At the beginning of 1889
Prof. Geikie was awarded the Murchison medal of the Geological Society of
London, " in acknowledgment of his important contributions to the geology of
North Britain, and especially of his investigation of glacial phenomena." A
letter of cordial congratulation from his old friend Mr Whitaker on the
award speaks of the writer's own debt to the author, and of his adoption of
a number of the latter's conclusions. In this year also he was made a D.C.
L. of Durham University.
Prof. Geikie at the Age of Sixty.
At this time Prof. Geikie had
added to his university work proper a course for women, who were as yet
excluded from classes within the building. At the end of the course, in the
spring of 1890, he took the members of the class on a long excursion to
Birnam, to give them an insight into field geology. The party was a gay one,
and their doings were celebrated by the leader in a series of verses, of
which the first runs as follows:—
Of the Geologic Class
Sing the glorious days' renown
When to Birnam it did pass
From the tumults of the town—
A score of earnest students in their frocks,
Behold the learned band,
Each with hammer in her hand
Prepared to pound to sand All the rocks.
Prof. Geikie's muse was also
active the same summer at the dinner of the Edinburgh Royal Society Club,
held in honour of Dr Nansen's return from Greenland, where he sang a song of
his own composition which met with a great reception. Its motif was the joys
of Greenland as a place remote from civilisation, and a lament over the fact
that, except for that happy land, "the hale round world is tounifeed."
In this year also he was
President of the Geological Section at the Newcastle-on-Tyne meeting of the
British Association, and devoted his presidential address to the subject of
In 1891 he returned to
America, this time to deliver a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute
in Boston. This gave him an opportunity to renew many pleasant friendships
made during his previous visit, but his stay was somewhat marred by an
attack of influenza. Among his papers are many notes of invitation and
greeting, an interesting one being from Prof. William James, which contains
careful instructions as to how the host's house might be found, accompanied
by a sketch-map.
The following year saw the
publication of an important paper "On the Glacial Succession in Europe," in
regard to which the author says, in a letter to his friend Prof. Stevenson
of New York:— "I sincerely believe that the conclusions will stand, no
matter how extravagant they may now appear to be." This year also he was
President of Section E (Geography) at the Edinburgh meeting of the British
Association, the subject of his presidential address being the "Geographical
Development of Coast-lines." Among the foreign guests at this meeting was
the Norwegian botanist, Prof. Blytt, who writes to thank him "most heartily
for all your great kindness to me during my stay in your beautiful city."
By this time Prof. Geikie's
university work had considerably increased, for in 1891 he had been elected
Convener of the Science Degrees Committee, and, after a Faculty of Science
had been instituted by the Royal Universities Commission in 1894, he was
elected Dean of the Faculty, a post which he held till a year before his
retirement from the professorship. This brought him into contact with all
the science students, and gave him much to do in the way of organising and
arranging courses. As a result his feeling of strangeness to university life
seems to have passed away entirely, and he became thoroughly absorbed in the
life of the institution. The work of the Universities Commission also
greatly improved the status of his subject, and his position as Dean gave
him much influence in moulding the policy of the University in regard to
scientific education. A series of verses, apparently never published, but
written in support of an appeal for more funds for university purposes,
adopts a very different note from the earlier verses which we have quoted,
and show that too much stress should not be laid upon those as representing
more than a passing mood.
In 1893, in addition to
various papers, a volume of collected essays and addresses was published as
Fragments of Earth Lore. But this must have been merely a piece of byplay,
as it were, for during 1892 and 1893 trie laborious task of bringing The
Great Ice Age up to date was being carried on. Thus on 29th January 1893 he
writes to Prof. Chamberlin of Chicago, saying:—
I have been busy of late in
completing a new edition of my Great Ice Age. So long a time has passed
since the publication of the last edition that I have found it necessary to
rewrite the book. The labour of boiling down the evidence obtained by the
geologists of Scandinavia, Russia, France, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, etc.,
has been very great, and has rather taken it out of me, so that for the
present I am compelled to lay my MS. aside and do nothing!
But the interval of rest can
only have been brief, for he writes again on 12th March, saying:—
I am again slowly working at
my book, in hope that I may have it in the printer's hands by the end of
summer. ... I have been truly astonished to find that the voluminous
materials which have been collected during the last seventeen years in
Europe, group themselves without the least difficulty into a coherent and
intelligible whole. Until I had tabulated the results I was hardly prepared
to find that the evidence from all parts of Europe tallied so closely. Each
bit of the puzzle seems to drop into its place with ease.
The hope expressed in this
letter was not fulfilled, for nearly a year later, on 20th January 1894, we
find him writing again to Prof. Chamberlin, saying:—
In the course of week or two
I hope to complete my new edition of 27ie Great Ice Age. The revision has
given me more trouble than I expected, chiefly on account of the large
number of foreign papers which I have had to read and digest, for I was
anxious to exhaust the evidence as far as I could. . . .
I am hoping to put the
manuscript in the printer's hands by the end of March or middle of April. I
give myself that additional time, for I wish to take another look at some of
the deposits on the Baltic coast lands before finally parting with my MS. As
soon as I get rid of my College duties I shall start on my flying visit to
Denmark, etc. Some very remarkable evidence has turned up recently in
Tasmania and Australia. Geologists will have to reconsider their notions as
to glaciation of our Antipodes in the light of the newly discovered
evidence. I much wish that I had a long purse, unlimited time at my
disposal, and a younger earthly tabernacle, for under those happy conditions
I should sail straight away for the South, to see what I could see.
Prof. Chamberlin was
supplying a sketch of the glacial phenomena of North America, which forms
Chapters XLI. and XLII. of the completed book, and the correspondence
between the two went on during the greater part of this year, for the book
was not published till autumn.
On 4th May he writes:—
I have just returned from a
few weeks' holiday in the Baltic coast lands of North Germany and Denmark,
where I had another opportunity of studying the great moraines of the Baltic
Glacier. . . . I am quite ready for press—all the maps are engraved—and am
most anxious to have the book set up and corrected for press before the end
of July. I shall probably go abroad then: and it would be impossible to
revise proofs away from my library.
In the summer Prof. Geikie
had a visit from his friend Prof. Stevenson of New York. In an undated
letter to the latter, apparently written in early-summer, arranging details
about the visit, he says:—
I am sorry to hear about the
nervousness. Having had it myself—for three years—I know what it means. But,
courage! mon ami, with care you can stave off the enemy. The beast has been
threatening me again for some months past. But the work which caused him to
look in upon me, with his infernal grin, is now all but finished. In a
fortnight I shall be a free man! Then geology may go hang till winter. I
wish I had a long sail across the briny again, to Fiji or anywhere out of
the busy haunts of man.
The summer holiday was spent
at Traquair on the Tweed, and in a letter to Sir George Douglas written from
there on 10th August, Prof. Geikie says:—
I had thought at one time of
going to the Continent, but here it is more restful and that is what I wish.
I have no news of any kind, but am happy to say that I have at last escaped
from the printer's devil. My Penelope's Web is out of my hands at last: and
I shall do nothing for the next month or two save loaf about the hills.
But as always there were
delays at the last, and a month later he writes to thank Prof. Chamberlin
for some additional notes, saying:—
The notes were quite in time
to be inserted in the proofs. The book will not be "out" before October. The
engravers have kept us back a little; but it is no joke revising the proofs
of 850 pages. . . . You may be sure that an early copy of my book will be
sent to you as soon as I can get it out of the publisher's hands. I am
sorry, however, that it is so big. I did what I could in the way of
compression; but there is so much new to tell.
In the autumn a very pleasant
incident occurred, and as it is recorded in letters sent to Prof.
Chamberlin, they may be permitted to tell the tale:—
19th Oct. 1894.
A short time ago I had a most
gratifying letter from the Glacialists' Excursion-party of the Geological
Congress. The party (thirty in number) embraced some of the best known
European glacialists, and was under the guidance of Penck, Bruckner, and Du
Pasquier. They went over the sections showing the glacial succession in the
Alpine Lands, and were convinced that Penck's interpretation of the facts
were correct. In short, "they admit that there have been at least three
separate glacial epochs, and each separated from the other by long-continued
valley-erosion during interglacial times. The letter sent to me was signed
by all the excursionists. The evidence, indeed, is so striking that one
wonders that Alpine geologists should have been so tardy in recognising it!
19th Nov. 1894.
I do not think there would be
any impropriety in publishing the letter I received from the glacialists,
and you are welcome to use it for the Journal if you think it worth while.
The import of the letter appeared in some German newspapers at the time; but
I never thought of publishing it here. Yet I see no reason why it should not
appear in your Journal [The Journal of Geology, of which Prof. Chamberlin is
joint editor.]—only, I may be accused of personal vanity in sending it to
you. But there is really no vain-glory in the matter, all that the writers
say is simply that I would be pleased to see that they had studied the
evidence adduced by Penck, Bruckner, and Du Pasquier, and were convinced
that the Alps had been glaciated three times. I therefore enclose a copy of
the letter, the signatures being copied exactly as they are given. You will
see the list includes some of the best known glacialists of Europe.
COPY OF LETTER
am Starnberger See,
Sept. 23, 1894.
Dear Professor Geikie,—As
members of the Glacialists' Excursion we have studied the superposition of
three successive glaciations and their interglacial deposits on both sides
of the Alps, and we desire to address our congratulations to the Author of
The Great Ice Age and to express our regret that you were unable to be one
of the party and see for yourself a series of exposures which would have a
very special interest for you.—We are, with sincere regards,
Leon Du Pasquier.
Hugh Robert Mill, London.
Dr Andr. M. Hansen, Kristiania.
Dr K. Keilhack, Berlin.
Dr S. Zimmermann, Berlin.
Professor Dr A. Jentzsch Konigsberg.
Prof. Dr G. Berendt, Berlin.
Dr Grein, Darmstadt. Leo Wehrli, Zurich.
Professor Dr Wahnschaffe, Berlin.
A. W. Pavlow, Moscow.
Dr Willi Ule, Halle
Prof. Dr Fritz Regel, Jena.
Prof. A. P. Pavlov, Moscow
Dr Aug. Aeppli, Zurich.
Dr F. Muhlberg, Aarau.
E. Flournoy, Geneve.
J. Lorie, Utrecht.
Immanuel Friedlaender, Berlin.
Prof. A. Woeikof, St Petersbourg
Dr Hav. Pfeifer.
Dugald Bell, Glasgow.
Mrs D. Bell.
Dr Adolf Forster, Wien.
Dr A. Schenck, Halle a/S.
Bernard Hobson, Manchester.
The third edition of The
Great Ice Age duly appeared in the autumn of 1894, and some extracts from a
letter written by Prof. Stevenson may help to show the impression produced
on a fellow-worker by the contemplation of the toil involved. Prof.
Stevenson says, under date 30th May 1895:—
I have been working away over
your Ice Age. It is a wonder you were not frozen solid during the work.
Collation and comparison of observations upon the American Carb. [That is
the Carboniferous beds of North America, the work upon which Prof. Stevenson
was himself engaged.] are bad enough, but the conflicts are as nothing
compared with those with which you have had to deal. I can well imagine that
[you] felt as you penned the last chapter as Captain Marryat did once, when
he closed the title of his last chapter with "And the author says 'Thank
The next few years were
passed in the usual round of writing and teaching. In 1896 a third edition
of the Outlines of Geology appeared, and in 1898 a number of lectures and
papers were collected together in book form as Earth Sculpture, or the
Origin of Land-forms, which- ran through several editions.
In 1897 the Edinburgh Royal
Society Club entertained Dr Nansen to dinner on his return from the Fram
expedition, and Prof. Geikie, who was always the life of such gatherings,
sang a song of his own composition which was greatly appreciated.
Among the letters of these
years, which include many to American and continental friends, is one to
Prof. Stevenson from which the following passages, as representing a
considered opinion, may be quoted:—
It is certainly a pity that
the men who can work and would fain devote themselves to original
investigation, are often prevented doing so by the necessities of life. I am
not so sure, however, that some of them would do work if they were placed in
an independent position. . . . I'm much afraid that man on the whole is a
lazy beast, and needs some kind of whip or bribe to make him live laborious
During the course of 1900
Prof. Geikie had a pretty compliment paid to him from across the Atlantic.
On his first journey across he made the acquaintance of Mr Louis Elson, a
professor of music at Boston. The friendship so begun was kept up in later
years, and Mr Elson dedicated one of his books, Shakespeare in Music, to
"Prof. James Geikie, LL.D., D.C.L., of Edinburgh University, with cordial
remembrance of many pleasant conferences on this and kindred topics."
Another American recognition of his work was the naming by the U.S.
Geological Survey of Mount Geikie, in the Wind River range of the Rocky
Mountains in Wyoming, in his honour. The mountain reaches a height of 12,546
feet. The information has been kindly supplied by Mr J. G. Bruce of the
Forest Service, Lander, Wyoming.
In the spring of this year
Prof. Geikie made a tour with a friend to the Pyrenees, a tour which made a
great impression upon him, and seems to have been an unqualified success.
Some charming letters to his wife describe incidents of the journey, the
letters, like all similar family correspondence, being full of regrets that
no members of his own household accompanied him. Though the visit was made
very early in the season, in the month of April, and the snow still lay deep
in the high valleys, the weather was almost perfect, and the two friends'
took many long excursions. Among these was one to St Bertrand de Cominges,
which attracted Prof. Geikie strongly. In a letter written from Luchon to
Mrs Geikie in regard to it he says:—
Yesterday we had a most
interesting excursion to see an old fortified mediaeval cathedral town. You
would have enjoyed it. It was quaint and picturesque beyond measure.
Evidently, now, cathedral and town are in a backwater—the flood of life has
long gone past them. The church, however, contains magnificent wood-carving
of the 13th century. It was the kind of town of which one sometimes
dreams—hardly a town, but a sleepy village perched on a high rock with a
wide outlook over the lowlands, and a grand view of the snow-capped
mountains to the south. I saw one old house—or the top of it, rather—was for
sale. It had quaint dormer windows and corbel gables, and was shut off from
the narrow street by a high gate of weather-worn carved oak, hundreds of
years old. I was tempted to buy it—when you and I tired of the world we
could retreat to the seclusion of that sleepy old village, and dream the
days away. The sun was as usual blazing from a cloudless sky, and as I
leaned over the old battlements of the wall I could see that the wall from
top to base was aflare with wallflowers and other plants, while mosses,
ferns, and lichens were everywhere, every stone encrusted with moss and
every crevice of the masonry stocked with flowers, etc.
In the same letter he says:—
Walking in the scorching heat
is most fatiguing. I had over twenty miles of such walking the other day,
and will not repeat the experience. All the same I delight in the blaze—the
heat and lightness seem to penetrate your skin and work their way to your
very vitals. How one's blood courses! and how the old youthful feelings come
Another passage from a later
letter, written from Argeles, may be quoted, less for its description than
for the light it casts upon the character of its author. It may be noted
that by this time he was the father of the much longed-for "wee lassie," who
had been born a few years before. He says:—
The wee lassies are most
delightful to look at. Many of them, as I have already mentioned, are little
beauties. Such sweet, demure, kissable wee things they are, with their hair
neatly done up, and hanging down in a plait behind. They are all bare-headed
and all are dark. Brown to black hair, with soft liquid brown eyes, rich red
lips, and a rosy flush in their tawny faces. ... In years to come I will
often dream of the bonny wee toddlers I stopped on the road to pet and
fondle in these beautiful valleys. R. was as much struck as I with the
children. But as I have my own wee lassie in my thoughts, he probably did
not feel his heart in his mouth and his eyes water as the wee ones passed us
on the road.
To these letters, written
during the trip, may be added some extracts from one written to a member of
the family circle after his return home. On 29th May he writes from
Since my return from France I
have been driven from post to pillar, doing my best to clear off arrears.
Now I am in a way "redd up," and able to look round. ... I feel quite
rejuvenated with my trip. ... I saw much that was very interesting to me as
a geologist and much also that was beautiful, so that my memory is now
stored with a fresh series of lovely visions—of picturesque and quaint
people. ... I have looked out one or two places to which some day I hope to
take Mary and (if my purse is long enough) the wee lassie—that is when she
is bigger! But half my life has been spent in dreams and plans for the
future, and some only of these have been realised.
The letter goes on to speak
of that great May function in Edinburgh, the Commissioner's garden-party.
Mrs Geikie and their eldest son were to go to this—"Stewart will go as
'Professor Geikie.' The professor himself can't be induced to go, and (as
this is a holiday for him at college) he is taking Mary Dorothea out to
Mortonhall Golf Club-house for afternoon tea. The young lady has been
looking forward to this treat ever since I came home."
The identity of the "young
lady" will perhaps be apparent without explanation.
In 1901 Prof. Geikie was made
an Honorary Member of the New York Academy of Sciences, his name having been
brought up by his friend Prof. Stevenson. In writing to thank the latter he
speaks of his hope of being again able to visit America, saying that as soon
as "my lads clear out from the nest, it will be easier for Mrs Geikie and me
to go off on a long holiday." The future careers of his sons were at this
time occupying a large share of his thoughts, for the three elder boys were
ready to begin life on their own account.
He had a few years before
taken to bicycling, and was full of the pleasure and health he found in the
exercise. During this year also his friend, Mr Elson of Boston, paid the
family a visit at Beauly during the summer holiday, a visit of which Mr
Elson speaks with both enthusiasm and gratitude in later letters.
The next year or two repeat
the same tale of work and play, the latter including much bicycling, and a
visit to Norway in 1903. In 1903 he writes to his eldest son:—"To-day I am
sixty-four, and feel no older than I was twenty years ago. Indeed I am
younger than I was four or five years ago." Of work it need only be said
that new editions of two of his books appeared in these years, Earth
1902, and Outlines of Geology
(fourth edition) in 1903. Mention of an entirely new book may be reserved
for the next chapter. A pleasant little incident of the summer of 1903 was a
postcard from the Glacialists' Excursion of the International Geological
Congress, who sent, from Telfs in Tyrol, "Greetings and best wishes to the
Nestor of Glacial Geology." Such greetings were a frequent and always a