THE origin of life and the order of succession in which its various forms have appeared upon the earth offer to science its most inviting and most difficult field of research. Although the primal origin of life is unknown, and may perhaps never be known, yet no one has a right to say how much of the mystery now surrounding it science cannot remove. It is certainly within the domain of science to determine when the earth was first fitted to receive life, and in what form the earliest life began. To trace that life in its manifold changes through past ages to the present is a more difficult task, but one from which modern science does not shrink. In this wide field, every earnest effort will meet some degree of success; every year will add new and important facts; and every generation will bring to light some law, in accordance with which ancient life has been changed into life as we see it around us to-day. That such a development has taken place, no one will doubt who has carefully traced any single group of animals through its past history, as recorded in the crust of the earth. The evidence will be especially conclusive, if the group selected belongs to the higher forms of life, which are sensitive to every change in their surroundings. But I am sure I need offer here no argument for evolution; since to doubt evolution to-day is to doubt science, and science is only another name for truth.
Taking, then, evolution as a key to the mysteries of past life on the earth, I invite your attention to the subject I have chosen: "The Introduction and Succession of Vertebrate Life in America."
In the brief hour allotted to me, I could hardly hope to give more than a very incomplete sketch of what is now known on this subject.
- An address delivered before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Nashville, Tenn., August 30, 1877, by Prof. O. C. Marsh, Vice-President.