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Sedgwick, Adam (1785-1873) geologist
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Letter from George Airy

Royal Observatory Greenwich - GA acknowledges a letter WW recently sent concerning the Smith's Prize paper: 'As regards the paper and your comments on it, first I was glad to find that you think lightly of [William?] Hopkins's attempt to force in mathematics where [they?] have no business. In my opinion, Hopkins has done more to injure the credit of mathematics than any person that I know. This is the fault of the geologists (who would praise without attempting to understand), and I think, primarily the fault of Sedgwick.. In the next place , I was glad to see a question concerning the mathematical theory of waves. This is a subject which ought, I think, to be in some way brought into the curriculum of the university'. Although he has not yet settled the longitude of Valentia [see GA to WW, 2 Nov. 1844], 'I expect it will turn out an excellent work of its kind. We are much more puzzled in making the geodetic computations to compare with it (in large triangles upon a spheroid of assumed dimensions) than in the astronomical and chronometrical part: but after repeated trials I think we have managed to compute round the three sides of a triangle nearly or more than 100 miles each and to return within two or three feet to our starting point. This was to be the criterion of our method'. GA's paper on Irish tides is being printed. Similarly the printing of the Reduction of the Greenwich Planetary Observations 1750 to 1830 is finished. The reduction of the Greenwich Lunar Observations (1750 to 1830) is in the main finished: 'I am preparing to correct the elements of the Tables: and this I think upon the whole one of the greatest works that has ever been done in Astronomy'.

Letter from George Cayley to Adam Sedgwick

Brompton - GC is 'so immersed in the ferment of politics' that he has been slow to respond to AS's circular [possibly a request urging money for education]. The subscription started very modestly and it would have been better to have had a few of the founders attaching a 'few hundreds' to their name. GC Cannot go to the Oxford [BAAS] meeting but hopes it will be in Cambridge next year. This 'British Institute' must 'be studiously and strenuously kept open as a genuine republic of science'.

Letter from William Daniel Conybeare

WDC is sorry that he wasted any of WW's time. He had thought both WW and Sedgwick had attributed to him an unfounded degree of ignorance which made him annoyed. WDC is now flattered with the attention WW has paid him over his query, which accept for 'some differences rather metaphysical than physical between us' has been settled. When he first made it he only had Faraday's papers before him and had forgot to look at 'earlier writers and see if they had not determined the law of the tangential electro magnetic force, which of course would give me the result I sought as to the Time of revolution by the simplest process'. Barlow [Peter Barlow?] has found the tangential force of galvanic particles on magnetic to be inversely as the squares of the distances and therefore the Times will be directly as the squares of the distances. WW corrects him on his notion of force; 'its strict definition as the cause of change of motion'. WDC accepts this as long as one agrees that motion exists in the first place: 'but here physics seems to me to pass into metaphysics and I cannot conceive but that, recurring to the origin of things a state of rest is more natural than a state of motion - Hence I have a lurking fancy to understand by force not only the cause of a change of existing motion but the original cause of the motion whatsoever...if a tangential force had not been impressed in them at their creation, they would all have huddled together in an heap'.

James David Forbes to William Whewell

Edinburgh - JDF is 'surprised with your astronomers [James Challis] speculations about the comet'. JDF is convinced it is a comet - especially since so many astronomers independently around Europe saw it more-or-less in the same orbit: 'But it is like Challis's old crotchet on the undulatory theory'. JDF is going to write up his European travels [Travels through the Alps of Savoy and other parts of the Pennine Chain with Observations on the Phenomena of Glaciers, 1843]. Adam Sedgwick expressed himself favourably to JDF regarding the glacier priority dispute between JDF and Louis Agassiz [see JDF to WW, 23 May 1842]. JDF thinks Hopkins [William Hopkins] comments may be interesting, but no more than the idea 'that the heat of the earth keeps the ice constantly detached from the sides and bottom except at the surface in winter'. All this will not move glaciers: 'it is essentially plastic and semi fluid, and this semifluidity is I am persuaded the main and almost the sole cause of its motion as I shall attempt to demonstrate in my book'.

Letter from Julius Charles Hare

Herstmonceux, Hailsham - JCH would be delighted if WW could come and visit. Has WW any news regarding the Malcolm family since their house, Warfield, was to be sold about this time. What do Trinity men and especially Adam Sedgwick say about the attack made upon him: 'The Reviewer seems to me to be often unfair, though not unintentionally so: but he is a man of no common powers'.

Letter from John Herschel

JH sends a certificate in favour of Ritchie who wants to become a fellow of the Royal Society. Would WW also sign it and if [Adam] Sedgwick is around get him to add his name.

Letter from Charles Lyell

16 Hart Street, Bloomsbury - Further to their conversation concerning CL's doctrine of 'uniformity' in his 'Principles of Geology', certain passages from the first edition have been unfairly seized upon by his critics and not fairly considered. CL believes that any reader of Adam Sedgwick's anniversary address to the Geological Society 'would suppose that I had contended for 'an indefinite succession of similar phenomena' [Address, p. 25]. And the suggestion by AS that he had not made due allowance for the creation of man. However, CL did claim in the first edition that this 'innovation' was 'a new cause differing in kind and energy from any operation' and mentioned it as an unanswerable objection against any one who was contending for absolute uniformity. p. 156'. CL's 'notion of uniformity in the existing causes of change always implied that they must forever produce an endless variety of effects, both in the animate and inanimate world'. He 'did not lay it down as an axiom that there cannot have been a succession of paroxysms and crises on which 'a priori reasoning' I was accused of proceeding, but I argued that other geologists have usually proceeded on an arbitrary hypothesis of paroxysms and the intensity of geological forces, without feeling that by this assumption they pledged themselves to the opinion that ordinary forces and time could never explain geological phenomena'. There is a traditional prejudicial emphasis in geology 'that in attempting to interpret geological phenomena the bias has always been on the wrong side, there has always been a disposition to reason a priori on the extraordinary violence and suddenness of changes both in the inorganic crust of the earth and in organic types, instead of attempting strenuously to frame theories in accordance with the ordinary operations of nature'. WW should read what AS has to say on the two different methods of theorising in Geology and what he says in his address for 1831 of De Beaumont's system of parallel elevations and CL's chapter on the same subject: 'De Beaumont's system was properly selected by him as directly opposed to my fundamental principles...It was a theory invented not only without any respect to the reconciling geological events with the ordinary course of changes now in progress but it evinced at every step that partial leaning to a belief in the difference of the ancient causes and operations which characterises the system of my opponents'. AS was 'prompted by the same theoretical bias which assumes the discordance between the former and existing course of terrestrial change...I know not how much of De Beaumont's theory Sedgwick now believes, probably but a small part of it'. AS 'considered that my mode of explaining geological phenomena, or my bias towards a leading doctrine of the Huttonian hypothesis, had served like a false horizon in astronomy - to vitiate the results of my observations - But has he not himself been unconsciously warped by his own method of philosophizing which he has truly stated to be directly at variance with mine!' CL gives a detailed answer to AS's critique of his work. If CL had plainly stated as Herschel had done in his letter to CL regarding the 'possibility of the introduction - or origination of fresh species being a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process I should have raised a host of prejudices against me which are unfortunately opposed at every step to any philosopher who attempts to address the public on these mysterious subjects'. CL attempts to distinguish between a Uniformitarian and the Catastrophist by an imaginary case by appealing to WW's work in tides and a hypothetical case. 'The difficulty which men have of conceiving the aggregate effects of causes which have operated throughout millions of years far exceeds all other sources of prejudice in Geology and is yet the most unphilosophical of all'.

Letter from Charles Lyell

London - CL has written to Adam Sedgwick to tell him that he will be dining with WW and the two ladies, and will not be turning out for the Field Lecture 'as the ladies could not enjoy the sport and it would cut up our short stay'. CL has no criticisms to make of WW's speech - which he enjoyed even though he missed a great deal through interruptions.

Letter from John William Lubbock

Naples, Italy - JWL has been taking singing lessons in counterpoint from a top Italian teacher. Gives news of his travels to various places including the summit of Vesuvius. JWL sends his best to Mr Hamilton and Mr Sedgwick if they are in Cambridge, and hopes 'Mr Hamilton's book will do something towards introducing algebraical analysis at Cambridge'.

Letter from Roderick Impey Murchison

RIM will not be attending the BAAS meeting at Cambridge for various reasons, but mainly because of Adam Sedgwick's dislike of him: 'If I did not feel that he had irresolvably made up his mind to be alienated from me, I would still make every effort in my power to win back his friendship. For a long time and even during our gelogical disputes about nomenclature, he declared that they never could or should interupt our friendship and I am at a loss to know why in the last years he has become so morose and unforgiving' [see Adam Sedgwick to Everina Affleck, 25 September 1862].

Letter from Adam Sedgwick to Everina Frances Affleck

On his journey to Dent AS felt so tired at Newark station that he rested for two hours before going on to Leeds by a later train - 'now I am nearly well'. He found his brother [John Sedgwick] in a 'state of such disability - so weak as to be quite unable to keep up a conversation'.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick to Everina Frances Affleck

AS has gone to Dent for his brother's [John Sedgwick] funeral: 'I found my dear friends here better than I expected'. He has to stay for a week or two as he is the acting executor of his brother's will. AS has no doubts that his nephew [Richard] will be elected to his father's house and office. AS's brother believed that the terrible bodily sufferings he experienced were good for him: 'I believe that as his body was bent down by sickness towards the grave his soul rose higher and higher'. Isabella attended 'her father with that unflinching love which none but a woman can show, and no one but a Christian woman can show in perfection'.

Letter from Dawson Turner

Adam Sedgwick informed DT that WW would be coming up to visit, 'and that I might then look to see both of you in Yarmouth'. DT went to a couple of AS's lectures: 'The fulness of his mind, the ardour of his spirit, the comprehensiveness of his views, depth of his knowledge, and the fluency of his diction are all wonderful'. DT is pleased WW is working on something 'worthy of your mind, your knowledge and your name' ['The History of the Inductive Sciences, from the Earliest to the Present Time', 3 vols., 1837].

Letter from Adam Sedgwick to Everina Frances Affleck

AS 'cannot meet Sir Roderick Murchison as a friend till he retracts, before the Geological Society, publicly and personally, a statement which he made in their printed journal'. Namely 'that in one of the greatest and most mischievous blunders ever made in the history of English Geology, I had visited him and been the cause of his mistake. In short that I was the author of the mistake' [see Roderick Murchison to WW, 28 Sept. 1862].

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

It is hard for someone to write a letter when they are working fifteen hours a day. AS describes the areas he has been geologising in Scotland and his planned trips elsewhere. AS is 'delighted with what I have seen of the Highlanders'.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

AS is writing from an inn on the Northwest coast of Ross. He gives an outline of his intended movements. If WW wishes to join them 'I can promise you a most hospitable reception from the Highland ladies'. AS gives an extended description of the south coast of Mull on the Western Isles.

Letter from Roderick Impey Murchison to Lady Affleck

The friendship WW has shown to RIM 'has quite touched my heart'. He is very grateful at WW's endeavour to bring a truce between RIM and Adam Sedgwick [see RIM to WW, 2 July 1862]: 'I see however by the severe term which he applies to me, that he is still highly irritable to the subject'. RIM is just starting out for Britanny to explore that ancient region.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

AS arrived in Strasbourg this morning. He wishes that some notice be given of his lectures: 'Will you have the kindness to direct Smith to give the notice in the usual form'. AS gives an account of what he and his party have been doing since they left England including; a hike along the Hessian basaltic mountains, a trip to Berlin, and an examination of the leading phenomena of Saxony; this was followed by a journey to Bohemia, Prague, Vienna, the Eastern Alps, Italy and slowly on to Strasbourg. AS gives a brief account of some of the geological phenomena he encountered.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

AS has received a subscription for the purchase of the Thomas Allan collection of minerals to be deposited in the University of Durham. AS is to give two guineas towards its purchase: 'I hope Allan's noble collection will not be broken up'. WW should come and visit him to view the wealth of architecture [Norwich]. Letter is written on the verso of the printed prospectus for the purchase of the Allan Collection of Minerals.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

AS has still a great deal of work to do geologising in Devon and Cornwall and has been hampered by the bad weather. It has just struck AS that he ought to give notice of his lectures - could WW tell Smith [the printer] to circulate them. AS gives an account of his travels about South England; Dartmoor, the South Wash of Down, and the coast of Cornwall. He met Davies Gilbert in Penzance.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

Launceston - AS has 'had one or two severe attacks brought on by fatigue and bad weather'. Nevertheless he has 'done a great deal of good work and fixed many geological land marks'. WW should not hesitate becoming President elect of the Geological Society: 'Have you not been Professor of Mineralogy? Have you not given the only philosophical view of that science that exists in our language? Have you not written the best review of Lyell's [Charles Lyell] system that has appeared in our language? etc. etc.? - you are just the man we want'. WW should tell Murchison [Roderick Murchison] 'that in the quarries a mile and a half south of this place' are some interesting fossils.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

AS is making his way back to England; from Dusseldorf he goes to Rotterdam and then directly to London. Can WW give notice of AS's lectures. He has found 'some admirable materials for your architectural speculations'.

Letter from Adam Sedgwick

'Nothing, but a most painful and important duty, should have kept me so long in the south of England as I am likely to remain before I can return to Cambridge'. He will not be back before the Saturday preceeding his first lecture. On arriving at St. Bas AS found his oldest friend dangerously ill: 'He gradually got worse and worse and died at two o'clock on Tuesday morning'.

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