« AnteriorContinuar »
nodules and bituminous matter in some of the lowest azoic rocks, probably indicates the former existence of life at these periods. But the difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory no doubt were somewhere accumulated before the Silurian epoch, is very great. If these most ancient beds had been wholly worn away by denudation, or obliterated by metamorphic action, we ought to find only small remnants of the formations next succeeding them in age, and these ought to be very generally in a metamorphosed condition. But the descriptions which we now possess of the Silurian deposits over immense territories in Russia and in North America, do not support the view, that the older a formation is, the more it has always suffered the extremity of denudation and metamorphism.
The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained. To show that it may hereafter receive some explanation, I will give the following hypothesis. From the nature of the organic remains which do not appear to have inhabited profound depths, in the several formations of Europe and of the United States; and from the amount of sediment, miles in thickness, of which the formations are composed, we may infer that from first to last large islands or tracts of land, whence the sediment was derived, occurred in the neighbourhood of the existing continents of Europe and North America. But we do not know what was the state of things in the intervals between the successive formations; whether Europe and the United States during these intervals existed as dry land, or as a submarine surface near land, on which sediment was not deposited, or as the bed of an open and unfathomable sea.
Looking to the existing oceans, which are thrice as extensive as the land, we see them studded with many islands; but not one oceanic island is as yet known to afford even a remnant of any palaeozoic or secondary formation. Hence we may perhaps infer, that during the palaeozoic and secondary periods, neither continents nor continental islands existed where our oceans now extend; for had they existed there, palaeozoic and secondary formations would in all probability have been accumulated from sediment derived from their wear and tear; and would have been at least partially upheaved by the oscillations of level, which we may fairly conclude must have intervened during these enormously long periods. If then we may infer anything from these facts, we may infer that where our oceans now extend, oceans have extended from the remotest period of which we have any record; and on the other hand, that where continents now exist, large tracts of land have existed, subjected no doubt to great oscillations of level, since the earliest Silurian period. The coloured map appended to my volume on Coral Reefs, led me to conclude that the great oceans are still mainly areas of subsidence, the great archipelagoes still areas of oscillations of level, and the continents areas of elevation. But have we any right to assume that things have thus remained from the beginning of this world? Our continents seem to have been formed by a preponderance, during many oscillations of level, of the force of elevation; but may not the areas of preponderant movement have changed in the lapse of ages? At a period immeasurably antecedent to the silurian epoch, continents may have existed where oceans are now spread out; and clear and open oceans may have existed where our continents now stand. Nor should we be justified in assuming that if, for instance, the bed of the Pacific Ocean were now converted into a continent, we should there find formations older than the silurian strata, supposing such to have been formerly deposited; for it might well happen that strata which had subsided some miles nearer to the centre of the earth, and which had been pressed on by an enormous weight of superincumbent water, might have undergone far more metamorphic action than strata which have always remained nearer to the surface. The immense areas in some parts of the world, for instance in South America, of bare metamorphic rocks, which must have been heated under great pressure, have always seemed to me to require some special explanation; and we may perhaps believe that we see in these large areas, the many formations long anterior to the Silurian epoch in a completely metamorphosed condition.
The several difficulties here discussed, namely our not finding in the successive formations infinitely numerous transitional links between the many species which now exist or have existed; the sudden manner in which whole groups of species appear in our European formations; the almost entire absence, as at present known, of fossiliferous formations beneath the Silurian strata, are all undoubtedly of the gravest nature. We see this in the plainest manner by the fact that all the most eminent palaeontologists, namely Cuvier, Agassiz, Barrande, Falconer, E. Forbes, etc., and all our greatest geologists, as Lyell, Murchison, Sedgwick, etc., have unanimously, often vehemently, maintained the immutability of species. But I have reason to believe that one great authority, Sir Charles Lyell, from further reflection entertains grave doubts on this subject. I feel how rash it is to differ from these authorities, to whom, with others, we owe all our knowledge. Those who think the natural geological record in any degree perfect, and who do not attach much weight to the facts and arguments of other kinds given in this volume, will undoubtedly at once reject my theory. For my part, following out Lveil's metaphor, I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, in which the history is supposed to be written, being more or less different in the interrupted succession of chapters, may represent the apparently abruptly changed forms of life, entombed in our consecutive, but widely separated, formations. On this view, the difficulties above discussed are gTeatly diminished, or even disappear.
ON THE GEOLOGICAL SUCCESSION OP ORGANIC BEINGS
On the slow and successive appearance of new species—On their different rates of change—Species once lost do not reappear— Groups of species follow the same general rules in their appearance and disappearance as do single species—On Extinction— On simultaneous changes in the forms of life throughout the world—On tile affinities of extinct species to each other and to living species—On the state of development of ancient forms— On the succession of the same types within the same areasSummary of preceding and present chapters.
Let Us now see whether, the several facts and rules relating to the geological succession of organic beings, better accord with the common view of the immutability of species, or with that of their slow and gradual modification, through descent and natural selection.
New species have appeared very slowly, one after another, both on the land and in the waters. Lyell has shown that it is hardly possible to resist the evidence on this head in the case of the several tertiary stages; and every year tends to fill up the blanks between them, and to make the percentage system of lost and new forms more gradual. In some of the most recent beds, though undoubtedly of high antiquity if measured by years, only one or two species are lost forms, and only one or two are new forms, having here appeared for the first time, either locally, or, as far as we Know, on the face of the earth. If we may trust the observations of Philippi in Sicily, the successive changes in the marine inhabitants of that island have been many