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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 513 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

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

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

Correspondence, 1831-1873

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Coll-203/1 (Lyell 1)
Scope and Contents Correspondence of Sir Charles Lyell consists of:
  1. Correspondence with colleagues throughout the world (1831-1873)
Dates: 1831-1873

Correspondence from Gabriell Auguste Daubrée, 1874-1896

Identifier: Coll-74/11/15
Scope and Contents The Correspondence from Gabriell Auguste Daubrée sub-series consists of:
  1. 22 letters, chronologically arranged (1874-1896)
Dates: 1874-1896