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Sir Charles Lyell

Galileo studied and found out the truth that the earth moves around the
sun, and died recanting it.

Buffon, the great French naturalist, studied, and ascertained that the
earth has been subject to changes which must have required millions of
years. He wrote: "The waters of the sea have produced the mountains and
valleys of the land--the waters of the heavens, reducing all to a level,
will at last deliver the whole land over to the sea, and the sea,
successively prevailing over the land, will leave dry new continents
like those which we inhabit."

He was at once summoned before the Faculty of Theology in Paris to
recant his opinions, saying, "I declare that I had no intention to
contradict the text of Scripture; that I believe most firmly all therein
related about the creation, both as to order of time and matter of fact;
I abandon everything in my book respecting the formation of the earth,
and, generally, all which may be contrary to the narration of Moses."

A little more than a century later, at Kinnordy, Forfarshire, Scotland,
a boy was born, Charles Lyell, who was destined not only to make
geology as fascinating to the world as a novel, but to prove more fully
and conclusively than any one had previously done that the world is not
only six thousand years old, but perhaps six thousand million years old;
and that man has lived here not for a few centuries only, but for
thousands of centuries. Lyell knew and felt what the Christian world has
come to feel, that truth must and will stand, and that there is no real
conflict between science and religion.

Charles Lyell, the eldest of ten children, having two brothers and seven
sisters, was born November 14, 1797. He had the early training of an
educated and refined father, a man who had devoted himself to the study
of botany, and written several works on Dante. The mother was a woman of
practical common-sense, and from her, doubtless, Charles inherited that
good judgment which characterized all his work and life.

At seven the child was sent to Ringwood, to a school kept by Rev. R. S.
Davies. Here, being the youngest, and one of the gentlest, he was spared
the roughness too often found in boys' schools. At ten he and his
brother Tom were sent to a school in Salisbury, sixteen miles from
Bartley Lodge, whither the family had moved from Kinnordy.

Though they missed their favorite sport of hay-making, they enjoyed
walks to Old Sarum, a famous camp of Roman times. Here the boys amused
themselves by heaping up piles of chalk flints on the opposite ridges,
and letting them roll down, and dash against each other like two armies.

The teacher, Dr. Radcliffe, was called "Bluebeard," from having his
fourth wife. The boys, however, liked him, because he had the rare merit
of being impartial, while they were never tired of annoying another
teacher, who had his favorites. Says Lyell of these early days,
"Monsieur Borelle's room was within one in which I and eight others
slept. One night, when we were very angry with him for having spatted us
all round with a ruler, for a noise in the schoolroom which only one
had made, and no one would confess, we determined to be revenged. We
balanced a great weight of heavy volumes on the top of the door, so that
no one could open it without their falling on his head. He was caught
like a mouse in a trap, and threw a book in a rage at each boy's head,
as they lay shamming sound asleep.

"Another stratagem of mine and young Prescott (son of Sir G. P.) was to
tie a string across the room from the legs of two beds, so as to trip
him up; from this string others branched off, the ends of which were
fixed to the great toes of two sound sleepers, so that when Monsieur
drew the lines, they woke, making a great outcry. At last we wearied him
out, and he went and slept elsewhere.

"I conclude that there were far too many hours allotted to sleep at this
school, for at all others we were glad to sleep after the labors of the
day, and got punished for late rising in the morning, and being too
late for roll-call. Here, on the contrary, a great many of our best
sports were at night, particularly one, which, as very unique and one
which lasted all the time I was there, I must describe. It consisted of
fighting, either in single combat, or whole rooms against others, with
bolsters. These were shaken until all the contents were at one end,
and then they were kept there by a girth of string or stockings. This
made a formidable weapon, the empty end being the handle, and the ball
at the other would hit a good blow, or coil round a fellow's leg, and by
a jerk pull him up so that he fell backwards.... The invading party were
always to station a watch at the head of the stairs, to give notice of
the approach of 'Bluebeard,' for he was particularly severe against this
warfare, though he never succeeded in putting it down. He used to come
up with a cane, which, as none were clothed, took dire effect on those
caught out of bed. He had a fortunate twist in his left foot, which made
his step recognizable at a distance, and his shoe to creak loudly. This
offence was high treason, not only because it led to broken heads, and
made a horrible row in the night, but because Mrs. Radcliffe found that
it made her bolsters wear out most rapidly."

Charles grew ill at Salisbury, and was taken home for three months. "I
began," he says, "to get annoyed with ennui, which did not improve my
health, for I was always most exceedingly miserable if unemployed,
though I had an excessive aversion to work unless forced to it. It
happened that, a little before this time, my father had for a short time
exchanged botany for entomology, a fit which only lasted just long
enough to induce him to purchase some books on the latter subject, after
which he threw it up; principally, I believe, from a dislike to kill the
insects. I did not like this department of the subject either....

"Collecting insects was just the sort of desultory occupation which
suited me at that time, as it gave sufficient employment to my mind and
body, was full of variety, and to see a store continually increasing
gratified what in the cant phrase of the phrenologist is termed the
'accumulative propensity.' I soon began to know what was rare, and to
appreciate specimens by this test. In the evenings I used to look over
'Donovan's Insects,' a work in which a great number of the British
species are well given in colored plates, but which has no scientific
merit. This was a royal road of arriving at the names, and required no
study, but mere looking at pictures. At first I confined my attention to
the Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths, etc.), as the most beautiful, but
soon became fond of watching the singular habits of the aquatic insects,
and used to sit whole mornings by a pond, feeding them with flies, and
catching them if I could.

"I had no companion to share this hobby with me, no one to encourage me
in following it up, yet my love for it continued always to increase,
and it afforded a most varied source of amusement.... Instead of
sympathy, I received from almost every one else beyond my home either
ridicule, or hints that the pursuits of other boys were more manly....
The disrepute in which my hobby was held had a considerable effect upon
my character, for I was very sensitive of the good opinions of others,
and therefore followed it up almost by stealth; so that, although I
never confessed to myself that I was wrong, but always reasoned myself
into a belief that the generality of people were too stupid to
comprehend the interest of such pursuits; yet, I got too much in the
habit of avoiding being seen, as if I was ashamed of what I did."

The temporary ill-health of the schoolboy led to the long hours of
observation of nature; these led to a devotion to science, which brought
a worldwide fame. Thus, often, that which seems a hindrance in life
proves a blessing in the end.

At twelve, Charles was placed in a school where there were seventy boys,
with much fagging and fighting. That this roughness was not in
accordance with his noble and refined nature is shown by his words,
years afterwards: "Whatever some may say or sing of the happy
recollections of their school days, I believe the generality, if they
told the truth, would not like to have them over again, or would
consider them as less happy than those which follow.... The recollection
of it makes me bless my stars I have not to go through it again.

"My ambition," he says, "during the second half-year was excited by
finding myself rising near the top of a class of fifteen boys in which I
was; and when miserable, as I often was, with the kicks and cuffs I
received, I got into a useful habit of thinking myself happy when I got
a high number in the class-paper." Each year he received a prize for
speaking, and often prizes for Latin and English original composition.

At seventeen young Lyell entered Exeter College, Oxford. He still
devoted many hours to entomology, and took some honors in classics. A
book, as is often the case, had already helped to shape his life. He had
found and read, in his father's library, Bakewell's "Geology," and was
greatly excited over the views there expressed about the antiquity of
the earth. Dr. Buckland, Professor of Geology at Oxford, was then at the
height of his fame, and Lyell at once attended a course of his lectures
and took notes.

College life was having its influence over the youth, for he wrote to
his father: "It is the seeing the superiority of others that convinces
one how much is to be and must be done to get any fame; and it is this
which spurs the emulation, and feeds that 'Atmosphere of Learning,'
which Sir Joshua Reynolds admirably describes as 'floating round all
public institutions, and which even the idle often breathe in, and then
wonder how they came by it.'"

And yet Lyell, like most students, found it a difficult matter to
decide what was best for a life-pursuit. His father wished him to study
law. In reply, the son says: "As for the confidence and quickness which
you were speaking of, as one of the chief requisites of the Bar, I don't
know whether intercourse with the world will supply it, but God knows, I
have little enough of it now in company."

During his college course, Lyell made a journey with some friends to
Staffa, and wrote a poem upon the place, and then, with his parents and
his eldest sisters, travelled in France, Switzerland, and Italy. Here,
in the midst of art and beautiful scenery, his mind still turned toward
science. He thought the collections in comparative anatomy in the Jardin
des Plantes, in Paris, would tempt any one to "take up ardently the
study of anatomy." In Cuvier's lecture-room, filled with fossil remains,
he found "three glorious relics of a former world, which have added
several new genera to the Mammalia."

In the Jura chain he concluded the limestone to be "of a different age
from what we passed through before Dijon, for the latter abounded in
organic remains, whereas I could not discover one fossil in the Jura. By
the roadside I picked up many beautiful petrifactions, which must be
forming daily here, where the water is charged plentifully with lime."

"The rock of the Col de Balme," he said, "is a brown, ligneous slate,
with some veins of white quartz intersecting it: the appearance is very
curious. On the top was the richest carpet of turf I ever saw, spangled
with thousands of the deep blue gentian, red trefoil, and other mountain
flowers." Nothing said about law, but much about rocks!

At twenty-two Lyell graduated from Oxford. The same year he became a
Fellow of the Geological Society of London, and also of the Linnaean
Society, and, in accordance with his father's preference, began the
study of law in London.

But the way to success is almost never easy. Lyell's eyes became very
weak, and he was obliged to desist from reading, and go to Rome with his
father. Many a young man, well-to-do, would have given up a profession,
preferring a life of leisure. Not so Charles Lyell. On his return he
inspected Romney Marsh, an extensive tract of land, formerly covered by
the sea, and also the Isle of Wight, and wrote his first scientific
paper on the geology of some rivers near his native place in
Forfarshire. At twenty-six he was made secretary of the Geological
Society. Already such men as Dr. Buckland felt the deepest interest in
the enterprising young student, who was devoting himself to original

And now he was going to Paris, to perfect himself in French. Dr.
Buckland and others gave him letters of introduction to such persons as
Humboldt and Cuvier. Fortunate young Lyell! Such men would fan the flame
of aspiration to a white heat.

Once in Paris, the stimulus of great minds did its accustomed
work--developed and beautified another mind. He attended a levee at
Alexander Brongniart's, "who among the English geologists has the
highest reputation both for knowledge and agreeable manners of all the
French savans," he wrote home to his father. Again he wrote: "My
reception at Cuvier's last Saturday will make me feel myself at liberty
to attend his soirees next week, and they are a great treat. He was
very polite, and invited me to attend the Institute on Monday. There he
introduced me to several geologists, and put me in an excellent place
for hearing....

"Humboldt addressed me, as Duvau had done, with, 'I have the honor of
being familiar with your name, as your father has labored with no small
success in botany, particularly the cryptogamiae....' He was not a little
interested in hearing me detail the critiques which our geologists have
made on his last geological work,--a work which would give him a rank in
science if he had never published aught besides. He made me a present of
his work, and I was surprised to find how much he has investigated the
details of our English strata.... He appears to work hard at astronomy,
and lives in a garret for the sake of that study. The King of Prussia
invited him to adorn his court at the last Congress; thence he went to
Vesuvius just after the grand eruption, and brought away much geological
information on that head, which he was good enough to communicate to
me. He speaks English well. I attend lectures at the Jardin du Roi, on
mining, geology, chemistry, and zooelogy, all gratis! by the first
men.... I have promised Humboldt to pass the afternoon to-day in his
study. His new edition serves as a famous lesson to me, in the
comparison of England and the Continent. There are few heroes who lose
so little by being approached as Humboldt."

Who shall estimate the value of such a friendship to a young man! It was
a foregone conclusion that Lyell and Agassiz and Liebig, and others, who
sought the society of such as Humboldt, and were willing to work,
would come to greatness.

Cuvier introduced Lyell to Professor Van Breda of Ghent, who gave him
letters to all the Dutch universities,--Ghent, Amsterdam, Haarlem, and

The next year, 1824, Lyell made a geological tour with M. Constant
Prevost, a noted French geologist, from London to Bristol and Land's
End, and with Dr. Buckland, in Scotland, where they dined with the
far-famed Francis Jeffrey, editor of the "Edinburgh Review." Lyell's
eyes still troubled him so that he could scarcely write letters home;
but he was laying up a store of knowledge from which the world was to
profit in a few years.

In 1825, his eyes having improved, he resumed his law study, and was
admitted to the bar. But he could not give up geological work, and
published several papers,--one on a dike of serpentine, another on
shell marl and fossil fruit, and others on plastic clay in Hampshire and
the fresh-water strata of Hants. He had been made a Fellow of the Royal
Society at twenty-nine, and was one of the writers in the "Quarterly

The law work went on, but it was easy to see where his heart was. He
wrote a friend that he had been "devouring" Lamarck: "That the earth is
quite as old as he supposes has long been my creed, and I will try
before six months are over to convert the readers of the 'Quarterly' to
that heterodox opinion.... Buckland has got a letter from India about
modern hyaenas, whose manners, habitations, diet, etc., are everything he
could wish, and as much as could be expected had they attended regularly
three courses of his lectures."

At thirty-one Lyell had made up his mind "that there is most real
independence in that class of society who, possessing moderate means,
are engaged in literary and scientific hobbies;" he had given up the
law, and planned the book that was to make him famous--"Principles of
Geology." He travelled now extensively in Italy and France, studying
volcanoes, glaciers, and fossils. At Auvergne, he began work with his
dear friend Murchison at six o'clock in the morning, "and neither heat
nor fatigue has stopped us an hour," he writes to his parents. "I have
really gained strength so much, that I believe that I and my eyes were
never in such a condition before; and I am sure that six hours in bed,
which is all we allow, and exercise all day long for the body, and
geology for the mind, ... is the best thing that can be invented in this
world for my health and happiness."

Eighteen hours of labor daily, and yet he was happy! He had found his
life-work now. To a sister he writes about the beetles at Aix. He cannot
be laughed out of this study as when a boy. He has been to Parma, to see
Professor Guidotti's "finest collection of fossil-shells in Italy, ...
spending three days, from six o'clock in the morning till night,
exchanging our respective commodities."

To his sisters he writes all his discoveries in rocks and fossils, with
the enthusiasm of a boy. "I rode to the upper Val d'Arno,--a famous day
for me,--an old lacustrine deposit, corresponding delightfully with our
Angus lakes in all but age and species of animals; same genera of
shells. They have just extracted the fortieth skeleton of hippopotamus;
have got about twenty elephants, one or two mastodons, a rhinoceros and
stags, and oxen out of number.... At Rome I found the geology of the
city itself exceedingly interesting. The celebrated seven hills, of
which you have read, and which in fact are nine, are caused by the Tiber
and some tributaries, which have cut open valleys almost entirely
through volcanic ejected matter, covered by travertine containing
lacustrine shells."

He made the ascent of Etna, and sketched the crater. "Inside the
crater, near the lip, were huge masses of ice, between which and the
scoriae and lava of the crater issued hot sulphurous vapors, which I
breathed in copiously; and for six hours after I could not, even after
eating and drinking, get the horrid taste out of my mouth, for my lungs
had got full of it. The wind was so high, that the guide held my hat
while I drew; but though the head was cold, my feet got so hot in the
cinders, that I was often alarmed that my boots would be burnt."

In 1830, the first volume of "Principles of Geology, being an Attempt to
Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes
now in Operation," was published. "It will not pretend," he wrote to
Murchison, "to give even an abstract of all that is known in geology,
but it will endeavor to establish the principles of reasoning in the
science; and all my geology will come in as illustration of my views of
those principles, and as evidence strengthening the system necessarily
arising out of the admission of such principles, which, as you know, are
neither more nor less than that no causes whatever have from the
earliest time to which we can look back, to the present, ever acted, but
those now acting.... I must go to Germany.... Their language must be
learnt; the places to which their memoirs relate, visited; and then you
may see, as I may, to what extent we may indulge dreams of eminence, at
least as original observers." He, too, like all the other great ones,
indulged in "dreams of eminence." Did ever man or woman achieve anything
worthy without these dreams?

He had worked earnestly upon the "Principles," which showed wonderful
research, study, and thought. He said, "The facts which are given in a
few sentences require weeks of reading to obtain.... By the aid of a
good amanuensis, my eyes hold out well."

The sale of the book was large and satisfactory. It was, of course,
opposed, from its advanced views as to the age of the world, but Lyell
wisely made no reply. He said, "I have sworn to myself that I will not
go to the expense of giving time to combat in controversy. It is an
interminable work." A great lesson, learned early.

In 1831 he visited Germany. Now he wrote home not only to his family,
but to another, who was hereafter to brighten and beautify his
life--Mary Horner, the daughter of a prominent scientist. To great
personal beauty she added unusual mental ability. Wise man indeed was
Charles Lyell to have known, what some fail to know beforehand, that
intellect demands intellect for the best companionship.

He wrote to her: "I am sure you will work at it" (the German language)
"with more zeal if you believe you can help me by it, as I labor with
greater spirit, now that I regard myself as employed for you as well as
for myself. Not that I am at all sanguine about the pecuniary profits
that I shall ever reap, but I feel that if I could have fair play for
the next ten years, I could gain a reputation that would make a moderate
income for the latter part of my life, yield me a command of society,
and a respect that would entitle me to rest a little on my oars, and
enable me to help somewhat those I love.... As to geology having half
of my heart, I hope I shall be able to give my whole soul to it, with
that enthusiasm by which alone any advance can be made in any science,
or, indeed, in any profession."

In 1832 Lyell was made professor of geology in King's College, London,
which position he resigned later, because he wished "the power of
commanding time to increase his knowledge and fame." This year also,
July 12, when he was thirty-five, he was married to Mary Horner, and
made a tour up the valley of the Rhine.

The earnest life was now more earnest and busy than ever. He said, "I am
never so happy as when, at the end of a week, I feel I have employed
every day in a manner that will tell to the rest of my life." Would that
all of us could live after so noble a plan!

"Unless I can feel that I am working to some decided end, such as that
of fame, money, or partly both, I cannot be quite happy, or cannot feel
a stimulus to that strenuous application without which I should not
remain content." He had learned what "strenuous application" means, and
knew that there is no success without it. When congratulated by his
friends "in not looking older for his hard work," he said, "The way to
do much and not grow old is, to be moderate in not going out, to work a
few hours, or half-hours, at a time, ... and to go to bed at eleven
o'clock." He would not accept many invitations socially. "A man should
have some severity of character, and be able to refuse invitations,
etc.," he said. "The fact is, that to become great in science, a man
must be nearly as devoted as a lawyer, and must have more than mere
talent.... I think I never do so much as when I have fought a battle not
to go out." Those who have written books will appreciate this statement,
and recall the many days when they have closed the shutters and worked,
though they longed to be out-of-doors in the sunlight.

In 1833, the year after his marriage, he gave by invitation a course of
seven lectures before the Royal Institution, a high honor. In 1834, he
passed several months in Sweden, and wrote back to his "dearest
Mary,"--"I have been ten hours without a word with my love, but thinking
of her more than half the time, and comforting myself that she is less
alone than I am." ... He kept a journal for her of his daily work.

"It is now twenty-five days that we have been separated, and I have
often thought of what you said, that the active occupation in which I
should constantly be engaged would give me a great advantage over you. I
trust, however, that you also have been actively employed. At leisure
moments I have done some things towards planning my next volume. It will
be necessary for us to have a work together at fossils at Kinnordy,
first, and then in town, and then in Paris." Thus fully had the young
wife entered into his studies.

In 1835, having received the gold medal of the Royal Society, for his
"Principles of Geology,"--now in its fourth edition, which Sir John
Herschel said he had read three times,--he was elected president of the
Geological Society of London, and made extensive researches in
Switzerland, Germany, and Scotland.

In 1841, already famous as well as beloved, Lyell was invited to give
twelve lectures before the Lowell Institute, in Boston. He and his wife
spent thirteen months in the United States, studying the country
geologically; its social life, its politics, and our benevolent and
educational institutions. Between two and three thousand persons came,
both morning and evening, to listen to the distinguished scholar, who
had travelled almost the world over to study his beloved science.

Close friendships were formed with some of our most prominent men, like
Prescott and Ticknor. Lyell visited the great lakes, and compared the
supposed ancient boundaries of Lake Ontario, when it was one hundred and
fifty feet higher, with its present shore. He made a careful study of
Niagara Falls, which cuts its deep gorge toward Lake Ontario, for seven
miles, and estimated that it wore away a foot a year. If so, he argued
that at least thirty-five thousand years have passed since the river
began to cut its passage between the high rocky walls. "What would I
give," said Lyell, "for a daguerrotype of the scene as it was four
thousand, and again forty thousand years ago! Even four centuries would
have been very important." Authorities differ as to the rate of the
recession of the falls. Some estimate an inch instead of a foot yearly,
requiring a period of more than four hundred thousand years.

In 1845, Lyell published his "Travels in North America, with Geological
Observations," and in September of the same year, returned again to our
country, spending nine months in travel and study, and bringing out
later, in 1849, his "Second Visit to the United States of North

Already his "Elements of Geology" had appeared, which went through
several editions. A seventh edition of the "Principles" had been
published. He had also been knighted by the Queen, for his rare
scholarship. Honored at home and abroad, working ardently and earnestly,
often with failing sight, he had already won for himself the eminence of
which he had dared to dream years before.

Of course he was welcomed at all great gatherings. Macaulay and Hallam,
Milmore and Mrs. Somerville, Rogers, and scores of others were often at
his home.

In 1851, he was appointed one of the Royal Commissioners for the first
Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park, London, and a year later gave a
second course of lectures at the Lowell Institute, Boston. So kindly and
cordially had he written concerning us and our country, that he received
the heartiest welcome. He had carried out in his life what he wrote to
beautiful Mary Horner, twenty years before: "I hope we shall both of us
contrive to cultivate a disposition--which David Hume said was better
than a fortune of one thousand pounds a year--to look on the bright side
of things. I think I shall, and I believe you will." The sweet-natured
and great-minded man had looked on the bright side of America, and seen
the good rather than the evil. He believed in our future. When Prescott
died, to whom he was devotedly attached, he said: "From such a soil and
in such an atmosphere, great literary men must continue to spring up."

All through our Civil War, he had known and loved us so well, that he
was, like John Bright, our constant advocate. He deprecated the course
of some of the English newspapers. "The integrity of the empire," he
said, "and the non-extension and for the last two years the extinction
of slavery constitute to my mind better grounds for a protracted
struggle than those for which any war in our time, perhaps in all
history, has been waged.... I am in hopes that the struggle in America
will rid the country in the course of twenty years of that great curse
to the whites, slave labor, and, if so, it may be worth all it will cost
in blood and treasure...."

"Had the States been dismembered, there would have been endless wars,
more activity than ever in breeding slaves in America, and a renewal of
the African slave-trade, and the future course of civilization retarded
in that continent in a degree which would not, in my judgment, be
counterbalanced by any adequate advantage which Europe would gain by the
United States becoming relatively less strong.... I believe that if a
small number of our statesmen had seen what I had seen of America, they
would not have allowed their wishes for dismemberment to have biassed
their judgment of the issue so much."

In 1853, at the request of his government, he came to New York, as one
of the commissioners to the International Exhibition. Of course, now,
wherever he travelled, either in Europe or America, he met the
distinguished, and was honored by them. He was the friend of Berzelius,
the noted chemist of Sweden, and of the great Liebig of Germany.
Professor Bunsen of Heidelberg said, that all his taste for geology had
been derived from Lyell's books.

During the next few years, he was much in Holland, France, and Germany,
preparing for the publication of another great work in 1863, the
"Antiquity of Man." He had made a careful study of the ancient Swiss
Lake-dwellings, erected on piles in the midst of the water, connected
with the land by bridges. On Lake Neuchatel it is estimated that there
were more than forty such circular houses. At Wangen, near Stein, on
Lake Constance, it is believed forty thousand piles were used. Some five
thousand objects have been found, comprising flax, not woven, but
plaited; carbonized wheat, and the bones of the dog, ox, sheep, and
goat. The arrow-heads, hatchets, and the like, belong to the stone age,
which geologists place, at the least, seven thousand years ago. At
Zurich one human skull was found belonging to this early stone age. No
traveller should pass through Zurich without seeing these memorials of a
people who lived in the dawn of civilization, when the world was being
made ready for the more perfect man.

Lyell had studied also the Danish "kitchen-middens," familiar to those
who have been carefully over the museums at Copenhagen. These
shell-mounds, the refuse heaps of this ancient race, are sometimes one
thousand feet long and two hundred wide. As far back as the time of the
Romans the Danish isles were covered with magnificent beech forests. In
the bronze age there were no beech trees, but oaks. In the stone age the
Scotch fir prevailed, and thousands of years must have elapsed while
these giant forests succeeded each other.

The delta and alluvial plain of the Mississippi Lyell found to consist
of sediment covering an area of thirty thousand square miles, several
hundred feet deep. Taking the amount deposited annually, it would
require from fifty to one hundred thousand years to produce the present

The coral reefs of Florida, built up at the rate of one foot in a
century, each reef adding ten miles to the coast, have required,
according to Agassiz, at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand
years for building. Human remains in a bluff on the shores of Lake
Monroe, in Florida, he shows to be at least ten thousand years old.

Under the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, seventeen canoes have been dug
up, one in a vertical position, as if it had sunk in a storm, with the
prow uppermost. Twelve canoes one hundred yards back from the river were
found nineteen feet beneath the surface. Almost all were single oak
trees, hollowed out by blunt tools, probably stone axes, aided by fire,
relics of the stone age.

In caverns near Liege, France, human bones have been found, with the
cave-bear, elephant, rhinoceros, and other species now extinct. Skulls
found in these primeval caves, especially one near Duesseldorf, called
the "Neanderthal," "is the most brutal of all known human skulls,
resembling those of the apes." These rude men probably were living at
the same time, or even later, than the makers of the "refuse heaps" of

Wales has been under the sea to the depth of fourteen hundred feet, as
proved by glacial shells; its submergence and reelevation would require,
by careful computation, about two hundred and twenty-four thousand

Lyell showed that the Alps, Andes, and Himalaya Mountains were all
elaborated under water. "The Alps have acquired four thousand, and even,
in some places, more than ten thousand feet of their present altitude
since the commencement of the Eocene (dawn of recent) period.... It is
not too much to say that every spot which is now dry land has been sea
at some former period, and every part of the space now covered by the
deepest ocean has been land. The present distribution of land and water
encourages us to believe that almost every conceivable transformation in
the external form of the earth's crust may have been gone through. In
one epoch the land may have been chiefly equatorial; in another, for the
most part polar and circumpolar."

Lyell showed also the great age of the world by the changes which have
taken place in climate. In Greenland are a multitude of fossil plants,
which show that it formerly enjoyed a mild and genial climate. Fossil
tulip and walnut trees have been found within the Arctic circle.

"On the North American continent, between the Arctic circle and the
forty-second parallel of latitude," said Lyell, "we meet with signs of
ice-action on a scale as grand, if not grander than in Europe." The
drift covered from the Atlantic border of New England and Labrador
westward to Dakota and Lake Winnipeg, and farther north, across the
continent. Some stones in this bed of ice were thirty feet square,
weighing over four million pounds. Some boulders from the Alps,
weighing three thousand tons each, are now found on the Juras. "It must,
I think," said Lyell, "be conceded that the period required for the
coming-on of the greatest cold, and for its duration when most intense,
and the oscillations to which it was subject, as well as the retreat of
the glaciers and the 'great thaw,' or disappearance of snow, from many
mountain-chains where the snow was once perpetual, required not tens,
but hundreds, of thousands of years."

In Arctic Siberia herds of elephants must have roamed, as their bodies,
covered with hair and flesh, have been dug up in recent years. Great
Britain and Europe have been much warmer than now. Our own immense coal
fields show a former tropical climate, with their great tree-ferns and
tree-rushes, while the remains of reindeers have been found in

No wonder Lyell became fascinated with the history of the changes of
this planet, and the life of man before historic times. A great book
seemed open to him, and he studied it by night and by day: the Archaean
Time--no life; Paleozoic Time, including the Silurian Age, with its
shells and trilobites; the Devonian, with its fishes; Carboniferous,
with its coal plants; Mesozoic Time, including the Reptilian Age with
its reptiles; Cenozoic Time, including the Mammalian or Tertiary, with
its mammals, and Quaternary, or age of man. Paleozoic means "ancient
life;" Mesozoic, "middle life;" Cenozoic, "recent life."

Lyell divided the Tertiary strata into three groups: Eocene, recent
dawn; Miocene, less recent; Pliocene, more recent. In the Eocene Age
Great Britain was sub-tropical, and, in North America, Vermont was like
North Carolina in temperature. Then came the Glacial Period, with ice
probably five thousand feet thick over New England. Then the Champlain
Period, with its floods, continents depressed, and climate warm,
followed in Europe by a second Glacial Period.

The "Antiquity of Man" had an extensive sale. Honors were now showered
upon Sir Charles Lyell. He was offered the Presidency of the Royal
Society, and a seat in Parliament for the University of London, but
declined both. Oxford University had already conferred upon him the
degree of D. C. L., and the Institute of France had made him
corresponding member. By request of the queen, he visited her at
Osborne, she having made him a baronet. Emperor William conferred upon
him the Order of Merit, given also to Humboldt, and the London Royal
Society, its highest honor, the Copley gold medal.

In the spring of 1873, his "dearest Mary" died, leaving him
heart-broken. She was mourned in America as well as Europe. The "Boston
Advertiser" said, "Strength and sweetness were hers, both in no common
measure.... She became to her husband not merely the truest of friends,
and the most affectionate and sympathizing of companions, but a very
efficient helper. She was frank, generous, and true; her moral
instincts were high and pure; she was faithful and firm in
friendship.... This woman so widely informed, so true, so strong, so
brave, seemed all compact of softness, sweetness, and gentleness; a very
flower that had done no more than drink the sunshine and the dew. In her
smile, her greeting, the tones of her voice, there was a charm which
cannot be described, but which all who knew her have felt and will
recall.... During the war there was not a woman or a man in England that
stood by the Union and the government more ardently and fearlessly than
she." Lady Lyell was an efficient linguist, and a woman of unusual
mental power. The success of her husband was in part the result of her
lovely character. Had she sought society while he needed quiet for his
work, had she been fond of dress when their income was limited and
necessarily used in his extensive travels, his life might have been a
failure. They had what Tolstoi well calls "the friendship of the soul;
identity of sentiment and similarity of ideal." Too often in this world
persons marry "opposites," and walk, alas! in opposite directions all
their lives.

Lyell now worked on, for he said he must carry out what he had planned
with her. In 1872 the eleventh edition of the "Principles" appeared.
Lyell, though formerly an opponent, had become convinced of the truth of
evolution, advocated by his devoted friend Darwin, and was proud of our
own distinguished botanist Asa Gray, whose articles, he said, "were the
ablest, and, on the whole, grappling with the subject, both as a
naturalist and metaphysician, better than any one else on either side of
the Atlantic."

Lyell believed ever in "an infinite and eternal Being." He said, "In
whatever direction we pursue our researches, whether in time or space,
we discover everywhere the clear proofs of a Creative intelligence, and
of his foresight, wisdom, and power."

He used to quote Professor Agassiz, who said, "Whenever a new and
startling fact is brought to light in science, people first say, 'It is
not true,' then that 'it is contrary to religion,' and lastly that
'everybody knew it before.'"

For the last ten years of his life, unable to use his eyes to any great
extent, Lyell had the assistance, as secretary, of the able author of
the "Fairy Land of Science," Miss Arabella Buckley, now Mrs. Fisher. And
yet he accomplished more than most people with the best of eyes.

Two years after his wife's death, while at work on the twelfth edition
of the "Principles," the end came, February 22, 1875. He was buried in
Westminster Abbey, beside his friend Sir John Herschel,--the Duke of
Argyll, Professor Huxley, and other noted men acting as pall-bearers.
Said the Dean of Westminster, in the funeral sermon preached in the
Abbey, "He followed truth with a zeal as sanctified as ever fired the
soul of a missionary, and with a humility as child-like as ever subdued
the mind of a simple scholar.... From early youth to extreme old age,
it was to him a solemn religious duty to be incessantly learning,
constantly growing, fearlessly correcting his own mistakes, always ready
to receive and reproduce from others that which he had not in himself.
Science and religion for him not only were not divorced, but were one
and indivisible." Truly said Tyndall, Huxley, and others, "For the last
twenty-five years he has been the most prominent geologist in the world;
equally eminent for the extent of his labors and the breadth of his
philosophical views."

To the last Sir Charles Lyell kept his affectionate, tender heart, with
gentle and kindly manners. He was fair to his opponents, and
appreciative of all talent. He took time to help others. He urged the
name of Agassiz as the lecturer before the Lowell Institute, Boston, and
we all know the grand results of his coming. Those who have no time to
help others usually fail of help when their own time of need comes.
Lyell was singularly free from vanity, egotism, or jealousy. He loved
nature devotedly, the grandeur of the sea especially impressing him; he
never tired of wandering alone beside it. He had great steadiness of
purpose, and calm judgment. His perseverance was untiring; his power of
work remarkable; his sympathy boundless. He was never narrow or
opinionated. He died as he had lived; honored the world over for his
amazing knowledge, and loved for his unselfish, earnest, and beautiful

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