The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 92 of 188

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

36 Great Marlborough Street,
August 9th [1838].

My dear Lyell,

I do not write to you at Norwich, for I thought I should have more to say, if I waited a few more days. Very many thanks for the present of your ‘Elements,’ which I received (and I believe the very first copy distributed) together with your note. I have read it through every word, and am full of admiration of it, and, as I now see no geologist, I must talk to you about it. There is no pleasure in reading a book if one cannot have a good talk over it; I repeat, I am full of admiration of it, it is as clear as daylight, in fact I felt in many parts some mortification at thinking how geologists have laboured and struggled at proving what seems, as you have put it, so evidently probable. I read with much interest your sketch of the secondary deposits; you have contrived to make it quite “juicy,” as we used to say as children of a good story. There was also much new to me, and I have to copy out some fifty notes and references. It must do good, the heretics against common sense must yield…By the way, do you recollect my telling you how much I disliked the manner — referred to his other works, as much as to say, “You must, ought, and shall buy everything I have written.” To my mind, you have somehow quite avoided this; your references only seem to say, “I can’t tell you all in this work, else I would, so you must go to the ‘Principles’”; and many a one, I trust, you will send there, and make them, like me, adorers of the good science of rock-breaking. You will see I am in a fit of enthusiasm, and good cause I have to be, when I find you have made such infinitely more use of my Journal than I could have anticipated. I will say no more about the book, for it is all praise. I must, however, admire the elaborate honesty with which you quote the words of all living and dead geologists.

My Scotch expedition answered brilliantly; my trip in the steam-packet was absolutely pleasant, and I enjoyed the spectacle, wretch that I am, of two ladies, and some small children quite sea-sick, I being well. Moreover, on my return from Glasgow to Liverpool, I triumphed in a similar manner over some full-grown men. I stayed one whole day in Edinburgh, or more truly on Salisbury Craigs; I want to hear some day what you think about that classical ground,–the structure was to me new and rather curious,–that is, if I understand it right. I crossed from Edinburgh in gigs and carts (and carts without springs, as I never shall forget) to Loch Leven. I was disappointed in the scenery, and reached Glen Roy on Saturday evening, one week after leaving Marlborough Street. Here I enjoyed five [?] days of the most beautiful weather with gorgeous sunsets, and all nature looking as happy as I felt. I wandered over the mountains in all directions, and examined that most extraordinary district. I think, without any exceptions, not even the first volcanic island, the first elevated beach, or the passage of the Cordillera, was so interesting to me as this week. It is far the most remarkable area I ever examined. I have fully convinced myself (after some doubting at first) that the shelves are sea-beaches, although I could not find a trace of a shell; and I think I can explain away most, if not all, the difficulties. I found a piece of a road in another valley, not hitherto observed, which is important; and I have some curious facts about erratic blocks, one of which was perched up on a peak 2200 feet above the sea. I am now employed in writing a paper on the subject, which I find very amusing work, excepting that I cannot anyhow condense it into reasonable limits. At some future day I hope to talk over some of the conclusions with you, which the examination of Glen Roy has led me to. Now I have had my talk out, I am much easier, for I can assure you Glen Roy has astonished me.

I am living very quietly, and therefore pleasantly, and am crawling on slowly but steadily with my work. I have come to one conclusion, which you will think proves me to be a very sensible man, namely, that whatever you say proves right; and as a proof of this, I am coming into your way of only working about two hours at a spell; I then go out and do my business in the streets, return and set to work again, and thus make two separate days out of one. The new plan answers capitally; after the second half day is finished I go and dine at the Athenaeum like a gentleman, or rather like a lord, for I am sure the first evening I sat in that great drawing-room, all on a sofa by myself, I felt just like a duke. I am full of admiration at the Athenaeum, one meets so many people there that one likes to see. The very first time I dined there (i.e. last week) I met Dr. Fitton (W.H. Fitton (1780-1861) was a physician and geologist, and sometime president of the Geological Society. He established the ‘Proceedings,’ a mode of publication afterwards adopted by other societies.) at the door, and he got together quite a party–Robert Brown, who is gone to Paris and Auvergne, Macleay [?] and Dr. Boott. (Francis Boott (1792-1863) is chiefly known as a botanist through his work on the genus Carex. He was also well-known in connection with the Linnean Society of which he was for many years an office-bearer. He is described (in a biographical sketch published in the “Gardener’s Chronicle”, 1864) as having been one of the first physicians in London who gave up the customary black coat, knee-breeches and silk stockings, and adopted the ordinary dress of the period, a blue coat with brass buttons, and a buff waiscoat, a costume which he continued to wear to the last. After giving up practice, which he did early in life, he spent much of his time in acts of unpretending philanthropy.) Your helping me into the Athenaeum has not been thrown away, and I enjoy it the more because I fully expected to detest it.

I am writing you a most unmerciful letter, but I shall get Owen to take it to Newcastle. If you have a mind to be a very generous man you will write to me from Kinnordy (The house of Lyell’s father.), and tell me some Newcastle news, as well as about the Craig, and about yourself and Mrs. Lyell, and everything else in the world. I will send by Hall the ‘Entomological Transactions,’ which I have borrowed for you; you will be disappointed in –’s papers, that is if you suppose my dear friend has a single clear idea upon any one subject. He has so involved recent insects and true fossil insects in one table that I fear you will not make much out of it, though it is a subject which ought I should think to come into the ‘Principles.’ You will be amused at some of the ridiculo-sublime passages in the papers, and no doubt will feel acutely a sneer there is at yourself. I have heard from more than one quarter that quarrelling is expected at Newcastle (At the meeting of the British Association.); I am sorry to hear it. I met old — this evening at the Athenaeum, and he muttered something about writing to you or some one on the subject; I am however all in the dark. I suppose, however, I shall be illuminated, for I am going to dine with him in a few days, as my inventive powers failed in making any excuse. A friend of mine dined with him the other day, a party of four, and they finished ten bottles of wine–a pleasant prospect for me; but I am determined not even to taste his wine, partly for the fun of seeing his infinite disgust and surprise…

I pity you the infliction of this most unmerciful letter. Pray remember me most kindly to Mrs. Lyell when you arrive at Kinnordy. I saw her name in the landlord’s book of Inverorum. Tell Mrs. Lyell to read the second series of ‘Mr. Slick of Slickville’s Sayings.’…He almost beats “Samivel,” that prince of heroes. Goodnight, my dear Lyell; you will think I have been drinking some strong drink to write so much nonsense, but I did not even taste Minerva’s small beer to-day.

Yours most sincerely,
Chas. Darwin.

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