Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/431

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Scientific Literature.


Under the able editorship of Sir Henry E. Roscoe the Century Science series continues to afford popular biographies of the leading European scientists of the nineteenth century, written by those who are to-day filling the places of their departed masters.[1] The life of Lyell was a steady and comfortable progress in knowledge and fame. He did not have congenital poverty or other serious obstacle to contend with, and his talents were high enough and his opportunities broad enough to insure his efforts a rich reward. The English universities had little of science to give in the second decade of the present century, so that Lyell's training in geology was picked up from outside sources in vacations and during his few years of not very arduous practice of the law. Prof. Bonney gives us a vivid sense of the paralyzing influence which was still exerted upon geology and all other branches of science in Lyell's early life by the supposed necessity for making all discoveries in the realm of Nature conform to the language of the Scriptures. Lyell was always in the van of the advanced thinkers in his chosen field, and apparently maintained this position without open rupture with the theologians. In describing his epoch-making work, the Principles of Geology, Prof. Bonney says, "It proved the writer to be not only a careful observer and a reasoner of exceptional inductive power, but also a man of general culture and a master of his mother tongue." Doubtless his literary ability joined with a happy endowment of tact enabled him to contribute greatly to the scientific revolution which culminated in Darwin, without being pilloried as Darwin was. Most of the events of Lyell's life are given in chronological order, but the author departs from this plan to give in one chapter a connected history of the eleven editions of the Principles that appeared in Lyell's lifetime. That he was a scientist of a high order is shown by the fact that he was able to change his opinion on an important question late in life, namely, the origin of species, when such evidence as Darwin presented was brought to bear upon it. This conduct caused Darwin to write, "Considering his age, his former views, and position in society, I think his action has been heroic"; and Prof. Bonney estimates as perhaps a greater service than any of his contributions to knowledge the constant readiness of Lyell to learn from others, and the manifestation of a judicial mind raised far above all partisanship and pride of opinion.

It needs but a glance at the finely cut features and long, high-vaulted cranium represented in the portrait of James Clerk Maxwell to show that his biographer has to record the life and labors of a genius. No one but a genius could have united Maxwell's mathematical penetration with his poetical ability, and the fact that his intellect was not well rounded on all sides is also characteristic of genius. His chief defects were a weakness in analysis and an inability to bring his teaching down to the level of the

  1. Charles Lyell and Modern Geology. By Prof. T. G. Bonney. Pp. 224, 12mo.—James Clerk Maxwell and Modern Physics. By R. T. Glazebrook, F. R. S. Pp. 224, 12mo. London: Cassell & Co., Ltd. New York: Macmillan & Co. Price, $1.25 each.