water mark a sandy clay with shells which I am inclined to think may also belong to this 40 feet old coast line as the group was so similar to those at Fort William— & I half suspect the shelly bed in the Kyles of Bute may also belong to it & also those got at Loch Lomond wh. would embrace many of Jordanhill’s arctic clyde species—19 The species I got at Otter were.

Tellina proxima— not of large size—several

Astarte compressa— 1. complete

Cardium. small species

Saxicava arctica.. 1. valve of large variety

Mya truncata several

Pildium fulvum. 3.

Littorina littoralis. 2. or 3.

[ditto] rudis. 1. or 2

[ditto] littorea. 1. or 2. small

Trochus cinerarius. 1. small

Marganta undulata. 1. damaged

Trophon clathratus. 1.

Lacuna vincta. 2.

Echinus. a few plates & spines.

I think it is evident that the Glen Nevis glacier must have extended down further than this section at Fort William when that of Glen Treig or Glen Arkaig were so much developed. so this shell bed must be later than that period— the glaciers from Ben Lomond I think wd. have also prevented the accumulation of any shelly beds along Loch Lomond & wd. have destroyed previous ones— ditto probably at Kyles of Bute—

But if the elevation has increased a foot in the mile from W to E. as I have hinted this 40 feet terrace of the West coast would correspond to beds of greater elevation on the east— so that it is probably older than the 25. to 30 foot raised beaches at Falkirk. Forth, &c.

—The undetermined species of Bela or Mangelia which I got in this Fort William section seems different from any British species in Forbes & Hanley—20 neither can I find any agreeing with it in Searles Woods Crag Mollusca.21

—I enclose a drawing of it— It a good deal resembles the Fusus proprinquus in miniature. but with the canal less produced. I wd. take it very kind if you could give me any hint of what it is.

I am very ill off for books on Arctic shells with good figures— Wood’s Crag Mollusca is almost my sole refuge. I have searched the Catalogues of the Geol. Soc. library22 but cannot find Gould’s Report on the Invertebrata of Massachusetts. 23 nor. Moller24 nor Middendorf25 nor Loven.26 nor any other. I think the Council shd. get some of these for the use of members

—There will be a parcel of books sent to me from the library in a few days— if you could lend me a look of Gould’s Report if you have it, it would be a great favour & could be sent in my parcel by Mr. Jones.27

I enclose a little map shewing the disposition of the Glen Treig Moraines & the direction of the glacial striæ in Glen Arkaig &c. & position of shelly section of old coast line near Fort William.

The sloping terraces which Darwin had a difficulty about in the lower part of Glen Spean I believe to have been accumulated in a lower lake retained by the protrusion of the Glen Nevis glacier after that of Glen Arkaig had shrunk out of the mouth of Glen Spean— His buttresses or terraces above the highest line near the outfalls I believe to be of the nature of side moraines or moraine matter accumulated in lateral pools between the ice & the hill at a period antecedent to the lakes—28 It would oblige me if you would shew him this communication if you think he would be interested in it.

Please excuse the haste in which I have had to write the above & believe me to be | with the greatest respect & esteem | Your very obed. servt. | Thos. F. Jamieson.

Sir. Charles Lyell. FRS

P.S. Mr R. Chambers had some word of perhaps going to Lochaber in Sept. if you should see him you might tell him of these moraines as I have no doubt he wd. like to see them if he goes.29


Shell smooth, white, rather thin, of about six turns, outer lip thin; spin tapering, apex rather obtuse; volutions slightly convex— traces of spiral striæ on the base of the shell & some irregular slight plications on the 3rd. & turns.


Moraines marked by green curving lines— arrows mark direction of glacial scores30


The year is established by the reference to Jamieson 1862 (see n. 6, below).
See enclosure. No letter from Lyell containing the enclosure has been found; Lyell may have lent CD the letter from Jamieson when CD visited him in London on 30 September 1862 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).
In ‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’, published in 1839, CD argued that the so-called ‘roads’, a series of terraces running parallel to each other along the sides of Glen Roy, in Lochaber, Scotland, were formed by the action of the sea during successive periods of elevation of the landmass. However, Thomas Francis Jamieson, having visited the area in August 1861, concluded that the ‘roads’ represented the successive shorelines of a former lake that had been trapped by ice-flows (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from T. F. Jamieson, 3 September 1861). While CD at first appeared to have conceded defeat on the question, stating that his paper had been ‘one long gigantic blunder’ (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Charles Lyell, 6 September [1861]), subsequent letters indicate that he was reluctant to abandon his own explanation (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix IX).
Lyell planned to discuss the Glen Roy formation in the forthcoming Antiquity of man (see C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 252–64). He illustrated his account with three woodcuts (ibid., plate II (facing p. 252), p. 254, and p. 255).
For an account of the principal attempts to explain the ‘parallel roads’ of Glen Roy, see Rudwick 1974.
In Chambers 1853 and 1861, Robert Chambers upheld evidence for the effects of large-scale glaciation in Europe, dismissing CD’s favoured explanation of many of the phenomena in terms of the action of icebergs; however, no letters from Chambers seeking to convince CD of this belief have been found. CD and Chambers may have discussed this point in April 1861, when CD visited Chambers at his London home (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Robert Chambers, 30 April [1861]). There is a presentation copy of Chambers 1861 in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Lyell’s letter discussing Ramsay 1862 has not been found. Lyell was highly critical of Ramsay’s controversial theory that many European and American rock-basins, now containing lakes, owed their origin to glacial erosion (Davies 1969, pp. 305–6). CD, by contrast, told Ramsay in his letter of 5 September [1862] that, so far as he could judge, the theory ‘must be right to a large extent, possibly wholly’.
John Tyndall was a supporter of Ramsay’s theory; in Tyndall 1862, he argued that the extent of glacial action in Switzerland was so great that almost all the features of the present landscape were glacial in origin (see Davies 1969, p. 308).
CD was opposed to the view, advocated by Charles Lyell, that the elevation and subsidence of landmasses was responsible for the climatic changes of the glacial period (see letter to A. C. Ramsay, 5 September [1862] and nn. 8 and 9).
Erasmus, Adagia, 1.4.16. The passage translates ‘The shoemaker should not go beyond his last’. Desiderius Erasmus gave the aphorism with the comment: ‘Men should not attempt what they are not qualified by education or natural aptitude to perform, nor should they discourse on matters they do not understand’ (Stevenson ed. 1949, p. 2098). CD apparently refers to the fact that Tyndall, who was professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution, was primarily a physicist, rather than a geologist.
According to CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), he began work on 7 October 1862 on the section of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’, appearing in the published form as chapters 9 and 10 (Variation 1: 305–72).
The enclosure has been identified from the nature of CD’s response, and by reference to Lyell’s annotation to CD’s letter, which states: ‘Darwin on Jamieson revisit to Glen Roy’. Although subsequent letters from Jamieson to Lyell also discuss subjects related to Jamieson’s Glen Roy theory, none is concerned directly with his second visit to Glen Roy in August 1862 (see the letters from T. F. Jamieson to Charles Lyell, 27 August 1862, 29 August 1862, 24 September 1862, 29 September 1862, 7 October 1862, and 8 October 1862, all of which are in Edinburgh University Library, Gen. 112: 2844–58). In addition, this is the only letter of the period that Jamieson asked Lyell to forward to CD. See also letter from Charles Lyell, 20 August 1862.
The enclosure has been identified from the nature of CD’s response, and by reference to Lyell’s annotation to CD’s letter, which states: ‘Darwin on Jamieson revisit to Glen Roy’. Although subsequent letters from Jamieson to Lyell also discuss subjects related to Jamieson’s Glen Roy theory, none is concerned directly with his second visit to Glen Roy in August 1862 (see the letters from T. F. Jamieson to Charles Lyell, 27 August 1862, 29 August 1862, 24 September 1862, 29 September 1862, 7 October 1862, and 8 October 1862, all of which are in Edinburgh University Library, Gen. 112: 2844–58). In addition, this is the only letter of the period that Jamieson asked Lyell to forward to CD. See also letter from Charles Lyell, 20 August 1862.
The modern spelling of this feature is ‘Coire nan Eòin’ (grid reference NN 221738).
The modern spelling is ‘Banavie’ (Ordnance Survey gazetteer).
The geologist James Smith of Jordanhill carried out extensive researches in the 1830s in regard to the raised beaches of the ‘newer pliocene’ (in modern terminology, Pleistocene) period that were common on the west coast of Scotland; most of the beaches studied by Smith were in the Clyde basin. Noting that some of the molluscs in those deposits were currently very rare or extinct off the coast of Scotland, Smith identified many of them as species currently living in more Arctic regions. On the basis of his findings, he maintained that the climate of the ‘newer Pliocene’ period had been much colder than at present (see DNB and J. Smith 1839a). He provided a ‘Catalogue of shells from the newer Pliocene deposits in the British Islands’ in J. Smith 1839b, pp. 93–7, including a separate list of those that were either extinct or that were only found in Arctic seas.
Forbes and Hanley 1853.
Jamieson refers to the Catalogue of the books and maps in the library of the Geological Society of London (London, 1846), the Supplemental catalogue of the books, maps, sections and drawings in the library of the Geological Society of London (London, 1856), and the Alphabetical supplement to the classified catalogues of the library of the Geological Society of London: additional books and maps, 1854–59 (London, 1860).
Möller 1846.
CD expressed his concerns on these points in the letter to Charles Lyell, [15 September 1861] (Correspondence vol. 9), which Lyell forwarded to Jamieson. Jamieson had replied somewhat differently to CD’s queries in his letter to Charles Lyell of 19 September 1861 (ibid., Appendix IX).
See n. 7, above.
The moraines, drawn in green on the original map, are represented here by long dashed lines. The parallel roads of Glen Roy, originally drawn in red, are represented by shorter dashed lines.


Chambers, Robert. 1853a. On glacial phenomena in Scotland and parts of England. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 54 (1852–3): 229–81.

Chambers, Robert. 1861. Edinburgh papers [pt 3]. Ice and water: a review of the superficial formation. London and Edinburgh.

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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Gould, Augustus Addison. 1841. Report on the invertebrata of Massachusetts: comprising the mollusca, crustacea, annelida and radiata. Cambridge, Mass.: Folsom, Wells, and Thurston.

Jamieson, Thomas Francis. 1862. On the ice-worn rocks of Scotland. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 18: 164–84. [Vols. 9,10]

Lovén, Sven Ludvig. 1846. Index Molluscorum litora Scandinaviæ occidentalia habitantium. Holmiæ.

Middendorf, Aleksandr Fedorovich. 1848–75. Reise in den äussersten Norden und Osten Sibiriens während der Jahre 1843 und 1844 mit allerhöchster Genehmigung auf Veranstaltung der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu St. Petersburg ausgeführt und in Verbindung mit vielen Gelehrten herausgegeben. 4 vols. St Petersburg.

Ordnance Survey gazetteer: The Ordnance Survey gazetteer of Great Britain. 3d ed. Southampton: Ordnance Survey. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Press. 1992.

‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’: 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. By Charles Darwin. [Read 7 February 1839.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 129: 39–81. [Shorter publications, pp. 50–88.]

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.

Tyndall, John. 1862. On the conformation of the Alps. The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. 4th ser. 24: 169–73.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Wood, Searles Valentine. 1848–61. A monograph of the crag Mollusca, with descriptions of shells from the upper Tertiaries of the British Isles. 2 vols. London: Palaeontographical Society.


Further comments on Jamieson’s theory of the formation of the roads of Glen Roy; paper by Jamieson dealing with glaciation in Scotland ["On the ice-worn rocks of Scotland", Q. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 18 (1862): 164–84].

Comments on paper by A. C. Ramsay on the glacial formation of lakes ["On the glacial origin of certain lakes", Q. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 18 (1862): 185–204].

Criticises remarks by John Tyndall on glacial formation of Swiss valleys.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.267), The University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections (Gen. 112/2840–3)
Physical description
ALS 14pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3761,” accessed on 24 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10