Principles of Geology

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The frontispiece showing the Temple of Serapis was "carefully reduced from that given by the Canonico Andrea de Jorio in his Ricerche sul Tempio di Serapide, in Puzzuoli. Napoli, 1820,[1] which had been based on a drawing by John Izard Middleton.[2]

Principles of Geology (full title: Principles of Geology: being an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth's surface, by reference to causes now in operation) is a book by the Scottish geologist Charles Lyell, first published in 3 volumes in 1830–1833.

Lyell used geology throughout as a basis to further strengthen the argument for Uniformitarianism in this book. He successfully used geological proof to determine that the Earth was older than 6,000 years, as had been previously contested. The book goes on to describe that the processes that are occurring in the present are the same processes that occurred in the past.[3]

The book was influential, not least on the young Charles Darwin.


Published in three volumes in 1830–33, the book established Lyell's credentials as an important geological theorist and popularised the doctrine of uniformitarianism (first suggested by James Hutton). The central argument in Principles was that "the present is the key to the past": that geological remains from the distant past can, and should, be explained by reference to geological processes now in operation and thus directly observable.


Lyell's interpretation of geologic change as the steady accumulation of minute changes over enormously long spans of time was also a central theme in the Principles, and a powerful influence on the young Charles Darwin, who was given Volume 1 of the first edition by Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, just before they set out on the voyage of the Beagle. On their first stop ashore at St Jago, Darwin found rock formations which -seen "through Lyell's eyes"- gave him a revolutionary insight into the geological history of the island, an insight he applied throughout his travels. While in South America, Darwin received Volume 2, which rejected the idea of organic evolution, proposing "Centres of Creation" to explain diversity and territory of species. Darwin's ideas gradually moved beyond this, but in geology he was very much Lyell's disciple and sent home extensive evidence and theorising supporting Lyell's uniformitarianism, including Darwin's ideas about the formation of atolls.


Details of publication[edit]

  • Principles of Geology 1st edition, 1st vol. London: John Murray, Jan. 1830
  • Principles of Geology 1st edition, 2nd vol. London: John Murray, Jan. 1832
  • Principles of Geology 1st edition, 3rd vol. London: John Murray, May 1833
  • Principles of Geology 2nd edition, 1st vol. London: John Murray, 1832
  • Principles of Geology 2nd edition, 2nd vol. London: John Murray, Jan. 1833
  • Principles of Geology 3rd edition, 4 vols. London: John Murray, May 1834
  • Principles of Geology 6th edition, 3 vols. June 1840
  • Principles of Geology 7th edition, 1 vol. Feb. 1847
  • Principles of Geology 8th edition, 1 vol. May 1850
  • Principles of Geology (9th ed.), Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1853 
  • Principles of Geology 10th edition, 2 vols. 1866–68
  • Principles of Geology 11th edition, 2 vols. 1872

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Lyell 1830, pp. ii,xiv
  2. ^ Rudwick, M. J. S. (2010). Worlds before Adam : the reconstruction of geohistory in the age of reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 106–113, 117. ISBN 0-226-73129-4. 
  3. ^ Lyell, Charles. The Principles of Ecology, London: 1833.