How a life changed with a friend’s carelessness

The Heddle Family in around 1890

I have just been rereading my notes about the eminent 19th century Scottish mineralogist Matthew Forster Heddle, who studied at the University of Edinburgh and found he loved studying chemistry and botany, and wanted to devote his life to those subjects. But then he lent his herbarium to a friend, who ruined it.

“Thinking over his loss he determined to relinquish botany as a special study and to devote himself to geology and mineralogy, which determination he never afterwards regretted,” wrote David Douglas in his 1901 book, The Mineralogy of Scotland.

Heddle went on to teach mineralogy at St Andrews, spending every summer exploring Scotland’s rocks: “Few parts of Scotland and its adjacent Islands… were unvisited and unexplored… The slitting of agates, rocks and minerals for specimens and microscopic slides, which he did actually by thousands amid all his other work, was little less than marvellous…”

I wonder how often, as he crouched alone with his rock hammer and collecting bags in all sorts of weather beside the cliffs, beaches, tarns and precipices of remote highlands and islands, he remembered that friend. Did he thank him or her, or did he always wonder with a little regret whether he might instead have discovered a great cure for malaria or TB, or what his very different life might have been like, had that herbarium survived?

Link here for some extra notes about agates, which nearly merited a chapter, but then at the last minute did not.

Here’s an article about the family by Peter Drybergh at Edinburgh Geological Society.

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