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The Earth on ShowFossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856$
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Ralph O'Connor

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226616681

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226616704.001.0001

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Lyell Steps In

Lyell Steps In

(p.163) 4 Lyell Steps In
The Earth on Show
University of Chicago Press

During the 1820s Scottish writers were beginning to corner the market in attractive literalist earth history. The new school of geology, too, is popularly seen as having been “founded” by two Scottish writers—James Hutton and, in particular, Charles Lyell—the latter of whose greatest achievements lay in his ability to synthesize and deploy vast quantities of abstruse scientific data within an elegant, rhetorically compelling work of literature. To assess his significance more accurately, we need to see Lyell not just as a geologist, but also as a man of letters. This chapter shows that Lyell developed several of the narrative techniques examined so far, deploying them with new confidence and extending their imaginative scope. His chiselled prose was no mere adornment to his ideas, but an essential part of their appeal. Thanks not only to what he said, but more importantly to the way he said it, Lyell transformed the public profile of geology and its genteel practitioners at a critical stage in the science's development.

Keywords:   Scottish writers, Charles Lyell, geology, earth history, geologists, narrative techniques

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