Charles Lyell,
Historian of Time's Cycle

The Case of Professor Ichthyosaurus

Few scientists are so full of fun and color that their anecdotes outlive their ideas. Yet professors of geology still tell stories about the Reverend William Buckland (1784–1856) who ended his career as the prestigious Dean of Westminster, but began as England's first great academic geologist, reader at Oxford, and teacher of Charles Lyell, among others. Remember the time Buckland identified the ever-liquefying "martyr's blood" on the pavement of a continental cathedral as bat urine—by the most direct method of kneeling down and having a lick. And, oh yes, what about the day that he served crocodile meat for breakfast at the deanery, after horse's tongue the night before. Even the ever-genial Charles Darwin professed a distaste for Buckland, "who though very good humored and good- natured seemed to me a vulgar and almost coarse man. He was incited more by a craving for notoriety, which sometimes made him act like a buffoon, than by a love of science."

When Buckland was commissioned to write one of the Bridge-water Treatises "on the power, wisdom and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation," he devoted a chapter to the ichthyosaur as a primary illustration of divine benevolence. He presented all the conventional arguments for inferring God's handiwork from the anatomical perfection of this oddly fishlike reptile—"these devia-