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Lyell, Sir Charles, 1797-1875 (1st Baronet | Scottish geologist)



  • Existence: 14 November 1797- 22 February 1875

Charles Lyell Project - 2020
Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) wrote many geological papers, mainly published by the Geological Society of London (1807-present day), but his reputation rests almost entirely on his work Principles of Geology, ( 1830-1833) inspired in part by a European tour with Sir Roderick Impey Murchison and also his knowledge of James Hutton's Theory of the Earth. In this work, first published in three volumes, Lyell propounded his theory of uniformitarianism, which holds that all geological formations can be explianed solely in terms of natural processes which can be observed in operation today. This ran counter to the prevailing theory which assumed that mountain-building and other geological phenomena could only have occurred as a result of major cataclysmic events in the past. Lyell's uniformitarianism was developed in order to reject the progressionism implicit in the prevailing theory, which he saw as leading to evolution, an idea which he strongly opposed. Ironically, Lyell's opposition to evolution brought the idea to scientists' attention and the vast time scales required by uniformitarianism enabled Darwin to conceive of his version of evolutionary theory. Lyell's other works include: The Elements of Geology, ( 1837) Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, ( 1863-1873).
Charles Lyell's father was an active naturalist, and Lyell had access to an elaborate library which included works on geology. Whilst at Oxford University he attended lectures by William Buckland, professor of geology, that triggered his enthusiasm for the subject. He became more and more interested in the subject and made many geological tours with his family in England and Scotland in 1817, and on the Continent the following year, the first of many trips abroad. In 1828 he explored the volcanic region of the Auvergne, then went to Mount Etna to gather supporting evidence for the theory of geology he would expound in his Principles of Geology . He also made numerous tours of the United States, described in Travels in North America, ( 1909) . His writings deal with the rock cycle, which explains how one type of rock is transformed into another. Lyell also expounds notions on volcanic forces, deposition, erosion and palaeontology in his writings. His work helped to establish the modern study of geology and geologic time. In addition to rock formation, he also wrote about palaeontology. It was Lyell who proposed the idea of reference fossils - fossils which are indicative of certain periods of geologic time. He divided geologic time into four periods: Pleistocene, Older Pliocene, Miocene and Eocene. His final work, The Antiquity of Man, ( 1863) , was a wide-ranging study of the human fossil record. In this work Lyell finally accepted Darwinian evolution, but still tried to insist that there was a radical discontinuity between humankind and the rest of the animal kingdom.
In 1823 Lyell was appointed secretary of the Geological Society of London, and 3 years later they made him their foreign secretary. He was twice President in 1836 and 1850. Lyell was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1826. He was awarded a Royal Medal in 1834 and the Copley Medal in 1858 and in 1866 he was awarded the Wollaston Medal. In 1832 he was the first professor of geology at King's College, London, and became President of the British Association in 1864.

Found in 527 Collections and/or Records:

Addresses and Speeches, c. 1850s - 1870s

 Series — Box: Lyell Temp Box 3.12
Identifier: Coll-203/B15
Scope and Contents Series of printed addresses given by Charles Lyell, including: 1) Printed Address delivered at the Anniversary Meeting of the Geological Society of London, 15th Feb 1850 and awarding Wollaston Medal to Peter Hopkins. Unopened. 2) Printed Address delivered at the Anniversary Meeting of the Geological Society of London, 21st Feb 1851 and awarding Wollaston Medal to Adam Sedgwick. Unopened. 3) Manuscript speech delivered by Lyell at the [New York City] Crystal Palace Banquet, 1853...
Dates: c. 1850s - 1870s

Albums containing autograph letters to Sir Charles Lyell and family, and portraits of the writers, compiled by Leonard Lyell

Identifier: Coll-1997
Content Description This collection consists of two albums compiled by Leonard Lyell, nephew of Charles Lyell and son of Katherine Mary Lyell. The volumes contain letters sent by many leading scientists and scholars of the 19th century to Sir Charles Lyell and others in his family, such as his wife Mary, the elder Charles Lyell, Mary’s father Leonard Horner, and his brother Francis Horner. In both albums, most of the letters are accompanied by a facing photograph or portrait print of the letter’s author.The...
Dates: 1805-1899

Archibald Geikie, correpondence

Identifier: Coll-1815/2
Scope and Contents Letters to Sir Archibald Geike from: Hicks, Henry (25 Oct. 1887); Hooker, Joseph Dalton (Sir) (May 1890); Horne, John (5 Jun. 1898); Huxley, Thomas Henry (17 May 1862); Kidston, Robert (3 Aug. 1883); Lapworth, Charles (Sir) (16 Nov. 1898); Lyell, Charles (Sir) (31 Mar. 1860); Marcou, Jules (5 Jan. 1871); Marcon, Jules (30 Apr. 1878); Milne, John (15 Aug. 1895); Peach, Benjamin Neve (19 Oct. 1898); Prestwich, Joseph (Sir) (15 May 1892?); Scrope, G. Poulett (1866?); Sorby, Henry...
Dates: Majority of material found within 1840s-1940s

Articles, c. 1829-c.1874

 Series — Box: Lyell Temp Box 3.13
Identifier: Coll-203/B16
Scope and Contents Articles by Charles Lyell, and articles published in The American Journal of Science and Arts, which have been torn out and collected by Lyell.
Dates: c. 1829-c.1874

Autograph Letter Signed from Charles Lyell to an unknown correspondent, 21 April 1874

 Item — Box: CLX-A-1591
Identifier: Coll-1848/20-0081
Scope and Contents This is an antograph letter signed "Cha. Lyell", sent by Charles Lyell to an unnamed individual, dated 24 April 1874, 73 Harley Street, London. In this letter he thanks his correspondent for "the additional list of Aldeby shells", explaining that he has completed "[his] new edition of the Students Elements [of Geology]" and that he "[had the assistance of Mr Searles Wood". He goes on to discuss papers and maps relating to the geology of the Rhine which Lyell himself had found instructive,...
Dates: 21 April 1874

Autograph letter signed from Christian VIII of Denmark to Charles Lyell, with a lithograph portrait, 31 May [1834]; 1835; 15 October 1836

 Item — Box: CLX-A-1593
Identifier: Coll-1848/20-0065
Scope and Contents This is an autograph letter signed, in French, sent from Christian VIII of Denmark to Sir Charles Lyell, dated 15 October 1836, Copenhagen. It concerns Lyell's research in Denmark and the Prince's collection of fossile molluscs. There is also a 1 page letter on behalf of Prince Christian Frederick dated 31 May [1834] and a lithograph portrait of Christian VIII / Christian Frederick from 1835."J’ai reçue quoique tard, au mois de Juillet, la lettre que Vous m’avez adressée en date du 8...
Dates: 31 May [1834]; 1835; 15 October 1836

Calculations of Barometrical Observations in Palma, Canary Islands, 12 July 1854

Identifier: Coll-203/2/folio(s) 36-38
Scope and Contents Calculations of Barometrical Observations in La Palma, Canary Islands giving heights in feet of various volcanic features including of the Central Ridge of the Caldera, 12 July 1854.
Dates: 12 July 1854

Charles Lyell, 1841-1947

Identifier: Coll-1518/1
Scope and Contents Papers created by or relating to Sir Charles Lyell.
Dates: Majority of material found within 1841-1947

Charles Lyell's Notebook, 1825-1826

Identifier: Coll-203/A2/4
Scope and Contents From one side, geological notes, open from the opposite side up-side down, tables and charts showing barometrical heights and observations for Forfarshire. Lyell uses data gathered from barometers located in different places - for example [Kinnordy] 'House' Barometer, and [Blair] 'Mountain' Barometer for comparison.
Dates: 1825-1826

Coloured section of Forfarshire, from N.N.S. From Glen Moy Through the Bakie Loch to Dundee, c1822-1824

Identifier: Coll-203/3/3
Scope and Contents Geological cross-section in watercolour and ink showing section from the sea at Dundee, over the Sidlaw Hills, Strathmore and the Grampians in Forfarshire. Scale: half an inch to a mile. c1822-1824
Image of this item:
Dates: c1822-1824