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William Hopkins and the shaping of Dynamical Geology: 1830–1860

  • Crosbie Smith (a1)

‘Hitherto want of accuracy and definiteness have often been brought as a charge against geology, and sometimes only with too much justice’, wrote Archibald Geikie in a review of Sir Roderick Murchison's Siluria (1867). ‘We seem now to be entering, however, upon a new era, when there will be infused into geological methods and speculation, some of the precision of the exact sciences’. Geikie's judgement echoed an appeal made some thirty years earlier by William Hopkins (1793–1866) that the science of geology needed to be ‘elevated’ from a level of ‘indeterminate generalities’ to a rank among the stricter physical sciences. This paper aims to analyse, in the context of broader trends favouring measurement and mathematics in British scientific practice, Hopkins' role in the promotion of dynamical geology as a major new complement to stratigraphical geology such that, for example, in the first edition of Geikie's Textbook of Geology (1882) the dynamical and stratigraphical components each filled 376 pages.

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1 Geikie, Archibald, ‘Sir Roderick Murchison and modern schools of geology’, Quarterly Review, (1868), 125, pp. 188217, on p. 206. See also Burchfield, J. D., Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth, London, 1975, p. 147, for a discussion of similar remarks made by Geikie to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1899.

2 Hopkins, William, ‘An abstract of a memoir on physical geology; with a further exposition of certain points connected with the subject’, Philosophical Magazine, (1836), 8, pp. 227236; 272281; 357366, on p. 365.

3 Geikie, Archibald, Textbook of Geology, London, 1882.

4 See especially Morrell, Jack and Thackray, Arnold, Gentlemen of Science. Early Years of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Oxford, 1981; Secord, James A., ‘King of Siluria: Roderick Murchison and the Imperial theme in nineteenth-century British geology, Victorian Studies, (19811982), 25, pp. 413442; ‘The Geological Survey as a research school, 1839–1855’, History of Science, (1986), 24, pp. 223275; Controversy in Victorian Geology. The Cambrian-Silurian Dispute, Princeton, 1986; Stafford, Robert A., ‘Geological surveys, mineral discoveries, and British expansion, 1835–71’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, (1984), 12, pp. 532; ‘Roderick Murchison and the structure of Africa: a geological prediction and its consequences for British expansion’, Annals of Science, (1988), 45, pp. 140.

5 On the French context, see for example Gillmor, C. Stewart, Coulomb and the Evolution of Physics and Engineering in Eighteenth-century France, Princeton, 1971; Guerlac, Henry, ‘Chemistry as a branch of physics: Laplace's collaboration with Lavoisier’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1976), 7, pp. 193276; Fox, Robert, ‘The rise and fall of Laplacian physics’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1974), 4, pp. 89136. On the British reception, see Crosland, Maurice and Smith, Crosbie, ‘The transmission of physics from France to Britain: 1800–1840’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1978), 9, pp. 161; Smith, Crosbie and Wise, M. Norton, Energy and Empire. A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 149168. Historians of science have generally focussed on the theories and concepts of French physical science in this period, while others have examined the institutional settings. Much more work could usefully be done on the practice of physical science in Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic France, with special emphasis on the role of measurement.

6 Herschel, John, A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, London, 1830, pp. 122123.

7 BAAS Report, (1831), 1, p. 11.

8 Cannon, Susan Faye, Science in Culture: the Early Victorian Period, New York, 1978, pp. 73110; Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), p. 477.

9 Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), especially pp. 224256; 512513. The Cambridge hegemony was particularly evident in the activities of the Greenwich Observatory with G. B. Airy as Astronomer Royal from 1835 until 1881. Precision measurement played a key role. See Meadows, A. J., Greenwich Observatory, London, 1975, especially pp. 111.

10 BAAS Report, (1833), 3, pp. xxxvi; 471. See also Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), p. 515.

11 BAAS Report, (1834), 4, p. xx. See also Friendly, Alfred, Beaufort of the Admiralty. The Life of Sir Francis Beaufort 1774–1857, London, 1977, 293295. As Admiralty Hydrographer, Beaufort wrote to Lubbock in 1832 that ‘no one can be impressed with a stronger conviction than myself of the urgent necessity of acquiring proper data for the construction of our Tide Tables, that I considered it to be a national object, and that Government shd. take it in hand when they found a person qualified like you’. Quoted in Friendly, , p. 293.

12 Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), p. 513.

13 Whewell, William, ‘Address’, BAAS Report, (1833), 3, p. xixxvi, especially p. xiii (on astronomy as ‘queen of the sciences’) and pp. xiv–xv (on tides). See Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 425427; 515517. See also M. Norton Wise with the collaboration of Smith, Crosbie, ‘Work and waste: natural philosophy and political economy in nineteenth-century Britain’, History of Science (forthcoming) for a discussion of Whewell's views on tidal theory in relation to his political economy.

14 Forbes, J. D., ‘Report on meteorology’, BAAS Report, (1832), 2, pp. 196258, on pp. 199200.

15 Ibid., pp. 200–201. On Forbes and Whewell see for example Smith, Crosbie, ‘“Mechanical philosophy” and the emergence of physics in Britain’, Annals of Science, (1976), 33, pp. 329, especially pp. 2526.

16 Ibid., p. 201n.

17 Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 348349; 517523.

18 SirThomson, William, ‘Presidential address’, BAAS Report, (1871), 41, pp. lxxxivcv on pp. lxxxviilxxxviii.

19 Smith, and Wise, , op. cit. (5), pp. 684698.

20 Murchison, Roderick, ‘Presidential address’, BAAS Report, (1838), 8, pp. xxxixliv on p. xxxiii.

21 Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 353370; 523531; Cawood, John, ‘The Magnetic Crusade: science and politics in early Victorian Britain’, Isis, (1979), 70, pp. 551587.

22 On Murchison see Secord, , op. cit. (4) and Stafford, , op. cit. (4). Compare Cawood, John, ‘Terrestrial magnetism and the development of international collaboration in the early nineteenth century’, Annals of Science, (1977), 34, pp. 551587.

23 Murchison, , op. cit. (20), p. xxxii. (Murchison's italics.)

24 Cawood, , op. cit. (21); Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 354369.

25 Secord, , op. cit. (4), pp. 225241.

26 On the social structure of British geology in the early nineteenth century see especially Rudwick, Martin J. S., The Great Devonian Controversy. The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge among Gentlemanly Specialists, Chicago, 1985, pp. 1741.

27 See especially the entry for Hopkins, William in the Dictionary of National Biography. On Hopkins' income and political loyalties see Smith, and Wise, , op. cit. (5), p. 66.

28 Sedgwick, Adam, ‘Presidential address’, BAAS Report, (1833), 3, pp. xxviixxxii, on p. xxviii. Quoted in Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), p. 267. On Sedgwick and Hopkins see Smith, Crosbie, ‘Geologists and mathematicians: the rise of physical geology’, in Wranglers and Physicists. Studies on Cambridge Physics in the Nineteenth Century, (ed. Harman, P. M.), Manchester, 1985, pp. 4983.

29 See especially Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 267286.

30 Hopkins, William to Phillips, John, 19 10 1836, Phillips correspondence, Oxford University Museum. I am very grateful to Jack Morrell for drawing my attention to this and other letters among the Phillips' papers. Compare Hopkins' letters to Darwin, Charles in 18451846 published in Schwartz, Joel S., ‘Three unpublished letters to Charles Darwin: the solution to a “geometrico-geological” problem’, Annals of Science, (1980), 37, pp. 631637.

31 On the ‘gentlemanly specialists’ see Rudwick, , op. cit. (26), pp. 1727.

32 SirThomson, William, ‘On geological time’, Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow, (1871), 3, pp. 128; reprinted in SirThomson, William, Popular Lectures and Addresses, 3 vols, (London, 18891894), ii, pp. 1064, on pp. 5455. On Thomson's laboratory goals see Wise, M. Norton and Smith, Crosbie, ‘Measurement, work and industry in Lord Kelvin's Britain’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1986), 17, pp. 147173; Smith, and Wise, , op. cit. (5), pp. 128132.

33 See for example Rudwick, Martin J. S., ‘Uniformity and progression: reflections on the structure of geological theory in the age of Lyell’, in Perspectives in the History of Science and Technology, (ed. Roller, D.H.D.), Norman, Oklahoma, 1971, pp. 209237; Lawrence, Philip, ‘Charles Lyell versus the theory of central heat: a reappraisal of Lyell's place in the history of geology’, Journal of the History of Biology, (1978), 11, pp. 101128; Greene, Mott T., Geology in the Nineteenth Century. Changing Views of a Changing World, Ithaca and London, 1982, pp. 69121.

34 Forbes, , op. cit. (14), pp. 200; 221.

35 ‘Report of experiments on subterranean temperatures, under the direction of a committee; consisting of Professor Forbes, Mr. W. S. Harris, Professor Powell, Lieut-col. Sykes, and Professor Phillips (Reporter)’, BAAS Report, (1836), 6, pp. 291293, on pp. 291292. See also BAAS Report, (1834), 4, p. xxxi, where the BAAS placed £100 at the committee's disposal during the Edinburgh meeting at which Forbes was playing a central role.

36 Hopkins, William to Phillips, John, 19 10, 1836, Phillips correspondence, Oxford University Museum.

37 Hopkins, William, ‘Researches in physical geology’, Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, (1835), 6, pp. 184, on pp. 12; 811. Treated more fully in Smith, , op. cit. (28), especially pp. 7376.

38 Hopkins, , op. cit. (37), pp. 811; ‘Presidential address’, BAAS Report, (1853), 23, pp. xlilvii, on p. xlix; ‘Cambridge essays, 1857—by W. Hopkins, M.A., F.R.S., F.G.S.’, The Geologist; a Popular Monthly Magazine of Geology, (1858), 1, pp. 425432, on p. 427. (Hopkins' italics.)

39 See Rudwick, , op. cit. (33), pp. 219220; Lawrence, , op. cit. (33), pp. 106110; Greene, , op. cit. (33), pp. 69121; Smith, , op. cit. (28), pp. 5759.

40 Lyell, Charles, Principles of Geology, being an Attempt to explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes now in Operation, 3 vols, (London, 18301833); 3rd edn, 3 vols, (London, 1835), i, pp. 204–206.

41 Ibid., ii, pp. 294–295.

42 Sedgwick, Adam, ‘Address of the President’, Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, (1831), 1, pp. 281316, on pp. 302303.

43 Ibid., pp. 301–307.

44 See for example Smith, , op. cit. (28).

45 Phillips, John and Daubeny, C. G., ‘Geology’, Encyclopaedia Metropolitan, 6, pp. 528800, on p. 800. Published after 1833 but prior to the publication of the complete Encyclopaedia in 1845.

46 Hopkins, William to Phillips, John, 20 01, 1837, Phillips correspondence, Oxford University Museum.

47 See Brush, Stephen G., ‘Nineteenth-century debates about the inside of the earth: solid, liquid or gas?’, Annals of Science, (1979), 36, pp. 225254.

48 A more extensive discussion appears in Smith, and Wise, , op. cit. (5), pp. 552578, where we discuss the context for William Thomson's age of the earth estimates. This analysis is fully co-authored.

49 Ibid., pp. 553; 557–559.

50 Ibid., pp. 573–578.

51 Hopkins, William, ‘Report on the geological theories of elevation and earthquakes’, BAAS Report, (1847), 17, pp. 3392; Hopkins, , op. cit. (2), pp. 230231.

52 Hopkins, William, ‘Anniversary address of the President’, The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, (1852), 8, pp. xxivlxxx, on p. lxxiii.

53 Hopkins, William, ‘On the causes which may have produced changes in the earth's superficial temperature’, Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, (1852), 8, pp. 5692.

54 Hopkins, William, ‘On the motion of glaciers’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 116, on p. 13.

55 Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), p. 466. See also Rudwick, Martin J. S., ‘Darwin and Glen Roy: a “great failure” in scientific method?Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, (1974), 5, pp. 97185.

56 Rudwick, Martin J. S., ‘The glacial theory’, History of Science, (1969), 8, pp. 136157, especially pp. 148150.

57 Hopkins, , op. cit. (53), p. 58.

58 Ibid., pp. 58–59.

59 Ibid., p. 60.

60 Ibid., pp. 60–62.

61 Ibid., pp. 63–64.

62 Ibid., p. 90.

63 Ibid., p. 91.

64 Whewell, William to Forbes, J. D., 14 07, 1831, published in Todhunter, Isaac, William Whewell, D. D., 2 vols, (London, 1876), ii, p. 121. See also Smith, , op. cit. (15), pp. 2528. For a good summary of Forbes' early career and values see Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 430434.

65 Smith, , op. cit. (15), p. 27. On the large Glasgow classes see Smith, and Wise, , op. cit. (5), pp. 8384.

66 See for example Davie, G. E., The Democratic Intellect. Scotland and her Universities in the Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh, 1961; Olson, R. G., Scottish Philosophy and British Physics. A Study in the Foundations of the Victorian Scientific Style, Princeton, 1975, especially pp. 6671.

67 Davie, , op. cit. (66), pp. 116126; 158168; Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (4), pp. 480481.

68 Smith, and Wise, , op. cit. (5), p. 114. In a letter to his son William Thomson, then a Fellow of St. Peter's College, Cambridge, the Glasgow professor of mathematics, James Thomson, stated that Kelland and other Oxbridge-educated academics had not given satisfaction in Scottish universities. See DrThomson, James to Thomson, William, 16 05, 1846, Kelvin papers, University Library, Cambridge.

69 Hopkins, William, Remarks on Certain Proposed Regulations respecting the Studies of the University, Cambridge, 1841. See especially Becher, Harvey, ‘William Whewell and Cambridge mathematics’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1980), 11, pp. 148.

70 See Rudwick, , op. cit. (26), especially p. 18, and Secord, , op. cit. (4), for territorial disputes among gentlemen geologists.

71 Forbes, J. D., ‘Professor Forbes' account of his recent observations on glaciers’, The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, (1842), 33, pp. 338352, on p. 339.

72 Hopkins, William, op. cit. (54), pp. 12. See also Hopkins, William, ‘On the motion of glaciers’, Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, (1849), 8, pp. 5074; 159169; ‘On the transport of erratic blocks’, Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, (1849), 8, pp. 220240.

73 Hopkins, William, op. cit. (54), p. 2.

74 Ibid., pp. 2–7.

75 Ibid., p. 7.

76 Ibid., pp. 7–11.

77 Ibid., pp. 11–12.

78 Ibid., p. 16n.

79 Wheweil, William, ‘On glacier theories’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 171173, on p. 171.

80 Ibid., pp. 171–173.

81 Whewell, William, ‘Additional remarks on glacier theories’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 217220, on pp. 217218.

82 Ibid., pp. 219–220.

83 Hopkins, William, ‘Mr. Hopkins's reply to Dr. Whewell's remarks on glacier theories’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 334342, on p. 335.

84 Ibid., pp. 336–338.

85 Ibid., pp. 338–340. See ‘Account of an experiment on Stockholm pitch, confirming the viscous theory of glaciers. In a letter from Prof. Gordon of Glasgow, to Prof. J. D. Forbes of Edinburgh’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 206208.

86 Forbes, J. D., ‘Reply to Mr. Hopkins on the motion of glaciers; with reasons for avoiding further controversy’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 404418.

87 Ibid., pp. 405–406.

88 Ibid., pp. 406–407.

89 Ibid., p. 407.

90 Ibid., pp. 411; 414.

91 Hopkins, William, ‘Remarks on Professor Forbes's reply’, Philosophical Magazine, (1845), 26, pp. 593599, on p. 596.

92 See Wise, M. Norton, ‘The Maxwell literature and British dynamical theory’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, (1982), 13, pp. 175205; ‘The flow analogy to electricity and magnetism, part I: William Thomson's reformulation of action at a distance’, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, (1981), 25, pp. 1970, especially pp. 2132.

93 Thomson, William, Notebook regarding Thomson and Tait's Treatise (1862), NB 48, Kelvin papers, University Library, Cambridge.

94 Laudan, Rachel, From Mineralogy to Geology. The Foundations of a Science, 1650–1830, Chicago and London, 1987, especially pp. 17; 138141; 180181.

95 Ibid., pp. 5–6; 20–69.

96 Hopkins, , op. cit. (38), p. 425.

97 On Admiralty charting in the period see Friendly, , op. cit. (11), pp. 255266. Over his twenty-five years as Hydrographer, Beaufort and his survey teams produced almost 1500 new charts up to 1855.

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