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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/303

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JANUARY, 1882,



THE subject of Mr. Darwin's latest volume is the share which worms have taken in the formation of the layer of vegetable mold that covers the surface of the land in every moderately humid country. It is a real surprise to learn, from the observations which Mr. Darwin has so patiently made for nearly half a century, and which he records in this work, how important a part these unconsidered creatures have played in giving to the surface of the land its generally fine consistency and fertile properties, and how essentially and vastly they have contributed to the comfort and prosperity of mankind. Ever since his first paper on vegetable mold was read before the Geological Society of London, in 1837, Mr. Darwin has kept on with his investigations, in flower-pots in his room, in his garden, and in the field, and has detected the work of the worms wherever anything will grow—in meadows and table-lands, in cultivated places and in woods, on mountains fifteen hundred feet high in Scotland, nearly twice as high at Turin, seven thousand feet above the sea on the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India, and on the slopes of the Himalayas—effecting the transformation of the hard, cold earth, and the raw leaves into fine, fruitful soil. It is easy to say, as some have done, that the creatures are too insignificant to accomplish so extensive a work; but the facts adduced by Mr. Darwin convey a striking lesson in the principle that nothing is so minute that it can be despised.

We may first consider the agent apparently so insignificant that has done so much to transform and clothe the surface of the earth.

  1. The Formation of Vegetable Mold through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits. By Charles Darwin, LL.D., F.R.S. With Illustrations. Published by D. Appleton & Co., New York.