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


Samuel Finley Breese Morse Sir Henry Bessemer facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail