Lyell, Sir Charles

Lyell, Sir Charles līˈəl [key], 1797–1875, British geologist. After studying and briefly practicing law, he spent most of his life in travel and in popularizing scientific ideas. He championed and won general acceptance of the theory of uniformity of causes, which was first proposed by James Hutton (as opposed to the theory of catastrophism) in his Principles of Geology (3 vol., 1830–33), which went into 12 editions in his lifetime. Lyell furthered the idea central to uniformitarianism, that the present processes acted on the earth in the same way all the way through time and at about the same intensity. He also brought up the idea that all processes (i.e., biological and geological) were delicately balanced. In addition to Elements of Geology (1838) and The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), he wrote two books on his travels in North America. Lyell's work was influential in shaping 19th-century ideas not only in geology specifically, but in scientific fields as a whole; he facilitated later acceptance of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Among Lyell's other important contributions was the division of the Tertiary period into the Eocene, Miocene, and Pliocene epochs.

See his Life, Letters, and Journals, ed. by his sister-in-law, K. M. Lyell (2 vol., 1881); study by L. G. Wilson (3 vol., 1972).

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