Good evidence how long provincial prejudices lingered in Oxford, as they still linger about the Jesus Welshmen and the Balliol Scots. The letters from college (anno 1817) are amusingly old-fashioned in their eighteenth-century echoes. They are written stiffly in the literary style of the past generation, with Horace deliberately dragged in, thus:
"Hunc varum distortis cruribus."—Sat.
But we are gainers hereby in the end; for Lyell's epistolary style, thus developed, was very different from the hasty manner of the present day, based upon the post-card and the telegraph-form.
It was at Oxford, too, that Lyell discovered geology, hitherto to him a terra incognita, or, rather, inopinata. He attended Buckland's lectures, and seems at once to have been converted to the new love, the insects being henceforth almost entirely deserted, or, at least, relegated to the second place. One of his long vacations was spent at Yarmouth with the Dawson Turners; and already we see the theory of "causes now in action" fermenting in his eager brain. He visits the alluvial delta of the Yare, finds evidence of ancient channels blocked up by the shingle which so diverted the course of the river, learns that Norwich was a great port in mediaeval history, and, putting two and two together, comes to the natural conclusion that the changes in that part of the coast were very recent, and were due, not to one of the then fashionable cataclysms, but to river-silt still in course of deposition. "Cromer, Bakefield, Dunwich, and Aldborough," he says, "have necessarily been losing in the same proportion as Yarmouth gains." The bent was there even at this early date; and it is the bent that makes the man. The old drastic cosmogony was trembling to its fall; the germs of evolutionism were already in the air. Catastrophes, special creations, deluges, and the rest, though backed by the great name of Cuvier, had had their day. Lyell was to be one of the first to discover the cumulative value of the infinitesimal. From the first, his thoughts pointed in that direction; and though he did not know to what grand results the system was to lead us in the hands of Darwin—though, indeed, he was slow to accept the results when flashed upon him too dazzlingly at last—yet it is interesting to observe how throughout he keeps a keen eye upon all the crude theories that make in the same way, such as that of Lamarck, who from the beginning exercised an obvious fascination upon his kindred mind.
Toward these final results Lyell's own work led slowly up. Perhaps it is not too much to say that in future ages, when the origin of the great uniformitarian system of interpreting nature is looked back upon with impartial eyes, four prominent names will stand out as representative of the evolutionary movement in the judgment of posterity. The first is that of Laplace, who applied it to the origin and development of sidereal systems; the second is that of Lyell, who applied it