Fully perceiving the importance of the microscope in studying the nature and origin of such deposits as those of the Pampas, Darwin submitted many of his specimens both to Dr. Carpenter in this country, and to Professor Ehrenberg in Berlin. Many very important notes on the microscopic organisms contained in the formation will be found scattered through the chapter.

Darwin's study of the older tertiary formations, with their abundant shells, and their relics of vegetable life buried under great sheets of basalt, led him to consider carefully the question of climate during these earlier periods. In opposition to prevalent views on this subject, Darwin points out that his observations are opposed to the conclusion that a higher temperature prevailed universally over the globe during early geological periods. He argues that "the causes which gave to the older tertiary productions of the quite temperate zones of Europe a tropical character, WERE OF A LOCAL CHARACTER AND DID NOT AFFECT THE WHOLE GLOBE." In this, as in many similar instances, we see the beneficial influence of extensive travel in freeing Darwin's mind from prevailing prejudices. It was this widening of experience which rendered him so especially qualified to deal with the great problem of the origin of species, and in doing so to emancipate himself from ideas which were received with unquestioning faith by geologists whose studies had been circumscribed within the limits of Western Europe.

In the Cordilleras of Northern and Central Chili, Darwin, when studying still older formations, clearly recognised that they contain an admixture of the forms of life, which in Europe are distinctive of the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods respectively. He was thus led to conclude that the classification of geological periods, which fairly well expresses the facts that had been discovered in the areas where the science was first studied, is no longer capable of being applied when we come to the study of widely distant regions. This important conclusion led up to the further generalisation that each great geological period has exhibited a geographical distribution of the forms of animal and vegetable life, comparable to that which prevails in the existing fauna and flora. To those who are familiar with the extent to which the doctrine of universal formations has affected geological thought and speculation, both long before and since the time that Darwin wrote, the importance of this new standpoint to which he was able to attain will be sufficiently apparent. Like the idea of the extreme imperfection of the Geological Record, the doctrine of LOCAL geological formations is found permeating and moulding all the palaeontological reasonings of his great work.

In one of Darwin's letters, written while he was in South America, there is a passage we have already quoted, in which he expresses his inability to decide between the rival claims upon his attention of "the old crystalline group of rocks," and "the softer fossiliferous beds" respectively. The sixth chapter of the work before us, entitled "Plutonic and Metamorphic Rocks--Cleavage and Foliation," contains a brief summary of a series of observations and reasonings upon these crystalline rocks, which are, we believe, calculated to effect a revolution in geological science, and-- though their value and importance have long been overlooked--are likely to entitle Darwin in the future to a position among geologists, scarcely, if at all, inferior to that which he already occupies among biologists.

Darwin's studies of the great rock-masses of the Andes convinced him of the close relations between the granitic or Plutonic rocks, and those which were undoubtedly poured forth as lavas. Upon his return, he set to work, with the aid of Professor Miller, to make a careful study of the minerals composing the granites and those which occur in the lavas, and he was able to show that in all essential respects they are identical. He was further able to prove that there is a complete gradation between the highly crystalline or granitic rock-masses, and those containing more or less glassy matter between their crystals, which constitute ordinary lavas.

South American Geology Page 06

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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