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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   4 December [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Decr 4th

My dear Lyell

It certainly seems to me safer to rely solely on slowness of ascertained up & down movement. But you could argue length of probable time before the movement became reversed as in your letter.2 And might you not add that over whole world it would probably be admitted that a larger area is now at rest than in movement? & this I think would be tolerably good reason for supposing long intervals of rest. You might even adduce Europe, only guarding yourself by saying that possibly (I will not say probably, though my prejudices would lead me to say so) Europe may at times have gone up & down all together.—   I forget whether in former letter you made a strong point of upward movements being always interrupted by long periods of rest.—   After writing to you, out of curiosity I glanced at the early Chapts. in my Geology of S. America; & the areas of elevation on E. & W. coasts are so vast, & proofs of many successive periods of rest so striking that evidence becomes to my mind striking.

With respect to Astronomical causes of change, in ancient days in the Beagle, when I reflected on the repeated great oscillations of level on very same area; & when I looked at symmetry of mountain-chains over such vast space, I used to conclude that the day would come when slow change of form in the semi-fluid matter beneath the crust would be found cause of volcanic action & of all changes of level. And the late discussion in Athenæum by Sir H. James (though his letter seemed to me mighty poor, & what Jukes wrote good) reminded me of this notion.3 In case astronomical agencies shd ever be proved or rendered probable, I imagine, as in nutation or precession, that an upward movement or protrusion of fluidified matter below might be immediately followed by movement of opposite nature. This is all that I meant.—   I have not read Jamieson, or yet got the number.—4

I was very much struck with Forbe’s explanation of N. of Soda beds & the saliferous crust, which I saw & examined at Iquique.—5 I often speculated on greater rise inland of Cordillera, & cd. never satisfy myself.

How far to lump & split species is indeed a hopeless problem.—   It must in the end, I think, be determined by mere convenience.—

I have not read Stur,6 & am awfully behind hand in many things.

I am very glad to hear that you continue to stir them up at Zoolog. Soc.—7

I get on slowly with my new Edition; I find that your advice was excellent; I can answer all Reviews, without any direct notice of them, by a little enlargement here & there, with here & there a new paragraph.—   Bronn alone I shall treat with the respect of giving his objections with his name.—8 I think I shall improve my Book a good deal, & add only some 20 pages.—

I hear that there is article in Macmillan on the Origin—9

Ever yours | C. Darwin

I have not yet read Phillips.—10


The year is given by the reference to the new edition of Origin, the third edition, which appeared in March 1861.
Henry James, the director-general of the Ordnance Survey, was involved in a controversy over the possible effect of periods of mountain-building on the orbit of the earth. Joseph Beete Jukes had attacked several of James’s points in a letter to the Athenæum, 6 October 1860, p. 451. CD had already discussed the issues involved with Lyell (see letter to Charles Lyell, 8 October [1860]).
Jamieson 1860 was published in the concluding number of the 1860 volume of the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London.
D. Forbes 1861, pp. 13–17. CD described the soda beds near Iquique in Peru in South America, pp. 69–72. CD may have seen a copy of David Forbes’s paper on the geology of the Andes before it was read at a meeting of the Geological Society on 21 November 1860. It is possible, however, that the information about salinas was in the missing portion of the letter from David Forbes, [November? 1860].
Stur 1860. There is an annotated copy of this monograph on the geographical distribution of the plant genus Astrantia in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Dionyz Štúr was a Hungarian botanist and palaeontologist whom Lyell had met during a continental tour in 1856. Lyell had been impressed with his analysis of the geology of the Alps (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 228).
Lyell was a fellow of the Zoological Society, but it is not clear in what way he was stirring it up. The society experienced severe financial difficulties in 1860 in spite of charging a fee for admission to the zoological gardens: a member of the public paid 1s. on most weekdays and 6d. on Mondays. In an attempt to attract more visitors and thus raise more revenue, the society tried reducing the entrance fee to 6d. on Saturdays as well during August, September, and October 1860; however, the practice was stopped after fellows of the society protested. It was also proposed that no money should be spent on new buildings and that the society should hold its meetings in the rooms of another society. See Scherren 1905.
CD discussed Heinrich Georg Bronn’s criticism of Origin (Bronn trans. 1860, pp. 495–520) in Origin 3d ed., pp. 139–41.
Fawcett 1860. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Fawcett, Henry. 1860. A popular exposition of Mr Darwin on the origin of species. Macmillan’s Magazine 3 (1861): 81–92.

Forbes, James David. 1861. On the climate of Edinburgh for fifty-six years, from 1795 to 1850, deduced principally from Mr Adie’s observations; with an account of other and earlier registers. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 22: 327–56.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Phillips, John. 1860. Life on the earth, its origin and succession. Cambridge and London: Macmillan and Co.

Scherren, Henry. 1905. The Zoological Society of London: a sketch of its foundation and development and the story of its farm, museum, gardens, menagerie and library. London: Cassell.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.


Sale of Origin requires new edition [3d (Apr 1861)].

Further discussion of geological elevation and subsidence in Europe. Compares evidence to that of South America. His theory that semi-fluid matter underlies earth’s crust.

Mentions David Forbes’s explanation of South American nitrate deposits.

Has followed CL’s advice not to reply directly to reviewers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.236)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3006,” accessed on 23 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8