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Abstract

George Bellas Greenough, co-founder and first President of the Geological Society of London, became interested in geology when he went to study law in Göttingen. There he attended lectures given by Professor Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, an admirer of Jean-André de Luc, who greatly influenced Greenough’s geological ideas. Greenough himself was not an original researcher, but saw his scientific task as a most diligent gatherer of information and as a critical and – as he felt – impartial reviewer of his fellows’ research. In 1819 he published a book entitled A Critical Examination of the First Principles of Geology in a Series of Essays. In this book, as well as in many of his numerous private notes, he struggled with the question of how to develop a proper scientific method for the new science of geology, striving for firm principles and definitions as a basis for geological observations. Although he despised theorizing on general principles, especially when it concerned those whom he called the Huttonians or Plutonists, he himself was not free of a theoretical concept in which he judged the validity of data. This bias sometimes became a drag on scientific ‘progress’ because his preoccupation with his own Theory led him to dismiss important developments such as William Smith’s biostratigraphy when they did not fall within his horizon of interest. Thus Greenough, and with him the new Society, was slow to recognize their importance and value.

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