Lyell in European context (1829–30)

in Worlds Before Adam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226731285
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226731308 | DOI:
Lyell in European context (1829–30)

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This chapter begins with a discussion of Charles Lyell's return journey, in the later part of his Grand Tour, which was marked by a dramatic broadening of his theoretical ambitions as a geologist. He told Murchison of his confident belief that actual causes were totally adequate to account for everything about the deep past, not only in kind but also in degree; geological processes had never been more powerful than they were observed to be in the present world. And he saw this as “necessarily” leading to a global “system” or geotheory according to which the earth would be seen as being in a steady state: this in striking contrast to the directional model of geohistory favored by other geologists. Back in Paris, Lyell found that Jules Pierre François Stanislas Desnoyers had largely upstaged him in his interpretation of the Tertiary formations. However, the French geologist's concept of the “non-simultaneity” of the various Tertiary basins, and their geohistorical sequence in relation to their changing molluskan faunas, was significantly amplified by Lyell's new fieldwork. In London, geologists were more concerned with the origin of valley topography than with the Tertiary formations or their fossils. The debates between “diluvialists” and “fluvialists” were aggravated in England, in that the diluvialist interpretation was still linked to the historicity of the biblical story of Noah's Flood, and the fluvialist to secularizing efforts to sever any such link.

Keywords: Charles Lyell; geology; geohistory; Paris; London; Tertiaries

Chapter.  7795 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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