From Robert Chambers to William Kemp   29 September 1848

1 Doune Terrace, Edinb.

September 29, 1848.


Dear Sir,

You will probably be aware of a charge necessarily very unpleasant to me which has been made against me with reference to your labours among the Tweedside terraces, in the last Athenaeum. Undoubtedly, had I been set agoing in this enquiry by you, and, further alleged, passed you over without notice, I should be justly liable to great blame. But neither is the fact. I enclose a copy of my first writing on the subject of raised beaches, published as you observe some months before your researches came under my attention, and adverting to the labours of Mr Maclaren and Mr Smith of Jordanhill, amongst those sea-side terraces, which were my actual starting point. Your researches having received no ratification from the geologists had fallen out of thought with me so much that, you may remember, at my first excursion with you on Tweedside, I never looked at the Eildon markings. They were wrought in afterwards, and so far from your merits being overlooked I find your name quoted in my book seven or eight times, so as to fix on you any merit that may ultimately be found in your discoveries—for as to present merit in the whole case, I see no disposition anywhere to own it, my own labours not having yet brought me one word of approbation from any geologist of repute. I dare say it might have been as well to allude to your valuable assistance in the Tweedside alluvial terraces—it merely had not occurred to me as necessary where the larger merit was so fully acknowledged. As to the list from which you are omitted, it is not what Mr Brockie alleges, a list of discoverers in this field generally, but one limited to a certain class of beaches, those above 40 feet, meaning merely to distinguish these from the lower ones, about which there were many earlier notices. It never had occurred to me to mention your labours there, or Darwin’s either, for it was only the lower section of the terraces—those that one to whom the merit was ascribed of first tracing ancient sea-markings in the interior should have deemed it a grievance that, from oversight or misinformation, his penning a few sentences as material for an article in a small weekly periodical work was put in doubt. I now understand this matter, and it throws a flood of light on the whole subject of our misunderstanding.

You repeat Mr Brockie’s error about the list of original discoverers, as you call it, and this more inexcuseably, since my letter had told you that it was not a list of such persons,—I mean not a list of “all the original discoverers” (your words) but only a statement of the series of papers in which were recorded the first steps of discovery upwards from sea-side terraces under 40 feet—a list, of course, in which you had no title to be, and from which Mr Darwin and others were for similar reasons excluded.

You debate, as a question in point, whether I entered the field before you, when the fact is that I have never made any such pretension, as far as actual research is concerned. The quotation of my own first original research under 1843, in the same volume with a statement of the date of your researches as “eight or nine years ago,” is complete proof on this point. What I did say was that your researches, which were long subsequent to those of Maclaren, Smith, Veitch, Darwin, and a host of others, were not what led me to the subject; as proof of which I sent you an article of mine written upon the basis of fact supplied by your predecessors, and published before I had heard of your investigations.

I am lothe to think I can have been so out in my notions of your character, as to be excluded from a hope that you will yet, in a cooler moment, and perhaps under better counsel than that which seems to be around you, acknowledge your having done me injustice. Your discoveries, at which you told me Dr Buckland would not look, which Mr Milne had spoken of with the greatest doubt, and which were literally lying dead in the obscure records to which they had been at first committed, are surely not the worse of being brought once more before the world with a second person’s seal set upon them, and with the fresh claim on general notice which they derive from being shown in relationship with similar markings elsewhere. If you have spent further labour in working out the general question, have not you, in doing so, helped forward the day when such researches may find their just acknowledgment? Whatever you may ultimately think or feel on these questions, I shall at least have all desireable contentment in reflecting that, in adverting to and acknowledging your labours, I have at once done a duty towards science, and helped, to the extent of my humble ability, to set forward the merits and establish the just fame of one of the explicators of a majestic physical enquiry.

I am, | dear Sir, | your very faithful humble sert. | R. Chambers.

Mr William Kemp.

P.S. I have omitted to set you right about the reason which you profess to quote from myself for not inserting your name in the list. The real reason for that omission was explicitly stated in my former letter; yet you set down one wholly different,—that I had forgot to place you there because of your investigations having created no interest in the geological world. Having thus made me confess something not very honourable to myself, you ask if it was generous conduct; which certainly it would not have been, if it had been my conduct at all. But I had never given any such reason—the fact being that you had transferred this reason from its proper place, where it had been set forward merely to show how natural it was that I should not have thought of examining your terraces till almost the eleventh hour, and to help in proving that you had not led me in the investigation, as Mr Brockie had asserted.

Please cite as “KEMP88,” in Ɛpsilon: The William Kemp Collection accessed on 20 April 2024,