Page:Origin of Species 1859 facsimile.djvu/296

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Chap. IX.

are the result and measure of the degradation which the earth's crust has elsewhere suffered. And what an amount of degradation is implied by the sedimentary deposits of many countries! Professor Ramsay has given me the maximum thickness, in most cases from actual measurement, in a few cases from estimate, of each formation in different parts of Great Britain; and this is the result:—

Palæozoic strata (not including igneous beds) 57,154
Secondary strata 13,190
Tertiary strata 2,240

—making altogether 72,584 feet; that is, very nearly thirteen and three-quarters British miles. Some of these formations, which are represented in England by thin beds, are thousands of feet in thickness on the Continent. Moreover, between each successive formation, we have, in the opinion of most geologists, enormously long blank periods. So that the lofty pile of sedimentary rocks in Britain, gives but an inadequate idea of the time which has elapsed during their accumulation; yet what time this must have consumed! Good observers have estimated that sediment is deposited by the great Mississippi river at the rate of only 600 feet in a hundred thousand years. This estimate may be quite erroneous; yet, considering over what wide spaces very fine sediment is transported by the currents of the sea, the process of accumulation in any one area must be extremely slow.

But the amount of denudation which the strata have in many places suffered, independently of the rate of accumulation of the degraded matter, probably offers the best evidence of the lapse of time. I remember having been much struck with the evidence of denudation, when viewing volcanic islands, which have been