Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/615

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595
SIR CHARLES LYELL.

to the origin and development of the surface of our own planet; the third is that of Darwin, who applied it to the origin and development of the phenomena of life; the fourth is that of Herbert Spencer, who applied it to the origin and development of the phenomena of mind, besides working up all the scattered elements of the system into one complete and harmonious whole. To pretend that Lyell stood up to the level of the other three would be passing the love of biographers: his work neither required nor engaged such high synthetic powers as theirs. But, without the first two, the revolution accomplished by the last two could never, perhaps, have been successfully carried out.

While at Oxford, too, general culture is not neglected. We find Lyell criticising Mr. Coleridge's new poem of "Christabel," writing some mild verses of his own on Staffa, which he had just visited with his father (better mild than none), and not quite successfully trying to take an interest in his tutor's lectures on the Ethics, where every Oxford man can surely afford him the most heart-felt sympathy. In 1818 he made a vacation tour through France, Switzerland, and Italy, observing and learning much, and interesting himself in art and society. He sees the Dranse in flood, and pores over the pictures of the Pitti Palace and the domes of Venice. Coming home, he went in for classical honors, and took a second in 1819. In after-life he evidently regretted the sort of teaching he had got at Oxford as much as most other men do; yet it left some good effects, apparent enough in all his subsequent work.

Law was to be his profession: so he went to Lincoln's Inn and made a beginning of reading. But luckily his eyes were weak, and he was sent abroad again for a trip to Rome. Here he devoted himself to the Forum Romanum and the Vatican, and left no time for geology—good education for his future work. Next, he is back in England, and down at Romney, with a friend. What luck for one of his bent: Yarmouth and Romney, the two great modern districts of England, the exact places to see geology now at work under one's very eyes! Here comes one of the jarring passages again: "The back door, opening into the farm-yard, betrays [his friend's father] to have been the farmer turned gentleman, not the gentleman turned farmer. How short and direct is the road through Eton and Oxford from the grazier on Romney Marsh to the fine gentleman!" But even here the better nature comes out on second thoughts—"or, to speak plainly, to the real gentleman in ideas, manners, and information." In the earlier letters there is a good deal of this sort of thing—talk of "good company," "my father's head livery-servant," and so forth; but we are still in the year 1822, and great allowances must be made for the son of a Scotch laird, living in the midst of the Tory society of the Regency, and hardly daring to trust his own native Liberal promptings. In politics he was Liberal from the first, though never a sound Radical; and in social matters the tone of his letters widens out steadily