Never call an accountant a credit to his profession; a good accountant is a debit to his profession.— Charles Lyell
The most unusual Charles Lyell quotes to get the best of your day
Geology is the science which investigates the successive changes that have taken place in the organic and inorganic kingdoms of nature; it enquires into the causes of these changes, and the influence which they have exerted in modifying the surface and external structure of our planet.
There is no foundation in geological facts, for the popular theory of the successive development of the animal and vegetable world, from the simplest to the most perfect forms.
It is probable that a greater number of monuments of the skill and industry of man will, in the course of the ages, be collected together in the bed of the ocean than will exist at any other time on the surface of the continents.
I long ago suggested the hypothesis, that in the basin of the Thames there are indications of a meeting in the Pleistocene period of a northern and southern fauna.
Man, whose organization is regarded as the highest, departs from the vertebrate archetype; and it is because the study of anatomy is usually commenced from, and often confined to, his structure, that a knowledge of the archetype has been so long hidden from anatomists.
Geology differs as widely from cosmogony, as speculations concerning the creation of man differ from history.
Millions of our race are now supported by lands situated where deep seas once prevailed in earlier ages. In many districts not yet occupied by man, land animals and forests now abound where the anchor once sank into the oozy bottom.
Notwithstanding, therefore, that we have not witnessed of a large continent, yet, as we may predict the future occurrence of such catastrophes, we are authorized to regard them as part of the present order of Nature.
Never was there a dogma more calculated to foster indolence, and to blunt the keen edge of curiosity, than the assumption of the discordance between the former and the existing causes of change.
It must have appeared almost as improbable to the earlier geologists, that the laws of earthquakes should one day throw light on the origin of mountains, as it must to the first astronomers, that the fall of an apple should assist in explaining the motions of the moon.
Such discoveries have led me, and other geologists, to reconsider the evidence previously derived from caves brought forward in proof of the high antiquity of Man.
Amidst the vicissitudes of the earth's surface, species cannot be immortal, but must perish, one after another, like the individuals which compose them. There is no possibility of escaping from this conclusion.
That ere long, now that curiosity has been so much excited on this subject, some human remains will be detected in the older alluvium of European valleys, I confidently expect.
It has long been a fact familiar to geologists, that, both on the east and west coasts of the central part of Scotland, there are lines of raised beaches, containing marine shells of the same species as those now inhabiting the neighbouring sea.
No tools have yet been met with in any of the gravels occurring at the higher levels of the valley of the Seine; but no importance can be attached to this negative fact, as so little search has yet been made for them.
In the shallow parts of many Swiss lakes, where there is a depth of no more than from 5 to 15 feet of water, ancient wooden piles are observed at the bottom sometimes worn down to the surface of the mud, sometimes projecting slightly above it.
When on my return to England I showed the cast of the cranium to Professor Huxley, he remarked at once that it was the most ape-like skull he had ever beheld.
The present is the key to the past
In reply, I can only plead that a discovery which seems to contradict the general tenor of previous investigations is naturally received with much hesitation.
Probably there was a beginning-it is a metaphysical question, worthy a theologian-species have begun and ended-but the analogy is faint and distant.
In valley drift we meet commonly with the bones of quadrupeds which graze on plains bordering rivers.
When the aggregate amount of solid matter transported by rivers in a given number of centuries from a large continent, shall be reduced to arithmetical computation, the result will appear most astonishing to those...not in the habit of reflecting how many of the mightiest of operations in nature are effected insensibly, without noise or disorder.
So far from having a materialistic tendency, the supposed introduction into the earth at successive geological periods of life,-sensation,-instinct,-the intelligence of the higher mammalia bordering on reason,-and lastly the improvable reason of Man himself, presents us with a picture of the ever-increasing dominion of mind over matter.
'Time's noblest offspring is the last.
' This line of Bishop Berkeley's expresses the real cause of the belief in progress in the animal creation.
It was a profound saying of Wilhelm Humboldt, that 'Man is man only by means of speech, but in order to invent speech he must be already man.'
I may conclude this chapter by quoting a saying of Professor Agassiz, that whenever a new and startling fact is brought to light in science, people first say, 'it is not true,' then that 'it is contrary to religion,' and lastly, 'that everybody knew it before.'
Each species may have had its origin in a single pair, or individual, where an individual was sufficient, and species may have been created in succession at such times and in such places as to enable them to multiply and endure for an appointed period, and occupy an appointed space on the globe.
In the course of this short tour, I became convinced that we must turn to the New World if we wish to see in perfection the oldest monuments of the earth's history, so far at least as relates to its earliest inhabitants.
In several sections, both natural in the banks of the Mississippi and its numerous arms, and where artificial canals had been cut, I observed erect stumps of trees, with their roots attached, buried in strata at different heights, one over the other.
Hitherto, no rival hypothesis has been proposed as a substitute for the doctrine of transmutation; for 'independent creation,' as it is often termed, or the direct intervention of the Supreme Cause, must simply be considered as an avowal that we deem the question to lie beyond the domain of science.
The question now at issue, whether the living species are connected with the extinct by a common bond of descent, will best be cleared up by devoting ourselves to the study of the actual state of the living world, and to those monuments of the past in which the relics of the animate creation of former ages are best preserved and least mutilated by the hand of time.
In attempting to explain geological phenomena, the bias has always been on the wrong side; there has always been a disposition to reason á priori on the extraordinary violence and suddenness of changes, both in the inorganic crust of the earth, and in organic types, instead of attempting strenuously to frame theories in accordance with the ordinary operations of nature.
So far, therefore, as we can draw safe conclusions from a single specimen, there has been no marked change of race in the human population of Switzerland during the periods above considered.