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Charles Lyell

Birthdate: 14. November 1797
Date of death: 22. February 1875

Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, was a Scottish geologist who popularised the revolutionary work of James Hutton. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology, which presented uniformitarianism–the idea that the Earth was shaped by the same scientific processes still in operation today–to the broad general public. Principles of Geology also challenged theories popularised by Georges Cuvier, which were the most accepted and circulated ideas about geology in Europe at the time.His scientific contributions included an explanation of earthquakes, the theory of gradual "backed up-building" of volcanoes, and in stratigraphy the division of the Tertiary period into the Pliocene, Miocene, and Eocene. He also coined the currently-used names for geological eras, Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. He incorrectly conjectured that icebergs may be the emphasis behind the transport of glacial erratics, and that silty loess deposits might have settled out of flood waters.

Lyell, following deistic traditions, favoured an indefinitely long age for the earth, despite geological evidence suggesting an old but finite age. He was a close friend of Charles Darwin, and contributed significantly to Darwin's thinking on the processes involved in evolution. He helped to arrange the simultaneous publication in 1858 of papers by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace on natural selection, despite his personal religious qualms about the theory. He later published evidence from geology of the time man had existed on Earth.

Works

„He demonstrated that many fossil teeth found in Tuscany belonged to a species of shark; and he dissected, for the purpose of comparison, one of these fish recently taken from the Mediterranean. That the remains of shells and marine animals found petrified were not of animal origin was still a favorite dogma of many, who were unwilling to believe that the earth could have been inhabited by living beings long before many of the mountains were formed.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 31
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: The most remarkable work of that period was published by Steno... The treatise bears the quaint title of 'De Solido intra Solidum contento naturaliter (1669,)' by which the author intended to express 'On Gems, Crystals, and organic Petrifactions enclosed within solid Rocks.'... Steno had compared the fossil shells with their recent analogues, and traced the various gradations from the state of mere calcification, when their natural gluten only was lost, to the perfect substitution of stony matter. He demonstrated that many fossil teeth found in Tuscany belonged to a species of shark; and he dissected, for the purpose of comparison, one of these fish recently taken from the Mediterranean. That the remains of shells and marine animals found petrified were not of animal origin was still a favorite dogma of many, who were unwilling to believe that the earth could have been inhabited by living beings long before many of the mountains were formed.

„But exactly in proportion as the completeness of the record and our knowledge of it are overrated, in that same degree are many progressionists unconscious of the goal towards which they are drifting.“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.20, p. 406
Context: No one can believe in transmutation who is not profoundly convinced that all we know in paleontology is as nothing compared to what we have yet to learn, and they who regard the record as so fragmentary, and our acquaintance with the fragments which are extant as so rudimentary, are apt to be astounded at the confidence placed by the progressionists in data which must be defective in the extreme. But exactly in proportion as the completeness of the record and our knowledge of it are overrated, in that same degree are many progressionists unconscious of the goal towards which they are drifting. Their faith in the fullness of the annals leads them to regard all breaks in the series of organic existence, or in the sequence of the fossiliferous rocks, as proofs of original chasms and leaps in the course of nature, signs of the intermittent action of the creational force, or of catastrophes which devastated the habitable surface; and they are therefore fearless of discovering any continuity of plan (except that which must have existed in the Divine mind) which would imply a material connection between the outgoing organisms and the incoming ones.

„So long as Geology had not lifted up a part of the veil… it was easy to treat these questions as too transcendental… But it is no longer possible to restrain curiosity from attempting to pry into the relations which connect the present state of the animal and vegetable worlds“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.20, p. 388
Context: So long as Geology had not lifted up a part of the veil... it was easy to treat these questions as too transcendental... But it is no longer possible to restrain curiosity from attempting to pry into the relations which connect the present state of the animal and vegetable worlds, as well as of the various races of mankind, with the state of the fauna and flora which immediately preceded.

„To many, this doctrine of Natural Selection, or 'the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life,' seems so simple, when once clearly stated, and so consonant with known facts and received principles, that they have difficulty in conceiving how it can constitute a great step in the progress of science.“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.21, p. 417
Context: To many, this doctrine of Natural Selection, or 'the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life,' seems so simple, when once clearly stated, and so consonant with known facts and received principles, that they have difficulty in conceiving how it can constitute a great step in the progress of science. Such is often the case with important discoveries, but in order to assure ourselves that the doctrine was by no means obvious, we have only to refer back to the writings of skilful naturalists who attempted in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, to theorise on this subject, before the invention of this new method of explaining how certain forms are supplanted by new ones, and in what manner these last are selected out of innumerable varieties, and rendered permanent.

„His clear exposition of the evidence would have terminated the discussion for ever, if the passions of mankind had not been enlisted in the dispute“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 26
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: The excavations made in 1517, for repairing the city of Verona, brought to light a multitude of curious petrifactions, and furnished matter for speculation to different authors, and among the rest to Fracastoro, who declared his opinion, that fossil shells had all belonged to living animals, which had formerly lived and multiplied, where their exuviæ are now found. He exposed the absurdity of having recourse to a certain 'plastic force,' which it was said had power to fashion stones into organic forms; and, with no less cogent arguments, demonstrated the futility of attributing the situation of the shells in question to the Mosaic deluge, a theory obstinately defended by some. That inundation, he observed, was too transient, it consisted principally of fluviatile waters; and if it had transported shells to great distances, must have strewed them over the surface, not buried them at vast depths in the interior of mountains. His clear exposition of the evidence would have terminated the discussion for ever, if the passions of mankind had not been enlisted in the dispute; and even though doubts should for a time have remained in some minds, they would speedily have been removed by the fresh information obtained almost immediately afterwards, respecting the structure of fossil remains, and of their living analogues.

„As Hooke declared the favorite hypothesis of the day ('that marine fossil bodies were to be referred to Noah's flood') to be wholly untenable, he appears to have felt himself called upon to substitute a diluvial theory of his own, and thus he became involved in countless difficulties and contradictions. …When …he“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 40
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: As Hooke declared the favorite hypothesis of the day ('that marine fossil bodies were to be referred to Noah's flood') to be wholly untenable, he appears to have felt himself called upon to substitute a diluvial theory of his own, and thus he became involved in countless difficulties and contradictions.... When... he required a former 'crisis of nature' and taught that earthquakes had become debilitated, and that the Alps, Andes, and other chains, had been lifted up in a few months, his machinery was as extravagant and visionary as that of his most fanciful predecessors; and for this reason, perhaps, his whole theory of earthquakes met with undeserved neglect.

„Mammals were added next, until Nature became what she now is, by the addition of Man. …the generalisation, as laid down by the Woodwardian Professor, still holds good in all essential particulars.“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.20, p. 395-396
Context: The doctrine of progression... was thus given twelve years ago by Professor Sedgwick, in the preface to his Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge. 'There are traces,' he says, 'among the old deposits of the earth of an organic progression among the successive forms of life. They are to be seen in the absence of mammalia in the older, and their very rare appearance in the newer secondary groups; in the diffusion of warm blooded quadrupeds (frequently of unknown genera) in the older tertiary system, and in their great abundance (and frequently of known genera) in the upper portions of the same series; and lastly, in the recent appearance of Man on the surface of the earth.' 'This historical development,' continues the same author, 'of the forms and functions of organic life during successive epochs, seems to mark a gradual evolution of creative power, manifested by a gradual ascent towards a higher type of being.' 'But the elevation of the fauna of successive periods was not made by transmutation, but by creative additions; and it is by watching these additions that we get some insight into Nature's true historical progress, and learn that there was a time when Cephalopoda were the highest types of animal life, the primates of this world; that Fishes next took the lead, then Reptiles; and that during the secondary period they were anatomically raised far above any forms of the reptile class now living in the world. Mammals were added next, until Nature became what she now is, by the addition of Man.... the generalisation, as laid down by the Woodwardian Professor, still holds good in all essential particulars.

„Those modern writers, who are disposed to disparage the former intellectual advancement and civilization of eastern nations, might concede some foundation of observed facts for the curious theories now under consideration, without indulging in exaggerated opinions of the progress of science; especially as universal catastrophes of the world, and exterminations of organic beings, in the sense in which they were understood by the Brahmin, are untenable doctrines.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.2, p. 8
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: The marks of former convulsions on every part of the surface of our planet are obvious and striking. The remains of marine animals imbedded in the solid strata are so abundant, that they may be expected to force themselves on the observation of every people who have made some progress in refinement; and especially where one class of men are expressly set apart from the rest for study and contemplation.... Those modern writers, who are disposed to disparage the former intellectual advancement and civilization of eastern nations, might concede some foundation of observed facts for the curious theories now under consideration, without indulging in exaggerated opinions of the progress of science; especially as universal catastrophes of the world, and exterminations of organic beings, in the sense in which they were understood by the Brahmin, are untenable doctrines.

„Turtles, he adds, and such large ammonites as are found in Portland, seem to have been the productions of the seas of hotter countries, and it is necessary to suppose that England once lay under the sea within the torrid zone! To explain this and similar phenomena, he indulges in a variety of speculations concerning changes in the position of the axis of the earth's rotation, a shifting of the earth's center of gravity, 'analogous to the revolutions of the magnetic pole,' &c. None of these conjectures, however, are proposed dogmatically, but rather in the hope of promoting fresh inquiries and experiments.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 37
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: Respecting the extinction of species, Hooke was aware that the fossil ammonites, nautili, and many other shells and fossil skeletons found in England, were of different species from any then known; but he doubted whether the species had become extinct, observing that the knowledge of naturalists of all the marine species, especially those inhabiting the deep sea, was very deficient. In some parts of his writings, however, he leans to the opinion that species had been lost; and in speculating on this subject, he even suggests that there might be some connection between the disappearance of certain kinds of animals and plants, and the changes wrought by earthquakes in former ages. Some species, he observes with great sagacity, are peculiar to certain places, and not to be found elsewhere. If, then, such a place had been swallowed up, it is not improbable but that those animate beings may have been destroyed with it; and this may be true both of aerial and aquatic animals: for those animated bodies, whether vegetables or animals, which were naturally nourished or refreshed by the air, would be destroyed by the water, &c.; Turtles, he adds, and such large ammonites as are found in Portland, seem to have been the productions of the seas of hotter countries, and it is necessary to suppose that England once lay under the sea within the torrid zone! To explain this and similar phenomena, he indulges in a variety of speculations concerning changes in the position of the axis of the earth's rotation, a shifting of the earth's center of gravity, 'analogous to the revolutions of the magnetic pole,' &c.; None of these conjectures, however, are proposed dogmatically, but rather in the hope of promoting fresh inquiries and experiments.

„Von Hoff has suggested, with great probability, that the changes in the level of the Caspian“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 25
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: Von Hoff has suggested, with great probability, that the changes in the level of the Caspian (some of which there is reason to believe have happened within the historical era), and the geological appearances in that district, indicating the desertion by that sea of its ancient bed, had probably led Omar to his theory of a general subsidence. But whatever may have been the proofs relied on, his system was declared contradictory to certain passages in the Koran, and he was called upon publicly to recant his errors; to avoid which persecution he went into voluntary banishment from Samarkand.

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„The first who endeavored to draw a clear line of demarcation between these distinct departments, was Hutton, who declared that geology was in no ways concerned with 'questions as to the origin of things.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.1, p. 4
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: It was long ere the distinct nature and legitimate objects of geology were fully recognized, and it was at first confounded with many other branches of inquiry, just as the limits of history, poetry, and mythology were ill-defined in the infancy of civilization. Werner appears to have regarded geology as little other than a subordinate department of mineralogy and Desmarest included it under the head of Physical Geography.... The first who endeavored to draw a clear line of demarcation between these distinct departments, was Hutton, who declared that geology was in no ways concerned with 'questions as to the origin of things.

„It may be thought almost paradoxical that writers who are most in favour of transmutation“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.20, p. 405
Context: It may be thought almost paradoxical that writers who are most in favour of transmutation (Mr. C. Darwin and Dr. J. Hooker, for example) are nevertheless among those who are most cautious, and one would say timid, in their mode of espousing the doctrine of progression; while, on the other hand, the most zealous advocates of progression are oftener than not very vehement opponents of transmutation.

„This doctrine, it is true, had been laid down in terms almost equally explicit by Strabo, to explain the occurrence of fossil shells in the interior of continents, and to that geographer, and other writers of antiquity, Hooke frequently refers; but the revival and development of the system was an important step in the progress of modern science.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 38
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: His [Hooke's] principal object was to account for the manner in which shells had been conveyed into the higher parts of 'the Alps, Apennines, and Pyrenean hills, and the interior of continents in general.' These and other appearances, he said, might have been brought about by earthquakes, 'which have turned plains into mountains, and mountains into plains, seas into land, and land into seas, made rivers where there were none before, and swallowed up others that formerly were, &c. &c.; and which, since the creation of the world, have wrought many great changes on the superficial parts of the earth, and have been the instruments of placing shells, bones, plants, fishes, and the like, in those places, where, with much astonishment, we find them.' This doctrine, it is true, had been laid down in terms almost equally explicit by Strabo, to explain the occurrence of fossil shells in the interior of continents, and to that geographer, and other writers of antiquity, Hooke frequently refers; but the revival and development of the system was an important step in the progress of modern science.

„Pallas, in more recent times, has drawn the same inference.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 24
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: Amongst those [works] of the tenth century, of which fragments are now extant, is a system of mineralogy by Avicenna, a physician in whose arrangement there is considerable merit. In the same century also, Omar, surnamed 'El Aalem,' or 'the Learned,' wrote a work on 'the Retreat of the Sea.' It appears that on comparing the charts of his own time with those made by the Indian and Persian astronomers two thousand years before, he had satisfied himself that important changes had taken place since the times of history in the form of the coasts of Asia, and that the extension of the sea had been greater at some former periods. He was confirmed in this opinion by the numerous salt springs and marshes in the interior of Asia,-a phenomenon from which Pallas, in more recent times, has drawn the same inference.

„Floods and volcanic eruptions, the agency of water and fire, are the chief instruments of devastation on our globe. …it scarcely requires the passion for the marvelous“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.2, p. 9
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: It is probable that the doctrine of successive destructions and renovations of the world merely received corroboration from such proofs; and that it was originally handed down, like the religious dogmas of most nations, from a ruder state of society. The true source of the system must be sought for in the exaggerated traditions of those partial, but often dreadful catastrophes, which are sometimes occasioned by various combinations of natural causes. Floods and volcanic eruptions, the agency of water and fire, are the chief instruments of devastation on our globe.... it scarcely requires the passion for the marvelous, so characteristic of rude and half-civilized nations, still less the exuberant imagination of eastern writers, to augment them into general cataclysms and conflagrations.

„The doctrine of progression… was thus given twelve years ago by Professor Sedgwick“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.20, p. 395-396
Context: The doctrine of progression... was thus given twelve years ago by Professor Sedgwick, in the preface to his Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge. 'There are traces,' he says, 'among the old deposits of the earth of an organic progression among the successive forms of life. They are to be seen in the absence of mammalia in the older, and their very rare appearance in the newer secondary groups; in the diffusion of warm blooded quadrupeds (frequently of unknown genera) in the older tertiary system, and in their great abundance (and frequently of known genera) in the upper portions of the same series; and lastly, in the recent appearance of Man on the surface of the earth.' 'This historical development,' continues the same author, 'of the forms and functions of organic life during successive epochs, seems to mark a gradual evolution of creative power, manifested by a gradual ascent towards a higher type of being.' 'But the elevation of the fauna of successive periods was not made by transmutation, but by creative additions; and it is by watching these additions that we get some insight into Nature's true historical progress, and learn that there was a time when Cephalopoda were the highest types of animal life, the primates of this world; that Fishes next took the lead, then Reptiles; and that during the secondary period they were anatomically raised far above any forms of the reptile class now living in the world. Mammals were added next, until Nature became what she now is, by the addition of Man.... the generalisation, as laid down by the Woodwardian Professor, still holds good in all essential particulars.

„Hooke was aware that the fossil ammonites, nautili, and many other shells and fossil skeletons found in England, were of different species from any then known“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 37
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: Respecting the extinction of species, Hooke was aware that the fossil ammonites, nautili, and many other shells and fossil skeletons found in England, were of different species from any then known; but he doubted whether the species had become extinct, observing that the knowledge of naturalists of all the marine species, especially those inhabiting the deep sea, was very deficient. In some parts of his writings, however, he leans to the opinion that species had been lost; and in speculating on this subject, he even suggests that there might be some connection between the disappearance of certain kinds of animals and plants, and the changes wrought by earthquakes in former ages. Some species, he observes with great sagacity, are peculiar to certain places, and not to be found elsewhere. If, then, such a place had been swallowed up, it is not improbable but that those animate beings may have been destroyed with it; and this may be true both of aerial and aquatic animals: for those animated bodies, whether vegetables or animals, which were naturally nourished or refreshed by the air, would be destroyed by the water, &c.; Turtles, he adds, and such large ammonites as are found in Portland, seem to have been the productions of the seas of hotter countries, and it is necessary to suppose that England once lay under the sea within the torrid zone! To explain this and similar phenomena, he indulges in a variety of speculations concerning changes in the position of the axis of the earth's rotation, a shifting of the earth's center of gravity, 'analogous to the revolutions of the magnetic pole,' &c.; None of these conjectures, however, are proposed dogmatically, but rather in the hope of promoting fresh inquiries and experiments.

„We may understand why the species of the same genus, or genera of the same family, resemble each other more nearly in their embryonic than in their more fully developed state, or how it is that“

—  Charles Lyell

Source: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Ch.21, p. 415
Context: We may understand why the species of the same genus, or genera of the same family, resemble each other more nearly in their embryonic than in their more fully developed state, or how it is that in the eyes of most naturalists the structure of the embryo is even more important in classification than that of the adult, 'for the embryo is the animal in its less modified state, and in so far it reveals the structure of its progenitor. In two groups of animals, however much they may at present differ from each other in structure and habits, if they pass through the same or similar embryonic stages, we may feel assured that they have both descended from the same or nearly similar parents, and are therefore in that degree closely related. Thus community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent, however much the structure of the adult may have been modified.

„Strabo rejects this theory as insufficient to account for all the phenomena, and he proposes one of his own, the profoundness of which modern geologists are only beginning to appreciate.“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.2, p. 21
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: But Strabo rejects this theory as insufficient to account for all the phenomena, and he proposes one of his own, the profoundness of which modern geologists are only beginning to appreciate. 'It is not,' he says, 'because the lands covered by seas were originally at different altitudes, that the waters have risen, or subsided, or receded from some parts and inundated others. But the reason is, that the same land is sometimes raised up and sometimes depressed, and the sea also is simultaneously raised and depressed, so that it either overflows or returns into its own place again. We must therefore ascribe the cause to the ground, either to that ground which is under the sea, or to that which becomes flooded by it, but rather to that which lies beneath the sea, for this is more moveable, and, on account of its humidity, can be altered with great celerity. It is proper,' he observes in continuation, 'to derive our explanations from things which are obvious, and in some measure of daily occurrence, such as deluges, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and sudden swellings of the land beneath the sea;' for the last raise up the sea also, and when the same lands subside again, they occasion the sea to be let down. And it is not merely the small, but the large islands also, and not merely the islands, but the continents, which can be lifted up together with the sea; and both large and small tracts may subside, for habitations and cities, like Bure, Bizona, and many others, have been engulfed by earthquakes.

„The most remarkable work of that period was published by Steno“

—  Charles Lyell, book Principles of Geology

Chpt.3, p. 31
Principles of Geology (1832), Vol. 1
Context: The most remarkable work of that period was published by Steno... The treatise bears the quaint title of 'De Solido intra Solidum contento naturaliter (1669,)' by which the author intended to express 'On Gems, Crystals, and organic Petrifactions enclosed within solid Rocks.'... Steno had compared the fossil shells with their recent analogues, and traced the various gradations from the state of mere calcification, when their natural gluten only was lost, to the perfect substitution of stony matter. He demonstrated that many fossil teeth found in Tuscany belonged to a species of shark; and he dissected, for the purpose of comparison, one of these fish recently taken from the Mediterranean. That the remains of shells and marine animals found petrified were not of animal origin was still a favorite dogma of many, who were unwilling to believe that the earth could have been inhabited by living beings long before many of the mountains were formed.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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