Reviews and Literary Notices

An assessment of Charles Lyell's The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man with Remarks on the Theories of the Origin of Species by Variation

Human bones from time to time have been discovered associated with those of extinct hyenas and cavern—bears, and specimens of them were in the Museum of the Garden of Plants in Paris as long ago as 1829; but there was then a doubt among geologists as to the human bones being coeval with the bones with which they were associated, it being supposed that they might have been washed into crevices of the rocks in which the bone—breccias are found, and there, being incrusted with carbonate of lime, had the false appearance of being as ancient as the fossil bones of extinct animals.

The indefatigable labors of Prestwich, in the basin of the Somme and among the gravel—beds of Picardy, first called the attention of geologists to the fact that works of men's hands were also found in undisturbed alluvial deposits of high antiquity, and he had the honor of bringing to light proofs of the existence of man in Europe in more remote times than had been previously admitted, and of demonstrating the stone age of France. Goss, Hebert and Lartet followed in the same track, and added many valuable facts, and a host of other laborers in the same field have since appeared. So extensive have been the discoveries of the works of man buried with the bones of the Elephas primgenius and of cavern—bears and extinct hyenas, that we are forced to recognize the fact of the coexistence of man with those ancient animals, for the occurrence of deposits containing the bones of the two cannot say longer be regarded as doubtful; and certainly stone tools fashioned by man have been found so widely spread in the ancient alluviums and deposits of the post-Pliocene age, as to remove all doubt of the act, and to destroy the objection that they might be local accidents of an equivocal character.

More recently,— namely, within four or five years,— the discovery of the habitations of lost races of men on the borders of the Swiss lakes, and of remains of various articles which those people once used,— tools, weapons, ornaments, bones of animals they fed upon, seeds of plants they cultivated and consumed,— has given a new impetus to these researches into the antiquity of the human race. Borings into the alluvial deposits of the Nile have proved the existence of man in that valley more than thirty thousand years ago, as estimated by the known rate of deposit of the alluvium of the Nile. Considerations as to the origin and spread of languages also seem to require a much greater antiquity for the human race than has been popularly allowed; and geologists have always claimed myriads of years as required for the sedimentary formations of the globe. Sir Charles Lyell, ever an active collector of geological facts, and an excellent writer on the science of Geology, has engaged with his usual zeal in verifying the researches of the French, Swiss, and German geologists, and has written a very 'readable book on these new revelations concerning the ancient history of the human race. It is the best English presentation of the subject, and is written in a style that every one can read and understand.

We regret, however, that he has abandoned his former views as to the persistency of species, and has adopted Darwin's theory of transmutation and development by variation and natural selection, and must say, after carefully reading his book, that he has not given any geological proofs of the correctness of Darwin's opinions, but, like that distinguished writer, he is obliged to take refuge behind the deficiency of the geological record, and to suppose facts and proofs may hereafter be discovered, when few are now known to favor the new hypothesis. We can see no more reason why a giraffe should have had a long neck, because he wished to crop the leaves of tall trees, than that mankind should have become winged, because in all times both children and men have wished to fly. Nor do we think Mr. Wallace's opinion any better founded, that, owing to a dearth of leaves on the lower branches of trees, all the short—necked giraffes died out, and left the long—necked ones to continue the species. This theory reminds us of the "astronomical expirimint" proposed by Father Torn to his "Howliness" the Pope, of the goose and the turkey—cock picking the stars from the sky. As to the ape—like skull of Engis Cave, and the human skeleton found near Dusseldorf in a cavern, we think it would not be difficult to find full as bad skulls on living shoulders, and equally had forms in skeletons now walking about. To us they are no evidence that the first man was a gorilla or a chimpanzee, nor does his or Darwin's argument convince us that all vertebrates were once fishes. This question, however, is still mooted; and we have no objections that people should amuse themselves in thus tracing back their ancestry.

To this class of inquirers Sir Charles Lyell's book will furnish food for reflection; and they will see that even so enthusiastic a writer as this new convert to the Darwinian doctrine can furnish but very slender support to it from his geologic lore.

There is much interesting matter in the book besides the generalizations we object to, and enough to render it welcome to the library of any one interested in the study of Geology and of the antiquity of the animal creation.