Page images

nor have I heard of a single American newspaper, North, South, East, or West, which does not side with the Irish on the question of Home Rule. The notion that the editors do this to please the Irish, who probably do not furnish one in five thousand of their readers, and do it in disregard of the real opinions of the American public, does not deserve serious discussion.

New York: July 15, 1887.


The Editor of THE NINETEENTH CENTURY cannot undertake
to return unaccepted MSS.







THE most delightful of all Mr. Darwin's works is the first he ever wrote. It is his Journal as the Naturalist of H.M.S. Beagle' in her exploring voyage round the world from the beginning of 1832 to nearly the end of 1836. It was published in 1842, and a later edition appeared in 1845. Celebrated as this book once was, few probably read it now. Yet in many respects it exhibits Darwin at his best, and if we are ever inclined to rest our opinions upor authority, and to accept without doubt what a remarkable man hast taught, I do not know any work better calculated to inspire confidence than Darwin's Journal. It records the observations of a mind singularly candid and unprejudiced-fixing upon nature a gaze keen, penetrating, and curious, but yet cautious, reflective, and almost reverent. The thought of how little we know of how much there is to be known, and of how hardly we can learn it-is the thought which inspires the narrative as with an abiding presence. There is, too, an intense love of nature and an intense admiration of it, the expression of which is carefully restrained and measured, but which seems often to overflow the limits which are self-imposed. And when Man, the highest work of nature, but not always its happiest or its best, comes across his path, Darwin's observations are always noble. A kindly man moving among his kind' seems to express his spirit. He appreciates every high calling, every good work, however far removed it may be from that to which he was himself devoted. His language about the missionaries of Christianity is a signal example, in striking contrast with the too common language of VOL. XXII.-No. 127.


lesser men. His indignant denunciation of slavery presents the same high characteristics of a mind eminently gentle and humane. In following him we feel that not merely the intellectual but the moral atmosphere in which we move is high and pure. And then, besides these great recommendations, there is another which must not be overlooked. We have Darwin here before he was a Darwinian. He embarked on that famous voyage with no preconceived theories to maintain. Yet he was the grandson of Dr. Erasmus Darwin-a man very famous in his day, who was the earliest popular exponent of Evolution as explaining the creative work, and who, both in prose and verse, had made it familiar as at least a dream and a poetic speculation. Charles Darwin in his Journal seems as unconscious of that speculation as if he had never heard of it, or was as desirous to forget it as if he concurred in the ridicule of it which had amused the readers of the Anti-Jacobin. Only once in the Journal is there any allusion to such speculations, and then only to the form in which they had been more scientifically clothed by the French naturalist Lamarck. This is all the more curious and interesting, since here and there Charles Darwin records some facts, and enters upon some reasoning, in which we can now see the undeveloped germs of the theory which ultimately took entire possession of his mind. But that theory was, beyond all question, the later growth of independent observation and of independent thought. He started free-free at least, so far as his own consciousness was concerned. The attitude of his mind was at that time receptive, not constructive. It was gathering material, but it had not begun to build. It was watching, arranging, and classifying facts. But it was not selecting from among them such as would fit a plan. Still less was it setting aside any that did not appear to suit. He might have said with truth that which was said by a greater man before him: Hypotheses non fingo.' This is one of the many great charms of the book.

[ocr errors]

And yet there was one remarkable exception. Like every other voyager who has traversed the vast Southern Ocean, he was struck, impressed, and puzzled by its wonderful coral reefs, its thousands of coral islands, and its still more curious coral atolls.' Why is it that so many of the continents and of the great continental islands whose coasts front or are surrounded by the waters of the Pacific, are fringed and protected by barrier reefs of coral? The curious question that arises is not why the coral should grow at all, or how it grows. All this, no doubt, is full of wonder-wonder all the greater the more we know of its structure and of the nature of its builder. But let the growth of corals in seas of a certain depth and temperature be assumed and passed over, as we do assume and pass over a thousand other things with which we are familiar. The puzzle here is why it should grow in the form of a linear barrier along a coast, and yet not touching it, but at a distance more or less great-sometimes very





great-and always leaving between it and the land an enclosed and protected space of water which, once they have found an entrance through the reef, ships can navigate for hundreds of miles. Why should this same curious phenomenon be repeated on a smaller scale throughout the thousands of islands and islets which dot the immense surfaces of the Pacific? Why should these islands so often be the centre of a double ring-first a ring of calm and as it were inland water, then a ring of coral reef fronting the outer sea, and lastly the ocean depths out of which the coral reef rises like a wall? Why should this curious arrangement repeat itself in every variety of form over thousands of miles until we come to that extreme case when there is no island at all except the outer ring of the coral reef and an inner pool or lake of shallower water which is thus secluded from the ocean, with nothing to break its surface-shining with a calm, splendid, and luminous green, set off against the deep purple blues of the surrounding sea? For effects so uniform or so analogous, repeated and multiplied over an area so immense, there must be some physical cause as peculiar as its effects. Moreover this cause must be one affecting not merely or only the peculiarities of the animal which builds up the coral, but some cause affecting also the solid rocks and crust of the earth. The coral animals must build on some foundation. They must begin by attaching themselves to something solid. Every coral reef, therefore, whatever be its form-every line of barrier-reef however long-every ring however small or however wide, must indicate some corresponding arrangement of subjacent rock. What cause can have arranged the rocky foundations of the coral in such curious shapes? Extreme cases of any peculiar phenomenon are always those which most attract attention, and sometimes they are the cases which most readily suggest an explanation. Ring-shaped islands of such moderate dimensions that the whole of them can be taken in by the eye, supply such cases. There are atoll islands where ships can enter, through some break in the ring, into the inner circle. They find themselves in a perfect harbour, in a sheltered lake which no wave can ever enter, yet deep enough and wide enough to hold all the navies of the world. Round about on every side there are the dazzling beaches which are composed of coral sand, and crowning these there is the peaceful cocoanut palm, and a lower jungle of dense tropical vegetation. On landing and exploring the woods and shores nothing can be seen but coral. The whole island is a ring of this purely marine product; with the exception of an occasional fragment of pumice stone, which having been floated over the sea from some distant volcanic eruption, like that of Krakatoa, here disintegrates and furnishes clay, the most essential element of a soil. But reason tells us that there must be something else underground, however deeply buried. When the corals first began to grow, they must have found some rock to build upon, and the shape of these w

must be the shape which was thus determined. One suggestion is obvious. Elsewhere all over the globe there is only one physical cause which determines rocky matter into such ring-like forms as these, and which determines also an included space of depth more or less profound. This physical cause is the eruptive action of volcanic force. When anchored in the central lagoon of a coral atoll, are we not simply anchored in the crater of an extinct volcano-its walls represented by the corals which have grown upon it, its crater represented by the harbour in which our ship is lying? The vegetation is not difficult to account for. The coral grows until it reaches the surface. It is known to flourish best in the foaming breakers. These, although confronted and in the main resisted by the wondrous tubes and cells, are able here and there in violent storms to break off the weaker or overhanging portions of the coral and dash them in fragments upon the top of the reef. Often the waves are loaded with battering rams in the shape of immense quantities of drift timber. These bring with them innumerable seeds and hard nuts able to retain their vitality whilst traversing leagues of ocean. Such seeds again find lodgment among the broken corals, and among the decaying pumice. Under tropical heat and moisture, they soon spring to life. The moment a palm-tree rears its fronds, it is visited by birds-especially by fruit-eating pigeons bringing with them other seeds, which are deposited with convenient guano. These in turn take root and live. Each new accession to the incipient forest attracts more and more numerous winged messengers from interminable archipelagoes until the result is attained which so excites our admiration and our wonder, in the atoll islands of the Pacific. All this is simple. But here as elsewhere it is the first step that costs. Are all atolls nothing more than the cup-like rings of volcanic vents? And if they are, can a like explanation be given for the barrier reefs which lie off continental coasts, and where the crater-like lagoon of an atoll is represented only by a vast linear expanse of included and protected sea?

Here were problems eminently attractive to such a mind as that of Darwin. Vast in the regions they affect, complicated in the results which are presented, most beautiful and most valuable to Man in the products which are concerned, the facts do nevertheless suggest some physical cause which would be simple if only it could be discovered. All his faculties were set to work. Analysis must begin every work of reason. Its function is to destroy-to pull to pieces. Darwin had to deal with some theories already formed. With some of these he had no difficulty. The earlier voyagers fancied that the coralbuilding animals instinctively built up these great circles to afford themselves protection in the inner parts.' To this Darwin's answer was complete. So far is this explanation from being true, that it is founded on an assumption which is the reverse of the truth. These massive kinds of coral which build up reefs, so far from wanting the

« PreviousContinue »