Save Charles Lyell's notebooks

The Geological Society of London

Statement from Professor Nick Rogers, President, The Geological Society of London.

Dear David [McClay, Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections, The University of Edinburgh]

The news that the notebooks of Sir Charles Lyell had been auctioned came as a complete surprise to me as I was unaware that these critically important documents were still in private hands. Charles Lyell had a profound effect not only on the science of Geology, but also wider discourse concerning the age of the Earth and the span of geological time in the 19th century. He was Charles Darwin’s mentor in Geology and hence helped lay a foundation stone for understanding biological evolution. Without the span of geological time evolution simply couldn’t have occurred.

Lyell was also the chief proponent of Uniformitarianism, the idea that the formation of rocks in the past must have occurred as a result of processes we can observe today – neatly summed up in the phrase ‘the present is the key to the past’. This was the counter idea to catastrophism, which appealed to a Biblical view of a world periodically inflicted by catastrophic events, frequently of Divine origin.

He reached his conclusions through extensive travel, discussion and field observations which are recorded in his numerous notebooks. These therefore represent a critically important primary source of the development of the ideas of this seminal Victorian scientist. They will be of interest to many historians of science, especially those specialising in the development of Geology as a science, but more widely to those following the evolution of scientific thought in the 19th century.

Given the status of these notebooks it is my opinion that every attempt should be made for the University of Edinburgh to acquire them and to add them to your already extensive archive of Lyell documents. I know that the University Library will take enormous care of them and allow the widest possible access for both public and academic communities alike. [...]

Yours sincerely

Professor Nick Rogers


The Geological Society of London



The Geological Society of London website (external link)