Save Charles Lyell's notebooks

About Lyell and his notebooks

Who was Charles Lyell and what do his notebooks tell us?

About Charles Lyell

Sir Charles Lyell (1797 - 1875) was highly regarded and recognised as one of the outstanding scientists in an age of remarkable thinkers and is credited with providing the framework that helped Darwin develop his evolutionary theories.

He is best known for developing and popularising earlier geologists, such as fellow Scots James Hutton and John Playfair’s theory of uniformitarianism. This simple but powerful theory argued that the forces and processes observable on the earth’s surface are the same that have shaped earth’s landscape throughout natural history.

Lyell’s popular writing and public lectures established his influence at home and abroad. In particular his ‘Principles of Geology’ (1830-33), in echoing the ambition and rigour of Sir Isaac Newton's ‘Principia’ (1687), promoted not only particular geological theories, but helped firmly establish the credibility and authority of the developing earth sciences. It is for this and more that Lyell is counted amongst the founders of modern geology.

The science of geology is enormously indebted to Lyell—more so, as I believe, than to any other man who ever lived.

Charles Darwin, writing in his autobiography

What his notebooks tell us

Lyell’s 294 notebooks capture in remarkable detail his daily engagement with scientific and social issues. They contain lively field notes, travel accounts, as well as queries and discussions on the letters and books he was reading. They also include details of his thoughts on social and political issues such as slavery in the United States of America, women in science and university education, as well as his valuable relationships with some of the most interesting and influential people of the nineteenth century.

For the public

Following a successful campaign, Lyell's remarkable notebooks are to join the University of Edinburgh’s collections. Close to £1 million has been raised to purchase the collection thanks to donations from than 1,100 supporters of the campaign, a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and a contribution from the University.