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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Fullerton Lindsay-Carnegie to Charles Lyell1   [14 February 1838]

23, Moray Place Edinbr.

My Dear Sir

Your letter with its interesting accompaniment, having gone round by Kinblethmont,2 & been detained there, has but just reached me. Mr Darwin’s theory is I think, quite correct. I have observed much to confirm, and nothing to make it questionable. Independent of the geological deductions, to be derived from it, the discovery, may do much in an economical sense. Our farmers are persuaded, (universally) that lime has a tendency to leek downwards, observing, that in unstirred pasture fields, I suppose, that it did so apparently, they argued that, à fortiori it would have a still greater propensity to do so, in their ploughed fields, and they put off applying their lime to the very last operation previous to laying down, thus, losing much of the advantages to be derived from a thorough intermixture. When I laid lime on an oatstubble in autumn some years ago, and ploughed it down, (thus bringing it into immediate contact, for a considerable time, with the dead vegetable, and securing besides the thorough mixing, through the means of all the subsequent operations of fallow,) I was considered to have committed a great fault, in consequence of this prejudice, but the result was eminently successful—and the practice partially followed; by means of Mr Darwin’s observation I think the prejudice will be entirely removed— In terring our quarries, I have frequently observed worms in their holes 7 to 8 feet below the surface where the black earth was about 2. ft. and the remainder strong tilly clay. in the latter they seldom seemed to proceed straight to the utmost depth, but by [DIAG HERE] a b c stages thus,— at the bottom c was invariably an enlarged chamber full of small sharp pebbles and other matters I noticed particularly the broken husks of flax seed, a & b generally contained similar articles, but mixed with black earth— when a terring was completed, it often left many sections of these worm holes, and in a very short time tufts of grass began to grow, as this was in spring, it is plain the grass seeds, must have been there previously. the opinion of the workmen was, that the small stones had been passed thro’ the worms, as a condiment I suppose, but it appeared to me they might have proceeded from the small heap which the worm gathers round the mouth of his hole in winter. In trying the refuse of flax, lately as a substitute for tar in one of my hothouses, I was surprised at the enormous quantity of worms which resulted, the mass became alive with them, had it been in China I could have made money by selling them by the hundred weight for these which by the bye I am told are very palatable. I noticed many of them in the act of copulation and being no naturalist was surprized to see the number of little arms by which they held each other embraced. I suppose the anatomy of the worm and its habits are well understood but I have not met with any notice of them and would be glad if you could refer me to the best book on the subject.

I think I sent you a second specimen of the Cherubim being a broken bit of the wing, I think we have a third but tho’ very small, still a bit of the turtles neck shield as we have found nothing of the large remaining part of his body, I am afraid on the doctrine of chances Agassiz supposition can hardly be right. Tho’ not inattentive we have got nothing more, but we are going to work on a larger scale & in various localities this summer and I hope to have something of interest to send you— The sections made by our railroad are interesting I hope you will come and inspect them, making Kinblethmont yr headquarters. The line will be partially open in June and entirely so from Forfar to Dundee by September

We are here all well, for the winter, very glad to have escaped the snowing up at home—

Lady Jane3 begs to be very kindly remembered to Mrs Lyell & yr. sister and I remain

Yrs truly | W F Lindsay Carnegie

CD annotations

1.10 laying] underl pencil
1.17 terring] underl pencil
scored brown crayon
crossed ink
On cover: ‘Rain— Washing | earth over surface’ pencil, circled pencil
‘Habits of worms’pencil
‘L. Carnegie’pencil; above partially erased‘Carnegie’


CD incorporated information from this letter in a note, dated June 1838, which he added to the version of his paper ‘On the formation of mould’ printed in Transactions of the Geological Society (Collected papers 1: 53 n. 3). Lindsay-Carnegie’s observations were cited again by CD forty years later, in Earthworms.
Kinblethmont, near Arbroath, Forfarshire, was the seat of Lindsay-Carnegie.
Lady Jane Christian Lindsay-Carnegie, daughter of the 7th Earl of Northesk, wife of Lindsay-Carnegie.


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

‘Formation of mould’: On the formation of mould. [Read 1 November 1837.] Transactions of the Geological Society of London 2d ser. 5 (1840): 505–9. [Shorter publications, pp. 124–7.]


Impressed by CD’s theory [of earthworm action].

Letter details

Letter no.
William Fullerton Lindsay-Carnegie
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 170: 3
Physical description
5pp †(by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 402,” accessed on 20 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2