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most unwilling to believe in the continental extensions of late authors, I gladly write them, as, without I am convinced of my error, I shall have to give them condensed in my essay, when I discuss single and multiple creation; I shall therefore be particularly glad to have your general opinion on them. I may quite likely have persuaded myself in my wrath that there is more in them than there is. If there was much more reason to admit a continental extension in any one or two instances (as in Madeira) than in other cases, I should feel no difficulty whatever. But if on account of European plants, and littoral sea shells, it is thought necessary to join Madeira to the mainland, Hooker is quite right to join New Holland to New Zealand, and Auckland Island (and Raoul Island to N. E.), and these to S. America and the Falklands, and these to Tristan d'Acunha, and these to Kerguelen Land; thus making, either strictly at the same time, or at different periods, but all within the life of recent beings, an almost circumpolar belt of land. So again Galapagos and Juan Fernandez must be joined to America; and if we trust to littoral sea shells, the Galapagos must have been joined to the Pacific Islands (2400 miles distant) as well as to America, and as Woodward seems to think all the islands in the Pacific into a magnificent continent; also the islands in the Southern Indian Ocean into another continent, with Madagascar and Africa, and perhaps India. In the North Atlantic, Europe will stretch half-way across the ocean to the Azores, and further north right across. In short, we must suppose probably, half the present ocean was land within the period of living organisms. The Globe within this period must have had a quite different aspect. Now the only way to test this, that I can see, is to consider whether the continents have undergone within this same period such wonderful permutations. In all North and South and Central America, we have both recent and miocene (or eocene) shells, quite distinct on the opposite sides, and hence I cannot doubt that fundamentally America has held its place since at least, the miocene period. In Africa almost all the living shells are distinct on the opposite sides of the inter-tropical regions, short as the distance is compared to the range of marine mollusca, in uninterrupted seas; hence I infer that Africa has existed since our present species were created. Even the isthmus of Suez and the Aralo-Caspian basin have had a great antiquity. So I imagine, from the tertiary deposits, has India. In Australia the great fauna of extinct marsupials shows that before the present mammals appeared, Australia was a separate continent. I do not for one second doubt that very large portions of all these continents have undergone great changes of level within this period, but yet I conclude that fundamentally they stood as barriers in the sea, where they now stand; and therefore I should require the weightiest evidence to make me believe in such immense changes within the period of living organisms in our oceans, where, moreover, from the great depths, the changes must have been vaster in a vertical sense.
Secondly. Submerge our present continents, leaving a few mountain peaks as islands, and what will the character of the islands be,-Consider that ihe Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, Apennines, Alps, Carpathians, are non-volcanic, Etna and Caucasus, volcanic. In Asia, Altai and Himalaya, I believe non-volcanic. In North Africa the non-volcanic, as I imagine, Alps of Abyssinia and of the Atlas. In South Africa, the Snow Mountains, In Australia, the non-volcanic Alps. In North America, the White Mountains, Alleghanies and Rocky Mountains--some of the latter alone, I believe, volcanic. In South America to the east, the non-volcanic [Silla ?] of Ca. racas, and Itacolumi of Brazil, further south the Sierra Ventanas, and in the Cordilleras, many volcanic but not all. Now compare these peaks with the oceanic islands; as far as known all are volcanic, except St. Paul's (a strange bedevilled rock), and the Seychelles, if this latter can be called oceanic, in the line of Madagascar; the Falklands, only 500 miles off, are only a shallow bank; New Caledonia, hardly oceanic, is another exception. This argument has to me great weight. Compare on a Geographical map, islands which, we have 1856.)
several reasons to suppose, were connected with mainland, as Sardinia, and how different it appears. Believing, as I am inclined, that continents as continents, and oceans as oceans, are of immense antiquity-I should say that if any of the existing oceanic islands have any relation of any kind to continents, they are forming continents; and that by the time they could form a continent, the volcanoes would be denuded to their cores, leaving peaks of syenite, diorite, or porphyry. But have we nowhere any last wreck of a continent, in the midst of the ocean ? St. Paul's Rock, and such old battered volcanic islands, as St. Helena, may be ; but I think we can see some reason why we should have less evidence of sinking than of rising continents (if my view in my Coral volume has any truth in it, viz. : that volcanic outbursts accompany rising areas), for during subsidence there will be no compensating agent at work, in rising areas there will be the additional element of outpoured volcanic matter.
Thirdly. Considering the depth of the ocean, I was, before I got your letter, inclined vehemently to dispute the vast amount of subsidence, but I must strike my colours. With respect to coral reefs, I carefully guarded against its being supposed that a continent was indicated by the groups of atolls. It is difficult to guess, as it seems to me, the amount of subsidence indicated by coral reefs ; but in such large areas as the Lowe Archipelago, the Marshall Archipelago, and Laccadive group, it would, judging, from the heights of existing oceanic archipelagoes, be odd, if some peaks of from 8000 to 10,000 feet had not been buried. Even after your letter a suspicion crossed me whether it would be fair to argue from subsidences in the middle of the greatest oceans to continents; but refreshing my memory by talking with Ramsay in regard to the probable thickness in one vertical line of the Silurian and carboniferous formation, it seems there must have been at least 10,000 feet of subsidence during these formations in Europe and North America, and therefore during the continuance of nearly the same set of organic beings. But even 12,000 feet would not be enough for the Azores, or for Hooker's continent; I believe Hooker does not infer a continuous continent, but approximate groups of islands, with, if we may judge from existing continents, not profoundly deep sea between them; but the argument from the volcanic nature of nearly every existing oceanic island tell against such supposed groups of islands,-for I presume he does not suppose a mere chain of volcanic islands belting the southern hemisphere.
Fourthly. The supposed continental extensions do not seem to me, perfectly to account for all the phenomena of distribution on islands; as the absence of mammals and Batrachians; the absence of certain great groups of insects on Madeira, and of Acaciæ and Banksias, &c., in New Zealand; the paucity of plants in some cases, &c. Not that those who believe in various accidental means of dispersal, can explain most of these cases; but they may at least say that these facts seem hardly compatible with former continuous land.
Finally, For these several reasons, and especially considering it certain (in which you will agree) that we are extremely ignorant of means of dispersal, I cannot avoid thinking that Forbes’ ‘Atlantis,' was an ill-service to science, as checking a close study of means of dissemination. I shall be really grateful to hear, as briefly as you like, whether these arguments have any weight with you, putting yourself in the position of an honest judge. I told Hooker that I was going to write to you on this subject; and I should like him to read this; but whether he or you will think it worth time and postage remains to be proved.
Yours most truly,
[On July 8th he wrote to Sir Charles Lyell.
“I am sorry you cannot give any verdict on Continental extensions; and I infer that you think my argument of not much weight against such extensions. I know I wish I could believe so."}
C. Darwin to Asa Gray.
Down, July 20th (1856). ... It is not a little egotistical, but I should like to tell you (and I do not think I have) how I view my work, Nineteen years (!) ago it occurred to me that whilst otherwise employed on Nat. Hist., I might perhaps do good if I noted any sort of facts bearing on the question of the origin of species, and this I have since been doing. Either species have been independently created, or they have descended from other species, like varieties from one species. I think it can be shown to be probable that man gets his most distinct varieties by preserving such as arise best worth keeping and destroying the others, but I should fill a quire if I were to go on. To be brief, I assume that species arise like our domestic varieties with much extinction; and then test this hypothesis by comparison with as many general and pretty well-estab. lished propositions as I can find made out,-in geographical distribution, geological history, affinities, &c., &c. And it seems to me that, supposing that such hypothesis were to explain such general propositions, we ought, in accordance with the common way of following all sciences, to admit it till some better hypothesis be found out. For to my mind to say that species were created so and so is no scientific explanation, only a reverent way of saying it is so and so. But it is nonsensical trying to show how I try to proceed in the compass of a note. But as an honest man, I must tell you that I have come to the heterodox conclusion that there are no such things as independently created species--that species are only strongly defined varieties. I know that this will make you despise me. I do not much underrate the many huge difficulties on this view, but yet it seems to me to explain too much, otherwise inexplicable, to be false. Just to allude to one point in your last note, viz., about species of the same genus generally having a common or continuous area; if they are actual lineal descendants of one species, this of course would be the case ; and the sadly too many exceptions (for