RECORD: Whewell, William. 1838. [Extracts of an address delivered at the anniversary meeting of the Geological Society of London, etc.] Proceedings of the Geological Society, (16 February): 3-4; 6-7, 24-27.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 1.2021. RN1

NOTE: See the record for this item in the Freeman Bibliographical Database by entering its Identifier here. During this period Darwin was working on his account of the geology of the Galapagos archipelago and of Ascension Island, finishing on 17 January. By 25 February, he had "finished St. Helena & small isls in Atlantic: Also speculated much about 'Existence of Species & read more than usual." (CUL-DAR158.1-76).

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THE Wollaston Medal was awarded to Mr. Richard Owen for his services to Fossil Zoology in general, and in particular, for the part already published of his Description of the Fossil Remains collected by Mr. Darwin in the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.

In delivering the Medal to Mr. Owen, the President addressed him as follows:


I have peculiar pleasure in presenting to you this Medal, awarded to you by this Society for your services to Fossil Zoology in general, and, in particular, for the description of the Fossil Mammalia collected by Mr. Darwin. I trust it will be a satisfaction to you to receive this our

testimony of the success with which you have cultivated that great science of comparative zoology, to which you have devoted your powers. I trust it will add to your satisfaction to consider that the subject which we more peculiarly wish to mark on this occasion, in the study of Fossil Zoology, is one to which the resources of your science were applied, while the subject was yet new, by that great man, John Hunter, whose Museum and whose reputation are so worthily assigned to your care. I trust also that this Medal thus awarded to you at the outset, if I may so say, of an enlarged series of investigations, will convey to you the assurance that, in your progress in such researches, you carry with you our strong interest in your en-

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deavours, and our high esteem of your powers and your objects; and will convince you that in all your successes, you may reckon upon our most cordial sympathy in the pleasure which your discoveries give. […]

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The Council have awarded the Wollaston Medal, as you have already been informed, to Mr. Richard Owen, for his general services to Fossil Zoology, and especially for his labours employed upon the fossil mammalia collected by Mr. Darwin in the voyage of Captain

Fitz Roy. I need not remind you, Gentlemen, how close are the ties which connect the study of living and of fossil animals; how much light the progress of comparative anatomy throws upon the interpretation of geological characters; and what important steps in our knowledge of the past condition of the earth are restorations of the animal forms which peopled its surface in former times, but have long vanished away. Since the immortal Cuvier breathed into our science a new principle of life, the value of such researches has ever been duly appreciated; and the award of the Wollaston Medal last year is an evidence how gladly your Council take that method of congratulating the successful cultivators of such studies. I am sure that all who are acquainted with Mr. Owen's labours will rejoice that we have in this manner marked our sense of his success. His earlier researches, those for instance on the Nautilus, have been of exceeding use and interest to geologists. And the first part of his description of the fossil mammalia, collected by Mr. Darwin in South America., contains matters of the most striking novelty, interest, and importance.

We have there the restoration, performed with a consummate skill, such as fitly marks the worthy successor of Hunter and the disciple of Cuvier, of two animals, not only of new genera, but occupying places in the series of animal forms, which are peculiarly instructive. For the one, the Toxodon, connects the Rodentia with the Pachydermata by manifest links, and with the Cetacea by more remote resemblances; and thus contributes to the completion of the zoological scale just in the parts where it is weakest and most imperfect: while the

other animal, the Macrauchenia, the determination of which is considered by anatomists as an admirable example of the solution of such a problem, appears to be exactly intermediate between the horse and the camel. But this creature is also interesting in another way, since it

closely resembles, although on a gigantic scale, an animal still existing in that country and peculiar to it, the Llama. Thus, in this as in some other instances, the types of animal forms which distinguish a certain

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region on the earth's surface are clearly reflected to our eyes as we gaze into the past ages of the earth's history, while yet they are magnified so as to assume what almost appear supernatural dimensions. The Llama, the Capybara, and the Armadillo of South America are

seen in colossal forms in the Macrauchenia, the Toxodon, and the Megatherium. I will not omit this occasion of stating that the profound and enlarged speculations on the diffusion, preservation, and extinction of races of animals to which Mr. Darwin has been led by the remains which he has brought home, give great additional value to the treasures which he has collected, and make it proper to offer our congratulations to him, along with Mr. Owen, on the splendid results to which his expedition has led and is likely to lead.

Mr. Owen and Mr. Darwin are engaged in the restoration of other animals from the South American remains in their possession, and I am able to announce that two or three other new genera have already been detected.

I am sure I am conveying your feeling, Gentlemen, as well as my own, when I express a cordial hope that these two naturalists, so fitted by their endowments and character to advance the progress of science, may long go on achieving new triumphs; and may have

the satisfaction-higher even than that which they derive from the honours we so willingly bestow-of finding the great principles which it is given to them to wield, becoming every year more powerful instruments of discovery; and of seeing, as they pursue their researches,

light thrown upon the darkest and widest of the vast problems which they have proposed to themselves.


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But I should very ill convey my impression of the great value of the researches of Mr. Darwin, by any enumeration of special points of geology or paleontology on which they have thrown light. Looking at the general mass of his results, the account of which he has been kind enough to place in my hands, I cannot help considering his voyage round the world as one of the most important events for geology which has occurred for many years. We may think ourselves fortunate that Capt. Fitz Roy, who conducted the expedition, was led, by his enlightened zeal for science, to take out a naturalist with him. And we have further reason to rejoice that this lot fell to a gentleman like Mr. Darwin, who possessed the genuine spirit and

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zeal, as well as knowledge of a naturalist; who had pursued the studies which fitted him for this employment, under the friendly guidance of Dr. Grant at Edinburgh, and Professor Henslow and Professor Sedgwick at Cambridge; and whose powers of reason and application had been braced and disciplined by the other studies of the University of which the latter two gentlemen are such distinguished ornaments. But some of the principal of these results

may be most conveniently mentioned, when we pass from mere descriptive geology, to that other division of the subject which I have termed Geological Dynamics. And this I now proceed to do.


This term is intended to express generally the science, so far as we can frame a science, of the causes of change by which geological phænomena have been produced. Without here speaking of any classification of such changes, I may observe that the gradual elevation

and depression, through long ages, of large portions of the earth's crust, is a proximate cause by which such phænomena have been explained: and this class of events, its evidence, extent, and consequence, is brought before our view by Mr. Darwin's investigations, with a clearness and force which has, I think I may say, filled all of us with admiration. I may refer especially to his views respecting the history of coral isles. Those vast tracts of the Pacific

which contain, along with small portions of scattered land, innumerable long reefs and small circles of coral, had hitherto been full of problems, of which no satisfactory solution could be found. For how could we explain the strange forms of these reefs; their long and winding lines; their parallelism to the shores? and by what means did the animals, which can only work near the surface, build up a fabric which has its foundations in the deepest abysses of ocean?

To these questions Mr. Darwin replies, that all these circumstances, the linear or annular form, their reference to the boundary of the land, the clusters of little islands occupying so small a portion of the sea, and, above all, the existence of the solid coral at the bottom of deep seas, point out to us that the bottom of the sea has descended slowly and gradually, carrying with it both land and corals; while the animals of the latter are constantly employed in building to the surface,

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and thus mark the shores of submerged lands, of which the summits may or may not remain extant above the waters. I need not here further state Mr. Darwin's views, or explain how corals, which when the level is permanent fringe the shore to the depth of twenty fathoms,

as the land gradually sinks, become successively encircling reefs at a distance from the shore; or barrier reefs at a still greater distance and depth; or when the circuit is small, lagoon islands: how, again, the same corals, when the land rises, are carried into elevated situations, where they remain as evidences of the elevation. We have had placed before us the map, in which Mr. Darwin has, upon evidence of this kind, divided the surface of the Southern Pacific and Indian oceans into vast bands of alternate elevation and depression;

and we have seen the remarkable confirmation of his views in the observation that active volcano& occur only in the areas of elevation. Guided by the principles which he learned from my distinguished predecessor in this chair, Mr. Darwin has presented this subject under an aspect which cannot but have the most powerful influence on the speculations concerning the history of our globe, to which you, gentlemen, may hereafter be led. I might say the same

of the large and philosophical views which you will find illustrated in his work, on the laws of change of climate, of diffusion, duration and extinction of species, and other great problems of our science which this voyage has suggested. I know that I only express your feeling when I say, that we look with impatience to the period when this portion of the results of Captain Fitz Roy's voyage shall be published, as the scientific world in general looks eagerly for the whole record of that important expedition.

And I cannot omit this occasion of mentioning with great gratification, the liberal assistance which the Government of this country have lent to the publication of the discoveries in natural history which Mr. Darwin's voyage has produced. The new animals which he has

to make known to the world will thus come before the public described by the most eminent naturalists, and represented in a manner worthy of the subject and of the nation. I am sure that I may express the gratitude of the scientific world, as well as my own, for this

enlightened and judicious measure.

I may here notice Mr. Darwin's opinion, as ably exposed in a paper read before us, that the change by which a variety of materials

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thrown on the earth's surface become vegetable mould, is produced by the digestive process of the common earth worm.


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