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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Adolf von Morlot   10 October [1844]

Down near Bromley Kent

Oct. 10th

Dear Sir

Your letters of the 3d of October & 30th of July arrived here together yesterday: how the delay of the latter was caused, I know not.— My answer will be a continued source of displeasure to you: I am heartily sorry for it, for I admire your zeal & wish you a plentiful harvest of discovery; & such zeal as yours, is a main element in discovery. I by no means underrate the importance of your observations on the ice-action over the many hills, through which you have lately travelled; but let me assure you, that no Editor of the respectable English scientific Journals would publish your letters in their present form, or with merely passages struck out, which I would have undertaken to have done. Your letters detail your belief, your theories & your conclusions, but they do not detail the facts. Would not your proper course (I can speak from experience when Secretary of the Geological Soc. that no other course would, or ought to according to the rules of the Society, be admitted) be to plainly & briefly describe every fact, which you observed on ice action, excluding all foreign facts; & after you have so described your facts, aid your reader drawing his conclusions, by pointing out, why a Scandinavian glacier explains your facts, better than local glacier, aided by icebergs (now the commonest view in England)—how your origin of the “till” explains your facts better than the iceberg-doctrine—

Pray observe I do not pretend to say your theories are not right, but a substratum of facts ought surely to be first given. Have you read Lyell’s Paper on the “Till”1 (you will see the reference in my American Boulder Paper)2 & considered his curious case of disturbed beds resting on undisturbed? Again I am sure the publication of your Loëss views in their present state would injure your reputation: it is a most curious & difficult subject. I hope you may solve it.

I think Escholtz in Kotzebue’s first Voyage describes a cliff of ice with earth on it3 & in the Appendix to Beechey’s Voyage to the Pacific there is some allusion to the same class of facts: fossil bones were found in these frozen cliffs.4 I suspect in these cases (according to Ermanns limit of perpetual congelation in depth) that the ice would be frozen to the undersoil.—5 Granting, however, that these cliffs were moving glaciers covered with earth, & vegetation surely you ought to show that this is a common occurrence, before you apply it to your Scandinavio-German glacier; & then it wd not much signify whether you could or not explain how the earth was brought over your glacier. Surely you ought to give facts & explain (as you seem to admit that glaciers move by gravity, according to Forbes’ beautiful views)6 how your glacier was propelled across the Baltic.—

I could go on writing; but I well know that this comes very badly from me, who have dealt so largely in the sin of speculation, which I endeavour, though with little success, to check.— I have not the folly to oppose my opinion on the value of your observations, to that of the illustrious Germans, whom you mention; but at the same time every one must be individually guided by his own opinion, & my opinion is, that, though a good description of ice-action (which I daresay you are fully capable to give) on the mountains, which you have visited, would be very valuable, that your letters, in which facts are so mingled with speculation, are not fit to be published.— I know I shall appear to you unjust & unkind, & I am sorry for it.— I have, in accordance with your wish, expressed in your letter of the 2d July, communicated your observations to no one person.—

I am very glad to hear that Plutonic Geology is making progress; I have been prepared by Keilhau’s clever papers (translated in the Eding: Phil: Journal)7 for some great changes, but I am loth to give up the old views: the study of volcanic countries prejudices one in favour of heat-motions.— Evans Hopkins8 & Hopkins the Mathematician,9 are very different men.— I shd. have much enjoyed being instructed by you in the Alps in ice-action, but my health at present puts such an exertion quite out of the 〈question. I fear the〉 impression, which you will take from this letter is that I am a thoroughily selfish person, unwilling to take any trouble for anyone else.— I hope such an impression, though natural, is not altogether well founded.— I repeat, that I am sorry to disappoint you, & that I wish you success.

Believe me | dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin

Surely your better course would be to publish your facts & views in a Swiss or German Periodical; for they would naturally excite less attention here, than there, where other observers could test & profit by them.


C. Lyell 1840b.
‘On the distribution of the erratic boulders and on the contemporaneous unstratified deposits of South America’, Collected papers 1: 145–63.
Kotzebue 1821, 1: 146–8. Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz was present when the glacier was discovered, but the description of the cliff was written by the naturalist of the expedition, Adelbert von Chamisso.
William Buckland gives an account of the fossils listed in the journal of Alexander Collie, in Beechey 1831, 2: 331–56. A different edition of this work is in the Darwin Library–CUL. The reference is to a cliff face glazed over with ice and frozen mud. Alexander Collie was the surgeon on board H.M.S. Blossom, 1825–8.
Georg Adolph Erman discovered that in eastern Siberia the ground might remain permanently frozen to depths of several hundred feet even though summer air temperatures were well above freezing. See Erman 1838.
For James David Forbes’s views see letter to Adolf von Morlot, 9 August [1844], n. 4.
Keilhau 1838–40 and 1844, in which a theory of the origin of rocks by heat-induced crystallisation is proposed.
Evan Hopkins.
William Hopkins.


Beechey, Frederick William. 1831. Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait, to co-operate with the Polar expeditions: performed in HMS Blossom … in the years 1825, 26, 27, 28. 2 vols. London.

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

Erman, Georg Adolph. 1838. Extrait d’une lettre … à M. Arago, sur la température de la terre en Sibérie. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des Sciences Paris 6: 501–3.

Keilhau, Baltazar Mathias. 1838–40. Theory of granite, and the other massive rocks; together with that of crystalline slate; proposed in lectures in geology, in the University of Christiania in Norway, in the year 1836. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 24 (1838): 387–403; 25 (1838): 80–101, 263–72; 28 (1840): 366–71.

Kotzebue, Otto von. 1821. Entdeckungs-Reise in die SüdSee und nach der Berings- Strasse zur Erforschung einer nordöstlichen Durchfahrt. Unternommen in den Jahren 1815 … 1818. 3 vols. Weimar.


Says AM’s letters on glacial action not publishable since they do not give facts. Suggests readings on the subject of glaciers. Expresses doubts about AM’s theory that Scandinavian glaciers brought the boulders he was studying.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Adolphe Morlot (Adolph von Morlot)
Sent from
Source of text
Burgerbibliothek Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 780,” accessed on 16 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3