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Lyell’s Mock Epic

Lyell’s Mock Epic

(p.95) Chapter Three Lyell’s Mock Epic
Novel Science
Adelene Buckland
University of Chicago Press

In November 1817, Charles Lyell wrote a poem “Lines on Staffa” to show his father that he had learned, at Oxford, a gentlemanly sensitivity to the natural world, and attained the poetic accomplishment to compose stanzas that were emergent in the works of his contemporaries. Besides showing this undergraduate's gentlemanly panache, the poem also expresses his growing interest in his newly found pursuit: geology. Lyell would move on to publish one of the most important geological works of the nineteenth century, Principles of Geology, which would sell fifteen thousand copies before his death in 1875. This chapter explores the trappings of Lyell's piece and body of work, and his later influence on the field of geology. Lyell's framing of a scientific speculation in fashionable Spenserian stanza within a Romantic “fairy scene” may have been the outlet through which he would silently vocalize his ambitions in science.

Keywords:   Charles Lyell, Lines on Staffa, geology, Principles of Geology, Spenserian stanza, Romantic fairy scene

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