Charles Lyell

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Lyell, Charles


Born Nov. 14, 1797, in Kinnordy, Scotland; died Feb. 22, 1875, in London. British naturalist.

Lyell studied ancient languages, law, and geology at Oxford. In 1827 he abandoned the practice of law and devoted himself entirely to geology. His chief work, The Principles of Geology, came out in 1830–33 (in three volumes, republished many times) and was a milestone in the history of natural science. In this work Lyell countered the then prevailing theory of catastrophism with a theory of slow, continuous change in the earth’s surface owing to the action of constant geological factors that are still operating today (atmospheric precipitation, flowing water, volcanic eruptions, and the like). Although Lyell’s evolutionary theory (actualism) was a major step toward a materialist understanding of nature, it had weaknesses, namely, that Lyell considered the forces acting on the earth to be constant in quality and intensity and did not see changes in them with time and the development of the earth associated with these changes (uniformitarianism).

After a study of Tertiary strata in Italy, Lyell proposed dividing the Tertiary system into three groups (Eocene, Miocene, and Pliocene) on the basis of paleontological evidence. In his book The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man (1863; Russian translation, 1864), Lyell presented arguments in defense of C. Darwin’s evolutionary theory of the origin of species. During visits to the Canary Islands and Sicily he collected data on the age of lavas and the formation of volcanic cones. A study of Etna enabled Lyell to refute the theory of craters of elevation advanced by the German geologist L. Buch and the Frenchman L. Elie de Beaumont. Lyell offered a hypothesis on the nature of metamorphic processes and suggested a division of rocks into sedimentary, volcanic, plutonic, and metamorphic.

Lyell was a member of the Linnean and Geological societies (1819), becoming president of the latter in 1835, and a fellow of the Royal Society (1826). A medal named in honor of Lyell is awarded each year by the Geological Society of London for outstanding work in geology.


In Russian translation:
Osnovnye nachala geologii ili noveishie izmeneniia Zemli i ee obitatelei, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1866.
Rukovodstvo k geologii, ili drevnie izmeneniia Zemli i ee obitatelei po svidetel’stvu geologicheskikh pamiatnikov, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1866–78.


Engels, F. “Dialektika prirody.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed. vol. 20.
Ravikovich, A. I. Razvitie osnovnykh teoreticheskikh napravlenii ν geologii XIX veka. Moscow, 1969. (Trudy Geologicheskogo in-ta AN SSSR, no. 189.)
Bailey, E. Charles Lyell. London, 1962. (British Men of Science.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Jeremy Upton, the University of Edinburgh's library and collections director, said: "The prospect of acquiring and making freely accessible such a fundamentally important archive collection as Sir Charles Lyell's notebooks is a thrilling one."
Frontispiece (detail) of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830), featuring an engraving of the Temple of Serapis, Pozzuoli, from 1820 by Andrea de Jorio (1769-1851).
Charles Lyell, often described as the "father of modern geology," was particularly concerned with the definition of the human that would emerge from wider appreciation of the sheer immensity of the geological time scale.
The bluff had been visited by many geologists, including Charles Lyell, a British geologist who was in America to deliver the prestigious Lowell lectures and to explore America's geology.
Costa here registers Wallace's amusing impatience with arguments for design by Charles Knight, Charles Lyell, and Louis Agassiz and with natural theological "balance" and "harmony," terms that glossed over vicious struggle (71-72).
Henslow (1796-1861), quien justamente le consigue el cupo en el Beagle o, mas tarde, con el geologo Charles Lyell (1797-1875), quien habia publicado a partir de 1830 la obra Principles of Geology, que Darwin toma como modelo para sus primeras observaciones sobre la estructura mineral de las islas de Cabo Verde, en 1831, y cuyos conceptos de transformacion transcribe luego al reino animal.
In other spheres, Charles Darwin challenged the views on creation after being influenced by Scottish geologist Charles Lyell.
These include the mistaken belief that Charles Lyell established the ancient age of the earth, the groundless story that the Beagle's captain wished for a companion on the voyage so as not to go mad, and most classic, and most incorrect, that Darwin was struck by the shape of the beaks of the finches while in the Galapagos Islands.
Yet within that succession, there was little change, it is pointed out, by comparison with works by Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell.
(The mountain and its glacier are named for famed nineteenth-century geologist Charles Lyell, friend and colleague of Charles Darwin, who, ironically, was resistant to the idea of "ice ages" when it was first introduced in the 1830s.)
The key players in Tennyson's thinking here are the geologist Charles Lyell and the prominent polymath and philosopher of science William Whewell.