Letter 87 To C Lyell

(87/1. In the "Origin of Species" a section of Chapter X. is devoted to "The succession of the same types within the same areas, during the late Tertiary period" (Edition I., page 339). Mr. Darwin wrote as follows: "Mr. Clift many years ago showed that the fossil mammals from the Australian caves were closely allied to the living marsupials of that continent." After citing other instances illustrating the same agreement between fossil and recent types, Mr. Darwin continues: "I was so much impressed with these facts that I strongly insisted, in 1839 and 1845, on this 'law of the succession of types,' on 'this wonderful relationship in the same continent between the dead and the living.' Professor Owen has subsequently extended the same generalisation to the mammals of the Old World.")

Owen wrote to me to ask for the reference to Clift. As my own notes for the late chapters are all in chaos, I bethought me who was the most trustworthy man of all others to look for references, and I answered myself, "Of course Lyell." In the ["Principles of Geology"], edition of 1833, Volume III., chapter xi., page 144, you will find the reference to Clift in the "Edinburgh New Phil Journal," No. XX., page 394. (87/2. The correct reference to Clift's "Report" on fossil bones from New Holland is "Edinburgh New Phil. Journal," 1831, page 394.) You will also find that you were greatly struck with the fact itself (87/3. This refers to the discovery of recent and fossil species of animals in an Australian cave-breccia. Mr. Clift is quoted as having identified one of the bones, which was much larger than the rest, as that of a hippopotamus.), which I had quite forgotten. I copied the passage, and sent it to Owen. Why I gave in some detail references to my own work is that Owen (not the first occasion with respect to myself and others) quietly ignores my having ever generalised on the subject, and makes a great fuss on more than one occasion at having discovered the law of succession. In fact, this law, with the Galapagos distribution, first turned my mind on the origin of species. My own references are [to the "Naturalist's Voyage"]:

Large 8vo, Murray, Edition 1839 Edition 1845

Page 210 Page 173 On succession.

Page 153 Pages 131-32 On splitting up of old geographical provinces.

Long before Owen published I had in MS. worked out the succession of types in the Old World (as I remember telling Sedgwick, who of course disbelieved it).

Since receiving your last letter on Hooker, I have read his introduction as far as page xxiv (87/4. "On the Flora of Australia, etc.; being an Introductory Essay to the Flora of Tasmania": London, 1859.), where the Australian flora begins, and this latter part I liked most in the proofs. It is a magnificent essay. I doubt slightly about some assertions, or rather should have liked more facts--as, for instance, in regard to species varying most on the confines of their range. Naturally I doubt a little his remarks about divergence (87/5. "Variation is effected by graduated changes; and the tendency of varieties, both in nature and under cultivation, when further varying, is rather to depart more and more widely from the original type than to revert to it." On the margin Darwin wrote: "Without selection doubtful" (loc. cit., page viii).), and about domestic races being produced under nature without selection. It would take much to persuade me that a Pouter Pigeon, or a Carrier, etc., could have been produced by the mere laws of variation without long continued selection, though each little enlargement of crop and beak are due to variation. I demur greatly to his comparison of the products of sinking and rising islands (87/6. "I venture to anticipate that a study of the vegetation of the islands with reference to the peculiarities of the generic types on the one hand, and of the geological conditions (whether as rising or sinking) on the other, may, in the present state of our knowledge, advance other subjects of distribution and variation considerably" (loc. cit., page xv).); in the Indian Ocean he compares exclusively many rising volcanic and sinking coral islands. The latter have a most peculiar soil, and are excessively small in area, and are tenanted by very few species; moreover, such low coral islands have probably been often, during their subsidence, utterly submerged, and restocked by plants from other islands. In the Pacific Ocean the floras of all the best cases are unknown. The comparison ought to have been exclusively between rising and fringed volcanic islands, and sinking and encircled volcanic islands. I have read Naudin (87/7. Naudin, "Revue Horticole," 1852?.), and Hooker agrees that he does not even touch on my views.


I have had another talk with Bentham, who is greatly agitated by your book: evidently the stern, keen intellect is aroused, and he finds that it is too late to halt between two opinions. How it will go we shall see. I am intensely interested in what we shall come to, and never broach the subject to him. I finished the geological evidence chapters yesterday; they are very fine and very striking, but I cannot see they are such forcible objections as you still hold them to be. I would say that you still in your secret soul underrate the imperfection of the Geological Record, though no language can be stronger or arguments fairer and sounder against it. Of course I am influenced by Botany, and the conviction that we have not in a fossilised condition a fraction of the plants that have existed, and that not a fraction of those we have are recognisable specifically. I never saw so clearly put the fact that it is not intermediates between existing species we want, but between these and the unknown tertium quid.

You certainly make a hobby of Natural Selection, and probably ride it too hard; that is a necessity of your case. If the improvement of the creation-by-variation doctrine is conceivable, it will be by unburthening your theory of Natural Selection, which at first sight seems overstrained--i.e., to account for too much. I think, too, that some of your difficulties which you override by Natural Selection may give way before other explanations. But, oh Lord! how little we do know and have known to be so advanced in knowledge by one theory. If we thought ourselves knowing dogs before you revealed Natural Selection, what d--d ignorant ones we must surely be now we do know that law.

I hear you may be at the Club on Thursday. I hope so. Huxley will not be there, so do not come on that ground.

I write one line merely to thank you for your pleasant note, and to say that I will keep your secret. I will shake my head as mysteriously as Lord Burleigh. Several persons have asked me who wrote that "most remarkable article" in the "Times." (89/1. The "Times," December 26th, 1859, page 8. The opening paragraphs were by one of the staff of the "Times." See "Life and Letters," II., page 255, for Mr. Huxley's interesting account of his share in the matter.) As a cat may look at a king, so I have said that I strongly suspected you. X was so sharp that the first sentence revealed the authorship. The Z's (God save the mark) thought it was Owen's! You may rely on it that it has made a deep impression, and I am heartily glad that the subject and I owe you this further obligation. But for God's sake, take care of your health; remember that the brain takes years to rest, whilst the muscles take only hours. There is poor Dana, to whom I used to preach by letter, writes to me that my prophecies are come true: he is in Florence quite done up, can read nothing and write nothing, and cannot talk for half an hour. I noticed the "naughty sentence" (89/2. Mr. Huxley, after speaking of the rudimental teeth of the whale, of rudimental jaws in insects which never bite, and rudimental eyes in blind animals, goes on: "And we would remind those who, ignorant of the facts, must be moved by authority, that no one has asserted the incompetence of the doctrine of final causes, in its application to physiology and anatomy, more strongly than our own eminent anatomist, Professor Owen, who, speaking of such cases, says ("On the Nature of Limbs," pages 39, 40), 'I think it will be obvious that the principle of final adaptations fails to satisfy all the conditions of the problem.'"--"The Times," December 26th, 1859.) about Owen, though my wife saw its bearing first. Farewell you best and worst of men!

That sentence about the bird and the fish dinners charmed us. Lyell wrote to me--style like yours.

Have you seen the slashing article of December 26th in the "Daily News," against my stealing from my "master," the author of the "Vestiges?"


How I should like to know whether Milne Edwards has read the copy which I sent him, and whether he thinks I have made a pretty good case on our side of the question. There is no naturalist in the world for whose opinion I have so profound a respect. Of course I am not so silly as to expect to change his opinion.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Get Fit Get Healthy

Get Fit Get Healthy

Anyone who wants to experience better health and fitness... Discover Simple Techniques To Getting Fitter Healthier And Staying That Way, Starting Today! This Guide Will Show You Easy Ways To Get Fit And Get Healthy No Fluff, No Fillers...Just Useful Techniques You Can Start Using Today.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment