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James Geikie
Chapter IV. "The Great Ice Age": (2) Publication, 1872-74

In the year 1872 James Geikie was somewhat late in beginning field-work, but the end of April saw him established at Kelso. An interesting letter to his friend Df Grossart at Holytown, dated 4th May, may be quoted as showing his feelings in regard to his new sphere :—

I found I could not make out a flying visit to Salsburgh before leaving the west country for good. But I hope to see you some time before the year is very old. I have been knocking about a good deal since I saw you, but, praise be thankit! I have at last got back into the country. And what a lovely country it is! Coming so soon after Airdrie and Coatbridge it looks quite like another world. I can hardly believe that I am in the same planet where coal and iron are being worked. Here is nothing but the sandstones below the limestones and the Old Red with its trap rocks. The people too are as sleepy and old-fashioned and "respectable" as the rocks they live upon or rather above. This is the kind of land that would be after your own heart. Here are old abbeys and tumble-down castles, and every field and stream has some old-world story connected with it. At first I hardly could thole the quiet of Kelso. I have lived so much of late amongst smoke and din that for a week or so I felt like a fish out of water. The big market-place here, with nobody in it, was depressing to look at. I didn't like the way either that the shopkeepers rushed upon me when I ventured into their shops—it looked for all the world as if they never had had any customer but me since the New Year. And yet they tell me that Kelso is a thriving country town. It may be so—very likely it is so—but it seems to one newly come from the stirring " west" like a dead-alive place.

What are you about? How does the great "work" [A book on The History of the Shotts upon which Dr Grossart was engaged. It appeared in 1880.] progress? I have been compelled to drop scribbling for a little, having rather overdone it this winter in Bathgate and Edinburgh. But the smell of the spring woods and hedges has set me up again, and I meditate an early assault on pen and ink.

A letter to Mr Home, from Kelso, in the same month of May, strikes a somewhat similar note:—

Here I am, in the midst of green trees, purling brooks, whistling mavises and love-sick young ladies. I feel quite a new man now that I am released from the presence of coal smoke and pits ; up to any amount of fun as of yore.

In the same letter he speaks of the reception met with by his glacial papers:—

I have had some very gratifying letters from Sweden and Switzerland from geologists there—saying how much they are pleased with my results, and giving me more notes which help out my conclusions. It seems they have interglacial periods in Sweden also. Of all places in the world I had also a letter from a Prof. Szab6 of Pest in Hungary. So that you see a prophet is not without honour save in his own country.

Another letter, also written from Kelso, on 15th June, says:—

Man—I feel awfully tempted to go to Sweden, where I have the promise of meeting with a warm welcome from some of the geologists. But I can't go, and have reluctantly had to delay a visit till next year. I continue now and again to get a gratifying letter about my papers which cheers me up amazingly. Woodward the editor1 writes to-night congratulating me on the wind-up, and saying that everyone speaks highly of my lucubrations. After trying my hands at many things I think I have at last got into the right groove. The noble hammer-bearing fraternity have not heard the last of my "theories." . . . What a fertile source of amusement this blessed Glacial Epoch has been!

The summer holiday this year was spent in Lewis, but the chief record which remains is that contained in papers contributed to the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society and the Geological Magazine. In September he writes from Norham an affectionate letter to Dr Grossart, expressing longing for a "haver," and giving news of his glacial work. The letter goes on:—

How does the magnum opus progress? I am still working away at mine—nearly finished—both me and my book. I got some very startling facts this summer in the island of Lewis which I shall send to the London Geolog. Society—the facts, not the island.

A month later he writes from Duns to Mr Home in regard to some specimens which he wants for a course of lectures to be given to working-men at the Museum of Science and Art during the winter. In this letter he speaks of being attacked by a form of nervous prostration which renders him incapable of continued- work, so that the magnum opus is at a standstill. The task was evidently proving more severe than he anticipated, and the illness was prolonged, for in a letter to Dr Grossart, written from Edinburgh on 4th January 1873, he says:—

This winter things have gone back with me. I was laid up most of November and December, but am now all right again. But this enforced idleness has kept back my book, which the longer I stick at it seems to grow and grow till I begin to get frightened at its dimensions. This summer, however, I hope to send it to the printer.

In the same letter he speaks of his lectures at the Museum of Science and Art, and also of another on the "Antiquity of Man in Britain," which he was to give at Birkenhead at the beginning of February. The lecture, which was duly delivered and also published, dealt with a subject to which he had been led by his glacial work. It was one in which his interest increased as time went on, and in later years "Man during the Ice Age" occupied a good deal of his leisure, up to the very end.

At Duns James Geikie made a number of friends, and indeed throughout his work in the Border counties he seems to have met with much hospitality, and this even before his sojourn in Jedburgh led to his acquaintanceship with the family in which he found his wife, and to the region becoming a second homeland for him. During his stay at Duns the book was progressing steadily, despite his hard work in the field. In June he was writing to Mr Home and Prof. Ramsay for information in regard to certain special points, and the latter was very anxious for James Geikie to accompany him on a geologising holiday to the Rhine, to investigate some disputed questions. This proposal was not accepted, however, apparently because James Geikie was dissatisfied with the only information he could obtain about glacial deposits on the south side of the Alps, and made up his mind to seek satisfaction by a personal tour to the district. This trip is mentioned in a letter written to Dr Grossart from Kelso on 20th July, in which he says:—

My summer has been spent in a ram-sham desultory sort of way. I have hammered out the geological structure of the Cheviots, which is something interesting and new, and I have also got some interesting glacial results. I have had a hard time of it with the lawyers though, having been summoned twice to London to give evidence before Committees of Parliament about that confounded Edinburgh water of which every honest man in Edinburgh is heartily sick. I know I am. But that is over now. In a fortnight I start for Italy, and am going to make a long tour of it: Paris, Geneva, Martigny, Aosta, Turin, Bologna, Verona, Venice, Trieste, and Vienna, then back through the Tyrol and down the Rhine to Rotterdam, Amsterdam, etc., and home. I shall be a fortnight or three weeks scouring along the foot of the Piedmontese Alps looking at the glacial things.

My book is finished and off to 'the printers at last. But I fear that it will be delayed by the engraver, who does not get on with the illustrations as fast as I could wish. Anyhow I hope I shall be able to send you a copy this winter.

No detailed account of the Italian trip has been preserved, but various letters make allusions to it. Thus writing to Mr Home from Jedburgh on 17th September, he speaks of his visit to Lake Como, ending up :—"Alas! all the sunshine is over, and here I am in dull Scotch autumn, thinking sadly that the world and one's destinies are not more amenable to one's wishes. But Scotland is not so bad after all." His next visit to the lake was made in company with his wife and her sister, and during the trip he told how on his first visit he had lost himself in the Alps at dark, and after some difficulty and various adventures reached a little hamlet. Here there was no inn, but the priest of the village kindly put him up for the night, the two conversing in Latin in default of any other means of communication.

He speaks also of his Italian tour in a letter to Dr Grossart, dated from Jedburgh on nth October, in which he says:—

Did I write you giving an account of my Italian trip ? I know-that I meant to do so. I enjoyed myself amazingly, and picked up a lot of wrinkles which will stand me in good stead. Ods man! but it was hot spielin' the hills with the thermometer 94 in the-shade. God knows but I thought it not far short of 5000 in the sun. . . . I'm going to take it easy this winter—if I can. I have now got my magnum opus off my hands, and hope to send you a. copy next month. It makes some 500 pages of demy 8vo!— a wiselike size! . . . The illustrations will please you, I hope. They have been beautifully engraved. . . . The country here is looking beautiful—woods having all their autumn colours on. I don't wonder that emigrants who were born on the Jed, the Teviot, and the Tweed should aye have such intense longings to get back again to their native howffs. It makes one young as a boy to wander up the sweet glens and ravines in this lovely district. If I were in love I'm afraid I should use up whole reams of paper in the composing of passionate songs and sonnets. But not being so I can only croon as I trot along the half-forgotten words of some old Border ditty.

Some other passages in this and other letters suggest that with the finishing of the great book, and the lifting of the strain, the young man felt disceuvrd, was beginning to think that youth was slipping away and he was perhaps not getting the best out of life, and was liable to alternate fits of depression and of a cynicism which was probably largely a pose intended to hide his true feelings. In brief, he was becoming aware that it is not good for man to dwell alone, and the Glacial Epoch, whatever its charms, proved a chilly substitute for the kind of companionship which his affectionate spirit craved. A few extracts from a letter, undated, but written from Jedburgh, apparently about the same time as the foregoing, may help to make the position clear. The letter may be entitled—anything more specific being avoided—"To a Young Man contemplating Matrimony," and the quotations must necessarily be disjointed:—

You know your own affairs best. But if I were in your place, and the girl were a really good girl and suitable, hang it I would propose and get her. . . . Something like fate whispers in my ear, "Jim, my boy, you'll never have a wife, altho' you should live to the age of Methusaleh." . . . With the uncertainty of temper and feeling that I have, I seriously doubt whether I would be other than miserable if I were to marry. So lest you should get into the same state, O young man! either flee temptation or be bold and seize the tempter. What more can I say. Perhaps you were only laughing when you wrote me, and are now laughing at me and my soft-heartedness. All right, laugh away. I have had my day, and some time you shall have had yours also.

Perhaps it may be added that when this letter was written its author was thirty-four. His marriage took place some eighteen months later, after an engagement which had lasted more than six months. He was destined to experience nearly forty years of happy married life, to see his children grow up, to welcome the advent of his grandchildren—either it was not fate who did the whispering, or she displayed a more than feminine contrariness.

Other letters during the autumn months give merely notes on the progress of the book, which was unexpectedly delayed, and information as to his prospective plans for the winter in Edinburgh. One to Dr Grossart, dated from Jedburgh on 22nd November, may be quoted as summing up what is said in various other letters which have been preserved:—

With this I send you a short lucubration of mine on the Island of Lewis, the chief point in which is the proof given that the Outer Hebrides were overflowed by land ice from the mainland!

I am happy to say that I am nearly out of the hands of the printer. My book has swelled out beyond what I intended, making close on 600 pages. The illustrations, which have kept back the printing, are now finished, and I expect to have a bound copy in my hands in ten days or so. It won't be published, however, much before Xmas, as we have made arrangements with an American firm to publish it at the same time in Yankee land. This is a great stroke of good luck, as it will lessen the cost of production and make the book payable. Some of the maps I believe you will find very interesting. In fact, I have so written the book that whether geologists accept all my general conclusions or not, they will at least know a good deal that they did not know before, after they have perused it. ... I am booked for a series of lectures this winter at the Museum of Science and Art, my subject being the Carboniferous Epoch. I am going to treat it in a pictorial way, trying to reproduce for them the kind of scenery and climate then enjoyed in Britain. I have also a lot more literary work in hand— A Manual on Coal-Mining—in which I do the geology and an engineering celebrity does the practical part. This and other matters keep my hands full. Nevertheless I have still an occasional dig at my German Songs. (Strange mixture! you will say. But then man is a queer mixture altogether.) Some time or other the Songs will see the light—but as I look on that matter as pleasure, and the scientific work as business, the Songs must stand aside till their betters are served. Write and give me your news. You see, like an old bachelor I have nothing to write about but myself. So you must under the circumstances excuse the egotism.

The book appeared early in the New Year, and the fact that the author was then in Edinburgh and must have presented copies to his nearest friends in person, no doubt accounts for the absence of many letters acknowledging receipt among his papers. Two notes from Prof. Ramsay, to whom, as his "dear friend and teacher," the book was dedicated, may, however, be quoted. Both are dated from Jermyn Street, and are written on successive days, 20th and 21st January 1874. The letters are as follows :—

My Dear Geikie,—I have got your beautiful vol. quite late in the day and am now engaged in physically cutting it up. Your dedication makes me so proud that since reading it I have held my head quite like the Duke of Argyll, and I only hope it will not fall off behind. I must close, and will take the book home with me to read the dedication aloud in an impressive way after dinner.—Ever sincerely,

Andrw. Ramsay.

My Dear Geikie,—I will read all your book, mair by token that I read 4 chapters of it last night after dinner and liked them all. The plan is good'and it is admirably written, as indeed it was sure to be. . . . As for your converting every reader to all your views, that is not likely as long as the Duke of Argyll remains alive. When a man does anything really in advance he may be well pleased if in 10 or 14 years he gets a fair proportion of the best men on his side. So no more this bout. From yours consumedly,

Andrw. Ramsay.

In May of the same year Ramsay writes again, saying:—"I am delighted to hear of the success of your book, which indeed I never doubted, for I always considered it a first-rate production, though I have only read it by snatches."

But though James Geikie had lingered long in the company of the Ice Maiden, he had not given her that embrace which is fatal to the earth-born, and the summer of this year brought him other thoughts than those of glaciers and moraines, brought him to a new phase in his life which demands another chapter.

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