Letter 20 Edward Forbes To C Darwin

(20/1. Edward Forbes was at work on his celebrated paper in the "Geological Survey Memoirs" for 1846. We have not seen the letter of Darwin's to which this is a reply, nor, indeed, any of his letters to Forbes. The date of the letter is fixed by Forbes's lecture given at the

Royal Institution on February 27th, 1846 (according to L. Horner's privately printed "Memoirs," II., page 94.))

Wednesday. 3, Southwark Street, Hyde Park. [1846].

Dear Darwin

To answer your very welcome letter, so far from being a waste of time, is a gain, for it obliges me to make myself clear and understood on matters which I have evidently put forward imperfectly and with obscurity. I have devoted the whole of this week to working and writing out the flora question, for I now feel strong enough to give my promised evening lecture on it at the Royal Institution on Friday, and, moreover, wish to get it in printable form for the Reports of our Survey. Therefore at no time can I receive or answer objections with more benefit than now. From the hurry and pressure which unfortunately attend all my movements and doings I rarely have time to spare, in preparing for publication, to do more than give brief and unsatisfactory abstracts, which I fear are often extremely obscure.

Now for your objections—which have sprung out of my own obscurities.

I do not argue in a circle about the Irish case, but treat the botanical evidence of connection and the geological as distinct. The former only I urged at Cambridge; the latter I have not yet publicly maintained.

My Cambridge argument (20/2. "On the Distribution of Endemic Plants," by E. Forbes, "Brit. Assoc. Rep." 1845 (Cambridge), page 67.) was this: That no known currents, whether of water or air, or ordinary means of transport (20/3. Darwin's note on transportation (found with Forbes' letter): "Forbes' arguments, from several Spanish plants in Ireland not being transported, not sound, because sea-currents and air ditto and migration of birds in SAME LINES. I have thought not-transportation the greatest difficulty. Now we see how many seeds every plant and tree requires to be regularly propagated in its own country, for we cannot think the great number of seeds superfluous, and therefore how small is the chance of here and there a solitary seedling being preserved in a well-stocked country."), would account for the little group of Asturian plants--few as to species, but playing a conspicuous part in the vegetation--giving a peculiar botanical character to the south of Ireland; that, as I had produced evidence of the other floras of our islands, i.e. the Germanic, the Cretaceous, and the Devonian (these terms used topographically, not geologically) having been acquired by migration over continuous land (the glacial or alpine flora I except for the present--as ice-carriage might have played a great part in its introduction)--I considered it most probable, and maintained, that the introduction of that Irish flora was also effected by the same means. I held also that the character of this flora was more southern and more ancient than that of any of the others, and that its fragmentary and limited state was probably due to the plants composing it having (from their comparative hardiness--heaths, saxifrages, etc.) survived the destroying influence of the glacial epoch.

My geological argument now is as follows: half the Mediterranean islands, or more, are partly--in some cases (as Malta) wholly—composed of the upheaved bed of the Miocene sea; so is a great part of the south of France from Bordeaux to Montpellier; so is the west of Portugal; and we find the corresponding beds with the same fossils (Pecten latissimus, etc.) in the Azores. So general an upheaval seems to me to indicate the former existence of a great post-Miocene land [in] the region of what is usually called the Mediterranean flora. (Everywhere these Miocene islands, etc., bear a flora of true type.) If this land existed, it did not extend to America, for the fossils of the Miocene of America are representative and not identical. Where, then, was the edge or coast-line of it, Atlantic-wards? Look at the form and constancy of the great fucus-bank, and consider that it is a Sargassum bank, and that the Sargassum there is in an abnormal condition, and that the species of this genus of fuci are essentially ground-growers, and then see the probability of this bank having originated on a line of ancient coast.

Now, having thus argued independently, first on my flora and second on the geological evidences of land in the quarter required, I put the two together to bear up my Irish case.

I cannot admit the Sargassum case to be parallel with that of Confervae or Oscillatoria.

I think I have evidence from the fossils of the boulder formations in Ireland that if such Miocene land existed it must have been broken up or partially broken up at the epoch of the glacial or boulder period.

All objections thankfully received.

Ever most sincerely,

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