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Charles Lyell

Charles Lyell was born in 1797 and died in 1875. Born in Scotland where he lived until the age of 2, Lyell was the oldest of 10 children and spent an extraordinary amount of time with his father who educated him in the sciences.

Charles Lyell

He was a dedicated learner from early on. He spent time in and out of private schools but much preferred learning from his father than he did spending his time in a formal school setting. He did have a formal education at Oxford beginning at the age of 19 where he studied geology and mathematics.

He went on to receive a Master's Degree and started practicing law shortly thereafter. He found law to not be his foray because even while in practice he was still drawn to the sciences. His father was wealthy enough to allow him to dismiss his law practice and travel and study geology.

His Contributions

Charles published his first scientific paper in 1825. His radical theory was that the earth was actually millions of years old in opposition to the belief at the time that it was a mere thousands of years old according to biblical scholars.

Lyell believed that the Earth was formed through natural occurrence and that super natural powers did not play a role in the formation of the planet. His book Principles of Geology was based on the evidence he found in Italy at Mt. Etna. The book was published in 1833 after several revisions. This book changed the way scientists were to view the Earth.

It contained a multitude of data and observations. The message that was delivered via the book was that the Earth developed slowly over time. The book's success among scholars prompted Lyell to travel to North America to present his observations and theories.

His travels to the states were detailed in two more books Travels in North America and A Second Visit to the United States in North America. Both books detailed the findings and observations of his travels around the US.


Charles Lyell's ideas at the time were very radical and surprisingly were accepted by the geological community as very real possibilities. Perhaps his theories were acceptable because they did not discuss human life until much later on when he published The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man.

Oddly enough Lyell was a staunch Christian and did not accept the theory of evolution. But he did greatly influence the writer of the theory, Charles Darwin.

Darwin was greatly influenced by the writings of Lyell and largely credited him with opening his eyes to several possible natural theories. Captain Fitzroy, the ship captain of the HMS Beagle, took Darwin on his travels helping him to form his theories.

Fitzroy and Lyell were friends and as it would happen Fitzroy passed a copy of Lyell's original book the Principles of Geology to Darwin while he was on the HMS Beagle.

Lyell is credited with influencing how geological theories have been formed since the publication of his book and with helping Darwin to form some of his theories.

Rumor Has It

Charles Lyell, besides being a famous geologist, back in the day was known as a formidable off-his-rocker rock 'n' roller who played the air guitar with the likes of Beethoven, Brahms and Bon Jovi.