Why should we talk about Charls Lyell? Well he was one of the most important scientists that drew attention to his discipline as well as a great thinker of his time. Unfortunately, most of the time we are told that he influenced Charles Darwin, A. R. Wallace, T. H. Huxley and R. I. Murchison, but how and why?
One thing Lyell (1797 – 1875) is known for is that he wrote the book that really founded modern Geology: “Principles of Geology“. But how did he get to be interested in Geology in the first place?
He studied in Oxford, graduated around 1820 and started working as lawyer. During this time he travelled around England, thus being able to observe geological formations. He was so fascinated by geology that even during his honeymoon in Switzerland and Italy, he and his wife (daughter of a member of the Geological Society of London) did a geological tour of the area.
His best known work is the book “Principles of Geology” which is itself known not only because it is important, but also for inspiring Darwin in his work.
He had the vision and the ability to think a bit beyond a simple landscape, and, having in mind the works of James Hutton, was able to find an explanation for the deposition of geological layers. The central argument of the Principles is that of uniformitarism, and in his own words he made “an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth’s surface by reference to causes now in operation”. And this is what makes his works and way of thinking absolutely modern.
Another important part of his work was in Stratigraphy – I believe this is his most important contribution to Geology. He travelled through Europe, studied and described many formations and he kept updating his Principles with the latest works until the 12th edition of 1875.
His interest and work on Evolution is also something we should remember: he endorsed both Darwin and Wallace in their works, as he was already a well respected scientist in the United Kingdom.
He died two years after his wife, in 1875, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.