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DARWIN AND GEOLOGY

DARWIN AND GEOLOGY[1]
By Professor JOHN JAMES STEVENSON

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

CHARLES DARWIN was born in a time of intellectual unrest. Explorers, students of chemistry and workers in mines had been adding to actual knowledge for nearly one third of a century and thoughtful men had been forced to recognize the worthlessness of many conceptions which had long passed current. Nowhere was this unrest more manifest than among the younger geologists; but they were compelled to express themselves cautiously, for, fettered by a false chronology, the church dignitaries who controlled the universities rebuked investigation and branded as infidels those who recorded obnoxious facts. Little more than a year prior to Darwin's birth, the Geological Society of London had been founded as a protest against subjective study of this globe, but already many adherents to the principles of that society had appeared on the continent, proclaiming that actual knowledge of conditions must precede attempts to explain them.

The development of opinion was so rapid that before Darwin reached his majority the geological pendulum had made its great swing from the doctrine of cataclysms to that of uniformity; from the belief that this globe is less than 6,000 years old to an abiding faith that its age can not be measured in years. It was amid such conditions that toward the close of his university studies, he came under the influence of Henslow and Sedgwick, the latter being engaged at that time along with Murchison in an effort to unravel the tangle of Welsh geology. Some have said that these men taught him how to observe; not so; he was already a keen observer and they merely led him into wider fields.

In 1831, Captain Fitzroy was assigned to command H. M. S. Beagle, a little brig of 240 tons, and was commissioned to complete the coast survey of southern South America as well as to run a line around the globe. When he expressed the wish to be accompanied by a naturalist, Darwin, then only twenty-two years old, promptly volunteered his services, which were accepted, and he was enrolled as a supernumerary member of the staff. The Beagle left England on December 27, 1831, and returned on October 2, 1836, bringing with it Charles Darwin, now grown intellectually to man's stature and bearing a notable cargo of material collections as well as of accumulated observations. There

  1. An address given at the American Museum of Natural History on February 12.