Burnes the Polymath 19

Can anyone find a full online version of K.M. Lyell’s 1881 Life, Letters and Journals of Charles Lyell, Bart. ? Normally google books or similar have such out of copyright books online free if of any interest, but all I can find is this limited preview of a Cambridge University Press edition. It is in my chain of thought today and I don’t want to break off and come back.

I have been struck quite frequently in both manuscript and published writings that Alexander Burnes plainly was no creationist and had a strikingly “modern” world view for someone born in 1805. Some of his observations of animal life take evolution as read, and his understanding of geological processes seems almost solecistic. One reason he survived journeys which Gerard, Moorcroft and Trebeck did not was that he dosed himself with quinine when the British army treated malaria with leeches. Burnes and Gerard contracted malaria together in Balkh and Termez – still malarial today – precisely where Moorcroft and Trebeck had done so fatally a decade previously. Gerard, a medical doctor, refused Burnes’ offered quinine for more traditional treatment (camomile!) and eventually died of his malaria.

Burnes was very directly a child of the Scottish Enlightenment and his range of knowledge across a wide variety of academic disciplines is truly striking. I early made a transcript of an account of a dinner in the Shalimar gardens near Lahore around 1837 with two eminent British palaeontologists, whom I find described in encyclopaedias as among the founders of the science. I can’t immediately put my hands on the transcript to give you their names, but Burnes plainly could discuss the subject intelligently. He was a friend and correspondent of Charles Lyell and sent him fossils. Burnes is quoted at length in Lyell’s Principles of Geology, a book as ground-breaking in its time as The Origin of Species and very much part of the same intellectual movement. (Yes, I know Lyell was building on Hutton). Lyell and Darwin were close and their relationship is a field of study in itself.

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19 thoughts on “Burnes the Polymath

  • G Stuart

    archive.org have got it in Vols 1 and 2 (digitised by Google). Quite a few download options.
    archive.org often has books unavailable to Google’s search engine for some reason, it is a compendium of US, Canadian and other English speaking universities’ digital book databases.

  • ToivoS

    Yes, I know Lyell was building on Hutton

    More than just building on Hutton, he made Hutton’s work comprehensible to the rest of the world. Hutton’s prose was so convoluted that he was near impossible to understand. That was Lyell’s greatest contribution — doing the work to understand Hutton and passing on his ideas in good English.

  • TonyOpmoc


    I know I was out of order, but I only drowned your blog with drunken bollocks..for only a short time, then I voluntarily banned myself. I never said anything evil, and I have enormous respect for you…

    I would then occasionally post maybe for a couple of days once every 6 months or so…

    But I do like to read what you have to say…

    One of your fellow Ambassadors – I think he was called Sir Green – got a brilliant article up on the Front Page of The Telegraph Last Night about Syria

    It didn’t last long…

    I responded, Thank You – finally a sensible article about Syria…Has their been a Management coup?

    Look, the way I banned myself from your website, was to put my own IP address in the appropriate system file, so that whilst exceedingly drunk, I wouldn’t know how to write bollocks on your website, unless, I really wanted to.

    I was just saying Hi…

    But I am still banned from your website…which is quite normal for me…

    It’s no big deal

    Glad to see you back and well

    You are a Man or Rare Courage.

    Thank You,


  • Tony0pmoc

    So I have been banned yet again and again, So WTF? Do I really care???

    God is Dead – is The New Black Sabbath song, and I was expecting it to be dire…Probably the best thing Ozzy and The Guys have ever done…

    It is just a song

    The following without the above, has failed to appear…What exactly is wrong with it…It is not me…I was just copying and pasting someone else’s words…
    Craig, do you know Andrew Green?

    “Commentary: Arming the Syrian rebels is pouring petrol on the fire”


    “Assad believes he is fighting for his life. His fall would not only see Syria’s collapse, but could engulf Lebanon and even Iraq. We must look to the alternatives: better a distant hope than an imminent disaster, writes Sir Andrew Green.”



  • Tony0pmoc


    I may well be able to help you with the Principles of Geology, but you will simply not believe the results…

    I thought I was fairly English, with Yorkshire, Welsh, and Celtic (North West France) roots with just a bit of Scottish….

    You see, I simply did not know all the details, cos it was such a long time ago – and my Mum was born in London and grew up in France….

    But it seems I am far more Scottish…I did not know all My Mum’s Family Came from Scotland…

    She spoke The Queen’s English

    So watch this…You can just tell – this guy is telling the truth. There was no reason to lie…

    And this changes everything you think you know…

    I already knew years before – check out J. F. Kenney of Gas Resources Corporations, Houston, Texas

    “The Origins of Oil – falsely defined in 1892”



  • Mark Golding - Children of Conflict

    Yes – thanks Tony – Sir Andrew Green a former ambassador to Syria was a former Chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians- http://www.map-uk.org -after he retired. He is now the founding chairman of MigrationWatch UK, an organisation concerned with what they view as unacceptably high levels of immigration to the United Kingdom.


    Sir Andrew is one of a score of former British ambassadors to the Arab world seen regularly on the London diplomatic circuit, invited to national days, birthdays and other excuses for receptions at Arab embassies, as well as seminars and private dinners to discuss the Middle East. They enthusiastically joined other former ambassadors last year to sign the round robin to Tony Blair criticizing the war in Iraq.

    Sir Andrew failed in his efforts to deport the Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Masari. The issue came up again when he was posted from 1996 until 2000 to Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi government still demanding the expulsion of Mr Masari. Foreign Office colleagues remember Sir Andrew as genuinely exasperated that Mr Masari could be allowed to stay and damage relations with Saudi Arabia.

    Forming an opinion of this complex man will be difficult, he has refused an interview with the Guardian 😉 – but I hope to bring more information to this house.

  • Jives

    Tony Opmoc,

    I think most of us here instinctively like you and Craig,being a great defender of freedom of speech would never ban you…however..lol

    I “think” your main barrier here might be drunken late night rants(i am guilty too)..

    I think perhaps if you curtailed that a tad you’d be most welcome here…

    I’m just speaking for myself Tony,is all..

    Best wishes.:.)

  • guano

    Thanks. Last time you asked me about birds. Yesterday I saw a jay in Sutton Coldfield Park.

  • Dreoilin

    Yes, I agree with Jives.
    Tony, it’s good to see you here. And if you can stay on topic (although we all stray occasionally …) I think you’d be very welcome here. You have a big heart.

    I hope you’re taking care of yourself.

  • lysias

    Alexander Burnes figures prominently in William Dalrymple’s new book about the First Afghan War, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839-42, which I have just begun reading

  • Felixmoronia

    i see that archive.org has been mentioned but not project guttenberg. You may be able to find what you are looking for in e-book format.


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