Modern Problems Relating to the Antiquity of Man. 1

    Abstract

    ON my bookshelves there is placed a series of old volumes containing past reports of this Association, which fortune sent my way many years ago on a Whitechapel bookstall. Among them there is one volume I prize—that which contains the history of the meeting at Aberdeen in 1859. In that volume you will find an early phase of the subject of my discourse for this evening—the antiquity of man. Sir Chas. Lyell presided over the section of Geology; in his opening address he announced that “a work will very shortly appear by Mr. Charles Darwin—the result of twenty years' observation and experiment,” and that the evidence which had accumulated in recent years “made it probable that man was old enough to have co-existed at least with the Siberian mammoth.” From other statements made in his address it is clear that Lyell was then convinced that man?s appearance on earth was infinitely older than the limits fixed by Biblical record. I do not suppose I have a single listener who heard that address in Aberdeen sixty-three years ago, but even those who are not yet old will concede that the new doctrine, preached so moderately by Sir Charles Lyell, was not likely to be acceptable to the general membership of the Geological Section in the year 1859. You will find an exact record of what happened at the meeting—not in the official report of the year, but in the letters of Mr. William Pengelly, the explorer of Kent's Cavern. Orthodoxy was represented at the meeting by the Rev. Dr. Anderson, who, in Mr. Pengelly's words, “attempted to castigate Lyell for his opening address. There was a considerable amount of orthodoxy in the room, and Dr. Anderson grot a very undue share of applause.” The doctrine which Lyell and his companions championed in the face of public opprobrium in 1859 is the accepted and orthodox opinion of the vast majority of thoughtful people in the year 1912.

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