The impression made on Darwin's mind by the discovery of these fossil bones, was doubtless deepened as, in his progress southward from Brazil to Patagonia, he found similar species of Edentate animals everywhere replacing one another among the living forms, while, whenever fossils occurred, they also were seen to belong to the same remarkable group of animals. (While Darwin was making these observations in South America, a similar generalisation to that at which he arrived was being reached, quite independently and almost simultaneously, with respect to the fossil and recent mammals of Australia. In the year 1831, Clift gave to Jameson a list of bones occurring in the caves and breccias of Australia, and in publishing this list the latter referred to the fact that the forms belonged to marsupials, similar to those of the existing Australian fauna. But he also stated that, as a skull had been identified (doubtless erroneously) as having belonged to a hippopotamus, other mammals than marsupials must have spread over the island in late Tertiary times. It is not necessary to point out that this paper was quite unknown to Darwin while in South America. Lyell first noticed it in the third edition of his "Principles", which was published in May, 1834 (see "Edinb. New Phil. Journ." Vol. X. (1831), pages 394-6, and Lyell's "Principles" (3rd edition), Vol. III. page 421). Darwin referred to this discovery in 1839 (see his "Journal", page 210.)
That the passage in Darwin's pocket-book for 1837 can only refer to an AWAKENING of Darwin's interest in the subject--probably resulting from a sight of the bones when they were being unpacked--I think there cannot be the smallest doubt; AND WE MAY THEREFORE CONFIDENTLY FIX UPON NOVEMBER, 1832, AS THE DATE AT WHICH DARWIN COMMENCED THAT LONG SERIES OF OBSERVATIONS AND REASONINGS WHICH EVENTUALLY CULMINATED IN THE PREPARATION OF THE "ORIGIN OF SPECIES". Equally certain is it, that it was his geological work that led Darwin into those paths of research which in the end conducted him to his great discoveries. I quite agree with the view expressed by Mr F. Darwin and Professor Seward, that Darwin, like Lyell, "thought it 'almost useless' to try to prove the truth of evolution until the cause of change was discovered" ("M.L." I. page 38.), and that possibly he may at times have vacillated in his opinions, but I believe there is evidence that, from the date mentioned, the "species question" was always more or less present in Darwin's mind. (Although we admit with Huxley that Darwin's training in comparative anatomy was very small, yet it may be remembered that he was a medical student for two years, and, if he hated the lectures, he enjoyed the society of naturalists. He had with him in the little "Beagle" library a fair number of zoological books, including works on Osteology by Cuvier, Desmarest and Lesson, as well as two French Encyclopaedias of Natural History. As a sportsman, he would obtain specimens of recent mammals in South America, and would thus have opportunities of studying their teeth and general anatomy. Keen observer, as he undoubtedly was, we need not then be surprised that he was able to make out the resemblances between the recent and fossil forms.)
It is clear that, as time went on, Darwin became more and more absorbed in his geological work. One very significant fact was that the once ardent sportsman, when he found that shooting the necessary game and zoological specimens interfered with his work with the hammer, gave up his gun to his servant. ("L.L." I. page 63.) There is clear evidence that Darwin gradually became aware how futile were his attempts to add to zoological knowledge by dissection and drawing, while he felt ever increasing satisfaction with his geological work.
The voyage fortunately extended to a much longer period (five years) than the two originally intended, but after being absent nearly three years, Darwin wrote to his sister in November, 1834, "Hurrah! hurrah! it is fixed that the 'Beagle' shall not go one mile south of Cape Tres Montes (about 200 miles south of Chiloe), and from that point to Valparaiso will be finished in about five months. We shall examine the Chonos Archipelago, entirely unknown, and the curious inland sea behind Chiloe. For me it is glorious. Cape Tres Montes is the most southern point where there is much geological interest, as there the modern beds end. The Captain then talks of crossing the Pacific; but I think we shall persuade him to finish the coast of Peru, where the climate is delightful, the country hideously sterile, but abounding with the highest interest to the geologist...I have long been grieved and most sorry at the interminable length of the voyage (though I never would have quitted it)...I could not make up my mind to return. I could not give up all the geological castles in the air I had been building up for the last two years." ("L.L." I. pages 257-58.)
In April, 1835, he wrote to another sister: "I returned a week ago from my excursion across the Andes to Mendoza. Since leaving England I have never made so successful a journey...how deeply I have enjoyed it; it was something more than enjoyment; I cannot express the delight which I felt at such a famous winding-up of all my geology in South America. I literally could hardly sleep at nights for thinking over my day's work. The scenery was so new, and so majestic; everything at an elevation of 12,000 feet bears so different an aspect from that in the lower country...To a geologist, also, there are such manifest proofs of excessive violence; the strata of the highest pinnacles are tossed about like the crust of a broken pie." ("L.L." I. pages 259-60.)
Darwin anticipated with intense pleasure his visit to the Galapagos Islands. On July 12th, 1835, he wrote to Henslow: "In a few days' time the "Beagle" will sail for the Galapagos Islands. I look forward with joy and interest to this, both as being somewhat nearer to England and for the sake of having a good look at an active volcano. Although we have seen lava in abundance, I have never yet beheld the crater." ("M.L." I. page 26.) He could little anticipate, as he wrote these lines, the important aid in the solution of the "species question" that would ever after make his visit to the Galapagos Islands so memorable. In 1832, as we have seen, the great discovery of the relations of living to extinct mammals in the same area had dawned upon his mind; in 1835 he was to find a second key for opening up the great mystery, by recognising the variations of similar types in adjoining islands among the Galapagos.
The final chapter in the second volume of the "Principles" had aroused in Darwin's mind a desire to study coral-reefs, which was gratified during his voyage across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. His theory on the subject was suggested about the end of 1834 or the beginning of 1835, as he himself tells us, before he had seen a coral-reef, and resulted from his work during two years in which he had "been incessantly attending to the effects on the shores of South America of the intermittent elevation of the land, together with denudation and the deposition of sediment." ("L.L." I. page 70.)
On arriving at the Cape of Good Hope in July, 1836, Darwin was greatly gratified by hearing that Sedgwick had spoken to his father in high terms of praise concerning the work done by him in South America. Referring to the news from home, when he reached Bahia once more, on the return voyage (August, 1836), he says: "The desert, volcanic rocks, and wild sea of Ascension...suddenly wore a pleasing aspect, and I set to work with a good- will at my old work of Geology." ("L.L." I. page 265.) Writing fifty years later, he says: "I clambered over the mountains of Ascension with a bounding step and made the volcanic rocks resound under my geological hammer!" ("L.L." I. page 66.)
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