Gideon Mantell

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Portrait of Gideon Mantell (1837)

Gideon Algernon Mantell (3 February 1790 – 10 November 1852) was an English medical doctor, general practitioner, surgeon, and obstetrician, in addition to being an author, and a pioneer geologist and palaeontologist in his "leisure" time. His paleontological collection, a life's labor housed in his private residence at Lewes, and again later at Brighton, also served as a public museum, prior to the sale of the entire collection to the British Museum in 1838. He was an elected member of the Royal Society, the Council of the Geological Society of London, and the Philomathic Society of Paris.

Quotes[edit]

The Fossils of the South Downs; or Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex (1822)[edit]

  • Upon fixing my residence at Lewes, I resolved to devote my leisure moments to the investigation of the "Organic remains of a former world"...
  • In the prosecution of these researches... extraneous fossils were no longer regarded merely as subjects of natural history, but as memorials of revolutions which have swept over the face of the earth, in ages antecedent to all human record and tradition.
  • The following pages contain the result of my labours. They have been composed under circumstances particularly unfavourable to literary pursuits; and such as those only can duly appreciate, who are aware of the numerous and anxious duties, which a country practitioner is called upon to perform.
  • It appears that in the lapse of ages, the sea alternately encroaches on and retreats from the land, and the districts it formerly occupied become the habitation of terrestrial animals and vegetables;—but other revolutions succeed, the sea returns to its ancient bed, and the countries from which it retires, are again fitted for the reception of their former inhabitants.

The Wonders of Geology (1839)[edit]

Geological Map of Great Britain
(1904)
  • I had every reason to believe that my collection would be permanently established in Sussex, and serve as the foundation for a County Museum. In that expectation I have... been utterly disappointed. ...after the death of my noble and lamented friend, the late Earl of Egremont, the munificent patron of the Institution, the proposed measure was abandoned... I have therefore, in compliance with the wishes of my scientific friends, disposed of my entire collection to the Trustees of the British Museum. ...that collection, which would have been of tenfold importance if located in the district from whence it was derived, and whose physical structure it was designed to illustrate, is now broken up, and will be dispersed through the cabinets of our National Institution... a time will assuredly come, when their endeavours to promote a taste for scientific knowledge among the intelligent inhabitants of Sussex, and to direct attention to the investigation of its physical phenomena, will he properly appreciated, and the failure of their attempt to secure to the county a collection so rich in its peculiar fossil and mineral productions, be remembered with regret.
    • Vol. 1
  • Although we may not be able to mark the precise boundary beyond which organic beings do not appear, it is certain that in all geological epochs, subsequent, at least, to that of the primary rocks, animals and plants have existed in successive families; they have been created, have lived their day, and by the operation of physical causes, have perished; while new races have been called into being, and in their turn have ceased to be, in order to give room to other families, requiring, perhaps, a different climate, and a new order of things.
    • Vol. 1
  • Every artificial excavation—every well and cellar—every cut for a fort, common road, railway, or canal—every quarry—every tunnel through a mountain—and every pit and gallery of a mine bored into the solid earth, furnish means of investigating its interior. Still more do the inland precipices, and the rocky promontories and headlands along the rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans; the naked mountain-sides ribbed with strata, that bound the defiles, gorges, and valleys; the ruins accumulated at the feet of lofty pinnacles and barriers, and those that have been transported and scattered, far and wide, over the earth; present us with striking features of the internal structure of our planet. Most of all, do the inclined strata push up their hard edges, in varied succession, and thus faithfully disclose the form and substance of the deep interior, as it exists many miles and leagues beneath the observer's feet.
    • Vol. 1
  • A mere savage, ignorant and brutal, and the creature of appetite alone, can never rise from his degradation, until he has learned to draw from the mineral kingdom the instruments of arts and civilization, or, at least, to use the aids that are thus obtained. The axe, the hoe, the plough, the loom, are inseparable means and companions of his advancement.
    • Vol. 1
  • Whether we speak of the cedar, the oak, the lichens, or the grasses, all equally derive their support from the elements afforded by the mineral world, which, in its widest sense, includes not only the solid earth, but its waters, and all its fiuids—its atmosphere, and all its gases.
    • Vol. 1
  • Our beautiful planet is indeed worthy of our study; it was once our cradle—it will soon be our grave: between the dawn and the night of life, it is the scene of our busy action, and from it we shall rise to another state of being.
    • Vol. 1
  • If I have succeeded in explaining in a satisfactory manner, how by laborious and patient investigation, and the successful application of other branches of natural philosophy, the wonders of geology have been revealed—if I have removed but from one intelligent mind, any prejudice against scientific inquiries, which may have been excited by those who have neither the relish nor the capacity for philosophical pursuits—if I have been so fortunate as to kindle in the hearts of others, that intense and enduring love and admiration of natural knowledge, which I feel in my own,—or have illuminated the mental vision with that intellectual light, which once kindled can never be extinguished, and which reveals to the soul the beauty, and wisdom, and harmony of the works of the Eternal, I shall indeed rejoice, for then my exertions will not have been in vain. And although my humble name may be soon forgotten, and all record of my labours be effaced, yet the influence of that knowledge, however feeble it may be, which has emanated from my researches, will remain for ever; and, by conducting to new and inexhaustible fields of inquiry, prove a never-failing source of the most pure and elevated gratification.
    • Vol. 2

Thoughts on a Pebble, or, A First Lesson in Geology (1849)[edit]

  • In circumstances where the uninstructed and incurious eye can perceive neither novelty nor beauty, he who is imbued with a taste for natural science will everywhere discover an inexhaustible mine of pleasure and instruction, and new and stupendous proofs of the power and goodness of the Eternal! For every rock in the desert, every boulder on the plain, every pebble by the brook-side, every grain of sand on the sea-shore, is fraught with lessons of wisdom to the mind which is fitted to receive and comprehend their sublime import.
    "From millions take thy choice,
    In all that lives a guide to God is given;
    Ever thou hear'st some guardian angel's voice,
    When nature speaks of heaven!"
  • Every part of the earth's surface presents unequivocal proofs that the elevation of the bed of the ocean in some places, and the subsidence of the dry land in others, have been, and are still, going on; and that, in truth, the continual changes in the relative position of the land and water, are the effects of laws which the Divine Author of the Universe has impressed on matter, and thus rendered it capable of perpetual renovation:—
    Art, Empire, Earth itself, to change are doomed;
    Earthquakes have raised to heaven the humble vail,
    And gulf's the mountain's mighty mass entombed,
    And where the Atlantic rolls wide continents have bloomed.

The Medals of Creation or First Lessons in Geology (1854)[edit]

  • A work upon the plan originally contemplated by the Author seems still to be required, to initiate the young and uninstructed in the study of those MEDALS 0F CREATION—those electrotypes of nature—the mineralized remains of the plants and animals which successively flourished in the earlier ages of our planet, in periods incalculably remote, and long antecedent to all human history and tradition. With this conviction the present volumes are offered... as a guide for the Student and the Amateur Collector of fossil remains; for the intelligent Observer who may desire to possess a general knowledge of the subject, without intending to pursue Geology as a science; and for the Tourist who may wish, in the course of his travels, to employ profitably a leisure hour in quest of those interesting memorials of the ancient physical revolutions of our globe, which he will find everywhere presented to his observation.
    • Preface to the First Edition
  • It seems scarcely credible, that but little more than a century ago it was a matter of serious question with naturalists, whether the petrified shells imbedded in the rocks and strata were indeed shells that had been secreted by molluscous animals; or whether these bodies, together with the teeth, bones, leaves, wood, &c., found in a fossil state, were not formed by what was then termed the plastic power of the earth; in like manner as minerals, metals, and crystals.
  • In the latter part of the seventeenth century, there were several eminent men in England who were greatly in advance of the age in which they lived, and strenuously exerted themselves to discover and promulgate the true principles of Geology. Among these Dr. Martin Lister, physician to Queen Anne, was one of the most distinguished. This accomplished naturalist in his great work on shells... figures and describes many fossil shells as real animal productions, and carefully compares them with recent species. He also recognised the distinction of strata by the organic remains they contain; and to him the honour is due of having first suggested the construction of geological maps...
  • Geology... possesses the great advantage of presenting subjects adapted to every capacity; on some of its investigations the highest intellectual powers and the most profound acquirements in exact science are required; while many of its problems may be solved by any one who has eyes and will use them; and innumerable facts illustrative of the ancient condition of our planet, and of its inhabitants, may be gathered by any diligent and intelligent observer.
  • It is surely unnecessary to dwell on the interest and importance of a study which instructs us that every pebble we tread upon bears the impress of the Almighty's hand, and affords evidence of Creative wisdom; that every grain of sand, every particle of dust scattered by the wind, may be composed of the aggregated skeletons of beings, so minute as to elude our unassisted vision, but which possessed an organization as marvellous as our own;—a science discoveries have realized the wildest imaginings of the poet,—whose realities far surpass in grandeur and sublimity the most imposing fictions of romance;—a science whose empire is the earth, the ocean, the atmosphere, the heavens;—whose speculations embrace all elements, all space, all time;—objects the most minute, objects the most colossal;—carrying its researches into the smallest atom which the microscope can render accessible to our visual organs,—and comprehending all the phenomena in the boundless Universe, which the powers of the telescope can reveal.
  • Every walk we take offers subjects for profound meditation,—every pebble that attracts our notice, matter for serious reflection; and contemplating the incessant dissolution and renovation which are taking place around us in the organic and inorganic kingdoms of nature, we are struck by the force and beauty of the exclamation of the poet—
    "My heart is awed within me, when I think
    Of the great miracle which still goes on
    In silence round me—the perpetual work
    Of Thy Creation, finished, yet renewed
    For ever!"

Quotes about Mantell[edit]

  • Living in the midst of a most interesting geological district, his quick appreciation could not fail to be struck with its interesting characteristics. As on his professional visits, he rode or drove over the South Downs and Weald of Sussex, he was continually searching for the organic treasures imbedded in the quarries or lying by the roadside, which afforded him an inexhaustible source of delight and instruction; and he thus accumulated materials which eventually enabled him to establish the fresh-water character of the Wealden,—a discovery which alone will hand down his name to the latest posterity as one of the great founders of the science of Geology,—and brought together the fragments of fossil bones which afterwards gave him the power of building up the skeletons of those gigantic reptiles, the hyleosaurus, iguanodon, pelorosaurus, and others, with which he astonished and delighted, not only the public generally, but the scientific world. The number of specimens so collected amounted to upwards of 1,200, and with these he founded the Mantellian Museum, which was visited, while he lived at Lewes, by the most eminent men of the day; among others by Baron Cuvier, and by the Royal Princes. This collection he afterwards removed to Brighton, when he went to reside there, and he made great efforts to have it established in the county from the strata of which it had been gathered, as the nucleus of a local geological museum, but the requisite funds were not forthcoming, and it was ultimately sold to the British Museum...
    • A Reminiscence of G. A. Mantell. By a member of the Council of the Clapham (1853)
  • Thirty years ago, his splendid quarto... devoted to the geology of Sussex, his native county in England, made its appearance. It was followed, at the end of five years, by a thinner quarto, equally a finished production... of the geology of the south-east of England, including Sussex and Tilgate Forest. These original works, abounding with interesting and instructive observations, established the author's reputation throughout Europe as an able geologist, and as an acute and successful expositor.
  • Dr. Mantell lived successively at Lewes, Brighton, Clapham, and London in all of which places he sustained an extensive professional practice, both in medicine and surgery, and still found time, in consequence of his great industry, to cultivate geology and the allied sciences, especially comparative anatomy, and to give many lectures on these subjects, in compliance with invitations from various towns and cities. As a lecturer, he was lucid, animated, and eloquent; and having the advantage of a noble presence, with a voice of great power and of a fine musical cadence, his appearance was eminently attractive. ...His well deserved celebrity insured on the part of the public a welcome reception to several important works, which, in the course of a few years, he wrote and published.
    • Benjamin Silliman (the Elder) Obituary American Journal of Science (1852)
  • Petrifactions and their Teachings ...is a very interesting and instructive guide through the British Museum and is fitted to be a pioneer in palæontology generally.
    • Benjamin Silliman (the Elder) Obituary American Journal of Science (1852)
  • Dr. Mantell, a number of years ago, sustained a severe injury on the spine, in consequence of a fall from his carriage, and an incurable tumor arose, which, by its pressure upon the nerves of the spinal chord, produced at first temporary paralysis, and subsequently through life, frequent and intense neuralgic suffering, attended by great emaciation. Still his powerful and enthusiastic mind rose above his sufferings, although they often deprived him of sleep. He wrote several of his works while he was a martyr to pain; at the same time he continued his professional visits, and at the bed side of his patients, and when in society at home or abroad, he assumed a degree of cheerfulness which might have led any one to suppose that he was in perfect health. During the last week of his life he suffered intensely, and was deprived almost entirely of sleep; still, although observed to look unusually ill, he gave a public lecture, with his usual animation, two days before his exit, and visited his patients the very day before he died.

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