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Record number: WCP2446

Sent by:
Henry Hoyle Howorth
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
29 August 

Sent by Henry Hoyle Howorth, 30 Collingham Place, Earls Court to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Corfe View, Parkstone, Dorset] on 29 August .

Record created:
30 November 2011 by Mayer, Anna


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  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP2446.2336)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
British Library, The
Finding number:
BL Add. 46436 ff. 255-258
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Henry Hoyle Howorth Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information




30 Collingham Place

Earls Court


Aug[ust] 29th

My dear Mr Wallace

I cannot thank you sufficiently for your letter. I am naturally pleased that you should have cared to read my book through and that you should have found some entertainment in it. Now understand of course that it only contains a part of my case. Another part was contained in a large book on the [?] which I published 3 or 4 years ago which if you have not got I will take[?] to have sent to you. Another part is contained in [a] [[2]] paper I have published in the Geological Magazine and which will be [?] in a subsequent book.

I highly value your criticisms and as I am very much interested in the whole subject apart from the soundness of my views I am naturally anxious that one who has taught me so much in other fields and has given me so much delight should at least understand the grounds on which my conclusions are based. Nor do I know of any method of controversy so fruitful as an interchange of views between men who have devoted much thought to a subject.

I will reply to what you have said in regard to the correlative nature of the [[3]] [?] [?] out by ice when melting and accumulating in it when freezing in a day or two when I have given your views the consideration which they deserve. Today I will limit myself to what I consider a much more important matter and one upon which my convictions are very strong.

You say I have been slaying[?] the dead in arguing against in short Polar ice caps. Is this so[?] It is not many months since Ball1 wrote his extraordinary book reaffirming Crolls2 extravagant views on this subject. I was bound to notice a theory which was countenanced by an Astronomer Royal for Ireland although repudiated by every geologist known to me. I am extremely pleased to find that you do not agree with Croll & and Ball [[4]] on this subject and shall be pleased if you will say so in your articles as we want to narrow the issues.

I am bound to say however that both Croll and Ball argue as if they felt bound to accept Polar ice sheets since they had already accepted astronomical causes for an Ice age. I cannot see how you can separate the two conclusions. Take the planet Mars as an example. There you have undoubted Polar ice caps & there you have an adequate astronomical cause for glacial periods & the one [?] depended on the other. The [?] against astronomical causes seem to me to be chiefly

1st the absence of evidence of recurring glacial periods in geological time. The evidence of the fauna & flora of all previous geological periods being against it as I believe you [[5]] yourself have urged and as I have tried to prove by considerable evidence in my book.

2nd the breakdown of the evidence for interglacial periods which has led the most experienced authorities both continental and English who have written upon the subject to dispute their existence. thirdly. The absence of any evidence of alternate glaciation in each hemisphere.

Fourthly (and this seems to me to be paramount) the conclusion of such excellent

astronomers as [?] and others that [?] [?] either in the eccentricity[?] of the earths orbit or in the [?] of its axis which is possible could produce a glacial climate. [[6]] This opinion I saw[?] strongly emphasized in a letter in last Saturdays Spectator.

Lastly the stupendous time that we must postulate as having passed since the glacial [?] [?] to attribute it to astronomical causes. This has been much pressed by Prestwich3 and others.

In your letter you [?] me to [?] but [?] as I have tried to show elsewhere is exactly the case I should rely upon for attributing the rigorous conditions not to altered astronomical causes but to altered geographical distribution and upon this latter [[7]] matter it seems to me there has been a good deal of misapprehension. It is not the redistribution of land & sea so much as the distribution of the high land & the lowland in high latitudes which is the effective cause. The main reason for the great cold of Greenland now as compared with formerly is its great elevation above the sea level upon which I have collected some details from the Danish surveys in my book & upon which I have a good deal more evidence by me. It is because so much of Greenland is above the snow line as the moisture is fixed in those latitudes and is at the same [[8]] time situated within the zone of damp winds[?] that its great accumulation of ice is to be explained. I feel sure that these considerations if present to your mind as they have been brought home to mine[.] after much labour & thought you will conclude that whatever changes of climate have occurred on the earth since its history began have been due to causes operating on the earth and from the earth itself and not due to recurrent astronomical causes. The sentence[?] I quote from much at the end of my chapter on the astronomical causes of an ice age condenses my view completely. This position does not of course affect the question of the existence of ice sheets etc. That is another matter but it is one of great importance upon which I think the great mass of argument & matured opinion is on one side on which side I should like to see you.

Yours very truly | Henry H. Howorth [signature]


1. Ball, Robert Stawell (1840-1913). Irish astronomer.

2. Croll, James, FRS (1821-1890). Scottish scientist and author of Climate and Time.

3. Prestwich, Sir Joseph (1812-1896). British geologist and Fellow of the Royal Society.

4. Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle (1842-1923). British politician, barrister and amateur geologist.

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