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James Geikie
Chapter VIII. Final Edition of "The Great Ice Age," 1889-1903

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 "Glacial Geology."

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.


Restaurant Schlossberg
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,


Albrecht Penck.
Eduard Bruckner.
Leon Du Pasquier.
Andre Delebecque.
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 God.'"

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 days.

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 back!

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 Edinburgh:—

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 Sculpture in

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 pleasant experience.

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