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On Bio-Geology
by [?]

Now let me give you a few prolegomena on this matter. You must study the plants of course, species by species. Take Watson’s “Cybele Britannica” and Moore’s “Cybele Hibernica;” and let–as Mr. Matthew Arnold would say–“your thought play freely about them.” Look carefully, too, in the case of each species, at the note on its distribution, which you will find appended in Bentham’s “Handbook,” and in Hooker’s “Student’s Flora.” Get all the help you can, if you wish to work the subject out, from foreign botanists, both European and American; and I think that, on the whole, you will come to some such theory as this for a general starling platform. We do not owe our flora–I must keep to the flora just now–to so many different regions, or types, as Mr. Watson conceives, but to three, namely, an European or Germanic flora, from the south-east; an Atlantic flora, from the south-east; a Northern flora, from the north. These three invaded us after the glacial epoch; and our general flora is their result.

But this will cause you much trouble. Before you go a step farther you will have to eliminate from all your calculations most of the plants which Watson calls glareal, i.e. found in cultivated ground about habitations. And what their limit may be I think we never shall know. But of this we may be sure; that just as invading armies always bring with them, in forage or otherwise, some plants from their own country–just as the Cossacks, in 1815, brought more than one Russian plant through Germany into France–just as you have already a crop of North German plants upon the battle-fields of France–thus do conquering races bring new plants. The Romans, during their 300 or 400 years of occupation and civilisation, must have brought more species, I believe, than I dare mention. I suspect them of having brought, not merely the common hedge elm of the south, not merely the three species of nettle, but all our red poppies, and a great number of the weeds which are common in our cornfields; and when we add to them the plants which may have been brought by returning crusaders and pilgrims; by monks from every part of Europe, by Flemings or other dealers in foreign wool–we have to cut a huge cantle out of our indigenous flora: only, having no records, we hardly know where and what to cut out; and can only, we elder ones, recommend the subject to the notice of the younger botanists, that they may work it out after our work is done.

Of course these plants introduced by man, if they are cut out, must be cut out of only one of the floras, namely, the European; for they, probably, came from the south-east, by whatever means they came.

That European flora invaded us, I presume, immediately after the glacial epoch, at a time when France and England were united, and the German Ocean a mere network of rivers, which emptied into the deep sea between Scotland and Scandinavia. And here I must add, that endless questions of interest will arise to those who will study, not merely the invasion of that truly European flora, but the invasion of reptiles, insects, and birds, especially birds of passage, which must have followed it as soon as the land was sufficiently covered with vegetation to support life. Whole volumes remain to be written on this subject. I trust that some of your younger members may live to write one of them. The way to begin will be; to compare the flora and fauna of this part of England very carefully with that of the southern and eastern counties; and then to compare them again with the fauna and flora of France, Belgium, and Holland.

As for the Atlantic flora, you will have to decide for yourselves whether you accept or not the theory of a sunken Atlantic continent. I confess that all objections to that theory, however astounding it may seem, are outweighed in my mind by a host of facts which I can explain by no other theory. But you must judge for yourselves; and to do so you must study carefully the distribution of heaths both in Europe and at the Cape, and their non-appearance beyond the Ural Mountains, and in America, save in Labrador, where the common ling, an older and less specialised form, exists. You must consider, too, the plants common to the Azores, Portugal, the West of England, Ireland, and the Western Hebrides. In so doing young naturalists will at least find proofs of a change in the distribution of land and water, which will utterly astound them when they face it for the first time.