Lot 380
  • 380


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50,000 GBP
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  • Lyell, Sir Charles
  • Principles of Geology, being an attempt to explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface, by reference to causes now in operation. John Murray, 1830-1833
  • paper
8vo, 3 volumes, FIRST EDITION, PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED TO HIS FATHER-IN-LAW AND FELLOW GEOLOGIST LEONARD HORNER ON HALF-TITLES OF VOLUMES 1 AND 3 ("L. Horner from the author June 1830" and "Leonard Horner Esq. from his affectionate Son-in-law Chas Lyell"), pencil annotations and markings to the text, presumably by Horner, 3 lithographed frontispieces (2 with hand-colouring), 5 lithographed plates, 3 lithographed maps (2 folding, 2 with handcolouring), wood-engraved illustrations, no advertisements, PUBLISHER'S HORIZONTALLY-GRAINED GREEN CLOTH, lettered in gilt on the spines, top edges stained green, the other edges speckled red, pale yellow endpapers, inscription in volume 3 very slightly cropped, some very slight occasional spotting OTHERWISE AN EXCEPTIONAL COPY


Dennis R. Dean, "Graham Island, Charles Lyell, and the Craters of Elevation Controversy", ISIS, Vol. 71, No.4 (December 1980), pp.571-588

Catalogue Note

A SUPERB PRE-PUBLICATION PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION OF LYELL'S GREATEST WORK, POSSIBLY IN A PRESENTATION BINDING. Lyell may have inscribed the sheets ahead of Murray having special copies bound up for presentation (thus explaining the slight cropping of the second inscription).

Lyell met his future wife Mary Horner in the summer of 1831 when on fieldwork in Germany. She was the daughter of the whig reformer and geologist Leonard Horner (1785–1864), who had been a fellow of the Geological Society since 1808. Horner and Lyell had already met, and Horner had encouraged the young geologist in his studies, as well (unusually for the time) several women in the same field, including his daughter. The first inscription clearly dates from when Lyell presented the first volume of his Principles before he had met Horner's daughter (in June 1830, before publication by Murray in July); the second after marrying Mary in Bonn on 12 July 1832. Leonard Horner went on to become secretary and later president of the Geological Society, and in 1835 helped establish the Geological Survey of Great Britain.

Tipped-in to the verso of the title page of volume 3 is a small monochrome gouache sketch (signed beneath, annotated on reverse) by the author's sister Elizabeth (1814-35) of the eruption and short-lived appearance of Graham Island in the Mediterranean off the coast of Sicily in July 1831, an event which created huge international attention and which was of immense interest to geologists and scientists in the debate as to the cause of volcano formation. Lyell had visited Mount Etna several times in the preparation and writing of his Principles of Geology and based on his studies and observations had attacked the then "craters of evolution" theory, which held that volcanoes were formed from cataclysmic upheaval of underlying rock strata. Volume 1 of the Principles advocated the alternative (and in fact more traditional) view that volcanic cones are created by the accumulation of ejecta around the vent. It was at this point that Graham Island or, as it was known in Italian, Isola Ferdinandea  suddenly arose from the sea, leading to a four-way sovereignty dispute among Britain, France, Sicily and Spain, before the dispute became almost instantly defused when the island disappeared owing to erosion in the early months of 1832 (seismic activity occurred most recently in 2000 and 2002, but currently the summit of the island remains around six metres below sea level). In 1831, in the middle of publishing his major work, Lyell eagerly seized on the island's appearance for evidence to support his own theories. In later editions of his Principles Graham Island and the controvery over the formation of volcanic cones are discussed in great detail (see, for instance, tenth edition, 1868, volume 2, pp. 58--64, with woodcut illustrations based on sketches by Joinville and McLaren).