SMITH (WILLIAM)
Lot 283
SMITH (WILLIAM)
Sold for £15,535 (US$ 25,217) inc. premium

Lot Details
Science
SMITH (WILLIAM)
Two autograph letters signed (“William Smith”), to Davies Giddy (Gilbert), the first letter announcing the imminent completion of his geological map (“...From the great Interest you have always taken in the promotion of Science I am led to hope you will excuse me for troubling you with the recital of difficulties arising out of my long endeavours to serve my Country...”) while telling him of “the embarassment occasioned by a Distress on my Goods Maps & Fossils now in my House for Rent”; the second letter discussing preparation of his publications identifying strata by organised fossils and the purchase of his fossil collection by the British Museum (“...My Fossils had been sometime removed to the British Museum when Your Friend favored me with a call. He took however the trouble to investigate some of my Plans and papers and was much pleased with my mode of representing the Strata by Sheets of colored Paper placed together in Stratigraphical order on each of which are pasted Figures of the organized Fossils they contain...I am now...most assiduously employed for the last five months in arranging the Geological Collection which is gone to the Museum...”), two pages, 4to, integral address leaves, docketed by Gilbert, the letters pasted to each other along the edge of their respective address leaves, the second with a printed identification slip, but otherwise in fine, fresh and attractive condition, Buckingham Street, 6 March 1815 and 12 July 1816

THE ‘FATHER OF GEOLOGY´ ON ‘THE MAP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD´: Smith telling Gilbert in the first of these letters that “I have been laboring from 5 in the Morning till 9 at night for Six Weeks past at the necessary corrections and Additions to the Map & it is certain my part of the Business may be done in a fortnight if I can be at liberty to pursue it and the Map might be produced by the end of the Month”. The first copy of Smith´s great map, A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland, was to be presented by him to the Board of Agriculture on 23 May 1815. Smith, a surveyor who had received no formal education beyond the age of eleven, was one of the first to recognize fossils to be a good indication of the stratigraphy, single-handedly building up a collection of 2657 specimens representing 693 species. His Strata identified by Organized Fossils began publication in 1816, but broke off after four numbers, while in 1817 he published A Stratigraphical System of Organised Fossils. His collection was purchased by the British Museum in 1816. Four years after the map´s triumphant publication, the “embarassment” described in the first of these letters meant that Smith, the victim of plagiarism and swindled out of his profits, was imprisoned for debt and forced to sell up his London house. At last, in 1831, he was acknowledged by the Geological Society, which had early refused to grant him a fellowship, and was the first ever recipient of the Wollaston Medal, their highest honour. Adam Sedgwick in his presentation address declared that “we use the language which he taught us in the infancy of our science. If we, by our united efforts, are chiselling the ornaments and slowing raising up the pinnacles of one of the temples of nature, it was he that gave the plan, and laid the foundations, and erected a portion of the solid walls, by the unassisted labour of his hands”. More recently, his name has come to a wider public with publication of Simon Winchester´s book, The Map that Changed the Word: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (2001). We can find no record of a letter by William Smith having been offered for sale.
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