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Sir Roderick Murchison

Nature volume 5, pages 1012 | Download Citation



THE life of a scientific man is for the most part uneventful, and perhaps to the world at large uninteresting. That he was born, lived a certain number of years, and died, are often the chief facts chronicled of the man himself. Of his work and of the influence of his work men are willing to read, but for the story of his life, with its quiet everyday monotony, they care little. Yet it is true, at least of the higher type of mind, that the story of the man's life and the history of the work he accomplished are inseparably connected, and are each necessary for the understanding of the other. There arise, too, ever and anon instances when the man was not merely a man of science, but one whose scientific career formed as it were a nucleus round which many other and often divergent interests gathered. Such a man's life is sometimes linked in so many ways with that of the society in which he lived, that its chronicle becomes in some degree the history of his time. And such a man was Roderick Impey Murchison. By no means standing on the highest platform of scientific intellect, a patient gatherer of facts rather than a brilliant generaliser from them, he yet gained by common consent in the commonwealth of science the position of a king, under whom men of all ranks, and even men of far higher ability and attainment than his own, were not only willing but delighted to serve. He held a place which no other man of science left among us now fills. It was not merely his achievements in geology, memorable as these were, which gave him that proud pre-eminence, nor did he owe anything to success in other branches of science, for he seldom travelled beyond what he knew to be his proper domain, nor to graces of literary style, on which men of slender acquirements often float into popularity. He wrote only on geological and geographical subjects, and in a solid matter-of-fact way not likely to attract readers who did not previously care for his subjects. It was his personal character, his noble-heartedness, his indomitable energy, his tact and courtesy, the dignity and grace which he never failed to show even to opponents, and the social position which his family and fortune gave him, and which enabled him greatly to extend the respect shown in society to science and scientific men, —it was these causes which largely went to make Sir Rode-rick's influence what it was. A narrative, to do him justice, should tell how these causes came into play, and how, combined with the regard which he could always claim for his solid contributions to science, they placed him so high in the scientific circle in which he moved.

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