The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 105 of 188

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

Down, Saturday [August 1st, 1845].

My dear Lyell,

I have been wishing to write to you for a week past, but every five minutes’ worth of strength has been expended in getting out my second part. (Of the second edition of the ‘Journal of Researches.’) Your note pleased me a good deal more I dare say than my dedication did you, and I thank you much for it. Your work has interested me much, and I will give you my impressions, though, as I never thought you would care to hear what I thought of the non-scientific parts, I made no notes, nor took pains to remember any particular impression of two-thirds of the first volume. The first impression I should say would be with most (though I have literally seen not one soul since reading it) regret at there not being more of the non-scientific [parts]. I am not a good judge, for I have read nothing, i.e. non-scientific about North America, but the whole struck me as very new, fresh, and interesting. Your discussions bore to my mind the evident stamp of matured thought, and of conclusions drawn from facts observed by yourself, and not from the opinions of the people whom you met; and this I suspect is comparatively rare.

Your slave discussion disturbed me much; but as you would care no more for my opinion on this head than for the ashes of this letter, I will say nothing except that it gave me some sleepless, most uncomfortable hours. Your account of the religious state of the States particularly interested me; I am surprised throughout at your very proper boldness against the Clergy. In your University chapter the Clergy, and not the State of Education, are most severely and justly handled, and this I think is very bold, for I conceive you might crush a leaden-headed old Don, as a Don, with more safety, than touch the finger of that Corporate Animal, the Clergy. What a contrast in Education does England show itself! Your apology (using the term, like the old religionists who meant anything but an apology) for lectures, struck me as very clever; but all the arguments in the world on your side, are not equal to one course of Jamieson’s Lectures on the other side, which I formerly for my sins experienced. Although I had read about the ‘Coalfields in North America,’ I never in the smallest degree really comprehended their area, their thickness and favourable position; nothing hardly astounded me more in your book.

Some few parts struck me as rather heterogeneous, but I do not know whether to an extent that at all signified. I missed however, a good deal, some general heading to the chapters, such as the two or three principal places visited. One has no right to expect an author to write down to the zero of geographical ignorance of the reader; but I not knowing a single place, was occasionally rather plagued in tracing your course. Sometimes in the beginning of a chapter, in one paragraph your course was traced through a half dozen places; anyone, as ignorant as myself, if he could be found, would prefer such a disturbing paragraph left out. I cut your map loose, and I found that a great comfort; I could not follow your engraved track. I think in a second edition, interspaces here and there of one line open, would be an improvement. By the way, I take credit to myself in giving my Journal a less scientific air in having printed all names of species and genera in Romans; the printing looks, also, better. All the illustrations strike me as capital, and the map is an admirable volume in itself. If your ‘Principles’ had not met with such universal admiration, I should have feared there would have been too much geology in this for the general reader; certainly all that the most clear and light style could do, has been done. To myself the geology was an excellent, well-condensed, well-digested resume of all that has been made out in North America, and every geologist ought to be grateful to you. The summing up of the Niagara chapter appeared to me the grandest part; I was also deeply interested by your discussion on the origin of the Silurian formations. I have made scores of scores marking passages hereafter useful to me.

All the coal theory appeared to me very good; but it is no use going on enumerating in this manner. I wish there had been more Natural History; I liked all the scattered fragments. I have now given you an exact transcript of my thoughts, but they are hardly worth your reading…

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

Down, August 25th [1845].

My dear Lyell,

This is literally the first day on which I have had any time to spare; and I will amuse myself by beginning a letter to you…

I was delighted with your letter in which you touch on Slavery; I wish the same feelings had been apparent in your published discussion. But I will not write on this subject, I should perhaps annoy you, and most certainly myself. I have exhaled myself with a paragraph or two in my Journal on the sin of Brazilian slavery; you perhaps will think that it is in answer to you; but such is not the case. I have remarked on nothing which I did not hear on the coast of South America. My few sentences, however, are merely an explosion of feeling. How could you relate so placidly that atrocious sentiment (In the passage referred to, Lyell does not give his own views, but those of a planter.) about separating children from their parents; and in the next page speak of being distressed at the whites not having prospered; I assure you the contrast made me exclaim out. But I have broken my intention, and so no more on this odious deadly subject.

There is a favourable, but not strong enough review on you, in the “Gardeners’ Chronicle”. I am sorry to see that Lindley abides by the carbonic acid gas theory. By the way, I was much pleased by Lindley picking out my extinction paragraphs and giving them uncurtailed. To my mind, putting the comparative rarity of existing species in the same category with extinction has removed a great weight; though of course it does not explain anything, it shows that until we can explain comparative rarity, we ought not to feel any surprise at not explaining extinction…

I am much pleased to hear of the call for a new edition of the ‘Principles’: what glorious good that work has done. I fear this time you will not be amongst the old rocks; how I shall rejoice to live to see you publish and discover another stage below the Silurian–it would be the grandest step possible, I think. I am very glad to hear what progress Bunbury is making in fossil Botany; there is a fine hiatus for him to fill up in this country. I will certainly call on him this winter…From what little I saw of him, I can quite believe everything which you say of his talents…

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