I, a Geologist (Part 1): The geology of Charles Darwin

Stephen K Donovan and Cor F Winkler Prins (The Netherlands) “Darwin … devoted 1383 pages of notes to geological topics, compared with only 368 pages to biological topics.” – (Rhodes 1991, pp. 194-195) Like the writer, Johann Goethe, who inscribed himself in the guest book of Karlsbad – present day Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic – as “J.W. Goethe, Geognost”, Charles Darwin considered himself a geologist (“I, a geologist” citation from his notebooks in Herbert 2005, p. 2), and rightfully so. He was a true savant and an amateur in the positive sense of the word, as commonly used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (see Rudwick 2004, p. 23), This is despite the fact that he belonged, for some time after his return with HMS Beagle, to the geological elite (Rudwick 1982). This may be deduced, for example, from the fact that he was asked to write the part on geology of a naval manual (Darwin 1849). Early geological influences: Edinburgh, Cambridge and Lyell’s Principles “Henslow then persuaded me to begin the study of geology [in 1831] … [T]he sagacious Henslow ¼ advised me to get and study the first volume of the Principles, which had just then been published, but on no account to accept the views therein advocated.”  (Darwin 1983, pp. 39, 59) Darwin’s geological education took a new direction as he read volume one of Lyell’s Principles of Geology (Fig. 1) on-board HMS Beagle. However, his instruction in the new science actually began when he attended formal … Read More

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