There has stood from very early times in Darwin's native town of Shrewsbury, a very notable boulder which has probably marked a boundary and is known as the "Bell-stone"--giving its name to a house and street. Darwin tells us in his "Autobiography" that while he was at Shrewsbury School at the age of 13 or 14 "an old Mr Cotton in Shropshire, who knew a good deal about rocks" pointed out to me "...the 'bell-stone'; he told me that there was no rock of the same kind nearer than Cumberland or Scotland, and he solemnly assured me that the world would come to an end before anyone would be able to explain how this stone came where it now lay"! Darwin adds "This produced a deep impression on me, and I meditated over this wonderful stone." ("L.L." I. page 41.)
The "bell-stone" has now, owing to the necessities of building, been removed a short distance from its original site, and is carefully preserved within the walls of a bank. It is a block of irregular shape 3 feet long and 2 feet wide, and about 1 foot thick, weighing probably not less than one-third of a ton. By the courtesy of the directors of the National Provincial Bank of England, I have been able to make a minute examination of it, and Professors Bonney and Watts, with Mr Harker and Mr Fearnsides have given me their valuable assistance. The rock is a much altered andesite and was probably derived from the Arenig district in North Wales, or possibly from a point nearer the Welsh Border. (I am greatly indebted to the Managers of the Bank at Shrewsbury for kind assistance in the examination of this interesting memorial: and Mr H.T. Beddoes, the Curator of the Shrewsbury Museum, has given me some archaeological information concerning the stone. Mr Richard Cotton was a good local naturalist, a Fellow both of the Geological and Linnean Societies; and to the officers of these societies I am indebted for information concerning him. He died in 1839, and although he does not appear to have published any scientific papers, he did far more for science by influencing the career of the school boy!" It was of course brought to where Shrewsbury now stands by the agency of a glacier--as Darwin afterwards learnt.
We can well believe from the perusal of these reminiscences that, at this time, Darwin's mind was, as he himself says, "prepared for a philosophical treatment of the subject" of Geology. ("L.L." I. page 41.) When at the age of 16, however, he was entered as a medical student at Edinburgh University, he not only did not get any encouragement of his scientific tastes, but was positively repelled by the ordinary instruction given there. Dr Hope's lectures on Chemistry, it is true, interested the boy, who with his brother Erasmus had made a laboratory in the toolhouse, and was nicknamed "Gas" by his schoolfellows, while undergoing solemn and public reprimand from Dr Butler at Shrewsbury School for thus wasting his time. ("L.L." I. page 35.) But most of the other Edinburgh lectures were "intolerably dull," "as dull as the professors" themselves, "something fearful to remember." In after life the memory of these lectures was like a nightmare to him. He speaks in 1840 of Jameson's lectures as something "I...for my sins experienced!" ("L.L." I. page 340.) Darwin especially signalises these lectures on Geology and Zoology, which he attended in his second year, as being worst of all "incredibly dull. The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never so long as I lived to read a book on Geology, or in any way to study the science!" ("L.L." I. page 41.)
The misfortune was that Edinburgh at that time had become the cockpit in which the barren conflict between "Neptunism" and Plutonism" was being waged with blind fury and theological bitterness. Jameson and his pupils, on the one hand, and the friends and disciples of Hutton, on the other, went to the wildest extremes in opposing each other's peculiar tenets. Darwin tells us that he actually heard Jameson "in a field lecture at Salisbury Craigs, discoursing on a trap-dyke, with amygdaloidal margins and the strata indurated on each side, with volcanic rocks all around us, say that it was a fissure filled with sediment from above, adding with a sneer that there were men who maintained that it had been injected from beneath in a molten condition." ("L.L." I. pages 41-42.) "When I think of this lecture," added Darwin, "I do not wonder that I determined never to attend to Geology." (This was written in 1876 and Darwin had in the summer of 1839 revisited and carefully studied the locality ("L.L." I. page 290.) It is probable that most of Jameson's teaching was of the same controversial and unilluminating character as this field-lecture at Salisbury Craigs.
There can be no doubt that, while at Edinburgh, Darwin must have become acquainted with the doctrines of the Huttonian School. Though so young, he mixed freely with the scientific society of the city, Macgillivray, Grant, Leonard Horner, Coldstream, Ainsworth and others being among his acquaintances, while he attended and even read papers at the local scientific societies. It is to be feared, however, that what Darwin would hear most of, as characteristic of the Huttonian teaching, would be assertions that chalk-flints were intrusions of molten silica, that fossil wood and other petrifactions had been impregnated with fused materials, that heat--but never water--was always the agent by which the induration and crystallisation of rock-materials (even siliceous conglomerate, limestone and rock-salt) had been effected! These extravagant "anti- Wernerian" views the young student might well regard as not one whit less absurd and repellant than the doctrine of the "aqueous precipitation" of basalt. There is no evidence that Darwin, even if he ever heard of them, was in any way impressed, in his early career, by the suggestive passages in Hutton and Playfair, to which Lyell afterwards called attention, and which foreshadowed the main principles of Uniformitarianism.
As a matter of fact, I believe that the influence of Hutton and Playfair in the development of a philosophical theory of geology has been very greatly exaggerated by later writers on the subject. Just as Wells and Matthew anticipated the views of Darwin on Natural Selection, but without producing any real influence on the course of biological thought, so Hutton and Playfair adumbrated doctrines which only became the basis of vivifying theory in the hands of Lyell. Alfred Russel Wallace has very justly remarked that when Lyell wrote the "Principles of Geology", "the doctrines of Hutton and Playfair, so much in advance of their age, seemed to be utterly forgotten." ("Quarterly Review", Vol. CXXVI. (1869), page 363.) In proof of this it is only necessary to point to the works of the great masters of English geology, who preceded Lyell, in which the works of Hutton and his followers are scarcely ever mentioned. This is true even of the "Researches in Theoretical Geology" and the other works of the sagacious De la Beche. (Of the strength and persistence of the prejudice felt against Lyell's views by his contemporaries, I had a striking illustration some little time after Lyell's death. One of the old geologists who in the early years of the century had done really good work in connection with the Geological Society expressed a hope that I was not "one of those who had been carried away by poor Lyell's fads." My surprise was indeed great when further conversation showed me that the whole of the "Principles" were included in the "fads"!) Darwin himself possessed a copy of Playfair's "Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory", and occasionally quotes it; but I have met with only one reference to Hutton, and that a somewhat enigmatical one, in all Darwin's writings. In a letter to Lyell in 1841, when his mind was much exercised concerning glacial questions, he says "What a grand new feature all this ice work is in Geology! How old Hutton would have stared!" ("M.L." II. page 149.)
As a consequence of the influences brought to bear on his mind during his two years' residence in Edinburgh, Darwin, who had entered that University with strong geological aspirations, left it and proceeded to Cambridge with a pronounced distaste for the whole subject. The result of this was that, during his career as an under-graduate, he neglected all the opportunities for geological study. During that important period of life, when he was between eighteen and twenty years of age, Darwin spent his time in riding, shooting and beetle-hunting, pursuits which were undoubtedly an admirable preparation for his future work as an explorer; but in none of his letters of this period does he even mention geology. He says, however, "I was so sickened with lectures at Edinburgh that I did not even attend Sedgwick's eloquent and interesting lectures." ("L.L." I. page 48.)
It was only after passing his examination, and when he went up to spend two extra terms at Cambridge, that geology again began to attract his attention. The reading of Sir John Herschel's "Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy", and of Humboldt's "Personal Narrative", a copy of which last had been given to him by his good friend and mentor Henslow, roused his dormant enthusiasm for science, and awakened in his mind a passionate desire for travel. And it was from Henslow, whom he had accompanied in his excursions, but without imbibing any marked taste, at that time, for botany, that the advice came to think of and to "begin the study of geology." ("L.L." I. page 56.) This was in 1831, and in the summer vacation of that year we find him back again at Shrewsbury "working like a tiger" at geology and endeavouring to make a map and section of Shropshire--work which he says was not "as easy as I expected." ("L.L." I. page 189.) No better field for geological studies could possibly be found than Darwin's native county.
This article only represents the author's viewpoint and does not represent the position of our website< Br> This article is authorized for publication by the author and cannot be reproduced without permission.
- 1in all the finer points of big game hunting. Of an evening
- 2the word of God; and this immense mass of immortal beings
- 3the church at the North against such abuses as this? Is
- 4“If a stranger sojourn with you in your land, ye shall
- 5nearly pure Indian inhabitants. They were much surprised
- 6of cotton or sugar three cents in the pound, would these
- 7of them refusing to the slave that which is just and equal,
- 8of men, not only of their daily earnings, but of all their
- 9designs to a successful conclusion. One party he moved
- 10state see the receiving-houses, whither these poor wrecks
Random graphics and text
- up the steps, depositing her there with her back to the
- correction; you cannot but say that it is just and right
- mercy towards them, thus assuming the responsibility of
- taken, and reputed, as a chattel personal.—This is “just
- gangway above which lowered a green and rotting wooden
- that which is just and equal,” and of the text, “All
- against, and no ministers are allowed to break to them
- possible you may have done some other bad thing which was
- and was clear of the oily water, now, and upon a sort of
- is hard doctrine; but if you consider it right, you must