Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 34.djvu/326

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i. 9). In 1816 he entered Exeter College, Oxford, graduated B.A. in 1819, being placed in the second class in classical honours, and proceeded M.A. in 1821. He complains in his letters of his deficiencies in classics. His interest in entomology continued during his stay at Oxford, but the lectures of Dr. Buckland finally attracted him to geology. A new meaning had just been given to fossils by the publication in 1816 of William Smith's ‘Strata identified by Organized Fossils,’ in which the succession of faunas, and their utility in determining the relative ages of deposits, had been conclusively and for the first time pointed out. A great change was in consequence coming over the methods of observation in geology, and the study of rocks and minerals became only a small portion of the subject. The discovery of the differences between successive faunas opened up the question of their origin and extinction, and thus a correct appreciation of the principles of geology became essential to the zoologist who would understand the relations between existing genera and species. It was felt that the physical changes in past times accounted in some way for the changes among organisms; but the nature of these physical changes still required accurate determination. The insistence that the processes of the past must be judged of by those now in progress forms the keynote of the whole of Lyell's scientific work.

As early as 1817 Lyell noted the recent occurrence of changes in the coastline near Norwich. In the autumn he traversed the central Grampians with two Oxford friends, and visited the west of Mull and Staffa. In 1818 began the series of continental tours which formed the foundation of his best-known works. With his parents and his two eldest sisters he crossed the Juras and the Alps, and finally reached Florence. His journal of this period contains a few scattered geological notes, and is remarkable for the absence of the startling theories which so many geologists were tempted to put forward when journeying among the phenomena of mountains. In later years Lyell writes characteristically: ‘We must preach up travelling as the first, second, and third requisites for a modern geologist’ (Life, i. 233).

In 1819, the year in which he left Oxford, he joined the Geological and the Linnean Societies of London, and entered Lincoln's Inn to study for the bar. A weakness of his eyes, which troubled him greatly through life, prevented him, however, from continuing professional work, and he again travelled in Italy with his father. In 1823 he was elected secretary of the Geological Society, and read a paper in the following year ‘On a Recent Formation of Freshwater Limestone in Forfarshire’ (Trans. Geol. Soc. 2nd ser. vol. ii. 1826, pt. i. p. 23). In this he shows the similarity of deposits in ancient and modern lakes. But his first published paper is ‘On a Dike of Serpentine in the County of Forfar’ (Edinb. Journ. Science, 1825, p. 112). His friendship with Dr. G. A. Mantell [q. v.] led at this period to much joint work in the Cretaceous beds of south-eastern England. He retired from the post of secretary of the Geological Society in 1826, but accepted the foreign secretaryship, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in the same year. His relations with men of science in Paris were by this time personal and cordial; he met Cuvier, Laplace, Arago, and Alex. Brongniart, while Humboldt congratulated him upon his father's scientific attainments.

In 1825 Lyell resumed the law, occupying chambers in Raymond's Buildings, Gray's Inn; and in 1827 he was actually on circuit. He now began to contribute to the ‘Quarterly Review,’ and in an article on English scientific societies described the part that they are destined to play in provincial education (Quart. Rev. vol. xxxiv.). In a notice of his friend Scrope's ‘Memoir on the Geology of Central France’ (ib. 1827, xxxvi. 437–84) he attacked those who would measure the facts of nature, not by observation, but by an appeal to the literal text of holy scripture.

Writing to Mantell on 2 March 1827, after reading Lamarck, Lyell remarked: ‘How impossible will it be to distinguish and lay down a line, beyond which some of the so-called extinct species have never passed into recent ones;’ but, in his desire to enforce his doctrine of the similarity of modern and ancient conditions on the surface of the earth, he dwelt very strongly upon the weakness of negative evidence in palæontology, and suggested that both birds and mammals might have freely existed in the earlier geological periods (Life, i. 169). The great value of this position, maintained for thirty years, was that it put both collectors and theorists on their mettle. It checked a host of rash generalisations, and made the belief in a continuous progress in the organic world much more secure when Lyell himself finally gave it his support.

In 1828, with his ‘Principles of Geology’ continually in view, he joined [Sir] Roderick and Mrs. Murchison in Paris; they travelled together through Auvergne to Padua, and three joint papers were the result (Edinburgh Phil. Journ. 1829, pp. 15, 287; abstracts in Proc. Geol. Soc. i. 89, 150; and Annales des