The plain is saliferous. All the flowers in the Cordilleras appear to be autumnal flowerers--they were all in blow and seed, many of them very pretty. I gathered them as I rode along on the hill sides. If they will but choose to come up, I have no doubt many would be great rarities. In the Mendoza bag there are the seeds or berries of what appears to be a small potato plant with a whitish flower. They grow many leagues from where any habitation could ever have existed owing to absence of water. Amongst the Chonos dried plants, you will see a fine specimen of the wild potato, growing under a most opposite climate, and unquestionably a true wild potato. It must be a distinct species from that of the Lower Cordilleras one. Perhaps as with the banana, distinct species are now not to be distinguished in their varieties produced by cultivation. I cannot copy out the few remarks about the Chonos potato. With the specimens there is a bundle of old papers and notebooks. Will you take care of them; in case I should lose my notes, these might be useful. I do not send home any insects because they must be troublesome to you, and now so little more of the voyage remains unfinished I can well take charge of them. In two or three days I set out for Coquimbo by land; the "Beagle" calls for me in the beginning of June. So that I have six weeks more to enjoy geologising over these curious mountains of Chili. There is at present a bloody revolution in Peru. The Commodore has gone there, and in the hurry has carried our letters with him; perhaps amongst them there will be one from you. I wish I had the old Commodore here, I would shake some consideration for others into his old body. From Coquimbo you will again hear from me.

LETTER 7. TO J.S. HENSLOW. Lima, July 12th, 1835.

This is the last letter which I shall ever write to you from the shores of America, and for this reason I send it. 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. I sent by H.M.S. "Conway" two large boxes of specimens. The "Conway" sailed the latter end of June. With them were letters for you, since that time I have travelled by land from Valparaiso to Copiapo and seen something more of the Cordilleras. Some of my geological views have been, subsequently to the last letter, altered. I believe the upper mass of strata is not so very modern as I supposed. This last journey has explained to me much of the ancient history of the Cordilleras. I feel sure they formerly consisted of a chain of volcanoes from which enormous streams of lava were poured forth at the bottom of the sea. These alternate with sedimentary beds to a vast thickness; at a subsequent period these volcanoes must have formed islands, from which have been produced strata of several thousand feet thick of coarse conglomerate. (7/1. See "Geological Observations on South America" (London, 1846), Chapter VII.: "Central Chile; Structure of the Cordillera.") These islands were covered with fine trees; in the conglomerate, I found one 15 feet in circumference perfectly silicified to the very centre. The alternations of compact crystalline rocks (I cannot doubt subaqueous lavas), and sedimentary beds, now upheaved fractured and indurated, form the main range of the Andes. The formation was produced at the time when ammonites, gryphites, oysters, Pecten, Mytilus, etc., etc., lived. In the central parts of Chili the structure of the lower beds is rendered very obscure by the metamorphic action which has rendered even the coarsest conglomerates porphyritic. The Cordilleras of the Andes so worthy of admiration from the grandeur of their dimensions, rise in dignity when it is considered that since the period of ammonites, they have formed a marked feature in the geography of the globe.

More Letters of Charles Darwin Volume I Page 21

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book