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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Lyell   4 November 1864

53 Harley Street, London:

November 4, 1864.

My dear Darwin,—

I was delighted to hear yesterday at the Athenæum that the Council had decided that you were to have the Copley medal, for when it was not awarded to you last year I felt that its value had been much lowered,1 and in my indignation at the want of courage implied in their hesitation, I sympathised with a friend who has long held that these medals do more harm than good, which, however, I have always been unwilling to believe.

In the present instance it is of more than usual importance, not in a purely scientific point of view, for your reputation cannot be the least raised by it in the minds of those whose opinions you care for, or who are capable of judging for themselves as to the merits of such a book as the ‘Origin,’ but because an honour openly conferred by an old chartered institution acts on the outsiders and helps to increase that stock of moral courage which is so small still, though it has grown sensibly in the last few years. Huxley2 alarmed me by telling me a few days ago that some of the older members of the Council were afraid of crowning anything so unorthodox as the ‘Origin.’3 But if they were so, they had the good sense to draw in their horns.

Believe me ever affectionately yours, | Charles Lyell


Thomas Henry Huxley.
See letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 November 186[4] and n. 3. The ages of the members of the Council of the Royal Society of London were: James Alderson, 70; George Busk, 57; George Everest, 74; Hugh Falconer, 56; John Hall Gladstone, 37; Joseph Dalton Hooker, 47; William Allen Miller, 47; William Hallowes Miller, 63; Henry Bence Jones, 50; James Clerk Maxwell, 33; William Pole, 50; Edward Sabine, 76; William Sharpey, 62; Archibald Smith, 51; Henry John Stephen Smith, 38; Philip Henry Stanhope, 59; George Gabriel Stokes, 45; James Joseph Sylvester, 50; Thomas Watson, 72; Charles Wheatstone, 62; and Robert Willis, 65 (DNB). Stanhope was the only member not present at the 3 November meeting at which the votes for the Copley Medal were cast (Royal Society, Council minutes).


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.


Delighted to hear that CD was awarded Copley Medal. Important because award by chartered institution acts on outsiders and helps increase stock of moral courage.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Harley St, 53
Source of text
K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 383–4

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4658,” accessed on 15 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12