Songs of the Survey - Appendix to Down to earth
|From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.|
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Appendix: Songs of the Survey
These typical songs and recitations were presented at Geologists' Dinners in Edinburgh over the years.
James Geikie, four years younger than his more notorious brother Archibald, was on the Edinburgh staff from 1861, under Archie, till he succeeded the latter as Professor of Geology in Edinburgh University in 1882 — Archie had held both Survey and University offices. James accompanied Ramsay on his visit to Gibraltar in 1876 and is said to have resented Archie's dictatorial style of direction as much as everyone else. When he wrote his monumental book on 'The Great Ice Age', published in 1874, he reputedly did not tell his brother about it till he was able to place the published volume on his desk.
These heart-felt verses on the difficulty of geological mapping in the glaciated areas of north Britain will strike a chord with his successors.
Song by Mr James Geikie
An Ice Ballad about the elder Miss B----- C----
and her respected Mama
(To the tune of Barbara Allen)
O this sanguinary Drift, this sanguinary Drift,
It puts a man to his very last shift!
With his last shift on, how the deuce can he stand
The murrains ruts and scratches that are rife in the land?
Go where you may this blessed Boulder Clay
Will haunt you by night and dog you by day:-
Don't think to escape. If you could, close at hand
You'd be seized by the morbus, — the gravel and sand
Yet would you have a friend, as Advertisers say,
Where could you meet a better than the Boulder Clay
'Tis firm and tenacious, as all friends should be
And doesn't want for polish, as any man may see.
Murray Macgregor, known as The Wee Macgregor' from his stature and the lower-case spelling of his surname, was Assistant Director in Scotland from 1925 to 1945. During his whole career he commuted daily from Glasgow and much of his poetic inspiration came during his time with the London and Northeastern Railway, between Waverley and Queen Street. The first poem, almost certainly by Murray, refers to John Pringle, who started as a fossil collector in 1901 and became Palaeontologist to the Survey in 1934.
The Aged Palaeontologist LSA361.2.113
A hitherto unpublished poem by Lewis Carroll
Quite recently, one evening, as it was getting late
I met an aged man, a-sitting by a gate.
'Pray tell me what,' I asked of him,
'You do here all alone?'
He said, 'I hunt for scraps of shells and bits of fossil bone.'
'I search for Acidaspis spines and Calymene tails,
For bryozoa, crinoid cups and Cephalaspis scales.
I know their habits and their haunts; I call them all by name.'
'It sounds, my friend,' I said to him, 'a most peculiar game.'
'But what I'd like to know,' I said, 'is what you really do.'
He said, 'I search for Lingula and Streptorhynchus too.
I hunt for Tylonautilus through all the Border dales,
And follow Diplograptus o'er the mountain tops of Wales.'
'That's very brave of you,' I said, 'but tell me this, I pray.
What is the occupation that you follow day by day?'
'Oh well,' he said, 'I follow in the tracks of ancient life,
and hunt for giant molluscs on the rocky coasts of Fife.'
'My poor old friend,' I said to him, 'forgive me if I ask,
That you state in language clear what is your daily task.
I cannot comprehend at all the nature of your work.'
'Oh well,' he said, 'I haunt the shores where Rhynchonellas lurk.'
I gazed on him in sadness and I said in accents mild,
'Pray try to bring to mind the days when you were yet a child.
Did no-one teach you any trade, profession or employ?'
'Oh yes,' he said, 'I gathered graps when I was still a boy.'
'But when you came to manhood, Sir, did you not wish to be
A dentist or a grocer or a sailor on the sea,
A lawyer or a carpenter?' 'Oh no,' he said, 'my wish
Has always been to spend my days in catching fossil fish.'
'But please,' I said, 'I'd like to know the things that you have done.'
'There's hardly time for that,' he said, 'but here at least is one.
I've shown there's no Llandeilo and, deny it if you can,
The Glenkiln Shales, from base to top, are Caradocian.'
'You speak in language strange,' I said, 'I would not dare to doubt,
But even yet I am not sure what it is all about.
Have you done nothing else?' He frowned, 'I'd have you understand
That once I played a leading part in Skipsey's Marine Band.'
'Perhaps,' I asked, 'you played the flute?' He answered,'oh, no, no.
I merely mention it at all because I wish to show
How I've hunted Listracanthus and Pterinopecten too
From Rumbling Bridge to Sanquhar, and from Sanquhar down to Crewe.'
You puzzle me, my friend,' I said, 'but let us try once more.
Can you not say in simple words what you have done of yore?'
'Oh yes' he said 'with pleasure; I'm very glad to state
That I found an Exogyra in a piece of Stonesfield Slate.'
'Dear me,' I said, 'how very odd, but is that really all?'
'Oh no,' he said, 'for maybe you'll allow me to recall
By far the proudest moment since the day that I was born
When I found an Artic Fauna in the Zone of Capricorn.'
It did not seem the slightest use. I gave it up at last.
'It's very nice to have,' I said, 'these glimpses of your past.
But now that you are drawing towards the evening of your days,
Do you not think it's time for you to try and mend your ways?'
'For now that you have reached,' I said, 'such a distressing age,
Do you not think you ought to rest?' 'Oh no,' replied the Sage.
'What you propose is quite absurd. I've many things to do
And if you'll pardon me I'd like to mention just a few.
I mean to prove the Highland nappes are not as Bailey states
By finding Mesograptus in the Ballachulish Slates.
I mean to show where Jehu erred and Campbell went astray
In all their work from Aberfoyle to far Craigeven Bay.
I mean to prove that Ledi Grits are early Eocene,
The Lias is fresh-water and the Bunter is marine.
That Richey's Moines are Trias; and when encrinites are found
In Craig's old paragneisses I'll be sure to be around.
There's Weir and Leitch from Glasgow too, I wonder what they'll say
When I rename all their mussels in a scientific way.
I don't like compromising or doing things by half
So I mean to deal with Trueman in a lengthy monograph.
There's a Begg from lone Balclatchie, there's Wright from Inverteil.
When I redescribe their fossils, well I wonder how they'll feel.
And if you will allow me, Sir, before we part tonight,
I'd like to demonstrate to you that Begg is never Wright!'
'Oh, not tonight, my friend,' I said, 'I could not stand the strain,
Perhaps some other evening we will meet and talk again.'
A thought has just occurred to me. He may be here tonight.
So if you come across him, friends, please try to be polite.
The following verses by F.W. Anderson refer to Archie MacGregor — 6 ft and a capital G — who divided his time between the Field and the role of part-time petrographer in Scotland, and John Simpson, the Pickwickian and much loved botanist-turned-geologist whose love of angling was finally consummated in his death, after retirement, on the bank of the Nairn with his rod in the water and three trout in his creel.
with apologies to Longfellow
Took a microscope of metal
Made of glass and shining metal
Tilted it upon its axis
Just 10° and not one more
Carefully took the first objective
One it was of medium power
Just as in the book it said so
Placed it in the clip provided
Placed a slide upon the staging
Carefully he turned and moved it
Set a lamp to shine before it
Set to shine upon a mirror
But first he read the regulations
Displayed in boldest type before him
The ignorant, it said, may never use it
May not turn the knobs and switches
For then the element would burn and dwindle
Fuse and melt into a vapour
But Macpherson boldly twiddled
Turned the knobs and pressed the switches
And the light grew light and lighter
Just as he had expected
For after all he wrote the orders.
Then by all the rules of physics
By the rigid laws of optics
By refraction of the prisms
By convergence of the lenses
By all the colours of the rainbow
By the laws of Medes and Persians
Should the mineral have glowed and sparkled
Shone with brightest irridescence
Should have yielded up its secrets
Told him what it was and wherefore
All its history before and after
But alas his hopes were shattered
Against the wall his head he battered
Dread and fearful oaths he muttered
Curses deep and dark he muttered
But let us leave this painful topic
For the mineral — was isotropic.
with apologies to Wordsworth
He loved peculiar plants and rare
For any plant he did not care
That he had seen before
Primroses by the river brim
Dicotyledons were to him
And they were nothing more
The mighty cliffs we bade him scan
He scorned them for Laurentian
With sad dejected mien.
'Than all this bleak Azoic rock'
He said, 'I'd rather have a block
Ah, me! of Pleistocene'
His eyes were bent upon the sand
He agreed the scenery was grand
In a reproachful voice.
But if a pollen grain he found
He'd fall before it on the ground
Treasure it and rejoice.
Yes, all that has been or may be
Moraines and eskers, changing seas
All these pale beside his wish
For leisured days amongst the hills
With creel and rod where streamlets spill
To case his line for speckled fish
'Wee trouts', to him.
The last poem was written in 1950 when the controversy over the origin of granite was at its height. Archie MacGregor dissented from the views put forward by Arthur Holmes — himself a Survey man before he went to the Chair at Durham — and partly supported by Read, Professor at Imperial College and also an ex-member of the Highland Unit.
Scots Wha Hae
Scots wha hae wi' Bailey sped,
Over Etive's watershed
Keep the cauldron glowing red:
Death to fantasy!
Now's the day and now's the hour,
See the Front of ions lour,
See approach proud Arthur's power,
Wha will be a broken Read?
Wha will pay the slightest heed?
We know well we do not need
Wha, by Hutton's ancient Law
Magmas forth will strongly draw,
Out of Vulcan's flaming maw,
Make true granite bree.
By our Bowens racked with pains,
By our Daly stoping strains,
We will keep our granite veins,
Igneous and free.
Mobilise, and forward go
To the front and shout Glencoe,
Sanity's in every blow,
Let us do or die!