Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Memoir of Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsay
Chapter VIII - Foreign Travel


During the six years from 1857 to 1862 Sir Andrew Ramsay spent a part of each summer but one abroad. It was in this part of his life that he accomplished almost all the work in foreign geology which he ever did. There will therefore be some convenience in the treatment of the subject if we group the tours together in one chapter.

From what has been stated in the foregoing pages it will be clear that the ice-fever in geology had now got full hold of him. He had seen a little of Swiss glaciers, but not nearly enough to enable him to answer all the questions which the glacial phenomena in Britain were continually putting to him. He therefore determined to devote as much time as he could spare to the study of ice and its work outside the narrow limits of the British Isles, while neglecting no opportunity of investigating the subject within these limits. By a happy accident he was soon able to carry out this determination in a far fuller manner than he could have dreamed to be possible. How this came about is told in a letter to his brother William. ' Certain of the great steam-boat companies, at the solicitation of the Canadians, have put a few free passages to America and back at the disposal of the leading scientific societies to [enable delegates] to attend a meeting of the "American Association for the Advancement of Science," which takes place at Montreal on the 12th August [1857]. Failing Sir Roderick, the Geological Society have deputed me to represent them, so I go in an honourable position.' Taking Mrs. Ramsay with him, he sailed on the 29th July.

This was by far the most enjoyable and instructive of all his foreign expeditions. His friends, Sir William Logan and Professor James Hall of Albany, spared no pains to ensure his seeing everything that he wished to see, or which they thought it important from a geological point of view that he should visit. His time was thus economised to the utmost. He was taken from point to point, so that in the course of exactly two months he had travelled over a large extent of country, and had been conveyed over those tracts which were specially of service to him in reference to the problems in which he took interest.

From Montreal Logan carried the two travellers to Ottawa and up the St. Lawrence by the Thousand Isles and Lake Ontario to Niagara, thence to Lake Huron. At Sarnia, Hall met them, and brought them into New York State by Genisee to his hospitable home at Albany, from which centre they made excursions to Schoharie, the Helderberg, and Catskill Mountains. Descending the Hudson to New York, they found there that almost all the persons to whom they had introductions were absent on holiday. They therefore passed on to Newhaven, and paid a short visit to Professors Dana, Silliman, and Brush, thence to Boston, where they were delighted to meet Agassiz, and so back to Montreal and Quebec for the voyage home.

The chief geological fruits of this expedition were given partly in a discourse to the Royal Institution, but more fully in a paper read before the Geological Society. Ramsay had not yet realised the massiveness of the land-ice of the Glacial Period. Like most of the geologists of the day, he still regarded the ' drift' as the result of transport by icebergs, and to the same agency he attributed the striae on the sides and summits of the hills. He recognised the remarkably ice-worn character of Canadian topography, but he did not yet associate that character with a former extensive glaciation by land-ice. Nevertheless he now beheld the effects of this glaciation on a far grander scale than he had ever before seen them, and unconsciously he was accumulating material that would enable him to get rid of the paralysing idea that the land must have been submerged beneath the ocean as far as the highest striations or drift deposits could be traced. He was not, however, able entirely to divest himself of the old error until the summer of 1861.

In the summer of 1858 Ramsay and Tyndall made an expedition together into Switzerland for the purpose of studying the phenomena of glaciers and ice-action. The results of their conjoint observations on this occasion are to be found in the writings of each explorer. Tyndall had not specially examined the proofs of the former greater extension of the glaciers of the Alps, and Ramsay, to whom this was a matter of supreme interest in connection with his investigations in Britain, took pains to direct his companion's attention to the subject during the course of the excursion. Arriving at Grindelwald, they undertook some preliminary climbing among the ice-filled valleys of that district, and Ramsay proved himself so expert a pedestrian that Christian Lauener deemed it quite practicable to proceed on the proposed series of ascents with only himself as guide. They crossed by the Strahleck Pass over to the Finsteraar and Unteraar glaciers, spent some time at the Grimsel studying the marvellous evidence of the vast dimensions of the ancient Alpine ice, went to the Rhone glacier, and then to Viesch, the Æggischorn and the Marjelen See, where they remained some days taking measurements of the thickness of the ice and the depth of the glacier-lake, and making observations of the temperature of the air. Ramsay had here the great satisfaction of watching the origin and movements of icebergs. Descending the Rhone valley to Visp, they walked up to Zermatt with the intention of ascending Monte Rosa. The ample details of geological observations in Ramsay's note-book of these rambles were afterwards condensed by him in his essay on the Old Glaciers of Switzerland and Wales. They show how continually his experience in Britain enabled him to interpret the phenomena in the Alps, and, on the other hand, how the existing snow-fields and glaciers of the Alps gave new clearness to his conceptions of the vanished ice-sheets of his native country. One or two citations from the note-book may fittingly find a place here.

'Viesch, 30th July.—Started at nine for the Æggischorn. On the partial clearing of the mist, ascended the mountain. Tyndall and Lauener pushed on before me, and were at the top twenty minutes or so earlier than I was. The day is not far past when 1 was at least a match for either of them. Tyndall cannot believe that at forty-four and a half years my best days, as regards strength and agility, should be gone, and he makes no allowance for my having reached the top of the curve, and begun to descend on the other side.

'The summit of the peak consists of piled blocks of gne.issic rocks, rent by frost and weather, and heaped on each other in wild confusion, like the summits of the Glyders, or Y Tryfan, above the passes of Nant Francon and Llanberis. The view from the summit was, indeed, grand. Below on the north and west lay the Great Aletsch glacier, seemingly as much larger than all the other glaciers I have yet seen, as the St. Lawrence is larger than the Severn, Thames, or Seine. There it lay below us, broad, smooth, and sweeping, although crevassed and somewhat crumpled. The moraines looked small upon it. On the left it descended into the valley, and on the north it was lost in the far recesses of those Alpine giants, the Jungfrau, Monch, and Finsteraarhorn. On the north-west the glacier is joined by two great tributaries, one the Ober Aletsch glacier, the other the Middle Aletsch glacier, stretching up among the snows and awful cliffs of the Aletschhorn, the peak of which rises more than 13,000 feet above the sea. This summit is higher than the Jungfrau. White sunny mists were seething round it, half veiling and adding to its majesty.

'Seemingly close below lay the Marjelen See, with the glacier branching into it, and breaking off in large masses, which floated away eastward as tabular bergs before the wind, and grounded on the desolate shores. Clearly the glacier once sent off a branch down this valley, for besides that it partially does so still, the rocks on the hills by the lake are moutonndes high up on either side. The glacier must then have sent off a branch that united with the Viescher glacier, and at a certain period of its history it sought the valley of the Rhone by two channels, that of the Aletsch and that of the Viescher glacier.'

On reaching Zermatt he found letters telling him that his mother had had a serious attack of bronchitis, but had somewhat rallied. Next day he made the following entry in his note-book :—

'Zermatt, 9th August.—Found at the post office a black-edged envelope, which at once told me that my mother was dead. I merely read the first few lines, and then ran up the mountain after Tyndall, towards the Riffel Hotel, but he had gone to the end of the Gorner glacier, and I outstripped him. When halfway up, exhausted with my speed, I turned and saw two figures far below by the glacier, whom I guessed to be Tyndall and Lauener. During the half-hour they took to come up to me I had leisure to read my wife's letter, and my grief found a little vent. Tyndall came up, anu I marched down to him with my hat drawn over my eyes. We arranged that Lauener should go down and countermand the guide, who next day was to accompany me up Monte Rosa, and Tyndall persuaded me that instead of starting so late, it would be better to remain with him and go next day. So we ascended to the Riffel.'

He started homeward early next day, and walked the rough thirty mues of valley down to Yisp to regain his portmanteau, and catch the diligence for Bex. Finding when there that he could reach London almost as soon by sleeping at Bex as by going on to Geneva, he remained to have a look at the famous blocks of Monthey. He 'wandered among them half a summer's day, pleased and amazed by their beauty and great size, and the evidence of power conveyed to the mi' id while reflecting on the agency that bore these ponderous masses and left them perched on this hill, from 500 to 600 feet above the Rhone, I he largest, twenty-two paces in length, and nearly equally broad anil high, has on its flat summit a good - sized summer - house with a small garden containing cherry-trees.'

On reaching England, and realising there amid all the old familiar surroundings the blank that had now fallen upon his life, with the rupture of his oldest and tenderest associations, he made the following entry in his diary :—

'On the 29th July 1858 my dearest mother died at the Bridge of Allan. She had been a few days ailing, a little breathless, and in bed. William had gone to Glasgow, and was telegraphed for; when he got back at six o'clock all was over. There may have been many as good, but none better than our mother. She died in her eighty-fifth year, surrounded by love. She truly lived all her days, in health and cheerfulness, in peace, love, and honour, with her faculties and cheerfulness clear to the last, loving books and mirth, and writing a good letter :n a clear hand to the very end. When my father died she must have been fifty-three years old. I was then thirteen. She had but ,£1000 and a house. Then came a time that would have crushed a weaker spi-it. But she battled for us, arid keeping college and other boarders, brought us all up respectably. William was apprenticed to Napier, the engineer, and I went at that early age into--'s counting-house, and passed through many battles ere I emerged from mercantile life and got launched in the world of science. These times, which I look on as hard, though I was when young merry enough, my mother never grumbled at, but doing a duty was happy in it, and when we began to do well and made her give it up, she almost missed for a time the employment to which she had been used for eighteen years.

'Ere her death she had thirteen years of peace and quietness, and every year endeared her more to those who knew her best. My wife loved her like a veritable daughter, and all the children that approached her loved her also. Her memory is so pleasant to me, and all her deeds, her courage, kindness, charity, and goodness ; she lived her time in the world so well, and so completely fulfilled a good woman's mission, that though I miss her, and every now and then think "I must write to my mother," yet my sorrow is tempered by a thousand pleasant reflections. She lived to the last happy and contented, beloved by all, happy in all her children, and she scarcely seemed to die, so easy was it to pass from one world to another.

On returning to England from this Alpine excursion Ramsay had to address himself to a long course of arduous labour. Partly from the necessities of his official position, and partly from his own voluntary act in undertaking various pieces of work outside the claims of the Survey, he was now involved in a greater pressure of mental toil and accompanying worry than had ever befallen him before. The inspecting duty in the field was every year becoming more exacting, as the staff of officers increased and the area of survey augmented. But had that been his chief or only occupation, he would have made it in some measure a kind of holiday employment. But there was now a large and growing amount of literary work thrown upon him which was unknown in the older days of the Survey. Sir Roderick Murchison had arranged that each of the one-inch maps, as it was published, should be accompanied with an explanatory memoir, so that the public might be put in possession of the chief data used in the construction of the map, and of the information needful for its proper interpretation. These memoirs were to be edited by the Local Director from the manuscript notes supplied to him by the officers who had surveyed the ground. He sometimes had to furnish additional material from observations of his own, and the amount of editorial supervision was thus often exceedingly heavy. Then the great Memoir on North Wales still dragged its slow length along. From various causes, but chiefly from the want of sufficiently full notes by one or two of his colleagues, Ramsay had been unable to make rapid progress with this large and detailed volume ; though it had been for so long his chief indoor employment, and though he again in the autumn of 1858 took a house in Scotland for three months, this time at St. Andrews, in order to push it forward.

Another task occupied some part of his thought and time. He had planned a descriptive catalogue of the rock-specimens in the Survey collection in the Jermyn Street Museum, and while assigning certain portions of it to three of his colleagues, had kept the main share of the work in his own hands. As ultimately published, this volume formed an excellent compendium of British geology. In particular, the account of the successive volcanic episodes in the Palaeozoic period in Britain was by far the best which up to that time had appeared, and it was mainly the work of Ramsay himself.

But over and above these official labours his hands were full of work. He at this time condensed the information on the published Survey maps, and produced a geological map of England and Wales on the scale of twelve miles to an inch, which is still the most serviceable general map of the kingdom. He prepared a Friday evening discourse for the Royal Institution on the geological results of his Canadian excursion, and wrote out a fuller statement of the subject for the Geological Society. He drew up for the well-known volume, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers, a chapter on the old glaciers of Switzerland and Wales. This essay, full of original observation, and suffused with the charm of freshness and enthusiasm, is one of the most important and delightful Which he ever wrote. It was reprinted as a separate little volume, and has long taken its place among the choice classics of glacial geology. He now began to write for the Saturday Reviczy, and for a number of years continued to furnish occasional articles to that journal, chiefly on geological topics, but without the technicalities of the more formal communications to learned bodies.

His habit at this time, when in country quarters >n the autumn, was to write during every available hour of daylight, and only to go outside for exercise when it was too dark any longer to see his manuscript. In the end the strain proved too great both on his brain and on his eyes. In the summer of 1859 he accompanied Murchison into the North-West Highlands of Scotland, and assisted him in the preparation of his discourse for the British Association at Aberdeen. He seemed tolerably well and merry at that meeting, but afterwards, when out among the hills in the south of Scotland, he complained of weariness. [During one of these rambles with me in Fife our conversation turned on the Boulder clay and the mysteries of its origin. We both felt how unsatisfactory was the received explanation of iceberg action and submergence. I was thus led to study this deposit, and to reach thereby the conclusion, at which Ramsay also simultaneously and independently arrived from a consideration of other evidence, that the great glaciation was the work of land-ice. This change of view was completed before the summer of 1861.] The symptoms of mental exhaustion increased during the autumn He had for the first time taken a permanent house in London, having hitherto only occupied furnished rooms. But hardly had he settled in the new home when it became evident that he was in no fit condition for London life, and more particularly to undertake his usual course of lectures at the School of M;nes. Towards the end of December it was arranged that the lectures should be given by his colleague Jukes, while Ramsay himself went to the house of his helpful and sympathetic friend, Dr. Wright of Cheltenham, under whose care, with entire cessation of work and worry, it was anticipated that speedy convalescence would be secured. But the recovery was not to be so easily effected. He was ordered to abstain from all work for a time, and in order to obtain complete rest and change, he and Mrs. Ramsay with the children went abroad. He wrote to me just before leaving (31st March i860) : ' I sail on Tuesday with bag, baggage, fishing - basket, rod, flies, sketch-books, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses in the shape of sundry minor authors. I am to be away, if nothing specially intervene, for six months, but I think the less we say about that the better; and if any one by any chance asks you anything about it, several months is a convenient word, with the addition that I join the Scotch geologists as soon as I come back, and also that Sir Roderick says he will pay you a visit during my absence. Gossips have been exaggerating my illness, and I know that, both on my own authority and that of the doctor, you will do me the friendly turn to give a Hat, blunt, sharp, plain, broad, profound, high, and indignant denial to any statement that I am seriously ill. I am even now so wonderfully better that I can do a good hard day's work at the office, albeit I am tired at night, and therefore to set me up alike by day and by night, an entire cessation for a while is needed.

Nearly two months were spent in Bonn, and of this sojourn Ramsay used always to talk with much enthusiasm. He loved the great river, and delighted to sit quietly smoking and watching the ' breast of waters' as it swelled beneath him. He made some pleasant friends, among whom he specially counted Von Dechen, the venerable Noggerath, and young Ferdinand Zirkel. Professor Zirkel has sent me a letter with his reminiscences of Ramsay, which is here inserted:—

My first meeting with the never-to-be-forgotten Ramsay was in the spring of i860, in Bonn, so far as I remember, towards the end of April or beginning of May. One day my fatherly patron and official chief, Von Dechen, sent for me and told me that an English geologist, a man of great importance, had come to Bonn with his wife, to spend some time there for the sake of his health, and in order to make some geological excursions in the neighbourhood. As Dechen himself had not time, I was asked to accompany and guide the stranger in these rambles. No request could have been more agreeable to me. Although I was then only twenty-two years of age, yet I knew the nearer and farther environs of my native town as well as anybody. I was at that time a pupil of the Prussian State-Mining Institute.

So I waited on Ramsay, who was staying at Ermekeil's Grand Hotel Royal on the Rhine, and then began a series of blissful days. Sometimes for the whole day, sometimes in the afternoon only, we rambled in the Siebengebirge, to the Roderberg, to the Laacher See, to the Devonian Eifel-limestone at Bensberg, and many other places.

When we got back Ramsay would usually have me to sup with him and his wife in the hotel. I conceived at that time an enthusiastic admiration for Ramsay, both for his amiable, simple, and straight forward nature, and for his acuteness and his range of acquirements in geological matters. I remember in a gully in the trachyte-tuff he suddenly made a couple of steps forward, exclaiming, 'There is a dyke!' and there, sure enough, was a dyke of solid trachyte, which nobody had ever noticed before in this well-frequented path.

I think Ramsay spent a happy time that season in Bonn. Dechen once gave an evening party in his honour. His intercourse with old Noggerath would have been greater, had the latter not been utterly ignorant of English. I got on extremely well with Mrs. Ramsay.

In the summer of 1860 I made a journey to Iceland, and as, on my return, I spent a short time in England, I then saw Ramsay again. During the first days of my stay in London he was in the country, but I met him on the last day in the Museum, Jermyn Street, in company with Lyell. I told him a good deal about my tour in Iceland, and he presented me with several books.

In 1868 I once more saw Ramsay, both before and after my visit to Scotland. He lived at that time in Upper Phillimore Place, in Kensington, where I spent an evening, and met Howell and Hull. As I left London he gave me a letter to you, and this letter I presented to you in Largs on Monday, 8th June 1868 (according to my diary). That was the day when I had the good fortune to make the personal acquaintance of my friend Geikie.

The last time I saw Ramsay was at the meeting of the British Association at Sheffield in 1879, when I was staying with Sorby.

From Bonn Ramsay and his family moved up the Rhine, and then ascended the Moselle to Alf and Bertrich. There he established himself for a while, and spent his time fishing in the river, exploring the Eifel volcanoes, and gazing with ever - increasing interest upon the great tableland and the valleys cut out of it by the Moselle and its tributaries. From that quiet life he journeyed to Treves, then "back to Heidelberg, and into the Black Forest. He attended the tercentenary celebration of Basle University, and even got as far as Munich. But in October he was once more back in England.

The following portion of a letter to Mrs. Cook-man (4th July) from Bertrich gives a picture of how the time passed there. 'Having stayed seven weeks at Bonn, and excursed and fished, we steamed up the Rhine to Coblenz, slept one night there, and next morning steamed up the Moselle to Alf, where we remained a fortnight, walkinng and idling, and fishing again. I assure you I can throw a fly as prettily as need be. But who shall describe the glories of the Moselle with its unutterably tortuous windings, its vineyards, its quaintly-gabled towns, and all its castles, so stately in decay! I am going to buy one for 50 or 100 thalers (£7 : 10s. or £15), and :n memory of my late illness, take my title from it—Baron Beilstex.

'Bertrich is a pretty little village, with two or three hotels, baths, and gardens with music in them twice a day. Gaiety there is none, but peace and quiet and a billiard table. The village is set in a deep valley, and three extinct volcanoes crown the tableland above, for hills proper there are none. I have been on foot with a Dutchman (whom I lamed) all over the Eifel, and have seen lots of extinct volcanoes — most interesting. The structure of the country, its physical geography in fact, is most curious— a great tableland, about 1200 feet high, through which the Moselle and other rivers run in deep valleys. On this tableland are perched old volcanoes of Miocene (that is, of Middle Tertiary) age. The valleys are of older date than the volcanoes, for sometimes you see a lava-stream that has run from the mouth of the craters into the valley below. The Devonian strata of the tableland are awfully disturbed, not by the volcanoes, but by far older forces. It was a great plain, so to speak, with valleys scooped out of it long before the lava began to flow.

"'We leave this soon, but, before doing so finally, will pay a visit to Treves, to see the northern capital of the Emperor Constantine.'

Though these months on the Continent were spent as far as possible in idleness, Ramsay could hardly find himself face to face with new scenes without being led to notice and reflect on the features in them which bore on any of the questions on geology and physical geography which had always been with him such favourite subjects. His excursions among the Eifel cones and craters gave him fresh material for his work among the old volcanoes of Wales, and for his lectures at the School of Mines. His rambles over the great tableland of that region, and among the streams which have so deeply trenched it, furnished him with illustrations of river-action of which, though he perhaps hardly realised at that time their significance, he was in a few years to make excellent use.

The sojourn in Germany, and the idleness enjoined upon him, had one effect, which was the first to strike the eyes of his friends when he got back to England. He had buried his razors when he left home, and returned with a bushy beard, which he continued to wear during the rest of his life. But though much better in general health than when he went abroad in spring, he was still far from having regained his old vigour and power of work. Indeed, it is doubtful if he ever again was capable of enduring the same mental and physical strain as he had been before his illness. He had again to be assisted in his lectures durmg the winter, and was still unable for much literary exertion. The Welsh Memoir had to stand aside. Once or twice in the course of the summer of 1861 he amused himself with writing a paper for The Saturday Review, including one of the best of his contributions to that journal, on 'Lyell and Tennyson'—an essay which, with its humour, its poetry, its geological aroma, anil its literary deft ness, is an excellent sample of his fugitive pieces.1

Later in the summer he went once more with Mrs. Ramsay to Switzerland for more mountaineering, and to cross over to the Italian side, in order to see the great glacier moraines of Ivrea. The general outline of this expedition is given in a letter to his sister, written from the Stachelberg on the 4U1 September : ' Ever since we left home we have had perfect weather. We have only had two half rainy days in all, and generally there has not been a cloud m the sky. Louisa and I travelled as far as Cologne together without stopping. I then went di ect for another day and night to Teplitz, in Bohemia. Thence, after three days' rest and light work, I descended the Elbe to Dresden, across Saxony and Bavaria to Lindau, on the Lake of Constance, and having travelled two days and nights, reached Berne at ten o'clock at night, not a bit tired. Next morning after breakfast I joined Louisa and Mr. and Miss Johnes and Mrs. Cookman at Thun—the most lovely-spot in the universe. I stayed there from Friday till Monday, and then left them by steamer on the lakes for Meiringen. There I shouldered my knapsack at four in the afternoon, and marched alone up the long, rough valley of the Hasli "Thai to the Grimsel, which I reached well tired at half past ten.

'I met Tyndall there and some other ftiends, spent a day on the Rhone glacier, and ascended the Seidel-horn alone. Next day, Tyndall not being very well, I walked to Obergestalen, and the day following crossed with a guide over a famous pass called the Ober Aar Joch to the yEggischorn. It took thirteen hours, ten of which were spent on the ice. The pass is about 11,500 feet high.

'In the meanwhile Louisa and the party came round by the Gemmi Pass, great part of which can be done on horseback, and the second day after my arrival joined me at the Æggischorn. We took them up a mountain over 10,000 feet high, and on the Great Aletsch glacier, which is the longest in Europe. Thence we went to Visp, in the Rhone Valley, and next morning at six they rode and I walked up the valley to Zermatt, which we reached about six o'clock at night

'We stayed at Zermatt six days, on one of which I, with some others, ascended the Lyskamm, 14,891 feet high. There were eight of us, with five guides and two porters to carry provisions. Having slept at the Riffelberg, which saves a climb of some 2000 or 3000 feet, we started at twenty minutes to two in the morning and crossed the Great Gorner glacier by the light of a full moon. At dawn we were at the foot of Monte Rosa on the snow, and by 11.40 we reached the top of the Lyskamm. We went in two parties, all roped together. The final ascent was excessively steep, all on snow and ice. Sometimes we had one leg in Italy and the other in Switzerland. That part took nearly three hours. The descent proved nearly as difficult as the ascent, but we all got back to the Riffelberg by 7 p.m., and down to Zermatt by a little after nine, having been nearly twenty hours on foot. Several previous attempts had been made to scale this mountain, but all had failed.

' From Zermatt we all crossed the Theodul Pass (about 11.000 feet) into Italy. The ladies rode up to the ice of the glacier, which they reached at seven in the morning. They had then three hours walking on the ice and snow, and by twelve o'clock we were at Breuil, where we rested and slept. Next day they rode on asses to Chatillon, a beautiful old Roman and Italian town. Next day with Dr. Sibson we drove to Ivrea, where we stayed a day, and then cm by Chiavasso, Milan, and the Lake of Como to Lugano, where we stayed two days, and left the Johnes. Sibson. Louisa, and I came across the St. Bernhardino Pass in a diligence to inter Rhein, near the sources of the Rhine. There we halted three days, and Sibson and I scaled two mountains among the glaciers, one of which took fourteen hours. Thence we came by the Via Mala to Glarus and Elms, "did" another splendid pass, and came on here. To-morrow is our last day on the ice ; 011 Friday we shall be in Zurich, and on Monday evening at our own house in Kensington,'

So far as his physical powers were concerned, Ramsay seems to have returned to England invigorated by his Alpine exercise. But he had not regained his old elasticity of mind, and soon began again to complain of the weariness of work. Nevertheless, he braced himself for the duties of the winter, and succeeded in getting through his lectures to the students at the School of Mines without help. He likewise found himself able at last to sit down to a congenial task, and to commit to writ'ng the thoughts and conclusions which had been shaping themselves in his mind for several years past regarding the origin of lake-basins. This problem in physical geography had never been seriously attacked, and no tenable solution of it had yet been proposed. It was his experience in Canada, and the sight of the lake-sprinkled surface of the ancient gneiss of that region which first definitely called Ramsay's attention to this subject, though he had returned from America still in the belief that the older and greater glaciation was accomplished by floating ice during a time of submergence. But the recognition to which he had now come, that that glaciation was the work of the grinding action of stupendous sheets of land-ice, gave an entirely new turn to his thoughts regarding the terrestrial contours of glaciated regions. In his journeys in Wales, Scotland, and Switzerland he was now always on the watch for facts bearing on the connection between the traces of ice-movement and the contours of the ground over which the ice had moved. He had at last come to the conclusion that the prodigious abundance of lakes in the glaciated regions of the northern hemisphere could not be accounted for unless they were connected in some way with ice-action, and he inferred that in a vast number of cases, where the lakes lie in rock-basins, these basins have actually been scooped out by the grinding power of land-ice. These observations and inferences he now proceeded to elaborate as a paper for the Geological Society.

Before the paper was ready, however, the presidency of the Society was vacant, and there was a general feeling that it should be offered to Ramsay, if the state of his health would allow him to accept ;t. The President usually confers with former presidents of the Society in regard to his successor before actually proposing a name to the Council; but on this occasion the President, Leonard Horner, was in Florence, and unable to take any personal part in the negotiations. Lyell strongly favoured Ramsay s nomination. Murchison was afraid of the strain upon his colleague, if he accepted the duties of this office in addition to all that he already had to discharge, and urged him to consult his medical adviser. On the. 3rd February 1862 Ramsay's diary received the following entry: ' Sir R. -n a great fuss because I had not seen Haden [his doctor]. Drove out to Haden's at one o'clock. He vowed by Jove that he would not stand between me and the presidency. So I drove back and told Sir R., and he said that that settled the matter.'

So at the Anniversary, on the 21st February, he was duly elected President—an honour well earned by twenty-one years of continuous devotion to geology, and the large part taken by him in the work of the Geological Survey. In the evening he began his duties by presiding at the annual dinner of the Society, where, with the Duke of Argyll on his right, and Lord Ducie on his left, and most of the leaders of geological science around him, he had the satisfaction of seeing a company of nearly ninety assemble to celebrate the foundation of the oldest geological society. Those of that company who still survive will remember the admirable way in which the new President spoke. Never before had he so distinguished himself in the difficult art of post-prandial oratory. In returning thanks for his health he showed a quiet dignity and simplicity, with touches at once of humour and pathos, which went straight to the hearts of the listeners, and called forth many rounds of applause.

At the very next evening meeting of the Society the President gave his paper on lake-basins. Its conclusions were so startling a novelty in geological physics, and were based on such a mass of detail, requiring careful study, that they could hardly be adequately discussed by an audience which heard them for the first time. Ramsay did not read, but spoke his paper, and being full of the subject did full justice to it. 'Lyell,' as he said afterwards, 'damned the paper with faint praise, and Falconer vigorously opposed it. It was admirably defended by Huxley. The meeting was so lively as to remind us of the old days of Buckland and Sedgwick.' Some account of the theory propounded in this paper will be given in a subsequent chapter of this biography. It was attacked by various writers, notably by Lyell, Murchison, Falconer, and Ball, and to some of the onslaughts made on it its author replied in the pages of the Philosophical Magazine and The Reader.

The following letter, written towards the end of this year, gives a picture of the reception of the paper, and the ferment that arose from it:—

London, 9th December 1862.

My dear Mrs. Cookman—By this post I send you the other pamphlet on the origin of Alpine, Welsh, American, Schwartzwald, and Scandinavian lakes. The smaller one I sent you the other day was a pendant to it, and was written a propos of a paper by Tyndall in the Phil. Mag.} in which he ran the theory of what ice has done to a wild extreme.

It was published in The Times also, and I thought it a pity to let it be supposed that my theory led to such extravagance.

I do not suppose you will find fault w'th the paper on the ground that it wants boldness. When :t was read Dr. Falconer of Indian-fossil elephant celebrity made an onslaught on it of forty minutes. I observe that most of the men older than myself repudiate it, while most of the younger bloods accept it. Lyell rejects, but then I have Darwin, Hooker, Sir William Logan, jukes, and Geikie. When I explained the theory to Sir William before it was read, he said: If you don't publish it for America, I will.

So strong was the opposition among the older and more staid fellows of the Geological Society that Ramsay used to assert that had he not been the President, and thus in a manner privileged, the Council would have voted against the publication of the paper, except in briefest abstract.

Before the end of the first week in September 1862 Ramsay was glad to escape once more from London to Switzerland. There were various geological matters which he longed to investigate more fully, and as he went this time with only his friend Dr. Sibson, an accomplished mountaineer, he was free to arrange his route as the work to be done might require. Making straight for Geneva, the travellers first went to Bex, and rambled once more among the blocks of Monthey. The weather proved most unfavourable for mountain-climbing, and after waiting some days in rain and mist, they resolved to move into the sunnier clime of the Italian side. Crossing by the Sanetsch Pass from Gsteig to Sion, they were fortunate to find the clouds clearing away. ' Ere we reached the watershed,' he wrote to Mrs. Ramsay, ' there was no mist, except in some of the great corries and up on the highest peaks. The sun shone brightly. We diverged a little from the road to see the end of the Sanetsch glacier. The pass is 7123 Paris feet high. There is therefore no snow on it. While lunching on the moraine we said: " Let us leave our baggage here, and go up the glacier to the Tour de St. Martin and see the great cliffs that overlook the Valais." So at twelve we started, well roped together; but the glacier proved so easy that there was no real occasion for the rope. In two hours and a half we were across the glacier, and saw those noble cliffs 1000 feet and more plump down. We also saw a flock of more than twenty-five chamois not far off, and all the great range across the Valais, from Mont Blanc to Monte Rosa, clouded in places. In an hour and a half we were back at our baggage, and started for Sion at five o'clock. In two hours it was dark, and the guide being nobody, I went ahead, and on a true Swiss road, by torrent and in forest, piloted all safe to Sion by instinct. We got there at half-past ten, having walked fifteen hours.'

Once more in the valley of the Rhone, they ascended to the Bel Alp and the ^Eggischorn to make further observations on the great Aletsch glacier and its surroundings. Then retracing their steps, they made their way by Turtmann over to the Italian side, and so down the Val d'Aosta to Ivrea, and thence to Turin. Once in the capital of Piedmont, Ramsay called on his friend Quintino Sella, known abroad as an able geologist, but to the mass of his own countrymen familiar only as their distinguished Minister of Finance. Of the short rme hi Turin Mrs. Ramsay received the following pleasant narrative: 'From the post office I went to the Ministry of Finance. The attendant in the ante-room, doubtful of a stranger in a wide awake, said the Minister was engaged with the Minister of Home Affairs, and would be so until late in the evening. I sent in my card, and he came back with a changed countenance and ushered me in. Sella shook me by both hands, and said he was uncommonly glad to see me, and that if I would wait till he wrote a note, he would himself take me to Gastaldi. . . . Gastaldi received me like an old friend, and he has been almost constantly with me ever since. . . .

'I have just come back from the Ministry a decorated man, with white and gold cross and green ribbon! The royal letter and decree are to follow. . . . I leave to-night, and cross Mont Cenis, arresting myself perhaps at Macon for the second night.'

The knighthood thus conferred through the instrumentality of Signor Sella was that of the order of SS. Maurice and Lazarus—a distinction offered, not only in recognition of the scientific attainments of the Local Director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, but also as a mark of the appreciation of his services to Italian officers sent at various times to England on missions of scientific inquiry.

The end of this month of Alpine rambling concluded Ramsay's journeys abroad as an active geologist. For eight years he did not again leave this country. He had now practically accomplished the foreign travel of his life, and though he was able in later years to revisit some of the scenes which he had traversed in the full vigour of manhood, it was rather with a view to rest and change, or, where any scientific work was attempted, it was more for the purpose of testing conclusions already made than with the view of fresh exploration and new deduction.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast