Tag Archives: On the Origin of Species

To see a World in a Grain of Sand – The Origin of Ideas

Charli Mills has challenged her fellow bloggers to write about erosion (details here). I have cheated slightly and written two separate, but linked, stories.

He looked at the strange pattern on the rock that had fallen from the cliff, then bent to make notes.
Hours later he returned to his wife, “I’m sorry I was so long.”
“I married you for better or worse, if the worse is you geologising whist I paint, I don’t mind. What did you find?”
“More evidence,” he pulled out his notebook. “Ripples, fossilised in rock. Which shows that sand, washed down into the sea has been compressed into rock, then lifted up and eroded yet again.”
“What does that mean?”
“That the earth is old, immeasurably old.”

It was on his honeymoon in the Mediterranean that Sir Charles Lyell found the final evidence he needed, that the earth was incredibly old. His book The Principles of Geology, was very controversial.

“What do you think?”
“Well written, it’s full of interesting material, but his conclusions.”
“They will certainly provoke argument, they strike at centuries of study.”
“What will you do?”
“Nothing, for now, the matter will be fully discussed at the next meeting of the British Association.”
The professor paused, smiled and added.
“I am sending a copy to Charles, it is perfect reading for a long sea voyage.”
“Are you sure? He’s young and impressionable.”
“Oh I will advise him to learn from the observations and ignore the conclusions.”
It reached the Beagle just before she sailed, and then?

Professor Adam Sedgewick, who profoundly disagreed with Lyell, recognised the importance of his book and sent a copy to his student Charles Darwin just as he was about to set sail on HMS Beagle, with the advice I mentioned. Darwin ignored the advice, and later acknowledged that The Principles of Geology was the inspiration for On the Origin of Species.

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Filed under Historical tales, Victorian