You must assume that they have inhabited Australia for a very long period, and this may or may not be the case. But I feel that our ignorance is so profound, why one form is preserved with nearly the same structure, or advances in organisation or even retrogrades, or becomes extinct, that I cannot put very great weight on the difficulty. Then, as you say often in your letter, we know not how many geological ages it may have taken to make any great advance in organisation. Remember monkeys in the Eocene formations: but I admit that you have made out an excellent objection and difficulty, and I can give only unsatisfactory and quite vague answers, such as you have yourself put; however, you hardly put weight enough on the absolute necessity of variations first arising in the right direction, videlicet, of seals beginning to feed on the shore.
I entirely agree with what you say about only one species of many becoming modified. I remember this struck me much when tabulating the varieties of plants, and I have a discussion somewhere on this point. It is absolutely implied in my ideas of classification and divergence that only one or two species, of even large genera, give birth to new species; and many whole genera become WHOLLY extinct...Please see page 341 of the 'Origin.' But I cannot remember that I have stated in the 'Origin' the fact of only very few species in each genus varying. You have put the view much better in your letter. Instead of saying, as I often have, that very few species vary at the same time, I ought to have said, that very few species of a genus EVER vary so as to become modified; for this is the fundamental explanation of classification, and is shown in my engraved diagram...
I quite agree with you on the strange and inexplicable fact of Ornithorhynchus having been preserved, and Australian Trigonia, or the Silurian Lingula. I always repeat to myself that we hardly know why any one single species is rare or common in the best-known countries. I have got a set of notes somewhere on the inhabitants of fresh water; and it is singular how many of these are ancient, or intermediate forms; which I think is explained by the competition having been less severe, and the rate of change of organic forms having been slower in small confined areas, such as all the fresh waters make compared with sea or land.
I see that you do allude in the last page, as a difficulty, to Marsupials not having become Placentals in Australia; but this I think you have no right at all to expect; for we ought to look at Marsupials and Placentals as having descended from some intermediate and lower form. The argument of Rodents not having become highly developed in Australia (supposing that they have long existed there) is much stronger. I grieve to see you hint at the creation "of distinct successive types, as well as of a certain number of distinct aboriginal types." Remember, if you admit this, you give up the embryological argument (THE WEIGHTIEST OF ALL TO ME), and the morphological or homological argument. You cut my throat, and your own throat; and I believe will live to be sorry for it. So much for species.
The striking extract which E. copied was your own writing!! in a note to me, many long years ago--which she copied and sent to Mme. Sismondi; and lately my aunt, in sorting her letters, found E.'s and returned them to her...I have been of late shamefully idle, i.e. observing (Drosera) instead of writing, and how much better fun observing is than writing.
Yours affectionately, C. DARWIN.
CHARLES DARWIN TO C. LYELL. 15 Marine Parade, Eastbourne, Sunday [September 23rd, 1860].
My dear Lyell,
I got your letter of the 18th just before starting here. You speak of saving me trouble in answering. Never think of this, for I look at every letter of yours as an honour and pleasure, which is a pretty deal more than I can say of some of the letters which I receive. I have now one of 13 CLOSELY WRITTEN FOLIO PAGES to answer on species!...
I have a very decided opinion that all mammals must have descended from a SINGLE parent.