Polar Record

The letters between James Lamont and Charles Darwin on Arctic fauna

C. Leah Devlin

Division of Science and Engineering, Penn State University, Abington College, 1600 Woodland Road, Abington, Pa. 19001, USA (cld5@psu.edu)


In the summers of 1858 and 1859, the Scot Sir James Lamont of Knockdow embarked on two cruises to Svalbard (referred to by Lamont as Spitzbergen [sic]) to hunt, make geographical surveys, and collect geological and biological specimens. Lamont's return from these voyages coincided with the publication of the joint Charles Darwin-Alfred Russel Wallace paper, ‘On the tendency of species to form varieties; on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection’ by the Linnean Society in August 1858 and, a year later, the publication of Darwin's On the origin of species (Darwin 1958). Profoundly influenced by Darwin's ideas, Lamont initiated a correspondence with the naturalist, relating examples of what he considered to be natural selection, observed during his hunting expeditions. In his Svalbard travelogue, Seasons with the sea-horses (1861), Lamont expounded specifically upon walrus and polar bear evolution, ideas inspired by sporadic yet encouraging letters from the renowned naturalist.

(Received April 2014)

(Online publication July 14 2014)