Discourses by Thomas H. Huxley

Produced by Imran Ghory, Stan Goodman, Richard Prairie and PG Distributed Proofreaders DISCOURSES: BIOLOGICAL & GEOLOGICAL ESSAYS BY THOMAS H. HUXLEY 1894 PREFACE The contents of the present volume, with three exceptions, are either popular lectures, or addresses delivered to scientific bodies with which I have been officially connected. I am not sure which gave
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  • 1894
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Produced by Imran Ghory, Stan Goodman, Richard Prairie and PG Distributed Proofreaders








The contents of the present volume, with three exceptions, are either popular lectures, or addresses delivered to scientific bodies with which I have been officially connected. I am not sure which gave me the more trouble. For I have not been one of those fortunate persons who are able to regard a popular lecture as a mere _hors d’oeuvre_, unworthy of being ranked among the serious efforts of a philosopher; and who keep their fame as scientific hierophants unsullied by attempts–at least of the successful sort–to be understanded of the people.

On the contrary, I found that the task of putting the truths learned in the field, the laboratory and the museum, into language which, without bating a jot of scientific accuracy shall be generally intelligible, taxed such scientific and literary faculty as I possessed to the uttermost; indeed my experience has furnished me with no better corrective of the tendency to scholastic pedantry which besets all those who are absorbed in pursuits remote from the common ways of men, and become habituated to think and speak in the technical dialect of their own little world, as if there were no other.

If the popular lecture thus, as I believe, finds one moiety of its justification in the self-discipline of the lecturer, it surely finds the other half in its effect on the auditory. For though various sadly comical experiences of the results of my own efforts have led me to entertain a very moderate estimate of the purely intellectual value of lectures; though I venture to doubt if more than one in ten of an average audience carries away an accurate notion of what the speaker has been driving at; yet is that not equally true of the oratory of the hustings, of the House of Commons, and even of the pulpit?

Yet the children of this world are wise in their generation; and both the politician and the priest are justified by results. The living voice has an influence over human action altogether independent of the intellectual worth of that which it utters. Many years ago, I was a guest at a great City dinner. A famous orator, endowed with a voice of rare flexibility and power; a born actor, ranging with ease through every part, from refined comedy to tragic unction, was called upon to reply to a toast. The orator was a very busy man, a charming conversationalist and by no means despised a good dinner; and, I imagine, rose without having given a thought to what he was going to say. The rhythmic roll of sound was admirable, the gestures perfect, the earnestness impressive; nothing was lacking save sense and, occasionally, grammar. When the speaker sat down the applause was terrific and one of my neighbours was especially enthusiastic. So when he had quieted down, I asked him what the orator had said. And he could not tell me.

That sagacious person John Wesley, is reported to have replied to some one who questioned the propriety of his adaptation of sacred words to extremely secular airs, that he did not see why the Devil should be left in possession of all the best tunes. And I do not see why science should not turn to account the peculiarities of human nature thus exploited by other agencies: all the more because science, by the nature of its being, cannot desire to stir the passions, or profit by the weaknesses, of human nature. The most zealous of popular lecturers can aim at nothing more than the awakening of a sympathy for abstract truth, in those who do not really follow his arguments; and of a desire to know more and better in the few who do.

At the same time it must be admitted that the popularization of science, whether by lecture or essay, has its drawbacks. Success in this department has its perils for those who succeed. The “people who fail” take their revenge, as we have recently had occasion to observe, by ignoring all the rest of a man’s work and glibly labelling him a more popularizer. If the falsehood were not too glaring, they would say the same of Faraday and Helmholtz and Kelvin.

On the other hand, of the affliction caused by persons who think that what they have picked up from popular exposition qualifies them for discussing the great problems of science, it may be said, as the Radical toast said of the power of the Crown in bygone days, that it “has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.” The oddities of “English as she is spoke” might be abundantly paralleled by those of “Science as she is misunderstood” in the sermon, the novel, and the leading article; and a collection of the grotesque travesties of scientific conceptions, in the shape of essays on such trifles as “the Nature of Life” and the “Origin of All Things,” which reach me, from time to time, might well be bound up with them.

The tenth essay in this volume unfortunately brought me, I will not say into collision, but into a position of critical remonstrance with regard to some charges of physical heterodoxy, brought by my distinguished friend Lord Kelvin, against British Geology. As President of the Geological Society of London at that time (1869), I thought I might venture to plead that we were not such heretics as we seemed to be; and that, even if we were, recantation would not affect the question of evolution.

I am glad to see that Lord Kelvin has just reprinted his reply to my plea,[1] and I refer the reader to it. I shall not presume to question anything, that on such ripe consideration, Lord Kelvin has to say upon the physical problems involved. But I may remark that no one can have asserted more strongly than I have done, the necessity of looking to physics and mathematics, for help in regard to the earliest history of the globe. (See pp. 108 and 109 of this volume.)

[Footnote 1: _Popular Lectures and Addresses._ II. Macmillan and Co. 1894.]

And I take the opportunity of repeating the opinion, that, whether what we call geological time has the lower limit assigned to it by Lord Kelvin, or the higher assumed by other philosophers; whether the germs of all living things have originated in the globe itself, or whether they have been imported on, or in, meteorites from without, the problem of the origin of those successive Faunae and Florae of the earth, the existence of which is fully demonstrated by paleontology remains exactly where it was.

For I think it will be admitted, that the germs brought to us by meteorites, if any, were not ova of elephants, nor of crocodiles; not cocoa-nuts nor acorns; not even eggs of shell-fish and corals; but only those of the lowest forms of animal and vegetable life. Therefore, since it is proved that, from a very remote epoch of geological time, the earth has been peopled by a continual succession of the higher forms of animals and plants, these either must have been created, or they have arisen by evolution. And in respect of certain groups of animals, the well- established facts of paleontology leave no rational doubt that they arose by the latter method.

In the second place, there are no data whatever, which justify the biologist in assigning any, even approximately definite, period of time, either long or short, to the evolution of one species from another by the process of variation and selection. In the ninth of the following essays, I have taken pains to prove that the change of animals has gone on at very different rates in different groups of living beings; that some types have persisted with little change from the paleozoic epoch till now, while others have changed rapidly within the limits of an epoch. In 1862 (see below p. 303, 304) in 1863 (vol. II., p. 461) and again in 1864 (ibid., p. 89-91) I argued, not as a matter of speculation, but, from paleontological facts, the bearing of which I believe, up to that time, had not been shown, that any adequate hypothesis of the causes of evolution must be consistent with progression, stationariness and retrogression, of the same type at different epochs; of different types in the same epoch; and that Darwin’s hypothesis fulfilled these conditions.

According to that hypothesis, two factors are at work, variation and selection. Next to nothing is known of the causes of the former process; nothing whatever of the time required for the production of a certain amount of deviation from the existing type. And, as respects selection, which operates by extinguishing all but a small minority of variations, we have not the slightest means of estimating the rapidity with which it does its work. All that we are justified in saying is that the rate at which it takes place may vary almost indefinitely. If the famous paint- root of Florida, which kills white pigs but not black ones, were abundant and certain in its action, black pigs might be substituted for white in the course of two or three years. If, on the other hand, it was rare and uncertain in action, the white pigs might linger on for centuries.



_April, 1894._



(A Lecture delivered to the working men of Norwich during the meeting of the British Association.)






YEAST [1871]


(A Lecture delivered at the Philosophical Institute, Bradford.)


(A Friday evening Lecture delivered at the Royal Institution.)


A LOBSTER; OR, THE STUDY OF ZOOLOGY [1861] (A Lecture delivered at the South Kensington Museum.)


(The Presidential Address to the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Liverpool.)


GEOLOGICAL CONTEMPORANEITY AND PERSISTENT TYPES OF LIFE [1862] (Address to the Geological Society on behalf of the President by one of the Secretaries.)


(Presidential Address to the Geological Society.)


PALAEONTOLOGY AND THE DOCTRINE OF EVOLUTION [1870] (Presidential Address to the Geological Society.)




If a well were sunk at our feet in the midst of the city of Norwich, the diggers would very soon find themselves at work in that white substance almost too soft to be called rock, with which we are all familiar as “chalk.”

Not only here, but over the whole county of Norfolk, the well-sinker might carry his shaft down many hundred feet without coming to the end of the chalk; and, on the sea-coast, where the waves have pared away the face of the land which breasts them, the scarped faces of the high cliffs are often wholly formed of the same material. Northward, the chalk may be followed as far as Yorkshire; on the south coast it appears abruptly in the picturesque western bays of Dorset, and breaks into the Needles of the Isle of Wight; while on the shores of Kent it supplies that long line of white cliffs to which England owes her name of Albion.

Were the thin soil which covers it all washed away, a curved band of white chalk, here broader, and there narrower, might be followed diagonally across England from Lulworth in Dorset, to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire–a distance of over 280 miles as the crow flies. From this band to the North Sea, on the east, and the Channel, on the south, the chalk is largely hidden by other deposits; but, except in the Weald of Kent and Sussex, it enters into the very foundation of all the south-eastern counties.

Attaining, as it does in some places, a thickness of more than a thousand feet, the English chalk must be admitted to be a mass of considerable magnitude. Nevertheless, it covers but an insignificant portion of the whole area occupied by the chalk formation of the globe, much of which has the same general characters as ours, and is found in detached patches, some less, and others more extensive, than the English. Chalk occurs in north-west Ireland; it stretches over a large part of France,– the chalk which underlies Paris being, in fact, a continuation of that of the London basin; it runs through Denmark and Central Europe, and extends southward to North Africa; while eastward, it appears in the Crimea and in Syria, and may be traced as far as the shores of the Sea of Aral, in Central Asia. If all the points at which true chalk occurs were circumscribed, they would lie within an irregular oval about 3,000 miles in long diameter–the area of which would be as great as that of Europe, and would many times exceed that of the largest existing inland sea–the Mediterranean.

Thus the chalk is no unimportant element in the masonry of the earth’s crust, and it impresses a peculiar stamp, varying with the conditions to which it is exposed, on the scenery of the districts in which it occurs. The undulating downs and rounded coombs, covered with sweet-grassed turf, of our inland chalk country, have a peacefully domestic and mutton- suggesting prettiness, but can hardly be called either grand or beautiful. But on our southern coasts, the wall-sided cliffs, many hundred feet high, with vast needles and pinnacles standing out in the sea, sharp and solitary enough to serve as perches for the wary cormorant, confer a wonderful beauty and grandeur upon the chalk headlands. And, in the East, chalk has its share in the formation of some of the most venerable of mountain ranges, such as the Lebanon.

What is this wide-spread component of the surface of the earth? and whence did it come?

You may think this no very hopeful inquiry. You may not unnaturally suppose that the attempt to solve such problems as these can lead to no result, save that of entangling the inquirer in vague speculations, incapable of refutation and of verification. If such were really the case, I should have selected some other subject than a “piece of chalk” for my discourse. But, in truth, after much deliberation, I have been unable to think of any topic which would so well enable me to lead you to see how solid is the foundation upon which some of the most startling conclusions of physical science rest.

A great chapter of the history of the world is written in the chalk. Few passages in the history of man can be supported by such an overwhelming mass of direct and indirect evidence as that which testifies to the truth of the fragment of the history of the globe, which I hope to enable you to read, with your own eyes, to-night. Let me add, that few chapters of human history have a more profound significance for ourselves. I weigh my words well when I assert, that the man who should know the true history of the bit of chalk which every carpenter carries about in his breeches- pocket, though ignorant of all other history, is likely, if he will think his knowledge out to its ultimate results, to have a truer, and therefore a better, conception of this wonderful universe, and of man’s relation to it, than the most learned student who is deep-read in the records of humanity and ignorant of those of Nature.

The language of the chalk is not hard to learn, not nearly so hard as Latin, if you only want to get at the broad features of the story it has to tell; and I propose that we now set to work to spell that story out together.

We all know that if we “burn” chalk the result is quicklime. Chalk, in fact, is a compound of carbonic acid gas, and lime, and when you make it very hot the carbonic acid flies away and the lime is left. By this method of procedure we see the lime, but we do not see the carbonic acid. If, on the other hand, you were to powder a little chalk and drop it into a good deal of strong vinegar, there would be a great bubbling and fizzing, and, finally, a clear liquid, in which no sign of chalk would appear. Here you see the carbonic acid in the bubbles; the lime, dissolved in the vinegar, vanishes from sight. There are a great many other ways of showing that chalk is essentially nothing but carbonic acid and quicklime. Chemists enunciate the result of all the experiments which prove this, by stating that chalk is almost wholly composed of “carbonate of lime.”

It is desirable for us to start from the knowledge of this fact, though it may not seem to help us very far towards what we seek. For carbonate of lime is a widely-spread substance, and is met with under very various conditions. All sorts of limestones are composed of more or less pure carbonate of lime. The crust which is often deposited by waters which have drained through limestone rocks, in the form of what are called stalagmites and stalactites, is carbonate of lime. Or, to take a more familiar example, the fur on the inside of a tea-kettle is carbonate of lime; and, for anything chemistry tells us to the contrary, the chalk might be a kind of gigantic fur upon the bottom of the earth-kettle, which is kept pretty hot below.

Let us try another method of making the chalk tell us its own history. To the unassisted eye chalk looks simply like a very loose and open kind of stone. But it is possible to grind a slice of chalk down so thin that you can see through it–until it is thin enough, in fact, to be examined with any magnifying power that may be thought desirable. A thin slice of the fur of a kettle might be made in the same way. If it were examined microscopically, it would show itself to be a more or less distinctly laminated mineral substance, and nothing more.

But the slice of chalk presents a totally different appearance when placed under the microscope. The general mass of it is made up of very minute granules; but, imbedded in this matrix, are innumerable bodies, some smaller and some larger, but, on a rough average, not more than a hundredth of an inch in diameter, having a well-defined shape and structure. A cubic inch of some specimens of chalk may contain hundreds of thousands of these bodies, compacted together with incalculable millions of the granules.

The examination of a transparent slice gives a good notion of the manner in which the components of the chalk are arranged, and of their relative proportions. But, by rubbing up some chalk with a brush in water and then pouring off the milky fluid, so as to obtain sediments of different degrees of fineness, the granules and the minute rounded bodies may be pretty well separated from one another, and submitted to microscopic examination, either as opaque or as transparent objects. By combining the views obtained in these various methods, each of the rounded bodies may be proved to be a beautifully-constructed calcareous fabric, made up of a number of chambers, communicating freely with one another. The chambered bodies are of various forms. One of the commonest is something like a badly-grown raspberry, being formed of a number of nearly globular chambers of different sizes congregated together. It is called _Globigerina_, and some specimens of chalk consist of little else than _Globigerinoe_ and granules. Let us fix our attention upon the _Globigerina_. It is the spoor of the game we are tracking. If we can learn what it is and what are the conditions of its existence, we shall see our way to the origin and past history of the chalk.

A suggestion which may naturally enough present itself is, that these curious bodies are the result of some process of aggregation which has taken place in the carbonate of lime; that, just as in winter, the rime on our windows simulates the most delicate and elegantly arborescent foliage–proving that the mere mineral water may, under certain conditions, assume the outward form of organic bodies–so this mineral substance, carbonate of lime, hidden away in the bowels of the earth, has taken the shape of these chambered bodies. I am not raising a merely fanciful and unreal objection. Very learned men, in former days, have even entertained the notion that all the formed things found in rocks are of this nature; and if no such conception is at present held to be admissible, it is because long and varied experience has now shown that mineral matter never does assume the form and structure we find in fossils. If any one were to try to persuade you that an oyster-shell (which is also chiefly composed of carbonate of lime) had crystallized out of sea-water, I suppose you would laugh at the absurdity. Your laughter would be justified by the fact that all experience tends to show that oyster-shells are formed by the agency of oysters, and in no other way. And if there were no better reasons, we should be justified, on like grounds, in believing that _Globigerina_ is not the product of anything but vital activity.

Happily, however, better evidence in proof of the organic nature of the _Globigerinoe_ than that of analogy is forthcoming. It so happens that calcareous skeletons, exactly similar to the _Globigerinoe_ of the chalk, are being formed, at the present moment, by minute living creatures, which flourish in multitudes, literally more numerous than the sands of the sea-shore, over a large extent of that part of the earth’s surface which is covered by the ocean.

The history of the discovery of these living _Globigerinoe_, and of the part which they play in rock building, is singular enough. It is a discovery which, like others of no less scientific importance, has arisen, incidentally, out of work devoted to very different and exceedingly practical interests. When men first took to the sea, they speedily learned to look out for shoals and rocks; and the more the burthen of their ships increased, the more imperatively necessary it became for sailors to ascertain with precision the depth of the waters they traversed. Out of this necessity grew the use of the lead and sounding line; and, ultimately, marine-surveying, which is the recording of the form of coasts and of the depth of the sea, as ascertained by the sounding-lead, upon charts.

At the same time, it became desirable to ascertain and to indicate the nature of the sea-bottom, since this circumstance greatly affects its goodness as holding ground for anchors. Some ingenious tar, whose name deserves a better fate than the oblivion into which it has fallen, attained this object by “arming” the bottom of the lead with a lump of grease, to which more or less of the sand or mud, or broken shells, as the case might be, adhered, and was brought to the surface. But, however well adapted such an apparatus might be for rough nautical purposes, scientific accuracy could not be expected from the armed lead, and to remedy its defects (especially when applied to sounding in great depths) Lieut. Brooke, of the American Navy, some years ago invented a most ingenious machine, by which a considerable portion of the superficial layer of the sea-bottom can be scooped out and brought up from any depth to which the lead descends. In 1853, Lieut. Brooke obtained mud from the bottom of the North Atlantic, between Newfoundland and the Azores, at a depth of more than 10,000 feet, or two miles, by the help of this sounding apparatus. The specimens were sent for examination to Ehrenberg of Berlin, and to Bailey of West Point, and those able microscopists found that this deep-sea mud was almost entirely composed of the skeletons of living organisms–the greater proportion of these being just like the _Globigerinoe_ already known to occur in the chalk.

Thus far, the work had been carried on simply in the interests of science, but Lieut. Brooke’s method of sounding acquired a high commercial value, when the enterprise of laying down the telegraph-cable between this country and the United States was undertaken. For it became a matter of immense importance to know, not only the depth of the sea over the whole line along which the cable was to be laid, but the exact nature of the bottom, so as to guard against chances of cutting or fraying the strands of that costly rope. The Admiralty consequently ordered Captain Dayman, an old friend and shipmate of mine, to ascertain the depth over the whole line of the cable, and to bring back specimens of the bottom. In former days, such a command as this might have sounded very much like one of the impossible things which the young Prince in the Fairy Tales is ordered to do before he can obtain the hand of the Princess. However, in the months of June and July, 1857, my friend performed the task assigned to him with great expedition and precision, without, so far as I know, having met with any reward of that kind. The specimens or Atlantic mud which he procured were sent to me to be examined and reported upon.[1]

[Footnote 1: See Appendix to Captain Dayman’s _Deep-sea Soundings in the North Atlantic Ocean between Ireland and Newfoundland, made in H.M.S. “Cyclops_.” Published by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, 1858. They have since formed the subject of an elaborate Memoir by Messrs. Parker and Jones, published in the _Philosophical Transactions_ for 1865.]

The result of all these operations is, that we know the contours and the nature of the surface-soil covered by the North Atlantic for a distance of 1,700 miles from east to west, as well as we know that of any part of the dry land. It is a prodigious plain–one of the widest and most even plains in the world. If the sea were drained off, you might drive a waggon all the way from Valentia, on the west coast of Ireland, to Trinity Bay, in Newfoundland. And, except upon one sharp incline about 200 miles from Valentia, I am not quite sure that it would even be necessary to put the skid on, so gentle are the ascents and descents upon that long route. From Valentia the road would lie down-hill for about 200 miles to the point at which the bottom is now covered by 1,700 fathoms of sea-water. Then would come the central plain, more than a thousand miles wide, the inequalities of the surface of which would be hardly perceptible, though the depth of water upon it now varies from 10,000 to 15,000 feet; and there are places in which Mont Blanc might be sunk without showing its peak above water. Beyond this, the ascent on the American side commences, and gradually leads, for about 300 miles, to the Newfoundland shore.

Almost the whole of the bottom of this central plain (which extends for many hundred miles in a north and south direction) is covered by a fine mud, which, when brought to the surface, dries into a greyish white friable substance. You can write with this on a blackboard, if you are so inclined; and, to the eye, it is quite like very soft, grayish chalk. Examined chemically, it proves to be composed almost wholly of carbonate of lime; and if you make a section of it, in the same way as that of the piece of chalk was made, and view it with the microscope, it presents innumerable _Globigerinoe_ embedded in a granular matrix. Thus this deep- sea mud is substantially chalk. I say substantially, because there are a good many minor differences; but as these have no bearing on the question immediately before us,–which is the nature of the _Globigerinoe_ of the chalk,–it is unnecessary to speak of them.

_Globigerinoe_ of every size, from the smallest to the largest, are associated together in the Atlantic mud, and the chambers of many are filled by a soft animal matter. This soft substance is, in fact, the remains of the creature to which the _Globigerinoe_ shell, or rather skeleton, owes its existence–and which is an animal of the simplest imaginable description. It is, in fact, a mere particle of living jelly, without defined parts of any kind–without a mouth, nerves, muscles, or distinct organs, and only manifesting its vitality to ordinary observation by thrusting out and retracting from all parts of its surface, long filamentous processes, which serve for arms and legs. Yet this amorphous particle, devoid of everything which, in the higher animals, we call organs, is capable of feeding, growing, and multiplying; of separating from the ocean the small proportion of carbonate of lime which is dissolved in sea-water; and of building up that substance into a skeleton for itself, according to a pattern which can be imitated by no other known agency.

The notion that animals can live and flourish in the sea, at the vast depths from which apparently living _Globigerinoe_; have been brought up, does not agree very well with our usual conceptions respecting the conditions of animal life; and it is not so absolutely impossible as it might at first sight appear to be, that the _Globigcrinoe_ of the Atlantic sea-bottom do not live and die where they are found.

As I have mentioned, the soundings from the great Atlantic plain are almost entirely made up of _Globigerinoe_, with the granules which have been mentioned, and some few other calcareous shells; but a small percentage of the chalky mud–perhaps at most some five per cent. of it– is of a different nature, and consists of shells and skeletons composed of silex, or pure flint. These silicious bodies belong partly to the lowly vegetable organisms which are called _Diatomaceoe_, and partly to the minute, and extremely simple, animals, termed _Radiolaria_. It is quite certain that these creatures do not live at the bottom of the ocean, but at its surface–where they may be obtained in prodigious numbers by the use of a properly constructed net. Hence it follows that these silicious organisms, though they are not heavier than the lightest dust, must have fallen, in some cases, through fifteen thousand feet of water, before they reached their final resting-place on the ocean floor. And considering how large a surface these bodies expose in proportion to their weight, it is probable that they occupy a great length of time in making their burial journey from the surface of the Atlantic to the bottom.

But if the _Radiolaria_ and Diatoms are thus rained upon the bottom of the sea, from the superficial layer of its waters in which they pass their lives, it is obviously possible that the _Globigerinoe_ may be similarly derived; and if they were so, it would be much more easy to understand how they obtain their supply of food than it is at present. Nevertheless, the positive and negative evidence all points the other way. The skeletons of the full-grown, deep-sea _Globigerinoe_ are so remarkably solid and heavy in proportion to their surface as to seem little fitted for floating; and, as a matter of fact, they are not to be found along with the Diatoms and _Radiolaria_ in the uppermost stratum of the open ocean. It has been observed, again, that the abundance of _Globigerinoe_, in proportion to other organisms, of like kind, increases with the depth of the sea; and that deep-water _Globigerinoe_ are larger than those which live in shallower parts of the sea; and such facts negative the supposition that these organisms have been swept by currents from the shallows into the deeps of the Atlantic. It therefore seems to be hardly doubtful that these wonderful creatures live and die at the depths in which they are found.[2]

[Footnote 2: During the cruise of H.M.S. _Bulldog_, commanded by Sir Leopold M’Clintock, in 1860, living star-fish were brought up, clinging to the lowest part of the sounding-line, from a depth of 1,260 fathoms, midway between Cape Farewell, in Greenland, and the Rockall banks. Dr. Wallich ascertained that the sea-bottom at this point consisted of the ordinary _Globigerina_ ooze, and that the stomachs of the star-fishes were full of _Globigerinoe_. This discovery removes all objections to the existence of living _Globigerinoe_ at great depths, which are based upon the supposed difficulty of maintaining animal life under such conditions; and it throws the burden of proof upon those who object to the supposition that the _Globigerinoe_ live and die where they are found.]

However, the important points for us are, that the living _Globigerinoe_ are exclusively marine animals, the skeletons of which abound at the bottom of deep seas; and that there is not a shadow of reason for believing that the habits of the _Globigerinoe_ of the chalk differed from those of the existing species. But if this be true, there is no escaping the conclusion that the chalk itself is the dried mud of an ancient deep sea.

In working over the soundings collected by Captain Dayman, I was surprised to find that many of what I have called the “granules” of that mud were not, as one might have been tempted to think at first, the more powder and waste of _Globigerinoe_, but that they had a definite form and size. I termed these bodies “_coccoliths_,” and doubted their organic nature. Dr. Wallich verified my observation, and added the interesting discovery that, not unfrequently, bodies similar to these “coccoliths” were aggregated together into spheroids, which lie termed “_coccospheres_.” So far as we knew, these bodies, the nature of which is extremely puzzling and problematical, were peculiar to the Atlantic soundings. But, a few years ago, Mr. Sorby, in making a careful examination of the chalk by means of thin sections and otherwise, observed, as Ehrenberg had done before him, that much of its granular basis possesses a definite form. Comparing these formed particles with those in the Atlantic soundings, he found the two to be identical; and thus proved that the chalk, like the surroundings, contains these mysterious coccoliths and coccospheres. Here was a further and most interesting confirmation, from internal evidence, of the essential identity of the chalk with modern deep-sea mud. _Globigerinoe_, coccoliths, and coccospheres are found as the chief constituents of both, and testify to the general similarity of the conditions under which both have been formed.[3]

[Footnote 3: I have recently traced out the development of the “coccoliths” from a diameter of 1/7000th of an inch up to their largest size (which is about 1/1000th), and no longer doubt that they are produced by independent organisms, which, like the _Globigerinoe_, live and die at the bottom of the sea.]

The evidence furnished by the hewing, facing, and superposition of the stones of the Pyramids, that these structures were built by men, has no greater weight than the evidence that the chalk was built by _Globigerinoe_; and the belief that those ancient pyramid-builders were terrestrial and air-breathing creatures like ourselves, is not better based than the conviction that the chalk-makers lived in the sea. But as our belief in the building of the Pyramids by men is not only grounded on the internal evidence afforded by these structures, but gathers strength from multitudinous collateral proofs, and is clinched by the total absence of any reason for a contrary belief; so the evidence drawn from the _Globigerinoe_ that the chalk is an ancient sea-bottom, is fortified by innumerable independent lines of evidence; and our belief in the truth of the conclusion to which all positive testimony tends, receives the like negative justification from the fact that no other hypothesis has a shadow of foundation.

It may be worth while briefly to consider a few of these collateral proofs that the chalk was deposited at the bottom of the sea. The great mass of the chalk is composed, as we have seen, of the skeletons of _Globigerinoe_, and other simple organisms, imbedded in granular matter. Here and there, however, this hardened mud of the ancient sea reveals the remains of higher animals which have lived and died, and left their hard parts in the mud, just as the oysters die and leave their shells behind them, in the mud of the present seas.

There are, at the present day, certain groups of animals which are never found in fresh waters, being unable to live anywhere but in the sea. Such are the corals; those corallines which are called _Polyzoa_; those creatures which fabricate the lamp-shells, and are called _Brachiopoda_; the pearly _Nautilus_, and all animals allied to it; and all the forms of sea-urchins and star-fishes. Not only are all these creatures confined to salt water at the present day; but, so far as our records of the past go, the conditions of their existence have been the same: hence, their occurrence in any deposit is as strong evidence as can be obtained, that that deposit was formed in the sea. Now the remains of animals of all the kinds which have been enumerated, occur in the chalk, in greater or less abundance; while not one of those forms of shell-fish which are characteristic of fresh water has yet been observed in it.

When we consider that the remains of more than three thousand distinct species of aquatic animals have been discovered among the fossils of the chalk, that the great majority of them are of such forms as are now met with only in the sea, and that there is no reason to believe that any one of them inhabited fresh water–the collateral evidence that the chalk represents an ancient sea-bottom acquires as great force as the proof derived from the nature of the chalk itself. I think you will now allow that I did not overstate my case when I asserted that we have as strong grounds for believing that all the vast area of dry land, at present occupied by the chalk, was once at the bottom of the sea, as we have for any matter of history whatever; while there is no justification for any other belief.

No less certain it is that the time during which the countries we now call south-east England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, were more or less completely covered by a deep sea, was of considerable duration. We have already seen that the chalk is, in places, more than a thousand feet thick. I think you will agree with me, that it must have taken some time for the skeletons of animalcules of a hundredth of an inch in diameter to heap up such a mass as that. I have said that throughout the thickness of the chalk the remains of other animals are scattered. These remains are often in the most exquisite state of preservation. The valves of the shell-fishes are commonly adherent; the long spines of some of the sea-urchins, which would be detached by the smallest jar, often remain in their places. In a word, it is certain that these animals have lived and died when the place which they now occupy was the surface of as much of the chalk as had then been deposited; and that each has been covered up by the layer of _Globigerina_ mud, upon which the creatures imbedded a little higher up have, in like manner, lived and died. But some of these remains prove the existence of reptiles of vast size in the chalk sea. These lived their time, and had their ancestors and descendants, which assuredly implies time, reptiles being of slow growth.

There is more curious evidence, again, that the process of covering up, or, in other words, the deposit of _Globigerina_ skeletons, did not go on very fast. It is demonstrable that an animal of the cretaceous sea might die, that its skeleton might lie uncovered upon the sea-bottom long enough to lose all its outward coverings and appendages by putrefaction; and that, after this had happened, another animal might attach itself to the dead and naked skeleton, might grow to maturity, and might itself die before the calcareous mud had buried the whole.

Cases of this kind are admirably described by Sir Charles Lyell. He speaks of the frequency with which geologists find in the chalk a fossilized sea-urchin, to which is attached the lower valve of a _Crania_. This is a kind of shell-fish, with a shell composed of two pieces, of which, as in the oyster, one is fixed and the other free.

“The upper valve is almost invariably wanting, though occasionally found in a perfect state of preservation in the white chalk at some distance. In this case, we see clearly that the sea-urchin first lived from youth to age, then died and lost its spines, which were carried away. Then the young _Crania_ adhered to the bared shell, grew and perished in its turn; after which, the upper valve was separated from the lower, before the Echinus became enveloped in chalky mud.”[4]

A specimen in the Museum of Practical Geology, in London, still further prolongs the period which must have elapsed between the death of the sea- urchin, and its burial by the _Globigerinoe_. For the outward face of the valve of a _Crania_, which is attached to a sea-urchin, (_Micraster_), is itself overrun by an incrusting coralline, which spreads thence over more or less of the surface of the sea-urchin. It follows that, after the upper valve of the _Crania_ fell off, the surface of the attached valve must have remained exposed long enough to allow of the growth of the whole coralline, since corallines do not live embedded in mud.[4]

[Footnote 4: _Elements of Geology_, by Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. F.B.S., p. 23.]

The progress of knowledge may, one day, enable us to deduce from such facts as these the maximum rate at which the chalk can have accumulated, and thus to arrive at the minimum duration of the chalk period. Suppose that the valve of the _Cronia_ upon which a coralline has fixed itself in the way just described, is so attached to the sea-urchin that no part of it is more than an inch above the face upon which the sea-urchin rests. Then, as the coralline could not have fixed itself, if the _Crania_ had been covered up with chalk mud, and could not have lived had itself been so covered, it follows, that an inch of chalk mud could not have accumulated within the time between the death and decay of the soft parts of the sea-urchin and the growth of the coralline to the full size which it has attained. If the decay of the soft parts of the sea-urchin; the attachment, growth to maturity, and decay of the _Crania_; and the subsequent attachment and growth of the coralline, took a year (which is a low estimate enough), the accumulation of the inch of chalk must have taken more than a year: and the deposit of a thousand feet of chalk must, consequently, have taken more than twelve thousand years.

The foundation of all this calculation is, of course, a knowledge of the length of time the _Crania_ and the coralline needed to attain their full size; and, on this head, precise knowledge is at present wanting. But there are circumstances which tend to show, that nothing like an inch of chalk has accumulated during the life of a _Crania_; and, on any probable estimate of the length of that life, the chalk period must have had a much longer duration than that thus roughly assigned to it.

Thus, not only is it certain that the chalk is the mud of an ancient sea- bottom; but it is no less certain, that the chalk sea existed during an extremely long period, though we may not be prepared to give a precise estimate of the length of that period in years. The relative duration is clear, though the absolute duration may not be definable. The attempt to affix any precise date to the period at which the chalk sea began, or ended, its existence, is baffled by difficulties of the same kind. But the relative age of the cretaceous epoch may be determined with as great ease and certainty as the long duration of that epoch.

You will have heard of the interesting discoveries recently made, in various parts of Western Europe, of flint implements, obviously worked into shape by human hands, under circumstances which show conclusively that man is a very ancient denizen of these regions. It has been proved that the whole populations of Europe, whose existence has been revealed to us in this way, consisted of savages, such as the Esquimaux are now; that, in the country which is now France, they hunted the reindeer, and were familiar with the ways of the mammoth and the bison. The physical geography of France was in those days different from what it is now–the river Somme, for instance, having cut its bed a hundred feet deeper between that time and this; and, it is probable, that the climate was more like that of Canada or Siberia, than that of Western Europe.

The existence of these people is forgotten even in the traditions of the oldest historical nations. The name and fame of them had utterly vanished until a few years back; and the amount of physical change which has been effected since their day renders it more than probable that, venerable as are some of the historical nations, the workers of the chipped flints of Hoxne or of Amiens are to them, as they are to us, in point of antiquity. But, if we assign to these hoar relics of long-vanished generations of men the greatest age that can possibly be claimed for them, they are not older than the drift, or boulder clay, which, in comparison with the chalk, is but a very juvenile deposit. You need go no further than your own sea-board for evidence of this fact. At one of the most charming spots on the coast of Norfolk, Cromer, you will see the boulder clay forming a vast mass, which lies upon the chalk, and must consequently have come into existence after it. Huge boulders of chalk are, in fact, included in the clay, and have evidently been brought to the position they now occupy by the same agency as that which has planted blocks of syenite from Norway side by side with them.

The chalk, then, is certainly older than the boulder clay. If you ask how much, I will again take you no further than the same spot upon your own coasts for evidence. I have spoken of the boulder clay and drift as resting upon the chalk. That is not strictly true. Interposed between the chalk and the drift is a comparatively insignificant layer, containing vegetable matter. But that layer tells a wonderful history. It is full of stumps of trees standing as they grew. Fir-trees are there with their cones, and hazel-bushes with their nuts; there stand the stools of oak and yew trees, beeches and alders. Hence this stratum is appropriately called the “forest-bed.”

It is obvious that the chalk must have been upheaved and converted into dry land, before the timber trees could grow upon it. As the bolls of some of these trees are from two to three feet in diameter, it is no less clear that the dry land thus formed remained in the same condition for long ages. And not only do the remains of stately oaks and well-grown firs testify to the duration of this condition of things, but additional evidence to the same effect is afforded by the abundant remains of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, and other great wild beasts, which it has yielded to the zealous search of such men as the Rev. Mr. Gunn. When you look at such a collection as he has formed, and bethink you that these elephantine bones did veritably carry their owners about, and these great grinders crunch, in the dark woods of which the forest- bed is now the only trace, it is impossible not to feel that they are as good evidence of the lapse of time as the annual rings of the tree stumps.

Thus there is a writing upon the wall of cliffs at Cromer, and whoso runs may read it. It tells us, with an authority which cannot be impeached, that the ancient sea-bed of the chalk sea was raised up, and remained dry land, until it was covered with forest, stocked with the great game the spoils of which have rejoiced your geologists. How long it remained in that condition cannot be said; but “the whirligig of time brought its revenges” in those days as in these. That dry land, with the bones and teeth of generations of long-lived elephants, hidden away among the gnarled roots and dry leaves of its ancient trees, sank gradually to the bottom of the icy sea, which covered it with huge masses of drift and boulder clay. Sea-beasts, such as the walrus, now restricted to the extreme north, paddled about where birds had twittered among the topmost twigs of the fir-trees. How long this state of things endured we know not, but at length it came to an end. The upheaved glacial mud hardened into the soil of modern Norfolk. Forests grew once more, the wolf and the beaver replaced the reindeer and the elephant; and at length what we call the history of England dawned.

Thus you have, within the limits of your own county, proof that the chalk can justly claim a very much greater antiquity than even the oldest physical traces of mankind. But we may go further and demonstrate, by evidence of the same authority as that which testifies to the existence of the father of men, that the chalk is vastly older than Adam himself. The Book of Genesis informs us that Adam, immediately upon his creation, and before the appearance of Eve, was placed in the Garden of Eden. The problem of the geographical position of Eden has greatly vexed the spirits of the learned in such matters, but there is one point respecting which, so far as I know, no commentator has ever raised a doubt. This is, that of the four rivers which are said to run out of it, Euphrates and Hiddekel are identical with the rivers now known by the names of Euphrates and Tigris. But the whole country in which these mighty rivers take their origin, and through which they run, is composed of rocks which are either of the same age as the chalk, or of later date. So that the chalk must not only have been formed, but, after its formation, the time required for the deposit of these later rocks, and for their upheaval into dry land, must have elapsed, before the smallest brook which feeds the swift stream of “the great river, the river of Babylon,” began to flow.

Thus, evidence which cannot be rebutted, and which need not be strengthened, though if time permitted I might indefinitely increase its quantity, compels you to believe that the earth, from the time of the chalk to the present day, has been the theatre of a series of changes as vast in their amount, as they were slow in their progress. The area on which we stand has been first sea and then land, for at least four alternations; and has remained in each of these conditions for a period of great length.

Nor have these wonderful metamorphoses of sea into land, and of land into sea, been confined to one corner of England. During the chalk period, or “cretaceous epoch,” not one of the present great physical features of the globe was in existence. Our great mountain ranges, Pyrenees, Alps, Himalayas, Andes, have all been upheaved since the chalk was deposited, and the cretaceous sea flowed over the sites of Sinai and Ararat. All this is certain, because rocks of cretaceous, or still later, date have shared in the elevatory movements which gave rise to these mountain chains; and may be found perched up, in some cases, many thousand feet high upon their flanks. And evidence of equal cogency demonstrates that, though, in Norfolk, the forest-bed rests directly upon the chalk, yet it does so, not because the period at which the forest grew immediately followed that at which the chalk was formed, but because an immense lapse of time, represented elsewhere by thousands of feet of rock, is not indicated at Cromer.

I must ask you to believe that there is no less conclusive proof that a still more prolonged succession of similar changes occurred, before the chalk was deposited. Nor have we any reason to think that the first term in the series of these changes is known. The oldest sea-beds preserved to us are sands, and mud, and pebbles, the wear and tear of rocks which were formed in still older oceans.

But, great as is the magnitude of these physical changes of the world, they have been accompanied by a no less striking series of modifications in its living inhabitants. All the great classes of animals, beasts of the field, fowls of the air, creeping things, and things which dwell in the waters, flourished upon the globe long ages before the chalk was deposited. Very few, however, if any, of these ancient forms of animal life were identical with those which now live. Certainly not one of the higher animals was of the same species as any of those now in existence. The beasts of the field, in the days before the chalk, were not our beasts of the field, nor the fowls of the air such as those which the eye of men has seen flying, unless his antiquity dates infinitely further back than we at present surmise. If we could be carried back into those times, we should be as one suddenly set down in Australia before it was colonized. We should see mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, snails, and the like, clearly recognizable as such, and yet not one of them would be just the same as those with which we are familiar, and many would be extremely different.

From that time to the present, the population of the world has undergone slow and gradual, but incessant, changes. There has been no grand catastrophe–no destroyer has swept away the forms of life of one period, and replaced them by a totally new creation: but one species has vanished and another has taken its place; creatures of one type of structure have diminished, those of another have increased, as time has passed on. And thus, while the differences between the living creatures of the time before the chalk and those of the present day appear startling, if placed side by side, we are led from one to the other by the most gradual progress, if we follow the course of Nature through the whole series of those relics of her operations which she has left behind. It is by the population of the chalk sea that the ancient and the modern inhabitants of the world are most completely connected. The groups which are dying out flourish, side by side, with the groups which are now the dominant forms of life. Thus the chalk contains remains of those strange flying and swimming reptiles, the pterodactyl, the ichthyosaurus, and the plesiosaurus, which are found in no later deposits, but abounded in preceding ages. The chambered shells called ammonites and belemnites, which are so characteristic of the period preceding the cretaceous, in like manner die with it.

But, amongst these fading remainders of a previous state of things, are some very modern forms of life, looking like Yankee pedlars among a tribe of Red Indians. Crocodiles of modern type appear; bony fishes, many of them very similar to existing species, almost supplant the forms of fish which predominate in more ancient seas; and many kinds of living shell- fish first become known to us in the chalk. The vegetation acquires a modern aspect. A few living animals are not even distinguishable as species, from those which existed at that remote epoch. The _Globigerina_ of the present day, for example, is not different specifically from that of the chalk; and the same maybe said of many other _Foraminifera_. I think it probable that critical and unprejudiced examination will show that more than one species of much higher animals have had a similar longevity; but the only example which I can at present give confidently is the snake’s-head lampshell (_Terebratulina caput serpentis_), which lives in our English seas and abounded (as _Terebratulina striata_ of authors) in the chalk.

The longest line of human ancestry must hide its diminished head before the pedigree of this insignificant shell-fish. We Englishmen are proud to have an ancestor who was present at the Battle of Hastings. The ancestors of _Terebratulina caput serpentis_ may have been present at a battle of _Ichthyosauria_ in that part of the sea which, when the chalk was forming, flowed over the site of Hastings. While all around has changed, this _Terebratulina_ has peacefully propagated its species from generation to generation, and stands to this day, as a living testimony to the continuity of the present with the past history of the globe.

Up to this moment I have stated, so far as I know, nothing but well- authenticated facts, and the immediate conclusions which they force upon the mind. But the mind is so constituted that it does not willingly rest in facts and immediate causes, but seeks always after a knowledge of the remoter links in the chain of causation.

Taking the many changes of any given spot of the earth’s surface, from sea to land and from land to sea, as an established fact, we cannot refrain from asking ourselves how these changes have occurred. And when we have explained them–as they must be explained–by the alternate slow movements of elevation and depression which have affected the crust of the earth, we go still further back, and ask, Why these movements?

I am not certain that any one can give you a satisfactory answer to that question. Assuredly I cannot. All that can be said, for certain, is, that such movements are part of the ordinary course of nature, inasmuch as they are going on at the present time. Direct proof may be given, that some parts of the land of the northern hemisphere are at this moment insensibly rising and others insensibly sinking; and there is indirect, but perfectly satisfactory, proof, that an enormous area now covered by the Pacific has been deepened thousands of feet, since the present inhabitants of that sea came into existence. Thus there is not a shadow of a reason for believing that the physical changes of the globe, in past times, have been effected by other than natural causes. Is there any more reason for believing that the concomitant modifications in the forms of the living inhabitants of the globe have been brought about in other ways?

Before attempting to answer this question, let us try to form a distinct mental picture of what has happened in some special case. The crocodiles are animals which, as a group, have a very vast antiquity. They abounded ages before the chalk was deposited; they throng the rivers in warm climates, at the present day. There is a difference in the form of the joints of the back-bone, and in some minor particulars, between the crocodiles of the present epoch and those which lived before the chalk; but, in the cretaceous epoch, as I have already mentioned, the crocodiles had assumed the modern type of structure. Notwithstanding this, the crocodiles of the chalk are not identically the same as those which lived in the times called “older tertiary,” which succeeded the cretaceous epoch; and the crocodiles of the older tertiaries are not identical with those of the newer tertiaries, nor are these identical with existing forms. I leave open the question whether particular species may have lived on from epoch to epoch. But each epoch has had its peculiar crocodiles; though all, since the chalk, have belonged to the modern type, and differ simply in their proportions, and in such structural particulars as are discernible only to trained eyes.

How is the existence of this long succession of different species of crocodiles to be accounted for? Only two suppositions seem to be open to us–Either each species of crocodile has been specially created, or it has arisen out of some pre-existing form by the operation of natural causes. Choose your hypothesis; I have chosen mine. I can find no warranty for believing in the distinct creation of a score of successive species of crocodiles in the course of countless ages of time. Science gives no countenance to such a wild fancy; nor can even the perverse ingenuity of a commentator pretend to discover this sense, in the simple words in which the writer of Genesis records the proceedings of the fifth and six days of the Creation.

On the other hand, I see no good reason for doubting the necessary alternative, that all these varied species have been evolved from pre- existing crocodilian forms, by the operation of causes as completely a part of the common order of nature as those which have effected the changes of the inorganic world. Few will venture to affirm that the reasoning which applies to crocodiles loses its force among other animals, or among plants. If one series of species has come into existence by the operation of natural causes, it seems folly to deny that all may have arisen in the same way.

A small beginning has led us to a great ending. If I were to put the bit of chalk with which we started into the hot but obscure flame of burning hydrogen, it would presently shine like the sun. It seems to me that this physical metamorphosis is no false image of what has been the result of our subjecting it to a jet of fervent, though nowise brilliant, thought to-night. It has become luminous, and its clear rays, penetrating the abyss of the remote past, have brought within our ken some stages of the evolution of the earth. And in the shifting “without haste, but without rest” of the land and sea, as in the endless variation of the forms assumed by living beings, we have observed nothing but the natural product of the forces originally possessed by the substance of the universe.




On the 21st of December, 1872, H.M.S. _Challenger_, an eighteen gun corvette, of 2,000 tons burden, sailed from Portsmouth harbour for a three, or perhaps four, years’ cruise. No man-of-war ever left that famous port before with so singular an equipment. Two of the eighteen sixty-eight pounders of the _Challenger’s_ armament remained to enable her to speak with effect to sea-rovers, haply devoid of any respect for science, in the remote seas for which she is bound; but the main-deck was, for the most part, stripped of its war-like gear, and fitted up with physical, chemical, and biological laboratories; Photography had its dark cabin; while apparatus for dredging, trawling, and sounding; for photometers and for thermometers, filled the space formerly occupied by guns and gun-tackle, pistols and cutlasses.

The crew of the _Challenger_ match her fittings. Captain Nares, his officers and men, are ready to look after the interests of hydrography, work the ship, and, if need be, fight her as seamen should; while there is a staff of scientific civilians, under the general direction of Dr. Wyville Thomson, F.R.S. (Professor of Natural History in Edinburgh University by rights, but at present detached for duty _in partibus_), whose business it is to turn all the wonderfully packed stores of appliances to account, and to accumulate, before the ship returns to England, such additions to natural knowledge as shall justify the labour and cost involved in the fitting out and maintenance of the expedition.

Under the able and zealous superintendence of the Hydrographer, Admiral Richards, every precaution which experience and forethought could devise has been taken to provide the expedition with the material conditions of success; and it would seem as if nothing short of wreck or pestilence, both most improbable contingencies, could prevent the _Challenger_ from doing splendid work, and opening up a new era in the history of scientific voyages.

The dispatch of this expedition is the culmination of a series of such enterprises, gradually increasing in magnitude and importance, which the Admiralty, greatly to its credit, has carried out for some years past; and the history of which is given by Dr. Wyville Thomson in the beautifully illustrated volume entitled “The Depths of the Sea,” published since his departure.

“In the spring of the year 1868, my friend Dr. W.B. Carpenter, at that time one of the Vice-Presidents of the Royal Society, was with me in Ireland, where we were working out together the structure and development of the Crinoids. I had long previously had a profound conviction that the land of promise for the naturalist, the only remaining region where there were endless novelties of extraordinary interest ready to the hand which had the means of gathering them, was the bottom of the deep sea. I had even had a glimpse of some of these treasures, for I had seen, the year before, with Prof. Sars, the forms which I have already mentioned dredged by his son at a depth of 300 to 400 fathoms off the Loffoten Islands. I propounded my views to my fellow-labourer, and we discussed the subject many times over our microscopes. I strongly urged Dr. Carpenter to use his influence at head-quarters to induce the Admiralty, probably through the Council of the Royal Society, to give us the use of a vessel properly fitted with dredging gear and all necessary scientific apparatus, that many heavy questions as to the state of things in the depths of the ocean, which were still in a state of uncertainty, might be definitely settled. After full consideration, Dr. Carpenter promised his hearty co- operation, and we agreed that I should write to him on his return to London, indicating generally the results which I anticipated, and sketching out what I conceived to be a promising line of inquiry. The Council of the Royal Society warmly supported the proposal; and I give here in chronological order the short and eminently satisfactory correspondence which led to the Admiralty placing at the disposal of Dr. Carpenter and myself the gunboat _Lightninq_, under the command of Staff- Commander May, R.N., in the summer of 1868, for a trial cruise to the North of Scotland, and afterwards to the much wider surveys in H.M.S. _Porcupine_, Captain Calver, R.N., which were made with the additional association of Mr. Gwyn Jeffreys, in the summers of the years 1869 and 1870.”[1]

[Footnote 1: The Depths of the Sea, pp. 49-50.]

Plain men may be puzzled to understand why Dr. Wyville Thomson, not being a cynic, should relegate the “Land of Promise” to the bottom of the deep sea, they may still more wonder what manner of “milk and honey” the _Challenger_ expects to find; and their perplexity may well rise to its maximum, when they seek to divine the manner in which that milk and honey are to be got out of so inaccessible a Canaan. I will, therefore, endeavour to give some answer to these questions in an order the reverse of that in which I have stated them.

Apart from hooks, and lines, and ordinary nets, fishermen have, from time immemorial, made use of two kinds of implements for getting at sea- creatures which live beyond tide-marks–these are the “dredge” and the “trawl.” The dredge is used by oyster-fishermen. Imagine a large bag, the mouth of which has the shape of an elongated parallelogram, and is fastened to an iron frame of the same shape, the two long sides of this rim being fashioned into scrapers. Chains attach the ends of the frame to a stout rope, so that when the bag is dragged along by the rope the edge of one of the scrapers rests on the ground, and scrapes whatever it touches into the bag. The oyster-dredger takes one of these machines in his boat, and when he has reached the oyster-bed the dredge is tossed overboard; as soon as it has sunk to the bottom the rope is paid out sufficiently to prevent it from pulling the dredge directly upwards, and is then made fast while the boat goes ahead. The dredge is thus dragged along and scrapes oysters and other sea-animals and plants, stones, and mud into the bag. When the dredger judges it to be full he hauls it up, picks out the oysters, throws the rest overboard, and begins again.

Dredging in shallow water, say ten to twenty fathoms, is an easy operation enough; but the deeper the dredger goes, the heavier must be his vessel, and the stouter his tackle, while the operation of hauling up becomes more and more laborious. Dredging in 150 fathoms is very hard work, if it has to be carried on by manual labour; but by the use of the donkey-engine to supply power,[2] and of the contrivances known as “accumulators,” to diminish the risk of snapping the dredge rope by the rolling and pitching of the vessel, the dredge has been worked deeper and deeper, until at last, on the 22nd of July, 1869, H.M.S. _Porcupine_ being in the Bay of Biscay, Captain Calver, her commander, performed the unprecedented feat of dredging in 2,435 fathoms, or 14,610 feet, a depth nearly equal to the height of Mont Blanc. The dredge “was rapidly hauled on deck at one o’clock in the morning of the 23rd, after an absence of 7-1/4 hours, and a journey of upwards of eight statute miles,” with a hundred weight and a half of solid contents.

[Footnote 2: The emotional side of the scientific nature has its singularities. Many persons will call to mind a certain philosopher’s tenderness over his watch–“the little creature”–which was so singularly lost and found again. But Dr. Wyville Thomson surpasses the owner of the watch in his loving-kindness towards a donkey-engine. “This little engine was the comfort of our lives. Once or twice it was overstrained, and then we pitied the willing little thing, panting like an overtaxed horse.”]

The trawl is a sort of net for catching those fish which habitually live at the bottom of the sea, such as soles, plaice, turbot, and gurnett. The mouth of the net may be thirty or forty feet wide, and one edge of its mouth is fastened to a beam of wood of the same length. The two ends of the beam are supported by curved pieces of iron, which raise the beam and the edge of the net which is fastened to it, for a short distance, while the other edge of the mouth of the net trails upon the ground. The closed end of the net has the form of a great pouch; and, as the beam is dragged along, the fish, roused from the bottom by the sweeping of the net, readily pass into its mouth and accumulate in the pouch at its end. After drifting with the tide for six or seven hours the trawl is hauled up, the marketable fish are picked out, the others thrown away, and the trawl sent overboard for another operation.

More than a thousand sail of well-found trawlers are constantly engaged in sweeping the seas around our coast in this way, and it is to them that we owe a very large proportion of our supply of fish. The difficulty of trawling, like that of dredging, rapidly increases with the depth at which the operation is performed; and, until the other day, it is probable that trawling at so great a depth as 100 fathoms was something unheard of. But the first news from the _Challenger_ opens up new possibilities for the trawl.

Dr. Wyville Thomson writes (“Nature,” March 20, 1873):–

“For the first two or three hauls in very deep water off the coast of Portugal, the dredge came up filled with the usual ‘Atlantic ooze,’ tenacious and uniform throughout, and the work of hours, in sifting, gave the very smallest possible result. We were extremely anxious to get some idea of the general character of the Fauna, and particularly of the distribution of the higher groups; and after various suggestions for modification of the dredge, it was proposed to try the ordinary trawl. We had a compact trawl, with a 15-feet beam, on board, and we sent it down off Cape St. Vincent at a depth of 600 fathoms. The experiment looked hazardous, but, to our great satisfaction, the trawl came up all right and contained, with many of the larger invertebrate, several fishes…. After the first attempt we tried the trawl several times at depths of 1090, 1525, and, finally, 2125 fathoms, and always with success.”

To the coral-fishers of the Mediterranean, who seek the precious red coral, which grows firmly fixed to rocks at a depth of sixty to eighty fathoms, both the dredge and the trawl would be useless. They, therefore, have recourse to a sort of frame, to which are fastened long bundles of loosely netted hempen cord, and which is lowered by a rope to the depth at which the hempen cords can sweep over the surface of the rocks and break off the coral, which is brought up entangled in the cords. A similar contrivance has arisen out of the necessities of deep-sea exploration.

In the course of the dredging of the _Porcupine_, it was frequently found that, while few objects of interest were brought up within the dredge, many living creatures came up sticking to the outside of the dredge-bag, and even to the first few fathoms of the dredge-rope. The mouth of the dredge doubtless rapidly filled with mud, and thus the things it should have brought up were shut out. To remedy this inconvenience Captain Calver devised an arrangement not unlike that employed by the coral- fishers. He fastened half a dozen swabs, such as are used for drying decks, to the dredge. A swab is something like what a birch-broom would be if its twigs were made of long, coarse, hempen yarns. These dragged along after the dredge over the surface of the mud, and entangled the creatures living there–multitudes of which, twisted up in the strands of the swabs, were brought to the surface with the dredge. A further improvement was made by attaching a long iron bar to the bottom of the dredge bag, and fastening large bunches of teased-out hemp to the end of this bar. These “tangles” bring up immense quantities of such animals as have long arms, or spines, or prominences which readily become caught in the hemp, but they are very destructive to the fragile organisms which they imprison; and, now that the trawl can be successfully worked at the greatest depths, it may be expected to supersede them; at least, wherever the ground is soft enough to permit of trawling.

It is obvious that between the dredge, the trawl, and the tangles, there is little chance for any organism, except such as are able to burrow rapidly, to remain safely at the bottom of any part of the sea which the _Challenger_ undertakes to explore. And, for the first time in the history of scientific exploration, we have a fair chance of learning what the population of the depths of the sea is like in the most widely different parts of the world.

And now arises the next question. The means of exploration being fairly adequate, what forms of life may be looked for at these vast depths?

The systematic study of the Distribution of living beings is the most modern branch of Biological Science, and came into existence long after Morphology and Physiology had attained a considerable development. This naturally does not imply that, from the time men began to observe natural phenomena, they were ignorant of the fact that the animals and plants of one part of the world are different from those in other regions; or that those of the hills are different from those of the plains in the same region; or finally that some marine creatures are found only in the shallows, while others inhabit the deeps. Nevertheless, it was only after the discovery of America that the attention of naturalists was powerfully drawn to the wonderful differences between the animal population of the central and southern parts of the new world and that of those parts of the old world which lie under the same parallels of latitude. So far back as 1667 Abraham Mylius, in his treatise “De Animalium origine et migratione, populorum,” argues that, since there are innumerable species of animals in America which do not exist elsewhere, they must have been made and placed there by the Deity: Buffon no less forcibly insists upon the difference between the Faunae of the old and new world. But the first attempt to gather facts of this order into a whole, and to coordinate them into a series of generalizations, or laws of Geographical Distribution, is not a century old, and is contained in the “Specimen Zoologiae Geographicae Quadrupedum Domicilia et Migrationes sistens,” published, in 1777, by the learned Brunswick Professor, Eberhard Zimmermann, who illustrates his work by what he calls a “Tabula Zoographica,” which is the oldest distributional map known to me.

In regard to matters of fact, Zimmermann’s chief aim is to show that among terrestrial mammals, some occur all over the world, while others are restricted to particular areas of greater or smaller extent; and that the abundance of species follows temperature, being greatest in warm and least in cold climates. But marine animals, he thinks, obey no such law. The Arctic and Atlantic seas, he says, are as full of fishes and other animals as those of the tropics. It is, therefore, clear that cold does not affect the dwellers in the sea as it does land animals, and that this must be the case follows from the fact that sea water, “propter varias quas continet bituminis spiritusque particulas,” freezes with much more difficulty than fresh water. On the other hand, the heat of the Equatorial sun penetrates but a short distance below the surface of the ocean. Moreover, according to Zimmermann, the incessant disturbance of the mass of the sea by winds and tides, so mixes up the warm and the cold that life is evenly diffused and abundant throughout the ocean.

In 1810, Risso, in his work on the Ichthyology of Nice, laid the foundation of what has since been termed “bathymetrical” distribution, or distribution in depth, by showing that regions of the sea bottom of different depths could be distinguished by the fishes which inhabit them. There was the _littoral region_ between tide marks with its sand-eels, pipe fishes, and blennies: the _seaweed region_, extending from low- water-mark to a depth of 450 feet, with its wrasses, rays, and flat fish; and the _deep-sea region_, from 450 feet to 1500 feet or more, with its file-fish, sharks, gurnards, cod, and sword-fish.

More than twenty years later, M.M. Audouin and Milne Edwards carried out the principle of distinguishing the Faunae of different zones of depth much more minutely, in their “Recherches pour servir a l’Histoire Naturelle du Littoral de la France,” published in 1832.

They divide the area included between highwater-mark and lowwater-mark of spring tides (which is very extensive, on account of the great rise and fall of the tide on the Normandy coast about St. Malo, where their observations were made) into four zones, each characterized by its peculiar invertebrate inhabitants. Beyond the fourth region they distinguish a fifth, which is never uncovered, and is inhabited by oysters, scallops, and large starfishes and other animals. Beyond this they seem to think that animal life is absent.[3]

[Footnote 3: “Enfin plus has encore, c’est-a-dire alors loin des cotes, le fond des eaux ne parait plus etre habite, du moms dans nos mers, par aucun de ces animaux” (1. c. tom. i. p. 237). The “ces animaux” leaves the meaning of the authors doubtful.]

Audouin and Milne Edwards were the first to see the importance of the bearing of a knowledge of the manner in which marine animals are distributed in depth, on geology. They suggest that, by this means, it will be possible to judge whether a fossiliferous stratum was formed upon the shore of an ancient sea, and even to determine whether it was deposited in shallower or deeper water on that shore; the association of shells of animals which live in different zones of depth will prove that the shells have been transported into the position in which they are found; while, on the other hand, the absence of shells in a deposit will not justify the conclusion that the waters in which it was formed were devoid of animal inhabitants, inasmuch as they might have been only too deep for habitation.

The new line of investigation thus opened by the French naturalists was followed up by the Norwegian, Sars, in 1835, by Edward Forbes, in our own country, in 1840,[4] and by Oersted, in Denmark, a few years later. The genius of Forbes, combined with his extensive knowledge of botany, invertebrate zoology, and geology, enabled him to do more than any of his compeers, in bringing the importance of distribution in depth into notice; and his researches in the Aegean Sea, and still more his remarkable paper “On the Geological Relations of the existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles,” published in 1846, in the first volume of the “Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain,” attracted universal attention.

[Footnote 4: In the paper in the _Memoirs of the Survey_ cited further on, Forbes writes:–

“In an essay ‘On the Association of Mollusca on the British Coasts, considered with reference to Pleistocene Geology,’ printed in [the _Edinburgh Academic Annual_ for] 1840, I described the mollusca, as distributed on our shores and seas, in four great zones or regions, usually denominated ‘The Littoral zone,’ ‘The region of Laminariae,’ ‘The region of Coral-lines,’ and ‘The region of Corals.’ An extensive series of researches, chiefly conducted by the members of the committee appointed by the British Association to investigate the marine geology of Britain by means of the dredge, have not invalidated this classification, and the researches of Professor Loven, in the Norwegian and Lapland seas, have borne out their correctness The first two of the regions above mentioned had been previously noticed by Lamoureux, in his account of the distribution (vertically) of sea-weeds, by Audouin and Milne Edwards in their _Observations on the Natural History of the coast of France_, and by Sars in the preface to his _Beskrivelser og Jagttayelser_.”]

On the coasts of the British Islands, Forbes distinguishes four zones or regions, the Littoral (between tide marks), the Laminarian (between lowwater-mark and 15 fathoms), the Coralline (from 15 to 50 fathoms), and the Deep sea or Coral region (from 50 fathoms to beyond 100 fathoms). But, in the deeper waters of the Aegean Sea, between the shore and a depth of 300 fathoms, Forbes was able to make out no fewer than eight zones of life, in the course of which the number and variety of forms gradually diminished until, beyond 300 fathoms, life disappeared altogether. Hence it appeared as if descent in the sea had much the same effect on life, as ascent on land. Recent investigations appear to show that Forbes was right enough in his classification of the facts of distribution in depth as they are to be observed in the Aegean; and though, at the time he wrote, one or two observations were extant which might have warned him not to generalize too extensively from his Aegean experience, his own dredging work was so much more extensive and systematic than that of any other naturalist, that it is not wonderful he should have felt justified in building upon it. Nevertheless, so far as the limit of the range of life in depth goes, Forbes’ conclusion has been completely negatived, and the greatest depths yet attained show not even an approach to a “zero of life”:–

“During the several cruises of H.M. ships _Lightning_ and _Porcupine_ in the years 1868, 1869, and 1870,” says Dr. Wyville Thomson, “fifty-seven hauls of the dredge were taken in the Atlantic at depths beyond 500 fathoms, and sixteen at depths beyond 1,000 fathoms, and, in all cases, life was abundant. In 1869, we took two casts in depths greater than 2,000 fathoms. In both of these life was abundant; and with the deepest cast, 2,435 fathoms, off the month of the Bay of Biscay, we took living, well-marked and characteristic examples of all the five invertebrate sub- kingdoms. And thus the question of the existence of abundant animal life at the bottom of the sea has been finally settled and for all depths, for there is no reason to suppose that the depth anywhere exceeds between three and four thousand fathoms; and if there be nothing in the conditions of a depth of 2,500 fathoms to prevent the full development of a varied Fauna, it is impossible to suppose that even an additional thousand fathoms would make any great difference.”[5]

[Footnote 5: _The Depths of the Sea_, p. 30. Results of a similar kind, obtained by previous observers, are stated at length in the sixth chapter, pp. 267-280. The dredgings carried out by Count Pourtales, under the authority of Professor Peirce, the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, in the years 1867, 1868, and 1869, are particularly noteworthy, and it is probably not too much to say, in the words of Professor Agassiz, “that we owe to the coast survey the first broad and comprehensive basis for an exploration of the sea bottom on a large scale, opening a new era in zoological and geological research.”]

As Dr. Wyville Thomson’s recent letter, cited above, shows, the use of the trawl, at great depths, has brought to light a still greater diversity of life. Fishes came up from a depth of 600 to more than 1,000 fathoms, all in a peculiar condition from the expansion of the air contained in their bodies. On their relief from the extreme pressure, their eyes, especially, had a singular appearance, protruding like great globes from their heads. Bivalve and univalve mollusca seem to be rare at the greatest depths; but starfishes, sea urchins and other echinoderms, zoophytes, sponges, and protozoa abound.

It is obvious that the _Challenger_ has the privilege of opening a new chapter in the history of the living world. She cannot send down her dredges and her trawls into these virgin depths of the great ocean without bringing up a discovery. Even though the thing itself may be neither “rich nor rare,” the fact that it came from that depth, in that particular latitude and longitude, will be a new fact in distribution, and, as such, have a certain importance.

But it may be confidently assumed that the things brought up will very frequently be zoological novelties; or, better still, zoological antiquities, which, in the tranquil and little-changed depths of the ocean, have escaped the causes of destruction at work in the shallows, and represent the predominant population of a past age.

It has been seen that Audouin and Milne Edwards foresaw the general influence of the study of distribution in depth upon the interpretation of geological phenomena. Forbes connected the two orders of inquiry still more closely; and in the thoughtful essay “On the connection between the distribution of the existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern drift,” to which reference has already been made, he put forth a most pregnant suggestion.

In certain parts of the sea bottom in the immediate vicinity of the British Islands, as in the Clyde district, among the Hebrides, in the Moray Firth, and in the German Ocean, there are depressed areas, forming a kind of submarine valleys, the centres of which are from 80 to 100 fathoms, or more, deep. These depressions are inhabited by assemblages of marine animals, which differ from those found over the adjacent and shallower region, and resemble those which are met with much farther north, on the Norwegian coast. Forbes called these Scandinavian detachments “Northern outliers.”

How did these isolated patches of a northern population get into these deep places? To explain the mystery, Forbes called to mind the fact that, in the epoch which immediately preceded the present, the climate was much colder (whence the name of “glacial epoch” applied to it); and that the shells which are found fossil, or sub-fossil, in deposits of that age are precisely such as are now to be met with only in the Scandinavian, or still more Arctic, regions. Undoubtedly, during the glacial epoch, the general population of our seas had, universally, the northern aspect which is now presented only by the “northern outliers”; just as the vegetation of the land, down to the sea-level, had the northern character which is, at present, exhibited only by the plants which live on the tops of our mountains. But, as the glacial epoch passed away, and the present climatal conditions were developed, the northern plants were able to maintain themselves only on the bleak heights, on which southern forms could not compete with them. And, in like manner, Forbes suggested that, after the glacial epoch, the northern animals then inhabiting the sea became restricted to the deeps in which they could hold their own against invaders from the south, better fitted than they to flourish in the warmer waters of the shallows. Thus depth in the sea corresponded in its effect upon distribution to height on the land.

The same idea is applied to the explanation of a similar anomaly in the Fauna of the Aegean:–

“In the deepest of the regions of depth of the Aegean, the representation of a Northern Fauna is maintained, partly by identical and partly by representative forms…. The presence of the latter is essentially due to the law (of representation of parallels of latitude by zones of depth), whilst that of the former species depended on their transmission from their parent seas during a former epoch, and subsequent isolation. That epoch was doubtless the newer Pliocene or Glacial Era, when the _Mya truncata_ and other northern forms now extinct in the Mediterranean, and found fossil in the Sicilian tertiaries, ranged into that sea. The changes which there destroyed the _shallow water_ glacial forms, did not affect those living in the depths, and which still survive.”[6]

[Footnote 6: _Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain_, Vol. i. p. 390.]

The conception that the inhabitants of local depressions of the sea bottom might be a remnant of the ancient population of the area, which had held their own in these deep fastnesses against an invading Fauna, as Britons and Gaels have held out in Wales and in Scotland against encroaching Teutons, thus broached by Forbes, received a wider application than Forbes had dreamed of when the sounding machine first brought up specimens of the mud of the deep sea. As I have pointed out elsewhere,[7] it at once became obvious that the calcareous sticky mud of the Atlantic was made up, in the main, of shells of _Globigerina_ and other _Foraminifera_, identical with those of which the true chalk is composed, and the identity extended even to the presence of those singular bodies, the Coccoliths and Coccospheres, the true nature of which is not yet made out. Here then were organisms, as old as the cretaceous epoch, still alive, and doing their work of rock-making at the bottom of existing seas. What if _Globigerina_ and the Coccoliths should not be the only survivors of a world passed away, which are hidden beneath three miles of salt water? The letter which Dr. Wyville Thomson wrote to Dr. Carpenter in May, 1868, out of which all these expeditions have grown, shows that this query had become a practical problem in Dr. Thomson’s mind at that time; and the desirableness of solving the problem is put in the foreground of his reasons for urging the Government to undertake the work of exploration:–

[Footnote 7: See above, “On a Piece of Chalk,” p. 13.]

“Two years ago, M. Sars, Swedish Government Inspector of Fisheries, had an opportunity, in his official capacity, of dredging off the Loffoten Islands at a depth of 300 fathoms. I visited Norway shortly after his return, and had an opportunity of studying with his father, Professor Sars, some of his results. Animal forms were _abundant_; many of them were new to science; and among them was one of surpassing interest, the small crinoid, of which you have a specimen, and which we at once recognised as a degraded type of the _Apiocrinidoe_, an order hitherto regarded as extinct, which attained its maximum in the Pear Encrinites of the Jurassic period, and whose latest representative hitherto known was the _Bourguettocrinus_ of the chalk. Some years previously, Mr. Absjornsen, dredging in 200 fathoms in the Hardangerfjord, procured several examples of a Starfish (_Brisinga_), which seems to find its nearest ally in the fossil genus _Protaster_. These observations place it beyond a doubt that animal life is abundant in the ocean at depths varying from 200 to 300 fathoms, that the forms at these great depths differ greatly from those met with in ordinary dredgings, and that, at all events in some cases, these animals are closely allied to, and would seem to be directly descended from, the Fauna of the early tertiaries.

“I think the latter result might almost have been anticipated; and, probably, further investigation will largely add to this class of data, and will give us an opportunity of testing our determinations of the zoological position of some fossil types by an examination of the soft parts of their recent representatives. The main cause of the destruction, the migration, and the extreme modification of animal types, appear to be change of climate, chiefly depending upon oscillations of the earth’s crust. These oscillations do not appear to have ranged, in the Northern portion of the Northern Hemisphere, much beyond 1,000 feet since the commencement of the Tertiary Epoch. The temperature of deep waters seems to be constant for all latitudes at 39 deg.; so that an immense area of the North Atlantic must have had its conditions unaffected by tertiary or post-tertiary oscillations.”[8]

[Footnote 8: The Depths of the Sea, pp. 51-52.]

As we shall see, the assumption that the temperature of the deep sea is everywhere 39 deg. F. (4 deg. Cent.) is an error, which Dr. Wyville Thomson adopted from eminent physical writers; but the general justice of the reasoning is not affected by this circumstance, and Dr. Thomson’s expectation has been, to some extent, already verified.

Thus besides _Globigerina_, there are eighteen species of deep-sea _Foraminifera_ identical with species found in the chalk. Imbedded in the chalky mud of the deep sea, in many localities, are innumerable cup- shaped sponges, provided with six-rayed silicious spicula, so disposed that the wall of the cup is formed of a lacework of flinty thread. Not less abundant, in some parts of the chalk formation, are the fossils known as _Ventriculites_, well described by Dr. Thomson as “elegant vases or cups, with branching root-like bases, or groups of regularly or irregularly spreading tubes delicately fretted on the surface with an impressed network like the finest lace”; and he adds, “When we compare such recent forms as _Aphrocallistes, Iphiteon, Holtenia_, and _Askonema_, with certain series of the chalk _Ventriculites_, there cannot be the slightest doubt that they belong to the same family–in some cases to very nearly allied genera.”[9]

[Footnote 9: _The Depths of the Sea_, p. 484.]

Professor Duncan finds “several corals from the coast of Portugal more nearly allied to chalk forms than to any others.”

The Stalked Crinoids or Feather Stars, so abundant in ancient times, are now exclusively confined to the deep sea, and the late explorations have yielded forms of old affinity, the existence of which has hitherto been unsuspected. The general character of the group of star fishes imbedded in the white chalk is almost the same as in the modern Fauna of the deep Atlantic. The sea urchins of the deep sea, while none of them are specifically identical with any chalk form, belong to the same general groups, and some closely approach extinct cretaceous genera.

Taking these facts in conjunction with the positive evidence of the existence, during the Cretaceous epoch, of a deep ocean where now lies the dry land of central and southern Europe, northern Africa, and western and southern Asia; and of the gradual diminution of this ocean during the older tertiary epoch, until it is represented at the present day by such teacupfuls as the Caspian, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean; the supposition of Dr. Thomson and Dr. Carpenter that what is now the deep Atlantic, was the deep Atlantic (though merged in a vast easterly extension) in the Cretaceous epoch, and that the _Globigerina_ mud has been accumulating there from that time to this, seems to me to have a great degree of probability. And I agree with Dr. Wyville Thomson against Sir Charles Lyell (it takes two of us to have any chance against his authority) in demurring to the assertion that “to talk of chalk having been uninterruptedly formed in the Atlantic is as inadmissible in a geographical as in a geological sense.”

If the word “chalk” is to be used as a stratigraphical term and restricted to _Globigerina_ mud deposited during the Cretaceous epoch, of course it is improper to call the precisely similar mud of more recent date, chalk. If, on the other hand, it is to be used as a mineralogical term, I do not see how the modern and the ancient chalks are to be separated–and, looking at the matter geographically, I see no reason to doubt that a boring rod driven from the surface of the mud which forms the floor of the mid-Atlantic would pass through one continuous mass of _Globigerina_ mud, first of modern, then of tertiary, and then of mesozoic date; the “chalks” of different depths and ages being distinguished merely by the different forms of other organisms associated with the _Globigerinoe_.

On the other hand, I think it must be admitted that a belief in the continuity of the modern with the ancient chalk has nothing to do with the proposition that we can, in any sense whatever, be said to be still living in the Cretaceous epoch. When the _Challenger’s_ trawl brings up an _Ichthyosaurus_, along with a few living specimens of _Belemnites_ and _Turrilites_, it may be admitted that she has come upon a cretaceous “outlier.” A geological period is characterized not only by the presence of those creatures which lived in it, but by the absence of those which have only come into existence later; and, however large a proportion of true cretaceous forms may be discovered in the deep sea, the modern types associated with them must be abolished before the Fauna, as a whole, could, with any propriety, be termed Cretaceous.

I have now indicated some of the chief lines of Biological inquiry, in which the _Challenger_ has special opportunities for doing good service, and in following which she will be carrying out the work already commenced by the _Lightning_ and _Porcupine_ in their cruises of 1868 and subsequent years.

But biology, in the long run, rests upon physics, and the first condition for arriving at a sound theory of distribution in the deep sea, is the precise ascertainment of the conditions of life; or, in other words, a full knowledge of all those phenomena which are embraced under the head of the Physical Geography of the Ocean.

Excellent work has already been done in this direction, chiefly under the superintendence of Dr. Carpenter, by the _Lightning_ and the _Porcupine_,[10] and some data of fundamental importance to the physical geography of the sea have been fixed beyond a doubt.

[Footnote 10: _Proceedings of the Royal Society_, 1870 and 1872]

Thus, though it is true that sea-water steadily contracts as it cools down to its freezing point, instead of expanding before it reaches its freezing point as fresh water does, the truth has been steadily ignored by even the highest authorities in physical geography, and the erroneous conclusions deduced from their erroneous premises have been widely accepted as if they were ascertained facts. Of course, if sea-water, like fresh water, were heaviest at a temperature of 39 deg. F. and got lighter as it approached 32 deg. F., the water of the bottom of the deep sea could not be colder than 39 deg.. But one of the first results of the careful ascertainment of the temperature at different depths, by means of thermometers specially contrived for the avoidance of the errors produced by pressure, was the proof that, below 1000 fathoms in the Atlantic, down to the greatest depths yet sounded, the water has a temperature always lower than 38 deg. Fahr., whatever be the temperature of the water at the surface. And that this low temperature of the deepest water is probably the universal rule for the depths of the open ocean is shown, among others, by Captain Chimmo’s recent observations in the Indian ocean, between Ceylon and Sumatra, where, the surface water ranging from 85 deg.-81 deg. Fahr., the temperature at the bottom, at a depth of 2270 to 2656 fathoms, was only from 34 deg. to 32 deg. Fahr.

As the mean temperature of the superficial layer of the crust of the earth may be taken at about 50 deg. Fahr., it follows that the bottom layer of the deep sea in temperate and hot latitudes, is, on the average, much colder than either of the bodies with which it is in contact; for the temperature of the earth is constant, while that of the air rarely falls so low as that of the bottom water in the latitudes in question; and even when it does, has time to affect only a comparatively thin stratum of the surface water before the return of warm weather.

How does this apparently anomalous state of things come about? If we suppose the globe to be covered with a universal ocean, it can hardly be doubted that the cold of the regions towards the poles must tend to cause the superficial water of those regions to contract and become specifically heavier. Under these circumstances, it would have no alternative but to descend and spread over the sea bottom, while its place would be taken by warmer water drawn from the adjacent regions. Thus, deep, cold, polar-equatorial currents, and superficial, warmer, equatorial-polar currents, would be set up; and as the former would have a less velocity of rotation from west to east than the regions towards which they travel, they would not be due southerly or northerly currents, but south-westerly in the northern hemisphere, and north-westerly in the southern; while, by a parity of reasoning, the equatorial-polar warm currents would be north-easterly in the northern hemisphere, and south- easterly in the southern. Hence, as a north-easterly current has the same direction as a south-westerly wind, the direction of the northern equatorial-polar current in the extra-tropical part of its course would pretty nearly coincide with that of the anti-trade winds. The freezing of the surface of the polar sea would not interfere with the movement thus set up. For, however bad a conductor of heat ice may be, the unfrozen sea-water immediately in contact with the undersurface of the ice must needs be colder than that further off; and hence will constantly tend to descend through the subjacent warmer water.

In this way, it would seem inevitable that the surface waters of the northern and southern frigid zones must, sooner or later, find their way to the bottom of the rest of the ocean; and there accumulate to a thickness dependent on the rate at which they absorb heat from the crust of the earth below, and from the surface water above.

If this hypothesis be correct, it follows that, if any part of the ocean in warm latitudes is shut off from the influence of the cold polar underflow, the temperature of its deeps should be less cold than the temperature of corresponding depths in the open sea. Now, in the Mediterranean, Nature offers a remarkable experimental proof of just the kind needed. It is a landlocked sea which runs nearly east and west, between the twenty-ninth and forty-fifth parallels of north latitude. Roughly speaking, the average temperature of the air over it is 75 deg. Fahr. in July and 48 deg. in January.

This great expanse of water is divided by the peninsula of Italy (including Sicily), continuous with which is a submarine elevation carrying less than 1,200 feet of water, which extends from Sicily to Cape Bon in Africa, into two great pools–an eastern and a western. The eastern pool rapidly deepens to more than 12,000 feet, and sends off to the north its comparatively shallow branches, the Adriatic and the Aegean Seas. The western pool is less deep, though it reaches some 10,000 feet. And, just as the western end of the eastern pool communicates by a shallow passage, not a sixth of its greatest depth, with the western pool, so the western pool is separated from the Atlantic by a ridge which runs between Capes Trafalgar and Spartel, on which there is hardly 1,000 feet of water. All the water of the Mediterranean which lies deeper than about 150 fathoms, therefore, is shut off from that of the Atlantic, and there is no communication between the cold layer of the Atlantic (below 1,000 fathoms) and the Mediterranean. Under these circumstances, what is the temperature of the Mediterranean? Everywhere below 600 feet it is about 55 deg. Fahr.; and consequently, at its greatest depths, it is some 20 deg. warmer than the corresponding depths of the Atlantic.

It seems extremely difficult to account for this difference in any other way, than by adopting the views so strongly and ably advocated by Dr. Carpenter, that, in the existing distribution of land and water, such a circulation of the water of the ocean does actually occur, as theoretically must occur, in the universal ocean, with which we started.

It is quite another question, however, whether this theoretic circulation, true cause as it may be, is competent to give rise to such movements of sea-water, in mass, as those currents, which have commonly been regarded as northern extensions of the Gulf-stream. I shall not venture to touch upon this complicated problem; but I may take occasion to remark that the cause of a much simpler phenomenon–the stream of Atlantic water which sets through the Straits of Gibraltar, eastward, at the rate of two or three miles an hour or more, does not seem to be so clearly made out as is desirable.

The facts appear to be that the water of the Mediterranean is very slightly denser than that of the Atlantic (1.0278 to 1.0265), and that the deep water of the Mediterranean is slightly denser than that of the surface; while the deep water of the Atlantic is, if anything, lighter than that of the surface. Moreover, while a rapid superficial current is setting in (always, save in exceptionally violent easterly winds) through the Straits of Gibraltar, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, a deep undercurrent (together with variable side currents) is setting out through the Straits, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Dr. Carpenter adopts, without hesitation, the view that the cause of this indraught of Atlantic water is to be sought in the much more rapid evaporation which takes place from the surface of the Mediterranean than from that of the Atlantic; and thus, by lowering the level of the former, gives rise to an indraught from the latter.

But is there any sound foundation for the three assumptions involved here? Firstly, that the evaporation from the Mediterranean, as a whole, is much greater than that from the Atlantic under corresponding parallels; secondly, that the rainfall over the Mediterranean makes up for evaporation less than it does over the Atlantic; and thirdly, supposing these two questions answered affirmatively: Are not these sources of loss in the Mediterranean fully covered by the prodigious quantity of fresh water which is poured into it by great rivers and submarine springs? Consider that the water of the Ebro, the Rhine, the Po, the Danube, the Don, the Dnieper, and the Nile, all flow directly or indirectly into the Mediterranean; that the volume of fresh water which they pour into it is so enormous that fresh water may sometimes be baled up from the surface of the sea off the Delta of the Nile, while the land is not yet in sight; that the water of the Black Sea is half fresh, and that a current of three or four miles an hour constantly streams from it Mediterraneanwards through the Bosphorus;–consider, in addition, that no fewer than ten submarine springs of fresh water are known to burst up in the Mediterranean, some of them so large that Admiral Smyth calls them “subterranean rivers of amazing volume and force”; and it would seem, on the face of the matter, that the sun must have enough to do to keep the level of the Mediterranean down; and that, possibly, we may have to seek for the cause of the small superiority in saline contents of the Mediterranean water in some condition other than solar evaporation.

Again, if the Gibraltar indraught is the effect of evaporation, why does it go on in winter as well as in summer?

All these are questions more easily asked than answered; but they must be answered before we can accept the Gibraltar stream as an example of a current produced by indraught with any comfort.

The Mediterranean is not included in the _Challenger’s_ route, but she will visit one of the most promising and little explored of hydrographical regions–the North Pacific, between Polynesia and the Asiatic and American shores; and doubtless the store of observations upon the currents of this region, which she will accumulate, when compared with what we know of the North Atlantic, will throw a powerful light upon the present obscurity of the Gulf-stream problem.




In May, 1873, I drew attention[1] to the important problems connected with the physics and natural history of the sea, to the solution of which there was every reason to hope the cruise of H.M.S. _Challenger_ would furnish important contributions. The expectation then expressed has not been disappointed. Reports to the Admiralty, papers communicated to the Royal Society, and large collections which have already been sent home, have shown that the _Challenger’s_ staff have made admirable use of their great opportunities; and that, on the return of the expedition in 1874, their performance will be fully up to the level of their promise. Indeed, I am disposed to go so far as to say, that if nothing more came of the _Challengers_ expedition than has hitherto been yielded by her exploration of the nature of the sea bottom at great depths, a full scientific equivalent of the trouble and expense of her equipment would have been obtained.

[Footnote 1: See the preceding Essay.]

In order to justify this assertion, and yet, at the same time, not to claim more for Professor Wyville Thomson and his colleagues than is their due, I must give a brief history of the observations which have preceded their exploration of this recondite field of research, and endeavour to make clear what was the state of knowledge in December, 1872, and what new facts have been added by the scientific staff of the _Challenger_. So far as I have been able to discover, the first successful attempt to bring up from great depths more of the sea bottom than would adhere to a sounding-lead, was made by Sir John Ross, in the voyage to the Arctic regions which he undertook in 1818. In the Appendix to the narrative of that voyage, there will be found an account of a very ingenious apparatus called “clams”–a sort of double scoop–of his own contrivance, which Sir John Ross had made by the ship’s armourer; and by which, being in Baffin’s Bay, in 72 deg. 30′ N. and 77 deg. 15′ W., he succeeded in bringing up from 1,050 fathoms (or 6,300 feet), “several pounds” of a “fine green mud,” which formed the bottom of the sea in this region. Captain (now Sir Edward) Sabine, who accompanied Sir John Ross on this cruise, says of this mud that it was “soft and greenish, and that the lead sunk several feet into it.” A similar “fine green mud” was found to compose the sea bottom in Davis Straits by Goodsir in 1845. Nothing is certainly known of the exact nature of the mud thus obtained, but we shall see that the mud of the bottom of the Antarctic seas is described in curiously similar terms by Dr. Hooker, and there is no doubt as to the composition of this deposit.

In 1850, Captain Penny collected in Assistance Bay, in Kingston Bay, and in Melville Bay, which lie between 73 deg. 45′ and 74 deg. 40′ N., specimens of the residuum left by melted surface ice, and of the sea bottom in these localities. Dr. Dickie, of Aberdeen, sent these materials to Ehrenberg, who made out[2] that the residuum of the melted ice consisted for the most part of the silicious cases of diatomaceous plants, and of the silicious spicula of sponges; while, mixed with these, were a certain number of the equally silicious skeletons of those low animal organisms, which were termed _Polycistineoe_ by Ehrenberg, but are now known as _Radiolaria_.

[Footnote 2: _Ueber neue Anschauungen des kleinsten noerdlichen Polarlebens_.–Monatsberichte d. K. Akad. Berlin, 1853.]

In 1856, a very remarkable addition to our knowledge of the nature of the sea bottom in high northern latitudes was made by Professor Bailey of West Point. Lieutenant Brooke, of the United States Navy, who was employed in surveying the Sea of Kamschatka, had succeeded in obtaining specimens of the sea bottom from greater depths than any hitherto reached, namely from 2,700 fathoms (16,200 feet) in 56 deg. 46′ N., and 168 deg. 18′ E.; and from 1,700 fathoms (10,200 feet) in 60 deg. 15′ N. and 170 deg. 53′ E. On examining these microscopically, Professor Bailey found, as Ehrenberg had done in the case of mud obtained on the opposite side of the Arctic region, that the fine mud was made up of shells of _Diatomacoe_, of spicula of sponges, and of _Radiolaria_, with a small admixture of mineral matters, but without a trace of any calcareous organisms.

Still more complete information has been obtained concerning the nature of the sea bottom in the cold zone around the south pole. Between the years 1839 and 1843, Sir James Clark Ross executed his famous Antarctic expedition, in the course of which he penetrated, at two widely distant points of the Antarctic zone, into the high latitudes of the shores of Victoria Land and of Graham’s Land, and reached the parallel of 80 deg. S. Sir James Ross was himself a naturalist of no mean acquirements, and Dr. Hooker,[3] the present President of the Royal Society, accompanied him as naturalist to the expedition, so that the observations upon the fauna and flora of the Antarctic regions made during this cruise were sure to have a peculiar value and importance, even had not the attention of the voyagers been particularly directed to the importance of noting the occurrence of the minutest forms of animal and vegetable life in the ocean.

[Footnote 3: Now Sir Joseph Hooker. 1894.]

Among the scientific instructions for the voyage drawn up by a committee of the Royal Society, however, there is a remarkable letter from Von Humboldt to Lord Minto, then First Lord of the Admiralty, in which, among other things, he dwells upon the significance of the researches into the microscopic composition of rocks, and the discovery of the great share which microscopic organisms take in the formation of the crust of the earth at the present day, made by Ehrenberg in the years 1836-39. Ehrenberg, in fact, had shown that the extensive beds of “rotten-stone” or “Tripoli” which occur in various parts of the world, and notably at Bilin in Bohemia, consisted of accumulations of the silicious cases and skeletons of _Diatomaceoe_, sponges, and _Radiolaria_; he had proved that similar deposits were being formed by _Diatomaceoe_, in the pools of the Thiergarten in Berlin and elsewhere, and had pointed out that, if it were commercially worth while, rotten-stone might be manufactured by a process of diatom-culture. Observations conducted at Cuxhaven in 1839, had revealed the existence, at the surface of the waters of the Baltic, of living Diatoms and _Radiolaria_ of the same species as those which, in a fossil state, constitute extensive rocks of tertiary age at Caltanisetta, Zante, and Oran, on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Moreover, in the fresh-water rotten-stone beds of Bilin, Ehrenberg had traced out the metamorphosis, effected apparently by the action of percolating water, of the primitively loose and friable deposit of organized particles, in which the silex exists in the hydrated or soluble condition. The silex, in fact, undergoes solution and slow redeposition, until, in ultimate result, the excessively fine-grained sand, each particle of which is a skeleton, becomes converted into a dense opaline stone, with only here and there an indication of an organism.

From the consideration of these facts, Ehrenberg, as early as the year 1839, had arrived at the conclusion that rocks, altogether similar to those which constitute a large part of the crust of the earth, must be forming, at the present day, at the bottom of the sea; and he threw out the suggestion that even where no trace of organic structure is to be found in the older rocks, it may have been lost by metamorphosis.[4]

[Footnote 4: _Ueber die noch jetzt zahlreich lebende Thierarten der Kreidebildung und den Organismus der Polythalamien. Abhandlungen der Koen. Akad. der Wissenchaften._ 1839. _Berlin_. 1841. I am afraid that this remarkable paper has been somewhat overlooked in the recent discussions of the relation of ancient rocks to modern deposits.]

The results of the Antarctic exploration, as stated by Dr. Hooker in the “Botany of the Antarctic Voyage,” and in a paper which he read before the British Association in 1847, are of the greatest importance in connection with these views, and they are so clearly stated in the former work, which is somewhat inaccessible, that I make no apology for quoting them at length–

“The waters and the ice of the South Polar Ocean were alike found to abound with microscopic vegetables belonging to the order _Diatomaceoe_. Though much too small to be discernible by the naked eye, they occurred in such countless myriads as to stain the berg and the pack ice wherever they were washed by the swell of the sea; and, when enclosed in the congealing surface of the water, they imparted to the brash and pancake ice a pale ochreous colour. In the open ocean, northward of the frozen zone, this order, though no doubt almost universally present, generally eludes the search of the naturalist; except when its species are congregated amongst that mucous scum which is sometimes seen floating on

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