The proofs of recent elevation around many of the volcanic islands led Darwin to conclude that volcanic areas were, as a rule, regions in which upward movements were taking place, and he was naturally led to contrast them with the areas in which, as he showed, the occurrence of atolls, encircling reefs, and barrier-reefs afford indication of subsidence. In this way he was able to map out the oceanic areas in different zones, along which opposite kinds of movement were taking place. His conclusions on this subject were full of novelty and suggestiveness.

Very clearly did Darwin recognise the importance of the fact that most of the oceanic islands appear to be of volcanic origin, though he was careful to point out the remarkable exceptions which somewhat invalidate the generalisation. In his "Origin of Species" he has elaborated the idea and suggested the theory of the permanence of ocean-basins, a suggestion which has been adopted and pushed farther by subsequent authors, than we think its originator would have approved. His caution and fairness of mind on this and similar speculative questions was well-known to all who were in the habit of discussing them with him.

Some years before the voyage of the "Beagle," Mr. Poulett Scrope had pointed out the remarkable analogies that exist between certain igneous rocks of banded structure, as seen in the Ponza Islands, and the foliated crystalline schists. It does not appear that Darwin was acquainted with this remarkable memoir, but quite independently he called attention to the same phenomena when he came to study some very similar rocks which occur in the island of Ascension. Coming fresh from the study of the great masses of crystalline schist in the South American continent, he was struck by the circumstance that in the undoubtedly igneous rocks of Ascension we find a similar separation of the constituent minerals along parallel "folia." These observations led Darwin to the same conclusion as that arrived at some time before by Scrope--namely that when crystallisation takes place in rock masses under the influence of great deforming stresses, a separation and parallel arrangement of the constituent minerals will result. This is a process which is now fully recognised as having been a potent factor in the production of the metamorphic rock, and has been called by more recent writers "dynamo-metamorphism."

In this, and in many similar discussions, in which exact mineralogical knowledge was required, it is remarkable how successful Darwin was in making out the true facts with regard to the rocks he studied by the simple aid of a penknife and pocket-lens, supplemented by a few chemical tests and the constant use of the blowpipe. Since his day, the method of study of rocks by thin sections under the microscope has been devised, and has become a most efficient aid in all petrographical inquiries. During the voyage of H.M.S. "Challenger," many of the islands studied by Darwin have been revisited and their rocks collected. The results of their study by one of the greatest masters of the science of micropetrography--Professor Renard of Brussels--have been recently published in one of the volumes of "Reports on the 'Challenger' Expedition." While much that is new and valuable has been contributed to geological science by these more recent investigations, and many changes have been made in nomenclature and other points of detail, it is interesting to find that all the chief facts described by Darwin and his friend Professor Miller have stood the test of time and further study, and remain as a monument of the acumen and accuracy in minute observation of these pioneers in geological research.



Rocks of the lowest series. A calcareous sedimentary deposit, with recent shells, altered by the contact of superincumbent lava, its horizontality and extent. Subsequent volcanic eruptions, associated with calcareous matter in an earthy and fibrous form, and often enclosed within the separate cells of the scoriae. Ancient and obliterated orifices of eruption of small size. Difficulty of tracing over a bare plain recent streams of lava. Inland hills of more ancient volcanic rock. Decomposed olivine in large masses. Feldspathic rocks beneath the upper crystalline basaltic strata. Uniform structure and form of the more ancient volcanic hills. Form of the valleys near the coast. Conglomerate now forming on the sea beach.

Volcanic Islands Page 07

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book