Principles of Geology
or, The Modern Changes of the Earth and its Inhabitants Considered as Illustrative of Geology

Charles Lyell

First published in 1854.

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Table of Contents

Preface to the Ninth Edition.

Book 1.

  1. Chapter 1.
  2. Chapter 2. Historical Sketch of the Progress of Geology.
  3. Chapter 3. History of the Progress of Geology—continued.
  4. Chapter 4. History of the Progress of Geology—continued.
  5. Chapter 5 Prejudices which have Retarded the Progress of Geology
  6. Chapter 6. Doctrine of the Discordance of the Ancient and Modern Causes of Change Controverted.
  7. Chapter 7. Farther Examination of the Question as to the Assumed Discordance of the Ancient and Modern Causes of Change.
  8. Chapter 8. On Former Changes in Physical Geography and Climate.
  9. Chapter 9. Theory of the Progressive Development of Organic Life at Successive Geological Periods.
  10. Chapter 10. Supposed Intensity of Aqueous Forces at Remote Periods.
  11. Chapter 11. On the Supposed Former Intensity of the Igneous Forces.
  12. Chapter 12 Difference in Texture of the Older and Newer Rocks.
  13. Chapter 13 Uniformity in the Series of past Changes in the Animate and Inanimate World.

Book 2.

  1. Chapter 14. Changes in the Inorganic World. Aqueous Causes.
  2. Chapter 15. Transportation of Solid Matter by Ice.
  3. Chapter 16. Phenomena of Springs.
  4. Chapter 17. Reproductive Effects of Rivers.
  5. Chapter 18. Reproductive Effects of Rivers—continued.
  6. Chapter 19. Destroying and Transporting Effects of Tides and Currents.
  7. Chapter 20. Action of Tides and Currents—continued.
  8. Chapter 21. Reproductive Effects of Tides and Currents.
  9. Chapter 22. Igneous Causes.
  10. Chapter 23. Volcanic District of Naples.
  11. Chapter 24. Volcanic District of Naples—continued.
  12. Chapter 25. Etna.
  13. Chapter 26.
  14. Chapter 27. Earthquakes and their Effects.
  15. Chapter 28. Earthquake in Calabria, 1783.
  16. Chapter 29. Earthquakes—continued.
  17. Chapter 30. Elevation and Subsidence of Land without Earthquakes.
  18. Chapter 31. Causes of Earthquakes and Volcanoes.
  19. Chapter 32. Causes of Earthquakes and Volcanoes—continued.

Book 3.

  1. Chapter 33. Changes of the Organic World Now in Progress.
  2. Chapter 34. Transmutation of Species—Continued.
  3. Chapter 35. Whether Species have A Real Existence in Nature—continued.
  4. Chapter 36. Whether Species have A Real Existence in Nature—continued.
  5. Chapter 37. Laws which Regulate the Geographical Distribution of Species.
  6. Chapter 38. Laws which Regulate the Geographical Distribution of Species—continued.
  7. Chapter 39. Laws which Regulate the Geographical Distribution of Species—continued.
  8. Chapter 40. Theories Respecting the Original Introduction of Species.
  9. Chapter 41. Extinction of Species.—Changes in the Stations of Animals.
  10. Chapter 42. Extinction of Species.—Influence of Inorganic Causes.
  11. Chapter 43. Extinction and Creation of Species.
  12. Chapter 44. Effects Produced by the Powers of Vitality on the State of the Earth’s Surface.
  13. Chapter 45. Inclosing of Fossils in Peat, Brown Sand, and Volcanic Ejections.
  14. Chapter 46. Burying of Fossils in Alluvial Deposits and in Caves.
  15. Chapter 47. Imbedding of Organic Remains in Subaqueous Deposits.
  16. Chapter 48. Imbedding of the Remains of Man and his Works in Subaqueous Strata.
  17. Chapter 49. Imbedding of Aquatic Species in Subaqueous Strata.
  18. Chapter 50. Formation of Coral Reefs.
  19. Concluding Remarks.

Glossary of Geological and Other Scientific Terms Used in this Work.



View of the Temple of Serapis at Puzzuoli in 1836.

title page

Title page from the 1854 edition.

“Verè scire est per causas scire.”—Bacon.

“The stony rocks are not primeval, but the daughters of Time.”—Linnæus, Syst. Nat. ed. 5, Stockholm, 1748, p. 219.

“Amid all the revolutions of the globe, the economy of nature has been uniform, and her laws are the only things that have resisted the general movement. The rivers and the rocks, the seas and the continents have been changed in all their parts; but the laws which direct those changes, and the rules to which they are subject, have remained invariably the same.”—Playfair, Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory, § 374.

“The inhabitants of the globe, like all the other parts of it, are subject to change. It is not only the individual that perishes, but whole species.

“A change in the animal kingdom seems to be a part of the order of Nature, and is visible in instances to which human power cannot have extended.”—Playfair, Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory, § 413.

Preface to the Ninth Edition.

The Principles of Geology in the first five editions embraced not only a view of the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants, as set forth in the present work, but also some account of those monuments of analogous changes of ancient date, both in the organic and inorganic world, which it is the business of the geologist to interpret. The subject last mentioned, or “geology proper,” constituted originally a fourth book, now omitted, the same having been enlarged into a separate treatise, first published in 1838, in one volume 12mo., and called “The Elements of Geology,” afterwards recast in two volumes 12mo. in 1842, and again re-edited under the title of “Manual of Elementary Geology,” in one volume 1851. The “Principles” and “Manual” thus divided, occupy, with one exception, to which I shall presently allude, very different ground. The “Principles” treat of such portions of the economy of existing nature, animate and inanimate, as are illustrative of Geology, so as to comprise an investigation of the permanent effects of causes now in action, which may serve as records to after ages of the present condition of the globe and its inhabitants. Such effects are the enduring monuments of the ever-varying state of the physical geography of the globe, the lasting signs of its destruction and renovation, and the memorials of the equally fluctuating condition of the organic world. They may be regarded, in short, as a symbolical language, in which the earth’s autobiography is written.

In the “Manual of Elementary Geology,” on the other hand, I have treated briefly of the component materials of the earth’s crust, their arrangement and relative position, and their organic contents, which, when deciphered by aid of the key supplied by the study of the modern changes above alluded to, reveal to us the annals of a grand succession of past events—a series of revolutions which the solid exterior of the globe, and its living inhabitants, have experienced in times antecedent to the creation of man.

In thus separating the two works, however, I have retained in the “Principles” (book i.) the discussion of some matters which might fairly be regarded as common to both treatises; as for example, an historical sketch of the early progress of geology, followed by a series of preliminary essays to explain the facts and arguments which lead me to believe that the forces now operating upon and beneath the earth’s surface may be the same, both in kind and degree, as those which at remote epochs have worked out geological changes. (See Analysis of Contents of this work, p. ix.)

If I am asked whether the “Principles” or the “Manual” should be studied first, I feel much the same difficulty in answering the question as if a student should inquire whether he ought to take up first a treatise on Chemistry, or one on Natural Philosophy, subjects sufficiently distinct, yet inseparably connected. On the whole, while I have endeavored to make each of the two treatises, in their present form, quite independent of the other, I would recommend the reader to study first the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants as they are discussed in the present volume, proceeding afterwards to the classification and interpretation of the monuments of more remote ages.

Charles Lyell.

11 Harley Street, London, May 24, 1853.

Dates of the successive Editions of the “Principles” and “Elements” (or Manual) of Geology, by the Author.
Principles, 1st vol. in octvo, published in Jan. 1830.
—————, 2d vol. in octvo, published in Jan. 1832.
—————, 1st vol. 2d edition in octavo 1832.
—————, 2d vol. 2d edition in octavo Jan. 1833.
————— 3d vol. 1st edition in octavo May, 1833.
—————, New edition (called the 3d) of the whole work in 4 vols. 12mo May, 1834.
—————, 4th edition, 4 vols. 12mo June, 1835.
—————, 5th edition, 4 vols. 12mo Mar. 1837.
Elements, 1st edition in one vol July, 1838.
Principles, 6th edition, 3 vols. 12mo June, 1840.
Elements, 2d edition in 2 vols. 12mo July, 1841.
Principles, 7th edition in one vol. 8vo Feb. 1847.
—————, 8th edition in one vol. 8vo May, 1850.
Manual of Elementary Geology (or “Elements,” 3d edition) in one vol. 8vo. Jan. 1851.
Manual, 4th edition, one vol. 8vo Jan. 1852.
Principles, 9th edition, now published in one vol. 8vo June, 1853.
Analysis of the Contents
The Principles of Geology.
Book 1. (Chapters I. to xiii.)

historical sketch of the progress of geology, with a series of essays to show that the monuments of the ancient state of the earth and its inhabitants, which this science interprets, can only be understood by a previous acquaintance with terrestrial changes now in progress, both in the organic and inorganic worlds.


Geology defined—Its relation to other Sciences

Page 1

Oriental and Egyptian Cosmogonies—Doctrines of the Greeks and Romans bearing on Geology


Historical progress of Geology—Arabian Writers—Italian, French, German, and English geologists before the 19th century—Physico-theological school


Werner and Hutton—Modern progress of the science


Prepossessions in regard to the duration of past time, and other causes which have retarded the progress of Geology


Agreement of the ancient and modern course of nature considered—Changes of climate


Causes of vicissitudes in climate, and their connection with changes in physical geography

92, 114

Theory of the progressive development of organic life at successive periods considered—Modern origin of Man


Supposed intensity of aqueous forces at remote periods—Erratic blocks—Deluges


Supposed former intensity of the igneous forces—Upheaval of land—Volcanic action


Causes of the difference in texture of older and newer rocks—Plutonic and Metamorphic. action


Supposed alternate periods of repose and disorder—Opposite doctrine, which refers geological phenomena to an uninterrupted series of changes in the organic and inorganic world, unattended with general catastrophes, or the development of paroxysmal forces


Book 2. (Chapters xiv. to xxxii.)

observed changes in the inorganic world now in progress: first, the effects of aqueous causes, such as rivers, springs, glaciers, waves, tides, and currents; secondly, of igneous causes, or subterranean heat, as exhibited in the volcano and the earthquake.


Aqueous causes—Excavating and transporting power of rivers


Carrying power of river-ice—Glaciers and Icebergs


Phenomena of springs


Reproductive effects of rivers—Deltas of lakes and inland seas


Deltas of the Mississippi, Ganges, and other rivers exposed to tidal action


Denuding, transporting, and depositing agency of the waves, tides, and currents—Waste of sea-cliffs on the coast of England—Delta of the Rhine—Deposition of sediment under the influence of marine currents

290, 321, 337

Observed effects of igneous causes—Regions of active volcanoes


History of the volcanic eruptions of the district round Naples—Structure of Vesuvius—Herculaneum and Pompeii

360, 375

Etna—Its eruptions—Structure and antiquity of the cone


Volcanoes of Iceland, Mexico, the Canaries, and Grecian Archipelago—Mud volcanoes


Earthquakes and the permanent changes attending them


Earthquake of 1783 in Calabria


Elevation and subsidence of dry land, and of the bed of the sea during earthquakes—Evidence of the same afforded by the Temple of Serapis near Naples


Elevation and subsidence of land in regions free from volcanoes and earthquakes—Rising of land in Sweden


Causes of earthquakes and volcanoes—Theory of central fluidity of the earth—Chemical theory of volcanoes—Causes of permanent upheaval and depression of land

533, 545

Book 3. (Chapters xxxiii to L.)

observed changes of the organic world now in progress; first, nature and geographical distribution of species, and theories respecting their creation and extinction; secondly, the influence of organic beings in modifying physical geography; thirdly, the laws according to which they are imbedded in volcanic, freshwater, and marine deposits.


Whether species have a real existence in nature—Theory of transmutation of species—Variability of species—Phenomena of hybrids in animals and plants

566, 578, 591, 600

Laws which regulate the geographical distribution of species—Distinct provinces of peculiar species of plants—Their mode of diffusion


Distinct provinces of peculiar species of animals—Distribution and dispersion of quadrupeds, birds, and reptiles


Geographical distribution and migrations of fish—Of testacea—Of zoophytes—Of insects—Geographical distribution and diffusion of the human race


Theories respecting the original introduction of species—Reciprocal influence of species on each other


Extinction of species—How every extension of the range of a species alters the condition of many others—Effect of changes of climate

677, 689

Creation of species—Whether the loss of certain animals and plants is compensated by the introduction of new species


Modifications in physical geography caused by organic beings


Imbedding of organic remains in peat, blown sand, and volcanic ejections


Imbedding of the same in alluvial deposits and in caves


Imbedding of organic remains in aqueous deposits—Terrestrial plants—Insects, reptiles, birds, quadrupeds


Imbedding of the remains of man and his works


Imbedding of aquatic animals and plants, both freshwater and marine, in aqueous deposits


Formation of coral reefs

List of Plates.
Frontispiece, View of the Temple of Serapis at Puzzuoli in 1836, to face title page. to face title page.
Plate 1. Map showing the Area in Europe which has been covered by Water since the beginning of the Eocene Period to face p. 121
  2. Boulders drifted by Ice on the Shores of the St. Lawrence. 220
  3. View looking up the Val del Bove, Etna. 408
  4. View of the Val del Bove, Etna, as seen from above 404

Principles of Geology.

Book 1.

Chapter 1.

Geology defined—Compared to History—Its relation to other Physical Sciences—Not to be confounded with Cosmogony.

Geology is the science which investigates the successive changes that have taken place in the organic and inorganic kingdoms of nature; it inquires into the causes of these changes, and the influence which they have exerted in modifying the surface and external structure of our planet.

By these researches into the state of the earth and its inhabitants at former periods, we acquire a more perfect knowledge of its present condition, and more comprehensive views concerning the laws now governing its animate and inanimate productions. When we study history, we obtain a more profound insight into human nature, by instituting a comparison between the present and former states of society. We trace the long series of events which have gradually led to the actual posture of affairs; and by connecting effects with their causes, we are enabled to classify and retain in the memory a multitude of complicated relations—the various peculiarities of national character—the different degrees of moral and intellectual refinement, and numerous other circumstances, which, without historical associations, would be uninteresting or imperfectly understood. As the present condition of nations is the result of many antecedent changes, some extremely remote, and others recent, some gradual, others sudden and violent; so the state, of the natural world is the result of a long succession of events; and if we would enlarge our experience of the present economy of nature, we must investigate the effects of her operations in former epochs.

We often discover with surprise, on looking back into the chronicles of nations, how the fortune of some battle has influenced the fate of millions of our contemporaries, when it has long been forgotten by the mass of the population. With this remote event we may find inseparably connected the geographical boundaries of a great state, the language now spoken by the inhabitants, their peculiar manners, laws, and religious opinions. But far more astonishing and unexpected are the connections brought to light, when we carry back our researches into the history of nature. The form of a coast, the configuration of the interior of a country, the existence and extent of lakes, valleys, and mountains, can often be traced to the former prevalence of earthquakes and volcanoes in regions which have long been undisturbed. To these remote convulsions the present fertility of some districts, the sterile character of others, the elevation of land above the sea, the climate, and various peculiarities, may be distinctly referred. On the other hand, many distinguishing features of the surface may often be ascribed to the operation, at a remote era, of slow and tranquil causes—to the gradual deposition of sediment in a lake or in the ocean, or to the prolific increase of testacea and corals.

To select another example, we find in certain localities subterranean deposits of coal, consisting of vegetable matter, formerly drifted into seas and lakes. These seas and lakes have since been filled up, the lands whereon the forests grew have disappeared or changed their form, the rivers and currents which floated the vegetable masses can no longer be traced, and the plants belonged to species which for ages have passed away from the surface of our planet. Yet the commercial prosperity, and numerical strength of a nation, may now be mainly dependent on the local distribution of fuel determined by that ancient state of things.

Geology is intimately related to almost all the physical sciences, as history is to the moral. An historian should, if possible, be at once profoundly acquainted with ethics, politics, jurisprudence, the military art, theology; in a word, with all branches of knowledge by which any insight into human affairs, or into the moral and intellectual nature of man, can be obtained. It would be no less desirable that a geologist should be well versed in chemistry, natural philosophy, mineralogy, zoology, comparative anatomy, botany; in short, in every science relating to organic and inorganic nature. With these accomplishments, the historian and geologist would rarely fail to draw correct and philosophical conclusions from the various monuments transmitted to them of former occurrences. They would know to what combination of causes analogous effects were referable, and they would often be enabled to supply, by inference, information concerning many events unrecorded in the defective archives of former ages. But as such extensive acquisitions are scarcely within the reach of any individual, it is necessary that men who have devoted their lives to different departments should unite their efforts; and as the historian receives assistance from the antiquary, and from those who have cultivated different branches of moral and political science, so the geologist should avail himself of the aid of many naturalists, and particularly of those who have studied the fossil remains of lost species of animals and plants.

The analogy, however, of the monuments consulted in geology, and those available in history, extends no farther than to one class of historical monuments—those which may be said to be undesignedly commemorative of former events. The canoes, for example, and stone hatchets found in our peat bogs, afford an insight into the rude arts and manners of the earliest inhabitants of our island; the buried coin fixes the date of the reign of some Roman emperor; the ancient encampment indicates the districts once occupied by invading armies, and the former method of constructing military defences; the Egyptian mummies throw light on the art of embalming, the rites of sepulture, or the average stature of the human race in ancient Egypt. This class of memorials yields to no other in authenticity, but it constitutes a small part only of the resources on which the historian relies, whereas in geology it forms the only kind of evidence which is at our command. For this reason we must not expect to obtain a full and connected account of any series of events beyond the reach of history. But the testimony of geological monuments, if frequently imperfect, possesses at least the advantage of being free from all intentional misrepresentation. We may be deceived in the inferences which we draw, in the same manner as we often mistake the nature and import of phenomena observed in the daily course of nature; but our liability to err is confined to the interpretation, and, if this be correct, our information is certain.

It was long before the distinct nature and legitimate objects of geology were fully recognized, and it was at first confounded with many other branches of inquiry, just as the limits of history, poetry, and mythology were ill-defined in the infancy of civilization. Even in Werner’s time, or at the close of the eighteenth century, geology appears to have been regarded as little other than a subordinate department of mineralogy; and Desmarest included it under the head of Physical Geography. But the most common and serious source of confusion arose from the notion, that it was the business of geology to discover the mode in which the earth originated, or, as some imagined, to study the effects of those cosmological causes which were employed by the Author of Nature to bring this planet out of a nascent and chaotic state into a more perfect and habitable condition. Hutton was the first who endeavored to draw a strong line of demarcation between his favorite science and cosmogony, for he declared that geology was in nowise concerned “with questions as to the origin of things.”

An attempt will be made in the sequel of this work to demonstrate that geology differs as widely from cosmogony, as speculations concerning the mode of the first creation of man differ from history. But, before entering more at large on this controverted question, it will be desirable to trace the progress of opinion on this topic, from the earliest ages to the commencement of the present century.

Chapter 2.

Historical Sketch of the Progress of Geology.

Oriental Cosmogony—Hymns of the Vedas—Institutes of Menù—Doctrine of the successive destruction and renovation of the world—Origin of this doctrine—Common to the Egyptians—Adopted by the Greeks—System of Pythagoras—Of Aristotle—Dogmas concerning the extinction and reproduction of genera and species—Strabo’s theory of elevation by earthquakes—Pliny—Concluding Remarks on the knowledge of the Ancients.

Oriental Cosmogony.—The earliest doctrines of the Indian and Egyptian schools of philosophy agreed in ascribing the first creation of the world to an omnipotent and infinite Being. They concurred also in representing this Being, who had existed from all eternity, as having repeatedly destroyed and reproduced the world and all its inhabitants. In the sacred volume of the Hindoos, called the Ordinances of Menù, comprising the Indian system of duties religious and civil, we find a preliminary chapter treating of the Creation, in which the cosmogony is known to have been derived from earlier writings and traditions; and principally from certain hymns of high antiquity, called the Vedas. These hymns were first put together, according to Mr. Colebrooke,1 in a connected series, about thirteen centuries before the Christian era, but they appear from internal evidence to have been written at various antecedent periods. In them, as we learn from the researches of Professor Wilson, the eminent Sanscrit scholar, two distinct philosophical systems are discoverable. According to one of them, all things were originally brought into existence by the sole will of a single First Cause, which existed from eternity; according to the other, there have always existed two principles, the one material, but without form, the other spiritual and capable of compelling “inert matter to develop its sensible properties.” This development of matter into “individual and visible existences” is called creation, and is assigned to a subordinate agent, or the creative faculty of the Supreme Being embodied in the person of Brahma.

In the first chapter of the Ordinances of Menù above alluded to, we meet with the following passages relating to former destructions and renovations of the world:—

“The Being, whose powers are incomprehensible, having created me (Menù) and this universe, again became absorbed in the supreme spirit, changing the time of energy for the hour of repose.

“When that Power awakes, then has this world its full expansion; but when he slumbers with a tranquil spirit, then the whole system fades away. . . . . For while he reposes, as it were, embodied spirits endowed with principles of action depart from their several acts, and the mind itself becomes inert.”

The absorption of all beings into the Supreme essence is then described, and the Divine soul itself is said to slumber, and to remain for a time immersed in “the first idea, or in darkness.” After which the text thus proceeds (verse fifty-seven), “Thus that immutable power by waking and reposing alternately, revivifies and destroys, in eternal succession, this whole assemblage of locomotive and immovable creatures.”

It is then declared that there has been a long succession of manwantaras, or periods, each of the duration of many thousand ages, and—

“There are creations also, and destructions of worlds innumerable: the Being, supremely exalted, performs all this with as much ease as if in sport, again and again, for the sake of conferring happiness.”2

No part of the Eastern cosmogony, from which these extracts are made, is more interesting to the geologist than the doctrine, so frequently alluded to, of the reiterated submersion of the land beneath the waters of a universal ocean. In the beginning of things, we are told, the First Sole Cause “with a thought created the waters,” and then moved upon their surface in the form of Brahma the creator, by whose agency the emergence of the dry land was effected, and the peopling of the earth with plants, animals, celestial creatures, and man. Afterwards, as often as a general conflagration at the close of each manwantara had annihilated every visible and existing thing, Brahma, on awaking from his sleep, finds the whole world a shapeless ocean. Accordingly, in the legendary poems called the Puranas, composed at a later date than the Vedas, the three first Avatars or descents of the Deity upon earth have for their object to recover the land from the waters. For this purpose Vishnu is made successively to assume the form of a fish, a tortoise, and a boar.

Extravagant as may be some of the conceits and fictions which disfigure these pretended revelations, we can by no means look upon them as a pure effort of the unassisted imagination, or believe them to have been composed without regard to opinions and theories founded on the observation of Nature. In astronomy, for instance, it is declared that, at the North Pole, the year was divided into a long day and night, and that their long day was the northern, and their night the southern course of the sun; and to the inhabitants of the moon, it is said one day is equal in length to one month of mortals.3 If such statements cannot be resolved into mere conjectures, we have no right to refer to mere chance the prevailing notion that the earth and its inhabitants had formerly undergone a succession of revolutions and aqueous catastrophes interrupted by long intervals of tranquillity.

Now there are two sources in which such a theory may have originated. The marks of former convulsions on every part of the surface of our planet are obvious and striking. The remains of marine animals imbedded in the solid strata are so abundant, that they may be expected to force themselves on the attention of every people who have made some progress in refinement; and especially where one class of men are expressly set apart from the rest, like the ancient priesthoods of India and Egypt, for study and contemplation. If these appearances are once recognized, it seems natural that the mind should conclude in favor, not only of mighty changes in past ages, but of alternate periods of repose and disorder;—of repose, when the animals now fossil lived, grew, and multiplied—of disorder, when the strata in which they were buried became transferred from the sea to the interior of continents, and were uplifted so as to form part of high mountain-chains. Those modern writers, who are disposed to disparage the former intellectual advancement and civilization of Eastern nations, may concede some foundation of observed facts for the curious theories now under consideration, without indulging in exaggerated opinions of the progress of science; especially as universal catastrophes of the world, and exterminations of organic beings, in the sense in which they were understood by the Brahmins, are untenable doctrines.

We know that the Egyptian priests were aware, not only that the soil beneath the plains of the Nile, but that also the hills bounding the great valley, contained marine shells; and Herodotus inferred from these facts, that all lower Egypt, and even the high lands above Memphis, had once been covered by the sea.4 As similar fossil remains occur in all parts of Asia hitherto explored, far in the interior of the continent as well as near the sea, they could hardly have escaped detection by some Eastern sages not less capable than the Greek historian of reasoning philosophically on natural phenomena.

We also know that the rulers of Asia were engaged in very remote eras in executing great national works, such as tanks and canals, requiring extensive excavations. In the fourteenth century of our era (in the year 1360), the removal of soil necessary for such undertakings brought to light geological facts, which attracted the attention of a people less civilized than were many of the older nations of the East. The historian Ferishta relates that fifty thousand laborers were employed in cutting through a mound, so as to form a junction between the rivers Selima and Sutlej; and in this mound were found the bones of elephants and men, some of them petrified, and some of them resembling bone. The gigantic dimensions attributed to the human bones show them to have belonged to some of the larger pachydermata.5

But, although the Brahmins, like the priests of Egypt, may have been acquainted with the existence of fossil remains in the strata, it is possible that the doctrine of successive destructions and renovations of the world, merely received corroboration from such proofs; and that it may have been originally handed down, like the religious traditions of most nations, from a ruder state of society. The system may have had its source, in part at least, in exaggerated accounts of those dreadful catastrophes which are occasioned by particular combinations of natural causes. Floods and volcanic eruptions, the agency of water and fire, are the chief instruments of devastation on our globe. We shall point out in the sequel the extent of many of these calamities, recurring at distant intervals of time, in the present course of nature; and shall only observe here, that they are so peculiarly calculated to inspire a lasting terror, and are so often fatal in their consequences to great multitudes of people, that it scarcely requires the passion for the marvellous, so characteristic of rude and half-civilized nations, still less the exuberant imagination of Eastern writers, to augment them into general cataclysms and conflagrations.

The great flood of the Chinese, which their traditions carry back to the period of Yaou, something more than 2000 years before our era, has been identified by some persons with the universal deluge described in the Old Testament; but according to Mr. Davis, who accompanied two of our embassies to China, and who has carefully examined their written accounts, the Chinese cataclysm is therein described as interrupting the business of agriculture, rather than as involving a general destruction of the human race. The great Yu was celebrated for having “opened nine channels to draw off the waters,” which “covered the low hills and bathed the foot of the highest mountains.” Mr. Davis suggests that a great derangement of waters of the Yellow River, one of the largest in the world, might even now cause the flood of Yaou to be repeated, and lay the most fertile and populous plains of China under water. In modern times the bursting of the banks of an artificial canal, into which a portion of the Yellow River has been turned, has repeatedly given rise to the most dreadful accidents, and is a source of perpetual anxiety to the government. It is easy, therefore, to imagine how much greater may have been the inundation, if this valley was ever convulsed by a violent earthquake.6

Humboldt relates the interesting fact that, after the annihilation of a large part of the inhabitants of Cumana, by an earthquake in 1766, a season of extraordinary fertility ensued, in consequence of the great rains which accompanied the subterranean convulsions. “The Indians,” he says, “celebrated, after the ideas of an antique superstition, by festivals and dancing, the destruction of the world and the approaching epoch of its regeneration.”7

The existence of such rites among the rude nations of South America is most important, as showing what effects may be produced by local catastrophes, recurring at distant intervals of time, on the minds of a barbarous and uncultivated race. I shall point out in the sequel how the tradition of a deluge among the Araucanian Indians may be explained, by reference to great earthquake-waves which have repeatedly rolled over part of Chili since the first recorded flood of 1590. (See chap. 29, Book II.) The legend also of the ancient Peruvians of an inundation many years before the reign of the Incas, in which only six persons were saved on a float, relates to a region which has more than once been overwhelmed by inroads of the ocean since the days of Pizarro. (Chap. 29, Book II.) I might refer the reader to my account of the submergence of a wide area in Cutch so lately as the year 1819, when a single tower only of the fort of Sindree appeared above the waste of waters (see Chap. 28, Book II.), if it were necessary, to prove how easily the catastrophes of modern times might give rise to traditionary narratives, among a rude people, of floods of boundless extent. Nations without written records, and who are indebted for all their knowledge of past events exclusively to oral tradition, are in the habit of confounding in one legend a series of incidents which have happened at various epochs; nor must we forget that the superstitions of a savage tribe are transmitted through all the progressive stages of society, till they exert a powerful influence on the mind of the philosopher. He may find, in the monuments of former changes on the earth’s surface, an apparent confirmation of tenets handed down through successive generations, from the rude hunter, whose terrified imagination drew a false picture of those awful visitations of floods and earthquakes, whereby the whole earth as known to him was simultaneously devastated.

Egyptian Cosmogony.—Respecting the cosmogony of the Egyptian priests, we gather much information from writers of the Grecian sects, who borrowed almost all their tenets from Egypt, and amongst others that of the former successive destruction and renovation of the world.8 We learn from Plutarch, that this was the theme of one of the hymns of Orpheus, so celebrated in the fabulous ages of Greece. It was brought by him from the banks of the Nile; and we even find in his verses, as in the Indian systems, a definite period assigned for the duration of each successive world.9 The returns of great catastrophes were determined by the period of the Annus Magnus, or great year,—a cycle composed of the revolutions of the sun, moon, and planets, and terminating when these return together to the same sign whence they were supposed at some remote epoch to have set out. The duration of this great cycle was variously estimated. According to Orpheus, it was 120,000 years; according to others, 300,000; and by Cassander it was taken to be 360,000 years.10

We learn particularly from the Timæus of Plato, that the Egyptians believed the world to be subject to occasional conflagrations and deluges, whereby the gods arrested the career of human wickedness, and purified the earth from guilt. After each regeneration, mankind were in a state of virtue and happiness, from which they gradually degenerated again into vice and immorality. From this Egyptian doctrine, the poets derived the fable of the decline from the golden to the iron age. The sect of Stoics adopted most fully the system of catastrophes destined at certain intervals to destroy the world. Those they taught were of two kinds;—the Cataclysm, or destruction by water, which sweeps away the whole human race, and annihilates all the animal and vegetable productions of nature; and the Ecpyrosis, or destruction by fire, which dissolves the globe itself. From the Egyptians also they derived the doctrine of the gradual debasement of man from a state of innocence. Towards the termination of each era, the gods could no longer bear with the wickedness of men, and a shock of the elements or a deluge overwhelmed them; after which calamity, Astrea again descended on the earth to renew the golden age.11

The connection between the doctrine of successive catastrophes and repeated deteriorations in the moral character of the human race is more intimate and natural than might at first be imagined. For, in a rude state of society, all great calamities are regarded by the people as judgments of God on the wickedness of man. Thus, in our own time, the priests persuaded a large part of the population of Chili, and perhaps believed themselves, that the fatal earthquake of 1822 was a sign of the wrath of Heaven for the great political revolution just then consummated in South America. In like manner, in the account given to Solon by the Egyptian priests, of the submersion of the island of Atlantis under the waters of the ocean, after repeated shocks of an earthquake, we find that the event happened when Jupiter had seen the moral depravity of the inhabitants.12 Now, when the notion had once gained ground, whether from causes before suggested or not, that the earth had been destroyed by several general catastrophes, it would next be inferred that the human race had been as often destroyed and renovated. And since every extermination was assumed to be penal, it could only be reconciled with divine justice, by the supposition that man, at each successive creation, was regenerated in a state of purity and innocence.

A very large portion of Asia, inhabited by the earliest nations, whose traditions have come down to us, has been always subject to tremendous earthquakes. Of the geographical boundaries of these, and their effects, I shall speak in the proper place. Egypt has, for the most part, been exempt from this scourge, and the Egyptian doctrine of great catastrophes was probably derived in part, as before hinted, from early geological observations, and in part from Eastern nations.

Pythagorean Doctrines.—Pythagoras, who resided for more than twenty years in Egypt, and, according to Cicero, had visited the East, and conversed with the Persian philosophers, introduced into his own country, on his return, the doctrine of the gradual deterioration of the human race from an original state of virtue and happiness; but if we are to judge of his theory concerning the destruction and renovation of the earth from the sketch given by Ovid, we must concede it to have been far more philosophical than any known version of the cosmogonies of Oriental or Egyptian sects.

Although Pythagoras is introduced by the poet as delivering his doctrine in person, some of the illustrations are derived from natural events which happened after the death of the philosopher. But notwithstanding these anachronisms, we may regard the account as a true picture of the tenets of the Pythagorean school in the Augustan age; and although perhaps partially modified, it must have contained the substance of the original scheme. Thus considered, it is extremely curious and instructive; for we here find a comprehensive summary of almost all the great causes of change now in activity on the globe, and these adduced in confirmation of a principle of a perpetual and gradual revolution inherent in the nature of our terrestrial system. These doctrines, it is true, are not directly applied to the explanation of geological phenomena; or, in other words, no attempt is made to estimate what may have been in past ages, or what may hereafter be, the aggregate amount of change brought about by such never-ending fluctuations. Had this been the case, we might have been called upon to admire so extraordinary an anticipation with no less interest than astronomers, when they endeavor to define by what means the Samian philosopher came to the knowledge of the Copernican system.

Let us now examine the celebrated passages to which we have been adverting:13

“Nothing perishes in this world; but things merely vary and change their form. To be born, means simply that a thing begins to be something different from what it was before; and dying, is ceasing to be the same thing. Yet, although nothing retains long the same image, the sum of the whole remains constant.” These general propositions are then confirmed by a series of examples, all derived from natural appearances, except the first, which refers to the golden age giving place to the age of iron. The illustrations are thus consecutively adduced.

  1. Solid land has been converted into sea.

  2. Sea has been changed into land. Marine shells lie far distant from the deep, and the anchor has been found on the summit of hills.

  3. Valleys have been excavated by running water, and floods have washed down hills into the sea.14

  4. Marshes have become dry ground.
  5. Dry lands have been changed into stagnant pools.

  6. During earthquakes some springs have been closed up, and new ones have broken out. Rivers have deserted their channels, and have been re-born elsewhere, as the Erasinus in Greece, and Mysus in Asia.

  7. The waters of some rivers, formerly sweet, have become bitter; as those of the Anigris, in Greece, &c.15

  8. Islands have become connected with the mainland by the growth of deltas and new deposits; as in the case of Antissa joined to Lesbos, Pharos to Egypt, &c.

  9. Peninsulas have been divided from the main land, and have become islands, as Leucadia; and according to tradition, Sicily, the sea having carried away the isthmus.

  10. Land has been submerged by earthquakes; the Grecian cities of Helice and Buris, for example, are to be seen under the sea, with their walls inclined.

  11. Plains have been upheaved into hills by the confined air seeking vent; as at Trœzene in the Peloponnesus.

  12. The temperature of some springs varies at different periods. The waters of others are inflammable.16

  13. There are streams which have a petrifying power, and convert the substances which they touch into marble.

  14. Extraordinary medicinal and deleterious effects are produced by the water of different lakes and springs.17

  15. Some rocks and islands, after floating and having been subject to violent movements, have at length become stationary and immovable; as Delos and the Cyanean Isles.18

  16. Volcanic vents shift their position; there was a time when Etna was not a burning mountain, and the time will come when it will cease to burn. Whether it be that some caverns become closed up by the movements of the earth, and others opened, or whether the fuel is finally exhausted, &c., &c.

The various causes of change in the inanimate world having been thus enumerated, the doctrine of equivocal generation is next propounded, as illustrating a corresponding perpetual flux in the animate creation.19

In the Egyptian and Eastern cosmogonies, and in the Greek version of them, no very definite meaning can, in general, be attached to the term “destruction of the world;” for sometimes it would seem almost to imply the annihilation of our planetary system, and at others a mere revolution of the surface of the earth.

Opinions of Aristotle.—From the works now extant of Aristotle, and from the system of Pythagoras, as above exposed, we might certainly infer that these philosophers considered the agents of change now operating in nature, as capable of bringing about in the lapse of ages a complete revolution; and the Stagyrite even considers occasional catastrophes, happening at distant intervals of time, as part of the regular and ordinary course of nature. The deluge of Deucalion, he says, affected Greece only, and principally the part called Hellas, and it arose from great inundations of rivers, during a rainy winter. But such extraordinary winters, he says, though after a certain period they return, do not always revisit the same places.20

Censorinus quotes it as Aristotle’s opinion that there were general inundations of the globe, and that they alternated with conflagrations; and that the flood constituted the winter of the great year, or astronomical cycle, while the conflagration, or destruction by fire, is the summer, or period of greatest heat.21 If this passage, as Lipsius supposes, be an amplification, by Censorinus, of what is written in “the Meteorics,” it is a gross misrepresentation of the doctrine of the Stagyrite, for the general bearing of his reasoning in that treatise tends clearly in an opposite direction. He refers to many examples of changes now constantly going on, and insists emphatically on the great results which they must produce in the lapse of ages. He instances particular cases of lakes that had dried up, and deserts that had at length become watered by rivers and fertilized. He points to the growth of the Nilotic Delta since the time of Homer, to the shallowing of the Palus Mæotis within sixty years from his own time; and although, in the same chapter he says nothing of earthquakes, yet in others of the same treatise he shows himself not unacquainted with their effects.22 He alludes, for example, to the upheaving of one of the Eolian islands previous to a volcanic eruption. “The changes of the earth,” he says, “are so slow in comparison to the duration of our lives, that they are overlooked (λανθανει): and the migrations of people after great catastrophes, and their removal to other regions, cause the event to be forgotten.”23

When we consider the acquaintance displayed by Aristotle, in his various works, with the destroying and renovating powers of Nature, the introductory and concluding passages of the twelfth chapter of his “Meteorics” are certainly very remarkable. In the first sentence he says, “The distribution of land and sea in particular regions does not endure throughout all time, but it becomes sea in those parts where it was land, and again it becomes land where it was sea: and there is reason for thinking that these changes take place according to a certain system, and within a certain period.” The concluding observation is as follows:—“As time never fails, and the universe is eternal, neither the Tànais, nor the Nile, can have flowed forever. The places where they rise were once dry, and there is a limit to their operations; but there is none to time. So also of all other rivers; they spring up, and they perish; and the sea also continually deserts some lands and invades others. The same tracts, therefore, of the earth are not, some always sea, and others always continents, but every thing changes in the course of time.”

It seems, then, that the Greeks had not only derived from preceding nations, but had also, in some slight degree, deduced from their own observations, the theory of periodical revolutions in the inorganic world: there is, however, no ground for imagining that they contemplated former changes in the races of animals and plants. Even the fact that marine remains were inclosed in solid rocks, although observed by some, and even made the groundwork of geological speculation, never stimulated the industry or guided the inquiries of naturalists. It is not impossible that the theory of equivocal generation might have engendered some indifference on this subject, and that a belief in the spontaneous production of living beings from the earth or corrupt matter, might have caused the organic world to appear so unstable and fluctuating, that phenomena indicative of former changes would not awaken intense curiosity. The Egyptians, it is true, had taught, and the Stoics had repeated, that the earth had once given birth to some monstrous animals, which existed no longer; but the prevailing opinion seems to have been, that after each great catastrophe the same species of animals were created over again. This tenet is implied in a passage of Seneca, where, speaking of a future deluge, he says, “Every animal shall be generated anew, and man free from guilt shall be given to the earth.”24

An old Arabian version of the doctrine of the successive revolutions of the globe, translated by Abraham Ecchellensis,25 seems to form a singular exception to the general rule, for here we find the idea of different genera and species having been created. The Gerbanites, a sect of astronomers who flourished some centuries before the Christian era, taught as follows:—“That after every period of thirty-six thousand four hundred and twenty-five years, there were produced a pair of every species of animal, both male and female, from whom animals might be propagated and inhabit this lower world. But when a circulation of the heavenly orbs was completed, which is finished in that space of years, other genera and species of animals are propagated, as also of plants and other things, and the first order is destroyed, and so it goes on forever and ever.”26

Theory of Strabo.—As we learn much of the tenets of the Egyptian and Oriental schools in the writings of the Greeks, so, many speculations of the early Greek authors are made known to us in the works of the Augustan and later ages. Strabo, in particular, enters largely, in the second book of his Geography, into the opinions of Eratosthenes and other Greeks on one of the most difficult problems in geology, viz., by what causes marine shells came to be plentifully buried in the earth at such great elevations and distances from the sea.

He notices, amongst others, the explanation of Xanthus the Lydian, who said that the seas had once been more extensive, and that they had afterwards been partially dried up, as in his own time many lakes, rivers, and wells in Asia had failed during a season of drought. Treating this conjecture with merited disregard, Strabo passes on to the hypothesis of Strato, the natural philosopher, who had observed that the quantity of mud brought down by rivers into the Euxine was so great, that its bed must be gradually raised, while the rivers still continue to pour in an undiminished quantity of water. He, therefore, conceived that, originally, when the Euxine was an inland sea, its level had by this means become so much elevated that it burst its barrier near Byzantium, and formed a communication with the Propontis; and this partial drainage, he supposed, had already converted the left side into marshy ground, and thus, at last, the whole would be choked up with soil. So, it was argued, the Mediterranean had once opened a passage for itself by the Columns of Hercules into the Atlantic; and perhaps the abundance of sea-shells in Africa, near the Temple of Jupiter Ammon, might also be the deposit of some former inland sea, which had at length forced a passage and escaped.

But Strabo rejects this theory, as insufficient to account for all the phenomena, and he proposes one of his own, the profoundness of which modern geologists are only beginning to appreciate. “It is not,” he says, “because the lands covered by seas were originally at different altitudes, that the waters have risen, or subsided, or receded from some parts and inundated others. But the reason is, that the same land is sometimes raised up and sometimes depressed, and the sea also is simultaneously raised and depressed, so that it either overflows or returns into its own place again. We must, therefore, ascribe the cause to the ground, either to that ground which is under the sea, or to that which becomes flooded by it, but rather to that which lies beneath the sea, for this is more movable and, on account of its humidity, can be altered with greater celerity.27It is proper,” he observes in continuation, ”to derive our explanations from things which are obvious, and in some measure of daily occurrence, such as deluges, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions,28 and sudden swellings of the land beneath the sea; for the last raise up the sea also; and when the same lands subside again, they occasion the sea to be let down. And it is not merely the small, but the large islands also, and not merely the islands, but the continents which can be lifted up together with the sea; and both large and small tracts may subside, for habitations and cities, like Bure, Bizona, and many others, have been engulphed by earthquakes.”

In another place, this learned geographer, in alluding to the tradition that Sicily had been separated by a convulsion from Italy, remarks, that at present the land near the sea in those parts was rarely shaken by earthquakes, since there were now open orifices whereby fire and ignited matters, and waters escape; but formerly, when the volcanoes of Etna, the Lipari Islands, Ischia, and others, were closed up, the imprisoned fire and wind might have produced far more vehement movements.29 The doctrine, therefore, that volcanoes are safety-valves, and that the subterranean convulsions are probably most violent when first the volcanic energy shifts itself to a new quarter, is not modern.

We learn from a passage in Strabo,30 that it was a dogma of the Gaulish Druids that the universe was immortal, but destined to survive catastrophes both of fire and water. That this doctrine was communicated to them from the East, with much of their learning, cannot be doubted. Cæsar, it will be remembered, says that they made use of Greek letters in arithmetical computations.31

Pliny.—This philosopher had no theoretical opinions of his own concerning changes of the earth’s surface; and in this department, as in others, he restricted himself to the task of a compiler, without reasoning on the facts stated by him, or attempting to digest them into regular order. But his enumeration of the new islands which had been formed in the Mediterranean, and of other convulsions, shows that the ancients had not been inattentive observers of the changes which had taken place within the memory of man.

Such, then, appear to have been the opinions entertained before the Christian era, concerning the past revolutions of our globe. Although no particular investigations had been made for the express purpose of interpreting the monuments of ancient changes, they were too obvious to be entirely disregarded; and the observation of the present course of nature presented too many proofs of alterations continually in progress on the earth to allow philosophers to believe that nature was in a state of rest, or that the surface had remained, and would continue to remain unaltered. But they had never compared attentively the results of the destroying and reproductive operations of modern times with those of remote eras, nor had they ever entertained so much as a conjecture concerning the comparative antiquity of the human race, or of living species of animals and plants, with those belonging to former conditions of the organic world. They had studied the movements and positions of the heavenly bodies with laborious industry, and made some progress in investigating the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms; but the ancient history of the globe was to them a sealed book, and, although written in characters of the most striking and imposing kind, they were unconscious even of its existence.

1 Essays on the Philosophy of the Hindoos.

2 Institutes of Hindoo Law, or the Ordinances of Menù, from the Sanscrit, translated by Sir William Jones, 1796.

3 Menù, Inst. c. i. 66, and 67.

4 Herodot. Euterpe, 12.

5 A Persian MS. copy of the historian Ferishta, in the library of the East India Company, relating to the rise and progress of the Mahomedan empire in India, was procured by Colonel Briggs from the library of Tippoo Sultan in 1799; which has been referred to at some length by Dr. Buckland. (Geol. Trans. 2d Series, vol. ii. part iii. p. 389.)

6 See Davis on “The Chinese,” published by the Soc. for the Diffus. of Use. Know. vol. i. pp. 137, 147.

7 Humboldt et Bonpland, Voy. Relat. Hist. vol. i. p. 30.

8 Prichard’s Egypt. Mythol. p. 177.

9 Plut. de Defectu Oraculorum, cap. 12. Censorinus de Die Natali. See also Prichard’s Egypt. Mythol. p. 182.

10 Prichard’s Egypt. Mythol. p. 182.

11 Prichard’s Egypt. Mythol. p. 193.

12 Plato’s Timæus.

13 Ovid’s Metamor. lib. 15.

14 Eluvie mons est deductus in æquor, v. 267. The meaning of this last verse is somewhat obscure; but, taken with the context, may be supposed to allude to the abrading power of floods, torrents, and rivers.

15 The impregnation from new mineral springs, caused by earthquakes in volcanic countries, is perhaps here alluded to.

16 That is probably an allusion to the escape of inflammable gas, like that in the district of Baku, west of the Caspian; at Pietramala, in the Tuscan Apennines; and several other places.

17 Many of those described seem fanciful fictions, like the virtue still so commonly attributed to mineral waters.

18 Raspe, in a learned and judicious essay (De Novis Insulis, cap. 19), has made it appear extremely probable that all the traditions of certain islands in the Mediterranean having at some former time frequently shifted their positions, and at length become stationary, originated in the great change produced in their form by earthquakes and submarine eruptions, of which there have been modern examples in the new islands raised in the time of history. When the series of convulsions ended, the island was said to become fixed.

19 It is not inconsistent with the Hindoo mythology to suppose that Pythagoras might have found in the East not only the system of universal and violent catastrophes and periods of repose in endless succession, but also that of periodical revolutions, effected by the continued agency of ordinary causes. For Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, the first, second, and third persons of the Hindoo triad, severally represented the Creative, the Preserving, and the Destroying powers of the Deity. The coexistence of these three attributes, all in simultaneous operation, might well accord with the notion of perpetual but partial alterations finally bringing about a complete change. But the fiction expressed in the verses before quoted from Menù of eternal vicissitudes in the vigils and slumbers of Brahma seems accommodated to the system of great general catastrophes followed by new creations and periods of repose.

20 Meteor. lib. i. cap. 12.

21 De Die Nat.

22 Lib. ii. cap. 14, 15, and 16.

23 Lib. ii. cap. 14, 15, and 16.

24 Omne ex integro animal generabitur, dabiturque terris homo inscius scelerum.—Quæst. Nat. iii. c. 29.

25 This author was Regius Professor of Syriac and Arabic at Paris, where, in 1685, he published a Latin translation of many Arabian MSS. on different departments of philosophy. This work has always been considered of high authority.

26 Gerbanitæ docebant singulos triginta sex mille annos quadringentos, viginti quinque bina ex singulis animalium speciebus produci, marem scilicet ac feminam ex quibus animalia propagantur, huncque inferiorem incolunt orbem. Absoluta autem cœlestium orbium circulatione, quæ illo annorum conficitur spatio, iterum alia producuntur animalium genera et species, quemadmodum et plantarum aliarumque rerum, et primus destruitur ordo, sicque in infinitum producitur.—Histor. Orient Suppl. per Abrahamum Ecchellensem, Syrum Maronitam, cap. 7. et 8. ad calcem Chronici Orientali. Parisiis, e Typ. Regia. 1685, fol.

I have given the punctuation as in the Paris edition, there being no comma after quinque; but, at the suggestion of M. de Schlegel, I have referred the number twenty-five to the period of years, and not to the number of pairs of each species created at one time, as I had done in the two first editions. Fortis inferred that twenty-five new species only were created at a time; a construction which the passage will not admit. Mém. sur l’Hist. Nat. de l’Italie, vol. i. p. 202.

27 “Quod enim hoc attollitur aut subsidit, et vel inundat quædam loca, vel ab iis recedit, ejus rei causa non est, quod alia aliis sola humiliora sint aut altiora; sed quod idem solum modò attollitur modò deprimitur, simulque etiam modò attollitur modò deprimitur, mare: itaque vel exundat vel in suum redit locum.”

Posteà, p. 88. “Restat, ut causam adscribamus solo, sive quod mari subest sive quod inundatur; potiùs tamen ei quod mari subest. Hoc enim multò est mobilius, et quod ob humiditatem celeriùs multari possit.”—Strabo, Geog. Edit. Almelov. Amst. 1707, lib. 1.

28 Volcanic eruptions, eruptiones flatuum, in the Latin translations, and in the original Greek, αναφυσηματα, gaseous eruptions? or inflations of land?—Ibid. p. 93.

29 Strabo, lib. vi. p. 396.

30 Book iv.

31 L. vi. ch. xiii.

Chapter 3.

History of the Progress of Geology—continued.

Arabian writers of the tenth century—Avicenna—Omar—Cosmogony of the Koran—Kazwini—Early Italian writers—Leonardo da Vinci—Fracastoro—Controversy as to the real nature of fossils—Attributed to the Mosaic deluge— Palissy—Steno—Scilla—Quirini—Boyle—Lister—Leibnitz—Hooke’s Theory of Elevation by Earthquakes—Of lost species of animals—Ray—Physico-theological writers—Woodward’s Diluvial Theory—Burnet—Whiston—Vallisneri—Lazzaro Moro—Generelli—Buffon—His theory condemned by the Sorbonne as unorthodox—His declaration—Targioni—Arduino—Michell—Catcott—Raspe Fuchsel—Fortis—Testa—Whitehurst—Pallas—Saussure.

Arabian writers.—After the decline of the Roman empire, the cultivation of physical science was first revived with some success by the Saracens, about the middle of the eighth century of our era. The works of the most eminent classic writers were purchased at great expense from the Christians, and translated into Arabic; and Al Mamûn, son of the famous Harûn-al-Rashid, the contemporary of Charlemagne, received with marks of distinction, at his court at Bagdad, astronomers and men of learning from different countries. This caliph, and some of his successors, encountered much opposition and jealousy from the doctors of the Mahometan law, who wished the Moslems to confine their studies to the Koran, dreading the effects of the diffusion of a taste for the physical sciences.1

Avicenna.—Almost all the works of the early Arabian writers are lost. Amongst those of the tenth century, of which fragments are now extant, is a short treatise, “On the Formation and Classification of Minerals,” by Avicenna, a physician, in whose arrangement there is considerable merit. The second chapter, “On the Cause of Mountains,” is remarkable; for mountains, he says, are formed, some by essential, others by accidental causes. In illustration of the essential, he instances “a violent earthquake, by which land is elevated, and becomes a mountain;” of the accidental, the principal, he says, is excavation by water, whereby cavities are produced, and adjoining lands made to stand out and form eminences.2

Omar—Cosmogony of the Koran.—In the same century, also, Omar, surnamed “El Aalem,” or “The Learned,” wrote a work on “The Retreat of the Sea.” It appears that on comparing the charts of his own time with those made by the Indian and Persian astronomers two thousand years before, he had satisfied himself that important changes had taken place since the times of history in the form of the coasts of Asia, and that the extension of the sea had been greater at some former periods. He was confirmed in this opinion by the numerous salt springs and marshes in the interior of Asia,—a phenomenon from which Pallas, in more recent times, has drawn the same inference.

Von Hoff has suggested, with great probability, that the changes in the level of the Caspian (some of which there is reason to believe have happened within the historical era), and the geological appearances in that district, indicating the desertion by that sea of its ancient bed, had probably led Omar to his theory of a general subsidence. But whatever may have been the proofs relied on, his system was declared contradictory to certain passages in the Koran, and he was called upon publicly to recant his errors; to avoid which persecution he went into voluntary banishment from Samarkand.3

The cosmological opinions expressed in the Koran are few, and merely introduced incidentally: so that it is not easy to understand how they could have interfered so seriously with free discussion on the former changes of the globe. The Prophet declares that the earth was created in two days, and the mountains were then placed on it; and during these, and two additional days, the inhabitants of the earth were formed; and in two more the seven heavens.4 There is no more detail of circumstances; and the deluge, which is also mentioned, is discussed with equal brevity. The waters are represented to have poured out of an oven; a strange fable, said to be borrowed from the Persian Magi, who represented them as issuing from the oven of an old woman.5 All men were drowned, save Noah and his family; and then God said, “O earth, swallow up thy waters; and thou, O heaven, withhold thy rain;” and immediately the waters abated.6

We may suppose Omar to have represented the desertion of the land by the sea to have been gradual, and that his hypothesis required a greater lapse of ages than was consistent with Moslem orthodoxy; for it is to be inferred from the Koran, that man and this planet were created at the same time; and although Mahomet did not limit expressly the antiquity of the human race, yet he gave an implied sanction to the Mosaic chronology, by the veneration expressed by him for the Hebrew Patriarchs.7

A manuscript work, entitled the “Wonders of Nature,” is preserved in the Royal Library at Paris, by an Arabian writer, Mohammed Kazwini, who flourished in the seventh century of the Hegira, or at the close of the thirteenth century of our era.8 Besides several curious remarks on aerolites, earthquakes, and the successive changes of position which the land and sea have undergone, we meet with the following beautiful passage which is given as the narrative of Kidhz, an allegorical personage:—“I passed one day by a very ancient and wonderfully populous city, and asked one of its inhabitants how long it had been founded. ‘It is indeed a mighty city,’ replied he; ‘we know not how long it has existed, and our ancestors were on this subject as ignorant as ourselves.’ Five centuries afterwards, as I passed by the same place, I could not perceive the slightest vestige of the city. I demanded of a peasant, who was gathering herbs upon its former site, how long it had been destroyed. ‘In sooth a strange question!’ replied he. ‘The ground here has never been different from what you now behold it.’—‘Was there not of old,’ said I, ‘a splendid city here?’—‘Never,’ answered he, ‘so far as we have seen, and never did our fathers speak to us of any such.’ On my return there 500 years afterwards, I found the sea in the same place, and on its shores were a party of fishermen, of whom I inquired how long the land had been covered by the waters? ‘Is this a question,’ said they, ‘for a man like you? this spot has always been what it is now.’ I again returned, 500 years afterwards, and the sea had disappeared; I inquired of a man who stood alone upon the spot, how long ago this change had taken place, and he gave me the same answer as I had received before. Lastly, on coming back again after an equal lapse of time, I found there a flourishing city, more populous and more rich in beautiful buildings, than the city I had seen the first time, and when I would fain have informed myself concerning its origin, the inhabitants answered me, ‘Its rise is lost in remote antiquity: we are ignorant how long it has existed, and our fathers were on this subject as ignorant as ourselves.’”

Early Italian writers.—It was not till the earlier part of the sixteenth century that geological phenomena began to attract the attention of the Christian nations. At that period a very animated controversy sprang up in Italy, concerning the true nature and origin of marine shells, and other organized fossils, found abundantly in the strata of the peninsula. The celebrated painter Leonardo da Vinci, who in his youth had planned and executed some navigable canals in the north of Italy, was one of the first who applied sound reasoning to these subjects. The mud of rivers, he said, had covered and penetrated into the interior of fossil shells at a time when these were still at the bottom of the sea near the coast. “They tell us that these shells were formed in the hills by the influence of the stars; but I ask where in the hills are the stars now forming shells of distinct ages and species? and how can the stars explain the origin of gravel, occurring at different heights and composed of pebbles rounded as if by the motion of running water; or in what manner can such a cause account for the petrifaction in the same places of various leaves, sea-weeds, and marine-crabs?”9

The excavations made in 1517, for repairing the city of Verona, brought to light a multitude of curious petrifactions, and furnished matter for speculation to different authors, and among the rest to Fracastoro,10 who declared his opinion, that fossil shells had all belonged to living animals, which had formerly lived and multiplied where there exuviæ are now found. He exposed the absurdity of having recourse to a certain “plastic force,” which it was said had power to fashion stones into organic forms; and with no less cogent arguments, demonstrated the futility of attributing the situation of the shells in question to the Mosaic deluge, a theory obstinately defended by some. That inundation, he observed, was too transient; it consisted principally of fluviatile waters; and if it had transported shells to great distances, must have strewed them over the surface, not buried them at vast depths in the interior of mountains. His clear exposition of the evidence would have terminated the discussion forever, if the passions of mankind had not been enlisted in the dispute; and even though doubts should for a time have remained in some minds, they would speedily have been removed by the fresh information obtained almost immediately afterwards, respecting the structure of fossil remains, and of their living analogues.

But the clear and philosophical views of Fracastoro were disregarded, and the talent and argumentative powers of the learned were doomed for three centuries to be wasted in the discussion of these two simple and preliminary questions: first, whether fossil remains had ever belonged to living creatures; and, secondly, whether, if this be admitted, all the phenomena could not be explained by the deluge of Noah. It had been the general belief of the Christian world down to the period now under consideration, that the origin of this planet was not more remote than a few thousand years; and that since the creation the deluge was the only great catastrophe by which considerable change had been wrought on the earth’s surface. On the other hand, the opinion was scarcely less general, that the final dissolution of our system was an event to be looked for at no distant period. The era, it is true, of the expected millennium had passed away; and for five hundred years after the fatal hour when the annihilation of the planet had been looked for, the monks remained in undisturbed enjoyment of rich grants of land bequeathed to them by pious donors, who, in the preamble of deeds beginning “appropinquante mundi termino”——“appropinquante magno judicii die,” left lasting monuments of the popular delusion.11

But although in the sixteenth century it had become necessary to interpret certain prophecies respecting the millennium more liberally, and to assign a more distant date to the future conflagration of the world, we find, in the speculations of the early geologists, perpetual allusion to such an approaching catastrophe; while in all that regarded the antiquity of the earth, no modification whatever of the opinions of the dark ages had been effected. Considerable alarm was at first excited when the attempt was made to invalidate, by physical proofs, an article of faith so generally received; but there was sufficient spirit of toleration and candor amongst the Italian ecclesiastics, to allow the subject to be canvassed with much freedom. They even entered warmly into the controversy themselves, often favoring different sides of the question; and however much we may deplore the loss of time and labor devoted to the defence of untenable positions, it must be conceded that they displayed far less polemic bitterness than certain writers who followed them “beyond the Alps,” two centuries and a half later.

1 Mod. Univ. Hist. vol. ii. chap. iv. section iii.

2 Montes quandóque fiunt ex causa essentiali, quandóque ex causa accidentali. Ex essentiali causa, ut ex vehementi motu terræ elevatur terra, et fit mons. Accidentali, &c.—De Congelatione Lapidum, ed. Gedani, 1682.

3 Von Hoff, Geschichte der Veränderungen der Erdoberfläche, vol. i. p. 406, who cites Delisle, bey Hismann Welt- und Völkergeschichte. Alte Geschichte 1ter theil, s. 234.—The Arabian persecutions for heretical dogmas in theology were often very sanguinary. In the same ages wherein learning was most in esteem, the Mahometans were divided into two sects, one of whom maintained that the Koran was increate, and had subsisted in the very essence of God from all eternity; and the other, the Motazalites, who, admitting that the Koran was instituted by God, conceived it to have been first made when revealed to the Prophet at Mecca, and accused their opponents of believing in two eternal beings. The opinions of each of these sects were taken up by different caliphs in succession, and the followers of each sometimes submitted to be beheaded, or flogged till at the point of death, rather than renounce their creed.—Mod. Univ. Hist. vol. ii. ch. iv.

4 Koran, chap. xli.

5 Sale’s Koran, chap. xi. see note.

6 Ibid.

7 Kossa, appointed master to the Caliph Al Mamûd, was author of a book entitled “The history of the Patriarchs and Prophets, from the Creation of the World.”—Mod. Univ. Hist. vol. ii. ch. iv.

8 Translated by MM. Chezy and De Sacy, and cited by M. Elie de Beaumont, Ann. des Sci. Nat. 1832.

9 See Venturi’s extracts from Da Vinci’s MMS. now in Library of Institute of France. They are not mentioned by Brocchi, and my attention was first called to them by Mr. Hallam. L. da Vinci died A. D. 1519.

10 Museum Calceol.—See Brocchi’s Discourse on the Progress of the Study of Fossil Conchology in Italy, where some of the following notices on Italian writers will be found more at large.

11 In Sicily, in particular, the title-deeds of many valuable grants of land to the monasteries are headed by such preambles, composed by the testators about the period when the good King Roger was expelling the Saracens from that island.

Controversy as to the Real Nature of Fossil Organic Remains.

Mattioli—Falloppio.—The system of scholastic disputations, encouraged in the universities of the middle ages, had unfortunately trained men to habits of indefinite argumentation; and they often preferred absurd and extravagant propositions, because greater skill was required to maintain them; the end and object of these intellectual combats being victory, and not truth. No theory could be so far-fetched or fantastical as not to attract some followers, provided it fell in with popular notions; and as cosmogonists were not at all restricted, in building their systems, to the agency of known causes, the opponents of Fracastoro met his arguments by feigning imaginary causes, which differed from each other rather in name than in substance. Andrea Mattioli, for instance, an eminent botanist, the illustrator of Dioscorides, embraced the notion of Agricola, a skilful German miner, that a certain “materia pinguis,” or “fatty matter,” set into fermentation by heat, gave birth to fossil organic shapes. Yet Mattioli had come to the conclusion, from his own observations, that porous bodies, such as bones and shells, might be converted into stone, as being permeable to what he termed the “lapidifying juice.” In like manner, Falloppio of Padua conceived that petrified shells were generated by fermentation in the spots where they are found, or that they had in some cases acquired their form from “the tumultuous movements of terrestrial exhalations.” Although celebrated as a professor of anatomy, he taught that certain tusks of elephants, dug up in his time in Apulia, were mere earthy concretions; and, consistently with these principles, he even went so far as to consider it probable, that the vases of Monte Testaceo at Rome were natural impressions stamped in the soil.12 In the same spirit, Mercati, who published, in 1574, faithful figures of the fossil shells preserved by Pope Sixtus V. in the Museum of the Vatican, expressed an opinion that they were mere stones, which had assumed their peculiar configuration from the influence of the heavenly bodies; and Olivi of Cremona, who described the fossil remains of a rich museum at Verona, was satisfied with considering them as mere “sports of nature.”

Some of the fanciful notions of those times were deemed less unreasonable, as being somewhat in harmony with the Aristotelian theory of spontaneous generation, then taught in all the schools.13 For men who had been taught in early youth, that a large proportion of living animals and plants was formed from the fortuitous concourse of atoms, or had sprung from the corruption of organic matter, might easily persuade themselves that organic shapes, often imperfectly preserved in the interior of solid rocks, owed their existence to causes equally obscure and mysterious.

Cardano, 1552.—But there were not wanting some who, during the progress of this century, expressed more sound and sober opinions. The title of a work of Cardano’s, published in 1552, “De Subtilitate” (corresponding to what would now be called Transcendental Philosophy), would lead us to expect, in the chapter on minerals, many far-fetched theories characteristic of that age; but when treating of petrified shells, he decided that they clearly indicated the former sojourn of the sea upon the mountains.14

Cesalpino—Majoli, 1597.—Cesalpino, a celebrated botanist, conceived that fossil shells had been left on the land by the retiring sea, and had concreted into stone during the consolidation of the soil;15 and in the following year (1597), Simeone Majoli16 went still farther; and, coinciding for the most part with the views of Cesalpino, suggested that the shells and submarine matter of the Veronese, and other districts, might have been cast up upon the land by volcanic explosions, like those which gave rise, in 1538, to Monte Nuovo, near Puzzuoli. This hint seems to have been the first imperfect attempt to connect the position of fossil shells with the agency of volcanoes, a system afterwards more fully developed by Hooke, Lazzaro Moro, Hutton, and other writers.

Two years afterwards, Imperati advocated the animal origin of fossilized shells, yet admitted that stones could vegetate by force of “an internal principle;” and, as evidence of this, he referred to the teeth of fish and spines of echini found petrified.17

Palissy, 1580.—Palissy, a French writer on “The Origin of Springs from Rain-water,” and of other scientific works, undertook, in 1580, to combat the notions of many of his contemporaries in Italy, that petrified shells had all been deposited by the universal deluge. “He was the first,” said Fontenelle, when, in the French Academy, he pronounced his eulogy, nearly a century and a half later, “who dared assert,” in Paris, that fossil remains of testacea and fish had once belonged to marine animals.

Fabio Colonna.—To enumerate the multitude of Italian writers, who advanced various hypotheses, all equally fantastical, in the early part of the seventeenth century, would be unprofitably tedious; but Fabio Colonna deserves to be distinguished; for, although he gave way to the dogma, that all fossil remains were to be referred to the deluge of Noah, he resisted the absurd theory of Stelluti, who taught that fossil wood and ammonites were mere clay, altered into such forms by sulphureous waters and subterranean heat; and he pointed out the different states of shells buried in the strata, distinguishing between, first, the mere mould or impression; second, the cast or nucleus; and, thirdly, the remains of the shell itself. He had also the merit of being the first to point out that some of the fossils had belonged to marine and some to terrestrial testacea.18

Steno, 1669.—But the most remarkable work of that period was published by Steno, a Dane, once professor of anatomy at Padua, and who afterwards resided many years at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. His treatise bears the quaint title of “De Solido intra Solidum naturaltier contento (1669),” by which the author intended to express, “On Gems, Crystals, and organic Petrifactions inclosed within solid Rocks.” This work attests the priority of the Italian school in geological research; exemplifying at the same time the powerful obstacles opposed, in that age, to the general reception of enlarged views in the science. It was still a favorite dogma, that the fossil remains of shells and marine creatures were not of animal origin; an opinion adhered to by many from their extreme reluctance to believe, that the earth could have been inhabited by living beings before a great part of the existing mountains were formed. In reference to this controversy, Steno had dissected a shark recently taken from the Mediterranean, and had demonstrated that its teeth and bones were identical with many fossils found in Tuscany. He had also compared the shells discovered in the Italian strata with living species, pointed out their resemblance, and traced the various gradations from shells merely calcined, or which had only lost their animal gluten, to those petrifactions in which there was a perfect substitution of stony matter. In his division of mineral masses, he insisted on the secondary origin of those deposits in which the spoils of animals or fragments of older rocks were inclosed. He distinguished between marine formations and those of a fluviatile character, the last containing reeds, grasses, or the trunks and branches of trees. He argued in favor of the original horizontality of sedimentary deposits, attributing their present inclined and vertical position sometimes to the escape of subterranean vapors heaving the crust of the earth from below upwards, and sometimes to the falling in of masses overlying subterranean cavities.

He declared that he had obtained proof that Tuscany must successively have acquired six distinct configurations, having been twice covered by water, twice laid dry with a level, and twice with an irregular and uneven surface.19 He displayed great anxiety to reconcile his new views with Scripture, for which purpose he pointed to certain rocks as having been formed before the existence of animals and plants: selecting unfortunately as examples certain formations of limestone and sandstone in his own country, now known to contain, though sparingly, the remains of animals and plants,—strata which do not even rank as the oldest part of our secondary series. Steno suggested that Moses, when speaking of the loftiest mountains as having been covered by the deluge, meant merely the loftiest of the hills then existing, which may not have been very high. The diluvian waters, he supposed, may have issued from the interior of the earth into which they had retired, when in the beginning the land was separated from the sea. These, and other hypotheses on the same subject, are not calculated to enhance the value of the treatise, and could scarcely fail to detract from the authority of those opinions which were sound and legitimate deductions from fact and observation. They have served, nevertheless, as the germs of many popular theories of later times, and in an expanded form have been put forth as original inventions by some of our contemporaries.

Scilla, 1670.—Scilla, a Sicilian painter, published, in 1670, a treatise, in Latin, on the fossils of Calabria, illustrated by good engravings. This work proves the continued ascendancy of dogmas often refuted; for we find the wit and eloquence of the author chiefly directed against the obstinate incredulity of naturalists as to the organic nature of fossil shells.20 Like many eminent naturalists of his day, Scilla gave way to the popular persuasion, that all fossil shells were the effects and proofs of the Mosaic deluge. It may be doubted whether he was perfectly sincere, and some of his contemporaries who took the same course were certainly not so. But so eager were they to root out what they justly considered an absurd prejudice respecting the nature of organized fossils, that they seem to have been ready to make any concessions, in order to establish this preliminary point. Such a compromising policy was short-sighted, since it was to little purpose that the nature of the documents should at length be correctly understood, if men were to be prevented from deducing fair conclusions from them.

Diluvial Theory.—The theologians who now entered the field in Italy, Germany, France, and England, were innumerable; and henceforward, they who refused to subscribe to the position, that all marine organic remains were proofs of the Mosaic deluge, were exposed to the imputation of disbelieving the whole of the sacred writings. Scarcely any step had been made in approximating to sound theories since the time of Fracastoro, more than a hundred years having been lost, in writing down the dogma that organized fossils were mere sports of nature. An additional period of a century and a half was now destined to be consumed in exploding the hypothesis, that organized fossils had all been buried in the solid strata by Noah’s flood. Never did a theoretical fallacy, in any branch of science, interfere more seriously with accurate observation and the systematic classification of facts. In recent times, we may attribute our rapid progress chiefly to the careful determination of the order of succession in mineral masses, by means of their different organic contents, and their regular superposition. But the old diluvialists were induced by their system to confound all the groups of strata together instead of discriminating,—to refer all appearances to one cause and to one brief period, not to a variety of causes acting throughout a long succession of epochs. They saw the phenomena only as they desired to see them, sometimes misrepresenting facts, and at other times deducing false conclusions from correct data. Under the influence of such prejudices, three centuries were of as little avail as a few years in our own times, when we are no longer required to propel the vessel against the force of an adverse current.

It may be well, therefore, to forewarn the reader, that in tracing the history of geology from the close of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century, he must expect to be occupied with accounts of the retardation, as well as of the advance, of the science. It will be necessary to point out the frequent revival of exploded errors, and the relapse from sound to the most absurd opinions; and to dwell on futile reasoning and visionary hypothesis, because some of the most extravagant systems were invented or controverted by men of acknowledged talent. In short, a sketch of the progress of geology is the history of a constant and violent struggle of new opinions against doctrines sanctioned by the implicit faith of many generations, and supposed to rest on scriptural authority. The inquiry, therefore, although highly interesting to one who studies the philosophy of the human mind, is too often barren of instruction to him who searches for truths in physical science.

Quirini, 1676.—Quirini, in 1676,21 contended, in opposition to Scilla, that the diluvian waters could not have conveyed heavy bodies to the summit of mountains, since the agitation of the sea never (as Boyle had demonstrated) extended to great depths;22 and still less could the testacea, as some pretended, have lived in these diluvian waters; for “the duration of the flood was brief, and the heavy rains must have destroyed the saltness of the sea!“ He was the first writer who ventured to maintain that the universality of the Mosaic cataclysm ought not to be insisted upon. As to the nature of petrified shells, he conceived that as earthy particles united in the sea to form the shells of mollusca, the same crystallizing process might be effected on the land; and that, in the latter case, the germs of the animals might have been disseminated through the substance of the rocks, and afterwards developed by virtue of humidity. Visionary as was this doctrine, it gained many proselytes even amongst the more sober reasoners of Italy and Germany; for it conceded that the position of fossil bodies could not be accounted for by the diluvial theory.

Plot—Lister, 1678.—In the mean time, the doctrine that fossil shells had never belonged to real animals maintained its ground in England, where the agitation of the question began at a much later period. Dr. Plot, in his “Natural History of Oxfordshire” (1677), attributed to a “plastic virtue latent in the earth” the origin of fossil shells and fishes; and Lister, to his accurate account of British shells, in 1678, added the fossil species, under the appellation of turbinated and bivalve stones. “Either,” said he, “these were terriginous, or, if otherwise, the animals they so exactly represent have become extinct.” This writer appears to have been the first who was aware of the continuity over large districts of the principal groups of strata in the British series, and who proposed the construction of regular geological maps.23

Leibnitz, 1680.—The great mathematician Leibnitz published his “Protogœa” in 1680. He imagined this planet to have been originally a burning luminous mass, which ever since its creation has been undergoing refrigeration. When the outer crust had cooled down sufficiently to allow the vapors to be condensed, they fell, and formed a universal ocean, covering the loftiest mountains, and investing the whole globe. The crust, as it consolidated from a state of fusion, assumed a vesicular and cavernous structure; and being rent in some places, allowed the water to rush into the subterranean hollows, whereby the level of the primeval ocean was lowered. The breaking in of these vast caverns is supposed to have given rise to the dislocated and deranged position of the strata “which Steno had described,” and the same disruptions communicated violent movements to the incumbent waters, whence great inundations ensued. The waters, after they had been thus agitated, deposited their sedimentary matter during intervals of quiescence, and hence the various stony and earthy strata. “We may recognize, therefore,” says Leibnitz, “a double origin of primitive masses, the one by refrigeration from igneous fusion, the other by concretion from aqueous solution.”24 By the repetition of similar causes (the disruption of the crust and consequent floods), alternations of new strata were produced, until at length these causes were reduced to a condition of quiescent equilibrium, and a more permanent state of things was established.25

Hooke, 1688.—The “Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, M. D.,” well known as a great mathematician and natural philosopher, appeared in 1705, containing “A Discourse of Earthquakes,” which, we are informed by his editor, was written in 1668, but revised at subsequent periods.26 Hooke frequently refers to the best Italian and English authors who wrote before his time on geological subjects; but there are no passages in his works implying that he participated in the enlarged views of Steno and Lister, or of his contemporary, Woodward, in regard to the geographical extent of certain groups of strata. His treatise, however, is the most philosophical production of that age, in regard to the causes of former changes in the organic and inorganic kingdoms of nature.

“However trivial a thing,” he says, “a rotten shell may appear to some, yet these monuments of nature are more certain tokens of antiquity than coins or medals, since the best of those may be counterfeited or made by art and design, as may also books, manuscripts, and inscriptions, as all the learned are now sufficiently satisfied has often been actually practised,” &c.; “and though it must be granted that it is very difficult to read them (the records of nature) and to raise a chronology out of them, and to state the intervals of the time wherein such or such catastrophes and mutations have happened, yet it is not impossible.”27

Respecting the extinction of species, Hooke was aware that the fossil ammonites, nautili, and many other shells and fossil skeletons found in England, were of different species from any then known; but he doubted whether the species had become extinct, observing that the knowledge of naturalists of all the marine species, especially those inhabiting the deep sea, was very deficient. In some parts of his writings, however, he leans to the opinion that species had been lost; and in speculating on this subject, he even suggests that there might be some connection between the disappearance of certain kinds of animals and plants, and the changes wrought by earthquakes in former ages. Some species, he observes, with great sagacity, are ”peculiar to certain places, and not to be found elsewhere. If, then, such a place had been swallowed up, it is not improbable but that those animate beings may have been destroyed with it; and this may be true both of aerial and aquatic animals; for those animated bodies, whether vegetables or animals, which were naturally nourished or refreshed by the air, would be destroyed by the water,” &c.28 Turtles, he adds, and such large ammonites as are found in Portland, seem to have been the productions of hotter countries; and it is necessary to suppose that England once lay under the sea within the torrid zone! To explain this and similar phenomena, he indulges in a variety of speculations concerning changes in the position of the axis of the earth’s rotation, “a shifting of the earth’s centre of gravity, analogous to the revolutions of the magnetic pole,” &c. None of these conjectures, however, are proposed dogmatically, but rather in the hope of promoting fresh inquiries and experiments.

In opposition to the prejudices of his age, we find him arguing against the idea that nature had formed fossil bodies “for no other end than to play the mimic in the mineral kingdom;"—maintaining that figured stones were “really the several bodies they represent, or the mouldings of them petrified,” and not, as some have imagined, ‘a lusus naturæ,’ sporting herself in the needless formation of useless beings.”29

It was objected to Hooke, that his doctrine of the extinction of species derogated from the wisdom and power of the omnipotent Creator; but he answered, that, as individuals die, there may be some termination to the duration of a species; and his opinions, he declared, were not repugnant to Holy Writ: for the Scriptures taught that our system was degenerating, and tending to its final dissolution; “and as, when that shall happen, all the species will be lost, why not some at one time and some at another?”30

But his principal object was to account for the manner in which shells had been conveyed into the higher parts of “the Alps, Apennines, and Pyrenean hills, and the interior of continents in general.” These and other appearances, he said, might have been brought about by earthquakes, “which have turned plains into mountains, and mountains into plains, seas into land, and land into seas, made rivers where there were none before, and swallowed up others that formerly were, &c., &c.; and which, since the creation of the world, have wrought many great changes on the superficial parts of the earth, and have been the instruments of placing shells, bones, plants, fishes, and the like, in those places where, with much astonishment, we find them.”31 This doctrine, it is true, had been laid down in terms almost equally explicit by Strabo, to explain the occurrence of fossil shells in the interior of continents, and to that geographer, and other writers of antiquity, Hooke frequently refers; but the revival and development of the system was an important step in the progress of modern science.

Hooke enumerated all the examples known to him of subterranean disturbance, from “the sad catastrophe of Sodom and Gomorrah,” down to the Chilian earthquake of 1646. The elevating of the bottom of the sea, the sinking and submersion of the land, and most of the inequalities of the earth’s surface, might, he said, be accounted for by the agency of these subterranean causes. He mentions that the coast near Naples was raised during the eruption of Monte Nuovo; and that, in 1591, land rose in the island of St. Michael, during an eruption: and although it would be more difficult, he says, to prove, he does not doubt but that there had been as many earthquakes in the parts of the earth under the ocean, as in the parts of the dry land; in confirmation of which, he mentions the immeasurable depth of the sea near some volcanoes. To attest the extent of simultaneous subterranean movements, he refers to an earthquake in the West Indies, in the year 1690, where the space of earth raised, or “struck upwards,” by the shock, exceeded, he affirms, the length of the Alps and Pyrenees.

Hooke’s diluvial Theory.—As Hooke declared the favorite hypothesis of the day, “that marine fossil bodies were to be referred to Noah’s flood,” to be wholly untenable, he appears to have felt himself called upon to substitute a diluvial theory of his own, and thus he became involved in countless difficulties and contradictions. “During the great catastrophe,” he said, “there might have been a changing of that part which was before dry land into sea by sinking, and of that which was sea into dry land by raising, and marine bodies might have been buried in sediment beneath the ocean, in the interval between the creation and the deluge.”32 Then follows a disquisition on the separation of the land from the waters, mentioned in Genesis; during which operation some places of the shell of the earth were forced outwards, and others pressed downwards or inwards, &c. His diluvial hypothesis very much resembled that of Steno, and was entirely opposed to the fundamental principles professed by him, that he would explain the former changes of the earth in a more natural manner than others had done. When, in despite of this declaration, he required a former “crisis of nature,” and taught that earthquakes had become debilitated, and that the Alps, Andes, and other chains, had been lifted up in a few months, he was compelled to assume so rapid a rate of change, that his machinery appeared scarcely less extravagant than that of his most fanciful predecessors. For this reason, perhaps, his whole theory of earthquakes met with undeserved neglect.

Ray, 1692.—One of his contemporaries, the celebrated naturalist, Ray, participated in the same desire to explain geological phenomena by reference to causes less hypothetical than those usually resorted to.33 In his essay on “Chaos and Creation,” he proposed a system, agreeing in its outline, and in many of its details, with that of Hooke; but his knowledge of natural history enabled him to elucidate the subject with various original observations. Earthquakes, he suggested, might have been the second causes employed at the creation, in separating the land from the waters, and in gathering the waters together into one place. He mentions, like Hooke, the earthquake of 1646, which had violently shaken the Andes for some hundreds of leagues, and made many alterations therein. In assigning a cause for the general deluge, he preferred a change in the earth’s centre of gravity to the introduction of earthquakes. Some unknown cause, he said, might have forced the subterranean waters outwards, as was, perhaps, indicated by “the breaking up of the fountains of the great deep.”

Ray was one of the first of our writers who enlarged upon the effects of running water upon the land, and of the encroachment of the sea upon the shores. So important did he consider the agency of these causes, that he saw in them an indication of the tendency of our system to its final dissolution; and he wondered why the earth did not proceed more rapidly towards a general submersion beneath the sea, when so much matter was carried down by rivers, or undermined in the sea-cliffs. We perceive clearly from his writings, that the gradual decline of our system, and its future consummation by fire, was held to be as necessary an article of faith by the orthodox, as was the recent origin of our planet. His discourses, like those of Hooke, are highly interesting, as attesting the familiar association in the minds of philosophers, in the age of Newton, of questions in physics and divinity. Ray gave an unequivocal proof of the sincerity of his mind, by sacrificing his preferment in the church, rather than take an oath against the Covenanters, which he could not reconcile with his conscience. His reputation, moreover, in the scientific world placed him high above the temptation of courting popularity, by pandering to the physico-theological taste of his age. It is, therefore, curious to meet with so many citations from the Christian fathers and prophets in his essays on physical science—to find him in one page proceeding, by the strict rules of induction, to explain the former changes of the globe, and in the next gravely entertaining the question, whether the sun and stars, and the whole heavens, shall be annihilated, together with the earth, at the era of the grand conflagration.

Woodward, 1695.—Among the contemporaries of Hooke and Ray, Woodward, a professor of medicine, had acquired the most extensive information respecting the geological structure of the crust of the earth. He had examined many parts of the British strata with minute attention; and his systematic collection of specimens, bequeathed to the University of Cambridge, and still preserved there as arranged by him, shows how far he had advanced in ascertaining the order of superposition. From the great number of facts collected by him, we might have expected his theoretical views to be more sound and enlarged than those of his contemporaries; but in his anxiety to accommodate all observed phenomena to the scriptural account of the Creation and Deluge, he arrived at most erroneous results. He conceived “the whole terrestrial globe to have been taken to pieces and dissolved at the flood, and the strata to have settled down from this promiscuous mass as any earthy sediment from a fluid.”34 In corroboration of these views he insisted upon the fact, that “marine bodies are lodged in the strata according to the order of their gravity, the heavier shells in stone, the lighter in chalk, and so of the rest.”35 Ray immediately exposed the unfounded nature of this assertion, remarking truly that fossil bodies “are often mingled, heavy with light, in the same stratum;” and he even went so far as to say, that Woodward “must have invented the phenomena for the sake of confirming his bold and strange hypothesis”36—a strong expression from the pen of a contemporary.

Burnet, 1690.—At the same time Burnet published his “Theory of the Earth.”37 The title is most characteristic of the age,—“The Sacred Theory of the Earth; containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the general Changes which it hath already undergone, or is to undergo, till the Consummation of all Things.” Even Milton had scarcely ventured in his poem to indulge his imagination so freely in painting scenes of the Creation and Deluge, Paradise and Chaos. He explained why the primeval earth enjoyed a perpetual spring before the flood! showed how the crust of the globe was fissured by “the sun’s rays,” so that it burst, and thus the diluvial waters were let loose from a supposed central abyss. Not satisfied with these themes, he derived from the books of the inspired writers, and even from heathen authorities, prophetic views of the future revolutions of the globe, gave a most terrific description of the general conflagration, and proved that a new heaven and a new earth will rise out of a second chaos—after which will follow the blessed millennium.

The reader should be informed, that, according to the opinion of many respectable writers of that age, there was good scriptural ground for presuming that the garden bestowed upon our first parents was not on the earth itself, but above the clouds, in the middle region between our planet and the moon. Burnet approaches with becoming gravity the discussion of so important a topic. He was willing to concede that the geographical position of Paradise was not in Mesopotamia, yet he maintained that it was upon the earth, and in the southern hemisphere, near the equinoctial line. Butler selected this conceit as a fair mark for his satire, when, amongst the numerous accomplishments of Hudibras, he says,—

“He knew the seat of Paradise, Could tell in what degree it lies; And, as he was disposed, could prove it Below the moon, or else above it.”

Yet the same monarch, who is said never to have slept without Butler’s poem under his pillow, was so great an admirer and patron of Burnet’s book, that he ordered it to be translated from the Latin into English. The style of the “Sacred Theory” was eloquent, and the book displayed powers of invention of no ordinary stamp. It was, in fact, a fine historical romance, as Buffon afterwards declared; but it was treated as a work of profound science in the time of its author, and was panegyrized by Addison in a Latin ode, while Steele praised it in the “Spectator.”

Whiston, 1696.—Another production of the same school, and equally characteristic of the time, was that of Whiston, entitled, “A New Theory of the Earth; wherein the Creation of the world in Six Days, the Universal Deluge, and the General Conflagration, as laid down in the Holy Scriptures, are shown to be perfectly agreeable to Reason and Philosophy.” He was at first a follower of Burnet; but his faith in the infallibility of that writer was shaken by the declared opinion of Newton, that there was every presumption in astronomy against any former change in the inclination of the earth’s axis. This was a leading dogma in Burnet’s system, though not original, for it was borrowed from an Italian, Alessandro degli Alessandri, who had suggested it in the beginning of the fifteenth century, to account for the former occupation of the present continents by the sea. La Place has since strengthened the arguments of Newton, against the probability of any former revolution of this kind.

The remarkable comet of 1680 was fresh in the memory of every one when Whiston first began his cosmological studies; and the principal novelty of his speculations consisted in attributing the deluge to the near approach to the earth of one of these erratic bodies. Having ascribed an increase of the waters to this source, he adopted Woodward’s theory, supposing all stratified deposits to have resulted from the “chaotic sediment of the flood.” Whiston was one of the first who ventured to propose that the text of Genesis should be interpreted differently from its ordinary acceptation, so that the doctrine of the earth having existed long previous to the creation of man might no longer be regarded as unorthodox. He had the art to throw an air of plausibility over the most improbable parts of his theory, and seemed to be proceeding in the most sober manner, and, by the aid of mathematical demonstration, to the establishment of his various propositions. Locke pronounced a panegyric on his theory, commending him for having explained so many wonderful and before inexplicable things. His book, as well as Burnet’s, was attacked and refuted by Keill.38 Like all who introduced purely hypothetical causes to account for natural phenomena, Whiston retarded the progress of truth, diverting men from the investigation of the laws of sublunary nature, and inducing them to waste time in speculations on the power of comets to drag the waters of the ocean over the land—on the condensation of the vapors of their tails into water, and other matters equally edifying.

Hutchinson, 1724.—John Hutchinson, who had been employed by Woodward in making his collection of fossils, published afterwards, in 1724, the first part of his “Moses’s Principia,” wherein he ridiculed Woodward’s hypothesis. He and his numerous followers were accustomed to declaim loudly against human learning; and they maintained that the Hebrew Scriptures, when rightly translated, comprised a perfect system of natural philosophy, for which reason they objected to the Newtonian theory of gravitation.

Celsius.—Andrea Celsius, the Swedish astronomer, published about this time his remarks on the gradual diminution and sinking of the waters in the Baltic, to which I shall have occasion to advert more particularly in the sequel (ch. 29).

Scheuchzer, 1708.—In Germany, in the mean time, Scheuchzer published his “Complaint and Vindication of the Fishes” (1708), “Piscium Querelæ et Vindiciæ,” a work of zoological merit, in which he gave some good plates and descriptions of fossil fish. Among other conclusions he labored to prove that the earth had been remodelled at the deluge. Pluche, also, in 1732, wrote to the same effect; while Holbach, in 1753, after considering the various attempts to refer all the ancient formations to the flood of Noah, exposed the inadequacy of this cause.

Italian Geologists—Vallisneri.—I return with pleasure to the geologists of Italy, who preceded, as has been already shown, the naturalists of other countries in their investigations into the ancient history of the earth, and who still maintained a decided pre-eminence. They refuted and ridiculed the physico-theological systems of Burnet, Whiston, and Woodward;39 while Vallisneri,40 in his comments on the Woodwardian theory, remarked how much the interests of religion, as well as those of sound philosophy, had suffered by perpetually mixing up the sacred writings with questions in physical science. The works of this author were rich in original observations. He attempted the first general sketch of the marine deposits of Italy, their geographical extent, and most characteristic organic remains. In his treatise “On the Origin of Springs,” he explained their dependence on the order, and often on the dislocations, of the strata, and reasoned philosophically against the opinions of those who regarded the disordered state of the earth’s crust as exhibiting signs of the wrath of God for the sins of man. He found himself under the necessity of contending, in his preliminary chapter, against St. Jerome, and four other principal interpreters of Scripture, besides several professors of divinity, “that springs did not flow by subterranean siphons and cavities from the sea upwards, losing their saltness in the passage,” for this theory had been made to rest on the infallible testimony of Holy Writ.

Although reluctant to generalize on the rich materials accumulated in his travels, Vallisneri had been so much struck with the remarkable continuity of the more recent marine strata, from one end of Italy to the other, that he came to the conclusion that the ocean formerly extended over the whole earth, and after abiding there for a long time, had gradually subsided. This opinion, however untenable, was a great step beyond Woodward’s diluvian hypothesis, against which Vallisneri, and after him all the Tuscan geologists, uniformly contended, while it was warmly supported by the members of the Institute of Bologna.41

Among others of that day, Spada, a priest of Grezzana, in 1737, wrote to prove that the petrified marine bodies near Verona were not diluvian.42 Mattani drew a similar inference from the shells of Volterra and other places; while Costantini, on the other hand, whose observations on the valley of the Brenta and other districts were not without value, undertook to vindicate the truth of the deluge, as also to prove that Italy had been peopled by the descendants of Japhet.43

Moro, 1740.—Lazzaro Moro, in his work (published in 1740) “On the Marine Bodies which are found in the Mountains,”44 attempted to apply the theory of earthquakes, as expounded by Strabo, Pliny, and other ancient authors, with whom he was familiar, to the geological phenomena described by Vallisneri.45 His attention was awakened to the elevating power of subterranean forces by a remarkable phenomenon which happened in his own time, and which had also been noticed by Vallisneri in his letters. A new island rose in 1707 from deep water in the Gulf of Santorin, in the Mediterranean, during continued shocks of an earthquake, and, increasing rapidly in size, grew in less than a month to be half a mile in circumference, and about twenty-five feet above high-water mark. It was soon afterwards covered by volcanic ejections, but, when first examined, it was found to be a white rock, bearing on its surface living oysters and crustacea. In order to ridicule the various theories then in vogue, Moro ingeniously supposes the arrival on this new island of a party of naturalists ignorant of its recent origin. One immediately points to the marine shells, as proofs of the universal deluge; another argues that they demonstrate the former residence of the sea upon the mountains; a third dismisses them as mere sports of nature; while a fourth affirms that they were born and nourished within the rock in ancient caverns, into which salt water had been raised in the shape of vapor by the action of subterranean heat.

Moro pointed with great judgment to the faults and dislocations of the strata described by Vallisneri, in the Alps and other chains, in confirmation of his doctrine, that the continents had been heaved up by subterranean movements. He objected, on solid grounds, to the hypothesis of Burnet and of Woodward; yet he ventured so far to disregard the protest of Vallisneri, as to undertake the adaptation of every part of his own system to the Mosaic account of the creation. On the third day, he said, the globe was everywhere covered to the same depth by fresh water; and when it pleased the Supreme Being that the dry land should appear, volcanic explosions broke up the smooth and regular surface of the earth composed of primary rocks. These rose in mountain masses above the waves, and allowed melted metals and salts to ascend through fissures. The sea gradually acquired its saltness from volcanic exhalations, and, while it became more circumscribed in area, increased in depth. Sand and ashes ejected by volcanoes were regularly disposed along the bottom of the ocean, and formed the secondary strata, which in their turn were lifted up by earthquakes. We need not follow this author in tracing the progress of the creation of vegetables and animals on the other days of creation; but, upon the whole, it may be remarked, that few of the old cosmological theories had been conceived with so little violation of known analogies.

Generelli’s illustrations of Moro, 1749.—The style of Moro was extremely prolix, and, like Hutton, who, at a later period, advanced many of the same views, he stood in need of an illustrator. The Scotch geologist was hardly more fortunate in the advocacy of Playfair, than was Moro in numbering amongst his admirers Cirillo Generelli, who, nine years afterwards, delivered at a sitting of Academicians at Cremona a spirited exposition of his theory. This learned Carmelitan friar does not pretend to have been an original observer, but he had studied sufficiently to enable him to confirm the opinions of Moro by arguments from other writers; and his selection of the doctrines then best established is so judicious, that a brief abstract of them cannot fail to be acceptable, as illustrating the state of geology in Europe, and in Italy in particular, before the middle of the last century.

The bowels of the earth, says he, have carefully preserved the memorials of past events, and this truth the marine productions so frequent in the hills attest. From the reflections of Lazzaro Moro, we may assure ourselves that these are the effects of earthquakes in past times, which have changed vast spaces of sea into terra firma, and inhabited lands into seas. In this, more than in any other department of physics, are observations and experiments indispensable, and we must diligently consider facts. The land is known, wherever we make excavations, to be composed of different strata or soils placed one above the other, some of sand, some of rock, some of chalk, others of marl, coal, pummice, gypsum, lime, and the rest. These ingredients are sometimes pure, and sometimes confusedly intermixed. Within are often imprisoned different marine fishes, like dried mummies, and more frequently shells, crustacea, corals, plants, &c., not only in Italy, but in France, Germany, England, Africa, Asia, and America;—sometimes in the lowest, sometimes in the loftiest beds of the earth, some upon the mountains, some in deep mines, others near the sea, and others hundreds of miles distant from it. Woodward conjectured that these marine bodies might be found everywhere; but there are rocks in which none of them occur, as is sufficiently attested by Vallisneri and Marsilli. The remains of fossil animals consist chiefly of their more solid parts, and the most rocky strata must have been soft when such exuviæ were inclosed in them. Vegetable productions are found in different states of maturity, indicating that they were imbedded in different seasons. Elephants, elks, and other terrestrial quadrupeds, have been found in England and elsewhere, in superficial strata, never covered by the sea. Alternations are rare, yet not without example, of marine strata, with those which contain marshy and terrestrial productions. Marine animals are arranged in the subterraneous beds with admirable order, in distinct groups, oysters here, dentalia or corals there, &c., as now, according to Marsilli,46 on the shores of the Adriatic. We must abandon the doctrine, once so popular, which denies that organized fossils were derived from living beings, and we cannot account for their present position by the ancient theory of Strabo, nor by that of Leibnitz, nor by the universal deluge, as explained by Woodward and others; “nor is it reasonable to call the Deity capriciously upon the stage, and to make him work miracles for the sake of confirming our preconceived hypothesis.”—“I hold in utter abomination, most learned Academicians! those systems which are built with their foundations in the air, and cannot be propped up without a miracle; and I undertake, with the assistance of Moro, to explain to you how these marine animals were transported into the mountains by natural causes.”47

A brief abstract then follows of Moro’s theory, by which, says Generelli, we may explain all the phenomena, as Vallisneri so ardently desired, ”without violence, without fictions, without hypothesis, without miracles.”48 The Carmelitan then proceeds to struggle against an obvious objection to Moro’s system, considered as a method of explaining the revolutions of the earth, naturally. If earthquakes have been the agents of such mighty changes, how does it happen that their effects since the times of history have been so inconsiderable? This same difficulty had, as we have seen, presented itself to Hooke, half a century before, and forced him to resort to a former “crisis of nature:” but Generelli defended his position by showing how numerous were the accounts of eruptions and earthquakes, of new islands, and of elevations and subsidences of land, and yet how much greater a number of like events must have been unattested and unrecorded during the last six thousand years. He also appealed to Vallisneri as an authority to prove that the mineral masses containing shells, bore, upon the whole, but a small proportion to those rocks which were destitute of organic remains; and the latter, says the learned monk, might have been created as they now exist, in the beginning.

Generelli then describes the continual waste of mountains and continents, by the action of rivers and torrents, and concludes with these eloquent and original observations:—“Is it possible that this waste should have continued for six thousand, and perhaps a greater number of years, and that the mountains should remain so great, unless their ruins have been repaired? Is it credible that the Author of Nature should have founded the world upon such laws, as that the dry land should forever be growing smaller, and at last become wholly submerged beneath the waters? Is it credible that, amid so many created things, the mountains alone should daily diminish in number and bulk, without there being any repair of their losses? This would be contrary to that order of Providence which is seen to reign in all other things in the universe. Wherefore I deem it just to conclude, that the same cause which, in the beginning of time, raised mountains from the abyss, has down to the present day continued to produce others, in order to restore from time to time the losses of all such as sink down in different places, or are rent asunder, or in other way suffer disintegration. If this be admitted, we can easily understand why there should now be found upon many mountains so great a number of crustacea and other marine animals.”

In the above extract, I have not merely enumerated the opinions and facts which are confirmed by recent observation, suppressing all that has since proved to be erroneous, but have given a faithful abridgment of the entire treatise, with the omission only of Moro’s hypothesis, which Generelli adopted, with all its faults and excellences. The reader will therefore remark, that although this admirable essay embraces so large a portion of the principal objects of geological research, it makes no allusion to the extinction of certain classes of animals; and it is evident that no opinions on this head had, at that time, gained a firm footing in Italy. That Lister and other English naturalists should long before have declared in favor of the loss of species, while Scilla and most of his countrymen hesitated, was perhaps natural, since the Italian museums were filled with fossil shells belonging to species of which a great portion did actually exist in the Mediterranean; whereas the English collectors could obtain no recent species from such of their own strata as were then explored.

The weakest point in Moro’s system consisted in deriving all the stratified rocks from volcanic ejections; an absurdity which his opponents took care to expose, especially Vito Amici.49 Moro seems to have been misled by his anxious desire to represent the formation of secondary rocks as having occupied an extremely short period, while at the same time he wished to employ known agents in nature. To imagine torrents, rivers, currents, partial floods, and all the operations of moving water, to have gone on exerting an energy many thousand times greater than at present, would have appeared preposterous and incredible, and would have required a hundred violent hypotheses; but we are so unacquainted with the true sources of subterranean disturbances, that their former violence may in theory be multiplied indefinitely, without its being possible to prove the same manifest contradiction or absurdity in the conjecture. For this reason, perhaps, Moro preferred to derive the materials of the strata from volcanic ejections, rather than from transportation by running water.

Marsilli.—Marsilli, whose work is alluded to by Generelli, had been prompted to institute inquiries into the bed of the Adriatic, by discovering, in the territory of Parma (what Spada had observed near Verona, and Schiavo in Sicily), that fossil shells were not scattered through the rocks at random, but disposed in regular order, according to certain genera and species.

Vitaliano Donati, 1750.—But with a view of throwing further light upon these questions, Donati, in 1750, undertook a more extensive investigation of the Adriatic, and discovered, by numerous soundings, that deposits of sand, marl, and tufaceous incrustations, most strictly analogous to those of the Subapennine hills, were in the act of accumulating there. He ascertained that there were no shells in some of the submarine tracts, while in other places they lived together in families, particularly the genera Arca, Pecten, Venus, Murex, and some others. He also states that in divers localities he found a mass composed of corals, shells, and crustaceous bodies of different species, confusedly blended with earth, sand, and gravel. At the depth of a foot or more, the organic substances were entirely petrified and reduced to marble; at less than a foot from the surface, they approached nearer to their natural state; while at the surface they were alive, or, if dead, in a good state of preservation.

Baldassari.—A contemporary naturalist, Baldassari, had shown that the organic remains in the tertiary marls of the Siennese territory were grouped in families, in a manner precisely similar to that above alluded to by Donati.

Buffon, 1749.—Buffon first made known his theoretical views concerning the former changes of the earth, in his Natural History, published in 1749. He adopted the theory of an original volcanic nucleus, together with the universal ocean of Leibnitz. By this aqueous envelope the highest mountains were once covered. Marine currents then acted violently, and formed horizontal strata, by washing away solid matter in some parts, and depositing it in others; they also excavated deep submarine valleys. The level of the ocean was then depressed by the entrance of a part of its waters into subterranean caverns, and thus some land was left dry. Buffon seems not to have profited, like Leibnitz and Moro, by the observations of Steno, or he could not have imagined that the strata were generally horizontal, and that those which contain organic remains had never been disturbed since the era of their formation. He was conscious of the great power annually exerted by rivers and marine currents in transporting earthy materials to lower levels, and he even contemplated the period when they would destroy all the present continents. Although in geology he was not an original observer, his genius enabled him to render his hypothesis attractive; and by the eloquence of his style, and the boldness of his speculations, he awakened curiosity, and provoked a spirit of inquiry amongst his countrymen.

Soon after the publication of his “Natural History,” in which was included his “Theory of the Earth,” he received an official letter (dated January, 1751) from the Sorbonne, or Faculty of Theology in Paris, informing him that fourteen propositions in his works “were reprehensible, and contrary to the creed of the church.” The first of these obnoxious passages, and the only one relating to geology, was as follows:—“The waters of the sea have produced the mountains and valleys of the land—the waters of the heavens, reducing all to a level, will at last deliver the whole land over to the sea, and the sea successively prevailing over the land, will leave dry new continents like those which we inhabit.” Buffon was invited by the College, in very courteous terms, to send in an explanation, or rather a recantation of his unorthodox opinions. To this he submitted; and a general assembly of the Faculty having approved of his “Declaration,” he was required to publish it in his next work. The document begins with these words:—“I declare that I had no intention to contradict the text of Scripture; that I believe most firmly all therein related about the creation, both as to order of time and matter of fact; and I abandon every thing in my book respecting the foundation of the earth, and, generally, all which may be contrary to the narration of Moses.”50

The grand principle which Buffon was called upon to renounce was simply this,—that the present mountains and valleys of the earth are due to secondary causes, and that the same causes will in time destroy all the continents, hills, and valleys, and reproduce others like them. Now, whatever may be the defects of many of his views, it is no longer controverted that the present continents are of secondary origin. The doctrine is as firmly established as the earth’s rotation on its axis; and that the land now elevated above the level of the sea will not endure forever, is an opinion which gains ground daily, in proportion as we enlarge our experience of the changes now in progress.

Targioni, 1751.—Targioni, in his voluminous “Travels in Tuscany, 1751 and 1754,” labored to fill up the sketch of the geology of that region left by Steno sixty years before. Notwithstanding a want of arrangement and condensation in his memoirs, they contained a rich store of faithful observations. He has not indulged in many general views, but in regard to the origin of valleys, he was opposed to the theory of Buffon, who attributed them principally to submarine currents. The Tuscan naturalist labored to show that both the larger and smaller valleys of the Apennines were excavated by rivers and floods, caused by the bursting of the barriers of lakes, after the retreat of the ocean. He also maintained that the elephants and other quadrupeds, so frequent in the lacustrine and alluvial deposits of Italy, had inhabited that peninsula; and had not been transported thither, as some had conceived, by Hannibal or the Romans, nor by what they were pleased to term “a catastrophe of nature.”

Lehman, 1756.—In the year 1756 the treatise of Lehman, a German mineralogist, and director of the Prussian mines, appeared, who also divided mountains into three classes: the first, those formed with the world, and prior to the creation of animals, and which contained no fragments of other rocks; the second class, those which resulted from the partial destruction of the primary rocks by a general revolution; and a third class, resulting from local revolutions, and in part from the deluge of Noah.

A French translation of this work appeared in 1759, in the preface of which, the translator displays very enlightened views respecting the operations of earthquakes, as well as of the aqueous causes.51

Gesner, 1758.—In this year Gesner, the botanist, of Zurich, published an excellent treatise on petrifactions, and the changes of the earth which they testify.52 After a detailed enumeration of the various classes of fossils of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and remarks on the different states in which they are found petrified, he considers the geological phenomena connected with them; observing, that some, like those of Œningen, resembled the testacea, fish, and plants indigenous in the neighboring region;53 while some, such as ammonites, gryphites, belemnites, and other shells, are either of unknown species, or found only in the Indian and other distant seas. In order to elucidate the structure of the earth, he gives sections, from Verenius, Buffon, and others, obtained in digging wells; distinguishes between horizontal and inclined strata; and, in speculating on the causes of these appearances, mentions Donati’s examination of the bed of the Adriatic; the filling up of lakes and seas by sediment; the imbedding of shells now in progress; and many known effects of earthquakes, such as the sinking down of districts, or the heaving up of the bed of the sea, so as to form new islands, and lay dry strata containing petrifactions. The ocean, he says, deserts its shores in many countries, as on the borders of the Baltic; but the rate of recession has been so slow in the last 2000 years, that to allow the Apennines, whose summits are filled with marine shells, to emerge to their present height, would have required about 80,000 years,—a lapse of time ten times greater, or more, than the age of the universe. We must therefore refer the phenomenon to the command of the Deity, related by Moses, that “the waters should be gathered together in one place, and the dry land appear.” Gesner adopted the views of Leibnitz, to account for the retreat of the primeval ocean: his essay displays much erudition; and the opinions of preceding writers of Italy, Germany, and England, are commented upon with fairness and discrimination.

Arduino, 1759.—In the year following, Arduino,54 in his memoirs on the mountains of Padua, Vicenza, and Verona, deduced, from original observations, the distinction of rocks into primary, secondary, and tertiary, and showed that in those districts there had been a succession of submarine volcanic eruptions.

Michell, 1760.—In the following year (1760) the Rev. John Michell, Woodwardian Professor of Mineralogy at Cambridge, published in the Philosophical Transactions, an Essay on the Cause and Phenomena of Earthquakes.55 His attention had been drawn to this subject by the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755. He advanced many original and philosophical views respecting the propagation of subterranean movements, and the caverns and fissures wherein steam might be generated. In order to point out the application of his theory to the structure of the globe, he was led to describe the arrangement and disturbance of the strata, their usual horizontality in low countries, and their contortions and fractured state in the neighborhood of mountain chains. He also explained, with surprising accuracy, the relations of the central ridges of older rocks to the “long narrow slips of similar earth, stones, and minerals,” which are parallel to these ridges. In his generalizations, derived in great part from his own observations on the geological structure of Yorkshire, he anticipated many of the views more fully developed by later naturalists.

Catcott, 1761.—Michell’s papers were entirely free from all physico-theological disquisitions, but some of his contemporaries were still earnestly engaged in defending or impugning the Woodwardian hypothesis. We find many of these writings referred to by Catcott, a Hutchinsonian, who published a “Treatise on the Deluge” in 1761. He labored particularly to refute an explanation offered by his contemporary, Bishop Clayton, of the Mosaic writings. That prelate had declared that the deluge “could not be literally true, save in respect to that part where Noah lived before the flood.” Catcott insisted on the universality of the deluge, and referred to traditions of inundations mentioned by ancient writers, or by travellers, in the East Indies, China, South America, and other countries. This part of his book is valuable, although it is not easy to see what bearing the traditions have, if admitted to be authentic, on the Bishop’s argument, since no evidence is adduced to prove that the catastrophes were contemporaneous events, while some of them are expressly represented by ancient authors to have occurred in succession.

Fortis—Odoardi, 1761.—The doctrines of Arduino, above adverted to, were afterwards confirmed by Fortis and Desmarest, in their travels in the same country; and they, as well as Baldassari, labored to complete the history of the Subapennine strata. In the work of Odoardi,56 there was also a clear argument in favor of the distinct ages of the older Apennine strata, and the Subapennine formations of more recent origin. He pointed out that the strata of these two groups were unconformable, and must have been the deposits of different seas at distant periods of time.

Raspe, 1763.—A history of the new islands, by Raspe, a Hanoverian, appeared in 1763, in Latin.57 In this work, all the authentic accounts of earthquakes which had produced permanent changes on the solid parts of the earth were collected together and examined with judicious criticism. The best systems which had been proposed concerning the ancient history of the globe, both by ancient and modern writers, are reviewed; and the merits and defects of the doctrines of Hooke, Ray, Moro, Buffon, and others, fairly estimated. Great admiration is expressed for the hypothesis of Hooke, and his explanation of the origin of the strata is shown to have been more correct than Moro’s, while their theory of the effects of earthquakes was the same. Raspe had not seen Michell’s memoirs, and his views concerning the geological structure of the earth were perhaps less enlarged; yet he was able to add many additional arguments in favor of Hook’s theory, and to render it, as he said, a nearer approach to what Hooke would have written had he lived in later times. As to the periods wherein all the earthquakes happened, to which we owe the elevation of various parts of our continents and islands, Raspe says he pretends not to assign their duration, still less to defend Hooke’s suggestion, that the convulsions almost all took place during the deluge of Noah. He adverts to the apparent indications of the former tropical heat of the climate of Europe, and the changes in the species of animals and plants, as among the most obscure and difficult problems in geology. In regard to the islands raised from the sea, within the times of history or tradition, he declares that some of them were composed of strata containing organic remains, and that they were not, as Buffon had asserted, made of mere volcanic matter. His work concludes with an eloquent exhortation to naturalists to examine the isles which rose, in 1707, in the Grecian Archipelago, and, in 1720, in the Azores, and not to neglect such splendid opportunities of studying nature “in the act of parturition.” That Hooke’s writings should have been neglected for more than half a century, was matter of astonishment to Raspe; but it is still more wonderful that his own luminous exposition of that theory should, for more than another half century, have excited so little interest.

Fuchsel, 1762 and 1773.—Fuchsel, a German physician, published, in 1762, a geological description of the country between the Thuringerwald and the Hartz, and a memoir on the environs of Rudelstadt;58 and afterwards, in 1773, a theoretical work on the ancient history of the earth and of man.59 He had evidently advanced considerably beyond his predecessor Lehman, and was aware of the distinctness, both as to position and fossil contents, of several groups of strata of different ages, corresponding to the secondary formations now recognized by geologists in various parts of Germany. He supposed the European continents to have remained covered by the sea until the formation of the marine strata, called in Germany “muschelkalk,” at the same time that the terrestrial plants of many European deposits, attested the existence of dry land which bordered the ancient sea; land which, therefore, must have occupied the place of the present ocean. The pre-existing continent had been gradually swallowed up by the sea, different parts having subsided in succession into subterranean caverns. All the sedimentary strata were originally horizontal, and their present state of derangement must be referred to subsequent oscillations of the ground.

As there were plants and animals in the ancient periods, so also there must have been men, but they did not all descend from one pair, but were created at various points on the earth’s surface; and the number of these distinct birth-places was as great as are the original languages of nations.

In the writings of Fuchsel we see a strong desire manifested to explain geological phenomena as far as possible by reference to the agency of known causes; and although some of his speculations were fanciful, his views coincide much more nearly with those now generally adopted, than the theories afterwards promulgated by Werner and his followers.

Brander, 1766.—Gustavus Brander published, in 1766, his “Fossilia Hantoniensia,” containing excellent figures of fossil shells from the more modern (or Eocene) marine strata of Hampshire. “Various opinions,” he says in the preface, “had been entertained concerning the time when and how these bodies became deposited. Some there are who conceive that it might have been effected in a wonderful length of time by a gradual changing and shifting of the sea,” &c. But the most common cause assigned is that of “the deluge.” This conjecture, he says, even if the universality of the flood be not called in question, is purely hypothetical. In his opinion, fossil animals and testacea were, for the most part, of unknown species; and of such as were known, the living analogues now belonged to southern latitudes.

Soldani, 1780.—Soldani applied successfully his knowledge of zoology to illustrate the history of stratified masses. He explained that microscopic testacea and zoophytes inhabited the depths of the Mediterranean; and that the fossil species were, in like manner, found in those deposits wherein the fineness of their particles, and the absence of pebbles, implied that they were accumulated in a deep sea, or far from shore. This author first remarked the alternation of marine and freshwater strata in the Paris basin.60

Fortis—Testa, 1793.—A lively controversy arose between Fortis and another Italian naturalist, Testa, concerning the fish of Monte Bolca, in 1793. Their letters,61 written with great spirit and elegance, show that they were aware that a large proportion of the Subapennine shells were identical with living species, and some of them with species now living in the torrid zone. Fortis proposed a somewhat fanciful conjecture, that when the volcanoes of the Vicentin were burning, the waters of the Adriatic had a higher temperature; and in this manner, he said, the shells of warmer regions may once have peopled their own seas. But Testa was disposed to think that these species of testacea were still common to their own and to equinoctial seas; for many, he said, once supposed to be confined to hotter regions, had been afterwards discovered in the Mediterranean.62

Cortesi—Spallanzani—Wallerius—Whitehurst.—While these Italian naturalists, together with Cortesi and Spallanzani, were busily engaged in pointing out the analogy between the deposits of modern and ancient seas, and the habits and arrangement of their organic inhabitants, and while some progress was making, in the same country, in investigating the ancient and modern volcanic rocks, some of the most original observers among the English and German writers, Whitehurst63 and Wallerius, were wasting their strength in contending, according to the old Woodwardian hypothesis, that all the strata were formed by Noah’s deluge. But Whitehurst’s description of the rocks of Derbyshire was most faithful; and he atoned for false theoretical views, by providing data for their refutation.

Pallas—Saussure.—Towards the close of the eighteenth century, the idea of distinguishing the mineral masses on our globe into separate groups, and studying their relations, began to be generally diffused. Pallas and Saussure were among the most celebrated whose labors contributed to this end. After an attentive examination of the two great mountain chains of Siberia, Pallas announced the result, that the granitic rocks were in the middle, the schistose at their sides, and the limestones again on the outside of these; and this he conceived would prove a general law in the formation of all chains composed chiefly of primary rocks.64

In his “Travels in Russia,” in 1793 and 1794, he made many geological observations on the recent strata near the Wolga and the Caspian, and adduced proofs of the greater extent of the latter sea at no distant era in the earth’s history. His memoir on the fossil bones of Siberia attracted attention to some of the most remarkable phenomena in geology. He stated that he had found a rhinoceros entire in the frozen soil, with its skin and flesh: an elephant, found afterwards in a mass of ice on the shore of the North Sea, removed all doubt as to the accuracy of so wonderful a discovery.65

The subjects relating to natural history which engaged the attention of Pallas, were too multifarious to admit of his devoting a large share of his labors exclusively to geology. Saussure, on the other hand, employed the chief portion of his time in studying the structure of the Alps and Jura, and he provided valuable data for those who followed him. He did not pretend to deduce any general system from his numerous and interesting observations; and the few theoretical opinions which escaped from him, seem, like those of Pallas, to have been chiefly derived from the cosmological speculations of preceding writers.

12 De Fossilib. pp. 109, 176.

13 Aristotle, On Animals, chaps. 1, 15.

14 Brocchi, Con. Fos. Subap. Disc. sui Progressi. vol. i. p. 57.

15 De Metallicis.

16 Dies Caniculares.

17 Storia Naturale.

18 Osserv. sugli Animali aquat. e terrest. 1626.

19 Sex itaque distinctas Etruriæ facies agnoscimus, dum bis fluida, bis plana, et sicca, bis aspera fuerit, &c.

20 Scilla quotes the remark of Cicero on the story that a stone in Chios had been cleft open, and presented the head of Paniscus in relief:—“I believe,” said the orator, “that the figure bore some resemblance to Paniscus, but not such that you would have deemed it sculptured by Scopas; for chance never perfectly imitates the truth.”

21 De Testaceis fossilibus Mus. Septaliani.

22 The opinions of Boyle, alluded to by Quirini, were published a few years before, in a short article entitled “On the Bottom of the Sea.” From observations collected from the divers of the pearl fishery, Boyle inferred that, when the waves were six or seven feet high above the surface of the water, there were no signs of agitation at the depth of fifteen fathoms; and that even during heavy gales of wind, the motion of the water was exceedingly diminished at the depth of twelve or fifteen feet. He had also learnt from some of his informants, that there were currents running in opposite directions at different depths.—Boyle’s Works, vol. iii. p. 110. London, 1744.

23 See Conybeare and Phillips, “Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales,” p. 12.

24 Unde jam duplex origo intelligitur primorum corporum, una, cum ab ignis fusione refrigescerent, altera, cum reconcrescerent ex solutione aquarum.

25 Redeunte mox simili causâ strata subinde alia aliis imponerentur, et facies teneri adhuc orbis sæpius novata est. Donec quiescentibus causis, atque æquilibratis, consistentior emergeret rerum status.—For an able analysis of the views of Leibnitz, in his Protogœa, see Mr. Conybeare’s Report to the Brit. Assoc. on the Progress of Geological Science, 1832.

26 Between the year 1688 and his death, in 1703, he read several memoirs to the Royal Society, and delivered lectures on various subjects, relating to fossil remains and the effects of earthquakes.

27 Posth. Works, Lecture, Feb. 29, 1688.

28 Posth. Works, p. 327.

29 Posth. Works, Lecture, Feb. 15, 1688. Hooke explained with considerable clearness the different modes wherein organic substances may become lapidified; and, among other illustrations, he mentions some silicified palm-wood brought from Africa, on which M. de la Hire had read a memoir to the Royal Academy of France (June, 1692), wherein he had pointed out, not only the tubes running the length of the trunk, but the roots at one extremity. De la Hire, says Hooke, also treated of certain trees found petrified in the “river that passes by Bakan, in the kingdom of Ava, and which has for the space of ten leagues the virtue of petrifying wood.” It is an interesting fact that the silicified wood of the Irawadi should have attracted attention more than one hundred years ago. Remarkable discoveries have been made there in later times of fossil animals and vegetables, by Mr. Crawfurd and Dr. Wallich.—See Geol. Trans. vol. ii. part iii. p. 377, second series. De la Hire cites Father Duchatz, in the second volume of “Observations made in the Indies by the Jesuits.”

30 Posth. Works, Lecture, May 29, 1689.

31 Posth. Works, p. 312.

32 Posth. Works, p. 410.

33 Ray’s Physico-theological Discourses were of somewhat later date than Hooke’s great work on earthquakes. He speaks of Hooke as one “whom for his learning and deep insight into the mysteries of nature he deservedly honored.”—On the Deluge, chap. iv.

34 Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth, 1695. Preface.

35 Ibid.

36 Consequences of the Deluge, p. 165.

37 First published in Latin between the years 1680 and 1690.

38 An Examination of Dr. Burnet’s Theory, &c., 2d ed. 1734.

39 Ramazzini even asserted, that the ideas of Burnet were mainly borrowed from a dialogue of one Patrizio; but Brocchi, after reading that dialogue, assures us that there was scarcely any other correspondence between these systems, except that both were equally whimsical.

40 Dei Corpi Marini, Lettere critiche, &c. 1721.

41 Brocchi, p. 28.

42 Ibid. p. 33.

43 Ibid.

44 Sui Crostacei ed altri Corpi Marini che si trovano sui Monti.

45 Moro does not cite the works of Hooke and Ray; and although so many of his views were in accordance with theirs, he was probably ignorant of their wrItings, for they had not been translated. As he always refers to the Latin edition of Burnet, and a French translation of Woodward, we may presume that he did not read English.

46 Saggio fisico intorno alla Storia del Mare, part i. p. 24.

47 “Abbomino al sommo qualsivoglia sistema, che sia di pianta fabbricato in aria; massime quando è tale, che non possa sostenersi senza un miracolo,” &c.—De’ Crostacei e di altre Produz. del Mare, &c. 1749.

48 “Senza violenze, senza finzioni, senza supposti, senza miracoli.” De’ Crostacei e di altre Produz. del Mare, &c. 1749.

49 Sui Testacei della Sicilia.

50 Hist. Nat. tom. v. éd. de l’Imp. Royale, Paris, 1769.

51 Essai d’une Hist. Nat. des Couches de la Terre, 1759.

52 John Gesner published at Leyden, in Latin.

53 Part ii. chap. 9.

54 Giornale del Criselini, 1759.

55 See a sketch of the History of English Geology, by Dr. Fitton, in Edinb. Rev. Feb. 1818, re-edited Lond. and Edinb. Phil. Mag. vols. i. and ii. 1832-3. Some of Michell’s observations anticipate in so remarkable a manner the theories established forty years afterwards, that his writings would probably have formed an era in the science, if his researches had been uninterrupted. He held, however, his professorship only eight years, when his career was suddenly cut short by preferment to a benefice. From that time he appears to have been engaged in his clerical duties, and to have entirely discontinued his scientific pursuits, exemplifying the working of a system still in force at Oxford and Cambridge, where the chairs of mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, botany, astronomy, geology, mineralogy, and others, being frequently filled by clergymen, the reward of success disqualifies them, if they conscientiously discharge their new duties, from farther advancing the cause of science, and that, too, at the moment when their labors would naturally bear the richest fruits.

56 Sui Corpi Marini del Feltrino, 1761.

57 De Novis e Mari Natis Insulis. Raspe was also the editor of the “Philosophical Works of Leibnitz. Amst. et Leipzig, 1765;” also author of “Tassie’s Gems,” and “Baron Munchausen’s Travels.”

58 Acta Academiæ Electoralis Maguntinæ, vol. ii. Erfurt.

59 This account of Fuchsel is derived from an excellent analysis of his memoirs by M. Keferstein. Journ. de Géologie, tom. ii. Oct. 1830.

60 Saggio orittografico, &c. 1780, and other Works.

61 Lett. sui Pesci Fossili di Bolca. Milan, 1793.

62 This argument of Testa has been strengthened of late years by the discovery that dealers in shells had long been in the habit of selling Mediterranean species as shells of more southern and distant latitudes, for the sake of enhancing their price. It appears, moreover, from several hundred experiments made by that distinguished hydrographer, Capt. Smith, on the water within eight fathoms of the surface, that the temperature of the Mediterranean is on an average 3½° of Fahrenheit higher than the western part of the Atlantic ocean; an important fact, which in some degree may help to explain why many species are common to tropical latitudes and to the Mediterranean.

63 Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth, 1778.

64 Observ. on the Formation of Mountains. Act Petrop. ann. 1778, part i.

65 Nov. comm. Petr. XVII. Cuvier, Eloge de Pallas.

Chapter 4.

History of the Progress of Geology—continued.

Werner’s application of geology to the art of mining—Excursive character of his lectures—Enthusiasm of his pupils—His authority—His theoretical errors—Desmarest’s Map and Description of Auvergne—Controversy between the Vulcanists and Neptunists—Intemperance of the rival sects—Hutton’s Theory of the earth—His discovery of granite veins—Originality of his views—Why opposed—Playfair’s illustrations—Influence of Voltaire’s writings on geology—Imputations cast on the Huttonians by Williams, Kirwan, and De Luc—Smith’s Map of England—Geological Society of London—Progress of the science in France—Growing importance of the study of organic remains.

Werner.—The art of mining has long been taught in France, Germany, and Hungary, in scientific institutions established for that purpose, where mineralogy has always been a principal branch of instruction.

Werner was named, in 1775, professor of that science in the “School of Mines,” at Freyberg, in Saxony. He directed his attention not merely to the composition and external characters of minerals, but also to what he termed “geognosy,” or the natural position of minerals in particular rocks, together with the grouping of those rocks, their geographical distribution, and various relations. The phenomena observed in the structure of the globe had hitherto served for little else than to furnish interesting topics for philosophical discussion; but when Werner pointed out their application to the practical purposes of mining, they were instantly regarded by a large class of men as an essential part of their professional education, and from that time the science was cultivated in Europe more ardently and systematically. Werner’s mind was at once imaginative and richly stored with miscellaneous knowledge. He associated every thing with his favorite science, and in his excursive lectures, he pointed out all the economical uses of minerals, and their application to medicine; the influence of the mineral composition of rocks upon the soil, and of the soil upon the resources, wealth, and civilization of man. The vast sandy plains of Tartary and Africa, he would say, retained their inhabitants in the shape of wandering shepherds; the granitic mountains and the low calcareous and alluvial plains gave rise to different manners, degrees of wealth, and intelligence. The history even of languages, and the migration of tribes, had been determined by the direction of particular strata. The qualities of certain stones used in building would lead him to descant on the architecture of different ages and nations; and the physical geography of a country frequently invited him to treat of military tactics. The charm of his manners and his eloquence kindled enthusiasm in the minds of his pupils; and many, who had intended at first only to acquire a slight knowledge of mineralogy, when they had once heard him, devoted themselves to it as the business of their lives. In a few years, a small school of mines, before unheard of in Europe, was raised to the rank of a great university; and men already distinguished in science studied the German language, and came from the most distant countries to hear the great oracle of geology.1

Werner had a great antipathy to the mechanical labor of writing, and, with the exception of a valuable treatise on metalliferous veins, he could never be persuaded to pen more than a few brief memoirs, and those containing no development of his general views. Although the natural modesty of his disposition was excessive, approaching even to timidity, he indulged in the most bold and sweeping generalizations, and he inspired all his scholars with a most implicit faith in his doctrines. Their admiration of his genius, and the feelings of gratitude and friendship which they all felt for him, were not undeserved; but the supreme authority usurped by him over the opinions of his contemporaries, was eventually prejudicial to the progress of the science; so much so, as greatly to counterbalance the advantages which it derived from his exertions. If it be true that delivery be the first, second, and third requisite in a popular orator, it is no less certain, that to travel is of first, second, and third importance to those who desire to originate just and comprehensive views concerning the structure of our globe. Now Werner had not travelled to distant countries; he had merely explored a small portion of Germany, and conceived, and persuaded others to believe, that the whole surface of our planet, and all the mountain chains in the world, were made after the model of his own province. It became a ruling object of ambition in the minds of his pupils to confirm the generalizations of their great master, and to discover in the most distant parts of the globe his “universal formations,” which he supposed had been each in succession simultaneously precipitated over the whole earth from a common menstruum, or “chaotic fluid.” It now appears that the Saxon professor had misinterpreted many of the most important appearances even in the immediate neighborhood of Freyberg. Thus, for example, within a day’s journey of his school, the porphyry, called by him primitive, has been found not only to send forth veins or dikes through strata of the coal formation, but to overlie them in mass. The granite of the Hartz mountains, on the other hand, which he supposed to be the nucleus of the chain, is now well known to traverse the other beds, as near Goslar; and still nearer Freyberg, in the Erzgebirge, the mica slate does not mantle round the granite as was supposed, but abuts abruptly against it. Fragments, also, of the greywacké slate, containing organic remains, have recently been found entangled in the granite of the Hartz, by M. de Seckendorf.2

The principal merit of Werner’s system of instruction consisted in steadily directing the attention of his scholars to the constant relations of superposition of certain mineral groups; but he had been anticipated, as has been shown in the last chapter, in the discovery of this general law, by several geologists in Italy and elsewhere; and his leading divisions of the secondary strata were at the same time, and independently, made the basis of an arrangement of the British strata by our countryman, William Smith, to whose work I shall refer in the sequel.

Controversy between the Vulcanists and Neptunists.—In regard to basalt and other igneous rocks, Werner’s theory was original, but it was also extremely erroneous. The basalts of Saxony and Hesse, to which his observations were chiefly confined, consisted of tabular masses capping the hills, and not connected with the levels of existing valleys, like many in Auvergne and the Vivarais. These basalts, and all other rocks of the same family in other countries, were, according to him, chemical precipitates from water. He denied that they were the products of submarine volcanoes; and even taught that, in the primeval ages of the world, there were no volcanoes. His theory was opposed, in a twofold sense, to the doctrine of the permanent agency of the same causes in nature; for not only did he introduce, without scruple, many imaginary causes supposed to have once effected great revolutions in the earth, and then to have become extinct, but new ones also were feigned to have come into play in modern times; and, above all, that most violent instrument of change, the agency of subterranean heat.

So early as 1768, before Werner had commenced his mineralogical studies, Raspe had truly characterized the basalts of Hesse as of igneous origin. Arduino, we have seen, had pointed out numerous varieties of trap-rock in the Vicentin as analogous to volcanic products, and as distinctly referable to ancient submarine eruptions. Desmarest, as before stated, had, in company with Fortis, examined the Vicentin in 1766, and confirmed Arduino’s views. In 1772, Banks, Solander, and Troil compared the columnar basalt of Hecla with that of the Hebrides. Collini, in 1774, recognized the true nature of the igneous rocks on the Rhine, between Andernach and Bonn. In 1775, Guettard visited the Vivarais, and established the relation of basaltic currents to lavas. Lastly, in 1779, Faujas published his description of the volcanoes of the Vivarais and Velay, and showed how the streams of basalt had poured out from craters which still remain in a perfect state.3

Desmarest.—When sound opinions had thus for twenty years prevailed in Europe concerning the true nature of the ancient trap-rocks, Werner by his simple dictum caused a retrograde movement, and not only overturned the true theory, but substituted for it one of the most unphilosophical that can well be imagined. The continued ascendancy of his dogmas on this subject was the more astonishing, because a variety of new and striking facts were daily accumulated in favor of the correct opinions previously entertained. Desmarest, after a careful examination of Auvergne, pointed out, first, the most recent volcanoes which had their craters still entire, and their streams of lava conforming to the level of the present river-courses. He then showed that there were others of an intermediate epoch, whose craters were nearly effaced, and whose lavas were less intimately connected with the present valleys; and, lastly, that there were volcanic rocks, still more ancient, without any discernible craters or scoriæ, and bearing the closest analogy to rocks in other parts of Europe, the igneous origin of which was denied by the school of Freyberg.4

Desmarest’s map of Auvergne was a work of uncommon merit. He first made a trigonometrical survey of the district, and delineated its physical geography with minute accuracy and admirable graphic power. He contrived, at the same time, to express without the aid of colors, many geological details, including the different ages and sometimes even the structure, of the volcanic rocks, and distinguishing them from the fresh-water and the granitic. They alone who have carefully studied Auvergne, and traced the different lava streams from their craters to their termination,—the various isolated basaltic cappings,—the relation of some lavas to the present valleys,—-the absence of such relations in others,—can appreciate the extraordinary fidelity of this elaborate work. No other district of equal dimensions in Europe exhibits, perhaps, so beautiful and varied a series of phenomena; and, fortunately, Desmarest possessed at once the mathematical knowledge required for the construction of a map, skill in mineralogy, and a power of original generalization.

Dolomieu—Montlosier.—Dolomieu, another of Werner’s contemporaries, had found prismatic basalt among the ancient lavas of Etna; and, in 1784, had observed the alternations of submarine lavas and calcareous strata in the Val di Noto, in Sicily.5 In 1790, also, he described similar phenomena in the Vicentin and in the Tyrol.6 Montlosier published, in 1788, an essay on the theories of volcanoes of Auvergne, combining accurate local observations with comprehensive views. Notwithstanding this mass of evidence the scholars of Werner were prepared to support his opinions to their utmost extent; maintaining, in the fulness of their faith, that even obsidian was an aqueous precipitate. As they were blinded by their veneration for the great teacher, they were impatient of opposition, and soon imbibed the spirit of a faction; and their opponents, the Vulcanists, were not long in becoming contaminated with the same intemperate zeal. Ridicule and irony were weapons more frequently employed than argument by the rival sects, till at last the controversy was carried on with a degree of bitterness almost unprecedented in questions of physical science. Desmarest alone, who had long before provided ample materials for refuting such a theory, kept aloof from the strife; and whenever a zealous Neptunist wished to draw the old man into an argument, he was satisfied with replying, “Go and see.”7

Hutton, 1788.—It would be contrary to all analogy, in matters of graver import, that a war should rage with such fury on the Continent, and that the inhabitants of our island should not mingle in the affray. Although in England the personal influence of Werner was wanting to stimulate men to the defence of the weaker side of the question, they contrived to find good reason for espousing the Wernerian errors with great enthusiasm. In order to explain the peculiar motives which led many to enter, even with party feeling, into this contest, it will be necessary to present the reader with a sketch of the views unfolded by Hutton, a contemporary of the Saxon geologist. The former naturalist had been educated as a physician, but declining the practice of medicine, he resolved, when young, to remain content with the small independence inherited from his father, and thenceforth to give his undivided attention to scientific pursuits. He resided at Edinburgh, where he enjoyed the society of many men of high attainments, who loved him for the simplicity of his manners, and the sincerity of his character. His application was unwearied; and he made frequent tours through different parts of England and Scotland, acquiring considerable skill as a mineralogist, and consequently arriving at grand and comprehensive views in geology. He communicated the results of his observations unreservedly, and with the fearless spirit of one who was conscious that love of truth was the sole stimulus of his exertions. When at length he had matured his views, he published, in 1788, his “Theory of the Earth,”8 and the same, afterwards more fully developed in a separate work, in 1795. This treatise was the first in which geology was declared to be in no way concerned about “questions as to the origin of things;” the first in which an attempt was made to dispense entirely with all hypothetical causes, and to explain the former changes of the earth’s crust by reference exclusively to natural agents. Hutton labored to give fixed principles to geology, as Newton had succeeded in doing to astronomy; but, in the former science, too little progress had been made towards furnishing the necessary data, to enable any philosopher, however great his genius, to realize so noble a project.

Huttonian theory.—“The ruins of an older world,” said Hutton, “are visible in the present structure of our planet; and the strata which now compose our continents have been once beneath the sea, and were formed out of the waste of pre-existing continents. The same forces are still destroying, by chemical decomposition or mechanical violence, even the hardest rocks, and transporting the materials to the sea, where they are spread out, and form strata analogous to those of more ancient date. Although loosely deposited along the bottom of the ocean, they become afterwards altered and consolidated by volcanic heat, and then heaved up, fractured, and contorted.”

Although Hutton had never explored any region of active volcanoes, he had convinced himself that basalt and many other trap-rocks were of igneous origin, and that many of them had been injected in a melted state through fissures in the older strata. The compactness of these rocks, and their different aspect from that of ordinary lava, he attributed to their having cooled down under the pressure of the sea; and in order to remove the objections started against this theory, his friend, Sir James Hall, instituted a most curious and instructive series of chemical experiments, illustrating the crystalline arrangement and texture assumed by melted matter cooled under high pressure.

The absence of stratification in granite, and its analogy, in mineral character, to rocks which he deemed of igneous origin, led Hutton to conclude that granite also must have been formed from matter in fusion; and this inference he felt could not be fully confirmed, unless he discovered at the contact of granite and other strata a repetition of the phenomena exhibited so constantly by the trap-rocks. Resolved to try his theory by this test, he went to the Grampians, and surveyed the line of junction of the granite and superincumbent stratified masses, until he found in Glen Tilt, in 1785, the most clear and unequivocal proofs in support of his views. Veins of red granite are there seen branching out from the principal mass, and traversing the black micaceous schist and primary limestone. The intersected stratified rocks are so distinct in color and appearance as to render the example in that locality most striking, and the alteration of the limestone in contact was very analogous to that produced by trap veins on calcareous strata. This verification of his system filled him with delight, and called forth such marks of joy and exultation, that the guides who accompanied him, says his biographer, were convinced that he must have discovered a vein of silver or gold.9 He was aware that the same theory would not explain the origin of the primary schists, but these he called primary, rejecting the term primitive, and was disposed to consider them as sedimentary rocks altered by heat, and that they originated in some other form from the waste of previously existing rocks.

By this important discovery of granite veins, to which he had been led by fair induction from an independent class of facts, Hutton prepared the way for the greatest innovation of the systems of his predecessors. Vallisneri had pointed out the general fact that there were certain fundamental rocks which contained no organic remains, and which he supposed to have been formed before the creation of living beings. Moro, Generelli, and other Italian writers, embraced the same doctrine; and Lehman regarded the mountains called by him primitive, as parts of the original nucleus of the globe. The same tenet was an article of faith in the school of Freyberg; and if any one ventured to doubt the possibility of our being enabled to carry back our researches to the creation of the present order of things, the granitic rocks were triumphantly appealed to. On them seemed written, in legible characters, the memorable inscription—

“Dinanzi a me non fur cose create Se non eterne;”10

and no small sensation was excited when Hutton seemed, with unhallowed hand, desirous to erase characters already regarded by many as sacred. “In the economy of the world,” said the Scotch geologist, “I can find no traces of a beginning, no prospect of an end;” a declaration the more startling when coupled with the doctrine, that all past ages on the globe had been brought about by the slow agency of existing causes. The imagination was first fatigued and overpowered by endeavoring to conceive the immensity of time required for the annihilation of whole continents by so insensible a process; and when the thoughts had wandered through these interminable periods, no resting-place was assigned in the remotest distance. The oldest rocks were represented to be of a derivative nature, the last of an antecedent series, and that, perhaps, one of many pre-existing worlds. Such views of the immensity of past time, like those unfolded by the Newtonian philosophy in regard to space, were too vast to awaken ideas of sublimity unmixed with a painful sense of our incapacity to conceive a plan of such infinite extent. Worlds are seen beyond worlds immeasurably distant from each other, and, beyond them all, innumerable other systems are faintly traced on the confines of the visible universe.

The characteristic feature of the Huttonian theory was, as before hinted, the exclusion of all causes not supposed to belong to the present order of nature. But Hutton had made no step beyond Hooke, Moro, and Raspe, in pointing out in what manner the laws now governing subterranean movements might bring about geological changes, if sufficient time be allowed. On the contrary, he seems to have fallen far short of some of their views, especially when he refused to attribute any part of the external configuration of the earth’s crust to subsidence. He imagined that the continents were first gradually destroyed by aqueous degradation; and when their ruins had furnished materials for new continents, they were upheaved by violent convulsions. He therefore required alternate periods of general disturbance and repose; and such he believed had been, and would forever be, the course of nature.

Generelli, in his exposition of Moro’s system, had made a far nearer approximation towards reconciling geological appearances with the state of nature as known to us; for while he agreed with Hutton, that the decay and reproduction of rocks were always in progress, proceeding with the utmost uniformity, the learned Carmelite represented the repairs of mountains by elevation from below to be effected by an equally constant and synchronous operation. Neither of these theories, considered singly, satisfies all the conditions of the great problem, which a geologist, who rejects cosmological causes, is called upon to solve; but they probably contain together the germs of a perfect system. There can be no doubt, that periods of disturbance and repose have followed each other in succession in every region of the globe; but it may be equally true, that the energy of the subterranean movements has been always uniform as regards the whole earth. The force of earthquakes may for a cycle of years have been invariably confined, as it is now, to large but determinate spaces, and may then have gradually shifted its position, so that another region, which had for ages been at rest, became in its turn the grand theatre of action.

Playfair’s illustrations of Hutton.—The explanation proposed by Hutton, and by Playfair, the illustrator of his theory, respecting the origin of valleys and of alluvial accumulations, was also very imperfect. They ascribed none of the inequalities of the earth’s surface to movements which accompanied the upheaving of the land, imagining that valleys in general were formed in the course of ages by the rivers now flowing in them; while they seem not to have reflected on the excavating and transporting power which the waves of the ocean might exert on land during its emergence.

Although Hutton’s knowledge of mineralogy and chemistry was considerable, he possessed but little information concerning organic remains; they merely served him, as they did Werner, to characterize certain strata, and to prove their marine origin. The theory of former revolutions in organic life was not yet fully recognized; and without this class of proofs in support of the antiquity of the globe, the indefinite periods demanded by the Huttonian hypothesis appeared visionary to many; and some, who deemed the doctrine inconsistent with revealed truths, indulged very uncharitable suspicions of the motives of its author. They accused him of a deliberate design of reviving the heathen dogma of an “eternal succession,” and of denying that this world ever had a beginning. Playfair, in the biography of his friend, has the following comment on this part of their theory:—“In the planetary motions, where geometry has carried the eye so far, both into the future and the past, we discover no mark either of the commencement or termination of the present order. It is unreasonable, indeed, to suppose that such marks should anywhere exist. The Author of Nature has not given laws to the universe, which, like the institutions of men, carry in themselves the elements of their own destruction. He has not permitted in His works any symptom of infancy or of old age, or any sign by which we may estimate either their future or their past duration. He may put an end, as he no doubt gave a beginning, to the present system, at some determinate period of time; but we may rest assured that this great catastrophe will not be brought about by the laws now existing, and that it is not indicated, by any thing which we perceive.”11

The party feeling excited against the Huttonian doctrines, and the open disregard of candor and temper in the controversy, will hardly be credited by the reader, unless he recalls to his recollection that the mind of the English public was at that time in a state of feverish excitement. A class of writers in France had been laboring industriously for many years, to diminish the influence of the clergy, by sapping the foundations of the Christian faith; and their success, and the consequences of the Revolution, had alarmed the most resolute minds, while the imagination of the more timid was continually haunted by dread of innovation, as by the phantom of some fearful dream.

Voltaire.—Voltaire had used the modern discoveries in physics as one of the numerous weapons of attack and ridicule directed by him against the Scriptures. He found that the most popular systems of geology were accommodated to the sacred writings, and that much ingenuity had been employed to make every fact coincide exactly with the Mosaic account of the creation and deluge. It was, therefore, with no friendly feelings that he contemplated the cultivators of geology in general, regarding the science as one which had been successfully enlisted by theologians as an ally in their cause.12 He knew that the majority of those who were aware of the abundance of fossil shells in the interior of continents, were still persuaded that they were proofs of the universal deluge; and as the readiest way of shaking this article of faith, he endeavored to inculcate skepticism as to the real nature of such shells, and to recall from contempt the exploded dogma of the sixteenth century, that they were sports of nature. He also pretended that vegetable impressions were not those of real plants.13 Yet he was perfectly convinced that the shells had really belonged to living testacea, as may be seen in his essay “On the formation of Mountains.”14 He would sometimes, in defiance of all consistency, shift his ground when addressing the vulgar; and, admitting the true nature of the shells collected in the Alps and other places, pretend that they were Eastern species, which had fallen from the hats of pilgrims coming from Syria. The numerous essays written by him on geological subjects were all calculated to strengthen prejudices, partly because he was ignorant of the real state of the science, and partly from his bad faith.15 On the other hand, they who knew that his attacks were directed by a desire to invalidate Scripture, and who were unacquainted with the true merits of the question, might well deem the old diluvian hypothesis incontrovertible, if Voltaire could adduce no better argument against it than to deny the true nature of organic remains.

It is only by careful attention to impediments originating in extrinsic causes, that we can explain the slow and reluctant adoption of the simplest truths in geology. First, we find many able naturalists adducing the fossil remains of marine animals as proofs of an event related in Scripture. The evidence is deemed conclusive by the multitude for a century or more; for it favors opinions which they entertained before, and they are gratified by supposing them confirmed by fresh and unexpected proofs. Many who see through the fallacy have no wish to undeceive those who are influenced by it, approving the effect of the delusion, and conniving at it as a pious fraud; until, finally, an opposite party, who are hostile to the sacred writings, labor to explode the erroneous opinion, by substituting for it another dogma, which they know to be equally unsound.

The heretical Vulcanists were soon after openly assailed in England, by imputations of the most illiberal kind. We cannot estimate the malevolence of such a persecution, by the pain which similar insinuations might now inflict; for although charges of infidelity and atheism must always be odious, they were injurious in the extreme at that moment of political excitement; and it was better, perhaps, for a man’s good reception in society, that his moral character should have been traduced, than that he should become a mark for these poisoned weapons.

I shall pass over the works of numerous divines, who may be excused for sensitiveness on points which then excited so much uneasiness in the public mind; and shall say nothing of the amiable poet Cowper,16 who could hardly be expected to have inquired into the merit of doctrines in physics. But in the foremost ranks of the intolerant are found several laymen who had high claims to scientific reputation. Among these appears Williams, a mineral surveyor of Edinburgh, who published a “Natural History of the Mineral Kingdom,” in 1789; a work of great merit, for that day, and of practical utility, as containing the best account of the coal strata. In his preface he misrepresents Hutton’s theory altogether, and charges him with considering all rocks to be lavas of different colors and structure; and also with “warping every thing to support the eternity of the world.”17 He descants on the pernicious influence of such skeptical notions, as leading to downright infidelity and atheism, “and as being nothing less than to depose the Almighty Creator of the universe from his office.”18

KirwanDe Luc.—Kirwan, president of the Royal Academy of Dublin, a chemist and mineralogist of some merit, but who possessed much greater authority in the scientific world than he was entitled by his talents to enjoy, said, in the introduction to his “Geological Essays, 1799,” “that sound geology graduated into religion, and was required to dispel certain systems of atheism or infidelity, of which they had had recent experience.”19 He was an uncompromising defender of the aqueous theory of all rocks, and was scarcely surpassed by Burnet and Whiston, in his desire to adduce the Mosaic writings in confirmation of his opinions.

De Luc, in the preliminary discourse to his Treatise on Geology,20 says, “The weapons have been changed by which revealed religion is attacked; it is now assailed by geology, and the knowledge of this science has become essential to theologians.” He imputes the failure of former geological systems to their having been anti-Mosaical, and directed against a “sublime tradition.” These and similar imputations, reiterated in the works of De Luc, seem to have been taken for granted by some modern writers: it is therefore necessary to state, in justice to the numerous geologists of different nations, whose works have been considered, that none of them were guilty of endeavoring, by arguments drawn from physics, to invalidate scriptural tenets. On the contrary, the majority of those who were fortunate enough “to discover the true causes of things,” rarely deserved another part of the poet’s panegyric, “Atque metus omnes subjecit pedibus.” The caution and even timid reserve, of many eminent Italian authors of the earlier period is very apparent; and there can hardly be a doubt, that they subscribed to certain dogmas, and particularly to the first diluvian theory, out of deference to popular prejudices, rather than from conviction. If they were guilty of dissimulation, we may feel regret, but must not blame their want of moral courage, reserving rather our condemnation for the intolerance of the times, and that inquisitorial power which forced Galileo to abjure, and the two Jesuits to disclaim the theory of Newton.21

Hutton answered Kirwan’s attacks with great warmth, and with the indignation justly excited by unmerited reproach. “He had always displayed,” says Playfair, “the utmost disposition to admire the beneficent design manifested in the structure of the world; and he contemplated with delight those parts of his theory which made the greatest additions to our knowledge of final causes.” We may say with equal truth, that in no scientific works in our language can more eloquent passages be found, concerning the fitness, harmony, and grandeur of all parts of the creation, than in those of Playfair. They are evidently the unaffected expressions of a mind, which contemplated the study of nature, as best calculated to elevate our conceptions of the attributes of the First Cause. At any other time the force and elegance of Playfair’s style must have insured popularity to the Huttonian doctrines; but by a singular coincidence, Neptunianism and orthodoxy were now associated in the same creed; and the tide of prejudice ran so strong, that the majority were carried far away into the chaotic fluid, and other cosmological inventions of Werner. These fictions the Saxon professor had borrowed with little modification, and without any improvement, from his predecessors. They had not the smallest foundation either in Scripture or in common sense, and were probably approved of by many as being so ideal and unsubstantial, that they could never come into violent collision with any preconceived opinions.

According to De Luc, the first essential distinction to be made between the various phenomena exhibited on the surface of the earth was, to determine which were the results of causes still in action, and which had been produced by causes that had ceased to act. The form and composition of the mass of our continents, he said, and their existence above the level of the sea, must be ascribed to causes no longer in action. These continents emerged, at no very remote period, on the sudden retreat of the ocean, the waters of which made their way into subterranean caverns. The formation of the rocks which enter into the crust of the earth began with the precipitation of granite from a primordial liquid, after which other strata containing the remains of organized bodies were deposited, till at last the present sea remained as the residuum of the primordial liquid, and no longer continued to produce mineral strata.22

William Smith, 1790.—While the tenets of the rival schools of Freyberg and Edinburgh were warmly espoused by devoted partisans, the labors of an individual, unassisted by the advantages of wealth or station in society, were almost unheeded. Mr. William Smith, an English surveyor, published his “Tabular View of the British Strata” in 1790, wherein he proposed a classification of the secondary formations in the West of England. Although he had not communicated with Werner, it appeared by this work that he had arrived at the same views respecting the laws of superposition of stratified rocks; that he was aware that the order of succession of different groups was never inverted; and that they might be identified at very distant points by their peculiar organized fossils.

From the time of the appearance of the “Tabular View,” the author labored to construct a geological map of the whole of England; and with the greatest disinterestedness of mind, communicated the results of his investigations to all who desired information, giving such publicity to his original views, as to enable his contemporaries almost to compete with him in the race. The execution of his map was completed in 1815, and remains a lasting monument of original talent and extraordinary perseverance; for he had explored the whole country on foot, without the guidance of previous observers, or the aid of fellow-laborers, and had succeeded in throwing into natural divisions the whole complicated series of British rocks. D’Aubuisson, a distinguished pupil of Werner, paid a just tribute of praise to this remarkable performance, observing, that “what many celebrated mineralogists had only accomplished for a small part of Germany in the course of half a century, had been effected by a single individual for the whole of England.”23

Werner invented a new language to express his divisions of rocks, and some of his technical terms, such as grauwacke, gneiss, and others, passed current in every country in Europe. Smith adopted for the most part English provincial terms, often of barbarous sound, such as gault, cornbrash, clunch clay; and affixed them to subdivisions of the British series. Many of these still retain their place in our scientific classifications, and attest his priority of arrangement.

1 Cuvier, Eloge de Werner.

2 I am indebted for this information partly to Messrs. Sedgwick and Murchison, who have investigated the country, and partly to Dr. Charles Hartmann, the translator of this work into German.

3 Cuvier, Eloge de Desmarest.

4 Journ. de Phys. vol. xiii. p. 115; and Mém. de l’Inst., Sciences Mathémat. et Phys. vol. vi. p. 219.

5 Journ. de Phys. tom. xxxv. p. 191.

6 Ib. tom. xxxvii. part ii. p. 200.

7 Cuvier, Eloge de Desmarest.

8 Ed. Phil. Trans. 1788.

9 Playfair’s Works, vol. iv. p. 75.

10 “Before me things create were none, save things Eternal.”—Dante’s Inferno, canto iii. Cary’s Translation.

11 Playfair’s Works, vol. iv. p. 55.

12 In allusion to the theories of Burnet, Woodward, and other physico-theological writers, he declared that they were as fond of changes of scene on the face of the globe, as were the populace at a play. “Every one of them destroys and renovates the earth after his own fashion, as Descartes framed it: for philosophers put themselves without ceremony in the place of God, and think to create a universe with a word.”—Dissertation envoyée a l’Academie de Boulogne, sur les Changemens arrivés dans notre Globe. Unfortunately, this and similar ridicule directed against the cosmogonists was too well deserved.

13 See the chapter on “Des Pierres figurés.”

14 In that essay he lays it down, “that all naturalists are now agreed that deposits of shells in the midst of the continents are monuments of the continued occupation of these districts by the ocean.” In another place also, when speaking of the fossil shells of Touraine, he admits their true origin.

15 As an instance of his desire to throw doubt indiscriminately on all geological data, we may recall the passage where he says, that “the bones of a reindeer and hippopotamus discovered near Etempes did not prove, as some would have it, that Lapland and the Nile were once on a tour from Paris to Orleans, but merely that a lover of curiosities once preserved them in his cabinet.”


“Some drill and bore

The solid earth, and from the strata there

Extract a register, by which we learn

That he who made it, and revealed its date

To Moses, was mistaken in its age.”

The Task, book iii. “The Garden.”

17 P. 577.

18 P. 59.

19 Introd. p. 2.

20 London, 1809.

21 In a most able article, by Mr. Drinkwater, on the “Life of Galileo,” published in the “Library of Useful Knowledge,” it is stated that both Galileo’s work, and the book of Copernicus, “Nisi corrigatur” (for, with the omission of certain passages, it was sanctioned), were still to be seen on the forbidden list of the Index at Rome, in 1828. I was, however, assured in the same year, by Professor Scarpellini, at Rome, that Pius VII., a pontiff distinguished for his love of science, had procured a repeal of the edicts against Galileo and the Copernican system. He had assembled the Congregation; and the late Cardinal Toriozzi, assessor of the Sacred Office, proposed that they should wipe off this scandal from the church.” The repeal was carried, with the dissentient voice of one Dominican only. Long before that time the Newtonian theory had been taught in the Sapienza, and all Catholic universities in Europe (with the exception, I am told, of Salamanca); but it was always required of professors, in deference to the decrees of the church, to use the term hypothesis, instead of theory. They now speak of the Copernican theory.

22 Elementary Treatise on Geology. London, 1809. Translated by De la Fite.

Modern Progress of Geology.

The contention of the rival factions of the Vulcanists and Neptunists had been carried to such a height, that these names had become terms of reproach; and the two parties had been less occupied in searching for truth, than for such arguments as might strengthen their own cause or serve to annoy their antagonists. A new school at last arose, who professed the strictest neutrality, and the utmost indifference to the systems of Werner and Hutton, and who resolved diligently to devote their labors to observation. The reaction, provoked by the intemperance of the conflicting parties, now produced a tendency to extreme caution. Speculative views were discountenanced, and, through fear of exposing themselves to the suspicion of a bias towards the dogmas of a party, some geologists became anxious to entertain no opinion whatever on the causes of phenomena, and were inclined to skepticism even where the conclusions deducible from observed facts scarcely admitted of reasonable doubt.

Geological Society of London.—But although the reluctance to theorize was carried somewhat to excess, no measure could be more salutary at such a moment than a suspension of all attempts to form what were termed “theories of the earth.” A great body of new data were required; and the Geological Society of London, founded in 1807, conduced greatly to the attainment of this desirable end. To multiply and record observations, and patiently to await the result at some future period, was the object proposed by them; and it was their favorite maxim that the time was not yet come for a general system of geology, but that all must be content for many years to be exclusively engaged in furnishing materials for future generalizations. By acting up to these principles with consistency, they in a few years disarmed all prejudice, and rescued the science from the imputation of being a dangerous, or at best but a visionary pursuit.

A distinguished modern writer has with truth remarked, that the advancement of three of the main divisions of geological inquiry have during the last half century been promoted successively by three different nations of Europe,—the Germans, the English, and the French.24 We have seen that the systematic study of what may be called mineralogical geology had its origin and chief point of activity in Germany, where Werner first described with precision the mineral characters of rocks. The classification of the secondary formations, each marked by their peculiar fossils, belongs, in a great measure, to England, where the labors before alluded to of Smith, and those of the most active members of the Geological Society of London, were steadily directed to these objects. The foundation of the third branch, that relating to the tertiary formations, was laid in France by the splendid work of Cuvier and Brongniart, published in 1808, “On the Mineral Geography and Organic Remains of the Neighborhood of Paris.”

We may still trace, in the language of the science and our present methods of arrangement, the various countries where the growth of these several departments of geology was at different times promoted. Many names of simple minerals and rocks remain to this day German; while the European divisions of the secondary strata are in great part English, and are, indeed, often founded too exclusively on English types. Lastly, the subdivisions first established of the succession of strata in the Paris basin have served as normal groups to which other tertiary deposits throughout Europe have been compared, even in cases where this standard was wholly inapplicable.

No period could have been more fortunate for the discovery, in the immediate neighborhood of Paris, of a rich store of well-preserved fossils, than the commencement of the present century; for at no former era had Natural history been cultivated with such enthusiasm in the French metropolis. The labors of Cuvier in comparative osteology, and of Lamarck in recent and fossil shells, had raised these departments of study to a rank of which they had never previously been deemed susceptible. Their investigations had eventually a powerful effect in dispelling the illusion which had long prevailed concerning the absence of analogy between the ancient and modern state of our planet. A close comparison of the recent and fossil species and the inferences drawn in regard to their habits, accustomed the geologist to contemplate the earth as having been at successive periods the dwelling-place of animals and plants of different races, some terrestrial, and others aquatic—some fitted to live in seas, others in the waters of lakes and rivers. By the consideration of these topics, the mind was slowly and insensibly withdrawn from imaginary pictures of catastrophes and chaotic confusion, such as haunted the imagination of the early cosmogonists. Numerous proofs were discovered of the tranquil deposition of sedimentary matter, and the slow development of organic life. If many writers, and Cuvier himself in the number, still continued to maintain, that “the thread of induction was broken,”25 yet, in reasoning by the strict rules of induction from recent to fossil species, they in a great measure disclaimed the dogma which in theory they professed. The adoption of the same generic, and, in some cases, even of the same specific, names for the exuviæ of fossil animals and their living analogues, was an important step towards familiarizing the mind with the idea of the identity and unity of the system in distant eras. It was an acknowledgment, as it were, that part at least of the ancient memorials of nature were written in a living language. The growing importance, then, of the natural history of organic remains may be pointed out as the characteristic feature of the progress of the science during the present century. This branch of knowledge has already become an instrument of great utility in geological classification, and is continuing daily to unfold new data for grand and enlarged views respecting the former changes of the earth.

When we compare the result of observations in the last fifty years with those of the three preceding centuries, we cannot but look forward with the most sanguine expectations to the degree of excellence to which geology may be carried, even by the labors of the present generation. Never, perhaps, did any science, with the exception of astronomy, unfold, in an equally brief period, so many novel and unexpected truths, and overturn so many preconceived opinions. The senses had for ages declared the earth to be at rest, until the astronomer taught that it was carried through space with inconceivable rapidity. In like manner was the surface of this planet regarded as having remained unaltered since its creation, until the geologist proved that it had been the theatre of reiterated change, and was still the subject of slow but never-ending fluctuations. The discovery of other systems in the boundless regions of space was the triumph of astronomy; to trace the same system through various transformations—to behold it at successive eras adorned with different hills and valleys, lakes and seas, and peopled with new inhabitants, was the delightful meed of geological research. By the geometer were measured the regions of space, and the relative distances of the heavenly bodies;—by the geologist myriads of ages were reckoned, not by arithmetical computation, but by a train of physical events—a succession of phenomena in the animate and inanimate worlds—signs which convey to our minds more definite ideas than figures can do of the immensity of time.

Whether our investigation of the earth’s history and structure will eventually be productive of as great practical benefits to mankind as a knowledge of the distant heavens, must remain for the decision of posterity. It was not till astronomy had been enriched by the observations of many centuries, and had made its way against popular prejudices to the establishment of a sound theory, that its application to the useful arts was most conspicuous. The cultivation of geology began at a later period; and in every step which it has hitherto made towards sound theoretical principles, it had to contend against more violent prepossessions. The practical advantages already derived from it have not been inconsiderable; but our generalizations are yet imperfect, and they who come after us may be expected to reap the most valuable fruits of our labor. Meanwhile, the charm of first discovery is our own; and, as we explore this magnificent field of inquiry, the sentiment of a great historian of our times may continually be present to our minds, that “he who calls what has vanished back again into being, enjoys a bliss like that of creating.”26

23 See Dr. Fitton’s Memoir, before cited, p. 57.

24 Whewell, British Critic, No. xvii. p. 187, 1831.

25 Discours sur les Révol. &c.

26 Niebuhr’s Hist. of Rome, vol. i. p. 5. Hare and Thirlwall’s translation.

Chapter 5

Prejudices which have Retarded the Progress of Geology

Prepossessions in regard to the duration of past time—Prejudices arising from our peculiar position as inhabitants of the land—Of those occasioned by our not seeing subterranean changes now in progress—All these causes combine to make the former course of Nature appear different from the present—Objections to the doctrine, that causes similar in kind and energy to those now acting, have produced the former changes of the earth’s surface, considered.

If we reflect on the history of the progress of geology, as explained in the preceding chapters, we perceive that there have been great fluctuations of opinion respecting the nature of the causes to which all former changes of the earth’s surface are referable. The first observers conceived the monuments which the geologist endeavors to decipher to relate to an original state of the earth, or to a period when there were causes in activity, distinct, in kind and degree, from those now constituting the economy of nature. These views were gradually modified, and some of them entirely abandoned, in proportion as observations were multiplied, and the signs of former mutations more skilfully interpreted. Many appearances, which had for a long time been regarded as indicating mysterious and extraordinary agency, were finally recognized as the necessary result of the laws now governing the material world; and the discovery of this unlooked-for conformity has at length induced some philosophers to infer, that, during the ages contemplated in geology, there has never been any interruption to the agency of the same uniform laws of change. The same assemblage of general causes, they conceive, may have been sufficient to produce, by their various combinations, the endless diversity of effects, of which the shell of the earth has preserved the memorials; and, consistently with these principles, the recurrence of analogous changes is expected by them in time to come.

Whether we coincide or not in this doctrine, we must admit that the gradual progress of opinion concerning the succession of phenomena in very remote eras, resembles, in a singular manner, that which has accompanied the growing intelligence of every people, in regard to the economy of nature in their own times. In an early state of advancement, when a great number of natural appearances are unintelligible, an eclipse, an earthquake, a flood, or the approach of a comet, with many other occurrences afterwards found to belong to the regular course of events, are regarded as prodigies. The same delusion prevails as to moral phenomena, and many of these are ascribed to the intervention of demons, ghosts, witches, and other immaterial and supernatural agents. By degrees, many of the enigmas of the moral and physical world are explained, and, instead of being due to extrinsic and irregular causes, they are found to depend on fixed and invariable laws. The philosopher at last becomes convinced of the undeviating uniformity of secondary causes; and, guided by his faith in this principle, he determines the probability of accounts transmitted to him of former occurrences, and often rejects the fabulous tales of former times, on the ground of their being irreconcilable with the experience of more enlightened ages.

Prepossessions in regard to the duration of past time.—As a belief in the want of conformity in the causes by which the earth’s crust has been modified in ancient and modern periods was, for a long time, universally prevalent, and that, too, amongst men who were convinced that the order of nature had been uniform for the last several thousand years, every circumstance which could have influenced their minds and given an undue bias to their opinions deserves particular attention. Now the reader may easily satisfy himself, that, however undeviating the course of nature may have been from the earliest epochs, it was impossible for the first cultivators of geology to come to such a conclusion, so long as they were under a delusion as to the age of the world, and the date of the first creation of animate beings. However fantastical some theories of the sixteenth century may now appear to us,—however unworthy of men of great talent and sound judgment,—we may rest assured that, if the same misconception now prevailed in regard to the memorials of human transactions, it would give rise to a similar train of absurdities. Let us imagine, for example, that Champollion, and the French and Tuscan literati lately engaged in exploring the antiquities of Egypt, had visited that country with a firm belief that the banks of the Nile were never peopled by the human race before the beginning of the nineteenth century, and that their faith in this dogma was as difficult to shake as the opinion of our ancestors that the earth was never the abode of living beings until the creation of the present continents, and of the species now existing,—it is easy to perceive what extravagant systems they would frame, while under the influence of this delusion, to account for the monuments discovered in Egypt. The sight of the pyramids, obelisks, colossal statues, and ruined temples, would fill them with such astonishment, that for a time they would be as men spell-bound—wholly incapable of reasoning with sobriety. They might incline at first to refer the construction of such stupendous works to some superhuman powers of a primeval world. A system might be invented resembling that so gravely advanced by Manetho, who relates that a dynasty of gods originally ruled in Egypt, of whom Vulcan, the first monarch, reigned nine thousand years; after whom came Hercules and other demigods, who were at last succeeded by human kings.

When some fanciful speculations of this kind had amused their imaginations for a time, some vast repository of mummies would be discovered, and would immediately undeceive those antiquaries who enjoyed an opportunity of personally examining them; but the prejudices of others at a distance, who were not eye-witnesses of the whole phenomena, would not be so easily overcome. The concurrent report of many travellers would, indeed, render it necessary for them to accommodate ancient theories to some of the new facts, and much wit and ingenuity would be required to modify and defend their old positions. Each new invention would violate a greater number of known analogies; for if a theory be required to embrace some false principle, it becomes more visionary in proportion as facts are multiplied, as would be the case if geometers were now required to form an astronomical system on the assumption of the immobility of the earth.

Amongst other fanciful conjectures concerning the history of Egypt, we may suppose some of the following to be started. “As the banks of the Nile have been so recently colonized for the first time, the curious substances called mummies could never in reality have belonged to men. They may have been generated by some plastic virtue residing in the interior of the earth, or they may be abortions of Nature produced by her incipient efforts in the work of creation. For if deformed beings are sometimes born even now, when the scheme of the universe is fully developed, many more may have been ‘sent before their time, scarce half made up,’ when the planet itself was in the embryo state. But if these notions appear to derogate from the perfection of the Divine attributes, and if these mummies be in all their parts true representations of the human form, may we not refer them to the future rather than the past?—May we not be looking into the womb of Nature, and not her grave? May not these images be like the shades of the unborn in Virgil’s Elysium—the archetypes of men not yet called into existence?”

These speculations, if advocated by eloquent writers, would not fail to attract many zealous votaries, for they would relieve men from the painful necessity of renouncing preconceived opinions. Incredible as such skepticism may appear, it has been rivalled by many systems of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and among others by that of the learned Falloppio, who regarded the tusks of fossil elephants as earthy concretions, and the pottery or fragments of vases in the Monte Testaceo, near Rome, as works of nature, and not of art. But when one generation had passed away, and another, not compromised to the support of antiquated dogmas, had succeeded, they would review the evidence afforded by mummies more impartially, and would no longer controvert the preliminary question, that human beings had lived in Egypt before the nineteenth century: so that when a hundred years perhaps had been lost, the industry and talents of the philosopher would be at last directed to the elucidation of points of real historical importance.

But the above arguments are aimed against one only of many prejudices with which the earlier geologists had to contend. Even when they conceded that the earth had been peopled with animate beings at an earlier period than was at first supposed, they had no conception that the quantity of time bore so great a proportion to the historical era as is now generally conceded. How fatal every error as to the quantity of time must prove to the introduction of rational views concerning the state of things in former ages, may be conceived by supposing the annals of the civil and military transactions of a great nation to be perused under the impression that they occurred in a period of one hundred instead of two thousand years. Such a portion of history would immediately assume the air of a romance; the events would seem devoid of credibility, and inconsistent with the present course of human affairs. A crowd of incidents would follow each other in thick succession. Armies and fleets would appear to be assembled only to be destroyed, and cities built merely to fall in ruins. There would be the most violent transitions from foreign or intestine war to periods of profound peace, and the works effected during the years of disorder or tranquillity would appear alike superhuman in magnitude.

He who should study the monuments of the natural world under the influence of a similar infatuation, must draw a no less exaggerated picture of the energy and violence of causes, and must experience the same insurmountable difficulty in reconciling the former and present state of nature. If we could behold in one view all the volcanic cones thrown up in Iceland, Italy, Sicily, and other parts of Europe, during the last five thousand years, and could see the lavas which have flowed during the same period; the dislocations, subsidences, and elevations caused during earthquakes; the lands added to various deltas, or devoured by the sea, together with the effects of devastation by floods, and imagine that all these events had happened in one year, we must form most exalted ideas of the activity of the agents, and the suddenness of the revolutions. Were an equal amount of change to pass before our eyes in the next year, could we avoid the conclusion that some great crisis of nature was at hand? If geologists, therefore, have misinterpreted the signs of a succession of events, so as to conclude that centuries were implied where the characters imported thousands of years, and thousands of years where the language of Nature signified millions, they could not, if they reasoned logically from such false premises, come to any other conclusion than that the system of the natural world had undergone a complete revolution.

We should be warranted in ascribing the erection of the great pyramid to superhuman power, if we were convinced that it was raised in one day; and if we imagine, in the same manner, a continent or mountain-chain to have been elevated during an equally small fraction of the time which was really occupied in upheaving it, we might then be justified in inferring, that the subterranean movements were once far more energetic than in our own times. We know that during one earthquake the coast of Chili may be raised for a hundred miles to the average height of about three feet. A repetition of two thousand shocks, of equal violence, might produce a mountain-chain one hundred miles long, and six thousand feet high. Now, should one or two only of these convulsions happen in a century, it would be consistent with the order of events experienced by the Chilians from the earliest times; but if the whole of them were to occur in the next hundred years, the entire district must be depopulated, scarcely any animals or plants could survive, and the surface would be one confused heap of ruin and desolation.

One consequence of undervaluing greatly the quantity of past time, is the apparent coincidence which it occasions of events necessarily disconnected, or which are so unusual, that it would be inconsistent with all calculation of chances to suppose them to happen at one and the same time. When the unlooked-for association of such rare phenomena is witnessed in the present course of nature, it scarcely ever fails to excite a suspicion of the preternatural in those minds which are not firmly convinced of the uniform agency of secondary causes;—as if the death of some individual in whose fate they are interested happens to be accompanied by the appearance of a luminous meteor, or a comet, or the shock of an earthquake. It would be only necessary to multiply such coincidences indefinitely, and the mind of every philosopher would be disturbed. Now it would be difficult to exaggerate the number of physical events, many of them most rare and unconnected in their nature, which were imagined by the Woodwardian hypothesis to have happened in the course of a few months; and numerous other examples might be found of popular geological theories, which require us to imagine that a long succession of events happened in a brief and almost momentary period.

Another liability to error, very nearly allied to the former, arises from the frequent contact of geological monuments referring to very distant periods of time. We often behold, at one glance, the effects of causes which have acted at times incalculably remote, and yet there may be no striking circumstances to mark the occurrence of a great chasm in the chronological series of Nature’s archives. In the vast interval of time which may really have elapsed between the results of operations thus compared, the physical condition of the earth may, by slow and insensible modifications, have become entirely altered; one or more races of organic beings may have passed away, and yet have left behind, in the particular region under contemplation, no trace of their existence.

To a mind unconscious of these intermediate events, the passage from one state of things to another must appear so violent, that the idea of revolutions in the system inevitably suggests itself. The imagination is as much perplexed by the deception, as it might be if two distant points in space were suddenly brought into immediate proximity. Let us suppose, for a moment, that a philosopher should lie down to sleep in some arctic wilderness, and then be transferred by a power, such as we read of in tales of enchantment, to a valley in a tropical country, where, on awaking, he might find himself surrounded by birds of brilliant plumage, and all the luxuriance of animal and vegetable forms of which Nature is so prodigal in those regions. The most reasonable supposition, perhaps, which he could make, if by the necromancer’s art he were placed in such a situation, would be, that he was dreaming; and if a geologist form theories under a similar delusion, we cannot expect him to preserve more consistency in his speculations than in the train of ideas in an ordinary dream.

It may afford, perhaps, a lively illustration of the principle here insisted upon, if I recall to the reader’s recollection the legend of the Seven Sleepers. The scene of that popular fable was placed in the two centuries which elapsed between the reign of the emperor Decius and the death of Theodosius the younger. In that interval of time (between the years 249 and 450 of our era) the union of the Roman Empire had been dissolved, and some of its fairest provinces overrun by the barbarians of the north. The seat of government had passed from Rome to Constantinople, and the throne from a pagan persecutor to a succession of Christian and orthodox princes. The genius of the empire had been humbled in the dust, and the altars of Diana and Hercules were on the point of being transferred to Catholic saints and martyrs. The legend relates, “that when Decius was still persecuting the Christians, seven noble youths of Ephesus concealed themselves in a spacious cavern in the side of an adjacent mountain, where they were doomed to perish by the tyrant, who gave orders that the entrance should be firmly secured with a pile of huge stones. They immediately fell into a deep slumber, which was miraculously prolonged, without injuring the powers of life, during a period of 187 years. At the end of that time the slaves of Adolius, to whom the inheritance of the mountain had descended, removed the stones to supply materials for some rustic edifice: the light of the sun darted into the cavern, and the Seven Sleepers were permitted to awake. After a slumber, as they thought, of a few hours, they were pressed by the calls of hunger, and resolved that Jamblichus, one of their number, should secretly return to the city to purchase bread for the use of his companions. The youth could no longer recognize the once familiar aspect of his native country, and his surprise was increased by the appearance of a large cross triumphantly erected over the principal gate of Ephesus. His singular dress and obsolete language confounded the baker, to whom he offered an ancient medal of Decius as the current coin of the empire; and Jamblichus, on the suspicion of a secret treasure, was dragged before the judge. Their mutual inquiries produced the amazing discovery, that two centuries were almost elapsed since Jamblichus and his friends had escaped from the rage of a pagan tyrant.”1

This legend was received as authentic throughout the Christian world before the end of the sixth century, and was afterwards introduced by Mahomet as a divine revelation into the Koran, and from hence was adopted and adorned by all the nations from Bengal to Africa who professed the Mahometan faith. Some vestiges even of a similar tradition have been discovered in Scandinavia. “This easy and universal belief,” observes the philosophical historian of the Decline and Fall, “so expressive of the sense of mankind, may be ascribed to the genuine merit of the fable itself. We imperceptibly advance from youth to age, without observing the gradual, but incessant, change of human affairs; and even, in our larger experience of history, the imagination is accustomed, by a perpetual series of causes and effects, to unite the most distant revolutions. But if the interval between two memorable eras could be instantly annihilated; if it were possible, after a momentary slumber of two hundred years, to display the new world to the eyes of a spectator who still retained a lively and recent impression of the old, his surprise and his reflections would furnish the pleasing subject of a philosophical romance.”2

Prejudices arising from our peculiar position as inhabitants of the land.—The sources of prejudice hitherto considered may be deemed peculiar for the most part to the infancy of the science, but others are common to the first cultivators of geology and to ourselves, and are all singularly calculated to produce the same deception, and to strengthen our belief that the course of nature in the earlier ages differed widely from that now established. Although these circumstances cannot be fully explained without assuming some things as proved, which it will be the object of another part of this work to demonstrate, it may be well to allude to them briefly in this place.

The first and greatest difficulty, then, consists in an habitual unconsciousness that our position as observers is essentially unfavorable, when we endeavor to estimate the nature and magnitude of the changes now in progress. In consequence of our inattention to this subject, we are liable to serious mistakes in contrasting the present with former states of the globe. As dwellers on the land, we inhabit about a fourth part of the surface; and that portion is almost exclusively a theatre of decay, and not of reproduction. We know, indeed, that new deposits are annually formed in seas and lakes, and that every year some new igneous rocks are produced in the bowels of the earth, but we cannot watch the progress of their formation; and as they are only present to our minds by the aid of reflection, it requires an effort both of the reason and the imagination to appreciate duly their importance. It is, therefore, not surprising that we estimate very imperfectly the result of operations thus invisible to us; and that, when analogous results of former epochs are presented to our inspection, we cannot immediately recognize the analogy. He who has observed the quarrying of stone from a rock, and has seen it shipped for some distant port, and then endeavors to conceive what kind of edifice will be raised by the materials, is in the same predicament as a geologist, who, while he is confined to the land, sees the decomposition of rocks, and the transportation of matter by rivers to the sea, and then endeavors to picture to himself the new strata which Nature is building beneath the waters.

Prejudices arising from our not seeing subterranean changes.—Nor is his position less unfavorable when, beholding a volcanic eruption, he tries to conceive what changes the column of lava has produced, in its passage upwards, on the intersected strata; or what form the melted matter may assume at great depths on cooling; or what may be the extent of the subterranean rivers and reservoirs of liquid matter far beneath the surface. It should, therefore, be remembered, that the task imposed on those who study the earth’s history requires no ordinary share of discretion; for we are precluded from collating the corresponding parts of the system of things as it exists now, and as it existed at former periods. If we were inhabitants of another element—if the great ocean were our domain, instead of the narrow limits of the land, our difficulties would be considerably lessened; while, on the other hand, there can be little doubt, although the reader may, perhaps, smile at the bare suggestion of such an idea, that an amphibious being, who should possess our faculties, would still more easily arrive at sound theoretical opinions in geology, since he might behold, on the one hand, the decomposition of rocks in the atmosphere, or the transportation of matter by running water; and, on the other, examine the deposition of sediment in the sea, and the imbedding of animal and vegetable remains in new strata. He might ascertain, by direct observation, the action of a mountain torrent, as well as of a marine current; might compare the products of volcanoes poured out upon the land with those ejected beneath the waters; and might mark, on the one hand, the growth of the forest, and, on the other, that of the coral reef. Yet, even with these advantages, he would be liable to fall into the greatest errors, when endeavoring to reason on rocks of subterranean origin. He would seek in vain, within the sphere of his observation, for any direct analogy to the process of their formation, and would therefore be in danger of attributing them, wherever they are upraised to view, to some “primeval state of nature.”

But if we may be allowed so far to indulge the imagination, as to suppose a being entirely confined to the nether world—some “dusky melancholy sprite,” like Umbriel, who could “flit on sooty pinions to the central earth,” but who was never permitted to “sully the fair face of light,” and emerge into the regions of water and of air; and if this being should busy himself in investigating the structure of the globe, he might frame theories the exact converse of those usually adopted by human philosophers. He might infer that the stratified rocks, containing shells and other organic remains, were the oldest of created things, belonging to some original and nascent state of the planet. “Of these masses,” he might say, “whether they consist of loose incoherent sand, soft clay, or solid stone, none have been formed in modern times. Every year some part of them are broken and shattered by earthquakes, or melted by volcanic fire; and when they cool down slowly from a state of fusion, they assume a new and more crystalline form, no longer exhibiting that stratified disposition and those curious impressions and fantastic markings, by which they were previously characterized. This process cannot have been carried on for an indefinite time, for in that case all the stratified rocks would long ere this have been fused and crystallized. It is therefore probable that the whole planet once consisted of these mysterious and curiously bedded formations at a time when the volcanic fire had not yet been brought into activity. Since that period there seems to have been a gradual development of heat; and this augmentation we may expect to continue till the whole globe shall be in a state of fluidity and incandescence.”

Such might be the system of the Gnome at the very time that the followers of Leibnitz, reasoning on what they saw on the outer surface, might be teaching the opposite doctrine of gradual refrigeration, and averring that the earth had begun its career as a fiery comet, and might be destined hereafter to become a frozen mass. The tenets of the schools of the nether and of the upper world would be directly opposed to each other, for both would partake of the prejudices inevitably resulting from the continual contemplation of one class of phenomena to the exclusion of another. Man observes the annual decomposition of crystalline and igneous rocks, and may sometimes see their conversion into stratified deposits; but he cannot witness the reconversion of the sedimentary into the crystalline by subterranean fire. He is in the habit of regarding all the sedimentary rocks as more recent than the unstratified, for the same reason that we may suppose him to fall into the opposite error if he saw the origin of the igneous class only.

It was not an impossible contingency, that astronomers might have been placed at some period in a situation much resembling that in which the geologist seems to stand at present. If the Italians, for example, in the early part of the twelfth century, had discovered at Amalfi, instead of the pandects of Justinian, some ancient manuscripts filled with astronomical observations relating to a period of three thousand years, and made by some ancient geometers who possessed optical instruments as perfect as any in modern Europe, they would probably, on consulting these memorials, have come to a conclusion that there had been a great revolution in the solar and sidereal systems. “Many primary and secondary planets,” they might say, “are enumerated in these tables, which exist no longer. Their positions are assigned with such precision that we may assure ourselves that there is nothing in their place at present but the blue ether. Where one star is visible to us, these documents represent several thousands. Some of those which are now single consisted then of two separate bodies, often distinguished by different colors, and revolving periodically round a common centre of gravity. There is nothing analogous to them in the universe at present; for they were neither fixed stars nor planets, but seem to have stood in the mutual relation of sun and planet to each other. We must conclude, therefore, that there has occurred, at no distant period, a tremendous catastrophe, whereby thousands of worlds have been annihilated at once, and some heavenly bodies absorbed into the substance of others.”

When such doctrines had prevailed for ages, the discovery of some of the worlds, supposed to have been lost (the satellites of Jupiter, for example), by aid of the first rude telescope invented after the revival of science, would not dissipate the delusion, for the whole burden of proof would now be thrown on those who insisted on the stability of the system from a remote period, and these philosophers would be required to demonstrate the existence of all the worlds said to have been annihilated.

Such popular prejudices would be most unfavorable to the advancement of astronomy; for, instead of persevering in the attempt to improve their instruments, and laboriously to make and record observations, the greater number would despair of verifying the continued existence of the heavenly bodies not visible to the naked eye. Instead of confessing the extent of their ignorance, and striving to remove it by bringing to light new facts, they would indulge in the more easy and indolent employment of framing imaginary theories concerning catastrophes and mighty revolutions in the system of the universe.

For more than two centuries the shelly strata of the Subapennine hills afforded matter of speculation to the early geologists of Italy, and few of them had any suspicion that similar deposits were then forming in the neighboring sea. They were as unconscious of the continued action of causes still producing similar effects, as the astronomers, in the case above supposed, of the existence of certain heavenly bodies still giving and reflecting light, and performing their movements as of old. Some imagined that the strata, so rich in organic remains, instead of being due to secondary agents, had been so created in the beginning of things by the fiat of the Almighty. Others, as we have seen, ascribed the imbedded fossil bodies to some plastic power which resided in the earth in the early ages of the world. In what manner were these dogmas at length exploded? The fossil relics were carefully compared with their living analogues, and all doubts as to their organic origin were eventually dispelled. So, also, in regard to the nature of the containing beds of mud, sand, and limestone: those parts of the bottom of the sea were examined where shells are now becoming annually entombed in new deposits. Donati explored the bed of the Adriatic, and found the closest resemblance between the strata there forming, and those which constituted hills above a thousand feet high in various parts of the Italian peninsula. He ascertained by dredging that living testacea were there grouped together in precisely the same manner as were their fossil analogues in the inland strata; and while some of the recent shells of the Adriatic were becoming incrusted with calcareous rock, he observed that others had been newly buried in sand and clay, precisely as fossil shells occur in the Subapennine hills. This discovery of the identity of modern and ancient submarine operations was not made without the aid of artificial instruments, which, like the telescope, brought phenomena into view not otherwise within the sphere of human observation.

In like manner, the volcanic rocks of the Vicentin had been studied in the beginning of the last century; but no geologist suspected, before the time of Arduino, that these were composed of ancient submarine lavas. During many years of controversy, the popular opinion inclined to a belief that basalt and rocks of the same class had been precipitated from a chaotic fluid, or an ocean which rose at successive periods over the continents, charged with the component elements of the rocks in question. Few will now dispute that it would have been difficult to invent a theory more distant from the truth; yet we must cease to wonder that it gained so many proselytes, when we remember that its claims to probability arose partly from the very circumstance of its confirming the assumed want of analogy between geological causes and those now in action. By what train of investigations were geologists induced at length to reject these views, and to assent to the igneous origin of the trappean formations? By an examination of volcanoes now active, and by comparing their structure and the composition of their lavas with the ancient trap-rocks.

The establishment, from time to time, of numerous points of identification, drew at length from geologists a reluctant admission, that there was more correspondence between the condition of the globe at remote eras and now, and more uniformity in the laws which have regulated the changes of its surface, than they at first imagined. If, in this state of the science, they still despaired of reconciling every class of geological phenomena to the operations of ordinary causes, even by straining analogy to the utmost limits of credibility, we might have expected, at least, that the balance of probability would now have been presumed to incline towards the close analogy of the ancient and modern causes. But, after repeated experience of the failure of attempts to speculate on geological monuments, as belonging to a distinct order of things, new sects continued to persevere in the principles adopted by their predecessors. They still began, as each new problem presented itself, whether relating to the animate or inanimate world, to assume an original and dissimilar order of nature; and when at length they approximated, or entirely came round to an opposite opinion, it was always with the feeling, that they were conceding what they had been justified à priori in deeming improbable. In a word, the same men who, as natural philosophers, would have been most incredulous respecting any extraordinary deviations from the known course of nature, if reported to have happened in their own time, were equally disposed, as geologists, to expect the proofs of such deviations at every period of the past.

I shall proceed in the following chapters to enumerate some of the principal difficulties still opposed to the theory of the uniform nature and energy of the causes which have worked successive changes in the crust of the earth, and in the condition of its living inhabitants. The discussion of so important a question on the present occasion may appear premature, but it is one which naturally arises out of a review of the former history of the science. It is, of course, impossible to enter into such speculative topics, without occasionally carrying the novice beyond his depth, and appealing to facts and conclusions with which he will be unacquainted, until he has studied some elementary work on geology, but it may be useful to excite his curiosity, and lead him to study such works by calling his attention at once to some of the principal points of controversy.3

1 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. xxxiii.

2 Id. Ibid.

3 In the earlier editions of this work, a fourth book was added on Geology Proper, or Systematic Geology, containing an account of the former changes of the animate and inanimate creation, brought to light by an examination of the crust of the earth. This I afterwards (in 1838) expanded into a separate publication called the Elements of Manual Geology, of which a fourth edition appeared December, 1851.

Chapter 6.

Doctrine of the Discordance of the Ancient and Modern Causes of Change Controverted.

Climate of the Northern Hemisphere formerly different—Direct proofs from the organic remains of the Italian strata—Proofs from analogy derived from extinct quadrupeds—Imbedding of animals in icebergs—Siberian mammoths—Evidence in regard to temperature, from the fossils of tertiary and secondary rocks—From the plants of the coal formation—Northern limit of these fossils—Whether such plants could endure the long continuance of an arctic night.

Climate of the Northern hemisphere formerly different.—Proofs of former revolutions in climate, as deduced from fossil remains, have afforded one of the most popular objections to the theory which endeavors to explain all geological changes by reference to those now in progress on the earth. The probable causes, therefore, of fluctuations in climate, may first be treated of.

That the climate of the Northern hemisphere has undergone an important change, and that its mean annual temperature must once have more nearly resembled that now experienced within the tropics, was the opinion of some of the first naturalists who investigated the contents of the ancient strata. Their conjecture became more probable when the shells and corals of the older tertiary and many secondary rocks were carefully examined; for the organic remains of these formations were found to be intimately connected by generic affinity with species now living in warmer latitudes. At a later period, many reptiles, such as turtles, tortoises, and large saurian animals, were discovered in European formations in great abundance; and they supplied new and powerful arguments, from analogy, in support of the doctrine, that the heat of the climate had been great when our secondary strata were deposited. Lastly, when the botanist turned his attention to the specific determination of fossil plants, the evidence acquired still fuller confirmation; for the flora of a country is peculiarly influenced by temperature: and the ancient vegetation of the earth might have been expected more readily than the forms of animals, to have afforded conflicting proofs, had the popular theory been without foundation. When the examination of fossil remains was extended to rocks in the most northern parts of Europe and North America, and even to the Arctic regions, indications of the same revolution in climate were discovered.

It cannot be said, that in this, as in many other departments of geology, we have investigated the phenomena of former eras, and neglected those of the present state of things. On the contrary, since the first agitation of this interesting question, the accessions to our knowledge of living animals and plants have been immense, and have far surpassed all the data previously obtained for generalizing on the relation of certain types of organization to particular climates. The tropical and temperate zones of South America and of Australia have been explored; and, on close comparison, it has been found that scarcely any of the species of the animate creation in these extensive continents are identical with those inhabiting the old world. Yet the zoologist and botanist, well acquainted with the geographical distribution of organic beings in other parts of the globe, would have been able, if distinct groups of species had been presented to them from these regions, to recognize those which had been collected from latitudes within, and those which were brought from without the tropics.

Before I attempt to explain the probable causes of great vicissitudes of temperature on the earth’s surface, I shall take a rapid view of some of the principal data which appear to support the popular opinions now entertained on the subject. To insist on the soundness of these inferences, is the more necessary, because some zoologists have undertaken to vindicate the uniformity of the laws of nature, not by accounting for former fluctuations in climate, but by denying the value of the evidence in their favor.1

Proofs from fossil shells in tertiary strata.—In Sicily, Calabria, and in the neighborhood of Naples, the fossil testacea of the most modern tertiary formations belong almost entirely to species now inhabiting the Mediterranean; but as we proceed northwards in the Italian peninsula we find in the strata called Subapennine an assemblage of fossil shells departing somewhat more widely from the type of the neighboring seas. The proportion of species identifiable with those now living in the Mediterranean is still considerable; but it no longer predominates, as in the South of Italy and part of Sicily, over the unknown species. Although occurring in localities which are removed several degrees farther from the equator (as at Sienna, Parma, Asti, &c.), the shells yield clear indications of a warmer climate. This evidence is of great weight, and is not neutralized by any facts of a conflicting character; such, for instance, as the association, in the same group, of individuals referable to species now confined to arctic regions. Whenever any of the fossil shells are identified with living species foreign to the Mediterranean, it is not in the Northern Ocean, but nearer the tropics, that they must be sought: on the other hand, the associated unknown species belong, for the most part, to genera which are now most largely developed in equinoctial regions, as, for example, the genera Cancellaria, Cassidaria, Pleurotoma, Conus, and Cypræa.

On comparing the fossils of the tertiary deposits of Paris and London with those of Bourdeaux, and these again with the more modern strata of Sicily, we should at first expect that they would each indicate a higher temperature in proportion as they are situated farther to the south. But the contrary is true; of the shells belonging to these several groups, whether freshwater or marine, some are of extinct, others of living species. Those found in the older, or Eocene, deposits of Paris and London, although six or seven degrees to the north of the Miocene strata at Bourdeaux, afford evidence of a warmer climate; while those of Bourdeaux imply that the sea in which they lived was of a higher temperature than that of Sicily, where the shelly strata were formed six or seven degrees nearer to the equator. In these cases the greater antiquity of the several formations (the Parisian being the oldest and the Sicilian the newest) has more than counterbalanced the influence which latitude would otherwise exert, and this phenomenon clearly points to a gradual and successive refrigeration of climate.

Siberian Mammoths.—It will naturally be asked, whether some recent geological discoveries bringing evidence to light of a colder, or as it has been termed “glacial epoch,” towards the close of the tertiary periods throughout the northern hemisphere, does not conflict with the theory above alluded to, of a warmer temperature having prevailed in the eras of the Eocene, Miocene, and Pliocene formations. In answer to this inquiry, it may certainly be affirmed, that an oscillation of climate has occurred in times immediately antecedent to the peopling of the earth by man; but proof of the intercalation of a less genial climate at an era when nearly all the marine and terrestrial testacea had already become specifically the same as those now living, by no means rebuts the conclusion previously drawn, in favor of a warmer condition of the globe, during the ages which elapsed while the tertiary strata were deposited. In some of the most superficial patches of sand, gravel, and loam, scattered very generally over Europe, and containing recent shells, the remains of extinct species of land quadrupeds have been found, especially in places where the alluvial matter appears to have been washed into small lakes, or into depressions in the plains bordering ancient rivers. Similar deposits have also been lodged in rents and caverns of rocks, where they may have been swept in by land floods, or introduced by engulphed rivers during changes in the physical geography of these countries. The various circumstances under which the bones of animals have been thus preserved, will be more fully considered hereafter;2 I shall only state here, that among the extinct mammalia thus entombed, we find species of the elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, bear, hyæna, lion, tiger, monkey (macacus3), and many others; consisting partly of genera now confined to warmer regions.

It is certainly probable that when some of these quadrupeds abounded in Europe, the climate was milder than that now experienced. The hippopotamus, for example, is now only met with where the temperature of the water is warm and nearly uniform throughout the year, and where the rivers are never frozen over. Yet when the great fossil species (Hippopotamus major, Cuv.) inhabited England, the testacea of our country were nearly the same as those now existing, and the climate cannot be supposed to have been very hot. The bones of this animal have lately been found by Mr. Strickland, together with those of a bear and other mammalia, at Cropthorn, near Evesham, in Worcestershire, in alluvial sand, together with twenty-three species of terrestrial and freshwater shells, all, with two exceptions, of British species. The bed of sand, containing the shells and bones, reposes on lias, and is covered with alternating strata of gravel, sand, and loam.4

The mammoth also appears to have existed in England when the temperature of our latitudes could not have been very different from that which now prevails; for remains of this animal have been found at North Cliff, in the county of York, in a lacustrine formation, in which all the land and freshwater shells, thirteen in number, can be identified with species and varieties now existing in that county. Bones of the bison, also, an animal now inhabiting a cold or temperate climate, have been found in the same place. That these quadrupeds, and the indigenous species of testacea associated with them, were all contemporary inhabitants of Yorkshire, has been established by unequivocal proof. The Rev. W. V. Vernon Harcourt caused a pit to be sunk to the depth of twenty-two feet through undisturbed strata, in which the remains of the mammoth were found imbedded, together with the shells, in a deposit which had evidently resulted from tranquil waters.5

In the valley of the Thames, as at Ilford and Grays, in Essex, bones of the elephant and rhinoceros occur in strata abounding in freshwater shells of the genera Unio, Cyclas, Paludina, Valvata, Ancylus, and others. These fossil shells belong for the most part to species now living in the same district, yet some few of them are extinct, as, for example, a species of Cyrena, a genus no longer inhabiting Europe, and now entirely restricted to warmer latitudes.

When reasoning on such phenomena, the reader must always bear in mind that the fossil individuals belonged to species of elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, bear, tiger, and hyæna, distinct from those which now dwell within or near the tropics. Dr. Fleming, in a discussion on this subject, has well remarked that a near resemblance in form and osteological structure is not always followed, in the existing creation, by a similarity of geographical distribution; and we must therefore be on our guard against deciding too confidently, from mere analogy of anatomical structure, respecting the habits and physiological peculiarities of species now no more. “The zebra delights to roam over the tropical plains, while the horse can maintain its existence throughout an Iceland winter. The buffalo, like the zebra, prefers a high temperature, and cannot thrive even where the common ox prospers. The musk-ox, on the other hand, though nearly resembling the buffalo, prefers the stinted herbage of the arctic regions, and is able, by its periodical migrations, to outlive a northern winter. The jackal (Canis aureus) inhabits Africa, the warmer parts of Asia, and Greece; while the isatis (Canis lagopus) resides in the arctic regions. The African hare and the polar hare have their geographical distribution expressed in their trivial names;”6 and different species of bears thrive in tropical, temperate, and arctic latitudes.

Recent investigations have placed beyond all doubt the important fact that a species of tiger, identical with that of Bengal, is common in the neighborhood of Lake Aral, near Sussac, in the forty-fifth degree of north latitude; and from time to time this animal is now seen in Siberia, in a latitude as far north as the parallel of Berlin and Hamburgh.7 Humboldt remarks that the part of Southern Asia now inhabited by this Indian species of tiger is separated from the Himalaya by two great chains of mountains, each covered with perpetual snow,—the chain of Kuenlun, lat. 35° N., and that of Mouztagh, lat. 42°,—so that it is impossible that these animals should merely have made excursions from India, so as to have penetrated in summer to the forty-eighth and fifty-third degrees of north latitude. They must remain all the winter north of the Mouztagh, or Celestial Mountains. The last tiger killed, in 1828, on the Lena, in lat. 52-1/4°, was in a climate colder than that of Petersburg and Stockholm.8

We learn from Mr. Hodgson’s account of the mammalia of Nepal, that the tiger is sometimes found at the very edge of perpetual snow in the Himalaya;9 and Pennant mentions that it is found among the snows of Mount Ararat in Armenia. The jaguar, also, has been seen in America, wandering from Mexico, as far north as Kentucky, lat. 37° N.,10 and even as far as 42° S. in South America,—a latitude which corresponds to that of the Pyrenees in the northern hemisphere.11 The range of the puma is still wider, for it roams from the equator to the Straits of Magellan, being often seen at Port Famine, in lat. 53° 38’ S.

A new species of panther (Felis irbis), covered with long hair, has been discovered in Siberia, evidently inhabiting, like the tiger, a region north of the Celestial Mountains, which are in lat. 42°.12

The two-horned African rhinoceros occurs without the tropics at the Cape of Good Hope, in lat. 34° 29’ S., where it is accompanied by the elephant, hippopotamus, and hyæna. Here the migration of all these species towards the south is arrested by the ocean; but if the continent had been prolonged still farther, and the land had been of moderate elevation, it is very probable that they might have extended their range to a greater distance from the tropics.

Now, if the Indian tiger can range in our own times to the southern borders of Siberia, or skirt the snows of the Himalaya, and if the puma can reach the fifty-third degree of latitude in South America, we may easily understand how large species of the same genera may once have inhabited our temperate climates. The mammoth (E. primigenius), already alluded to, as occurring fossil in England, was decidedly different from the two existing species of elephants, one of which is limited to Asia, south of the 31° of N. lat., the other to Africa, where it extends, as before stated, as far south as the Cape of Good Hope. The bones of the great fossil species are very widely spread over Europe and North America; but are nowhere in such profusion as in Siberia, particularly near the shores of the Frozen Ocean. Are we, then, to conclude that this animal preferred a polar climate? If so, it may well be asked, by what food was it sustained, and why does it not still survive near the arctic circle?13

Pallas and other writers describe the bones of the mammoth as abounding throughout all the Lowlands of Siberia, stretching in a direction west and east, from the borders of Europe to the extreme point nearest America, and south and north, from the base of the mountains of Central Asia to the shores of the Arctic Sea. (See map, fig. 1.) Within this space, scarcely inferior in area to the whole of Europe, fossil ivory has been collected almost everywhere, on the banks of the Irtish, Obi, Yenesei, Lena, and other rivers. The elephantine remains do not occur in the marshes and low plains, but where the banks of the rivers present lofty precipices of sand and clay, from which circumstance Pallas very justly inferred that, if sections could be obtained, similar bones might be found in all the elevated lands intervening between the great rivers. Strahlenberg, indeed, had stated, before the time of Pallas, that wherever any of the great rivers overflowed and cut out fresh channels during floods, more fossil remains of the same kind were invariably disclosed.


Fig. 1. Map showing the course of the Siberian rivers from south to north, from temperate to arctic regions, in the country where the fossil bones of the Mammoth abound.

As to the position of the bones, Pallas found them in some places imbedded together with marine remains; in others, simply with fossil wood, or lignite, such as, he says, might have been derived from carbonized peat. On the banks of the Yenesei, below the city of Krasnojarsk, in lat. 56°, he observed grinders, and bones of elephants, in strata of yellow and red loam, alternating with coarse sand and gravel, in which was also much petrified wood of the willow and other trees. Neither here nor in the neighboring country were there any marine shells, but merely layers of black coal.14 But grinders of the mammoth were collected much farther down the same river, near the sea, in lat. 70°, mixed with marine petrifactions.15 Many other places in Siberia are cited by Pallas, where sea shells and fishes’ teeth accompany the bones of the mammoth, rhinoceros, and Siberian buffalo, or bison (Bos priscus). But it is not on the Obi nor the Yenesei, but on the Lena, farther to the east, where, in the same parallels of latitude, the cold is far more intense, that fossil remains have been found in the most wonderful state of preservation. In 1772, Pallas obtained from Wiljuiskoi, in lat. 64°, from the banks of the Wiljui, a tributary of the Lena, the carcass of a rhinoceros (R. tichorhinus), taken from the sand in which it must have remained congealed for ages, the soil of that region being always frozen to within a slight depth of the surface. This carcass was compared to a natural mummy, and emitted an odor like putrid flesh, part of the skin being still covered with black and gray hairs. So great, indeed, was the quantity of hair on the foot and head conveyed to St. Petersburg, that Pallas asked whether the rhinoceros of the Lena might not have been an inhabitant of the temperate regions of middle Asia, its clothing being so much warmer than that of the African rhinoceros.16

Professor Brandt, of St. Petersburg, in a letter to Baron Alex. Von Humboldt, dated 1846, adds the following particulars respecting this wonderful fossil relic:—“I have been so fortunate as to extract from cavities in the molar teeth of the Wiljui rhinoceros a small quantity of its half-chewed food, among which fragments of pine leaves, one-half of the seed of a polygonaceous plant, and very minute portions of wood with porous cells (or small fragments of coniferous wood), were still recognizable. It was also remarkable, on a close investigation of the head, that the blood-vessels discovered in the interior of the mass appeared filled, even to the capillary vessels, with a brown mass (coagulated blood), which in many places still showed the red color of blood.”17

After more than thirty years, the entire carcass of a mammoth (or extinct species of elephant) was obtained in 1803, by Mr. Adams, much farther to the north. It fell from a mass of ice, in which it had been encased, on the banks of the Lena, in lat. 70°; and so perfectly had the soft parts of the carcass been preserved, that the flesh, as it lay, was devoured by wolves and bears. This skeleton is still in the museum of St. Petersburg, the head retaining its integument and many of the ligaments entire. The skin of the animal was covered, first, with black bristles, thicker than horse hair, from twelve to sixteen inches in length; secondly, with hair of a reddish brown color, about four inches long; and thirdly, with wool of the same color as the hair, about an inch in length. Of the fur, upwards of thirty pounds’ weight were gathered from the wet sand-bank. The individual was nine feet high and sixteen feet long, without reckoning the large curved tusks: a size rarely surpassed by the largest living male elephants.18

It is evident, then, that the mammoth, instead of being naked, like the living Indian and African elephants, was enveloped in a thick shaggy covering of fur, probably as impenetrable to rain and cold as that of the musk ox.19 The species may have been fitted by nature to withstand the vicissitudes of a northern climate; and it is certain that, from the moment when the carcasses, both of the rhinoceros and elephant, above described, were buried in Siberia, in latitudes 64° and 70° N., the soil must have remained frozen, and the atmosphere nearly as cold as at this day.

The most recent discoveries made in 1843 by Mr. Middendorf, a distinguished Russian naturalist, and which he communicated to me in September, 1846, afford more precise information as to the climate of the Siberian lowlands, at the period when the extinct quadrupeds were entombed. One elephant was found on the Tas, between the Obi and Yenesei, near the arctic circle, about lat. 66° 30’ N., with some parts of the flesh in so perfect a state that the bulb of the eye is now preserved in the museum at Moscow. Another carcass, together with a young individual of the same species, was met with in the same year, 1843, in lat. 75° 15’ N., near the river Taimyr, with the flesh decayed. It was imbedded in strata of clay and sand, with erratic blocks, at about 15 feet above the level of the sea. In the same deposit Mr. Middendorf observed the trunk of a larch tree (Pinus larix), the same wood as that now carried down in abundance by the Taimyr to the Arctic Sea. There were also associated fossil shells of living northern species, and which are moreover characteristic of the drift or glacial deposits of Europe. Among these Nucula pygmæa, Tellina calcarea, Mya truncata, and Saxicava rugosa were conspicuous.

So fresh is the ivory throughout northern Russia, that, according to Tilesius, thousands of fossil tusks have been collected and used in turning; yet others are still procured and sold in great plenty. He declares his belief that the bones still left in northern Russia must greatly exceed in number all the elephants now living on the globe.

We are as yet ignorant of the entire geographical range of the mammoth; but its remains have been recently collected from the cliffs of frozen mud and ice on the east side of Behring’s Straits, in Eschscholtz’s Bay, in Russian America, lat. 66° N. As the cliffs waste away by the thawing of the ice, tusks and bones fall out, and a strong odor of animal matter is exhaled from the mud.20

On considering all the facts above enumerated, it seems reasonable to imagine that a large region in central Asia, including, perhaps, the southern half of Siberia, enjoyed, at no very remote period in the earth’s history, a temperate climate, sufficiently mild to afford food for numerous herds of elephants and rhinoceroses, of species distinct from those now living. It has usually been taken for granted that herbivorous animals of large size require a very luxuriant vegetation for their support; but this opinion is, according to Mr. Darwin, completely erroneous:—“It has been derived,” he says, “from our acquaintance with India and the Indian islands, where the mind has been accustomed to associate troops of elephants with noble forests and impenetrable jungles. But the southern parts of Africa, from the tropic of Capricorn to the Cape of Good Hope, although sterile and desert, are remarkable for the number and great bulk of the indigenous quadrupeds. We there meet with an elephant, five species of rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, a giraffe, the bos caffer, the elan, two zebras, the quagga, two gnus, and several antelopes. Nor must we suppose, that while the species are numerous, the individuals of each kind are few. Dr. Andrew Smith saw, in one day’s march, in lat. 24° S., without wandering to any great distance on either side, about 150 rhinoceroses, with several herds of giraffes, and his party had killed, on the previous night, eight hippopotamuses. Yet the country which they inhabited was thinly covered with grass and bushes about four feet high, and still more thinly with mimosa-trees, so that the wagons of the travellers were not prevented from proceeding in a nearly direct line.”21

In order to explain how so many animals can find support in this region, it is suggested that the underwood, of which their food chiefly consists, may contain much nutriment in a small bulk, and also that the vegetation has a rapid growth; for no sooner is a part consumed than its place, says Dr. Smith, is supplied by a fresh stock. Nevertheless, after making every allowance for this successive production and consumption, it is clear, from the facts above cited, that the quantity of food required by the larger herbivora is much less than we have usually imagined. Mr. Darwin conceives that the amount of vegetation supported at any one time by Great Britain may exceed, in a ten-fold ratio, the quantity existing on an equal area in the interior parts of Southern Africa.22 It is remarked, moreover, in illustration of the small connection discoverable between abundance of food and the magnitude of indigenous mammalia, that while in the desert part of Southern Africa there are so many huge animals; in Brazil, where the splendor and exuberance of the vegetation are unrivalled, there is not a single wild quadruped of large size.23

It would doubtless be impossible for herds of mammoths and rhinoceroses to subsist, at present, throughout the year, even in the southern part of Siberia, covered as it is with snow during winter; but there is no difficulty in supposing a vegetation capable of nourishing these great quadrupeds to have once flourished between the latitudes 40° and 60° N.

Dr. Fleming has hinted, that “the kind of food which the existing species of elephant prefers, will not enable us to determine, or even to offer a probable conjecture, concerning that of the extinct species. No one acquainted with the gramineous character of the food of our fallow-deer, stag, or roe, would have assigned a lichen to the reindeer.”

Travellers mention that, even now, when the climate of eastern Asia is so much colder than the same parallels of latitude farther west, there are woods not only of fir, but of birch, poplar, and alder, on the banks of the Lena, as far north as latitude 60°.

It has, moreover, been suggested, that as, in our own times, the northern animals migrate, so the Siberian elephant and rhinoceros may have wandered towards the north in summer. The musk oxen annually desert their winter quarters in the south, and cross the sea upon the ice, to graze for four months, from May to September, on the rich pasturage of Melville Island, in lat. 75°. The mammoths, without passing so far beyond the arctic circle, may nevertheless have made excursions, during the heat of a brief northern summer, from the central or temperate parts of Asia to the sixtieth parallel of latitude.

Now, in this case, the preservation of their bones, or even occasionally of their entire carcasses, in ice or frozen soil, may be accounted for, without resorting to speculations concerning sudden revolutions in the former state and climate of the earth’s surface. We are entitled to assume, that, in the time of the extinct elephant and rhinoceros, the Lowland of Siberia was less extensive towards the north than now; for we have seen (p. 80) that the strata of this Lowland, in which the fossil bones lie buried, were originally deposited beneath the sea; and we know, from the facts brought to light in Wrangle’s Voyage, in the years 1821, 1822, and 1823, that a slow upheaval of the land along the borders of the Icy Sea is now constantly taking place, similar to that experienced in part of Sweden. In the same manner, then, as the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia are extended, not only by the influx of sediment brought down by rivers, but also by the elevation and consequent drying up of the bed of the sea, so a like combination of causes may, in modern times, have been extending the low tract of land where marine shells and fossil bones occur in Siberia.24 Such a change in the physical geography of that region, implying a constant augmentation in the quantity of arctic land, would, according to principles to be explained in the next chapter, tend to increase the severity of the winters. We may conclude, therefore, that, before the land reached so far to the north, the temperature of the Siberian winter and summer was more nearly equalized; and a greater degree of winter’s cold may, even more than a general diminution of the mean annual temperature, have finally contributed to the extermination of the mammoth and its contemporaries.

On referring to the map (p. 79), the reader will see how all the great rivers of Siberia flow at present from south to north, from temperate to arctic regions, and they are all liable, like the Mackenzie, in North America, to remarkable floods, in consequence of flowing in this direction. For they are filled with running water in their upper or southern course when completely frozen over for several hundred miles near their mouths, where they remain blocked up by ice for six months in every year. The descending waters, therefore, finding no open channel, rush over the ice, often changing their direction, and sweeping along forests and prodigious quantities of soil and gravel mixed with ice. Now the rivers of Siberia are among the largest in the world, the Yenesei having a course of 2500, the Lena of 2000 miles; so that we may easily conceive that the bodies of animals which fall into their waters may be transported to vast distances towards the Arctic Sea, and, before arriving there, may be stranded upon and often frozen into thick ice. Afterwards, when the ice breaks up, they may be floated still farther towards the ocean, until at length they become buried in fluviatile and submarine deposits near the mouths of rivers.

Humboldt remarks that near the mouths of the Lena a considerable thickness of frozen soil may be found at all seasons at the depth of a few feet; so that if a carcass be once imbedded in mud and ice in such a region and in such a climate, its putrefaction may be arrested for indefinite ages.25 According to Prof. Von Baer of St. Petersburg, the ground is now frozen permanently to the depth of 400 feet, at the town of Yakutzt, on the western bank of the Lena, in lat. 62° N., 600 miles distant from the polar sea. Mr. Hedenstrom tells us that, throughout a wide area in Siberia, the boundary cliffs of the lakes and rivers consist of alternate layers of earthy materials and ice, in horizontal stratification;26 and Mr. Middendorf informed us, in 1846, that, in his tour there three years before, he had bored in Siberia to the depth of seventy feet, and, after passing through much frozen soil mixed with ice, had come down upon a solid mass of pure transparent ice, the thickness of which, after penetrating two or three yards, they did not ascertain. We may conceive, therefore, that even at the period of the mammoth, when the Lowland of Siberia was less extensive towards the north, and consequently the climate more temperate than now, the cold may still have been sufficiently intense to cause the rivers flowing in their present direction to sweep down from south to north the bodies of drowned animals, and there bury them in drift ice and frozen mud.

If it be true that the carcass of the mammoth was imbedded in pure ice, there are two ways in which it may have been frozen in. We may suppose the animal to have been overwhelmed by drift snow. I have been informed by Dr. Richardson, that, in the northern parts of America, comprising regions now inhabited by many herbivorous quadrupeds, the drift snow is often converted into permanent glaciers. It is commonly blown over the edges of steep cliffs, so as to form an inclined talus hundreds of feet high; and when a thaw commences, torrents rush from the land, and throw down from the top of the cliff alluvial soil and gravel. This new soil soon becomes covered with vegetation, and protects the foundation of snow from the rays of the sun. Water occasionally penetrates into the crevices and pores of the snow; but, as it soon freezes again, it serves the more rapidly to consolidate the mass into a compact iceberg. It may sometimes happen that cattle grazing in a valley at the base of such cliffs, on the borders of a sea or river, may be overwhelmed, and at length inclosed in solid ice, and then transported towards the polar regions. Or a herd of mammoths returning from their summer pastures in the north, may have been surprised, while crossing a stream, by the sudden congelation of the waters. The missionary Huc relates, in his travels in Thibet in 1846, that, after many of his party had been frozen to death, they pitched their tents on the banks of the Mouroui-Ousson (which lower down becomes the famous Blue River), and saw from their encampment “some black shapeless objects ranged in file across the stream. As they advanced nearer no change either in form or distinctness was apparent; nor was it till they were quite close, that they recognized in them a troop of the wild oxen, called Yak by the Thibetans.27 There were more than fifty of them incrusted in the ice. No doubt they had tried to swim across at the moment of congelation, and had been unable to disengage themselves. Their beautiful heads, surmounted by huge horns, were still above the surface, but their bodies were held fast in the ice, which was so transparent that the position of the imprudent beasts was easily distinguishable; they looked as if still swimming, but the eagles and ravens had pecked out their eyes.”28

The foregoing investigations, therefore, lead us to infer that the mammoth, and some other extinct quadrupeds fitted to live in high latitudes, were inhabitants of Northern Asia at a time when the geographical conditions and climate of that continent were different from the present. But the age of this fauna was comparatively modern in the earth’s history. It appears that when the oldest or eocene tertiary deposits were formed, a warm temperature pervaded the European seas and lands. Shells of the genus Nautilus and other forms characteristic of tropical latitudes; fossil reptiles, such as the crocodile, turtle, and tortoise; plants, such as palms, some of them allied to the cocoa-nut, the screw-pine, the custard-apple, and the acacia, all lead to this conclusion. This flora and fauna were followed by those of the miocene formation, in which indications of a southern, but less tropical climate are detected. Finally, the pliocene deposits, which come next in succession, exhibit in their organic remains a much nearer approach to the state of things now prevailing in corresponding latitudes. It was towards the close of this period that the seas of the northern hemisphere became more and more filled with floating icebergs often charged with erratic blocks, so that the waters and the atmosphere were chilled by the melting ice, and an arctic fauna enabled, for a time, to invade the temperate latitudes both of N. America and Europe. The extinction of a considerable number of land quadrupeds and aquatic mollusca was gradually brought about by the increasing severity of the cold; but many species survived this revolution in climate, either by their capacity of living under a variety of conditions, or by migrating for a time to more southern lands and seas. At length, by modifications in the physical geography of the northern regions, and the cessation of floating ice on the eastern side of the Atlantic, the cold was moderated, and a milder climate ensued, such as we now enjoy in Europe.29

Proofs from fossils in secondary and still older strata.—A great interval of time appears to have elapsed between the formation of the secondary strata, which constitute the principal portion of the elevated land in Europe, and the origin of the eocene deposits. If we examine the rocks from the chalk to the new red sandstone inclusive, we find many distinct assemblages of fossils entombed in them, all of unknown species, and many of them referable to genera and families now most abundant between the tropics. Among the most remarkable are reptiles of gigantic size; some of them herbivorous, others carnivorous, and far exceeding in size any now known even in the torrid zone. The genera are for the most part extinct, but some of them, as the crocodile and monitor, have still representatives in the warmer parts of the earth. Coral reefs also were evidently numerous in the seas of the same periods, composed of species often belonging to genera now characteristic of a tropical climate. The number of large chambered shells also, including the nautilus, leads us to infer an elevated temperature; and the associated fossil plants, although imperfectly known, tend to the same conclusion, the Cycadeæ constituting the most numerous family.

But it is from the more ancient coal-deposits that the most extraordinary evidence has been supplied in proof of the former existence of a very different climate—a climate which seems to have been moist, warm, and extremely uniform, in those very latitudes which are now the colder, and in regard to temperature, the most variable regions of the globe. We learn from the researches of Adolphe Brongniart, Goeppert, and other botanists, that in the flora of the carboniferous era there was a great predominance of ferns, some of which were arborescent; as, for example, Caulopteris, Protopteris, and Psarronius; nor can this be accounted for, as some have supposed, by the greater power which ferns possess of resisting maceration in water.30 This prevalence of ferns indicates a moist, equable, and temperate climate, and the absence of any severe cold; for such are the conditions which, at the present day, are found to be most favorable to that tribe of plants. It is only in the islands of the tropical oceans, and of the southern temperate zone, such as Norfolk Island, Otaheite, the Sandwich Islands, Tristan d’Acunha, and New Zealand, that we find any near approach to that remarkable preponderance of ferns which is characteristic of the Carboniferous flora. It has been observed that tree ferns and other forms of vegetation which flourished most luxuriantly within the tropics, extend to a much greater distance from the equator in the southern hemisphere than in the northern, being found even as far as 46° S. latitude in New Zealand. There is little doubt that this is owing to the more uniform and moist climate occasioned by the greater proportional area of sea. Next to ferns and pines, the most abundant vegetable forms in the coal formation are the Calamites, Lepidodendra, Sigillariæ, and Stigmariæ. These were formerly considered to be so closely allied to tropical genera, and to be so much greater in size than the corresponding tribes now inhabiting equatorial latitudes, that they were thought to imply an extremely hot, as well as humid and equable climate. But recent discoveries respecting the structure and relations of these fossil plants, have shown that they deviated so widely from all existing types in the vegetable world, that we have more reason to infer from this evidence a widely different climate in the Carboniferous era, as compared to that now prevailing, than a temperature extremely elevated.31 Palms, if not entirely wanting when the strata of the carboniferous group were deposited, appear to have been exceedingly rare.32 The Coniferæ, on the other hand, so abundantly met with in the coal, resemble Araucariæ in structure, a family of the fir tribe, characteristic at present of the milder regions of the southern hemisphere, such as Chili, Brazil, New Holland, and Norfolk Island.

“In regard to the geographical extent of the ancient vegetation, it was not confined,” says M. Brongniart, “to a small space, as to Europe, for example; for the same forms are met with again at great distances. Thus, the coal-plants of North America are, for the most part, identical with those of Europe, and all belong to the same genera. Some specimens, also, from Greenland, are referable to ferns, analogous to those of our European coal-mines.”33 The fossil plants brought from Melville Island, although in a very imperfect state, have been supposed to warrant similar conclusions;34 and assuming that they agree with those of Baffin’s Bay, mentioned by M. Brongniart, how shall we explain the manner in which such a vegetation lived through an arctic night of several months’ duration?35

It may seem premature to discuss this question until the true nature of the fossil flora of the arctic regions has been more accurately determined; yet, as the question has attracted some attention, let us assume for a moment that the coal-plants of Melville Island are strictly analogous to those of the strata of Northumberland—would such a fact present an inexplicable enigma to the vegetable physiologist?

Plants, it is affirmed, cannot remain in darkness, even for a week, without serious injury, unless in a torpid state; and if exposed to heat and moisture they cannot remain torpid, but will grow, and must therefore perish. If, then, in the latitude of Melville Island, 75° N., a high temperature, and consequent humidity, prevailed at that period when we know the arctic seas were filled with corals and large multilocular shells, how could plants of tropical forms have flourished? Is not the bright light of equatorial regions as indispensable a condition of their well-being as the sultry heat of the same countries? and how could they annually endure a night prolonged for three months?36

Now, in reply to this objection, we must bear in mind, in the first place, that, so far as experiments have been made, there is every reason to conclude, that the range of intensity of light to which living plants can accommodate themselves is far wider than that of heat. No palms or tree ferns can live in our temperate latitudes without protection from the cold; but when placed in hot-houses they grow luxuriantly, even under a cloudy sky, and where much light is intercepted by the glass and frame-work. At St. Petersburg, in lat. 60° N., these plants have been successfully cultivated in hot-houses, although there they must exchange the perpetual equinox of their native regions, for days and nights which are alternately protracted to nineteen hours and shortened to five. How much farther towards the pole they might continue to live, provided a due quantity of heat and moisture were supplied, has not yet been determined; but St. Petersburg is probably not the utmost limit, and we should expect that in lat. 65° at least, where they would never remain twenty-four hours without enjoying the sun’s light, they might still exist.

It should also be borne in mind, in regard to tree ferns, that they grow in the gloomiest and darkest parts of the forests of warm and temperate regions, even extending to nearly the 46th degree of south latitude in New Zealand. In equatorial countries, says Humboldt, they abound chiefly in the temperate, humid, and shady parts of mountains. As we know, therefore, that elevation often compensates for the effect of latitude in the geographical distribution of plants, we may easily understand that a class of vegetables, which grows at a certain height in the torrid zone, would flourish on the plains at greater distances from the equator, if the temperature, moisture, and other necessary conditions, were equally uniform throughout the year.

Nor must we forget that in all the examples above alluded to, we have been speaking of living species; but the coal-plants were of perfectly distinct species, nay, few of them except the ferns and pines can be referred to genera or even families of the existing vegetable kingdom. Having a structure, therefore, and often a form which appears to the botanist so anomalous, they may also have been endowed with a different constitution, enabling them to bear a greater variation of circumstances in regard to light. We find that particular species of plants and tree ferns require at present different degrees of heat; and that some species can thrive only in the immediate neighborhood of the equator, others only a distance from it. In the same manner the minimum of light, sufficient for the now existing species, cannot be taken as the standard for all analogous tribes that may ever have flourished on the globe.

But granting that the extreme northern point to which a flora like that of the Carboniferous era could ever reach, may be somewhere between the latitudes of 65° and 70°, we should still have to inquire whether the vegetable remains might not have been drifted from thence, by rivers and currents, to the parallel of Melville Island, or still farther. In the northern hemisphere, at present, we see that the materials for future beds of lignite and coal are becoming amassed in high latitudes, far from the districts where the forests grew, and on shores where scarcely a stunted shrub can now exist. The Mackenzie, and other rivers of North America, carry pines with their roots attached for many hundred miles towards the north, into the Arctic Sea, where they are imbedded in deltas, and some of them drifted still farther by currents towards the pole.

Before we can decide on this question of transportation, we must know whether the fossil coal-plants occurring in high latitudes bear the marks of friction and of having decayed previously to fossilization. Many appearances in our English coal-fields certainly prove that the plants were not floated from great distances; for the outline of the stems of succulent species preserve their sharp angles, and others have their surfaces marked with the most delicate lines and streaks. Long leaves, also, are attached in many instances to the trunks or branches;37 and leaves, we know, in general, are soon destroyed when steeped in water, although ferns will retain their forms after an immersion of many months.38 It seems fair to presume, that most of the coal-plants grew upon the same land which supplied materials for the sandstones and conglomerates of the strata in which they are imbedded. The coarseness of the particles of many of these rocks attests that they were not borne from very remote localities, and that there was land therefore in the vicinity wasting away by the action of moving waters. The progress also of modern discovery has led to the very general admission of the doctrine that beds of coal have for the most part been formed of the remains of trees and plants that grew on the spot where the coal now exists; the land having been successively submerged, so that a covering of mud and sand was deposited upon accumulations of vegetable mater. That such has been the origin of some coal-seams is proved by the upright position of fossil trees, both in Europe and America, in which the roots terminate downwards in beds of coal.39

To return, therefore, from this digression,—the flora of the coal appears to indicate a uniform and mild temperature in the air, while the fossils of the contemporaneous mountain-limestone, comprising abundance of lamelliferous corals, large chambered cephalopods, and crinoidea, naturally lead us to infer a considerable warmth in the waters of the northern sea of the Carboniferous period. So also in regard to strata older than the coal, they contain in high northern latitudes mountain masses of corals which must have lived and grown on the spot, and large chambered univalves, such as Orthocerata and Nautilus, all seeming to indicate, even in regions bordering on the arctic circle, the former prevalence of a temperature more elevated than that now prevailing.

The warmth and humidity of the air, and the uniformity of climate, both in the different seasons of the year, and in different latitudes, appears to have been most remarkable when some of the oldest of the fossiliferous strata were formed. The approximation to a climate similar to that now enjoyed in these latitudes does not commence till the era of the formations termed tertiary; and while the different tertiary rocks were deposited in succession, from the eocene to the pliocene, the temperature seems to have been lowered, and to have continued to diminish even after the appearance upon the earth of a considerable number of the existing species, the cold reaching its maximum of intensity in European latitudes during the glacial epoch, or the epoch immediately antecedent to that in which all the species now contemporary with man were in being.

1 See two articles by the Rev. Dr. Fleming, in the Edinburgh New Phil. Journ. No. xii. p. 277, April, 1829; and No. xv. p. 65, Jan. 1830.

2 Book iii. chaps. 46, 47, &c.

3 Macacus pliocenus, Owen, Brit. Foss. Mam. Intr. p. 37, found with the extinct elephant, &c. in the modern freshwater beds at Grays Thurrock (Essex), in the valley of the Thames.

4 Geol. Proceedings, No. xxxvi. June, 1834.

5 Phil. Mag., Sept. 1829, and Jan. 1830.

6 Fleming, Ed. New Phil. Journ., No. xii. p. 282, 1829. The zebra, however, inhabits chiefly the extra-tropical parts of Africa.

7 Humboldt, Fragmens de Géologie, &c., tome ii. p. 388. Ehrenberg, Ann. des Sci. Nat., tome xxi. p. 387.

8 Ehrenberg, ibid. p. 390.

9 Journ. of Asiat. Soc., vol. i. p. 240.

10 Rafinesque, Atlantic Journ., p. 18.

11 Darwin’s Journal of Travels in South America, &c., 1832 to 1836, in Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, p. 159.

12 Ehrenberg, ibid.

13 The speculations which follow, on the ancient physical geography of Siberia, and its former fitness as a residence for the mammoth, were first given in their present form in my 4th edition, June, 1835. Recently Sir R. Murchison and his companions in their great work on the Geology of Russia, 1845 (vol. i. p. 497), have, in citing this chapter, declared that their investigations have led them to similar conclusions. Professor Owen, in his excellent History of British Fossil Mammalia, 1844, p. 261, et seq., observes that the teeth of the mammoth differ from those of the living Asiatic or African elephant in having a larger proportion of dense enamel, which may have enabled it to subsist on the coarser ligneous tissues of trees and shrubs. In short, he is of opinion, that the structure of its teeth, as well as the nature of its epidermis and coverings, may have made it “a meet companion for the reindeer.”

14 Pallas, Reise in Russ. Reiche, pp. 409, 410.

15 Nov. Com. Petrop. vol. xvii. p. 584.

16 Nov. Com. Petrop. vol. xvii. p. 591.

17 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. Lond. vol. iv. p. 10, Memoirs.

18 Journal du Nord, St. Petersburg, 1807.

19 Fleming, Ed. New Phil. Journ., No. xii. p. 285.

Bishop Heber informs us (Narr. of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India, vol. ii. p. 166-219), that in the lower range of the Himalaya mountains, in the northeastern borders of the Delhi territory, between lat. 29° and 30°, he saw an Indian elephant of a small size, covered with shaggy hair. But this variety must be exceedingly rare; for Mr. Royle (late superintendent of the East India Company’s Botanic Garden at Saharunpore) has assured me, that being in India when Heber’s Journal appeared, and having never seen or heard of such elephants, he made the strictest inquiries respecting the fact, and was never able to obtain any evidence in corroboration. Mr. Royle resided at Saharunpore, lat. 30° N., upon the extreme northern limits of the range of the elephant. Mr. Everest also declares that he has been equally unsuccessful in finding any one aware of the existence of such a variety or breed of the animal, though one solitary individual was mentioned to him as having been seen at Delhi, with a good deal of long hair upon it. The greatest elevation, says Mr. E., at which the wild elephant is found in the mountains to the north of Bengal, is at a place called Nahun, about 4000 feet above the level of the sea, and in the 31st degree of N. lat., where the mean yearly temperature may be about 64° Fahrenheit, and the difference between winter and summer very great, equal to about 36° F., the month of January averaging 45°, and June, the hottest month, 81° F. (Everest on climate of Foss. Eleph., Journ. of Asiat. Soc., No. 25, p. 21.)

20 See Dr. Buckland’s description of these bones, Appen. to Beechy’s Voy.

21 Darwin, Journal of Travels in S. America, &c., 1832-36, in voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, p. 98. 2d Ed. London, 1845, p. 86.

22 Darwin, Journal of Travels in S. America, &c., p. 99, 2d Ed. p. 85.

23 Burchell, cited by Darwin, ibid. p. 101. 2d Ed. p. 87.

24 Since the above passage was first printed in a former edition, June, 1835, it has been shown by the observations of Sir R. Murchison, M. de Verneuil, and Count Keyserling, and more recently by M. Middendorf (see above, p. 81), that the Lowland of Siberia has actually been extended, since the existing species of shells inhabited the northern seas.

25 Humboldt, Fragmens Asiatiques, tom. ii. p. 393.

26 Reboul. Geol. de la Période Quaternaire, who cites Observ. sur la Sibérie, Bibl. Univ., Juillet, 1832.

27 Conjectured to be the wild stock of Bos grunniens.

28 Recollections of a Journey through Tartary, Thibet, and China (ch. xv. p. 234), by M. Huc. Longman, 1852.

29 For an account of the more modern changes of the tertiary fauna and flora of the British Isles and adjoining countries, and particularly those facts which relate to the “glacial epoch,” see an admirable essay by Prof. E. Forbes. Memoirs of Geol. Survey of Great Brit. vol. i. p. 336. London, 1846. To this important memoir I shall have frequent occasion to refer in the sequel.

30 See a paper by Charles J. F. Bunbury, Esq., Journ. of Geol. Soc., London, No. 6, p. 88. 1846.

31 The Calamites were formerly regarded by Adolphe Brongniart as belonging to the tribe of Equisetaceæ; but he is now inclined to refer them to the class of gymnogens, or gymnospermous exogens, which includes the Coniferæ and Cycadeæ. Lepidodendron appears to have been either a gigantic form of the lycopodium tribe, or, as Dr. Lindley thinks, intermediate between the lycopodia and the fir tribe. The Sigillariæ were formerly supposed by Ad. Brongniart, to be arborescent ferns; but the discovery of their internal structure, and of their leaves, has since proved that they have no real affinity to ferns. According to the view now taken of their structure, their nearest allies in the recent world are the genera Cycas and Zamia; while Corda, on the other hand, maintains that they were closely related to the succulent euphorbias. Stigmaria is now generally admitted to have been merely the root of sigillaria. The scalariform vessels of these two genera are not conclusive in proving them to have a real affinity with ferns, as Mr. Brown has discovered the same structure of vessels in Myzodendron, a genus allied to the mistletoe; and Corda has lately shown that in two species of Stigmaria, hardly distinguishable by external characters, the vessels of the one are scalariform, and of the other dotted.

32 Mr. Lindley endeavored formerly (1834) to show, in the “Fossil Flora,” that Trigonocarpum Noeggerathii, a fruit found in the coal measures, has the true structure of a palm-fruit; but Ad. Brongniart has since inclined to regard it as cycadeous; nor is the French botanist satisfied that some specimens of supposed palm wood from the coal-mines of Radnitz in Bohemia, described by Corda, really belong to palms. On the other hand, Corda has proved Flabellaria borassifolia of Sternberg to be an exogenous plant, and Brongniart contends that it was allied to the Cycadeæ. See Tableau des Genres de Végétaux Fossiles. Paris, 1849.

33 Prodrome d’une Hist. des Végét. Foss. p. 179. See also a late paper, Quart. Journ. of Geol. Soc. London, 1846, in which coal-plants of Alabama, lat. 33° N., collected by the author, are identified by Mr. Bunbury with British fossil species, showing the great southern extension of this flora.

34 König, Journ. of Sci., vol. xv. p. 20. Mr. König informs me that he no longer believes any of these fossils to be tree ferns, as he at first stated, but that they agree generically with plants in our English coal-beds. The Melville Island specimens, now in the British Museum, are very obscure impressions.

35 Fossil Flora of Great Britain, by John Lindley and William Hutton, Esqrs., No. IV.

36 Fossil Flora of Great Britain, by John Lindley and William Hutton, Esqrs. No. IV.

37 Fossil Flora, No. X.

38 This has been proved by Mr. Lindley’s experiments, ibid. No. XVII.

39 I have treated of this subject in my Manual of Geology, and still more fully in my Travels in N. America, vol. ii. p. 178. For a full account of the facts at present known, and the theories entertained by the most eminent geologists and botanists on this subject, see Mr. Horner’s Anniversary Address to the Geological Society of London, February, 1846. Consult also Sir H. de la Beche, on the formation of rocks in South Wales, Memoirs of Geol. Survey of Great Britain, 1846, p. 1 to 296.

Chapter 7.

Farther Examination of the Question as to the Assumed Discordance of the Ancient and Modern Causes of Change.

On the causes of vicissitudes in climate—Remarks on the present diffusion of heat over the globe—On the dependence of the mean temperature on the relative position of land and sea—Isothermal Lines—Currents from equatorial regions—Drifting of icebergs—Different temperature of Northern and Southern hemispheres—Combination of causes which might produce the extreme cold of which the earth’s surface is susceptible—Conditions necessary for the production of the extreme of heat, and its probable effects on organic life.

Causes of Vicissitudes in Climate.1—As the proofs enumerated in the last chapter indicate that the earth’s surface has experienced great changes of climate since the deposition of the older sedimentary strata, we have next to inquire how such vicissitudes can be reconciled with the existing order of nature. The cosmogonist has availed himself of this, as of every obscure problem in geology, to confirm his views concerning a period when the planet was in a nascent or half-formed state, or when the laws of the animate and inanimate world differed essentially from those now established; and he has in this, as in many other cases, succeeded so far, as to divert attention from that class of facts which, if fully understood, might probably lead to an explanation of the phenomena. At first it was imagined that the earth’s axis had been for ages perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic, so that there was a perpetual equinox, and uniformity of seasons throughout the year;—that the planet enjoyed this “paradisiacal” state until the era of the great flood; but in that catastrophe, whether by the shock of a comet, or some other convulsion, it lost its equal poise, and hence the obliquity of its axis, and with that the varied seasons of the temperate zone, and the long nights and days of the polar circles.

When the progress of astronomical science had exploded this theory, it was assumed, that the earth at its creation was in a state of fluidity, and red-hot, and that ever since that era, it had been cooling down, contracting its dimensions, and acquiring a solid crust,—an hypothesis hardly less arbitrary, yet more calculated for lasting popularity; because, by referring the mind directly to the beginning of things, it requires no support from observation, nor from any ulterior hypothesis. But if, instead of forming vague conjectures as to what might have been the state of the planet at the era of its creation, we fix our thoughts on the connection at present existing between climate and the distribution of land and sea; and then consider what influence former fluctuations in the physical geography of the earth must have had on superficial temperature, we may perhaps approximate to a true theory. If doubts and obscurities still remain, they should be ascribed to our limited acquaintance with the laws of Nature, not to revolutions in her economy;—they should stimulate us to farther research, not tempt us to indulge our fancies respecting the imaginary changes of internal temperature in an embryo world.

Diffusion of Heat over the Globe.—In considering the laws which regulate the diffusion of heat over the globe, we must be careful, as Humboldt well remarks, not to regard the climate of Europe as a type of the temperature which all countries placed under the same latitude enjoy. The physical sciences, observes this philosopher, always bear the impress of the places where they began to be cultivated; and as, in geology, an attempt was at first made to refer all the volcanic phenomena to those of the volcanoes in Italy, so in meteorology, a small part of the old world, the centre of the primitive civilization of Europe, was for a long time considered a type to which the climate of all corresponding latitudes might be referred. But this region, constituting only one-seventh of the whole globe, proved eventually to be the exception to the general rule. For the same reason, we may warn the geologist to be on his guard, and not hastily to assume that the temperature of the earth in the present era is a type of that which most usually obtains, since he contemplates far mightier alterations in the position of land and sea, at different epochs, than those which now cause the climate of Europe to differ from that of other countries in the same parallels.

It is now well ascertained that zones of equal warmth, both in the atmosphere and in the waters of the ocean, are neither parallel to the equator nor to each other.2 It is also known that the mean annual temperature may be the same in two places which enjoy very different climates, for the seasons may be nearly uniform, or violently contrasted, so that the lines of equal winter temperature do not coincide with those of equal annual heat or isothermal lines. The deviations of all these lines from the same parallel of latitude are determined by a multitude of circumstances, among the principal of which are the position, direction, and elevation of the continents and islands, the position and depths of the sea, and the direction of currents and of winds.

On comparing the two continents of Europe and America, it is found that places in the same latitudes have sometimes a mean difference of temperature amounting to 11°, or even in a few cases to 17° Fahr.; and some places on the two continents, which have the same mean temperature, differ from 7° to 17° in latitude. Thus, Cumberland House, in North America, having the same latitude (54° N.) as the city of York in England, stands on the isothermal line of 32°, which in Europe rises to the North Cape, in lat. 71°, but its summer heat exceeds that of Brussels or Paris.3 The principal cause of greater intensity of cold in corresponding latitudes of North America, as contrasted with Europe, is the connection of America with the polar circle, by a large tract of land, some of which is from three to five thousand feet in height; and, on the other hand, the separation of Europe from the arctic circle by an ocean. The ocean has a tendency to preserve everywhere a mean temperature, which it communicates to the contiguous land, so that it tempers the climate, moderating alike an excess of heat or cold. The elevated land, on the other hand, rising to the colder regions of the atmosphere, becomes a great reservoir of ice and snow, arrests, condenses, and congeals vapor, and communicates its cold to the adjoining country. For this reason, Greenland, forming part of a continent which stretches northward to the 82d degree of latitude, experiences under the 60th parallel a more rigorous climate than Lapland under the 72d parallel.

But if land be situated between the 40th parallel and the equator, it produces, unless it be of extreme height, exactly the opposite effect; for it then warms the tracts of land or sea that intervene between it and the polar circle. For the surface being in this case exposed to the vertical, or nearly vertical rays of the sun, absorbs a large quantity of heat, which it diffuses by radiation into the atmosphere. For this reason, the western parts of the old continent derive warmth from Africa, “which, like an immense furnace, distributes its heat to Arabia, to Turkey in Asia, and to Europe.”4 On the contrary, the northeastern extremity of Asia experiences in the same latitude extreme cold; for it has land on the north between the 60th and 70th parallel, while to the south it is separated from the equator by the Pacific Ocean.

In consequence of the more equal temperature of the waters of the ocean, the climate of islands and of coasts differs essentially from that of the interior of continents, the more maritime climate being characterized by mild winters, and more temperate summers; for the sea-breezes moderate the cold of winter, as well as the heat of summer. When, therefore, we trace round the globe those belts in which the mean annual temperature is the same, we often find great differences in climate; for there are insular climates in which the seasons are nearly equalized, and excessive climates, as they have been termed, where the temperature of winter and summer is strongly contrasted. The whole of Europe, compared with the eastern parts of America and Asia, has an insular climate. The northern part of China, and the Atlantic region of the United States, exhibit “excessive climates.” We find at New York, says Humboldt, the summer of Rome and the winter of Copenhagen; at Quebec, the summer of Paris and the winter of Petersburg. At Pekin, in China, where the mean temperature of the year is that of the coasts of Brittany, the scorching heats of summer are greater than at Cairo, and the winters as rigorous as at Upsala.5

If lines be drawn round the globe through all those places which have the same winter temperature, they are found to deviate from the terrestrial parallels much farther than the lines of equal mean annual heat. The lines of equal winter in Europe, for example, are often curved so as to reach parallels of latitude 9° or 10° distant from each other, whereas the isothermal lines, or those passing through places having the same mean annual temperature, differ only from 4° to 5° in Europe.

Influence of currents and drift ice on temperature.—Among other influential causes, both of remarkable diversity in the mean annual heat, and of unequal division of heat in the different seasons, are the direction of currents and the accumulation and drifting of ice in high latitudes. The temperature of the Lagullas current is 10° or 12° Fahr. above that of the sea at the Cape of Good Hope; for it derives the greater part of its waters from the Mozambique channel, and southeast coast of Africa, and from regions in the Indian Ocean much nearer the line, and much hotter than the Cape.6 An opposite effect is produced by the “equatorial” current, which crosses the Atlantic from Africa to Brazil, having a breadth varying from 160 to 450 nautical miles. Its waters are cooler by 3° or 4° Fahr. than those of the ocean under the line, so that it moderates the heat of the tropics.7

But the effects of the Gulf stream on the climate of the North Atlantic Ocean are far more remarkable. This most powerful of known currents has its source in the Gulf or Sea of Mexico, which, like the Mediterranean and other close seas in temperate or low latitudes, is warmer than the open ocean in the same parallels. The temperature of the Mexican sea in summer is, according to Rennell, 86° Fahr., or at least 7° above that of the Atlantic in the same latitude.8 From this great reservoir or caldron of warm water, a constant current pours forth through the straits of Bahama at the rate of 3 or 4 miles an hour; it crosses the ocean in a northeasterly direction, skirting the great bank of Newfoundland, where it still retains a temperature of 8° above that of the surrounding sea. It reaches the Azores in about 78 days, after flowing nearly 3000 geographical miles, and from thence it sometimes extends its course a thousand miles farther, so as to reach the Bay of Biscay, still retaining an excess of 5° above the mean temperature of that sea. As it has been known to arrive there in the months of November and January, it may tend greatly to moderate the cold of winter in countries on the west of Europe. . There is a large tract in the centre of the North Atlantic, between the parallels of 33° and 45° N. lat., which Rennell calls the “recipient of the gulf water.” A great part of it is covered by the weed called sargasso (Sargassum bacciferum), which the current floats in abundance from the Gulf of Mexico. This mass of water is nearly stagnant, is warmer by 7° or 10° than the waters of the Atlantic, and may be compared to the fresh water of a river overflowing the heavier salt water of the sea. Rennell estimates the area of the “recipient,” together with that covered by the main current, as being 2000 miles in length from E. to W., and 350 in breadth from N. to S., which, he remarks, is a larger area than that of the Mediterranean. The heat of this great body of water is kept up by the incessant and quick arrivals of fresh supplies of warm water from the south; and there can be no doubt that the general climate of parts of Europe and America is materially affected by this cause.

It is considered probable by Scoresby that the influence of the Gulf stream extends even to the sea near Spitzbergen, where its waters may pass under those of melted ice; for it has been found that in the neighborhood of Spitzbergen, the water is warmer by 6° or 7° at the depth of one hundred and two hundred fathoms than at the surface. This might arise from the known law that fresh water passes the point of greatest density when cooled down below 40°, and between that and the freezing point expands again. The water of melted ice might be lighter, both as being fresh (having lost its salt in the decomposing process of freezing), and because its temperature is nearer the freezing point than the inferior water of the Gulf stream.

The great glaciers generated in the valleys of Spitzbergen, in the 79° of north latitude, are almost all cut off at the beach, being melted by the feeble remnant of heat still retained by the Gulf stream. In Baffin’s Bay, on the contrary, on the west coast of Old Greenland, where the temperature of the sea is not mitigated by the same cause, and where there is no warmer under-current, the glaciers stretch out from the shore, and furnish repeated crops of mountainous masses of ice which float off into the ocean.9 The number and dimensions of these bergs is prodigious. Captain Sir John Ross saw several of them together in Baffin’s Bay aground in water fifteen hundred feet deep! Many of them are driven down into Hudson’s Bay, and accumulating there, diffuse excessive cold over the neighboring continent; so that Captain Franklin reports, that at the mouth of Hayes’ River, which lies in the same latitude as the north of Prussia or the south of Scotland, ice is found everywhere in digging wells, in summer, at the depth of four feet! Other bergs have been occasionally met with, at midsummer, in a state of rapid thaw, as far south as lat. 40° and longitude about 60° west, where they cool the water sensibly to the distance of forty or fifty miles around, the thermometer sinking sometimes 17°, or even 18°, Fahrenheit, in their neighborhood.10 It is a well-known fact that every four or five years a large number of icebergs, floating from Greenland, double Cape Langaness, and are stranded on the west coast of Iceland. The inhabitants are then aware that their crops of hay will fail, in consequence of fogs which are generated almost incessantly; and the dearth of food is not confined to the land, for the temperature of the water is so changed that the fish entirely desert the coast.

Difference of climate of the Northern and Southern hemispheres.—When we compare the climate of the northern and southern hemispheres, we obtain still more instruction in regard to the influence of the distribution of land and sea on climate. The dry land in the southern hemisphere is to that of the northern in the ratio only of one to three, excluding from our consideration that part which lies between the pole and the 78° of south latitude, which has hitherto proved inaccessible. And whereas in the northern hemisphere, between the pole and the thirtieth parallel of north latitude, the land and sea occupy nearly equal areas, the ocean in the southern hemisphere covers no less than fifteen parts in sixteen of the entire space included between the antarctic circle and the thirtieth parallel of south latitude.

This great extent of sea gives a particular character to climates south of the equator, the winters being mild and the summers cool. Thus, in Van Dieman’s Land, corresponding nearly in latitude to Rome, the winters are more mild than at Naples, and the summers not warmer than those at Paris, which is 7° farther from the equator.11 The effects on animal and vegetable life are remarkable. Capt. King observed large shrubs of Fuchsia and Veronica, which in England are treated as tender plants, thriving and in full flower in Tierra del Fuego with the temperature at 36°. He states also that humming birds were seen sipping the sweets of the flowers “after two or three days of constant rain, snow, and sleet, during which time the thermometer had been at the freezing point.” Mr. Darwin also saw parrots feeding on the seeds of a tree called the winter’s bark, south of lat. 55°, near Cape Horn.12

So the orchideous plants which are parasitical on trees, and are generally characteristic of the tropics, advance to the 38th and 42d degree of S. lat., and even beyond the 45th degree in New Zealand, where they were found by Forster. In South America also arborescent grasses abound in the dense forests of Chiloe, in lat. 42° S., where “they entwine the trees into one entangled mass to the height of thirty or forty feet above the ground. Palm-trees in the same quarter of the globe grow in lat. 37°, an arborescent grass very like a bamboo in 40°, and another closely allied kind, of great length, but not erect, even as far south as 45°.”13

It has long been supposed that the general temperature of the southern hemisphere was considerably lower than that of the northern, and that the difference amounted to at least 10° Fahrenheit. Baron Humboldt, after collecting and comparing a great number of observations, came to the conclusion that even a much larger difference existed, but that none was to be observed within the tropics, and only a small difference as far as the thirty-fifth and fortieth parallel. Captain Cook was of opinion that the ice of the antarctic predominated greatly over that of the arctic region, that encircling the southern pole coming nearer to the equator by 10° than the ice around the north pole. All the recent voyages of discovery have tended to confirm this opinion, although Capt. Weddel penetrated, in 1823, three degrees farther south than Capt. Cook, reaching lat. 74° 15’ South, long. 34° 17’ West, and Sir James Ross, in 1842, arrived at lat. 78° 10’ S., as high a latitude, within three degrees, as the farthest point attained by Captain Parry in the arctic circle, or lat. 81° 12’ North.

The description given by ancient as well as modern navigators of the sea and land in high southern latitudes, clearly attests the greater severity of the climate as compared to arctic regions. In Sandwich Land, in lat. 59° S., or in nearly the same parallel as the north of Scotland, Capt. Cook found the whole country, from the summits of the mountains down to the very brink of the sea-cliffs, “covered many fathoms thick with everlasting snow,” and this on the 1st of February, the hottest time of the year; and what is still more astonishing, in the island of S. Georgia, which is in the 54° south latitude, or the same parallel as Yorkshire, the line of perpetual snow descends to the level of the ocean.14 When we consider this fact, and then recollect that the highest mountains in Scotland, which ascend to an elevation of nearly 5000 feet, and are four degrees farther to the north, do not attain the limit of perpetual snow on our side of the equator, we learn that latitude is one only of many powerful causes, which determine the climate of particular regions of the globe. Capt. Sir James Ross, in his exploring expedition in 1841-3, found that the temperature south of the 60th degree of latitude seldom rose above 32° Fahr. During the two summer months of the year 1841 (January and February) the range of the thermometer was between 11° and 32° Fahr.; and scarcely once rose above the freezing point. The permanence of snow in the southern hemisphere, is in this instance partly due to the floating ice, which chills the atmosphere and condenses the vapor, so that in summer the sun cannot pierce through the foggy air. But besides the abundance of ice which covers the sea to the south of Georgia and Sandwich Land, we may also, as Humboldt suggests, ascribe the cold of those countries in part to the absence of land between them and the tropics.

If Africa and New Holland extended farther to the south, a diminution of ice would take place in consequence of the radiation of heat from these continents during summer, which would warm the contiguous sea and rarefy the air. The heated aerial currents would then ascend and flow more rapidly towards the south pole, and moderate the winter. In confirmation of these views, it is stated that the ice, which extends as far as the 68° and 71° of south latitude, advances more towards the equator whenever it meets an open sea; that is, where the extremities of the present continents are not opposite to it; and this circumstance seems explicable only on the principle above alluded to, of the radiation of heat from the lands so situated.

The cold of the antarctic regions was conjectured by Cook to be due to the existence of a large tract of land between the seventieth degree of south latitude and the pole. The justness of these and other speculations of that great navigator have since been singularly confirmed by the investigation made by Sir James Ross in 1841. He found Victoria Land, extending from 71° to 79° S. latitude, skirted by a great barrier of ice, the height of the land ranging from 4000 to 14,000 feet, the whole entirely covered with snow, except a narrow ring of black earth surrounding the huge crater of the active volcano of Mount Erebus, rising 12,400 feet above the level of the sea. The position of a mountainous territory of such altitude, so near the pole, and so obvious a source of intense cold, fully explains why Graham’s and Enderby’s Land, discovered by Captain Biscoe in 1831-2 (between lat. 64° and 68° S.), presented a most wintry aspect, covered even in summer with ice and snow, and nearly destitute of animal life. In corresponding latitudes of the northern hemisphere we not only meet with herds of wild herbivorous animals, but with land which man himself inhabits, and where he has even built ports and inland villages.15

The distance to which icebergs float from the polar regions on the opposite sides of the line is, as might have been anticipated, very different. Their extreme limit in the northern hemisphere is lat. 40°, as before mentioned, and they are occasionally seen in lat. 42° N., near the termination of the great bank of Newfoundland, and at the Azores, lat. 42° N., to which they are sometimes drifted from Baffin’s Bay. But in the other hemisphere they have been seen, within the last few years, at different points off the Cape of Good Hope, between lat. 36° and 39°.16 One of these (see fig. 2.) was two miles in circumference, and 150 feet high, appearing like chalk when the sun was obscured, and having the lustre of refined sugar when the sun was shining on it. Others rose from 250 to 300 feet above the level of the sea, and were therefore of great volume below; since it is ascertained by experiments on the buoyancy of ice floating in sea-water, that for every cubic foot seen above, there must at least be eight cubic feet below water.17 If ice islands from the north polar regions floated as far, they might reach Cape St. Vincent, and there, being drawn by the current that always sets in from the Atlantic through the Straits of Gibraltar, be drifted into the Mediterranean, so that the serene sky of that delightful region might soon be deformed by clouds and mists.

Fig. 2.

Iceberg seen off the Cape of Good Hope, April, 1829. Lat. 89º 18’ S. Long. 48° 46’ E.

Before the amount of difference between the temperature of the two hemispheres was ascertained, it was referred by many astronomers to the precession of the equinoxes, or the acceleration of the earth’s motion in its perihelium; in consequence of which the spring and summer of the southern hemisphere are now shorter, by nearly eight days, than those seasons north of the equator. But Sir J. Herschel reminds us that the excess of eight days in the duration of the sun’s presence in the northern hemisphere is not productive of an excess of annual light and heat; since, according to the laws of elliptic motion, it is demonstrable that whatever be the ellipticity of the earth’s orbit, the two hemispheres must receive equal absolute quantities of light and heat per annum, the proximity of the sun in perigee exactly compensating the effect of its swifter motion.18 Humboldt, however, observes, that there must be a greater loss of heat by radiation in the southern hemisphere during a winter longer by eight days than that on the other side of the equator.19

Perhaps no very sensible effect may be produced by this source of disturbance; yet the geologist should bear in mind that to a certain extent it operates alternately on each of the two hemispheres for a period of upwards of 10,000 years, dividing unequally the times during which the annual supply of solar light and heat is received. This cause may sometimes tend to counterbalance inequalities of temperature resulting from other far more influential circumstances; but, on the other hand, it must sometimes tend to increase the extreme of deviation arising from particular combinations of causes.

But whatever may be at present the inferiority of heat in the temperate and frigid zones south of the line, it is quite evident that the cold would be far more intense if there happened, instead of open sea, to be tracts of elevated land between the 55th and 70th parallel; and, on the other hand, the cold would be moderated if there were more land between the line and the forty-fifth degree of south latitude.

Changes in the position of land and sea may give rise to vicissitudes in climate.—Having offered these brief remarks on the diffusion of heat over the globe in the present state of the surface, I shall now proceed to speculate on the vicissitudes of climate, which must attend those endless variations in the geographical features of our planet which are contemplated in geology. That our speculations may be confined within the strict limits of analogy, I shall assume, 1st, That the proportion of dry land to sea continues always the same. 2dly, That the volume of the land rising above the level of the sea is a constant quantity; and not only that its mean, but that its extreme height, is liable only to trifling variations. 3dly, That both the mean and extreme depth of the sea are invariable; and 4thly, It may be consistent with due caution to assume that the grouping together of the land in continents is a necessary part of the economy of nature; for it is possible that the laws which govern the subterranean forces, and which act simultaneously along certain lines, cannot but produce, at every epoch, continuous mountain-chains; so that the subdivision of the whole land into innumerable islands may be precluded.

If it be objected, that the maximum of elevation of land and depth of sea are probably not constant, nor the gathering together of all the land in certain parts, nor even perhaps the relative extent of land and water, I reply, that the arguments about to be adduced will be strengthened if, in these peculiarities of the surface, there be considerable deviations from the present type. If, for example, all other circumstances being the same, the land is at one time more divided into islands than at another, a greater uniformity of climate might be produced, the mean temperature remaining unaltered; or if, at another era, there were mountains higher than the Himalaya, these, when placed in high latitudes, would cause a greater excess of cold. Or, if we suppose that at certain periods no chain of hills in the world rose beyond the height of 10,000 feet, a greater heat might then have prevailed than is compatible with the existence of mountains thrice that elevation.

However constant may be the relative proportion of sea and land, we know that there is annually some small variation in their respective geographical positions, and that in every century the land is in some parts raised, and in others depressed in level, and so likewise is the bed of the sea. By these and other ceaseless changes, the configuration of the earth’s surface has been remodelled again and again, since it was the habitation of organic beings, and the bed of the ocean has been lifted up to the height of some of the loftiest mountains. The imagination is apt to take alarm when called upon to admit the formation of such irregularities in the crust of the earth, after it had once become the habitation of living creatures; but, if time be allowed, the operation need not subvert the ordinary repose of nature; and the result is in a general view insignificant, if we consider how slightly the highest mountain-chains cause our globe to differ from a perfect sphere. Chimborazo, though it rises to more than 21,000 feet above the sea, would be represented, on a globe of about six feet in diameter, by a grain of sand less than one-twentieth of an inch in thickness.

The superficial inequalities of the earth, then, may be deemed minute in quantity, and their distribution at any particular epoch must be regarded in geology as temporary peculiarities, like the height and outline of the cone of Vesuvius in the interval between two eruptions. But although, in reference to the magnitude of the globe, the unevenness of the surface is so unimportant, it is on the position and direction of these small inequalities that the state of the atmosphere, and both the local and general climate, are mainly dependent.

Before considering the effect which a material change in the distribution of land and sea must occasion, it may be well to remark, how greatly organic life may be affected by those minor variations, which need not in the least degree alter the general temperature. Thus, for example, if we suppose, by a series of convulsions, a certain part of Greenland to become sea, and, in compensation, a tract of land to rise and connect Spitzbergen with Lapland,—an accession not greater in amount than one which the geologist can prove to have occurred in certain districts bordering the Mediterranean, within a comparatively modern period,—this altered form of the land might cause an interchange between the climate of certain parts of North America and of Europe, which lie in corresponding latitudes. Many European species of plants and animals would probably perish in consequence, because the mean temperature would be greatly lowered; and others would fail in America, because it would there be raised. On the other hand, in places where the mean annual heat remained unaltered, some species which flourish in Europe, where the seasons are more uniform, would be unable to resist the greater heat of the North American summer, or the intenser cold of the winter; while others, now fitted by their habits for the great contrast of the American seasons, would not be fitted for the insular climate of Europe. The vine, for example, according to Humboldt, can be cultivated with advantage 10° farther north in Europe than in North America. Many plants endure severe frost, but cannot ripen their seeds without a certain intensity of summer heat and a certain quantity of light; others cannot endure a similar intensity either of heat or cold.

It is now established that many of the existing species of animals have survived great changes in the physical geography of the globe. If such species be termed modern, in comparison to races which preceded them, their remains, nevertheless, enter into submarine deposits many hundred miles in length, and which have since been raised from the deep to no inconsiderable altitude. When, therefore, it is shown that changes in the temperature of the atmosphere may be the consequence of such physical revolutions of the surface, we ought no longer to wonder that we find the distribution of existing species to be local, in regard to longitude as well as latitude. If all species were now, by an exertion of creative power, to be diffused uniformly throughout those zones where there is an equal degree of heat, and in all respects a similarity of climate, they would begin from this moment to depart more and more from their original distribution. Aquatic and terrestrial species would be displaced, as Hooke long ago observed, so often as land and water exchanged places; and there would also, by the formation of new mountains and other changes, be transpositions of climate, contributing, in the manner before alluded to, to the local extermination of species.20

If we now proceed to consider the circumstances required for a general change of temperature, it will appear, from the facts and principles already laid down, that whenever a greater extent of high land is collected in the polar regions, the cold will augment; and the same result will be produced when there is more sea between or near the tropics; while, on the contrary, so often as the above conditions are reversed, the heat will be greater. (See figs. 5 and 6, p. 111.) If this be admitted, it will follow, that unless the superficial inequalities of the earth be fixed and permanent, there must be never-ending fluctuations in the mean temperature of every zone; and that the climate of one era can no more be a type of every other; than is one of our four seasons of all the rest.

It has been well said, that the earth is covered by an ocean, in the midst of which are two great islands, and many smaller ones; for the whole of the continents and islands occupy an area scarcely exceeding one-fourth of the whole superficies of the spheroid. Now, according to this analogy, we may fairly speculate on the probability that there would not be usually, at any given epoch of the past, more than about one-fourth dry land in a particular region; as, for example, near the poles, or between them and the 75th parallels of N. and S. latitude. If, therefore, at present there should happen to be, in both these quarters of the globe, much more than this average proportion of land, some of it in the arctic region, being above, five thousand feet in height, and if in antarctic latitudes a mountainous country has been found varying from 4000 to 14,000 feet in height, this alone affords ground for concluding that, in the present state of things, the mean heat of the climate is below that which the earth’s surface, in its more ordinary state, would enjoy. This presumption is heightened when we reflect on the results of the recent soundings made by Sir James Ross, in the Southern Ocean, and continued for four successive years, ending 1844, which seem to prove that the mean depth of the Atlantic and Pacific is as great as Laplace and other eminent astronomers had imagined;21 for then we might look not only for more than two-thirds sea in the frigid zones, but for water of great depth, which could not readily be reduced to the freezing point. The same opinion is confirmed, when we compare the quantity of land lying between the poles and the 30th parallels of north and south latitude, with the quantity placed between those parallels and the equator; for, it is clear, that we have at present not only more than the usual degree of cold in the polar regions, but also less than the average quantity of heat within the tropics.

1 The theory proposed in this and the following chapters, to account for former fluctuations of climate at successive geological periods, agrees in every essential particular, and has indeed been reprinted almost verbatim from that published by me twenty years ago in the first edition of my Principles, 1830. It was referred to by Sir John F. W. Herschel in his Discourse on Natural Philosophy, published in 1830. In preceding works the gradual diminution of the earth’s central heat was almost the only cause assigned for the acknowledged diminution of the superficial temperature of our planet.

2 We are indebted to Baron Alex. von Humboldt for having first collected together the scattered data on which he founded an approximation to a true theory of the distribution of heat over the globe. Many of these data were derived from the author’s own observations, and many from the works of M. Pierre Prevost, of Genera, on the radiation of heat, and from other writers.—See Humboldt on Isothermal Lines, Mémoires d’Arcueil, tom. iii. translated in the Edin. Phil. Journ. vol. iii. July, 1820.

The map of Isothermal Lines, recently published by Humboldt and Dove (1848), supplies a large body of well-established data for such investigations, of which Mr. Hopkins has most ably availed himself in an essay “On the Causes which may have produced Changes in the earth’s Superficial Temperature.”—Q. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1852, p. 56.

3 Sir J. Richardson’s Appendix to Sir G. Bach’s Journal, 1843-1845, p. 478.

4 Malte-Brun, Phys. Geol. book xvii.

5 On Isothermal Lines, &c.

6 Rennell on Currents, p. 96. London, 1832.

7 Ibid. p. 153.

8 Ibid. p. 25

9 Scoresby’s Arctic Regions, vol. i. p. 208.—Dr. Latta’s Observations on the Glaciers of Spitzbergen, &c. Edin. New Phil. Journ. vol. iii. p. 97.

10 Rennell on Currents, p. 95.

11 Humboldt on Isothermal Lines.

12 Journ. of Travels in S. America, &c. p. 272.

13 Darwin’s travels in S. America, p. 271.

14 Mr. Hopkins raises the question whether, in South Georgia, the descent of glaciers to the margin of the sea might not have been mistaken by Capt. Cook for the descent of the snow-line to the sea level. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. p. 85, 1852. The great navigator is generally very accurate, and there seem to be no observations of more recent date either to confirm or invalidate his statements.

15 After all these modern discoveries, the area still unexplored, within the antarctic circle, is more than double the area of Europe. The surface of the latter contains about 2,793,000 square geographical miles. The unexplored antarctic region, as calculated for me by Mr. Gardner, in 1840, equalled about 7,620,000 square miles.

16 On icebergs in low latitudes, by Capt. Horsburgh, by whom the sketch was made. Phil. Trans. 1830.

17 Scoresby’s Arctic Regions, vol. i. p. 234.

18 This follows, observes Herschel, from a very simple theorem, which may be thus stated:—“The amount of heat received by the earth from the sun, while describing any part of its orbit, is proportional to the angle described round the sun’s centre.” So that if the orbit be divided into two portions by a line drawn in any direction through the sun’s centre, the heat received in describing the two unequal segments of the eclipse so produced will be equal. Geol. Trans. vol. iii. part. ii. p. 298; second series.

19 On Isothermal Lines.

20 A full consideration of the effect of changes in physical geography on the distribution and extinction of species is given in book iii.

21 For calculations founded on astronomical data, see Young’s Nat. Phil., Lect. xlvii.; Mrs. Somerville’s Connex. of Phys. Sci., sect. 14, p. 110. Laplace, endeavoring to estimate the probable depth of the sea from some of the phenomena of the tides, says of the ocean generally, “que sa profondeur moyenne est du même ordre que la hauteur moyenne des continens et des isles au-dessus de son niveau, hauteur qui ne surpasse pas mille mètres (3280 ft.)” Mec. Céleste, tom. xi. et Syst. du Monde, p. 254. The expression “du même ordre” admits in mathematical language of considerable latitude of signification, and does not mean that the depth of the water below the level of the sea corresponds exactly to the height of the land above it.

It appeared from the observations of Sir James Ross, communicated to me in 1849, by himself, and his fellow voyager, Dr. Joseph Hooker, that in latitude 15° 3’ S., longitude 23° 14’ W. (the island of Trinidad, the nearest land, being 486 miles distant, and bearing S. 47 W.), they sounded with a weight of 76 lbs., and 4600 fathoms of line, which ran out to the very end, without finding bottom. Here therefore in mid-ocean the depth exceeded 27,600 feet. One of the shallowest soundings ever obtained in the open sea during the same survey, struck bottom with 2677 fathoms, or 16,062 feet, latitude 33° 21’ S., longitude 9° 4’ E. The surveyors arrived at the conclusion, that at a moderate distance from the shore, the depth of the great ocean always exceeds 4000 feet.

During the American survey in 1849, a much greater depth, or 5700 fathoms (34,200 feet), was sounded in the Atlantic by Lieut. Walsh, without reaching the bottom, in lat. 31° 59’ N., long. 58° 43’ W., or between the Bermudas and the Azores. But the deepest soundings yet published were taken Oct. 30th 1852, by Capt. Henry M. Denham, R. N., who reached bottom at 7706 fathoms (46,236 feet), lat. 36° 49’ S., long. 37° 6’ W., the nearest land being at the mouth of the River Plate. A weight of 9 lbs. was attached to the line, which was one-tenth of an inch in diameter; the day was calm, and the line took 9 hours 24 minutes to run out. When the bottom was struck the line was raised 50 fathoms, and then allowed to run out again. It struck at the same point as before, verifying the observations. Nevertheless some experienced surveyors have remarked that the experiment would have been more satisfactory had the weight been greater. The highest summits of the Himalaya are about 28,000 feet; the Pacific, according to this sounding, is probably at some points twice as deep as the Himalaya are high.

Position of land and sea which might produce the extreme of cold of which the earth’s surface is susceptible.—To simplify our view of the various changes in climate, which different combinations of geographical circumstances may produce, we shall first consider the conditions necessary for bringing about the extreme of cold, or what would have been termed in the language of the old writers the winter of the “great year,” or geological cycle, and afterwards, the conditions requisite to produce the maximum of heat, or the summer of the same year.

To begin with the northern hemisphere. Let us suppose those hills of the Italian peninsula and of Sicily, which are of comparatively modern origin, and contain many fossil shells identical with living species, to subside again into the sea, from which they have been raised, and that an extent of land of equal area and height (varying from one to three thousand feet) should rise up in the Arctic Ocean between Siberia and the north pole. In speaking of such changes, I shall not allude to the manner in which I conceive it possible that they may be brought about, nor of the time required for their accomplishment—reserving for a future occasion, not only the proofs that revolutions of equal magnitude have taken place, but that analogous operations are still in gradual progress. The alteration now supposed in the physical geography of the northern regions, would cause additional snow and ice to accumulate where now there is usually an open sea; and the temperature of the greater part of Europe would be somewhat lowered, so as to resemble more nearly that of corresponding latitudes of North America: or, in other words, it might be necessary to travel about 10° farther south in order to meet with the same climate which we now enjoy. No compensation would be derived from the disappearance of land in the Mediterranean countries; but the contrary, since the mean heat of the soil in those latitudes probably exceeds that which would belong to the sea, by which we imagine it to be replaced.

But let the configuration of the surface be still farther varied, and let some large district within or near the tropics, such as Brazil, with its plains and hills of moderate height, be converted into sea, while lands of equal elevation and extent rise up in the arctic circle. From this change there would, in the first place, result a sensible diminution of temperature near the tropic, for the Brazilian soil would no longer be heated by the sun; so that the atmosphere would be less warm, as also the neighboring Atlantic. On the other hand, the whole of Europe, Northern Asia, and North America, would be chilled by the enormous quantity of ice and snow, thus generated on the new arctic continent. If, as we have already seen, there are now some points in the southern hemisphere where snow is perpetual down to the level of the sea, in latitudes as low as central England, such might assuredly be the case throughout a great part of Europe, under the change of circumstances above supposed: and if at present the extreme range of drifted icebergs is the Azores, they might easily reach the equator after the assumed alteration. But to pursue the subject still farther, let the Himalaya mountains, with the whole of Hindostan, sink down, and their place be occupied by the Indian Ocean, while an equal extent of territory and mountains, of the same vast height, rise up between North Greenland and the Orkney Islands. It seems difficult to exaggerate the amount to which the climate of the northern hemisphere would then be cooled.22

But the refrigeration brought about at the same time in the southern hemisphere, would be nearly equal, and the difference of temperature between the arctic and equatorial latitudes would not be much greater than at present; for no important disturbance can occur in the climate of a particular region without its immediately affecting all other latitudes, however remote. The heat and cold which surround the globe are in a state of constant and universal flux and reflux. The heated and rarefied air is always rising and flowing from the equator towards the poles in the higher regions of the atmosphere; while in the lower, the colder air is flowing back to restore the equilibrium. That this circulation is constantly going on in the aerial currents is not disputed; it is often proved by the opposite course of the clouds at different heights, and the fact has been farther illustrated in a striking manner by two recent events. The trade wind continually blows with great force from the island of Barbadoes to that of St. Vincent; notwithstanding which, during the eruption of the volcano in the island of St. Vincent, in 1812, ashes fell in profusion from a great height in the atmosphere upon Barbadoes.23 In like manner, during the great eruption of Sumbawa, in 1815, ashes were carried to the islands of Amboyna and Banda, which last is about 800 miles east from the site of the volcano. Yet the southeast monsoon was then at its height.24 This apparent transposition of matter against the wind, confirmed the opinion of the existence of a counter-current in the higher regions, which had previously rested on theoretical conclusions only.

That a corresponding interchange takes place in the seas, is demonstrated, according to Humboldt, by the cold which is found to exist at great depths within the tropics; and, among other proofs, may be mentioned the mass of warmer water which the Gulf stream is constantly bearing northwards, while a cooler current flows from the north along the coast of Greenland and Labrador, and helps to restore the equilibrium.25

Currents of colder and therefore specifically heavier water pass from the poles towards the equator, which cool the inferior parts of the ocean; so that the heat of the torrid zone and the cold of the polar circle balance each other. The refrigeration, therefore, of the polar regions, resulting from the supposed alteration in the distribution of land and sea, would be immediately communicated to the tropics, and from them its influence would extend to the antarctic circle, where the atmosphere and the ocean would be cooled, so that ice and snow would augment. Although the mean temperature of higher latitudes in the southern hemisphere is, as before stated, for the most part, lower than that of the same parallels in the northern, yet, for a considerable space on each side of the line, the mean annual heat of the waters is found to be the same in corresponding parallels. If, therefore, by the new position of the land, the formation of icebergs had become of common occurrence in the northern temperate zone, and if these were frequently drifted as far as the equator, the same degree of cold which they generated would immediately be communicated as far as the tropic of Capricorn, and from thence to the lands or ocean to the south.

The freedom, then, of the circulation of heat and cold from pole to pole being duly considered, it will be evident that the mean temperature which may prevail at the same point at two distinct periods, may differ far more widely than that of any two points in the same parallels of latitude, at one and the same period. For the range of temperature, or in other words, the curvature of the isothermal lines in a given zone, and at a given period, must always be circumscribed within narrow limits, the climate of each place in that zone being controlled by the combined influence of the geographical peculiarities of all other parts of the earth. Whereas, if we compare the state of things at two distinct and somewhat distant epochs, a particular zone may at one time be under the influence of one class of disturbing causes, and at another time may be affected by an opposite combination. The lands, for example, to the north of Greenland cause the present climate of North America to be colder than that of Europe in the same latitudes; but the excess of cold is not so great as it would have been if the western hemisphere had been entirely isolated, or separated from the eastern like a distinct planet. For not only does the refrigeration produced by Greenland chill to a certain extent the atmosphere of northern and western Europe, but the mild climate of Europe reacts also upon North America, and moderates the chilling influence of the adjoining polar lands.

To return to the state of the earth after the changes above supposed, we must not omit to dwell on the important effects to which a wide expanse of perpetual snow would give rise. It is probable that nearly the whole sea, from the poles to the parallels of 45°, would be frozen over; for it is well known that the immediate proximity of land is not essential to the formation and increase of field ice, provided there be in some part of the same zone a sufficient quantity of glaciers generated on or near the land, to cool down the sea. Captain Scoresby, in his account of the arctic regions, observes, that when the sun’s rays “fall upon the snow-clad surface of the ice or land, they are in a great measure reflected, without producing any material elevation of temperature; but when they impinge on the black exterior of a ship, the pitch on one side occasionally becomes fluid while ice is rapidly generated at the other.”26

Now field ice is almost always covered with snow;27 and thus not only land as extensive as our existing continents, but immense tracts of sea in the frigid and temperate zones, might present a solid surface covered with snow, and reflecting the sun’s rays for the greater part of the year. Within the tropics, moreover, where the ocean now predominates, the sky would no longer be serene and clear, as in the present era; but masses of floating ice would cause quick condensations of vapor, so that fogs and clouds would deprive the vertical rays of the sun of half their power. The whole planet, therefore, would receive annually a smaller portion of the solar influence, and the external crust would part, by radiation, with some of the heat which had been accumulated in it, during a different state of the surface. This heat would be dissipated in the spaces surrounding our atmosphere, which, according to the calculations of M. Fourier, have a temperature much inferior to that of freezing water.

After the geographical revolution above assumed, the climate of equinoctial lands might be brought at last to resemble that of the present temperate zone, or perhaps be far more wintry. They who should then inhabit such small isles and coral reefs as are now seen in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, would wonder that zoophytes of large dimensions had once been so prolific in their seas; or if, perchance, they found the wood and fruit of the cocoa-nut tree or the palm silicified by the waters of some ancient mineral spring, or incrusted with calcareous matter, they would muse on the revolutions which had annihilated such genera, and replaced them by the oak, the chestnut, and the pine. With equal admiration would they compare the skeletons of their small lizards with the bones of fossil alligators and crocodiles more than twenty feet in length, which, at a former epoch, had multiplied between the tropics: and when they saw a pine included in an iceberg, drifted from latitudes which we now call temperate, they would be astonished at the proof thus afforded, that forests had once grown where nothing could be seen in their own times but a wilderness of snow.

If the reader hesitate to suppose so extensive an alteration of temperature as the probable consequence of geographical changes, confined to one hemisphere, he should remember how great are the local anomalies in climate now resulting from the peculiar distribution of land and sea in certain regions. Thus, in the island of South Georgia, before mentioned (p. 98), Captain Cook found the everlasting snows descending to the level of the sea, between lat. 54° and 55° S.; no trees or shrubs were to be seen, and in summer a few rocks only, after a partial melting of the ice and snow, were scantily covered with moss and tufts of grass. If such a climate can now exist at the level of the sea in a latitude corresponding to that of Yorkshire in spite of all those equalizing causes before enumerated, by which the mixture of the temperatures of distant regions is facilitated throughout the globe, what rigors might we not anticipate in a winter generated by the transfer of the mountains of India to our arctic circle!

But we have still to contemplate the additional refrigeration which might be effected by changes in the relative position of land and sea in the southern hemisphere. If the remaining continents were transferred from the equatorial and contiguous latitudes to the south polar regions, the intensity of cold produced might, perhaps, render the globe uninhabitable. We are too ignorant of the laws governing the direction of subterranean forces, to determine whether such a crisis be within the limits of possibility. At the same time, it may be observed, that no distribution of land can well be imagined more irregular, or, as it were, capricious, than that which now prevails; for at present, the globe may be divided into two equal parts, in such a manner, that one hemisphere shall be almost entirely covered with water, while the other shall contain less water than land (see figs. 3 and 4);28 and, what is still more extraordinary, on comparing the extratropical lands in the northern and southern hemispheres, the lands in the northern are found to be to those in the southern in the proportion of thirteen to one!29 To imagine all the lands, therefore, in high, and all the sea in low latitudes, as delineated in fig. 6. p. 111, would scarcely be a more anomalous state of the surface.

22 Mr. Hopkins, reasoning on data furnished by Dove’s Isothermal maps, has arrived at the very interesting conclusion, that both on Snowdon and the lower mountains of the West of Ireland the snow-line would descend to within 1000 feet of the sea level, and glaciers reach the sea, if we could simply assume the three following geographical changes:—

1st, The diversion of the Gulf stream from its present northerly course; 2dly, the depression of the existing land of Northern and Western Europe, to the amount of no more than 500 feet; and 3dly, a cold current from the North sweeping over the submerged area. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1852, p. 85.

23 Daniell’s Meteorological Essays, p. 103.

24 Observed by J. Crawfurd, Esq.

25 In speaking of the circulation of air and water in this chapter, no allusion is made to the trade winds, or to irregularities in the direction of currents, caused by the rotary motion of the earth. These causes prevent the movements from being direct from north to south, or from south to north, but they do not affect the theory of a constant circulation.

26 See Scoreby’s Arctic Regions, vol. i. p. 378.

27 Ibid. p. 320.

28 This is shown by projecting a map on the horizon of London, that is to say, by supposing the eye of the observer to be placed above that city, and to see from thence one half of the globe. For it so happens that from that point, and no other, we should behold the greatest possible quantity of land; and if we are then transferred to the opposite or antipodal point, we should see the greatest possible quantity of water. (See figs. 3 and 4.) A singular fact, first pointed out by Mr. James Gardner, namely, that only one twenty-seventh part of the dry land has any land opposite to it, is intimately connected with this excess of land in one of the two hemispheres above alluded to. Thus, in fig. 3, the land shaded black in part of China answers to that portion of the extremity of South America and Tierra del Fuego which is opposite or antipodal to it, whilst the dark spots in the northern and central parts of South America represent Borneo, Sumatra, and other antipodal islands in the Eastern Archipelago. See Gardner, Geol. Soc. Proceedings, 1833, vol. i. p. 488.

29 Humboldt on Isothermal Lines

Map showing the present unequal Distribution of Land and Water on the Surface of the Globe.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.

Fig. 3. Here London is taken as a centre, and we behold the greatest quantity of land existing in one hemisphere.

Fig. 4. Here the centre is the antipodal point to London, and we see the greatest quantity of water existing in one hemisphere.

The black shading expresses land having land opposite or antipodal to it.

Maps showing the position of Land and Sea which might produce the Extremes of Heat and Cold in the Climates of the Globe.

Fig. 5.

Extreme of Heat.

Fig. 6.

Extreme of Cold.

Observations.—These maps are intended to show that continents and islands having the same shape and relative dimensions as those now existing, might be placed so as to occupy either the equatorial or polar regions.

In fig. 5, scarcely any of the land extends from the equator towards the poles beyond the 30th parallel of latitude; and fig. 6, a very small proportion of it extends from the poles towards the Equator beyond the 40th parallel of latitude.

Position of land and sea which might give rise to the extreme of heat.—Let us now turn from the contemplation of the winter of the “great year,” and consider the opposite train of circumstances which would bring on the spring and summer. To imagine all the lands to be collected together in equatorial latitudes, and a few promontories only to project beyond the thirtieth parallel, as represented in the annexed maps (figs. 5 and 6), would be undoubtedly to suppose an extreme result of geological change. But if we consider a mere approximation to such a state of things, it would be sufficient to cause a general elevation of temperature. Nor can it be regarded as a visionary idea, that amidst the revolutions of the earth’s surface, the quantity of land should, at certain periods, have been simultaneously lessened in the vicinity of both the poles, and increased within the tropics. We must recollect that even now it is necessary to ascend to the height of fifteen thousand feet in the Andes under the line, and in the Himalaya mountains, which are without the tropic, to seventeen thousand feet, before we reach the limit of perpetual snow. On the northern slope, indeed, of the Himalaya range, where the heat radiated from a great continent moderates the cold, there are meadows and cultivated land at an elevation equal to the height of Mont Blanc.30 If then there were no arctic lands to chill the atmosphere, and freeze the sea, and if the loftiest chains were near the line, it seems reasonable to imagine that the highest mountains might be clothed with a rich vegetation to their summits, and that nearly all signs of frost would disappear from the earth.

When the absorption of the solar rays was in no region impeded, even in winter, by a coat of snow, the mean heat of the earth’s crust would augment to considerable depths, and springs, which we know to be in general an index of the mean temperature of the climate, would be warmer in all latitudes. The waters of lakes, therefore, and rivers, would be much hotter in winter, and would be never chilled in summer by melted snow and ice. A remarkable uniformity of climate would prevail amid the archipelagoes of the temperate and polar oceans, where the tepid waters of equatorial currents would freely circulate. The general humidity of the atmosphere would far exceed that of the present period, for increased heat would promote evaporation in all parts of the globe. The winds would be first heated in their passage over the tropical plains, and would then gather moisture from the surface of the deep, till, charged with vapor, they arrived at extreme northern and southern regions, and there encountering a cooler atmosphere, discharged their burden in warm rain. If, during the long night of a polar winter, the snows should whiten the summits of some arctic islands, they would be dissolved as rapidly by the returning sun, as are the snows of Etna by the blasts of the sirocco.

We learn from those who have studied the geographical distribution of plants, that in very low latitudes, at present, the vegetation of small islands remote from continents has a peculiar character; the ferns and allied families, in particular, bearing a great proportion to the total number of other plants. Other circumstances being the same, the more remote the isles are from the continents, the greater does this proportion become. Thus, in the continent of India, and the tropical parts of New Holland, the proportion of ferns to the phænogamous plants is only as one to twenty-six; whereas, in the South-Sea Islands, it is as one to four, or even as one to three.31

We might expect, therefore, in the summer of the “great year,” or cycle of climate, that there would be a predominance of tree ferns and plants allied to genera now called tropical, in the islands of the wide ocean, while many forms now confined to arctic and temperate regions, or only found near the equator on the summit of the loftiest mountains, would almost disappear from the earth. Then might those genera of animals return, of which the memorials are preserved in the ancient rocks of our continents. The pterodactyle might flit again through the air, the huge iguanodon reappear in the woods, and the ichthyosaurs swarm once more in the sea. Coral reefs might be prolonged again beyond the arctic circle, where the whale and the narwal now abound; and droves of turtles might begin again to wander through regions now tenanted by the walrus and the seal.

But not to indulge too far in these speculations, I may observe, in conclusion, that however great, during the lapse of ages, may be the vicissitudes of temperature in every zone, it accords with this theory that the general climate should not experience any sensible change in the course of a few thousand years; because that period is insufficient to affect the leading features of the physical geography of the globe.

Notwithstanding the apparent uncertainty of the seasons, it is found that the mean temperature of particular localities is very constant, when observations made for a sufficient series of years are compared.

Yet there must be exceptions to this rule; and even the labors of man have, by the drainage of lakes and marshes, and the felling of extensive forests, caused such changes in the atmosphere as greatly to raise our conception of the more important influence of those forces to which, in certain latitudes, even the existence of land or water, hill or valley, lake or sea, must be ascribed. If we possessed accurate information of the amount of local fluctuation in climate in the course of twenty centuries, it would often, undoubtedly, be considerable. Certain tracts, for example, on the coast of Holland and of England consisted of cultivated land in the time of the Romans, which the sea, by gradual encroachments, has at length occupied. Here, at least, a slight alteration has been effected; for neither the distribution of heat in the different seasons, nor the mean annual temperature of the atmosphere investing the sea, is precisely the same as that which rests upon the land.

In those countries, also, where earthquakes and volcanoes are in full activity, a much shorter period may produce a sensible variation. The climate of the great table-land of Malpais in Mexico, must differ materially from that which prevailed before the middle of the last century; for, since that time, six mountains, the highest of them rising sixteen hundred feet above the plateau, have been thrown up by volcanic eruptions. It is by the repetition of an indefinite number of such local revolutions, and by slow movements extending simultaneously over wider areas, as will be afterwards shown, that a general change of climate may finally be brought about.

30 Humboldt, Tableaux de la Nature, tom. i. p. 112.

31 Ad. Brongniart, Consid. Générales sur la Nat. de la Végét. &c. Ann. des Sciences Nat., Nov. 1828.

Chapter 8.

On Former Changes in Physical Geography and Climate.

Geographical features of the northern hemisphere, at the period of the oldest fossiliferous strata—State of the surface when the mountain limestone and coal were deposited—Changes in physical geography, between the carboniferous period and the chalk—Abrupt transition from the secondary to the tertiary fossils—Accession of land, and elevation of mountain chains, after the consolidation of the secondary rocks—Explanation of Map, showing the area covered by sea, since the commencement of the tertiary period—Astronomical theories of the causes of variations in climate—Theory of the diminution of the supposed primitive heat of the globe.

In the sixth chapter, I stated the arguments derived from organic remains for concluding that in the period when the carboniferous strata were deposited, the temperature of the ocean and the air was more uniform in the different seasons of the year, and in different latitudes, than at present, and that there was a remarkable absence of cold as well as great moisture in the atmosphere. It was also shown that the climate had been modified more than once since that epoch, and that it had been reduced, by successive changes, more and more nearly to that now prevailing in the same latitudes. Farther, I endeavored, in the last chapter, to prove that vicissitudes in climate of no less importance may be expected to recur in future, if it be admitted that causes now active in nature have power, in the lapse of ages, to produce considerable variations in the relative position of land and sea. It remains to inquire whether the alterations, which the geologist can prove to have actually taken place at former periods, in the geographical features of the northern hemisphere, coincide in their nature, and in the time of their occurrence, with such revolutions in climate as might naturally have resulted, according to the meteorological principles already explained.

Period of the primary fossiliferous rocks.—The oldest system of strata which afford by their organic remains any evidence as to climate, or the former position of land and sea, are those formerly known as the transition rocks, or what have since been termed Lower Silurian or “primary fossiliferous” formations. These have been found in England, France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and other parts of central and northern Europe, as also in the great Lake district of Canada and the United States. The multilocular or chambered univalves, including the Nautilus, and the corals, obtained from the limestones of these ancient groups, have been compared to forms now most largely developed in tropical seas. The corals, however, have been shown by M. Milne Edwards to differ generally from all living zoophytes; so that conclusions as to a warmer climate drawn from such remote analogies must be received with caution. Hitherto, few, if any, contemporaneous vegetable remains have been noticed; but such as are mentioned agree more nearly with the plants of the carboniferous era than any other, and would therefore imply a warm and humid atmosphere entirely free from intense cold throughout the year.

This absence or great scarcity of plants as well as of freshwater shells and other indications of neighboring land, coupled with the wide extent of marine strata of this age in Europe and North America, are facts which imply such a state of physical geography (so far at least as regards the northern hemisphere) as would, according to the principles before explained, give rise to such a moist and equable climate. (See p. 109, and fig. 5, p. 111.)

Carboniferous group.—This group comes next in the order of succession; and one of its principal members, the mountain limestone, was evidently a marine formation, as is shown by the shells and corals which it contains. That the ocean of that period was of considerable extent in our latitudes, we may infer from the continuity of these calcareous strata over large areas in Europe, Canada, and the United States. The same group has also been traced in North America, towards the borders of the arctic sea.1

There are also several regions in Scotland, and in the central and northern parts of England, as well as in the United States, where marine carboniferous limestones alternate with strata containing coal, in such a manner as to imply the drifting down of plants by rivers into the sea, and the alternate occupation of the same space by fresh and salt water.

Since the time of the earlier writers, no strata have been more extensively investigated, both in Europe and North America, than those of the ancient carboniferous group, and the progress of science has led to a general belief that a large portion of the purest coal has been formed, not, as was once imagined, by vegetable matter floated from a distance, but by plants which grew on the spot, and somewhat in the manner of peat on the spaces now covered by the beds of coal. The former existence of land in some of these spaces has been proved, as already stated, by the occurrence of numerous upright fossil trees, with their roots terminating downwards in seams of coal; and still more generally by the roots of trees (stigmariæ) remaining in their natural position in the clays which underlie almost every layer of coal.

As some nearly continuous beds of such coal have of late years been traced in North America, over areas 100 or 200 miles and upwards in diameter, it may be asked whether the large tracts of ancient land implied by this fact are not inconsistent with the hypothesis of the general prevalence of islands at the period under consideration? In reply, I may observe that the coal-fields must originally have been low alluvial grounds, resembling in situation the cypress-swamps of the Mississippi, or the sunderbunds of the Ganges, being liable like them to be inundated at certain periods by a river or by the sea, if the land should be depressed a few feet. All the phenomena, organic and inorganic, imply conditions nowhere to be met with except in the deltas of large rivers. We have to account for an abundant supply of fluviatile sediment, carried for ages towards one and the same region, and capable of forming strata of mud and sand thousands of feet, or even fathoms, in thickness, many of them consisting of laminated shale, inclosing the leaves of ferns and other terrestrial plants. We have also to explain the frequent intercalations of root-beds, and the interposition here and there of brackish and marine deposits, demonstrating the occasional presence of the neighboring sea. But these forest-covered deltas could only have been formed at the termination of large hydrographical basins, each drained by a great river and its tributaries; and the accumulation of sediment bears testimony to contemporaneous denudation on a large scale, and, therefore, to a wide area of land, probably containing within it one or more mountain chains.

In the case of the great Ohio or Appalachian coal-field, the largest in the world, it seems clear that the uplands drained by one or more great rivers were chiefly to the eastward, or they occupied a space now filled by part of the Atlantic Ocean, for the mechanical deposits of mud and sand increase greatly in thickness and coarseness of material as we approach the eastern borders of the coal-field, or the southeast flanks of the Alleghany mountains, near Philadelphia. In that region numerous beds of pebbles, often of the size of a hen’s egg, are seen to alternate with beds of pure coal.

But the American coal-fields are all comprised within the 30th and 50th degrees of north latitude; and there is no reason to presume that the lands at the borders of which they originated ever penetrated so far or in such masses into the colder and arctic regions, so as to generate a cold climate. In the southern hemisphere, where the predominance of sea over land is now the distinguishing geographical feature, we nevertheless find a large part of the continent of Australia, as well as New Zealand, placed between the 30th and 50th degrees of S. latitude. The two islands of New Zealand taken together, are between 800 and 900 miles in length, with a breadth in some parts of ninety miles, and they stretch as far south as the 46th degree of latitude. They afford, therefore, a wide area for the growth of a terrestrial vegetation, and the botany of this region is characterized by abundance of ferns, one hundred and forty species of which are already known, some of them attaining the size of trees. In this respect the southern shores of New Zealand in the 46th degree of latitude almost vie with tropical islands. Another point of resemblance between the Flora of New Zealand and that of the ancient carboniferous period is the prevalence of the fir tribe or of coniferous wood.

An argument of some weight in corroboration of the theory above explained respecting the geographical condition of the temperate and arctic latitudes of the northern hemisphere in the carboniferous period may also be derived from ah examination of those groups of strata which immediately preceded the coal. The fossils of the Devonian and Silurian strata in Europe and North America have led to the conclusion, that they were formed for the most part in deep seas, far from land. In those older strata land plants are almost as rare as they are abundant or universal in the coal measures. Those ancient deposits, therefore, may be supposed to have belonged to an epoch when dry land had only just begun to be upraised from the deep; a theory which would imply the existence during the carboniferous epoch of islands, instead of an extensive continent, in the area where the coal was formed.

Such a state of things prevailing in the north, from the pole to the 30th parallel of latitude, if not neutralized by circumstances of a contrary tendency in corresponding regions south of the line, would give rise to a general warmth and uniformity of climate throughout the globe.

Changes in physical geography between the formation of the carboniferous strata and the chalk.—We have evidence in England that the strata of the ancient carboniferous group, already adverted to, were, in many instances, fractured and contorted, and often thrown into a vertical position, before the deposition of some even of the oldest known secondary rocks, such as the new red sandstone.

Fragments of the older formations are sometimes included in the conglomerates of the more modern; and some of these fragments still retain their fossil shells and corals, so as to enable us to determine the parent rocks from whence they were derived. There are other proofs of the disturbance at successive epochs of different secondary rocks before the deposition of others; and satisfactory evidence that, during these reiterated convulsions, the geographical features of the northern hemisphere were frequently modified, and that from time to time new lands emerged from the deep. The vegetation, during some parts of the period in question (from the lias to the chalk inclusive), when genera allied to Cycas and Zamia were abundant, appears to have approached to that of the larger islands of the equatorial zone; such, for example, as we now find in the West Indian archipelago.2 These islands appear to have been drained by rivers of considerable size, which were inhabited by crocodiles and gigantic oviparous reptiles, both herbivorous and carnivorous, belonging for the most part to extinct genera. Of the contemporary inhabitants of the land we have as yet acquired but scanty information, but we know that there were flying reptiles, insects, and small mammifers, allied to the marsupial tribes.

A freshwater deposit, called the Wealden, occurs in the upper part of the secondary series of the south of England, which, by its extent and fossils, attests the existence in that region of a large river draining a continent or island of considerable dimensions. We know that this land was clothed with wood, and inhabited by huge terrestrial reptiles and birds. Its position so far to the north as the counties of Surrey and Sussex, at a time when the mean temperature of the climate is supposed to have been much hotter than at present, may at first sight appear inconsistent with the theory before explained, that the heat was caused by the gathering together of all the great masses of land in low latitudes, while the northern regions were almost entirely sea. But it must not be taken for granted that the geographical conditions already described (p. 109, and fig. 5, p. 111) as capable of producing the extreme of heat were ever combined at any geological period of which we have yet obtained information. It is more probable, from what has been stated in the preceding chapters, that a slight approximation to such an extreme state of things would be sufficient; in other words, if most of the dry land were tropical, and scarcely any of it arctic or antarctic, a prodigious elevation of temperature must ensue, even though a part of some continents should penetrate far into the temperate zones.

Changes during the tertiary periods.—The secondary and tertiary formations of Europe, when considered separately, may be contrasted as having very different characters; the secondary appearing to have been deposited in open seas, the tertiary in regions where dry land, lakes, bays, and perhaps inland seas, abounded. The secondary series is almost exclusively marine; the tertiary, even the oldest part, contains lacustrine strata, and not unfrequently freshwater and marine beds alternating. In fact there is evidence of important geographical changes having occurred between the deposition of the cretaceous system, or uppermost of the secondary series, and that of the oldest tertiary group, and still more between the era of the latter and that of the newer tertiary formations. This change in the physical geography of Europe and North America was accompanied by an alteration no less remarkable in organic life, scarcely any species being common both to the secondary and tertiary rocks, and the fossils of the latter affording evidence of a different climate.

On the other hand, when we compare the tertiary formations of successive ages, we trace a gradual approximation in the imbedded fossils, from an assemblage in which extinct species predominate, to one where the species agree for the most part with those now existing. In other words, we find a gradual increase of animals and plants fitted for our present climates, in proportion as the strata which we examine are more modern. Now, during all these successive tertiary periods, there are signs of a great increase of land in European and North American latitudes. By reference to the map (Pl. 1), and its description, p. 121. the reader will see that about two-thirds of the present European lands have emerged since the earliest tertiary group originated. Nor is this the only revolution which the same region has undergone within the period alluded to, some tracts which were previously land having gained in altitude, others, on the contrary, having sunk below their former level.

That the existing lands were not all upheaved at once into their present position is proved by the most striking evidence. Several Italian geologists, even before the time of Brocchi, had justly inferred that the Apennines were elevated several thousand feet above the level of the Mediterranean before the deposition of the modern Subapennine beds which flank them on either side. What now constitutes the central calcareous chain of the Apennines must for a long time have been a narrow ridgy peninsula, branching off, at its northern extremity, from the Alps near Savona. This peninsula has since been raised from one to two thousand feet, by which movement the ancient shores, and, for a certain extent, the bed of the contiguous sea, have been laid dry, both on the side of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic.

Fig. 7.

The nature of these vicissitudes will be explained by the accompanying diagram, which represents a transverse section across the Italian peninsula. The inclined strata A are the disturbed formations of the Apennines, into which the ancient igneous rocks a are supposed to have intruded themselves. At a lower level on each flank of the chain are the more recent shelly beds b b, which often contain rounded pebbles derived from the waste of contiguous parts of the older Apennine limestone. These, it will be seen, are horizontal, and lie in what is termed “unconformable stratification” on the more ancient series. They now constitute a line of hills of moderate elevation between the sea and the Apennines, but never penetrate to the higher and more ancient valleys of that chain.

The same phenomena are exhibited in the Alps on a much grander scale; those mountains being composed in some even of their higher regions of the newer secondary and oldest tertiary formations, while they are encircled by a great zone of more modern tertiary rocks both on their southern flank towards the plains of the Po, and on the side of Switzerland and Austria, and at their eastern termination towards Styria and Hungary.3 This newer tertiary zone marks the position of former seas or gulfs, like the Adriatic, wherein masses of strata accumulated, some single groups of which are not inferior in thickness to the most voluminous of our secondary formations in England. Some even of these newer groups have been raised to the height of three or four thousand feet, and in proportion to their antiquity, they generally rise to greater heights, the older of them forming interior zones nearest to the central ridges of the Alps. We have already ascertained that the Alps gained accessions to their height and width at several successive periods, and that the last series of improvements occurred when the seas were inhabited by many existing species of animals.

We may imagine some future series of convulsions once more to heave up this stupendous chain, together with the adjoining bed of the sea, so that the mountains of Europe may rival the Andes in elevation; in which case the deltas of the Po, Adige, and Brenta, now encroaching upon the Adriatic, might be uplifted so as to form another exterior belt of considerable height around the southeastern flank of the Alps.

The Pyrenees, also, have acquired their present altitude, which in Mont Perdu exceeds eleven thousand feet, since the deposition of the nummulitic or Eocene division of the tertiary series. Some of the tertiary strata at the base of the chain are raised to the height of only a few hundred feet above the sea, and retain a horizontal position, without partaking in general in the disturbance to which the older series has been subjected; so that the great barrier between France and Spain was almost entirely upheaved in the interval between the deposition of certain groups of tertiary strata.

The remarkable break between the most modern of the known secondary rocks and the oldest tertiary, may be apparent only, and ascribable to the present deficiency of our information. Already the marles and green sand of Heers near Tongres, in Belgium, observed by M. Dumont, and the “pisolitic limestone” of the neighborhood of Paris, both intermediate in age between the Maestricht chalk and the lower Eocene strata, begin to afford us signs of a passage from one state of things to another. Nevertheless, it is far from impossible that the interval between the chalk and tertiary formations constituted an era in the earth’s history, when the transition from one class of organic beings to another was, comparatively speaking, rapid. For if the doctrines above explained in regard to vicissitudes of temperature are sound, it will follow that changes of equal magnitude in the geographical features of the globe may at different periods produce very unequal effects on climate; and, so far as the existence of certain animals and plants depends on climate, the duration of species would be shortened or protracted, according to the rate at which the change of temperature proceeded.

For even if we assume that the intensity of the subterranean disturbing forces is uniform and capable of producing nearly equal amounts of alteration on the surface of the planet, during equal periods of time, still the rate of alteration in climate would be by no means uniform. Let us imagine the quantity of land between the equator and the tropic in one hemisphere to be to that in the other as thirteen to one, which, as before stated, represents the unequal proportion of the extra-tropical lands in the two hemispheres at present. (See figs. 3 and 4, p. 110.) Then let the first geographical change consist in the shifting of this preponderance of land from one side of the line to the other; from the southern hemisphere, for example, to the northern. Now this need not affect the general temperature of the earth. But if, at another epoch, we suppose a continuance of the same agency to transfer an equal volume of land from the torrid zone to the temperate and arctic regions of the northern and southern hemispheres, or into one of them, there might be so great a refrigeration of the mean temperature in all latitudes, that scarcely any of the pre-existing races of animals would survive; and, unless it pleased the Author of Nature that the planet should be uninhabited, new species, and probably of widely different forms, would then be substituted in the room of the extinct. We ought not, therefore, to infer that equal periods of time are always attended by an equal amount of change in organic life, since a great fluctuation in the mean temperature of the earth, the most influential cause which can be conceived in exterminating whole races of animals and plants, must, in different epochs, require unequal portions of time for its completion.

Plate i. Map showing the extent of surface in Europe which has at one period or another been covered by the sea since the commencement of the deposition of the older or Eocene Tertiary strata.

This map will enable the reader to perceive at a glance the great extent of change in the physical geography of Europe, which can be proved to have taken place since some of the older tertiary strata began to be deposited. The proofs of submergence, during some part or other of this period, in all the districts distinguished by ruled lines, are of a most unequivocal character; for the area thus described is now covered by deposits containing the fossil remains of animals which could only have lived in salt water. The most ancient part of the period referred to cannot be deemed very remote, considered geologically; because the deposits of the Paris and London basins, and many other districts belonging to the older tertiary epoch, are newer than the greater part of the sedimentary rocks (those commonly called secondary and primary fossiliferous or paleozoic) of which the crust of the globe is composed. The species, moreover, of marine testacea, of which the remains are found in these older tertiary formations, are not entirely distinct from such as now live. Yet, notwithstanding the comparatively recent epoch to which this retrospect is carried, the variations in the distribution of land and sea depicted on the map form only a part of those which must have taken place during the period under consideration. Some approximation has merely been made to an estimate of the amount of sea converted into land in parts of Europe best known to geologists; but we cannot determine how much land has become sea during the same period; and there may have been repeated interchanges of land and water in the same places, changes of which no account is taken in the map, and respecting the amount of which little accurate information can ever be obtained.

I have extended the sea in some instances beyond the limits of the land now covered by tertiary formations, and marine drift, because other geological data have been obtained for inferring the submergence of these tracts after the deposition of the Eocene strata had begun. Thus, for example, there are good reasons for concluding that part of the chalk of England (the North and South Downs, for example, together with the intervening secondary tracts) continued beneath the sea until the oldest tertiary beds had begun to accumulate.

A strait of the sea separating England and Wales has also been introduced, on the evidence afforded by shells of existing species found in a deposit of gravel, sand, loam, and clay, called the northern drift, by Sir R. Murchison.4 And Mr. Trimmer has discovered similar recent marine shells on the northern coast of North Wales, and on Moel Tryfane, near the Menai Straits, at the height of 1392 feet above the level of the sea!

Some raised sea-beaches, and drift containing marine shells, which I examined in 1843, between Limerick and Dublin, and which have been traced over other parts of Ireland by different geologists, have required an extension of the dark lines so as to divide that island into several. In improving this part of my map I have been especially indebted to the assistance of Mr. Oldham, who in 1843 announced to the British Association at Cork the fact that at the period when the drift or glacial beds were deposited, Ireland must have formed an archipelago such as is here depicted. A considerable part of Scotland might also have been represented in a similar manner as under water when the drift originated.

A portion of Brittany is divided into islands, because it is known to be covered with patches of marine tertiary strata chiefly miocene. When I examined these in 1830 and 1843, I convinced myself that the sea must have covered much larger areas than are now occupied by these small and detached deposits. The former connection of the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland is proved by the fact that a multitude of huge erratic blocks extend over the intervening space, and a large portion of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, as well as Germany and Russia, are represented as sea, on the same evidence, strengthened by the actual occurrence of fossil sea-shells, of recent species, in the drift of various portions of those countries. The submergence of considerable areas under large bodies of fresh water, during the tertiary period, of which there are many striking geological proofs in Auvergne, and elsewhere, has not been expressed by ruled lines. They bear testimony to the former existence of neighboring lands, and a certain elevation of the areas where they occur above the level of the ocean; they are therefore left blank, together with all the space that cannot be demonstrated to have been part of the sea at some time or other, since the commencement of the Eocene epoch.

In compiling this map, which has been entirely recast since the first edition, I have availed myself of the latest geological maps of the British isles, and north of Europe; also of those published by the government surveyors of France, MM. de Beaumont and Dufresnoy; the map of Germany and part of Europe, by Von Dechen, and that of Italy by M. Tchihatchoff (Berlin, 1842). Lastly, Sir R. Murchison’s important map of Russia, and the adjoining countries, has enabled me to mark out not only a considerable area, previously little known, in which tertiary formations occur; but also a still wider expanse, over which the northern drift, and erratic blocks with occasional marine shells, are traceable. The southern limits of these glacial deposits in Russia and Germany indicate the boundary, so far as we can now determine it, of the northern ocean, at a period immediately antecedent to that of the human race.

I was anxious, even in the title of this map, to guard the reader against the supposition that it was intended to represent the state of the physical geography of part of Europe at any one point of time. The difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of restoring the geography of the globe as it may have existed at any former period, especially a remote one, consists in this, that we can only point out where part of the sea has been turned into land, and are almost always unable to determine what land may have become sea. All maps, therefore, pretending to represent the geography of remote geological epochs must be ideal. The map under consideration is not a restoration of a former state of things, at any particular moment of time, but a synoptical view of a certain amount of one kind of change (the conversion of sea into land) known to have been brought about within a given period.

It may be proper to remark that the vertical movements to which the land is subject in certain regions, occasion alternately the subsidence and the uprising of the surface; and that, by such oscillations at successive periods, a great area may have been entirely covered with marine deposits, although the whole may never have been beneath the waters at one time; nay, even though the relative proportion of land and sea may have continued unaltered throughout the whole period. I believe, however, that since the commencement of the tertiary period, the dry land in the northern hemisphere has been continually on the increase, both because it is now greatly in excess beyond the average proportion which land generally bears to water on the globe, and because a comparison of the secondary and tertiary strata affords indications, as I have already shown, of a passage from the condition of an ocean interspersed with islands to that of a large continent.

But supposing it were possible to represent all the vicissitudes in the distribution of land and sea that have occurred during the tertiary period, and to exhibit not only the actual existence of land where there was once sea, but also the extent of surface now submerged which may once have been land, the map would still fail to express all the important revolutions in physical geography which have taken place within the epoch under consideration. For the oscillations of level, as was before stated, have not merely been such as to lift up the land from below the water, but in some cases to occasion a rise of many thousand feet above the sea. Thus the Alps have acquired an additional altitude of 4000, and even in some places 10,000 feet; and the Apennines owe a considerable part of their present height to subterranean convulsions which have happened within the tertiary epoch.

On the other hand, some mountain chains may have been lowered during the same series of ages, in an equal degree, and shoals may have been converted into deep abysses.5 Since this map was recast in 1847, geologists have very generally come to the conclusion that the nummulitic limestone, together with the overlying fucoidal grit and shale, called “Flysch,” in the Alps, belongs to the older tertiary or Eocene group. As these nummulitic rocks enter into the structure of some of the most lofty and disturbed parts of the Alps, Apennines, Carpathians, Pyrenees, and other mountain chains, and form many of the elevated lands of Africa and Asia, their position almost implies the ubiquity of the post-Eocene ocean, not, indeed, by the simultaneous, but by the successive, occupancy of the whole ground by its waters.6

Concluding remarks on changes in physical geography.—The foregoing observations, it may be said, are confined chiefly to Europe, and therefore merely establish the increase of dry land in a space which constitutes but a small portion of the northern hemisphere; but it was stated in the preceding chapter, that the great Lowland of Siberia, lying chiefly between the latitudes 55° and 75° N. (an area nearly equal to all Europe), is covered for the most part by marine strata, which, from the account given by Pallas, and more recently by Sir R. Murchison, belongs to a period when all or nearly all the shells were of a species still living in the north. The emergence, therefore, of this area from the deep is, comparatively speaking, a very modern event, and must, as before remarked, have caused a great increase of cold throughout the globe.

Upon a review, then, of all the facts above enumerated, respecting the ancient geography of the globe as attested by geological monuments, there appear good grounds for inferring that changes of climate coincided with remarkable revolutions in the former position of sea and land. A wide expanse of ocean, interspersed with islands, seems to have pervaded the northern hemisphere at the periods when the Silurian and carboniferous rocks were formed, and a warm and very uniform temperature then prevailed. Subsequent modifications in climate accompanied the deposition of the secondary formations, when repeated changes were effected in the physical geography of our northern latitudes. Lastly, the refrigeration became most decided, and the climate most nearly assimilated to that now enjoyed, when the lands in Europe and northern Asia had attained their full extension, and the mountain chains their actual height.

Soon after the first publication of this theory of climate, an objection was made by an anonymous German critic in 1833 that there are no geological proofs of the prevalence at any former period of a temperature lower than that now enjoyed; whereas, if the causes above assigned were the true ones, it might reasonably have been expected that fossil remains would sometimes indicate colder as well as hotter climates than those now established.7 In answer to this objection, I may suggest, that our present climates are probably far more distant from the extreme of possible heat than from its opposite extreme of cold. A glance at the map (fig. 6, p. 111) will show that all the existing lands might be placed between the 30th parallels of latitude on each side of the equator, and that even then they would by no means fill that space. In no other position would they give rise to so high a temperature. But the present geographical condition of the earth is so far removed from such a state of things, that the land lying between the poles and the parallels of 30, is in great excess; so much so that, instead of being to the sea in the proportion of 1 to 3, which is as near as possible the average general ratio throughout the globe, it is 9 to 23.8 Hence it ought not to surprise us if, in our geological retrospect, embracing perhaps a small part only of a complete cycle of change in the terrestrial climates, we should happen to discover everywhere the signs of a higher temperature. The strata hitherto examined may have originated when the quantity of equatorial land was always decreasing and the land in regions nearer the poles augmenting in height and area, until at length it attained its present excess in high latitudes. There is nothing improbable in supposing that the geographical revolutions of which we have hitherto obtained proofs had this general tendency; and in that case the refrigeration must have been constant, although, for reasons before explained, the rate of cooling may not have been uniform.

It may, however, be as well to recall the reader’s attention to what was before said of the indication brought to light of late years, of a considerable oscillation of temperature, in the period immediately preceding the human era. We have seen that on examining some of the most northern deposits, those commonly called the northern drift in Scotland, Ireland, and Canada, in which nearly all, in some cases, perhaps all, the fossil shells are of recent species, we discover the signs of a climate colder than that now prevailing in corresponding latitudes on both sides the Atlantic. It appears that an arctic fauna specifically resembling that of the present seas, extended farther to the south than now. This opinion is derived partly from the known habitations of the corresponding living species, and partly from the abundance of certain genera of shells and the absence of others.9 The date of the refrigeration thus inferred appears to coincide very nearly with the era of the dispersion of erratic blocks over Europe and North America, a phenomenon which will be ascribed in the sequel (ch. 16) to the cold then prevailing in the northern hemisphere. The force, moreover, of the German critic’s objection has been since in a great measure destroyed, by the larger and more profound knowledge acquired in the last few years of the ancient carboniferous flora, which has led the ablest botanists to adopt the opinion, that the climate of the coal period was remarkable for its warmth, moisture, equability, and freedom from cold, rather than the intensity of its tropical heat. We are therefore no longer entitled to assume that there has been a constant and gradual decline in the absolute amount of heat formerly contained in the atmosphere and waters of the ocean, such as it was conjectured might have emanated from the incandescent central nucleus of a new and nearly fluid planet, before the interior had lost, by radiation into surrounding space, a great part of its original high temperature.

Astronomical causes of fluctuations in climate.—Sir John Herschel has lately inquired, whether there are any astronomical causes which may offer a possible explanation of the difference between the actual climate of the earth’s surface, and those which formerly appear to have prevailed. He has entered upon this subject, he says, “impressed with the magnificence of that view of geological revolutions, which regards them rather as regular and necessary effects of great and general causes, than as resulting from a series of convulsions and catastrophes, regulated by no laws, and reducible to no fixed principles.” Geometers, he adds, have demonstrated the absolute invariability of the mean distance of the earth from the sun; whence it would at first seem to follow, that the mean annual supply of light and heat derived from that luminary would be alike invariable: but a closer consideration of the subject will show, that this would not be a legitimate conclusion; but that on the contrary, the mean amount of solar radiation is dependent on the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit, and therefore liable to variation.10

Now the eccentricity of the orbit, he continues, is actually diminishing, and has been so for ages beyond the records of history. In consequence, the ellipse is in a state of approach to a circle, and the annual average of solar heat radiated to the earth is actually on the decrease. So far this is in accordance with geological evidence, which indicates a general refrigeration of climate; but the question remains, whether the amount of diminution which the eccentricity may have ever undergone can be supposed sufficient to account for any sensible refrigeration. The calculations necessary to determine this point, though practicable, have never yet been made, and would be extremely laborious; for they must embrace all the perturbations which the most influential planets, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, would cause in the earth’s orbit, and in each other’s movements round the sun.

The problem is also very complicated, inasmuch as it depends not merely on the ellipticity of the earth’s orbit, but on the assumed temperature of the celestial spaces beyond the earth’s atmosphere; a matter still open to discussion, and on which M. Fourier and Sir J. Herschel have arrived at very different opinions. But if, says Herschel, we suppose an extreme case, as if the earth’s orbit should ever become as eccentric as that of the planet Juno or Pallas, a great change of climate might be conceived to result, the winter and summer temperatures being sometimes mitigated, and at others exaggerated, in the same latitudes.

It is much to be desired that the calculations alluded to were executed, as even if they should demonstrate, as M. Arago thinks highly probable,11 that the mean amount of solar radiation can never be materially affected by irregularities in the earth’s motion, it would still be satisfactory to ascertain the point. Such inquiries, however, can never supersede the necessity of investigating the consequences of the varying position of continents, shifted as we know them to have been during successive epochs, from one part of the globe to the other.

Another astronomical hypothesis respecting the possible cause of secular variations in climate, has been proposed by a distinguished mathematician and philosopher, M. Poisson. He begins by assuming, 1st, that the sun and our planetary system are not stationary, but carried onward by a common movement through space; 2dly, that every point in space receives heat as well as light from innumerable stars surrounding it on all sides, so that if a right line of indefinite length be produced in any direction from such a point, it must encounter a star either visible or invisible to us. 3dly, He then goes on to assume, that the different regions of space, which in the course of millions of years are traversed by our system, must be of very unequal temperature, inasmuch as some of them must receive a greater, others a less, quantity of radiant heat from the great stellary inclosure. If the earth, he continues, or any other large body, pass from a hotter to a colder region, it would not readily lose in the second all the heat which it has imbibed in the first region, but retain a temperature increasing downwards from the surface, as in the actual condition of our planet.12

Now the opinion originally suggested by Sir W. Herschel, that our sun and its attendant planets were all moving onward through space, in the direction of the constellation Hercules, is very generally thought by eminent astronomers to be confirmed. But even if its reality be no longer matter of doubt, conjectures as to its amount are still vague and uncertain; and great, indeed, must be the extent of the movement before this cause alone can work any material alteration in the terrestrial climates. Mr. Hopkins, when treating of this theory, remarked, that so far as we were acquainted with the position of the stars not very remote from the sun, they seem to be so distant from each other, that there are no points in space among them, where the intensity of radiating heat would be comparable to that which the earth derives from the sun, except at points very near to each star. Thus, in order that the earth should derive a degree of heat from stellar radiation comparable to that now derived from the sun, she must be in close proximity to some particular star, leaving the aggregate effect of radiation from the other stars nearly the same as at present. This approximation, however, to a single star could not take place consistently with the preservation of the motion of the earth about the sun, according to its present laws.

Suppose our sun should approach a star within the present distance of Neptune. That planet could no longer remain a member of the solar system, and the motions of the other planets would be disturbed in a degree which no one has ever contemplated as probable since the existence of the solar system. But such a star, supposing it to be no larger than the sun, and to emit the same quantity of heat, would not send to the earth much more than one-thousandth part of the heat which she derives from the sun, and would therefore produce only a very small change in terrestrial temperature.13

Variable splendor of stars.—There is still another astronomical suggestion respecting the possible causes of secular variations in the terrestrial climates which deserves notice. It has long been known that certain stars are liable to great and periodical fluctuations in splendor, and Sir J. Herschel has lately ascertained (Jan. 1840), that a large and brilliant star, called alpha Orionis, sustained, in the course of six weeks, a loss of nearly half its light. “This phenomenon,” he remarks, “cannot fail to awaken attention, and revive those speculations which were first put forth by my father Sir W. Herschel, respecting the possibility of a change in the lustre of our sun itself. If there really be a community of nature between the sun and fixed stars, every proof that we obtain of the extensive prevalence of such periodical changes in those remote bodies, adds to the probability of finding something of the kind nearer home.” Referring then to the possible bearing of such facts on ancient revolutions, in terrestrial climates, he says, that “it is a matter of observed fact, that many stars have undergone, in past ages, within the records of astronomical history, very extensive changes in apparent lustre, without a change of distance adequate to producing such an effect. If our sun were even intrinsically much brighter than at present, the mean temperature of the surface of our globe would, of course, be proportionally greater. I speak now not of periodical, but of secular changes. But the argument is complicated with the consideration of the possibly imperfect transparency of the celestial spaces, and with the cause of that imperfect transparency, which may be due to material non-luminous particles diffused irregularly in patches analogous to nebulæ, but of greater extent—to cosmical clouds, in short—of whose existence we have, I think, some indication in the singular and apparently capricious phenomena of temporary stars, and perhaps in the recent extraordinary sudden increase and hardly less sudden diminution of η Argus.”14

More recently (1852) Schwabe has observed that the spots on the sun alternately increase and decrease in the course of every ten years, and Captain Sabine has pointed out that this variable obscuration coincides in time both as to its maximum and minimum with changes in all those terrestrial magnetic variations which are caused by the sun. Hence he infers that the period of alteration in the spots is a solar magnetic period. Assuming such to be the case, the variable light of some stars may indicate a similar phenomenon, or they may be stellar magnetic periods, differing only in the degree of obscuration and its duration. And as hitherto we have perceived no fluctuation in the heat received by the earth from the sun coincident with the solar magnetic period, so the fluctuations in the brilliancy of the stars may not perhaps be attended with any perceptible alteration in their power of radiating heat. But before we can speculate with advantage in this new and interesting field of inquiry, we require more facts and observations.

Supposed gradual diminution of the earth’s primitive heat.—The gradual diminution of the supposed primitive heat of the globe has been resorted to by many geologists as the principal cause of alterations of climate. The matter of our planet is imagined, in accordance with the conjectures of Leibnitz, to have been originally in an intensely heated state, and to have been parting ever since with portions of its heat, and at the same time contracting its dimensions. There are, undoubtedly, good grounds for inferring from recent observation and experiment, that the temperature of the earth increases as we descend from the surface to that slight depth to which man can penetrate: but there are no positive proofs of a secular decrease of internal heat accompanied by contraction. On the contrary, La Place has shown, by reference to astronomical observations made in the time of Hipparchus, that in the last two thousand years at least there has been no sensible contraction of the globe by cooling; for had this been the case, even to an extremely small amount, the day would have been shortened, whereas its length has certainly not diminished during that period by 1/300th of a second.

Baron Fourier, after making a curious series of experiments on the cooling of incandescent bodies, considers it to be proved mathematically, that the actual distribution of heat in the earth’s envelope is precisely that which would have taken place if the globe had been formed in a medium of a very high temperature, and had afterwards been constantly cooled.15 He contends, that although no contraction can be demonstrated to have taken place within the historical period (the operation being slow and the time of observation limited), yet it is no less certain that heat is annually passing out by radiation from the interior of the globe into the planetary spaces. He even undertook to demonstrate that the quantity of heat thus transmitted into space in the course of every century, through every square metre of the earth’s surface, would suffice to melt a column of ice having a square metre for its base, and being three metres (or 9 feet 10 inches) high.

It is at the same time denied, that there is any assignable mode in which the heat thus lost by radiation can be again restored to the earth, and consequently the interior of our planet must, from the moment of its creation, have been subject to refrigeration, and is destined together with the sun and stars forever to grow colder. But I shall point out in the sequel (chapter 31) many objections to these views, and to the theory of the intense heat of the earth’s central nucleus, and shall then inquire how far the observed augmentation of temperature, as we descend below the surface, may be referable to other causes unconnected with the supposed pristine fluidity of the entire globe.

1 Sir J. Richardson, Proceedings of Geol. Soc. No. 7, p. 68, March, 1828.

2 Ad. Brongniart, Consid. Générales sur la Nat. de la Végét. &c., Ann. des Sci. Nat., Nov. 1828.

3 See a Memoir on the Alps, by Professor Sedgwick and Sir Rod. Murchison, Trans. of Geol. Soc. second ser. vol. iii. accompanied by a map.

4 See Proceedings of Geol. Soc. vol. ii. p. 334.

5 It may be observed, that the facts and inferences exhibited in this map bear not merely on the theory of climate above proposed, but serve also to illustrate the views explained in the third book respecting the migration of animals and plants and the gradual extinction of species.

6 See Sir R. Murchison’s Paper on the Alps, Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. v. and my Anniversary Address for 1850, ibid. vol. vi.

7 Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung, No. cxxxix. July, 1833.

8 In this estimate, the space within the antarctic circle is not taken into account: if included, it would probably add to the excess of dry land; for the late discoveries of Capt. Sir James Ross, who penetrated to lat. 78° 10’ S., confirm the conjecture of Captain Cook that the accumulation of antarctic ice implies the presence of a certain quantity of terra firma. The number of square miles on the surface of the globe are 148,522,000, the part occupied by the sea being 110,849,000, and that by land, 37,673,000; so that the land is very nearly to the sea as 1 part in 4. I am informed by Mr. Gardner that, according to a rough approximation, the land between the 30° N. lat. and the pole occupies a space about equal to that of the sea, and the land between the 30° S. lat. and the antarctic circle about one-sixteenth of that zone.

9 See papers by Mr. Smith of Jordanhill, F. G. S., and the author, Proceedings Geol. Soc. No. 63, 1839, also that of Prof. E. Forbes, before cited, p. 86, note.

10 The theorem is thus stated:—“The eccentricity of the orbit varying, the total quantity of heat received by the earth from the sun in one revolution is inversely proportional to the minor axis of the orbit. The major axis is invariable, and therefore, of course, the absolute length of the year: hence it follows that the mean annual average of heat will also be in the same inverse ratio of the minor axis.”—Geol. Trans. second series, vol. iii. p. 295.

11 Ann. du Bur. des Long. 1834.

12 Poisson, Théorie Mathémat. de la Chaleur, Comptes Rendus de l’Acad. des Sci., Jan. 30, 1837.

13 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1852, p. 62.

14 Proceedings Roy. Astronom. Soc. No. iii. Jan. 1840.

15 See a Memoir on the Temperature of the Terrestrial Globe, and the Planetary Spaces, Ann. de Chimie et Phys. tom. xxvii. p. 136. Oct. 1824.

Chapter 9.

Theory of the Progressive Development of Organic Life at Successive Geological Periods.

Theory of the progressive development of organic life—Evidence in its support inconclusive—Vertebrated animals, and plants of the most perfect organization, in strata of very high antiquity—Differences between the organic remains of successive formations—Comparative modern origin of the human race—The popular doctrine of successive development not established by the admission that man is of modern origin—Introduction of man, to what extent a change in the system.

Progressive development of organic life.—In the preceding chapters I have considered whether revolutions in the general climate of the globe afford any just ground of opposition to the doctrine that the former changes of the earth which are treated of in geology belong to one uninterrupted series of physical events governed by ordinary causes. Against this doctrine some popular arguments have been derived from the great vicissitudes of the organic creation in times past; I shall therefore proceed to the discussion of such objections, which have been thus formally advanced by the late Sir Humphrey Davy. “It is impossible,” he affirms, “to defend the proposition, that the present order of things is the ancient and constant order of nature, only modified by existing laws: in those strata which are deepest, and which must, consequently, be supposed to be the earliest deposited, forms even of vegetable life are rare; shells and vegetable remains are found in the next order; the bones of fishes and oviparous reptiles exist in the following class; the remains of birds, with those of the same genera mentioned before, in the next order; those of quadrupeds of extinct species in a still more recent class; and it is only in the loose and slightly consolidated strata of gravel and sand, and which are usually called diluvian formations, that the remains of animals such as now people the globe are found, with others belonging to extinct species. But, in none of these formations, whether called secondary, tertiary, or diluvial, have the remains of man, or any of his works, been discovered; and whoever dwells upon this subject must be convinced, that the present order of things, and the comparatively recent existence of man as the master of the globe, is as certain as the destruction of a former and a different order, and the extinction of a number of living forms which have no types in being. In the oldest secondary strata there are no remains of such animals as now belong to the surface; and in the rocks, which may be regarded as more recently deposited, these remains occur but rarely, and with abundance of extinct species;—there seems, as it were, a gradual approach to the present system of things, and a succession of destructions and creations preparatory to the existence of man.”1

In the above passages, the author deduces two important conclusions from geological data: first, that in the successive groups of strata, from the oldest to the most recent, there is a progressive development of organic life, from the simplest to the most complicated forms;—secondly, that man is of comparatively recent origin, and these conclusions he regards as inconsistent with the doctrine, “that the present order of things is the ancient and constant order of nature only modified by existing laws.”

With respect, then, to the first of these propositions, we may ask whether the theory of the progressive development of animal and vegetable life, and their successive advancement from a simple to a more perfect state, has any secure foundation in fact? No geologists who are in possession of all the data now established respecting fossil remains, will for a moment contend for the doctrine in all its detail, as laid down by the distinguished philosopher to whose opinions we have referred: but naturalists, who are not unacquainted with recent discoveries, continue to defend it in a modified form. They say that in the first period of the world (by which they mean the earliest of which we have yet brought to light any memorials), the vegetation was characterized by a predominance of cryptogamic plants, while the animals which coexisted were almost entirely confined to zoophytes, testacea, and a few fish. Plants of a less simple structure, coniferæ and cycadeæ, flourished largely in the next epoch, when oviparous reptiles began also to abound. Lastly, the terrestrial flora became most diversified and most perfect when the highest orders of animals, the mammalia and birds, were called into existence.

Now in the first place, it may be observed, that many naturalists are guilty of no small inconsistency in endeavoring to connect the phenomena of the earliest vegetation with a nascent condition of organic life, and at the same time to deduce from the numerical predominance of certain forms, the greater heat or uniformity of the ancient climate. The arguments in favor of the latter conclusion are without any force, unless we can assume that the rules followed by the Author of Nature in the creation and distribution of organic beings were the same formerly as now; and that, as certain families of animals and plants are now most abundant in, or exclusively confined to regions where there is a certain temperature, a certain degree of humidity, a certain intensity of light, and other conditions, so also analogous phenomena were exhibited at every former era.

If this postulate be denied, and the prevalence of particular families be declared to depend on a certain order of precedence in the introduction of different classes into the earth, and if it be maintained that the standard of organization was raised successively, we must then ascribe the numerical preponderance, in the earlier ages, of plants of simpler structure, not to the heat, or other climatal conditions, but to those different laws which regulate organic life in newly created worlds.

Before we can infer a warm and uniform temperature in high latitudes, from the presence of 250 species of ferns, some of them arborescent, accompanied by lycopadiacæ of large size, and araucariæ, we must be permitted to assume, that at all times, past, present, and future, a heated and moist atmosphere pervading the northern hemisphere has a tendency to produce in the vegetation a predominance of analogous forms.

It should moreover be borne in mind, when we are considering the question of development from a botanical point of view, that naturalists are by no means agreed as to the existence of an ascending scale of organization in the vegetable world corresponding to that which is very generally recognized in animals. “From the sponge to man,” in the language of De Blainville, there may be a progressive chain of being, although often broken and imperfect; but if we seek to classify plants according to a linear arrangement, ascending gradually from the lichen to the lily or the rose, we encounter incomparably greater difficulties. Yet the doctrine of a more highly developed organization in the plants created at successive periods presupposes the admission of such a graduated scale.

We have as yet obtained but scanty information respecting the state of the terrestrial flora at periods antecedent to the coal. In the carboniferous epoch, about 500 species of fossil plants are enumerated by Adolphe Brongniart, which we may safely regard as a mere fragment of an ancient flora; since, in Europe alone, there are now no less than 11,000 living species. I have already hinted that the plants which produced coal were not drifted from a distance, but that nearly all of them grew on the spots where they became fossil. They appear to have belonged, as before explained (p. 115), to a peculiar class of stations,—to low level and swampy regions, in the deltas of large rivers, slightly elevated above the level of the sea. From the study, therefore, of such a vegetation, we can derive but little insight into the nature of the contemporaneous upland flora, still less of the plants of the mountainous or Alpine country; and if so, we are enabled to account for the apparent monotony of the vegetation, although its uniform character was doubtless in part owing to a greater uniformity of climate then prevailing throughout the globe. Some of the commonest trees of this period, such as the sigillariæ, which united the structure of ferns and of cycadeæ, departed very widely from all known living types. The coniferæ and ferns, on the contrary, were very closely allied to living genera. It is remarkable that none of the exogens of Lindley (dicotyledonous angiosperms of Brongniart), which comprise four-fifths of the living flora of the globe, and include all the forest trees of Europe except the fir-tribe, have yet been discovered in the coal measures, and a very small number—fifteen species only—of monocotyledons. If several of these last are true plants, an opinion to which Messrs. Lindley, Unger, Corda, and other botanists of note incline, the question whether any of the most highly organized plants are to be met with in ancient strata is at once answered in the affirmative. But the determination of these palms being doubtful, we have as yet in the coal no positive proofs either of the existence of the most perfect, or of the most simple forms of flowering or flowerless vegetation. We have no fungi, lichens, hepatici or mosses: yet this latter class may have been as fully represented then as now.

In the flora of the secondary eras, all botanists agree that palms existed, although in Europe plants of the family of zamia and cycas together with coniferæ predominated, and must have given a peculiar aspect to the flora. As only 200 or 300 species of plants are known in all the rocks ranging from the Trias to the Oolite inclusive, our data are too scanty as yet to affirm whether the vegetation of this second epoch was or was not on the whole of a simpler organization than that of our own times.

In the Lower Cretaceous formation, near Aix-la-Chapelle, the leaves of a great many dicotyledonous trees have lately been discovered by Dr. Debey, establishing the important fact of the coexistence of a large number of angiosperms with cycadeæ, and with that rich reptilian fauna comprising the ichthyosaur, plesiosaur, and pterodactyl, which some had supposed to indicate a state of the atmosphere unfavorable to a dicotyledonous vegetation.

The number of plants hitherto obtained from tertiary strata of different ages is very limited, but is rapidly increasing. They are referable to a much greater variety of families and classes than an equal number of fossil species taken from secondary or primary rocks, the angiosperms bearing the same proportion to the gymnosperms and acrogens as in the present flora of the globe. This greater variety may, doubtless, be partly ascribed to the greater diversity of stations in which the plants grew, as we have in this case an opportunity, rarely enjoyed in studying the secondary fossils, of investigating inland or lacustrine deposits accumulated at different heights above the sea, and containing the memorials of plants washed down from adjoining mountains.

In regard, then, to the strata from the cretaceous to the uppermost tertiary inclusive, we may affirm that we find in them all the principal classes of living plants, and during this vast lapse of time four or five complete changes in the vegetation occurred, yet no step whatever was made in advance at any of these periods by the addition of more highly organized species.

If we next turn to the fossils of the animal kingdom, we may inquire whether, when they are arranged by the geologists in a chronological series, they imply that beings of more highly developed structure and greater intelligence entered upon the earth at successive epochs, those of the simplest organization being the first created, and those more highly organized being the last.

Our knowledge of the Silurian fauna is at present derived entirely from rocks of marine origin, no fresh-water strata of such high antiquity having yet been met with. The fossils, however, of these ancient rocks at once reduce the theory of progressive development to within very narrow limits, for already they comprise a very full representation of the radiata, mollusca, and articulata proper to the sea. Thus, in the great division of radiata, we find asteriod and helianthoid zoophytes, besides crinoid and cystidean echinoderms. In the mollusca, between 200 and 300 species of cephalopoda are enumerated. In the articulata we have the crustaceans represented by more than 200 species of trilobites, besides other genera of the same class. The remains of fish are as yet confined to the upper part of the Silurian series; but some of these belong to placoid fish, which occupy a high grade in the scale of organization. Some naturalists have assumed that the earliest fauna was exclusively marine, because we have not yet found a single Silurian helix, insect, bird, terrestrial reptile or mammifer; but when we carry back our investigation to a period so remote from the present, we ought not to be surprised if the only accessible strata should be limited to deposits formed far from land, because the ocean probably occupied then, as now, the greater part of the earth’s surface. After so many entire geographical revolutions, the chances are nearly three to one in favor of our finding that such small portions of the existing continents and islands as expose Silurian strata to view, should coincide in position with the ancient ocean rather than the land. We must not, therefore, too hastily infer, from the absence of fossil bones of mammalia in the older rocks, that the highest class of vertebrated animals did not exist in remoter ages. There are regions at present, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, coextensive in area with the continents of Europe and North America, where we might dredge the bottom and draw up thousands of shells and corals, without obtaining one bone of a land quadruped. Suppose our mariners were to report, that, on sounding in the Indian Ocean near some coral reefs, and at some distance from the land, they drew up on hooks attached to their line portions of a leopard, elephant, or tapir, should we not be skeptical as to the accuracy of their statements? and if we had no doubt of their veracity, might we not suspect them to be unskilful naturalists? or, if the fact were unquestioned, should we not be disposed to believe that some vessel had been wrecked on the spot?

The casualties must always be rare by which land quadrupeds are swept by rivers far out into the open sea, and still rarer the contingency of such a floating body not being devoured by sharks or other predaceous fish, such as were those of which we find the teeth preserved in some of the carboniferous strata. But if the carcass should escape, and should happen to sink where sediment was in the act of accumulating, and if the numerous causes of subsequent disintegration should not efface all traces of the body, included for countless ages in solid rock, is it not contrary to all calculation of chances that we should hit upon the exact spot—that mere point in the bed of an ancient ocean, where the precious relic was entombed? Can we expect for a moment, when we have only succeeded, amidst several thousand fragments of corals and shells, in finding a few bones of aquatic or amphibious animals, that we should meet with a single skeleton of an inhabitant of the land?

Clarence, in his dream, saw, “in the slimy bottom of the deep,”

——a thousand fearful wrecks;

A thousand men, that fishes gnaw’d upon:

Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl.

Had he also beheld, amid “the dead bones that lay scattered by,” the carcasses of lions, deer, and the other wild tenants of the forest and the plain, the fiction would have been deemed unworthy of the genius of Shakspeare. So daring a disregard of probability and violation of analogy would have been condemned as unpardonable, even where the poet was painting those incongruous images which present themselves to a disturbed imagination during the visions of the night.

Until lately it was supposed that the old red sandstone, or Devonian rocks, contained no vertebrate remains except those of fish, but in 1850 the footprints of a chelonian, and in 1851 the skeleton of a reptile, allied both to the batrachians and lizards, were found in a sandstone of that age near Elgin in Scotland.2 Up to the year 1844 it was laid down as a received dogma in many works of high authority in geology, that reptiles were not created until after the close of the carboniferous epoch. In the course of that year, however, Hermann Von Meyer announced the discovery, in the coal measures of Rhenish Bavaria, of a reptile, called by him Apateon, related to the salamanders; and in 1847 three species of another genus, called archegosaurus by Goldfuss, were obtained from the coal of Saarbrück, between Treves and Strasburg. The footprints of a large quadruped, probably batrachian, had also been observed by Dr. King in the carboniferous rocks of Pennsylvania in 1844. The first example of the bones of a reptile in the Coal of North America was detected so lately as September, 1852, by Mr. G. W. Dawson and myself in Nova Scotia. These remains, referred by Messrs. Wyman and Owen to a perennibranchiate batrachian, were met with in the interior of an erect fossil tree, apparently a sigillaria. They seem clearly to have been introduced together with sediment into the tree, during its submergence and after it had decayed and was standing as a hollow cylinder of bark, this bark being now converted into coal.

When Agassiz, in his great work on fossil fish, described 152 species of ichthyolites from the Coal, he found them to consist of 94 placoids, belonging to the families of shark and ray, and 58 ganoids. One family of the latter he called “sauroid fish,” including the megalicthys and holoptychius, often of great size, and all predaceous. Although true fish, and not intermediate between that class and reptiles, they seem to have been more highly organized than any living fish, reminding us of the skeletons of saurians by the close suture of their cranial bones, their large conical teeth, striated longitudinally, and the articulation of the spinous processes with the vertebræ. Among living species they are most nearly allied to the lepidosteus, or bony pike of the North American rivers. Before the recent progress of discovery above alluded to had shown the fallacy of such ideas, it was imagined by some geologists that this ichthyic type was the more highly developed, because it took the lead at the head of nature before the class of reptiles had been created. The confident assumption indulged in till the year 1844, that reptiles were first introduced into the earth in the Permian period, shows the danger of taking for granted that the date of the creation of any family of animals or plants in past time coincides with the age of the oldest stratified rock in which the geologist has detected its remains. Nevertheless, after repeated disappointments, we find some naturalists as much disposed as ever to rely on such negative evidence, and to feel now as sure that reptiles were not introduced into the earth till after the Silurian epoch, as they were in 1844, that they appeared for the first time at an era subsequent to the carboniferous.

Scanty as is the information hitherto obtained in regard to the articulata of the coal formation, we have at least ascertained that some insects winged their way through the ancient forests. In the ironstone of Coalbrook Dale, two species of coleoptera of the Linnæan genus curculio have been met with: and a neuropterous insect resembling a corydalis, together with another of the same order related to the phasmidæ. As an example of the insectivorous arachnidæ, I may mention the scorpion of the Bohemian coal, figured by Count Sternberg, in which even the eyes, skin, and minute hairs were preserved.3 We need not despair, therefore, of obtaining eventually fossil representatives of all the principal orders of hexapods and arachnidæ in carboniferous strata.

Next in chronological order above the Coal comes the allied Magnesian Limestone, or Permian group, and the secondary formations from the Trias to the Chalk inclusive. These rocks comprise the monuments of a long series of ages in which reptiles of every variety of size, form, and structure peopled the earth; so that the whole period, and especially that of the Lias and Oolite, has been sometimes called “the age of reptiles.” As there are now mammalia entirely confined to the land; others which, like the bat and vampire, fly in the air; others, again, of amphibious habits, frequenting rivers, like the hippopotamus, otter, and beaver; others exclusively aquatic and marine, like the seal, whale, and narwal; so in the early ages under consideration, there were terrestrial, winged, and aquatic reptiles. There were iguanodons walking on the land, pterodactyls winging their way through the air, monitors and crocodiles in the rivers, and ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs in the ocean. It appears also that some of these ancient saurians approximated more nearly in their organization to the type of living mammalia than do any of the reptiles now existing.4

In the vast range of strata above alluded to, comprising the Permian, the Upper New Red Sandstone and Muschelkalk, the Lias, Oolite, Wealden, Green-sand, and Chalk, scarcely any well-authenticated instances of the occurrence of fossil birds in Europe are on record, and only two or three of fossil mammalia.

In regard to the absence of birds, they are usually wanting, for reasons afterwards to be explained (see chap. 47), in deposits of all ages, even in the tertiary periods, where we know that birds as well as land quadrupeds abounded. Some at least of the fossil remains formerly referred to this class in the Wealden (a great freshwater deposit below the chalk), have been recently shown by Mr. Owen to belong to pterodactyls.5 But in North America still more ancient indications of the existence of the feathered tribe have been detected, the fossil foot-marks of a great variety of species, of various sizes, some larger than the ostrich, others smaller than the plover, having been observed. These bipeds have left marks of their footsteps on strata of an age decidedly intermediate between the Lias and the Coal.6

The examples of mammalia, above alluded to, are confined to the Trias and the Oolite. In the former, the evidence is as yet limited to two small molar teeth, described by Professor Plieninger in 1847, under the generic name of Microlestes. They were found near Stuttgart, and possess the double fangs so characteristic of mammalia.8 The other fossil remains of the same class were derived from one of the inferior members of the oolitic series in Oxfordshire, and afford more full and satisfactory evidence, consisting of the lower jaws of three species of small quadrupeds about the size of a mole. Cuvier, when he saw one of them (during a visit Fig. 8.

Thylacotherium Prevostii (Valenciennes). Amphitherium (Owen).
Lower jaw, from the slate of Stonesfield, near Oxford.7
to Oxford in 1818), referred it to the marsupial order, stating, however, that it differed from all known carnivora in having ten molar teeth in a row. Professor Owen afterwards pointed out that the jaw belonged to an extinct genus, having considerable affinity to a newly discovered Australian mammifer, the Myrmecobius of Waterhouse, which has nine molar teeth in the lower jaw. (Fig. 9.) A more perfect specimen Fig. 9.

Myrmecobius fasciatus (Waterhouse). Recent from Swan River. Lower jaw of the natural size.9
enabled Mr. Owen in 1846 to prove that the inflection of the angular process of the lower jaw was not sufficiently marked to entitle the osteologist to infer that this quadruped was marsupial, as the process is not bent inwards in a greater degree than in the mole or hedgehog. Hence the genus amphitherium, of which there are two species from Stonesfield, must be referred to the ordinary or placental type of insectivorous mammals, although it approximates in some points of structure to the myrmecobius and allied marsupials of Australia. The other contemporary genus, called phascolotherium, agrees much more nearly in osteological character and precisely in the number of the teeth with the opossums; and is believed to have been truly marsupial. (Fig. 10.)
Fig. 10.

Phascolotherium Bucklandi, Owen. (Syn. Didelphis Bucklandi, Brod.) Lower jaw, from Stonesfield.10
1. The jaw magnified twice in length. 2. The second molar tooth magnified six times.

The occurrence of these most ancient memorials of the mammiferous type, in so low a member of the oolitic series, while no other representatives of the same class (if we except the microlestes) have yet been found in any other of the inferior or superior secondary strata, is a striking fact, and should serve as a warning to us against hasty generalizations, founded solely on negative evidence. So important an exception to a general rule may be perfectly consistent with the conclusion, that a small number only of mammalia inhabited European latitudes when our secondary rocks were formed; but it seems fatal to the theory of progressive development, or to the notion that the order of precedence in the creation of animals, considered chronologically, has precisely coincided with the order in which they would be ranked according to perfection or complexity of structure.

It was for many years suggested that the marsupial order to which the fossil animals of Stonesfield were supposed exclusively to belong constitutes the lowest grade in the class Mammalia, and that this order, of which the brain is of more simple form, evinces an inferior degree of intelligence. If, therefore, in the oolitic period the marsupial tribes were the only warm-blooded quadrupeds which had as yet appeared upon our planet, the fact, it was said, confirmed the theory which teaches that the creation of the more simple forms in each division of the animal kingdom preceded that of the more complex. But on how slender a support, even if the facts had continued to hold true, did such important conclusions hang! The Australian continent, so far as it has been hitherto explored, contains no indigenous quadrupeds save those of the marsupial order, with the exception of a few small rodents, while some neighboring islands to the north, and even southern Africa, in the same latitude as Australia, abound in mammalia of every tribe except the marsupial. We are entirely unable to explain on what physiological or other laws this singular diversity in the habitations of living mammalia depends; but nothing is more clear than that the causes which stamp so peculiar a character on two different provinces of wide extent are wholly independent of time, or of the age or maturity of the planet.

The strata of the Wealden, although of a later date than the oolite of Stonesfield, and although filled with the remains of large reptiles, both terrestrial and aquatic, have not yielded as yet a single marsupial bone. Were we to assume on such scanty data that no warm-blooded quadrupeds were then to be found throughout the northern hemisphere, there would still remain a curious subject of speculation, whether the entire suppression of one important class of vertebrata, such as the mammiferous, and the great development of another, such as the reptilian, implies a departure from fixed and uniform rules governing the fluctuations of the animal world; such rules, for example, as appear from one century to another to determine the growth of certain tribes of plants and animals in arctic, and of other tribes in tropical regions.

In Australia, New Zealand, and many other parts of the southern hemisphere, where the indigenous land quadrupeds are comparatively few, and of small dimensions, the reptiles do not predominate in number or size. The deposits formed at the mouth of an Australian river, within the tropics, might contain the bones of only a few small marsupial animals, which, like those of Stonesfield, might hereafter be discovered with difficulty by geologists; but there would, at the same time, be no megalosauri and other fossil remains, showing that large saurians were plentiful on the land and in the waters at a time when mammalia were scarce. This example, therefore, would afford a very imperfect parallel to the state of the animal kingdom, supposed to have prevailed during the secondary periods, when a high temperature pervaded European latitudes.

It may nevertheless be advantageous to point to some existing anomalies in the geographical development of distinct classes of vertebrata which may be comparable to former conditions of the animal creation brought to light by geology. Thus in the arctic regions, at present, reptiles are small, and sometimes wholly wanting, where birds, large land quadrupeds, and cetacea abound. We meet with bears, wolves, foxes, musk oxen, and deer, walruses, seals, whales, and narwals, in regions of ice and snow, where the smallest snakes, efts, and frogs are rarely, if ever, seen.

A still more anomalous state of things presents itself in the southern hemisphere. Even in the temperate zone, between the latitudes 52° and 56° S., as, for example, in Tierra del Fuego, as well as in the woody region immediately north of the Straits of Magellan, and in the Falkland Islands, no reptiles of any kind are met with, not even a snake, lizard, or frog; but in these same countries we find the guanaco (a kind of llama), a deer, the puma, a large species of fox, many small rodentia, besides the seal and otter, together with the porpoise, whale, and other cetacea.

On what grand laws in the animal physiology these remarkable phenomena depend, cannot in the present state of science be conjectured; nor could we predict whether any opposite condition of the atmosphere, in respect to heat, moisture, and other circumstances, would bring about a state of animal life which might be called the converse of that above described, namely, a state in which reptiles of every size and order might abound, and mammalia disappear.

The nearest approximation to such a fauna is found in the Galapagos Archipelago. These islands, situated under the equator, and nearly 600 miles west of the coast of Peru, have been called “the land of reptiles,” so great is the number of snakes, large tortoises, and lizards, which they support. Among the lizards, the first living species proper to the ocean has been discovered. Yet, although some of these islands are from 3000 to 4000 feet high, and one of them 75 miles long, they contain, with the exception of one small mouse, no indigenous mammifer. Even here, however, it is true that in the neighboring sea there are seals, and several kinds of cetacea.11

It may be unreasonable to look for a nearer analogy between the fauna now existing in any part of the globe, and that which we can show to have prevailed when our secondary strata were deposited, because we must always recollect that a climate like that now experienced at the equator, coexisting with the unequal days and nights of European latitudes, was a state of things to which there is now no counterpart on the globe. Consequently, the type of animal and vegetable existence required for such a climate might be expected to deviate almost as widely from that now established, as do the flora and fauna of our tropical differ from those of our arctic regions.

In the Tertiary strata.—The tertiary formations were deposited when the physical geography of the northern hemisphere had been entirely altered. Large inland lakes had become numerous, as in central France and other countries. There were gulfs of the sea, into which considerable rivers emptied themselves, and where strata like those of the Paris basin were accumulated. There were also formations in progress, in shallow seas not far from shore, such as are indicated by portions of the Faluns of the Loire, and the English Crag.

The proximity, therefore, of large tracts of dry land to the seas and lakes then existing, may, in a great measure, explain why the remains of land animals, so rare in the older strata, are not uncommon in these more modern deposits. Yet even these have sometimes proved entirely destitute of mammiferous relics for years after they had become celebrated for the abundance of their fossil testacea, fish, and reptiles. Thus the calcaire grossier, a marine limestone of the district round Paris, had afforded to collectors more than 1100 species of shells, besides many zoophytes, echinodermata, and the teeth of fish, before the bones of one or two land quadrupeds were met with in the same rock. The strata called London and Plastic clay in England have been studied for more than half a century, and about 400 species of shells, 50 or more of fish, besides several kinds of chelonian and saurian reptiles, were known before a single mammifer was detected. At length, in the year 1839, there were found in this formation the remains of a monkey, an opossum, a bat,12 and a species of the extinct genus Hyracotherium, allied to the Peccary or hog tribe.

If we examine the strata above the London clay in England, we first meet with mammiferous remains in the Isle of Wight, in beds also belonging to the Eocene epoch, such as the remains of the Palæotherium, Anoplotherium, and other extinct quadrupeds, agreeing very closely with those first found by Cuvier, near Paris, in strata of the same age, and of similar freshwater origin.

In France we meet with another fauna, both conchological and mammalian in the Miocene “faluns” of the Loire; above which in the ascending series in Great Britain we arrive at the coralline crag of Suffolk, a marine formation which has yielded three or four hundred species of shells, very different from the Eocene testacea, and of which a large proportion, although a minority of the whole number, are recent, besides many corals, echini, foraminifera, and fish, but as yet no relic decidedly mammalian except the ear-bone of a whale.

In the shelly sand, provincially termed “Red Crag,” in Suffolk, which immediately succeeds the coralline, constituting a newer member of the same tertiary group, about 250 species of shells have been recognized, of which a still larger proportion are recent. They are associated with numerous teeth of fish; but no signs of a warm-blooded quadruped had been detected until 1839, when the teeth of a leopard, a bear, a hog, and a species of ruminant, were found at Newbourn, in Suffolk, and since that time, several other genera of mammalia have been met with in the same formation, or in the Red Crag.13

Of a still newer date is the Norwich Crag, a fluvio-marine deposit of the Pleiocene epoch, containing a mixture of marine, fluviatile, and land shells, of which 90 per cent. or more are recent. These beds, since the time of their first investigation, have yielded a supply of mammalian bones of the genera mastodon, elephant, rhinoceros, pig, horse, deer, ox, and others, the bodies of which may have been washed down into the sea by rivers draining land, of which the contiguity is indicated by the occasional presence of terrestrial and freshwater shells.

Our acquaintance with the newer Pleiocene mammalia in Europe, South America, and Australia, is derived chiefly from cavern deposits, a fact which we ought never to forget if we desire to appreciate the superior facilities we enjoy for studying the more modern as compared to the more ancient terrestrial faunas. We know nothing of the fossil bones which must have been inclosed in the stalagmite of caverns in the older Pleiocene, or in the Miocene or Eocene epochs, much less can we derive any information respecting the inhabitants of the land from a similar source, when we carry back our inquiries to the Wealden or carboniferous epochs. We are as well assured that land and rivers then existed, as that they exist now; but it is evident that even a slight geographical revolution, accompanied by the submergence and denudation of land, would reduce to an extreme improbability the chance of our hitting on those minute points of space where caves may once have occurred in limestone rocks.

Fossil quadrumana.—Until within a few years (1836, 1837), not a single bone of any quadrumanous animal, such as the orang, ape, baboon, and monkey, had been discovered in a fossil state, although so much progress had been made in bringing to light the extinct mammalia of successive tertiary eras, both carnivorous and herbivorous. The total absence of these anthropomorphous tribes among the records of a former world, had led some to believe that the type of organization most nearly resembling the human, came so late in the order of creation, as to be scarcely, if at all, anterior to that of man. That such generalizations were premature, I endeavored to point out in the first edition of this work,14 in which I stated that the bones of quadrupeds hitherto met with in tertiary deposits were chiefly those which frequent marshes, rivers, or the borders of lakes, as the elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, tapir, hog, deer, and ox, while species which live in trees are extremely rare in a fossil state. I also hinted, that we had as yet no data for determining how great a number of the one kind we ought to find, before we have a right to expect a single individual of the other. Lastly, I observed that the climate of the more modern (or Post-Eocene) tertiary periods in England was not tropical, and that in regard to the London clay, of which the crocodiles, turtles, and fossil fruits implied a climate hot enough for the quadrumana, we had as yet made too little progress in ascertaining what were the Eocene pachydermata of England, to entitle us to expect to have discovered any quadrumana of the same date.

Since those remarks were first written, in 1829, a great number of extinct species have been added to our collections of tertiary mammalia from Great Britain and other parts of the world. At length, between the years 1836 and 1839, a few remains of quadrumana were found in France and England, India and Brazil. Those of India, belonging to more than one extinct species of monkey, were first discovered near the Sutlej, in lat. 30° N., in tertiary strata, of which the age is not yet determined; the Brazilian fossil, brought from the basin of the Rio das Velhas, about lat. 18° S., is referable to a form now peculiar in America, allied to the genus Callithrix, the species being extinct. The skull and other bones met with in the South of France belong to a gibbon, or one of the tailless apes, which stand next in the scale of organization to the orang. It occurred at Sansan, about forty miles west of Toulouse, in lat. 43° 40’ N., in freshwater strata, probably of the Miocene or middle tertiary period. Lastly, the English quadrumane first met with, occurred in a more ancient stratum than the rest, and at a point more remote from the equator. It belongs to the genus Macacus, is an extinct species, and was found in Suffolk, in lat. 52°,15 in the London clay, the fossils of which, such as crocodiles, turtles, shells of the genus Nautilus, and many curious fruits, had already led geologists to the conclusion that the climate of that era (the Eocene) was warm and nearly tropical.

Some years later (in 1846) the jaw of another British species of fossil monkey, Macacus pliocenus, was announced by Mr. Owen as having been met with in the newer Pleiocene strata, on the banks of the Thames, at Grays, in Essex, accompanying the remains of hippopotamus, elephant, and other quadrupeds, and associated with freshwater and land shells, most of which are now inhabitants of the British Isles.16

When we consider the small area of the earth’s surface hitherto explored geologically, and the new discoveries brought to light daily, even in the environs of great European capitals, we must feel that it would be rash to assume that the Lower Eocene deposits mark the era of the first creation of quadrumana. It would, however, be still more unphilosophical to infer, as some writers have done, from a single extinct species of this family obtained in a latitude far from the tropics, that the Eocene quadrumana did not attain as high a grade of organization as they do in our own times. What would the naturalist know of the apes and orangs now contemporary with man, if our investigations were restricted to such northern latitudes as those where alone the geologist has hitherto found all the fossil quadrumana of Europe?

Cetacea.—The absence of Cetacea from rocks older than the Eocene has been frequently adduced as lending countenance to the theory of the very late appearance of the highest class of Vertebrata on the earth. Professor Sedgwick possesses in the Cambridge Museum a mass of anchylosed cervical vertebræ of a whale, which he found in drift clay near Ely, and which he has no doubt was washed out of the Kimmeridge clay, an upper member of the Oolite. According to Professor Owen, it exhibits well-marked specific characters, distinguishing it from all other known recent or fossil cetacea. Dr. Leidy, of Philadelphia, has lately described (1851) two species of cetacea of a new genus, which he has called Priscodelphinus from the green sand of New Jersey, which corresponds in age with the English Chalk or the cretaceous strata above the gault. The specimens consist of dorsal and cervical vertebræ.17 Even in the Eocene strata of Europe, the discovery of cetaceans has never kept pace with that of land quadrupeds. The only instance cited in Great Britain is a species of Monodon, from the London clay, of doubtful authenticity as to its geological position. On the other hand, the gigantic Zeuglodon of North America occurs abundantly in the Middle Eocene strata of Georgia and Alabama, from which as yet no bones of land quadrupeds have been obtained.

In the present imperfect state then of our information, we can scarcely say more than that the cetacea seem to have been scarce in the secondary and primary periods. It is quite conceivable that when aquatic saurians, some of them carnivorous, like the Ichthyosaurus, were swarming in the sea, and when there were large herbivorous reptiles, like the Iguanodon, on the land, the class of reptiles may, to a certain extent, have superseded the cetacea, and discharged their functions in the animal economy.

That mammalia had been created long before the epoch of the Kimmeridge clay, is shown by the Microlestes of the Trias before alluded to, and by the Stonesfield quadrupeds from the Inferior Oolite. And we are bound to remember, whenever we infer the poverty of the flora or fauna of any given period of the past, from the small number of fossils occurring in ancient rocks, that it has been evidently no part of the plan of Nature to hand down to us a complete or systematic record of the former history of the animate world. We may have failed to discover a single shell, marine or freshwater, or a single coral or bone in certain sandstones, such as that of the valley of the Connecticut, where the footprints of bipeds and quadrupeds abound; but such failure may have arisen, not because the population of the land or sea was scanty at that era, but because in general the preservation of any relics of the animals or plants of former times is the exception to a general rule. Time so enormous as that contemplated by the geologist may multiply exceptional cases till they seem to constitute the rule, and so impose on the imagination as to lead us to infer the non-existence of creatures of which no monuments happen to remain. Professor Forbes has remarked, that few geologists are aware how large a proportion of all known species of fossils are founded on single specimens, while a still greater number are founded on a few individuals discovered in one spot. This holds true not only in regard to animals and plants inhabiting the land, the lake, and the river, but even to a surprising number of the marine mollusca, articulata, and radiata. Our knowledge, therefore, of the living creation of any given period of the past may be said to depend in a great degree on what we commonly call chance, and the casual discovery of some new localities rich in peculiar fossils may modify or entirely overthrow all our previous generalizations.

Upon the whole then we derive this result from a general review of the fossils of the successive tertiary strata, namely, that since the Eocene period, there have been several great changes in the land quadrupeds inhabiting Europe, probably not less than five complete revolutions, during which there has been no step whatever made in advance, no elevation in the scale of being; so that had man been created at the commencement of the Eocene era, he would not have constituted a greater innovation on the state of the animal creation previously established than now, when we believe him to have begun to exist at the close of the Pleiocene. The views, therefore, which I proposed in the first edition of this work, January, 1830, in opposition to the theory of progressive development, do not seem to me to require material modification, notwithstanding the large additions since made to our knowledge of fossil remains.

These views may be thus briefly stated. From the earliest period at which plants and animals can be proved to have existed, there has been a continual change going on in the position of land and sea, accompanied by great fluctuations of climate. To these ever-varying geographical and climatal conditions the state of the animate world has been unceasingly adapted. No satisfactory proof has yet been discovered of the gradual passage of the earth from a chaotic to a more habitable state, nor of any law of progressive development governing the extinction and renovation of species, and causing the fauna and flora to pass from an embryonic to a more perfect condition, from a simple to a more complex organization.

The principle of adaptation to which I have alluded, appears to have been analogous to that which now peoples the arctic, temperate, and tropical regions contemporaneously with distinct assemblages of species and genera, or which, independently of mere temperature, gives rise to a predominance of the marsupial or didelphous tribe of quadrupeds in Australia, of the placental or monodelphous tribe in Asia and Europe, or which causes a profusion of reptiles without mammalia in the Galapagos Archipelago, and of mammalia without reptiles in Greenland.

Recent origin of man.—If, then, the popular theory of the successive development of the animal and vegetable world, from the simplest to the most perfect forms, rests on a very insecure foundation; it may be asked, whether the recent origin of man lends any support to the same doctrine, or how far the influence of man may be considered as such a deviation from the analogy of the order of things previously established, as to weaken our confidence in the uniformity of the course of nature.

Antecedently to investigation, we might reasonably have anticipated that the vestiges of man would have been traced back at least as far as those modern strata in which all the testacea and a certain number of the mammalia are of existing species, for of all the mammalia the human species is the most cosmopolite, and perhaps more capable than any other of surviving considerable vicissitudes in climate, and in the physical geography of the globe.

No inhabitant of the land exposes himself to so many dangers on the waters as man, whether in a savage or a civilized state;18 and there is no animal, therefore, whose skeleton is so liable to become imbedded in lacustrine or submarine deposits; nor can it be said that his remains are more perishable than those of other animals; for in ancient fields of battle, as Cuvier has observed, the bones of men have suffered as little decomposition as those of horses which were buried in the same grave.19 But even if the more solid parts of our species had disappeared, the impression of their form would have remained engraven on the rocks, as have the traces of the tenderest leaves of plants, and the soft integuments of many animals. Works of art, moreover, composed of the most indestructible materials, would have outlasted almost all the organic contents of sedimentary rocks. Edifices, and even entire cities, have, within the times of history, been buried under volcanic ejections, submerged beneath the sea, or engulfed by earthquakes; and had these catastrophes been repeated throughout an indefinite lapse of ages, the high antiquity of man would have been inscribed in far more legible characters on the framework of the globe than are the forms of the ancient vegetation which once covered the islands of the northern ocean, or of those gigantic reptiles which at still later periods peopled the seas and rivers of the northern hemisphere.20

Dr. Prichard has argued that the human race have not always existed on the surface of the earth, because “the strata of which our continents are composed were once a part of the ocean’s bed”—“mankind had a beginning, since we can look back to the period when the surface on which they lived began to exist.”21 This proof, however, is insufficient, for many thousands of human beings now dwell in various quarters of the globe where marine species lived within the times of history, and, on the other hand, the sea now prevails permanently over large districts once inhabited by thousands of human beings. Nor can this interchange of sea and land ever cease while the present causes are in existence. Terrestrial species, therefore, might be older than the continents which they inhabit, and aquatic species of higher antiquity than the lakes and seas which they now people.

But so far as our interpretation of physical movements has yet gone, we have every reason to infer that the human race is extremely modern, even when compared to the larger number of species now our contemporaries on the earth, and we may, therefore, ask whether his creation can be considered as one step in a supposed progressive system, by which the organic world has advanced slowly from a more simple to a more complex and perfect state? If we concede, for a moment, the truth of the proposition, that the sponge, the cephalopod, the fish, the reptile, the bird, and the mammifer, have followed each other in regular chronological order, the creation of each class being separated from the other by vast intervals of time, should we be able to recognize, in man’s entrance upon the earth, the last term of one and the same series of progressive developments?

In reply to this question it should first be observed, that the superiority of man depends not on those faculties and attributes which he shares in common with the inferior animals, but on his reason, by which he is distinguished from them. When it is said that the human race is of far higher dignity than were any pre-existing beings on the earth, it is the intellectual and moral attributes of our race, rather than the physical, which are considered; and it is by no means clear that the organization of man is such as would confer a decided pre-eminence upon him, if, in place of his reasoning powers, he was merely provided with such instincts as are possessed by the lower animals.

If this be admitted, it would not follow, even if there were sufficient geological evidence in favor of the theory of progressive development, that the creation of man was the last link in the same chain. For the sudden passage from an irrational to a rational animal, is a phenomenon of a distinct kind from the passage from the more simple to the more perfect forms of animal organization and instinct. To pretend that such a step, or rather leap, can be part of a regular series of changes in the animal world, is to strain analogy beyond all reasonable bounds.

Introduction of man, to what extent a change in the system.—But setting aside the question of progressive development, another and a far more difficult one may arise out of the admission that man is comparatively of modern origin. Is not the interference of the human species, it may be asked, such a deviation from the antecedent course of physical events, that the knowledge of such a fact tends to destroy all our confidence in the uniformity of the order of nature, both in regard to time past and future? If such an innovation could take place after the earth had been exclusively inhabited for thousands of ages by inferior animals, why should not other changes as extraordinary and unprecedented happen from time to time? If one new cause was permitted to supervene, differing in kind and energy from any before in operation, why may not others have come into action at different epochs? Or what security have we that they may not arise hereafter? And if such be the case, how can the experience of one period, even though we are acquainted with all the possible effects of the then existing causes, be a standard to which we can refer all natural phenomena of other periods?

Now these objections would be unanswerable, if adduced against one who was contending for the absolute uniformity throughout all time of the succession of sublunary events—if, for example, he was disposed to indulge in the philosophical reveries of some Egyptian and Greek sects, who represented all the changes both of the moral and material world as repeated at distant intervals, so as to follow each other in their former connection of place and time. For they compared the course of events on our globe to astronomical cycles; and not only did they consider all sublunary affairs to be under the influence of the celestial bodies, but they taught that on the earth, as well as in the heavens, the same identical phenomena recurred again and again in a perpetual vicissitude. The same individual men were doomed to be re-born, and to perform the same actions as before; the same arts were to be invented, and the same cities built and destroyed. The Argonautic expedition was destined to sail again with the same heroes, and Achilles with his Myrmidons to renew, the combat before the walls of Troy.

Alter erit tum Tiphys, et altera quæ vehat Argo Dilectos heroas; erunt etiam altera bella, Atque iterum ad Trojam magnus mittetur Achilles.22

The geologist, however, may condemn these tenets as absurd, without running into the opposite extreme, and denying that the order of nature has, from the earliest periods, been uniform in the same sense in which we believe it to be uniform at present, and expect it to remain so in future. We have no reason to suppose, that when man first became master of a small part of the globe, a greater change took place in its physical condition than is now experienced when districts, never before inhabited, become successively occupied by new settlers. When a powerful European colony lands on the shores of Australia, and introduces at once those arts which it has required many centuries to mature; when it imports a multitude of plants and large animals from the opposite extremity of the earth, and begins rapidly to extirpate many of the indigenous species, a mightier revolution is effected in a brief period than the first entrance of a savage horde, or their continued occupation of the country for many centuries, can possibly be imagined to have produced. If there be no impropriety in assuming that the system is uniform when disturbances so unprecedented occur in certain localities, we can with much greater confidence apply the same language to those primeval ages when the aggregate number and power of the human race, or the rate of their advancement in civilization, must be supposed to have been far inferior. In reasoning on the state of the globe immediately before our species was called into existence, we must be guided by the same rules of induction as when we speculate on the state of America in the interval that elapsed between the introduction of man into Asia, the supposed cradle of our race, and the arrival of the first adventurers on the shores of the New World. In that interval, we imagine the state of things to have gone on according to the order now observed in regions unoccupied by man. Even now, the waters of lakes, seas, and the great ocean, which teem with life, may be said to have no immediate relation to the human race—to be portions of the terrestrial system of which man has never taken, nor ever can take possession; so that the greater part of the inhabited surface of the planet may still remain as insensible to our presence as before any isle or continent was appointed to be our residence.

If the barren soil around Sydney had at once become fertile upon the landing of our first settlers; if, like the happy isles whereof the poets have given such glowing descriptions, those sandy tracts had begun to yield spontaneously an annual supply of grain, we might then, indeed, have fancied alterations still more remarkable in the economy of nature to have attended the first coming of our species into the planet. Or if, when a volcanic island like Ischia was, for the first time, brought under cultivation by the enterprise and industry of a Greek colony, the internal fire had become dormant, and the earthquake had remitted its destructive violence, there would then have been some ground for speculating on the debilitation of the subterranean forces, when the earth was first placed under the dominion of man. But after a long interval of rest, the volcano bursts forth again with renewed energy, annihilates one half of the inhabitants, and compels the remainder to emigrate. The course of nature remains evidently unchanged; and, in like manner, we may suppose the general condition of the globe, immediately before and after the period when our species first began to exist, to have been the same, with the exception only of man’s presence.

The modifications in the system of which man is the instrument do not, perhaps, constitute so great a deviation from previous analogy as we usually imagine; we often, for example, form an exaggerated estimate of the extent of our power in extirpating some of the inferior animals, and causing others to multiply; a power which is circumscribed within certain limits, and which, in all likelihood, is by no means exclusively exerted by our species.23 The growth of human population cannot take place without diminishing the numbers, or causing the entire destruction, of many animals. The larger beasts of prey, in particular, give way before us; but other quadrupeds of smaller size, and innumerable birds, insects, and plants, which are inimical to our interests, increase in spite of us, some attacking our food, others our raiment and persons, and others interfering with our agricultural and horticultural labors. We behold the rich harvest which we have raised by the sweat of our brow, devoured by myriads of insects, and are often as incapable of arresting their depredations, as of staying the shock of an earthquake, or the course of a stream of lava.

A great philosopher has observed, that we can command nature only by obeying her laws; and this principle is true even in regard to the astonishing changes which are superinduced in the qualities of certain animals and plants by domestication and garden culture. I shall point out in the third book that we can only effect such surprising alterations by assisting the development of certain instincts, or by availing ourselves of that mysterious law of their organization, by which individual peculiarities are transmissible from one generation to another.24

It is probable from these and many other considerations, that as we enlarge our knowledge of the system, we shall become more and more convinced, that the alterations caused by the interference of man deviate far less from the analogy of those effected by other animals than is usually supposed.25 We are often misled, when we institute such comparisons, by our knowledge of the wide distinction between the instincts of animals and the reasoning power of man; and we are apt hastily to infer, that the effects of a rational and irrational species, considered merely as physical agents, will differ almost as much as the faculties by which their actions are directed.

It is not, however, intended that a real departure from the antecedent course of physical events cannot be traced in the introduction of man. If that latitude of action which enables the brutes to accommodate themselves in some measure to accidental circumstances could be imagined to have been at any former period so great, that the operations of instinct were as much diversified as are those of human reason, it might, perhaps, be contended, that the agency of man did not constitute an anomalous deviation from the previously established order of things. It might then have been said, that the earth’s becoming at a particular period the residence of human beings, was an era in the moral, not in the physical world—that our study and contemplation of the earth, and the laws which govern its animate productions, ought no more to be considered in the light of a disturbance or deviation from the system, than the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter should be regarded as a physical event affecting those heavenly bodies. Their influence in advancing the progress of science among men, and in aiding navigation and commerce, was accompanied by no reciprocal action of the human mind upon the economy of nature in those distant planets; and so the earth might be conceived to have become, at a certain period, a place of moral discipline and intellectual improvement to man, without the slightest derangement of a previously existing order of change in its animate and inanimate productions.

The distinctness, however, of the human from all other species, considered merely as an efficient cause in the physical world, is real; for we stand in a relation to contemporary species of animals and plants widely different from that which other irrational animals can ever be supposed to have held to each other. We modify their instincts, relative numbers, and geographical distribution, in a manner superior in degree, and in some respects very different in kind from that in which any other species can affect the rest. Besides, the progressive movement of each successive generation of men causes the human species to differ more from itself in power at two distant periods, than any one species of the higher order of animals differs from another. The establishment, therefore, by geological evidence, of the first intervention of such a peculiar and unprecedented agency, long after other parts of the animate and inanimate world existed, affords ground for concluding that the experience during thousands of ages of all the events which may happen on this globe, would not enable a philosopher to speculate with confidence concerning future contingencies.

If, then, an intelligent being, after observing the order of events for an indefinite series of ages, had witnessed at last so wonderful an innovation as this, to what extent would his belief in the regularity of the system be weakened?—would he cease to assume that there was permanency in the laws of nature?—would he no longer be guided in his speculations by the strictest rules of induction? To these questions it may be answered, that, had he previously presumed to dogmatize respecting the absolute uniformity of the order of nature, he would undoubtedly be checked by witnessing this new and unexpected event, and would form a more just estimate of the limited range of his own knowledge, and the unbounded extent of the scheme of the universe. But he would soon perceive that no one of the fixed and constant laws of the animate or inanimate world was subverted by human agency, and that the modifications now introduced for the first time were the accompaniments of new and extraordinary circumstances, and those not of a physical but a moral nature. The deviation permitted would also appear to be as slight as was consistent with the accomplishment of the new moral ends proposed, and to be in a great degree temporary in its nature, so that, whenever the power of the new agent was withheld, even for a brief period, a relapse would take place to the ancient state of things; the domesticated animal, for example, recovering in a few generations its wild instinct, and the garden-flower and fruit-tree reverting to the likeness of the parent stock.

Now, if it would be reasonable to draw such inferences with respect to the future, we cannot but apply the same rules of induction to the past. We have no right to anticipate any modifications in the results of existing causes in time to come, which are not conformable to analogy, unless they be produced by the progressive development of human power, or perhaps by some other new relations which may hereafter spring up between the moral and material worlds. In the same manner, when we speculate on the vicissitudes of the animate and inanimate creation in former ages, we ought not to look for any anomalous results, unless where man has interfered, or unless clear indications appear of some other moral source of temporary derangement.

1 Sir H. Davy, Consolations in Travel: Dialogue III. “The Unknown.”

2 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1852.

3 Buckland’s Bridgewater Treatise, p. 409.

4 Owen’s Report on “British Fossil Reptiles, to Brit. Soc.” 1841, p. 200.

5 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. No. 6, p. 96.

6 See Hitchcock’s Report on Geol. of Massachusetts, and Lyell’s Travels in North America, chap. 12.

7 See Manual of Geol. by the Author, index Microlestes.

8 This figure (No. 8) is from a drawing by Professor C. Prevost, published Ann. des Sci. Nat. Avril, 1825. The fossil is a lower jaw, adhering by its inner side to the slab of oolite, in which it is sunk. The form of the condyle, or posterior process of the jaw, is convex, agreeing with the mammiferous type, and is distinctly seen, an impression of it being left on the stone, although in this specimen the bone is wanting. The anterior part of the jaw has been partially broken away, so that the double fangs of the molar teeth are seen fixed in their sockets, the form of the fangs being characteristic of the mammalia. Ten molars are preserved, and the place of an eleventh is believed to be apparent. The enamel of some of the teeth is well preserved.

9 A colored figure of this small and elegant quadruped is given in the Trans. Zool. Soc. vol. ii. pl. 28. It is insectivorous, and was taken in a hollow tree, in a country abounding in ant-hills, ninety miles to the southeast of the mouth of Swan River in Australia.—It is the first living marsupial species known to have nine molar teeth in the lower jaw, and some of the teeth are widely separated from others, one of the peculiarities in the thylacotherium of Stonesfield, which at first induced M. Blainville to refer that creature to the class of reptiles.

10 This figure (No. 10) was taken from the original, formerly in Mr. Broderip’s collection, and now in the British Museum. It consists of the right half of a lower jaw, of which the inner side is seen. The jaw contains seven molar teeth, one canine, and three incisors; but the end of the jaw is fractured, and traces of the alveolus of a fourth incisor are seen. With this addition, the number of teeth would agree exactly with those of a lower jaw of a didelphis. The fossil is well preserved in a slab of oolitic structure containing shells of trigoniæ and other marine remains. Two or three other similar jaws, besides those above represented, have been procured from the quarries of Stonesfield.—See Broderip, Zool. Journ. vol. ii. p. 408. Owen, Proceedings Geol. Soc., November, 1838.

11 Darwin’s Journal, chap. 19. Lyell’s Manual of Geol. chap. 21, p. 279.

12 Taylor’s Annals of Nat. Hist. Nov. 1839.

13 See notice by the Author, and Professor Owen, Taylor’s Annals of Nat. Hist. Nov. 1839.

14 See Principles of Geology, 1st ed. 1830, vol. i p. 152.

15 The first quadrumanous fossils discovered in India were observed in 1836 in the Sewalik Hills, a lower range of the Himalayan Mountains, by Lieutenants Baker and Durond, by whom their osteological characters were determined (Journ. of Asiat. Soc. of Bengal, vol. v. p. 739), and in the year following, other fossils of the same class were brought to light and described by Capt. Cantley and Dr. Falconer. These were imbedded, like the former, in tertiary strata of conglomerate, sand, marl, and clay, in the Sub-Himalayan Mountains. (Ibid. vol. v. p. 379. Nov. 1836; and vol. vi. p. 354. May, 1837.)

The Brazilian quadrumane was found, with a great many other extinct species of animals, by a Danish naturalist, Dr. Lund, between the rivers Francisco and Velhas, in 1837.

The gibbon of the South of France was found by M. Lartet in the beginning of 1837, and determined by M. de Blainville. It occurred near Auch, in the department of Gers, about forty miles west of Toulouse, in freshwater marl, limestone, and sand. They were accompanied by the remains of the mastodon, dinotherium, palæotherium, rhinoceros, gigantic sloth, and other extinct quadrupeds. (Bulletin de la Soc. Geol. de France, tom. viii. p. 92.)

The British quadrumane was discovered in 1839, by Messrs. William Colchester and Searles Wood, at Kyson, near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, and was referred by Professor Owen to the genus Macacus. (Mag. of Nat. Hist. Sept. 1839. Taylor, Annals of Nat. Hist. No. xxiii. Nov. 1839.)

16 Owen’s Introduction to British Fossil Mammals, p. 46.

17 Proceedings of Acad. Nat. Sci. Philad. Dec. 9, 1851.

18 See ch. 48.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Phys. Hist. of Mankind, vol. ii. p. 594.

22 Virgil, Eclog. iv. For an account of these doctrines, see Dugald Stewart’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. ii. chap. ii. sect. 4, and Prichard’s Egypt. Mythol. p. 177.

23 See ch. 41.

24 See ch. 35.

25 See ch. 37, 38, 39, 41.

Chapter 10.

Supposed Intensity of Aqueous Forces at Remote Periods.

Intensity of aqueous causes—Slow accumulation of strata proved by fossils—Rate of denudation can only keep pace with deposition—Erratics, and effects of ice—Deluges, and the causes to which they are referred—Supposed universality of ancient deposits.

Intensity of aqueous causes.—The great problem considered in the preceding chapters, namely, whether the former changes of the earth made known to us by geology, resemble in kind and degree those now in daily progress, may still be contemplated from several other points of view. We may inquire, for example, whether there are any grounds for the belief entertained by many, that the intensity both of aqueous and of igneous forces, in remote ages, far exceeded that which we witness in our own times.

First, then, as to aqueous causes: it has been shown, in our history of the science, that Woodward did not hesitate, in 1695, to teach that the entire mass of fossiliferous strata contained in the earth’s crust had been deposited in a few months; and, consequently, as their mechanical and derivative origin was already admitted, the reduction of rocky masses into mud, sand, and pebbles, the transportation of the same to a distance, and their accumulation elsewhere in regular strata, were all assumed to have taken place with a rapidity unparalleled in modern times. This doctrine was modified by degrees, in proportion as different classes of organic remains, such as shells, corals, and fossil plants, had been studied with attention. Analogy led every naturalist to assume, that each full-grown individual of the animal or vegetable kingdom, had required a certain number of months or years for the attainment of maturity, and the perpetuation of its species by generation; and thus the first approach was made to the conception of a common standard of time, without which there are no means whatever of measuring the comparative rate at which any succession of events has taken place at two distinct periods. This standard consisted of the average duration of the lives of individuals of the same genera or families in the animal and vegetable kingdoms; and the multitude of fossils dispersed through successive strata implied the continuance of the same species for many generations. At length the idea that species themselves had had a limited duration, arose out of the observed fact that sets of strata of different ages contained fossils of distinct species. Finally, the opinion became general, that in the course of ages, one assemblage of animals and plants had disappeared after another again and again, and new tribes had started into life to replace them.

Denudation.—In addition to the proofs derived from organic remains, the forms of stratification led also, on a fuller investigation, to the belief that sedimentary rocks had been slowly deposited; but it was still supposed that denudation, or the power of running water, and the waves and currents of the ocean, to strip off superior strata, and lay bare the rocks below, had formerly operated with an energy wholly unequalled in our times. These opinions were both illogical and inconsistent, because deposition and denudation are parts of the same process, and what is true of the one must be true of the other. Their speed must be always limited by the same causes, and the conveyance of solid matter to a particular region can only keep pace with its removal from another, so that the aggregate of sedimentary strata in the earth’s crust can never exceed in volume the amount of solid matter which has been ground down and washed away by running water. How vast, then, must be the spaces which this abstraction of matter has left vacant! how far exceeding in dimensions all the valleys, however numerous, and the hollows, however vast, which we can prove to have been cleared out by aqueous erosion! The evidences of the work of denudation are defective, because it is the nature of every destroying cause to obliterate the signs of its own agency; but the amount of reproduction in the form of sedimentary strata must always afford a true measure of the minimum of denudation which the earth’s surface has undergone.

Erratics.—The next phenomenon to which the advocates of the excessive power of running water in times past have appealed, is the enormous size of the blocks called erratic, which lie scattered over the northern parts of Europe and North America. Unquestionably a large proportion of these blocks have been transported far from their original position, for between them and the parent rocks we now find, not unfrequently, deep seas and valleys intervening, or hills more than a thousand feet high. To explain the present situation of such travelled fragments, a deluge of mud has been imagined by some to have come from the north, bearing along with it sand, gravel, and stony fragments, some of them hundreds of tons in weight. This flood, in its transient passage over the continents, dispersed the boulders irregularly over hill, valley, and plain; or forced them along over a surface of hard rock, so as to polish it and leave it indented with parallel scratches and grooves—such markings as are still visible in the rocks of Scandinavia, Scotland, Canada, and many other countries.

There can be no doubt that the myriads of angular and rounded blocks above alluded to, cannot have been borne along by ordinary rivers or marine currents, so great is their volume and weight, and so clear are the signs, in many places, of time having been occupied in their successive deposition; for they are often distributed at various depths through heaps of regularly stratified sand and gravel. No waves of the sea raised by earthquakes, nor the bursting of lakes dammed up for a time by landslips or by avalanches of snow, can account for the observed facts; but I shall endeavor to show, in the next book, chap. 15,1 that a combination of existing causes may have conveyed erratics into their present situations.

The causes which will be referred to are, first, the carrying power of ice, combined with that of running water; and second, the upward movement of the bed of the sea, converting it gradually into land. Without entering at present into any details respecting these causes, I may mention that the transportation of blocks by ice is now simultaneously in progress in the cold and temperate latitudes, both of the northern and southern hemisphere, as, for example, on the coasts of Canada and Gulf of St. Lawrence, and also in Chili, Patagonia, and the island of South Georgia. In those regions the uneven bed of the ocean is becoming strewed over with ice-drifted fragments, which have either stranded on shoals, or been dropped in deep water by melting bergs. The entanglement of boulders in drift-ice will also be shown to occur annually in North America, and these stones, when firmly frozen into ice, wander year after year from Labrador to the St. Lawrence, and reach points of the western hemisphere farther south than any part of Great Britain.

The general absence of erratics in the warmer parts of the equatorial regions of Asia, Africa, and America, confirms the same views. As to the polishing and grooving of hard rocks, it has lately been ascertained that glaciers give rise to these effects when pushing forward sand, pebbles, and rocky fragments, and causing them to grate along the bottom. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that icebergs, when they run aground on the floor of the ocean, must imprint similar marks upon it.

It is unnecessary, therefore, to refer to deluges, or even to speculate on the former existence of a climate more severe than that now prevailing in the western hemisphere, to explain the geographical distribution of most of the European erratics.

Deluges.—As deluges have been often alluded to, I shall say something of the causes which may be supposed to give rise to these grand movements of water in addition to those already alluded to (p. 9). Geologists who believe that mountain-chains have been thrown up suddenly at many successive epochs, imagine that the waters of the ocean may be raised by these convulsions, and then break in terrific waves upon the land, sweeping over whole continents, hollowing out valleys, and transporting sand, gravel, and erratics, to great distances. The sudden rise of the Alps or Andes, it is said, may have produced a flood even subsequently to the time when the earth became the residence of man. But it seems strange that none of the writers who have indulged their imaginations in conjectures of this kind, should have ascribed a deluge to the sudden conversion of part of the unfathomable ocean into a shoal rather than to the rise of mountain-chains. In the latter case, the mountains themselves could do no more than displace a certain quantity of atmospheric air, whereas, the instantaneous formation of the shoal would displace a vast body of water, which being heaved up to a great height might roll over and permanently submerge a large portion of a continent.

If we restrict ourselves to combinations of causes at present known, it would seem that the two principal sources of extraordinary inundations are, first, the escape of the waters of a large lake raised far above the sea; and, secondly, the pouring down of a marine current into lands depressed below the mean level of the ocean.

As an example of the first of these cases, we may take Lake Superior, which is more than 400 geographical miles in length and about 150 in breadth, having an average depth of from 500 to 900 feet. The surface of this vast body of fresh water is no less than 600 feet above the level of the ocean; the lowest part of the barrier which separates the lake on its southwest side from those streams which flow into the head waters of the Mississippi being about 600 feet high. If, therefore, a series of subsidences should lower any part of this barrier 600 feet, any subsequent rending or depression, even of a few yards at a time, would allow the sudden escape of vast floods of water into a hydrographical basin of enormous extent. If the event happened in the dry season, when the ordinary channels of the Mississippi and its tributaries are in a great degree empty, the inundation might not be considerable; but if in the flood-season, a region capable of supporting a population of many millions might be suddenly submerged. But even this event would be insufficient to cause a violent rush of water, and to produce those effects usually called diluvial; for the difference of level of 600 feet between Lake Superior and the Gulf of Mexico, when distributed over a distance of 1800 miles, would give an average fall of only four inches per mile.

The second case before adverted to is where there are large tracts of dry land beneath the mean level of the ocean. It seems, after much controversy, to be at length a settled point, that the Caspian is really 83 feet 6 inches lower than the Black Sea. As the Caspian covers an area about equal to that of Spain, and as its shores are in general low and flat, there must be many thousand square miles of country less than 83 feet above the level of that inland sea, and consequently depressed below the Black Sea and Mediterranean. This area includes the site of the populous city of Astrakhan and other towns. Into this region the ocean would pour its waters, if the land now intervening between the Sea of Azof and the Caspian should subside. Yet even if this event should occur, it is most probable that the submergence of the whole region would not be accomplished simultaneously, but by a series of minor floods, the sinking of the barrier being gradual.2

Supposed universality of ancient deposits.—The next fallacy which has helped to perpetuate the doctrine that the operations of water were on a different and grander scale in ancient times, is founded on the indefinite areas over which homogeneous deposits were supposed to extend. No modern sedimentary strata, it is said, equally identical in mineral character and fossil contents, can be traced continuously from one quarter of the globe to another. But the first propagators of these opinions were very slightly acquainted with the inconstancy in mineral composition of the ancient formations, and equally so of the wide spaces over which the same kind of sediment is now actually distributed by rivers and currents in the course of centuries. The persistency of character in the older series was exaggerated, its extreme variability in the newer was assumed without proof. In the chapter which treats of river-deltas and the dispersion of sediment by currents, and in the description of reefs of coral now growing over areas many hundred miles in length, I shall have opportunities of convincing the reader of the danger of hasty generalizations on this head.

In regard to the imagined universality of particular rocks of ancient date, it was almost unavoidable that this notion, when once embraced, should be perpetuated; for the same kinds of rock have occasionally been reproduced at successive epochs; and when once the agreement or disagreement in mineral character alone was relied on as the test of age, it followed that similar rocks, if found even at the antipodes, were referred to the same era, until the contrary could be shown.

Now it is usually impossible to combat such an assumption on geological grounds, so long as we are imperfectly acquainted with the order of superposition and the organic remains of these same formations. Thus, for example, a group of red marl and red sandstone, containing salt and gypsum, being interposed in England between the Lias and the Coal, all other red marls and sandstones, associated some of them with salt, and others with gypsum, and occurring not only in different parts of Europe, but in North America, Peru, India, the salt deserts of Asia, those of Africa—in a word, in every quarter of the globe, were referred to one and the same period. The burden of proof was not supposed to rest with those who insisted on the identity in age of all these groups—their identity in mineral composition was thought sufficient. It was in vain to urge as an objection the improbability of the hypothesis which implies that all the moving waters on the globe were once simultaneously charged with sediment of a red color.

But the rashness of pretending to identify, in age, all the red sandstones and marls in question, has at length been sufficiently exposed, by the discovery that, even in Europe, they belong decidedly to many different epochs. It is already ascertained, that the red sandstone and red marl containing the rock-salt of Cardona in Catalonia is newer than the Oolitic, if not more modern than the Cretaceous period. It is also known that certain red marls and variegated sandstones in Auvergne which are undistinguishable in mineral composition from the New Red Sandstone of English geologists, belong, nevertheless, to the Eocene period; and, lastly, the gypseous red marl of Aix, in Provence, formerly supposed to be a marine secondary group, is now acknowledged to be a tertiary freshwater formation. In Nova Scotia one great deposit of red marl, sandstone, and gypsum, precisely resembling in mineral character the “New Red” of England, occurs as a member of the Carboniferous group, and in the United States near the Falls of Niagara, a similar formation constitutes a subdivision of the Silurian series.3

Nor was the nomenclature commonly adopted in geology without its influence in perpetuating the erroneous doctrine of universal formations. Such names, for example, as Chalk, Green Sand, Oolite, Red Marl, Coal, and others, were given to some of the principal fossiliferous groups in consequence of mineral peculiarities which happened to characterize them in the countries where they were first studied. When geologists had at length shown, by means of fossils and the order of superposition, that other strata, entirely dissimilar in color, texture, and composition, were of contemporaneous date, it was thought convenient still to retain the old names. That these were often inappropriate was admitted; but the student was taught to understand them in no other than a chronological sense; so that the Chalk might not be a white cretaceous rock, but a hard dolomitic limestone, as in the Alps, or a brown sandstone or green marl, as in New Jersey, U. S. In like manner, the Green Sand, it was said, might in some places be represented by red sandstone, red marl, salt, and gypsum, as in the north of Spain. So the oolitic texture was declared to be rather an exception than otherwise to the general rule in rocks of the Oolitic period; and it often became necessary to affirm that no particle of carbonaceous matter could be detected in districts where the true Coal series abounded. In spite of every precaution the habitual use of this language could scarcely fail to instil into the mind of the pupil an idea that chalk, coal, salt, red marl, or the Oolitic structure were far more widely characteristic of the rocks of a given age than was really the case.

There is still another cause of deception, disposing us to ascribe a more limited range to the newer sedimentary formations as compared to the older, namely, the very general concealment of the newer strata beneath the waters of lakes and seas, and the wide exposure above waters of the more ancient. The Chalk, for example, now seen stretching for thousands of miles over different parts of Europe, has become visible to us by the effect, not of one, but of many distinct series of subterranean movements. Time has been required, and a succession of geological periods, to raise it above the waves in so many regions; and if calcareous rocks of the middle and upper tertiary periods have been formed, as homogeneous in mineral composition throughout equally extensive regions, it may require convulsions as numerous as all those which have occurred since the origin of the Chalk to bring them up within the sphere of human observation. Hence the rocks of more modern periods may appear partial, as compared to those of remoter eras, not because of any original inferiority in their extent, but because there has not been sufficient time since their origin for the development of a great series of elevatory movements.

In regard, however, to one of the most important characteristics of sedimentary rocks, their organic remains, many naturalists of high authority have maintained that the same species of fossils are more uniformly distributed through formations of high antiquity than in those of more modern date, and that distinct zoological and botanical provinces, as they are called, which form so striking a feature in the living creation, were not established at remote eras. Thus the plants of the Coal, the shells, the trilobites of the Silurian rocks, and the ammonites of the Oolite, have been supposed to have a wider geographical range than any living species of plants, crustaceans, or mollusks. This opinion seems in certain cases to be well founded, especially in relation to the plants of the Carboniferous epoch, owing probably to the more uniform temperature of the globe, at a time when the position of sea and land was less favorable to variations in climate, according to principles already explained in the seventh and eighth chapters. But a recent comparison of the fossils of North American rocks with those of corresponding ages in the European series, has proved that the terrestrial vegetation of the Carboniferous epoch is an exception to the general rule, and that the fauna and flora of the earth at successive periods, from the oldest Silurian to the newest Tertiary was as diversified as now. The shells, corals, and other classes of organic remains demonstrate the fact that the earth might then have been divided into separate zoological provinces, in a manner analogous to that observed in the geographical distribution of species now living.

1 See also Manual of Geology, ch. 11, 12.

2 It has been suspected ever since the middle of the last century, that the Caspian was lower than the ocean, it being known that in Astrakhan the mercury in the barometer generally stands above thirty inches. In 1811, MM. Engelhardt and Parrot attempted to determine the exact amount of difference by a series of levellings and barometrical measurements across the isthmus at two different places near the foot of Mount Caucasus. The result of their operations led them to the opinion that the Caspian was more than 300 feet below the Black Sea. But the correctness of the observations having afterwards been called in question, M. Parrot revisited the ground in 1829 and 1830, and inferred from new levellings, that the mouth of the Don was between three and four feet lower than that of the Wolga; in other words, that the sea of Azof, which communicates with the Black Sea, was actually lower than the Caspian! Other statements, no less contradictory, having been made by other observers, the Russian government at length directed the Academy of St. Petersburg to send an expedition, in 1836, to decide the point by a trigonometrical survey, from which it appeared that the Caspian is 101 Russian, or 108 English, feet lower than the Black Sea. (For authorities, see Journ. Roy. Geograph. Soc. vol. viii. p. 135). Sir R. Murchison, however, concludes, in 1845, from the best Russian authorities, that the depression of the Caspian is only 83 feet 6 inches.

The measurements of Major Anthony Symonds, since confirmed by French authorities, make the Dead Sea to be 1200 feet below the Mediterranean.

3 See Lyell’s Travels in N. America, ch. 2 and 25.

Chapter 11.

On the Supposed Former Intensity of the Igneous Forces.

Volcanic action at successive geological periods—Plutonic rocks of different ages—Gradual development of subterranean movements—Faults—Doctrine of the sudden upheaval of parallel mountain-chains—Objections to the proof of the suddenness of the upheaval, and the contemporaneousness of parallel chains—Trains of active volcanoes not parallel—As large tracts of land are rising or sinking slowly, so narrow zones of land may be pushed up gradually to great heights—Bending of strata by lateral pressure—Adequacy of the volcanic power to effect this without paroxysmal convulsions.

When reasoning on the intensity of volcanic action at former periods, as well as on the power of moving water, already treated of, geologists have been ever prone to represent Nature as having been prodigal of violence and parsimonious of time. Now, although it is less easy to determine the relative ages of the volcanic than of the fossiliferous formations, it is undeniable that igneous rocks have been produced at all geological periods, or as often as we find distinct deposits marked by peculiar animal and vegetable remains. It can be shown that rocks commonly called trappean have been injected into fissures, and ejected at the surface, both before and during the deposition of the Carboniferous series, and at the time when the Magnesian Limestone, and when the Upper New Red Sandstone were formed, or when the Lias, Oolite, Green Sand, Chalk, and the several tertiary groups newer than the chalk, originated in succession. Nor is this all: distinct volcanic products may be referred to the subordinate divisions of each period, such as the Carboniferous, as in the county of Fife, in Scotland, where certain masses of contemporaneous trap are associated with the Lower, others with the Upper Coal measures. And if one of these masses is more minutely examined, we find it to consist of the products of a great many successive outbursts, by which scoriæ and lava were again and again emitted, and afterwards consolidated, then fissured, and finally traversed by melted matter, constituting what are called dikes.1 As we enlarge, therefore, our knowledge of the ancient rocks formed by subterranean heat, we find ourselves compelled to regard them as the aggregate effects of innumerable eruptions, each of which may have been comparable in violence to those now experienced in volcanic regions.

It may indeed be said that we have as yet no data for estimating the relative volume of matter simultaneously in a state of fusion at two given periods, as if we were to compare the columnar basalt of Staffa and its environs with the lava poured out in Iceland in 1783; but for this very reason it would be rash and unphilosophical to assume an excess of ancient as contrasted with modern outpourings of melted matter at particular periods of time.2 It would be still more presumptuous to take for granted that the more deep-seated effects of subterranean heat surpassed at remote eras the corresponding effects of internal heat in our own times. Certain porphyries and granites, and all the rocks commonly called plutonic, are now generally supposed to have resulted from the slow cooling of materials fused and solidified under great pressure; and we cannot doubt that beneath existing volcanoes there are large spaces filled with melted stone, which must for centuries remain in an incandescent state, and then cool and become hard and crystalline when the subterranean heat shall be exhausted. That lakes of lava are continuous for hundreds of miles beneath the Chilian Andes, seems established by observations made in the year 1835.3

Now, wherever the fluid contents of such reservoirs are poured out successively from craters in the open air, or at the bottom of the sea, the matter so ejected may afford evidence by its arrangement of having originated at different periods; but if the subterranean residue after the withdrawal of the heat be converted into crystalline or plutonic rock, the entire mass may seem to have been formed at once, however countless the ages required for its fusion and subsequent refrigeration. As the idea that all the granite in the earth’s crust was produced simultaneously, and in a primitive state of the planet, has now been universally abandoned; so the suggestion above adverted to, may put us on our guard against too readily adopting another opinion, namely, that each large mass of granite was generated in a brief period of time.

Modern writers indeed, of authority, seem more and more agreed that in the case of granitic rocks, the passage from a liquid or pasty to a solid and crystalline state must have been an extremely gradual process.

The doctrine so much insisted upon formerly, that crystalline rocks, such as granite, gneiss, mica-schist, quartzite, and others were produced in the greatest abundance in the earlier ages of the planet, and that their formation has ceased altogether in our own times, will be controverted in the next chapter.

Gradual development of subterranean movements.—The extreme violence of the subterranean forces in remote ages has been often inferred from the facts that the older rocks are more fractured and dislocated than the newer. But what other result could we have anticipated if the quantity of movement had been always equal in equal periods of time? Time must, in that case, multiply the derangement of strata in the ratio of their antiquity. Indeed the numerous exceptions to the above rule which we find in nature, present at first sight the only objection to the hypothesis of uniformity. For the more ancient formations remain in many places horizontal, while in others much newer strata are curved and vertical. This apparent anomaly, however, will be seen in the next chapter to depend on the irregular manner in which the volcanic and subterranean agency affect different parts of the earth in succession, being often renewed again and again in certain areas, while others remain during the whole time at rest.

That the more impressive effects of subterranean power, such as the upheaval of mountain-chains, may have been due to multiplied convulsions of moderate intensity rather than to a few paroxysmal explosions, will appear the less improbable when the gradual and intermittent development of volcanic eruptions in times past is once established. It is now very generally conceded that these eruptions have their source in the same causes as those which give rise to the permanent elevation and sinking of land; the admission, therefore, that one of the two volcanic or subterranean processes has gone on gradually, draws with it the conclusion that the effects of the other have been elaborated by successive and gradual efforts.

Faults.—The same reasoning is applicable to great faults, or those striking instances of the upthrow or downthrow of large masses of rock, which have been thought by some to imply tremendous catastrophes wholly foreign to the ordinary course of nature. Thus we have in England faults, in which the vertical displacement is between 600 and 3000 feet, and the horizontal extent thirty miles or more, the width of the fissures since filled up with rubbish varying from ten to fifty feet. But when we inquire into the proofs of the mass having risen or fallen suddenly on the one side of these great rents, several hundreds or thousands of feet above or below the rock with which it was once continuous on the other side, we find the evidence defective. There are grooves, it is said, and scratches on the rubbed and polished walls, which have often one common direction, favoring the theory that the movement was accomplished by a single stroke, and not by a series of interrupted movements. But, in fact, the striæ are not always parallel in such cases, but often irregular, and sometimes the stones and earth which are in the middle of the fault, or fissure, have been polished and striated by friction in different directions, showing that there have been slidings subsequent to the first introduction of the fragmentary matter. Nor should we forget that the last movement must always tend to obliterate the signs of previous trituration, so that neither its instantaneousness nor the uniformity of its direction can be inferred from the parallelism of the striæ that have been last produced.

When rocks have been once fractured, and freedom of motion communicated to detached portions of them, these will naturally continue to yield in the same direction, if the process of upheaval or of undermining be repeated again and again. The incumbent mass will always give way along the lines of least resistance, or where it was formerly rent asunder. Probably, the effects of reiterated movement, whether upward or downward, in a fault, may be undistinguishable from those of a single and instantaneous rise or subsidence; and the same may be said of the rising or falling of continental masses, such as Sweden or Greenland, which we know to take place slowly and insensibly.

Doctrine of the sudden upheaval of parallel mountain-chains.—The doctrine of the suddenness of many former revolutions in the physical geography of the globe has been thought by some to derive additional confirmation from a theory respecting the origin of mountain-chains, advanced in 1833 by a distinguished geologist, M. Elie de Beaumont. In several essays on this subject, the last published in 1852, he has attempted to establish two points; first, that a variety of independent chains of mountains have been thrown up suddenly at particular periods; and, secondly, that the contemporaneous chains thus thrown up, preserve a parallelism the one to the other.

These opinions, and others by which they are accompanied, are so adverse to the method of interpreting the history of geological changes which I have recommended in this work, that I am desirous of explaining the grounds of my dissent, a course which I feel myself the more called upon to adopt, as the generalizations alluded to are those of a skilful writer, and an original observer of great talent and experience. I shall begin, therefore, by giving a brief summary of the principal propositions laid down in the works above referred to.4

1st. M. de Beaumont supposes “that in the history of the earth there have been long periods of comparative repose, during which the deposition of sedimentary matter has gone on in regular continuity; and there have also been short periods of paroxysmal violence, during which that continuity was broken.

“2dly. At each of these periods of violence or ‘revolution,’ in the state of the earth’s surface, a great number of mountain-chains have been formed suddenly.

“3dly. The chains thrown up by a particular revolution have one uniform direction, being parallel to each other within a few degrees of the compass, even when situated in remote regions; whilst the chains thrown up at different periods have, for the most part, different directions.

“4thly. Each ‘revolution,’ or ‘great convulsion,’ has fallen in with the date of another geological phenomenon; namely, ‘the passage from one independent sedimentary formation to another,’ characterized by a considerable difference in ‘organic types.’

“5thly. There has been a recurrence of these paroxysmal movements from the remotest geological periods; and they may still be reproduced, and the repose in which we live may hereafter be broken by the sudden upthrow of another system of parallel chains of mountains.

“6thly. The origin of these chains depends not on partial volcanic action, or a reiteration of ordinary earthquakes, but on the secular refrigeration of the entire planet. For the whole globe, with the exception of a thin envelope, much thinner in proportion than the shell to an egg, is a fused mass, kept fluid by heat, but constantly cooling and contracting its dimensions. The external crust does not gradually collapse and accommodate itself century after century to the shrunken nucleus, subsiding as often as there is a slight failure of support, but it is sustained throughout whole geological periods, so as to become partially separated from the nucleus, until at last it gives way suddenly, cracking and falling in along determinate lines of fracture. During such a crisis the rocks are subjected to great lateral pressure, the unyielding ones are crushed, and the pliant strata bent, and are forced to pack themselves more closely into a smaller space, having no longer the same room to spread themselves out horizontally. At the same time, a large portion of the mass is squeezed upwards, because it is in the upward direction only that the excess in size of the envelope, as compared to the contracted nucleus, can find relief. This excess produces one or more of those folds or wrinkles in the earth’s crust which we call mountain-chains.

“Lastly, some chains are comparatively modern; such as the Alps, which were partly upheaved after the middle tertiary period. The elevation of the Andes was much more recent, and was accompanied by the simultaneous outburst for the first time of 270 of the principal volcanoes now active.5

“The agitation of the waters of the ocean caused by this convulsion probably occasioned that transient and general deluge which is noticed in the traditions of so many nations.”6

Several of the topics enumerated in the above summary, such as the cause of interruptions in the sedimentary series, will be discussed in the thirteenth chapter, and I shall now confine myself to what I conceive to be the insufficiency of the proofs adduced in favor of the suddenness of the upthrow, and the contemporaneousness of the origin of the parallel chains referred to. At the same time I may remark, that the great body of facts collected together by M. de Beaumont will always form a most valuable addition to our knowledge, tending as they do to confirm the doctrine that different mountain-chains have been formed in succession, and, as Werner first pointed out, that there are certain determinate lines of direction or strike in the strata of various countries.

The following may serve as an analysis of the evidence on which the theory above stated depends. “We observe,” says M. de Beaumont, “when we attentively examine nearly all mountain-chains, that the most recent rocks extend horizontally up to the foot of such chains, as we should expect would be the case if they were deposited in seas or lakes, of which these mountains have partly formed the shores; whilst the other sedimentary beds, tilted up, and more or less contorted, on the flanks of the mountains, rise in certain points even to their highest crests.”7 There are, therefore, in and adjacent to each chain, two classes of sedimentary rocks, the ancient and inclined beds, and the newer or horizontal. It is evident that the first appearance of the chain itself was an event “intermediate between the period when the beds now upraised were deposited, and the period when the strata were produced horizontally at its feet.”

Fig. 11.

Thus the chain A assumed its present position after the deposition of the strata b, which have undergone great movements, and before the deposition of the group c, in which the strata have not suffered derangement.

Fig. 12.

If we then discover another chain B, in which we find not only the formation b, but the group c also, disturbed and thrown on its edges, we may infer that the latter chain is of subsequent date to A; for B must have been elevated after the deposition of c, and before that of the group d; whereas A had originated before the strata c were formed.

It is then argued, that in order to ascertain whether other mountain ranges are of contemporaneous date with A and B, or are referable to distinct periods, we have only to inquire whether the inclined and undisturbed sets of strata in each range correspond with or differ from those in the typical chain A and B.

Now all this reasoning is perfectly correct, so long as the period of time required for the deposition of the strata b and c is not made identical in duration with the period of time during which the animals and plants found fossil in b and c may have flourished; for the latter, that is to say, the duration of certain groups of species, may have greatly exceeded, and probably did greatly exceed, the former, or the time required for the accumulation of certain local deposits, such as b and c (figs. 11 and 12). In order, moreover, to render the reasoning correct, due latitude must be given to the term contemporaneous; for this term must be understood to allude, not to a moment of time, but to the interval, whether brief or protracted, which elapsed between two events, namely, between the accumulation of the inclined and that of the horizontal strata.

But, unfortunately, no attempt has been made in the treatises under review to avoid this manifest source of confusion, and hence the very terms of each proposition are equivocal; and the possible length of some of the intervals is so vast, that to affirm that all the chains raised in such intervals were contemporaneous is an abuse of language.

In order to illustrate this argument, I shall select the Pyrenees as an example. Originally M. E. de Beaumont spoke of this range of mountains as having been uplifted suddenly (à un seul jet), but he has since conceded that in this chain, in spite of the general unity and simplicity of its structure, six, if not seven, systems of dislocation of different dates can be recognized.8 In reference, however, to the latest, and by far the most important of these convulsions, the chain is said to have attained its present elevation at a certain epoch in the earth’s history, namely, between the deposition of the chalk, or rocks of about that age, and that of certain tertiary formations “as old as the plastic clay;” for the chalk is seen in vertical, curved, and distorted beds on the flanks of the chain, as the beds b, fig. 11, while the tertiary formations rest upon them in horizontal strata at its base, as c, ibid.

The proof, then, of the extreme suddenness of the convulsion is supposed to be the shortness of the time which intervened between the formation of the chalk and the origin of certain tertiary strata.9 Even if the interval were deducible within these limits, it might comprise an indefinite lapse of time. In strictness of reasoning, however, the author cannot exclude the Cretaceous or Tertiary periods from the possible duration of the interval during which the elevation may have taken place. For, in the first place, it cannot be assumed that the movement of upheaval took place after the close of the Cretaceous period; we can merely say, that it occurred after the deposition of certain strata of that period; secondly, although it were true that the event happened before the formation of all the tertiary strata now at the base of the Pyrenees, it would by no means follow that it preceded the whole Tertiary epoch.

The age of the strata, both of the inclined and horizontal series, may have been accurately determined by M. De Beaumont, and still the upheaving of the Pyrenees may have been going on before the animals of the Chalk period, such as are found fossil in England, had ceased to exist, or when the Maestricht beds were in progress, or during the indefinite ages which may have elapsed between the extinction of the Maestricht animals and the introduction of the Eocene tribes, or during the Eocene epoch, or the rise may have been going on throughout one, or several, or all of these periods.

It would be a purely gratuitous assumption to say that the inclined cretaceous strata (b, fig. 11.) on the flanks of the Pyrenees, were the very last which were deposited during the Cretaceous period, or that, as soon as they were upheaved, all or nearly all the species of animals and plants now found fossil in them were suddenly exterminated; yet, unless this can be affirmed, we cannot say that the Pyrenees were not upheaved during the Cretaceous period. Consequently, another range of mountains, at the base of which cretaceous rocks may lie in horizontal stratification, may have been elevated, like the chain A, fig. 12, during some part of the same great period.

There are mountains in Sicily two or three thousand feet high, the tops of which are composed of limestone, in which a large proportion of the fossil shells agree specifically with those now inhabiting the Mediterranean. Here, as in many other countries, the deposits now in progress in the sea must inclose shells and other fossils specifically identical with those of the rocks constituting the contiguous land. So there are islands in the Pacific where a mass of dead coral has emerged to a considerable altitude, while other portions of the mass remain beneath the sea, still increasing by the growth of living zoophytes and shells. The chalk of the Pyrenees, therefore, may at a remote period have been raised to an elevation of several thousand feet, while the species found fossil in the same chalk still continued to be represented in the fauna of the neighboring ocean. In a word, we cannot assume that the origin of a new range of mountains caused the Cretaceous period to cease, and served as the prelude to a new order of things in the animate creation.

To illustrate the grave objections above advanced, against the theory considered in the present chapter, let us suppose, that in some country three styles of architecture had prevailed in succession, each for a period of one thousand years; first the Greek, then the Roman, and then the Gothic; and that a tremendous earthquake was known to have occurred in the same district during one of the three periods—a convulsion of such violence as to have levelled to the ground all the buildings then standing. If an antiquary, desirous of discovering the date of the catastrophe, should first arrive at a city where several Greek temples were lying in ruins and half engulphed in the earth, while many Gothic edifices were standing uninjured, could he determine on these data the era of the shock? Could he even exclude any one of the three periods, and decide that it must have happened during one of the other two? Certainly not. He could merely affirm that it happened at some period after the introduction of the Greek style, and before the Gothic had fallen into disuse. Should he pretend to define the date of the convulsion with greater precision, and decide that the earthquake must have occurred after the Greek and before the Gothic period, that is to say, when the Roman style was in use, the fallacy in his reasoning would be too palpable to escape detection for a moment.

Yet such is the nature of the erroneous induction which I am now exposing. For as, in the example above proposed, the erection of a particular edifice is perfectly distinct from the period of architecture in which it may have been raised, so is the deposition of chalk, or any other set of strata, from the geological epochs characterized by certain fossils to which they may belong.

It is almost superfluous to enter into any farther analysis of the theory of parallelism, because the whole force of the argument depends on the accuracy of the data by which the contemporaneous or non-contemporaneous date of the elevation of two independent chains can be demonstrated. In every case, this evidence, as stated by M. de Beaumont, is equivocal, because he has not included in the possible interval of time between the depositions of the deranged and the horizontal formations, part of the periods to which each of those classes of formations are referable. Even if all the geological facts, therefore, adduced by the author were true and unquestionable, yet the conclusion that certain chains were or were not simultaneously upraised is by no means a legitimate consequence.

In the third volume of my first edition of the Principles, which appeared in April, 1833, I controverted the views of M. de Beaumont, then just published, in the same terms as I have now restated them. At that time I took for granted that the chronological date of the newest rocks entering into the disturbed series of the Pyrenees had been correctly ascertained. It now appears, however, that some of the most modern of those disturbed strata belong to the nummulitic formation, which are regarded by the majority of geologists as Eocene or older tertiary, an opinion not assented to by M. E. de Beaumont, and which I cannot discuss here without being led into too long a digression.10

Perhaps a more striking illustration of the difficulties we encounter, when we attempt to apply the theory under consideration even to the best known European countries, is afforded by what is called “The System of the Longmynds.” This small chain, situated in Shropshire, is the third of the typical systems to which M. E. de Beaumont compares other mountain ranges corresponding in strike and structure. The date assigned to its upheaval is “after the unfossiliferous greywacke, or Cambrian strata, and before the Silurian.” But Sir R. I. Murchison had shown in 1838, in his “Silurian System,” and the British government surveyors, since that time, in their sections (about 1845), that the Longmynds and other chains of similar composition in North Wales are post-Silurian. In all of them fossiliferous beds of the lower Silurian formation, or Llandeilo flags are highly inclined, and often vertical. In one limited region the Caradoc sandstone, a member of the lower Silurian, rests unconformably on the denuded edges of the inferior (or Llandeilo) member of the same group; whilst in some cases both of these sets of strata are upturned. When, therefore, so grave an error is detected in regard to the age of a typical chain, we are entitled to inquire with surprise, by what means nine other parallel chains in France, Germany, and Sweden, assumed to be “ante-Silurian,” have been made to agree precisely in date with the Longmynds? If they are correctly represented as having been all deposited before the deposition of the Silurian strata, they cannot be contemporaneous with the Longmynds, and they only prove how little reliance can be placed on parallelism as a test of simultaneousness of upheaval. But in truth it is impossible, for reasons already given, to demonstrate that each of those nine chains coincide in date with one another, any more than with the Longmynds.

The reader will see in the sequel (chap. 3111) that Mr. Hopkins has inferred from astronomical calculations, that the solid crust of the earth cannot be less than 800 or 1000 miles thick, and may be more. Even if it be solid to the depth of 100 miles, such a thickness would be inconsistent with M. E. de Beaumont’s hypothesis, which requires a shell not more than thirty miles thick, or even less. Mr. Hopkins admits that the exterior of the planet, though solid as a whole, may contain within it vast lakes or seas of lava. If so, the gradual fusion of rocks, and the expansive power of heat exerted for ages, as well as the subsequent contraction of the same during slow refrigeration, may perhaps account for the origin of mountain-chains, for these, as Dolomieu has remarked, are “far less important, proportionally speaking, than the inequalities on the surface of an egg-shell, which to the eye appears smooth.” A “centripetal force” affecting the whole planet as it cools, seems a mightier cause than is required to produce wrinkles of such insignificant size.

In pursuing his investigations, M. E. de Beaumont has of late greatly multiplied the number of successive periods of instantaneous upheaval, admitting at the same time that occasionally new lines of upthrow have taken the direction of older ones.12 These admissions render his views much more in harmony with the principles advocated in this work, but they impair the practical utility of parallelism considered as a chronological test; for no rule is laid down for limiting the interval, whether in time or space, which may separate two parallel lines of upheaval of different dates.13

Among the various propositions above laid down (p. 164), it will be seen that the sudden rise of the Andes is spoken of as a modern event, but Mr. Darwin has brought together ample data in proof of the local persistency of volcanic action throughout a long succession of geological periods, beginning with times antecedent to the deposition of the oolitic and cretaceous formations of Chili, and continuing to the historical epoch. It appears that some of the parallel ridges which compose the Cordilleras, instead of being contemporaneous, were successively and slowly upheaved at widely different epochs. The whole range, after twice subsiding some thousands of feet, was brought up again by a slow movement in mass, during the era of the Eocene tertiary formations, after which the whole sank down once more several hundred feet, to be again uplifted to its present level by a slow and often interrupted movement.14 In a portion of this latter period the “Pampean mud” was formed, in which the Megatherium mylodon and other extinct quadrupeds are buried. This mud contains in it recent species of shells, some of them proper to brackish water, and is believed by Mr. Darwin to be an estuary or delta deposit. M. A. d’Orbigny, however, has advanced an hypothesis referred to by M. E. de Beaumont, that the agitation and displacement of the waters of the ocean, caused by the elevation of the Andes, gave rise to a deluge, of which this Pampean mud, which rises sometimes to the height of 12,000 feet, is the result and monument.15

In studying many chains of mountains, we find that the strike or line of outcrop of continuous sets of strata, and the general direction of the chain, may be far from rectilinear. Curves forming angles of 20° or 30° may be found in the same range as in the Alleghanies; just as trains of active volcanoes and the zones throughout which modern earthquakes occur are often linear, without running in straight lines. Nor are all of these, though contemporaneous or belonging to our own epoch, by any means parallel, but some at right angles, the one to the other.

Slow upheaval and subsidence.—Recent observations have disclosed to us the wonderful fact, that not only the west coast of South America, but also other large areas, some of them several thousand miles in circumference, such as Scandinavia, and certain archipelagoes in the Pacific, are slowly and insensibly rising; while other regions, such as Greenland, and parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, in which atolls or circular coral islands abound, are as gradually sinking. That all the existing continents and submarine abysses may have originated in movements of this kind, continued throughout incalculable periods of time, is undeniable, and the denudation which the dry land appears everywhere to have suffered, favors the idea that it was raised from the deep by a succession of upward movements, prolonged throughout indefinite periods. For the action of waves and currents on land slowly emerging from the deep, affords the only power by which we can conceive so many deep valleys and wide spaces to have been denuded as those which are unquestionably the effects of running water.

But perhaps it may be said that there is no analogy between the slow upheaval of broad plains or table-lands, and the manner in which we must presume all mountain-chains, with their inclined strata, to have originated. It seems, however, that the Andes have been rising century after century, at the rate of several feet, while the Pampas on the east have been raised only a few inches in the same time. Crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in a line passing through Mendoza, Mr. Darwin traversed a plain 800 miles broad, the eastern part of which has emerged from beneath the sea at a very modern period. The slope from the Atlantic is at first very gentle, then greater, until the traveller finds, on reaching Mendoza, that he has gained, almost insensibly, a height of 4000 feet. The mountainous district then begins suddenly, and its breadth from Mendoza to the shores of the Pacific is 120 miles, the average height of the principal chain being from 15,000 to 16,000 feet, without including some prominent peaks, which ascend much higher. Now all we require, to explain the origin of the principal inequalities of level here described, is to imagine, first, a zone of more violent movement to the west of Mendoza, and, secondly, to the east of that place, an upheaving force, which died away gradually as it approached the Atlantic. In short, we are only called upon to conceive, that the region of the Andes was pushed up four feet in the same period in which the Pampas near Mendoza rose one foot, and the plains near the shores of the Atlantic one inch. In Europe we have learnt that the land at the North Cape ascends about five feet in a century, while farther to the south the movements diminish in quantity first to a foot, and then, at Stockholm, to three inches in a century, while at certain points still farther south there is no movement.

But in what manner, it is asked, can we account for the great lateral pressure which has been exerted not only in the Andes, Alps, and other chains, but also on the strata of many low and nearly level countries? Do not the folding and fracture of the beds, the anticlinal and synclinal ridges and troughs, as they are called, and the vertical, and even sometimes the inverted position of the beds, imply an abruptness and intensity in the disturbing force wholly different in kind and energy to that which now rends the rocks during ordinary earthquakes? I shall treat more fully in the sequel (end of chap. 32) of the probable subterranean sources, whether of upward or downward movement, and of great lateral pressure; but it may be well briefly to state in this place that in our own times, as, for example, in Chili, in 1822, the volcanic force has overcome the resistance, and permanently uplifted a country of such vast extent that the weight and volume of the Andes must be insignificant in comparison, even if we indulge the most moderate conjectures as to the thickness of the earth’s crust above the volcanic foci.

To assume that any set of strata with which we are acquainted are made up of such cohesive and unyielding materials, as to be able to resist a power of such stupendous energy, if its direction, instead of being vertical, happened to be oblique or horizontal, would be extremely rash. But if they could yield to a sideway thrust, even in a slight degree, they would become squeezed and folded to any amount if subjected for a sufficient number of times to the repeated action of the same force. We can scarcely doubt that a mass of rock several miles thick was uplifted in Chili in 1822 and 1835, and that a much greater volume of solid matter is upheaved wherever the rise of the land is very gradual, as in Scandinavia, the development of heat being probably, in that region, at a greater distance from the surface. If continents, rocked, shaken, and fissured, like the western region of South America, or very gently elevated, like Norway and Sweden, do not acquire in a few days or hours an additional height of several thousand feet, this can arise from no lack of mechanical force in the subterranean moving cause, but simply because the antagonist power, or the strength, toughness, and density of the earth’s crust is insufficient to resist, so long, as to allow the volcanic energy an indefinite time to accumulate. Instead of the explosive charge augmenting in quantity for countless ages, it finds relief continuously, or by a succession of shocks of moderate violence, so as never to burst or blow up the covering of incumbent rock in one grand paroxysmal convulsion. Even in its most energetic efforts it displays an intermittent and mitigated intensity, being never permitted to lay a whole continent in ruins. Hence the numerous eruptions of lava from the same vent, or chain of vents, and the recurrence of similar earthquakes for thousands of years along certain areas or zones of country. Hence the numerous monuments of the successive ejection and injection of melted matter in ancient geological epochs, and the fissures formed in distinct ages, and often widened and filled at different eras.

Among the causes of lateral pressure, the expansion by heat of large masses of solid stone intervening between others which have a different degree of expansibility, or which happen not to have their temperature raised at the same time, may play an important part. But as we know that rocks have so often sunk down thousands of feet below their original level, we can hardly doubt that much of the bending of pliant strata, and the packing of the same into smaller spaces, has frequently been occasioned by subsidence. Whether the failure of support be produced by the melting of porous rocks, which, when fluid, and subjected to great pressure, may occupy less room than before, or which, by passing from a pasty to a crystalline condition, may, as in the case of granite, according to the experiments of Deville, suffer a contraction of 10 per cent., or whether the sinking be due to the subtraction of lava driven elsewhere to some volcanic orifice, and there forced outwards, or whether it be brought on by the shrinking of solid and stony masses during refrigeration, or by the condensation of gases, or any other imaginable cause, we have no reason to incline to the idea that the consequent geological changes are brought about so suddenly, as that large parts of continents are swallowed up at once in unfathomable subterranean abysses. If cavities be formed, they will be enlarged gradually, and as gradually filled. We read, indeed, accounts of engulphed cities and areas of limited extent which have sunk down many yards at once; but we have as yet no authentic records of the sudden disappearance of mountains, or the submergence or emergence of great islands. On the other hand, the creeps in coal mines16 demonstrate that gravitation begins to act as soon as a moderate quantity of matter is removed even at a great depth. The roof sinks in, or the floor of the mine rises, and the bent strata often assume as regularly a curved and crumpled arrangement as that observed on a grander scale in mountain-chains. The absence, indeed, of chaotic disorder, and the regularity of the plications in geological formations of high antiquity, although not unfrequently adduced to prove the unity and instantaneousness of the disturbing force, might with far greater propriety be brought forward as an argument in favor of the successive application of some irresistible but moderated force, such as that which can elevate or depress a continent.

In conclusion, I may observe that one of the soundest objections to the theory of the sudden upthrow or downthrow of mountain-chains is this, that it provides us with too much force of one kind, namely, that of subterranean movement, while it deprives us of another kind of mechanical force, namely, that exerted by the waves and currents of the ocean, which the geologist requires for the denudation of land during its slow upheaval or depression. It may be safely affirmed that the quantity of igneous and aqueous action,—of volcanic eruption and denudation,—of subterranean movement and sedimentary deposition,—not only of past ages, but of one geological epoch, or even the fraction of an epoch, has exceeded immeasurably all the fluctuations of the inorganic world which have been witnessed by man. But we have still to inquire whether the time to which each chapter or page or paragraph of the earth’s autobiography relates, was not equally immense when contrasted with a brief era of 3000 or 5000 years. The real point on which the whole controversy turns, is the relative amount of work done by mechanical force in given quantities of time, past and present. Before we can determine the relative intensity of the force employed, we must have some fixed standard by which to measure the time expended in its development at two distinct periods. It is not the magnitude of the effects, however gigantic their proportions, which can inform us in the slightest degree whether the operation was sudden or gradual, insensible or paroxysmal. It must be shown that a slow process could never in any series of ages give rise to the same results.

The advocate of paroxysmal energy might assume a uniform and fixed rate of variation in times past and present for the animate world, that is to say, for the dying-out and coming-in of species, and then endeavor to prove that the changes of the inanimate world have not gone on in a corresponding ratio. But the adoption of such a standard of comparison would lead, I suspect, to a theory by no means favorable to the pristine intensity of natural causes. That the present state of the organic world is not stationary, can be fairly inferred from the fact, that some species are known to have become extinct in the course even of the last three centuries, and that the exterminating causes always in activity, both on the land and in the waters, are very numerous; also, because man himself is an extremely modern creation; and we may therefore reasonably suppose that some of the mammalia now contemporary with man, as well as a variety of species of inferior classes, may have been recently introduced into the earth, to supply the places of plants and animals which have from time to time disappeared. But granting that some such secular variation in the zoological and botanical worlds is going on, and is by no means wholly inappreciable to the naturalist, still it is certainly far less manifest than the revolution always in progress in the inorganic world. Every year some volcanic eruptions take place, and a rude estimate might be made of the number of cubic feet of lava and scoriæ poured or cast out of various craters. The amount of mud and sand deposited in deltas, and the advance of new land upon the sea, or the annual retreat of wasting sea-cliffs, are changes the minimum amount of which might be roughly estimated. The quantity of land raised above or depressed below the level of the sea might also be computed, and the change arising from such movements in a century might be conjectured. Suppose the average rise of the land in some parts of Scandinavia to be as much as five feet in a hundred years, the present sea-coast might be uplifted 700 feet in fourteen thousand years; but we should have no reason to anticipate, from any zoological data hitherto acquired, that the molluscous fauna of the northern seas would in that lapse of years undergo any sensible amount of variation. We discover sea-beaches in Norway 700 feet high, in which the shells are identical with those now inhabiting the German Ocean; for the rise of land in Scandinavia, however insensible to the inhabitants, has evidently been rapid when compared to the rate of contemporaneous change in the testaceous fauna of the German Ocean. Were we to wait therefore until the mollusca shall have undergone as much fluctuation as they underwent between the period of the Lias and the Upper Oolite formations; or between the Oolite and Chalk, nay, even between any two of eight subdivisions of the Eocene series, what stupendous revolutions in physical geography ought we not to expect, and how many mountain-chains might not be produced by the repetition of shocks of moderate violence, or by movements not even perceptible by man!

Or, if we turn from the mollusca to the vegetable kingdom, and ask the botanist how many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions might be expected, and how much the relative level of land and sea might be altered, or how far the principal deltas will encroach upon the ocean, or the sea-cliffs recede from the present shores, before the species of European forest-trees will die out, he would reply that such alterations in the inanimate world might be multiplied indefinitely before he should have reason to anticipate, by reference to any known data, that the existing species of trees in our forests would disappear and give place to others. In a word, the movement of the inorganic world is obvious and palpable, and might be likened to the minute-hand of a clock, the progress of which can be seen and heard, whereas the fluctuations of the living creation are nearly invisible, and resemble the motion of the hour-hand of a timepiece. It is only by watching it attentively for some time, and comparing its relative position after an interval, that we can prove the reality of its motion.17

1 See Manual of Geology, chap. 29 to 33, inclusive.

2 See ch. 26, infrà.

3 See ch. 27, infrà.

4 Ann. des Sci. Nat., Septembre, Novembre, et Décembre, 1829. Revue Française, No. 15, May, 1830. Bulletin de la Société Géol. de France, p. 864, May, 1847. The latest edition of M. de Beaumont’s theory will be found in the 12th vol. of the Dictionnaire Universel d’Hist. Nat. 1852, art. “Systèmes des Montagues;” also the same printed separately.

5 Système de Mont. p. 762.

6 Ibid. pp. 761 and 773.

7 Phil. Mag. and Annals, No. 58. New Series, p. 242.

8 Système de Montagnes, 1852, p. 429.

9 Phil. Mag. and Annals, No. 58. New series, p. 243.

10 Système de Montagnes, 1852, p. 429.

11 For page, see Index, “Hopkins.”

12 Art. Système de Montagnes, p. 775.

13 M. E de Beaumont in his later inquiries (Comptes rendus, Sept. 1850, and Systèmes des Montagnes) has come to the conclusion, that the principal mountain ranges, if prolonged, would intersect each other at certain angles, so as to produce a regular geometric arrangement, which he calls “a pentagonal network.” This theory has been ably discussed and controverted by Mr. Hopkins, in his Anniversary Address as President of the Geol. Soc., Feb. 1853.

14 Darwin’s Geology of South America, p. 248. London, 1846.

15 Système de Montagnes, p. 748.

16 See Lyell’s Manual of Elementary Geology, ch. 5.

17 See the Author’s Anniversary Address, Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1850, vol. vi. p. 46, from which some of the above passages are extracted.

Chapter 12

Difference in Texture of the Older and Newer Rocks.

Consolidation of fossiliferous strata—Some deposits originally solid—Transition and slaty texture—Crystalline character of Plutonic and Metamorphic rocks—Theory of their origin—Essentially subterranean—No proofs that they were produced more abundantly at remote periods.

Another argument in favor of the dissimilarity of the causes operating at remote and recent eras has been derived by many geologists from the more compact, stony, and crystalline texture of the older as compared with the newer rocks.

Consolidation of strata.—This subject may be considered, first in reference to the fossiliferous strata; and, secondly, in reference to those crystalline and stratified rocks which contain no organic remains, such as gneiss and mica-schist. There can be no doubt that the former of these classes, or the fossiliferous, are generally more compact and stony in proportion as they are more ancient. It is also certain that a great part of them were originally in a soft and incoherent state, and that they have been since consolidated. Thus we find occasionally that shingle and sand have been agglutinated firmly together by a ferruginous or siliceous cement, or that lime in solution has been introduced, so as to bind together materials previously incoherent. Organic remains have sometimes suffered a singular transformation, as for example, where shells, corals, and wood are silicified, their calcareous or ligneous matter having been replaced by nearly pure silica. The constituents of some beds have probably set and become hard for the first time when they emerged from beneath the water.

But, on the other hand, we observe in certain formations now in progress, particularly in coral reefs, and in deposits from the waters of mineral springs, both calcareous and siliceous, that the texture of rocks may sometimes be stony from the first. This circumstance may account for exceptions to the general rule, not unfrequently met with, where solid strata are superimposed on others of a plastic and incoherent nature, as in the neighborhood of Paris, where the tertiary formations, consisting often of compact limestone and siliceous grit, are more stony than the subjacent chalk.

It will readily be understood, that the various solidifying causes, including those above enumerated, together with the pressure of incumbent rocks and the influence of subterranean heat, must all of them require time in order to exert their full power. If in the course of ages they modify the aspect and internal structure of stratified deposits, they will give rise to a general distinctness of character in the older as contrasted with the newer formations. But this distinctness will not be the consequence of any original diversity; they will be unlike, just as the wood in the older trees of a forest usually differs in texture and hardness from that of younger individuals of the same species.

Transition texture.—In the original classification, of Werner, the highly crystalline rocks, such as granite and gneiss, which contain no organic remains, were called primary, and the fossiliferous strata secondary, while to another class of an age intermediate between the primary and secondary he gave the name of transition. They were termed transition because they partook in some degree in their mineral composition of the nature of the most crystalline rocks, such as gneiss and mica-schist, while they resembled the fossiliferous series in containing occasionally organic remains, and exhibiting evident signs of a mechanical origin. It was at first imagined, that the rocks having this intermediate texture had been all deposited subsequently to the series called primary, and before all the more earthy and fossiliferous formations. But when the relative position and organic remains of these transition rocks were better understood, it was perceived that they did not all belong to one period. On the contrary, the same mineral characters were found in strata of very different ages, and some formations occurring in the Alps, which several of the ablest scholars of Werner had determined to be transition, were ultimately ascertained, by means of their fossil contents and position, to be members of the Cretaceous, and even of the nummulitic or Eocene period. These strata had, in fact, acquired the transition texture from the influence of causes which, since their deposition had modified their internal arrangement.

Texture and origin of Plutonic and metamorphic rocks.—Among the most singular of the changes superinduced on rocks, we have occasionally to include the slaty texture, the divisional planes of which sometimes intersect the true planes of stratification, and even pass directly through imbedded fossils. If, then, the crystalline, the slaty, and other modes of arrangement, once deemed characteristic of certain periods in the history of the earth, have in reality been assumed by fossiliferous rocks of different ages and at different times, we are prepared to inquire whether the same may not be true of the most highly crystalline state, such as that of gneiss, mica-schist, and statuary marble. That the peculiar characteristics of such rocks are really due to a variety of modifying causes has long been suspected by many geologists, and the doctrine has gained ground of late, although a considerable difference of opinion still prevails. According to the original Neptunian theory, all the crystalline formations were precipitated from a universal menstruum or chaotic fluid antecedently to the creation of animals and plants, the unstratified granite having been first thrown down so as to serve as a floor or foundation on which gneiss and other stratified rocks might repose. Afterwards, when the igneous origin of granite was no longer disputed, many conceived that a thermal ocean enveloped the globe, at a time when the first-formed crust of granite was cooling, but when it still retained much of its heat. The hot waters of this ocean held in solution the ingredients of gneiss, mica-schist, hornblende-schist, clay-slate, and marble, rocks which were precipitated, one after the other, in a crystalline form. No fossils could be inclosed in them, the high temperature of the fluid and the quantity of mineral matter which it held in solution, rendering it unfit for the support of organic beings.

It would be inconsistent with the plan of this work to enter here into a detailed account of what I have elsewhere termed the metamorphic theory;1 but I may state that it is now demonstrable in some countries that fossiliferous formations, some of them of the age of the Silurian strata, as near Christiana in Norway, others belonging to the Oolitic period, as around Carrara in Italy, have been converted partially into gneiss, mica-schist, and statuary marble. The transmutation has been effected apparently by the influence of subterranean heat, acting under great pressure, or by chemical and electrical causes operating in a manner not yet understood, and which have been termed Plutonic action, as expressing, in one word, all the modifying causes which may be brought into play at great depths, and under conditions never exemplified at the surface. To this Plutonic action the fusion of granite itself in the bowels of the earth, as well as the superinducement of the metamorphic texture into sedimentary strata, must be attributed; and in accordance with these views the age of each metamorphic formation may be said to be twofold, for we have first to consider the period when it originated, as an aqueous deposit, in the form of mud, sand, marl, or limestone; secondly, the date at which it acquired a crystalline texture. The same strata, therefore, may, according to this view, be very ancient in reference to the time of their deposition, and very modern in regard to the period of their assuming the metamorphic character.

No proofs that these crystalline rocks were produced more abundantly at remote periods.—Several modern writers, without denying the truth of the Plutonic or metamorphic theory, still contend that the crystalline and non-fossiliferous formations, whether stratified or unstratified, such as gneiss and granite, are essentially ancient as a class of rocks. They were generated, say they, most abundantly in the primeval state of the globe, since which time the quantity produced has been always on the decrease, until it became very inconsiderable in the Oolitic and Cretaceous periods, and quite evanescent before the commencement of the tertiary epoch.

Now the justness of these views depends almost entirely on the question whether granite, gneiss, and other rocks of the same order ever originated at the surface, or whether, according to the opinions above adopted, they are essentially subterranean in their origin, and therefore entitled to the appellation of hypogene. If they were formed superficially in their present state, and as copiously in the modern as in the more ancient periods, we ought to see a greater abundance of tertiary and secondary than of primary granite and gneiss; but if we adopt the hypogene theory before explained, their rapid diminution in volume among the visible rocks in the earth’s crust in proportion as we investigate the formations of newer date, is quite intelligible. If a melted mass of matter be now cooling very slowly at the depth of several miles beneath the crater of an active volcano, it must remain invisible until great revolutions in the earth’s crust have been brought about. So also if stratified rocks have been subjected to Plutonic action, and after having been baked or reduced to semi-fusion, are now cooling and crystallizing far under ground, it will probably require the lapse of many periods before they will be forced up to the surface and exposed to view, even at a single point. To effect this purpose there may be need of as great a development of subterranean movement as that which in the Alps, Andes, and Himalaya has raised marine strata containing ammonites to the height of 8000, 14,000, and 16,000 feet. By parity of reasoning we can hardly expect that any hypogene rocks of the tertiary periods will have been brought within the reach of human observation, seeing that the emergence of such rocks must always be so long posterior to the date of their origin, and still less can formations of this class become generally visible until so much time has elapsed as to confer on them a high relative antiquity. Extensive denudation must also combine with upheaval before they can be displayed at the surface throughout wide areas.

All geologists who reflect on subterranean movements now going on, and the eruptions of active volcanoes, are convinced that great changes are now continually in progress in the interior of the earth’s crust far out of sight. They must be conscious, therefore, that the inaccessibility of the regions in which these alterations are taking place, compels them to remain in ignorance of a great part of the working of existing causes, so that they can only form vague conjectures in regard to the nature of the products which volcanic heat may elaborate under great pressure.

But when they find in mountain-chains of high antiquity, that what was once the interior of the earth’s crust has since been forced outwards and exposed to view, they will naturally expect in the examination of those mountainous regions, to have an opportunity of gratifying their curiosity by obtaining a sight not only of the superficial strata of remote eras, but also of the contemporaneous nether-formed rocks. Having recognized, therefore, in such mountain-chains some ancient rocks of aqueous and volcanic origin, corresponding in character to superficial formations of modern date, they will regard any other class of ancient rocks, such as granite and gneiss, as the residual phenomena of which they are in search. These latter rocks will not answer the expectations previously formed of their probable nature and texture, unless they wear a foreign and mysterious aspect, and have in some places been fused or altered by subterranean heat; in a word, unless they differ wholly from the fossiliferous strata deposited at the surface, or from the lava and scoriæ thrown out by volcanoes in the open air. It is the total distinctness, therefore, of crystalline formations, such as granite, hornblende-schist, and the rest, from every substance of which the origin is familiar to us, that constitutes their claim to be regarded as the effects of causes now in action in the subterranean regions. They belong not to an order of things which has passed away; they are not the monuments of a primeval period, bearing inscribed upon them in obsolete characters the words and phrases of a dead language; but they teach us that part of the living language of nature, which we cannot learn by our daily intercourse with what passes on the habitable surface.

1 See Lyell’s Manual of Elementary Geology.

Chapter 13

Uniformity in the Series of past Changes in the Animate and Inanimate World.

Supposed alternate periods of repose and disorder—Observed facts in which this doctrine has originated—These may be explained by supposing a uniform and uninterrupted series of changes—Threefold consideration of this subject; first, in reference to the living creation, extinction of species, and origin of new animals and plants; secondly, in reference to the changes produced in the earth’s crust by the continuance of subterranean movements in certain areas, and their transference after long periods to new areas; thirdly, in reference to the laws which govern the formation of fossiliferous strata, and the shifting of the areas of sedimentary deposition—On the combined influence of all these modes and causes of change in producing breaks and chasms in the chain of records—Concluding remarks on the identity of the ancient and present system of terrestrial changes.

Origin of the doctrine of alternate periods of repose and disorder.—It has been truly observed, that when we arrange the fossiliferous formations in chronological order, they constitute a broken and defective series of monuments: we pass without any intermediate gradations, from systems of strata which are horizontal to other systems which are highly inclined, from rocks of peculiar mineral composition to others which have a character wholly distinct,—from one assemblage of organic remains to another, in which frequently all the species, and most of the genera, are different. These violations of continuity are so common, as to constitute the rule rather than the exception, and they have been considered by many geologists as conclusive in favor of sudden revolutions in the inanimate and animate world. According to the speculations of some writers, there have been in the past history of the planet alternate periods of tranquillity and convulsion, the former enduring for ages, and resembling that state of things now experienced by man: the other brief, transient, and paroxysmal, giving rise to new mountains, seas, and valleys, annihilating one set of organic beings, and ushering in the creation of another.

It will be the object of the present chapter to demonstrate, that these theoretical views are not borne out by a fair interpretation of geological monuments. It is true that in the solid framework of the globe, we have a chronological chain of natural records, and that many links in this chain are wanting; but a careful consideration of all the phenomena will lead to the opinion that the series was originally defective,—that it has been rendered still more so by time—that a great part of what remains is inaccessible to man, and even of that fraction which is accessible, nine-tenths are to this day unexplored.

How the facts may be explained by assuming a uniform series of changes.—The readiest way, perhaps, of persuading the reader that we may dispense with great and sudden revolutions in the geological order of events, is by showing him how a regular and uninterrupted series of changes in the animate and inanimate world may give rise to such breaks in the sequence, and such unconformability of stratified rocks, as are usually thought to imply convulsions and catastrophes. It is scarcely necessary to state, that the order of events thus assumed to occur, for the sake of illustration, must be in harmony with all the conclusions legitimately drawn by geologists from the structure of the earth, and must be equally in accordance with the changes observed by man to be now going on in the living as well as in the inorganic creation. It may be necessary in the present state of science to supply some part of the assumed course of nature hypothetically; but if so, this must be done without any violation of probability, and always consistently with the analogy of what is known both of the past and present economy of our system. Although the discussion of so comprehensive a subject must carry the beginner far beyond his depth, it will also, it is hoped, stimulate his curiosity, and prepare him to read some elementary treatises on geology with advantage, and teach him the bearing on that science of the changes now in progress on the earth. At the same time it may enable him the better to understand the intimate connection between the second and third books of this work, the former of which is occupied with the changes in the inorganic, the latter with those of the organic creation.

In pursuance, then, of the plan above proposed, I shall consider in this chapter, first, what may be the course of fluctuation in the animate world; secondly, the mode in which contemporaneous subterranean movements affect the earth’s crust; and, thirdly, the laws which regulate the deposition of sediment.

Uniformity of Change Considered First in Reference to the Living Creation.

First, in regard to the vicissitudes of the living creation, all are agreed that the sedimentary strata found in the earth’s crust are divisible into a variety of groups, more or less dissimilar in their organic remains and mineral composition. The conclusion universally drawn from the study and comparison of these fossiliferous groups is this, that at successive periods distinct tribes of animals and plants have inhabited the land and waters, and that the organic types of the newer formations are more analogous to species now existing, than those of more ancient rocks. If we then turn to the present state of the animate creation, and inquire whether it has now become fixed and stationary, we discover that, on the contrary, it is in a state of continual flux—that there are many causes in action which tend to the extinction of species, and which are conclusive against the doctrine of their unlimited durability. But natural history has been successfully cultivated for so short a period, that a few examples only of local, and perhaps but one or two of absolute, extirpation can as yet be proved, and these only where the interference of man has been conspicuous. It will nevertheless appear evident, from the facts and arguments detailed in the third book (from the thirty-seventh to the forty-second chapters, inclusive) that man is not the only exterminating agent; and that, independently of his intervention, the annihilation of species is promoted by the multiplication and gradual diffusion of every animal or plant. It will also appear, that every alteration in the physical geography and climate of the globe cannot fail to have the same tendency. If we proceed still farther, and inquire whether new species are substituted from time to time for those which die out, and whether there are certain laws appointed by the Author of Nature to regulate such new creations, we find that the period of human observation is as yet too short to afford data for determining so weighty a question. All that can be done is to show that the successive introduction of new species may be a constant part of the economy of the terrestrial system, without our having any right to expect that we should be in possession of direct proof of the fact. The appearance again and again of new species may easily have escaped detection, since the numbers of known animals and plants have augmented so rapidly within the memory of persons now living, as to have doubled in some classes, and quadrupled in others. It will also be remarked in the sequel (book iii. chap. 43), that it must always be more easy if species proceeded originally from single stocks, to prove that one which formerly abounded in a given district has ceased to be, than that another has been called into being for the first time. If, therefore, there be as yet only one or two unequivocal instances of extinction, namely, those of the dodo and solitaire (see ch. 41), it is scarcely reasonable as yet to hope that we should be cognizant of a single instance of the first appearance of a new species.

Recent origin of man, and gradual approach in the tertiary fossils of successive periods from an extinct to the recent fauna.—The geologist, however, if required to advance some fact which may lend countenance to the opinion that in the most modern times, that is to say, after the greater part of the existing fauna and flora were established on the earth, there has still been a new species superadded, may point to man himself as furnishing the required illustration—for man must be regarded by the geologist as a creature of yesterday, not merely in reference to the past history of the organic world, but also in relation to that particular state of the animate creation of which he forms a part. The comparatively modern introduction of the human race is proved by the absence of the remains of man and his works, not only from all strata containing a certain proportion of fossil shells of extinct species, but even from a large part of the newest strata, in which all the fossil individuals are referable to species still living.

To enable the reader to appreciate the full force of this evidence, I shall give a slight sketch of the information obtained from the newer strata, respecting fluctuations in the animate world, in times immediately antecedent to the appearance of man.

In tracing the series of fossiliferous formations from the more ancient to the more modern, the first deposits in which we meet with assemblages of organic remains, having a near analogy to the fauna of certain parts of the globe in our own time, are those commonly called tertiary. Even in the Eocene, or oldest subdivision of these tertiary formations, some few of the testacea belong to existing species, although almost all of them, and apparently all the associated vertebrata, are now extinct. These Eocene strata are succeeded by a great number of more modern deposits, which depart gradually in the character of their fossils from the Eocene type, and approach more and more to that of the living creation. In the present state of science, it is chiefly by the aid of shells that we are enabled to arrive at these results, for of all classes the testacea are the most generally diffused in a fossil state, and may be called the medals principally employed by nature, in recording the chronology of past events. In the Miocene deposits, which are next in succession to the Eocene, we begin to find a considerable number, although still a minority, of recent species, intermixed with some fossils common to the preceding epoch. We then arrive at the Pliocene strata, in which species now contemporary with man begin to preponderate, and in the newest of which nine-tenths of the fossils agree with species still inhabiting the neighboring sea.

In this passing from the older to the newer members of the tertiary system we meet with many chasms, but none which separate entirely, by a broad line of demarcation, one state of the organic world from another. There are no signs of an abrupt termination of one fauna and flora, and the starting into life of new and wholly distinct forms. Although we are far from being able to demonstrate geologically an insensible transition from the Eocene to the Miocene, or even from the latter to the recent fauna, yet the more we enlarge and perfect our general survey, the more nearly do we approximate to such a continuous series, and the more gradually are we conducted from times when many of the genera and nearly all the species were extinct, to those in which scarcely a single species flourished which we do not know to exist at present. Dr. A. Philippi, indeed, after an elaborate comparison of the fossil tertiary shells of Sicily with those now living in the Mediterranean, announces as the result of his examination that there are strata in that island, which attest a very gradual passage from a period, when only thirteen in a hundred of the shells were like the species now living in the sea, to an era when the recent species had attained a proportion of ninety-five in a hundred. There is therefore evidence, he says, in Sicily of this revolution in the animate world having been effected “without the intervention of any convulsion or abrupt changes, certain species having from time to time died out, and others having been introduced, until at length the existing fauna was elaborated.”

It had often been objected that the evidence of fossil species occurring in two consecutive formations, was confined to the testacea or zoophytes, the characters of which are less marked and decisive than those afforded by the vertebrate animals. But Mr. Owen has lately insisted on the important fact, that not a few of the quadrupeds which now inhabit our island, and among others the horse, the ass, the hog, the smaller wild ox, the goat, the red deer, the roe, the beaver, and many of the diminutive rodents, are the same as those which once coexisted with the mammoth, the great northern hippopotamus, two kinds of rhinoceros, and other mammalia long since extinct. “A part,” he observes, “and not the whole of the modern tertiary fauna has perished, and hence we may conclude that the cause of their destruction has not been a violent and universal catastrophe from which none could escape.”1

Had we discovered evidence that man had come into the earth at a period as early as that when a large number of the fossil quadrupeds now living, and almost all the recent species of land, freshwater, and marine shells were in existence, we should have been compelled to ascribe a much higher antiquity to our species, than even the boldest speculations of the ethnologist require, for no small part of the great physical revolution depicted on the map of Europe (Pl. 3), before described, took place very gradually after the recent testacea abounded almost to the exclusion of the extinct. Thus, for example, in the deposits called the “northern drift,” or the glacial formation of Europe and North America, the fossil marine shells can easily be identified with species either now inhabiting the neighboring sea, or living in the seas of higher latitudes. Yet they exhibit no memorials of the human race, or of articles fabricated by the hand of man. Some of the newest of these strata passing by the name of “raised beaches,” occur at moderate elevations on the coast of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Other examples are met with on a more extended scale in Scandinavia, as at the height of 200 feet at Uddevalla in Sweden, and at twice that elevation, near Christiana, in Norway, also at an altitude of 600 or 700 feet in places farther north. They consist of beds of sand and clay, filling hollows in a district of granite and gneiss, and they must closely resemble the accumulations of shelly matter now in progress at the bottom of the Norwegian fiords. The rate at which the land is now rising in Scandinavia, is far too irregular in different places to afford a safe standard for estimating the minimum of time required for the upheaval of the fundamental granite, and its marine shelly covering, to the height of so many hundred feet; but according to the greatest average, of five or six feet in a century, the period required would be very considerable, and nearly the whole of it, as well as the antecedent epoch of submergence, seems to have preceded the introduction of man into these parts of the earth.

There are other post-tertiary formations of fluviatile origin, in the centre of Europe, in which the absence of human remains is perhaps still more striking, because, when formed, they must have been surrounded by dry land. I allude to the silt or loess of the basin of the Rhine, which must have gradually filled up the great valley of that river since the time when its waters, and the contiguous lands, were inhabited by the existing species of freshwater and terrestrial mollusks. Showers of ashes, thrown out by some of the last eruptions of the Eifel volcanoes, fell during the deposition of this fluviatile silt, and were interstratified with it. But these volcanoes became exhausted, the valley was re-excavated through the silt, and again reduced to its present form before the period of human history. The study, therefore, of this shelly silt reveals to us the history of a long series of events, which occurred after the testacea now living inhabited the land and rivers of Europe, and the whole terminated without any signs of the coming of man into that part of the globe.

To cite a still more remarkable example, we observe in Sicily a lofty table-land and hills, sometimes rising to the height of 3000 feet, capped with a limestone, in which from 70 to 85 per cent. of the fossil testacea are specifically identical with those now inhabiting the Mediterranean. These calcareous and other argillaceous strata of the same age are intersected by deep valleys which have been gradually formed by denudation, but have not varied materially in width or depth since Sicily was first colonized by the Greeks. The limestone, moreover, which is of so late a date in geological chronology, was quarried for building those ancient temples of Girgenti and Syracuse, of which the ruins carry us back to a remote era in human history. If we are lost in conjectures when speculating on the ages required to lift up these formations to the height of several thousand feet above the sea, how much more remote must be the era when the same rocks were gradually formed beneath the waters!

To conclude, it appears that, in going back from the recent to the Eocene period, we are carried by many successive steps from the fauna now contemporary with man to an assemblage of fossil species wholly different from those now living. In this retrospect we have not yet succeeded in tracing back a perfect transition from the recent to an extinct fauna; but there are usually so many species in common to the groups which stand next in succession as to show that there is no great chasm, no signs of a crisis when one class of organic beings was annihilated to give place suddenly to another. This analogy, therefore, derived from a period of the earth’s history which can best be compared with the present state of things, and more thoroughly investigated than any other, leads to the conclusion that the extinction and creation of species, has been and is the result of a slow and gradual change in the organic world.

Uniformity of Change Considered, Secondly, in Reference to Subterranean Movements.

To pass on to another of the three topics before proposed for discussion, the reader will find, in the account given in the second book of the earthquakes recorded in history, that certain countries have, from time immemorial, been rudely shaken again and again, while others, comprising by far the largest part of the globe, have remained to all appearance motionless. In the regions of convulsion rocks have been rent asunder, the surface has been forced up into ridges, chasms have opened, or the ground throughout large spaces has been permanently lifted up above or let down below its former level. In the regions of tranquillity some areas have remained at rest, but others have been ascertained by a comparison of measurements, made at different periods, to have risen by an insensible motion, as in Sweden, or to have subsided very slowly, as in Greenland. That these same movements, whether ascending or descending, have continued for ages in the same direction has been established by geological evidence. Thus, we find both on the east and west coast of Sweden, that ground which formerly constituted the bottom of the Baltic and of the ocean has been lifted up to an elevation of several hundred feet above high-water mark. The rise within the historical period has not amounted to many yards, but the greater extent of antecedent upheaval is proved by the occurrence in inland spots, several hundred feet high, of deposits filled with fossil shells of species now living either in the ocean or the Baltic.

To detect proofs of slow and gradual subsidence must in general be more difficult; but the theory which accounts for the form of circular coral reefs and lagoon islands, and which will be explained in the last chapter of the third book, will satisfy the reader that there are spaces on the globe, several thousand miles in circumference, throughout which the downward movement has predominated for ages, and yet the land has never, in a single instance, gone down suddenly for several hundred feet at once. Yet geology demonstrates that the persistency of subterranean movements in one direction has not been perpetual throughout all past time. There have been great oscillations of level by which a surface of dry land has been submerged to a depth of several thousand feet, and then at a period long subsequent raised again and made to emerge. Nor have the regions now motionless been always at rest; and some of those which are at present the theatres of reiterated earthquakes have formerly enjoyed a long continuance of tranquillity. But although disturbances have ceased after having long prevailed, or have recommenced after a suspension for ages, there has been no universal disruption of the earth’s crust or desolation of the surface since times the most remote. The non-occurrence of such a general convulsion is proved by the perfect horizontally now retained by some of the most ancient fossiliferous strata throughout wide areas.

Inferences derived from unconformable strata.—That the subterranean forces have visited different parts of the globe at successive periods, is inferred chiefly from the unconformability of strata belonging to groups of different ages. Thus, for example, on the borders of Wales and Shropshire we find the slaty beds of the ancient Silurian system curved and vertical, while the beds of the overlying carboniferous shale and sandstone are horizontal. All are agreed, that in such a case the older set of strata had suffered great dislocation before the deposition of the newer or carboniferous beds, and that these last have never since been convulsed by any movements of excessive violence. But the strata of the inferior group suffered only a local derangement, and rocks of the same age are by no means found everywhere in a curved or vertical position. In various parts of Europe, and particularly near Lake Wener in the south of Sweden, and in many parts of Russia, beds of the same Silurian system maintain the most perfect horizontality; and a similar observation may be made respecting limestones and shales of the like antiquity in the great lake district of Canada and the United States. They are still as flat and horizontal as when first formed; yet since their origin not only have most of the actual mountain-chains been uplifted, but the very rocks of which those mountains are composed have been formed.

It would be easy to multiply instances of similar unconformability in formations of other ages; but a few more will suffice. The coal measures before alluded to as horizontal on the borders of Wales are vertical in the Mendip Hills in Somersetshire, where the overlying beds of the New Red Sandstone are horizontal. Again, in the Wolds of Yorkshire the last mentioned sandstone supports on its curved and inclined beds the horizontal Chalk. The Chalk again is vertical on the flanks of the Pyrenees, and the tertiary strata repose unconformably upon it.

Consistency of local disturbances with general uniformity.—As almost every country supplies illustrations of the same phenomena, they who advocate the doctrine of alternate periods of disorder and repose may appeal to the facts above described, as proving that every district has been by turns convulsed by earthquakes and then respited for ages from convulsions. But so it might with equal truth be affirmed that every part of Europe has been visited alternately by winter and summer, although it has always been winter and always summer in some part of the planet, and neither of these seasons has ever reigned simultaneously over the entire globe. They have been always shifting about from place to place; but the vicissitudes which recur thus annually in a single spot are never allowed to interfere with the invariable uniformity of seasons throughout the whole planet.

So, in regard to subterranean movements, the theory of the perpetual uniformity of the force which they exert on the earth’s crust is quite consistent with the admission of their alternate development and suspension for indefinite periods within limited geographical areas.

Uniformity of Change Considered, Thirdly, in Reference to Sedimentary Deposition.

It now remains to speak of the laws governing the deposition of new strata. If we survey the surface of the globe we immediately perceive that it is divisible into areas of deposition and non-deposition, or, in other words, at any given time there are spaces which are the recipients, others which are not the recipients of sedimentary matter. No new strata, for example, are thrown down on dry land, which remains the same from year to year; whereas, in many parts of the bottom of seas and lakes, mud, sand, and pebbles are annually spread out by rivers and currents. There are also great masses of limestone growing in some seas, or in mid-ocean, chiefly composed of corals and shells.

No sediment deposited on dry land.—As to the dry land, so far from being the receptacle of fresh accessions of matter, it is exposed almost everywhere to waste away. Forests may be as dense and lofty as those of Brazil, and may swarm with quadrupeds, birds, and insects, yet at the end of ten thousand years one layer of black mould, a few inches thick, may be the sole representative of those myriads of trees, leaves, flowers, and fruits, those innumerable bones and skeletons of birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles, which tenanted the fertile region. Should this land be at length submerged, the waves of the sea may wash away in a few hours the scanty covering of mould, and it may merely impart a darker shade of color to the next stratum of marl, sand, or other matter newly thrown down. So also at the bottom of the ocean where no sediment is accumulating, sea-weed, zoophytes, fish, and even shells, may multiply for ages and decompose, leaving no vestige of their form or substance behind. Their decay, in water, although more slow, is as certain and eventually as complete as in the open air. Nor can they be perpetuated for indefinite periods in a fossil state, unless imbedded in some matrix which is impervious to water, or which at least does not allow a free percolation of that fluid, impregnated as it usually is, with a slight quantity of carbonic or other acid. Such a free percolation may be prevented either by the mineral nature of the matrix itself, or by the superposition of an impermeable stratum: but if unimpeded, the fossil shell or bone will be dissolved and removed, particle after particle, and thus entirely effaced, unless petrifaction or the substitution of mineral for organic matter happen to take place.

That there has been land as well as sea at all former geological periods, we know from the fact, that fossil trees and terrestrial plants are imbedded in rocks of every age. Occasionally lacustrine and fluviatile shells, insects, or the bones of amphibious or land reptiles, point to the same conclusion. The existence of dry land at all periods of the past implies, as before mentioned, the partial deposition of sediment, or its limitation to certain areas; and the next point to which I shall call the reader’s attention, is the shifting of these areas from one region to another.

First, then, variations in the site of sedimentary deposition are brought about independently of subterranean movements. There is always a slight change from year to year, or from century to century. The sediment of the Rhone, for example, thrown into the Lake of Geneva, is now conveyed to a spot a mile and a half distant from that where it accumulated in the tenth century, and six miles from the point where the delta began originally to form. We may look forward to the period when this lake will be filled up, and then the distribution of the transported matter will be suddenly altered, for the mud and sand brought down from the Alps will thenceforth, instead of being deposited near Geneva, be carried nearly 200 miles southwards, where the Rhone enters the Mediterranean.

In the deltas of large rivers, such as those of the Ganges and Indus, the mud is first carried down for many centuries through one arm, and on this being stopped up it is discharged by another, and may then enter the sea at a point 50 or 100 miles distant from its first receptacle. The direction of marine currents is also liable to be changed by various accidents, as by the heaping up of new sand-banks, or the wearing away of cliffs and promontories.

But, secondly, all these causes of fluctuation in the sedimentary areas are entirely subordinate to those great upward or downward movements of land which have been already described as prevailing over large tracts of the globe. By such elevation or subsidence certain spaces are gradually submerged, or made gradually to emerge:—in the one case sedimentary deposition may be suddenly renewed after having been suspended for ages, in the other as suddenly made to cease after having continued for an indefinite period.

Causes of variation in mineral character of successive sedimentary groups.—If deposition be renewed after a long interval, the new strata will usually differ greatly from the sedimentary rocks previously formed in the same place, and especially if the older rocks have suffered derangement, which implies a change in the physical geography of the district since the previous conveyance of sediment to the same spot. It may happen, however, that, even when the inferior group is horizontal and conformable to the upper strata, these last may still differ entirely in mineral character, because since the origin of the older formation the geography of some distant country has been altered. In that country rocks before concealed may have become exposed by denudation; volcanoes may have burst out and covered the surface with scoriæ and lava, or new lakes may have been formed by subsidence; and other fluctuations may have occurred, by which the materials brought down from thence by rivers to the sea have acquired a distinct mineral character.

It is well known that the stream of the Mississippi is charged with sediment of a different color from that of the Arkansas and Red Rivers, which are tinged with red mud, derived from rocks of porphyry in “the far west.” The waters of the Uruguay, says Darwin, draining a granitic country, are clear and black, those of the Parana, red.2 The mud with which the Indus is loaded, says Burnes, is of a clayey hue, that of the Chenab, on the other hand, is reddish, that of the Sutlej is more pale.3 The same causes which make these several rivers, sometimes situated at no great distance the one from the other, to differ greatly in the character of their sediment, will make the waters draining the same country at different epochs, especially before and after great revolutions in physical geography, to be entirely dissimilar. It is scarcely necessary to add, that marine currents will be affected in an analogous manner in consequence of the formation of new shoals, the emergence of new islands, the subsidence of others, the gradual waste of neighboring coasts, the growth of new deltas, the increase of coral reefs, and other changes.

Why successive sedimentary groups contain distinct fossils.—If, in the next place, we assume, for reasons before stated, a continual extinction of species and introduction of others into the globe, it will then follow that the fossils of strata formed at two distant periods on the same spot, will differ even more certainly than the mineral composition of the same. For rocks of the same kind have sometimes been reproduced in the same district after a long interval of time, whereas there are no facts leading to the opinion that species which have once died out have ever been reproduced. The submergence then of land must be often attended by the commencement of a new class of sedimentary deposits, characterized by a new set of fossil animals and plants, while the reconversion of the bed of the sea into land may arrest at once and for an indefinite time the formation of geological monuments. Should the land again sink, strata will again be formed; but one or many entire revolutions in animal or vegetable life may have been completed in the interval.

Conditions requisite for the original completeness of a fossiliferous series.—If we infer, for reasons before explained, that fluctuations in the animate world are brought about by the slow and successive removal and creation of species, we shall be convinced that a rare combination of circumstances alone can give rise to such a series of strata as will bear testimony to a gradual passage from one state of organic life to another. To produce such strata nothing less will be requisite than the fortunate coincidence of the following conditions: first, a never-failing supply of sediment in the same region throughout a period of vast duration; secondly, the fitness of the deposit in every part for the permanent preservation of imbedded fossils; and, thirdly, a gradual subsidence to prevent the sea or lake from being filled up and converted into land.

It will appear in the chapter on coral reefs,4 that, in certain parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, most of these conditions, if not all, are complied with, and the constant growth of coral, keeping pace with the sinking of the bottom of the sea, seems to have gone on so slowly, for such indefinite periods, that the signs of a gradual change in organic life might probably be detected in that quarter of the globe, if we could explore its submarine geology. Instead of the growth of coralline limestone, let us suppose, in some other place, the continuous deposition of fluviatile mud and sand, such as the Ganges and Brahmapootra have poured for thousands of years into the Bay of Bengal. Part of this bay, although of considerable depth, might at length be filled up before an appreciable amount of change was effected in the fish, mollusca, and other inhabitants of the sea and neighboring land. But, if the bottom be lowered by sinking at the same rate that it is raised by fluviatile mud, the bay can never be turned into dry land. In that case one new layer of matter may be superimposed upon another for a thickness of many thousand feet, and the fossils of the inferior beds may differ greatly from those entombed in the uppermost, yet every intermediate gradation may be indicated in the passage from an older to a newer assemblage of species. Granting, however, that such an unbroken sequence of monuments may thus be elaborated in certain parts of the sea, and that the strata happen to be all of them well adapted to preserve the included fossils from decomposition, how many accidents must still concur before these submarine formations will be laid open to our investigation! The whole deposit must first be raised several thousand feet, in order to bring into view the very foundation; and during the process of exposure the superior beds must not be entirely swept away by denudation.

In the first place, the chances are as three to one against the mere emergence of the mass above the waters, because three-fourths of the globe are covered by the ocean. But if it be upheaved and made to constitute part of the dry land, it must also, before it can be available for our instruction, become part of that area already surveyed by geologists; and this area comprehends perhaps less than a tenth of the whole earth. In this small fraction of land already explored, and still very imperfectly known, we are required to find a set of strata, originally of limited extent, and probably much lessened by subsequent denudation.

Yet it is precisely because we do not encounter at every step the evidence of such gradations from one state of the organic world to another, that so many geologists embrace the doctrine of great and sudden revolutions in the history of the animate world. Not content with simply availing themselves, for the convenience of classification, of those gaps and chasms which here and there interrupt the continuity of the chronological series, as at present known, they deduce, from the frequency of these breaks in the chain of records, an irregular mode of succession in the events themselves both in the organic and inorganic world. But, besides that some links of the chain which once existed are now clearly lost and others concealed from view, we have good reason to suspect that it was never complete originally. It may undoubtedly be said, that strata have been always forming somewhere, and therefore at every moment of past time nature has added a page to her archives; but, in reference to this subject, it should be remembered that we can never hope to compile a consecutive history by gathering together monuments which were originally detached and scattered over the globe. For as the species of organic beings contemporaneously inhabiting remote regions are distinct, the fossils of the first of several periods which may be preserved in any one country, as in America, for example, will have no connection with those of a second period found in India, and will therefore no more enable us to trace the signs of a gradual change in the living creation, than a fragment of Chinese history will fill up a blank in the political annals of Europe.

The absence of any deposits of importance containing recent shells in Chili, or anywhere on the western coast of South America, naturally led Mr. Darwin to the conclusion that “where the bed of the sea is either stationary or rising, circumstances are far less favorable than where the level is sinking to the accumulation of conchiferous strata of sufficient thickness and extension to resist the average vast amount of denudation.”5 An examination of the superficial clay, sand, and gravel of the most modern date in Norway and Sweden, where the land is also rising, would incline us to admit a similar proposition. Yet in these cases there has been a supply of sediment from the waste of the coast and the interior, especially in Patagonia and Chili. Nevertheless wherever the bottom of the sea has been continually elevated, the total thickness of sedimentary matter accumulating at depths suited to the habitation of most of the species of shells can never be great, nor can the deposits be thickly covered by superincumbent matter, so as to be consolidated by pressure. When they are upheaved, therefore, the waves on the beach will bear down and disperse the loose materials; whereas if the bed of the sea subsides slowly, a mass of strata containing abundance of such species as live at moderate depths may increase in thickness to any amount, and may extend over a broad area, as the water gradually encroaches on the land. If, then, at particular periods, as in the Miocene epoch, for example, both in Europe and North America, contemporaneous shelly deposits have originated, and have been preserved at very distant points, it may arise from the prevalence at that period of simultaneous subsidence throughout very wide areas. The absence in the same quarters of the globe of strata marking the ages which immediately succeeded, may be accounted for by supposing that the level of the bed of the sea and the adjoining land was stationary or was undergoing slow upheaval.

How far some of the great violations of continuity which now exist in the chronological table of fossiliferous rocks, will hereafter be removed or lessened, must at present be mere matter of conjecture. The hiatus which exists in Great Britain between the fossils of the Lias and those of the Magnesian Limestone, is supplied in Germany by the rich fauna and flora of the Muschelkalk, Keuper, and Bunter Sandstein, which we know to be of a date precisely intermediate; those three formations being interposed in Germany between others which agree perfectly in their organic remains with our Lias and Magnesian Limestone. Until lately the fossils of the Coal-measures were separated from those of the antecedent Silurian group by a very abrupt and decided line of demarcation; but recent discoveries have brought to light in Devonshire, Belgium, the Eifel, and Westphalia, the remains of a fauna of an intervening period. This connecting link is furnished by the fossil shells, fish, and corals of the Devonian or Old Red Sandstone group, and some species of this newly intercalated fauna are found to be common to it and the subjacent Silurian rocks, while other species belong to it in common with the Coal-measures. We have also in like manner had some success of late years in diminishing the hiatus which still separates the Cretaceous and Eocene periods in Europe. Still we must expect, for reasons before stated, that some such chasms will forever continue to occur in some parts of our sedimentary series.

Consistency of the theory of gradual change with the existence of great breaks in the series.—To return to the general argument pursued in this chapter, it is assumed, for reasons above explained, that a slow change of species is in simultaneous operation everywhere throughout the habitable surface of sea and land; whereas the fossilization of plants and animals is confined to those areas where new strata are produced. These areas, as we have seen, are always shifting their position; so that the fossilizing process, by means of which the commemoration of the particular state of the organic world, at any given time, is affected, may be said to move about, visiting and revisiting different tracts in succession.

To make still more clear the supposed working of this machinery, I shall compare it to a somewhat analogous case that might be imagined to occur in the history of human affairs. Let the mortality of the population of a large country represent the successive extinction of species, and the births of new individuals the introduction of new species. While these fluctuations are gradually taking place everywhere, suppose commissioners to be appointed to visit each province of the country in succession, taking an exact account of the number, names, and individual peculiarities of all the inhabitants, and leaving in each district a register containing a record of this information. If, after the completion of one census, another is immediately made on the same plan, and then another, there will, at last, be a series of statistical documents in each province. When those belonging to any one province are arranged in chronological order, the contents of such as stand next to each other will differ according to the length of the intervals of time between the taking of each census. If, for example, there are sixty provinces, and all the registers are made in a single year, and renewed annually, the number of births and deaths will be so small, in proportion to the whole of the inhabitants, during the interval between the compiling of the two consecutive documents, that the individuals described in such documents will be nearly identical; whereas, if the survey of each of the sixty provinces occupies all the commissioners for a whole year, so that they are unable to revisit the same place until the expiration of sixty years, there will then be an almost entire discordance between the persons enumerated in two consecutive registers in the same province. There are, undoubtedly, other causes besides the mere quantity of time, which may augment or diminish the amount of discrepancy. Thus, at some periods a pestilential disease may have lessened the average duration of human life, or a variety of circumstances may have caused the births to be unusually numerous, and the population to multiply; or, a province may be suddenly colonized by persons migrating from surrounding districts.

These exceptions may be compared to the accelerated rate of fluctuation in the fauna and flora of a particular region, in which the climate and physical geography may be undergoing an extraordinary degree of alteration.

But I must remind the reader, that the case above proposed has no pretensions to be regarded as an exact parallel to the geological phenomena which I desire to illustrate; for the commissioners are supposed to visit the different provinces in rotation; whereas the commemorating processes by which organic remains become fossilized, although they are always shifting from one area to the other, are yet very irregular in their movements. They may abandon and revisit many spaces again and again before they once approach another district; and, besides this source of irregularity, it may often happen that, while the depositing process is suspended, denudation may take place, which may be compared to the occasional destruction by fire or other causes of some of the statistical documents before mentioned. It is evident that, where such accidents occur, the want of continuity in the series may become indefinitely great, and that the monuments which follow next in succession will by no means be equidistant from each other in point of time.

If this train of reasoning be admitted, the occasional distinctness of the fossil remains, in formations immediately in contact, would be a necessary consequence of the existing laws of sedimentary deposition and subterranean movement, accompanied by a constant mortality and renovation of species.

As all the conclusions above insisted on are directly opposed to opinions still popular, I shall add another comparison, in the hope of preventing any possible misapprehension of the argument. Suppose we had discovered two buried cities at the foot of Vesuvius, immediately superimposed upon each other, with a great mass of tuff and lava intervening, just as Portici and Resina, if now covered with ashes, would overlie Herculaneum. An antiquary might possibly be entitled to infer, from the inscriptions on public edifices, that the inhabitants of the inferior and older city were Greeks, and those of the modern towns Italians. But he would reason very hastily if he also concluded from these data that there had been a sudden change from the Greek to the Italian language in Campania. But if he afterwards found three buried cities, one above the other, the intermediate one being Roman, while, as in the former example, the lowest was Greek and the uppermost Italian, he would then perceive the fallacy of his former opinion, and would begin to suspect that the catastrophes by which the cities were inhumed might have no relation whatever to the fluctuations in the language of the inhabitants; and that, as the Roman tongue had evidently intervened between the Greek and Italian, so many other dialects may have been spoken in succession, and the passage from the Greek to the Italian may have been very gradual; some terms growing obsolete, while others were introduced from time to time.

If this antiquary could have shown that the volcanic paroxysms of Vesuvius were so governed as that cities should be buried one above the other, just as often as any variation occurred in the language of the inhabitants, then, indeed, the abrupt passage from a Greek to a Roman, and from a Roman to an Italian city, would afford proof of fluctuations no less sudden in the language of the people.

So, in Geology, if we could assume that it is part of the plan of Nature to preserve, in every region of the globe, an unbroken series of monuments to commemorate the vicissitudes of the organic creation, we might infer the sudden extirpation of species, and the simultaneous introduction of others, as often as two formations in contact are found to include dissimilar organic fossils. But we must shut our eyes to the whole economy of the existing causes, aqueous, igneous, and organic, if we fail to perceive that such in not the plan of Nature.

Concluding remarks on the identity of the ancient and present system of terrestrial changes.—I shall now conclude the discussion of a question with which we have been occupied since the beginning of the fifth chapter; namely, whether there has been any interruption, from the remotest periods, of one uniform system of change in the animate and inanimate world. We were induced to enter into that inquiry by reflecting how much the progress of opinion in Geology had been influenced by the assumption that the analogy was slight in kind, and still more slight in degree, between the causes which produced the former revolutions of the globe, and those now in every-day operation. It appeared clear that the earlier geologists had not only a scanty acquaintance with existing changes, but were singularly unconscious of the amount of their ignorance. With the presumption naturally inspired by this unconsciousness, they had no hesitation in deciding at once that time could never enable the existing powers of nature to work out changes of great magnitude, still less such important revolutions as those which are brought to light by Geology. They, therefore, felt themselves at liberty to indulge their imaginations in guessing at what might be, rather than inquiring what is; in other words, they employed themselves in conjecturing what might have been the course of nature at a remote period, rather than in the investigation of what was the course of nature in their own times.

It appeared to them more philosophical to speculate on the possibilities of the past, than patiently to explore the realities of the present; and having invented theories under the influence of such maxims, they were consistently unwilling to test their validity by the criterion of their accordance with the ordinary operations of nature. On the contrary, the claims of each new hypothesis to credibility appeared enhanced by the great contrast, in kind or intensity, of the causes referred to, and those now in operation.

Never was there a dogma more calculated to foster indolence, and to blunt the keen edge of curiosity, than this assumption of the discordance between the ancient and existing causes of change. It produced a state of mind unfavorable in the highest degree to the candid reception of the evidence of those minute but incessant alterations which every part of the earth’s surface is undergoing, and by which the condition of its living inhabitants is continually made to vary. The student, instead of being encouraged with the hope of interpreting the enigmas presented to him in the earth’s structure,—instead of being prompted to undertake laborious inquiries into the natural history of the organic world, and the complicated effects of the igneous and aqueous causes now in operation, was taught to despond from the first. Geology, it was affirmed, could never rise to the rank of an exact science,—the greater number of phenomena must forever remain inexplicable, or only be partially elucidated by ingenious conjectures. Even the mystery which invested the subject was said to constitute one of its principal charms, affording, as it did, full scope to the fancy to indulge in a boundless field of speculation.

The course directly opposed to this method of philosophizing consists in an earnest and patient inquiry, how far geological appearances are reconcilable with the effect of changes now in progress, or which may be in progress in regions inaccessible to us, and of which the reality is attested by volcanoes and subterranean movements. It also endeavors to estimate the aggregate result of ordinary operations multiplied by time, and cherishes a sanguine hope that the resources to be derived from observation and experiment, or from the study of nature such as she now is, are very far from-being exhausted. For this reason all theories are rejected which involve the assumption of sudden and violent catastrophes and revolutions of the whole earth, and its inhabitants,—theories which are restrained by no reference to existing analogies, and in which a desire is manifested to cut, rather than patiently to untie, the Gordian knot.

We have now, at least, the advantage of knowing, from experience, that an opposite method has always put geologists on the road that leads to truth,—suggesting views which, although imperfect at first, have been found capable of improvement, until at last adopted by universal consent; while the method of speculating on a former distinct state of things and causes, has led invariably to a multitude of contradictory systems, which have been overthrown one after the other,—have been found incapable of modification,—and which have often required to be precisely reversed.

The remainder of this work will be devoted to an investigation of the changes now going on in the crust of the earth and its inhabitants. The importance which the student will attach to such researches will mainly depend in the degree of confidence which he feels in the principles above expounded. If he firmly believes in the resemblance or identity of the ancient and present system of terrestrial changes, he will regard every fact collected respecting the causes in diurnal action as affording him a key to the interpretation of some mystery in the past. Events which have occurred at the most distant periods in the animate and inanimate world, will be acknowledged to throw light on each other, and the deficiency of our information respecting some of the most obscure parts of the present creation will be removed. For as, by studying the external configuration of the existing land and its inhabitants, we may restore in imagination the appearance of the ancient continents which have passed away, so may we obtain from the deposits of ancient seas and lakes an insight into the nature of the subaqueous processes now in operation, and of many forms of organic life, which, though now existing, are veiled from sight. Rocks, also, produced by subterranean fire in former ages, at great depths in the bowels of the earth, present us, when upraised by gradual movements, and exposed to the light of heaven, with an image of those changes which the deep-seated volcano may now occasion in the nether regions. Thus, although we are mere sojourners on the surface of the planet, chained to a mere point in space, enduring but for a moment of time, the human mind is not only enabled to number worlds beyond the unassisted ken of mortal eye, but to trace the events of indefinite ages before the creation of our race, and is not even withheld from penetrating into the dark secrets of the ocean, or the interior of the solid globe; free, like the spirit which the poet described as animating the universe,

——ire per omnes

Terrasque, tractusque maris, cœlumque profundum.

1 Reports to Brit. Assoc. 1842, 1843, and Introd. to Brit. Foss. Mamm. p. 31. The conchological evidence respecting the British Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene fossils, examined by Mr. Forbes, in the paper before cited, p. 88, note, bear out some of the most important conclusions of M. Deshayes, quoted by me in the first edition of the Principles, 1831, and the recent observations of Philippi in regard to the passage of species from one formation to another. I refer to these authorities more especially because this doctrine of a gradual transition has been opposed by some living naturalists of high distinction, among whom I may mention M.A. d’Orbigny and M. Agassiz. I have long been convinced that we must abandon many of the identifications formerly made of Eocene with recent shells; but some errors of this kind do not affect the general reasoning on the subject. See a discussion on this question, Quarterly Journ. of Geog. Soc., No. 5, p. 47 Feb. 1846.

2 Darwin’s Journal, p. 163. 2d. ed. p. 139.

3 Journ. Roy. Geograph. Soc. vol. iii. p. 142.

4 Book iii. ch. 50.

5 Darwin’s S. America, pp. 136, 139.

Principles of Geology.

Book 2.

Changes in the Inorganic World.

Aqueous Causes.

Chapter 14.

Division of the subject into changes of the organic and inorganic world—Inorganic causes of change divided into aqueous and igneous—Aqueous causes first considered—Fall of rain—Recent rain-prints in mud—Destroying and transporting power of running water—Newly formed valleys in Georgia—Sinuosities of rivers—Two streams when united do not occupy a bed of double surface—Inundations in Scotland—Floods caused by landslips in the White Mountains—Bursting of a lake in Switzerland—Devastations caused by the Anio at Tivoli—Excavations in the lavas of Etna by Sicilian rivers—Gorge of the Simeto—Gradual recession of the cataract of Niagara.

Division of the subject.—Geology was defined to be the science which investigates the former changes that have taken place in the organic as well as in the inorganic kingdoms of nature. As vicissitudes in the inorganic world are most apparent, and as on them all fluctuations in the animate creation must in a great measure depend, they may claim our first consideration. The great agents of change in the inorganic world may be divided into two principal classes, the aqueous and the igneous. To the aqueous belong Rain, Rivers, Torrents, Springs, Currents, and Tides; to the igneous, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes. Both these classes are instruments of decay as well as of reproduction; but they may also be regarded as antagonist forces. For the aqueous agents are incessantly laboring to reduce the inequalities of the earth’s surface to a level; while the igneous are equally active in restoring the unevenness of the external crust, partly by heaping up new matter in certain localities, and partly by depressing one portion, and forcing out another, of the earth’s envelope.

It is difficult, in a scientific arrangement, to give an accurate view of the combined effects of so many forces in simultaneous operation; because, when we consider them separately, we cannot easily estimate either the extent of their efficacy, or the kind of results which they produce. We are in danger, therefore, when we attempt to examine the influence exerted singly by each, of overlooking the modifications which they produce on one another; and these are so complicated, that sometimes the igneous and aqueous forces co-operate to produce a joint effect, to which neither of them unaided by the other could give rise,—as when repeated earthquakes unite with running water to widen a valley; or when a thermal spring rises up from a great depth, and conveys the mineral ingredients with which it is impregnated from the interior of the earth to the surface. Sometimes the organic combine with the inorganic causes; as when a reef, composed of shells and corals, protects one line of coast from the destroying power of tides or currents, and turns them against some other point; or when drift timber, floated into a lake, fills a hollow to which the stream would not have had sufficient velocity to convey earthy sediment.

It is necessary, however, to divide our observations on these various causes, and to classify them systematically, endeavoring as much as possible to keep in view that the effects in nature are mixed and not simple, as they may appear in an artificial arrangement.

In treating, in the first place, of the aqueous causes, we may consider them under two divisions; first, those which are connected with the circulation of water from the land to the sea, under which are included all the phenomena of rain, rivers, glaciers, and springs; secondly, those which arise from the movements of water in lakes, seas, and the ocean, wherein are comprised the phenomena of waves, tides, and currents. In turning our attention to the former division, we find that the effects of rivers may be subdivided into, first, those of a destroying and transporting, and, secondly, those of a renovating nature; in the former are included the erosion of rocks and the transportation of matter to lower levels; in the renovating class, the formation of deltas by the influx of sediment, and the shallowing of seas; but these processes are so intimately related to each other, that it will not always be possible to consider them under their separate heads.

Fall of Rain.—It is well known that the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb aqueous vapor, and hold it in suspension, increases with every increment of temperature. This capacity is also found to augment in a higher ratio than the augmentation of the heat. Hence, as was first suggested by the geologist, Dr. Hutton, when two volumes of air, of different temperatures, both saturated with moisture, mingle together, clouds and rain are produced, for a mean degree of heat having resulted from the union of the two moist airs, the excess of vapor previously held in suspension by the warmer of the two is given out, and if it be in sufficient abundance is precipitated in the form of rain.

As the temperature of the atmosphere diminishes gradually from the equator towards the pole, the evaporation of water and the quantity of rain diminish also. According to Humboldt’s computation, the average annual depth of rain at the equator is 96 inches, while in lat. 45° it is only 29 inches, and in lat. 60° not more than 17 inches. But there are so many disturbing causes, that the actual discharge, in any given locality, may deviate very widely from this rule. In England, for example, where the average fall at London is 24½ inches, as ascertained at the Greenwich Observatory, there is such irregularity in some districts, that while at Whitehaven, in Cumberland, there fell in 1849, 32 inches, the quantity of rain in Borrowdale, near Keswick (only 15 miles to the westward), was no less than 142 inches!1 In like manner, in India, Colonel Sykes found by observations made in 1847 and 1848, that at places situated between 17° and 18° north lat., on a line drawn across the Western Ghauts in the Deccan, the fall of rain varied from 21 to 219 inches.2 The annual average in Bengal is probably below 80 inches, yet Dr. G. Hooker witnessed at Churrapoonjee, in the year 1850, a fall of 30 inches in 24 hours, and in the same place during a residence of six months (from June to November) 530 inches! This occurred on the south face of the Khasia (or Garrow) mountains in Eastern Bengal (see map, Chap. XVIII.), where the depth during the whole of the same year probably exceeded 600 inches. So extraordinary a discharge of water, which, as we shall presently see, is very local, may be thus accounted for. Warm, southerly winds, blowing over the Bay of Bengal, and becoming laden with vapor during their passage, reach the low level delta of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, where the ordinary heat exceeds that of the sea, and where evaporation is constantly going on from countless marshes and the arms of the great rivers. A mingling of two masses of damp air of different temperatures probably causes the fall of 70 or 80 inches of rain, which takes place on the plains. The monsoon having crossed the delta, impinges on the Khasia mountains, which rise abruptly from the plain to a mean elevation of between 4000 and 5000 feet. Here the wind not only encounters the cold air of the mountains, but, what is far more effective as a refrigerating cause, the aerial current is made to flow upwards, and to ascend to a height of several thousand feet above the sea. Both the air and the vapor contained in it, being thus relieved of much atmospheric pressure, expand suddenly, and are cooled by rarefaction. The vapor is condensed, and about 500 inches of rain are thrown down annually, nearly twenty times as much as falls in Great Britain in a year, and almost all of it poured down in six months. The channel of every torrent and river is swollen at this season, and much sandstone horizontally stratified, and other rocks are reduced to sand and gravel by the flooded streams. So great is the superficial waste (or denudation), that what would otherwise be a rich and luxuriantly wooded region, is converted into a wild and barren moorland.

After the current of warm air has been thus drained of a large portion of its moisture, it still continues its northerly course to the opposite flank of the Khasia range, only 20 miles farther north, and here the fall of rain is reduced to 70 inches in the year. The same wind then blows northwards across the valley of the Brahmapootra, and at length arrives so dry and exhausted at the Bhootan Himalaya (lat. 28° N.), that those mountains, up to the height of 5000 feet, are naked and sterile, and all their outer valleys arid and dusty. The aerial current still continuing its northerly course and ascending to a higher region, becomes further cooled, condensation again ensues, and Bhootan, above 5000 feet, is densely clothed with vegetation.3

In another part of India, immediately to the westward, similar phenomena are repeated. The same warm and humid winds, copiously charged with aqueous vapor from the Bay of Bengal, hold their course due north for 300 miles across the flat and hot plains of the Ganges, till they encounter the lofty Sikkim mountains. (See map, Chap. XVIII.) On the southern flank of these they discharge such a deluge of rain that the rivers in the rainy season rise twelve feet in as many hours. Numerous landslips, some of them extending three or four thousand feet along the face of the mountains, composed of granite, gneiss, and slate, descend into the beds of streams, and dam them up for a time, causing temporary lakes, which soon burst their barriers. “Day and night,” says Dr. Hooker, “we heard the crashing of falling trees, and the sound of boulders thrown violently against each other in the beds of torrents. By such wear and tear rocky fragments swept down from the hills are in part converted into sand and fine mud; and the turbid Ganges, during its annual inundation, derives more of its sediment from this source than from the waste of the fine clay of the alluvial plains below.4

On the verge of the tropics a greater quantity of rain falls annually than at the equator. Yet parts even of the tropical latitudes are entirely destitute of rain: Peru, for example, which owes its vegetation solely to rivers and nightly dews. In that country easterly winds prevail, blowing from the Pacific, and these being intercepted by the Andes, and cooled as they rise, are made to part with all their moisture before reaching the low region to the leeward. The desert zone of North Africa, between lat. 15° and 30° N., is another instance of a rainless region. Five or six consecutive years may pass in Upper Egypt, Nubia, and Dongola, or in the Desert of Sahara, without rain.

From the facts above mentioned, the reader will infer that in the course of successive geological periods there will be great variations in the quantity of rain falling in one and the same region. At one time there may be none whatever during the whole year; at another a fall of 100 or 500 inches; and these two last averages may occur on the two opposite flanks of a mountain-chain, not more than 20 miles wide. While, therefore, the valleys in one district are widened and deepened annually, they may remain stationary in another, the superficial soil being protected from waste by a dense covering of vegetation. This diversity depends on many geographical circumstances, but principally on the height of the land above the sea, the direction of the prevailing winds, and the relative position, at the time being, of the plains, hills, and the ocean, conditions all of which are liable in the course of ages to undergo a complete revolution.

Recent rain-prints.—When examining, in 1842, the extensive mud-flats of Nova Scotia, which are exposed at low tide on the borders of the Bay of Fundy, I observed not only the foot-prints of birds which had recently passed over the mud, but also very distinct impressions of rain-drops. A peculiar combination of circumstances renders these mud-flats admirably fitted to receive and retain any markings which may happen to be made on their surface. The sediment with which the waters are charged is extremely fine, being derived from the destruction of cliffs of red sandstone and shale, and as the tides rise fifty feet and upwards, large areas are laid dry for nearly a fortnight between the spring and neap tides. In this interval the mud is baked in summer by a hot sun, so that it solidifies and becomes traversed by cracks, caused by shrinkage. Portions of the hardened mud between these cracks may then be taken up and removed without injury. On examining the edges of each slab, we observe numerous layers, formed by successive tides, each layer being usually very thin, sometimes only one-tenth of an inch thick. When a shower of rain falls, the highest portion of the mud-covered flat is usually too hard to receive any impressions; while that recently uncovered by the tide near the water’s edge is too soft. Between these areas a zone occurs, almost as smooth and even as a looking-glass, on which every drop forms a cavity of circular or oval form, and, if the shower be transient, these pits retain their shape permanently, being dried by the sun, and being then too firm to be effaced by the action of the succeeding tide, which deposits upon them a new layer of mud. Hence we often find, in splitting open a slab an inch or more thick, on the upper surface of which the marks of recent rain occur, that an inferior layer, deposited during some previous rise of the tide, exhibits on its under side perfect casts of rain-prints, which stand out in relief, the moulds of the same being seen on the layer below. But in some cases, especially in the more sandy layers, the markings have been somewhat blunted by the tide, and by several rain-prints having been joined into one by a repetition of drops falling on the same spot; in which case the casts present a very irregular and blistered appearance.

The finest examples which I have seen of these rain-prints were sent to me by Dr. Webster, from Kentville, on the borders of the Bay of Mines, in Nova Scotia. They were made by a heavy shower which fell on the 21st of July, 1849, when the rise and fall of the tides were at their maximum. The impressions (see fig. 13) consist of cup-shaped or hemispherical cavities, the average size of which is from one-eighth to one-tenth of an inch across, but the largest are fully half an inch in diameter, and one-tenth of an inch deep. The depth is chiefly below the general surface or plane of stratification, but the walls of the cavity consist partly of a prominent rim of sandy mud, formed of the matter which has been forcibly expelled from the pit. All the cavities having an oval form are deeper at one end, where they have also a higher rim, and all the deep ends have the same direction, showing towards which quarter the wind was blowing. Two or more drops are sometimes seen to have interfered with each other; in which case it is usually possible to determine which drop fell last, its rim being unbroken.

Fig. 13.

Recent rain-prints, formed July 21, 1849, at Kentville, Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.
The arrow represents the direction of the shower.

On some of the specimens the winding tubular tracks of worms are seen, which have been bored just beneath the surface (see fig. 13, left side). They occasionally pass under the middle of a rain-mark, having been formed subsequently. Sometimes the worms have dived beneath the surface, and then reappeared. All these appearances, both of rain-prints and worm-tracks, are of great geological interest, as their exact counterparts are seen in rocks of various ages, even in formations of very high antiquity.5 Small cavities, often corresponding in size to those produced by rain, are also caused by air-bubbles rising up through sand or mud; but these differ in character from rain-prints, being usually deeper than they are wide, and having their sides steeper. These, indeed, are occasionally vertical, or overarching, the opening at the top being narrower than the pit below. In their mode, also, of mutual interference they are unlike rain-prints.6

In consequence of the effects of mountains in cooling currents of moist air, and causing the condensation of aqueous vapor in the manner above described, it follows that in every country, as a general rule, the more elevated regions become perpetual reservoirs of water, which descends and irrigates the lower valleys and plains. The largest quantity of water is first carried to the highest region, and then made to descend by steep declivities towards the sea; so that it acquires superior velocity, and removes more soil, than it would do if the rain had been distributed over the plains and mountains equally in proportion to their relative areas. The water is also made by these means to pass over the greatest distances before it can regain the sea.

It has already been observed that in higher latitudes, where the atmosphere being colder is capable of holding less water in suspension, a diminished fall of rain takes place. Thus at St. Petersburg, the amount is only 16 inches, and at Uleaborg in the Gulf of Bothnia (N. lat. 65°), only 13½ inches, or less than half the average of England, and even this small quantity descends more slowly in the temperate zone, and is spread more equally over the year than in tropical climates. But in reference to geological changes, frost in the colder latitude acts as a compensating power in the disintegration of rocks, and the transportation of stones to lower levels.

Water when converted into ice augments in bulk more than one-twentieth of its volume, and owing to this property it widens the minute crevices (or joints) of rocks into which it penetrates. Ice also in various ways, as will be shown in the next chapter, gives buoyancy to mud and sand, even to huge blocks of stone, enabling rivers of moderate size and velocity to carry them to a great distance.

The mechanical force exerted by running water in undermining cliffs, and rounding off the angles of hard rock, is mainly due to the intermixture of foreign ingredients. Sand and pebbles, when hurried along by the violence of the stream, are thrown against every obstacle lying in their way, and thus a power of attrition is acquired, capable of wearing through the hardest siliceous stones, on which water alone could make no impression.

Newly formed valleys.—When travelling in Georgia and Alabama, in 1846, I saw in both those States the commencement of hundreds of valleys in places where the native forest had recently been removed. One of these newly formed gulleys or ravines is represented in the annexed woodcut (fig. 14), from a drawing which I made on the spot. It occurs three miles and a half due west of Milledgeville, the capital of Georgia, and is situated on the farm of Pomona, on the direct road to Macon.7

Twenty years ago, before the land was cleared, it had no existence; but when the trees of the forest were cut down, cracks three feet deep were caused by the sun’s heat in the clay; and, during the rains, a sudden rush of water through the principal crack deepened it at its lower extremity, from whence the excavating power worked backwards, till, in the course of twenty years, a chasm, measuring no less than 55 feet in depth, 300 yards in length, and varying in width from 20 to 180 feet, was the result. The high road has been several times turned to avoid this cavity, the enlargement of which is still proceeding, and the old line of road may be seen to have held its course directly over what is now the wildest part of the ravine. In the perpendicular walls of this great chasm appear beds of clay and sand, red, white, yellow, and green, produced by the decomposition in situ of hornblendic gneiss, with layers and veins of quartz, which remain entire, to prove that the whole mass was once solid and crystalline.

Fig. 14.

Ravine on the farm of Pomona, near Milledgeville, Georgia, as it appeared January, 1846. Excavated in twenty years, 55 feet deep, and 180 feet broad.

I infer, from the rapidity of the denudation which only began here after the removal of the native wood, that this spot, elevated about 600 feet above the sea, has been always covered with a dense forest, from the remote time when it first emerged from the sea. The termination of the cavity on the right hand in the foreground is the head or upper end of the ravine, and in almost every case, such gulleys are lengthened by the streams cutting their way backwards. The depth at the upper end is often, as in this case, considerable, and there is usually at this point, during floods, a small cascade.

Sinuosities of rivers.—In proportion as such valleys are widened, sinuosities are caused by the deflection of the stream first to one side and then to the other. The unequal hardness of the materials through which the channel is eroded tends partly to give new directions to the lateral force of excavation. When by these, or by accidental shiftings of the alluvial matter in the channel, the current is made to cross its general line of descent, it eats out a curve in the opposite bank, or in the side of the hills bounding the valley, from which curve it is turned back again at an equal angle, so that it recrosses the line of descent, and gradually hollows out another curve lower down in the opposite bank, till the whole sides of the valley, or river bed, present a succession of salient and retiring angles. Among the causes of deviation from a straight course, by which torrents and rivers tend in mountainous regions to widen the valleys through which they flow, may be mentioned the confluence of lateral torrents, swollen irregularly at different seasons by partial storms, and discharging at different times unequal quantities of sand, mud, and pebbles, into the main channel.

Fig. 15.

When the tortuous flexures of a river are extremely great, as often happens in alluvial plains, the aberration from the direct line of descent may be restored by the river cutting through the isthmus which separates two neighboring curves. Thus in the annexed diagram, the extreme sinuosity of the river has caused it to return for a brief space in a contrary direction to its main course, so that a peninsula is formed, and the isthmus (at a) is consumed on both sides by currents flowing in opposite directions. In this case an island is soon formed,—on either side of which a portion of the stream usually remains.

Transporting power of water.—In regard to the transporting power of water, we may often be surprised at the facility with which streams of a small size, and descending a slight declivity, bear along coarse sand and gravel; for we usually estimate the weight of rocks in air, and do not reflect on their comparative buoyancy when submerged in a denser fluid. The specific gravity of many rocks is not more than twice that of water, and very rarely more than thrice, so that almost all the fragments propelled by a stream have lost a third, and many of them a half, of what we usually term their weight.

It has been proved by experiment, in contradiction to the theories of the earlier writers on hydrostatics, to be a universal law, regulating the motion of running water, that the velocity at the bottom of the stream is everywhere less than in any part above it, and is greatest at the surface. Also that the superficial particles in the middle of the stream move swifter than those at the sides. This retardation of the lowest and lateral currents is produced by friction; and when the velocity is sufficiently great, the soil composing the sides and bottom gives way. A velocity of three inches per second at the bottom is ascertained to be sufficient to tear up fine clay,—six inches per second, fine sand,—twelve inches per second, fine gravel,—and three feet per second, stones of the size of an egg.8

When this mechanical power of running water is considered, we are prepared for the transportation before alluded to of large quantities of gravel, sand, and mud, by torrents which descend from mountainous regions. But a question naturally arises, How the more tranquil rivers of the valleys and plains, flowing on comparatively level ground, can remove the prodigious burden which is discharged into them by their numerous tributaries, and by what means they are enabled to convey the whole mass to the sea? If they had not this removing power, their channels would be annually choked up, and the valleys of the lower country, and plains at the base of mountain-chains, would be continually strewed over with fragments of rock and sterile sand. But this evil is prevented by a general law regulating the conduct of running water,—that two equal streams do not, when united, occupy a bed of double surface. Nay, the width of the principal river, after the junction of a tributary, sometimes remains the same as before, or is even lessened. The cause of this apparent paradox was long ago explained by the Italian writers, who had studied the confluence of the Po and its feeders in the plains of Lombardy.

The addition of a smaller river augments the velocity of the main stream, often in the same proportion as it does the quantity of water. Thus the Venetian branch of the Po swallowed up the Ferranese branch and that of Panaro without any enlargement of its own dimensions. The cause of the greater velocity is, first, that after the union of two rivers the water, in place of the friction of four shores, has only that of two to surmount; 2dly, because the main body of the stream being farther distant from the banks, flows on with less interruption; and lastly, because a greater quantity of water moving more swiftly, digs deeper into the river’s bed. By this beautiful adjustment, the water which drains the interior country is made continually to occupy less room as it approaches the sea; and thus the most valuable part of our continents, the rich deltas and great alluvial plains, are prevented from being constantly under water.

River floods in Scotland, 1829.—Many remarkable illustrations of the power of running water in moving stones and heavy materials were afforded by the storm and floods which occurred on the 3d and 4th of August, 1829, in Aberdeenshire and other counties in Scotland. The elements during this storm assumed all the characters which mark the tropical hurricanes; the wind blowing in sudden gusts and whirlwinds, the lightning and thunder being such as is rarely witnessed in our climate, and heavy rain falling without intermission. The floods extended almost simultaneously, and with equal violence over that part of the northeast of Scotland which would be cut off by two lines drawn from the head of Lochrannoch, one towards Inverness and the other to Stonehaven. The united line of the different rivers which were flooded, could not be less than from five to six hundred miles in length; and the whole of their courses were marked by the destruction of bridges, roads, crops, and buildings. Sir T. D. Lauder has recorded the destruction of thirty-eight bridges, and the entire obliteration of a great number of farms and hamlets. On the Nairn, a fragment of sandstone, fourteen feet long by three feet wide and one foot thick, was carried above 200 yards down the river. Some new ravines were formed on the sides of mountains where no streams had previously flowed, and ancient river-channels, which had never been filled from time immemorial, gave passage to a copious flood.9

The bridge over the Dee at Ballater consisted of five arches, having upon the whole a water-way of 260 feet. The bed of the river, on which the piers rested, was composed of rolled pieces of granite and gneiss. The bridge was built of granite, and had stood uninjured for twenty years; but the different parts were swept away in succession by the flood, and the whole mass of masonry disappeared in the bed of the river. “The river Don,” observes Mr. Farquharson, in his account of the inundations, “has upon my own premises forced a mass of four or five hundred tons of stones, many of them two or three hundred pounds’ weight, up an inclined plane, rising six feet in eight or ten yards, and left them in a rectangular heap, about three feet deep on a flat ground:—the heap ends abruptly at its lower extremity.”10

The power even of a small rivulet, when swollen by rain, in removing heavy bodies, was exemplified in August, 1827, in the College, a small stream which flows at a slight declivity from the eastern watershed of the Cheviot Hills. Several thousand tons’ weight of gravel and sand were transported to the plain of the Till, and a bridge, then in progress of building, was carried away, some of the arch-stones of which, weighing from half to three quarters of a ton each, were propelled two miles down the rivulet. On the same occasion, the current tore away from the abutment of a mill-dam a large block of greenstone-porphyry, weighing nearly two tons, and transported it to the distance of a quarter of a mile. Instances are related as occurring repeatedly, in which from one to three thousand tons of gravel are, in like manner, removed by this streamlet to still greater distances in one day.11

Floods caused by landslips, 1826.—The power which running water may exert in the lapse of ages, in widening and deepening a valley, does not so much depend on the volume and velocity of the stream usually flowing in it, as on the number and magnitude of the obstructions which have, at different periods, opposed its free passage. If a torrent, however small, be effectually dammed up, the size of the valley above the barrier, and its declivity below, and not the dimensions of the torrent, will determine the violence of the débâcle. The most universal source of local deluges, are landslips, slides, or avalanches, as they are sometimes called, when great masses of rock and soil, or sometimes ice and snow, are precipitated into the bed of a river, the boundary cliffs of which have been thrown down by the shock of an earthquake, or undermined by springs or other causes. Volumes might be filled with the enumeration of instances on record of these terrific catastrophes; I shall therefore select a few examples of recent occurrence, the facts of which are well authenticated.

Two dry seasons in the White Mountains, in New Hampshire (United States), were followed by heavy rains on the 28th August, 1826, when from the steep and lofty declivities which rise abruptly on both sides of the river Saco, innumerable rocks and stones, many of sufficient size to fill a common apartment, were detached, and in their descent swept down before them, in one promiscuous and frightful ruin, forests, shrubs, and the earth which sustained them. Although there are numerous indications on the steep sides of these hills of former slides of the same kind, yet no tradition had been handed down of any similar catastrophe within the memory of man, and the growth of the forest on the very spots now devastated, clearly showed that for a long interval nothing similar had occurred. One of these moving masses was afterwards found to have slid three miles, with an average breadth of a quarter of a mile. The natural excavations commenced generally in a trench a few yards in depth and a few rods in width, and descended the mountains, widening and deepening till they became vast chasms. At the base of these hollow ravines was seen a confused mass of ruins, consisting of transported earth, gravel, rocks, and trees. Forests of spruce-fir and hemlock, a kind of fir somewhat resembling our yew in foliage, were prostrated with as much ease as if they had been fields of grain; for, where they disputed the ground, the torrent of mud and rock accumulated behind, till it gathered sufficient force to burst the temporary barrier.

The valleys of the Amonoosuck and Saco presented, for many miles, an uninterrupted scene of desolation; all the bridges being carried away, as well as those over their tributary streams. In some places, the road was excavated to the depth of from fifteen to twenty feet; in others, it was covered with earth, rocks, and trees, to as great a height. The water flowed for many weeks after the flood, as densely charged with earth as it could be without being changed into mud, and marks were seen in various localities of its having risen on either side of the valley to more than twenty-five feet above its ordinary level. Many sheep and cattle were swept away, and the Willey family, nine in number, who in alarm had deserted their house, were destroyed on the banks of the Saco; seven of their mangled bodies were afterwards found near the river, buried beneath drift-wood and mountain ruins.12 Eleven years after the event, the deep channels worn by the avalanches of mud and stone, and the immense heaps of boulders and blocks of granite in the river channel, still formed, says Professor Hubbard, a picturesque feature in the scenery.13

When I visited the country in 1845, eight years after Professor Hubbard, I found the signs of devastation still very striking; I also particularly remarked that although the surface of the bare granitic rocks had been smoothed by the passage over them of so much mud and stone, there were no continuous parallel and rectilinear furrows, nor any of the fine scratches or striæ which characterize glacial action. The absence of these is nowhere more clearly exemplified than in the bare rocks over which passed the great “Willey slide” of 1826.14

But the catastrophes in the White Mountains are insignificant, when compared to those which are occasioned by earthquakes, when the boundary hills, for miles in length, are thrown down into the hollow of a valley. I shall have opportunities of alluding to inundations of this kind, when treating expressly of earthquakes, and shall content myself at present with selecting an example of a flood due to a different cause.

Flood in the valley of Bagnes, 1818.—The valley of Bagnes is one of the largest of the lateral embranchments of the main valley of the Rhone, above the Lake of Geneva. Its upper portion was, in 1818, converted into a lake by the damming up of a narrow pass, by avalanches of snow and ice, precipitated from an elevated glacier into the bed of the river Dranse. In the winter season, during continued frost, scarcely any water flows in the bed of this river to preserve an open channel, so that the ice barrier remained entire until the melting of the snows in spring, when a lake was formed above, about half a league in length, which finally attained in some parts a depth of about two hundred feet, and a width of about seven hundred feet. To prevent or lessen the mischief apprehended from the sudden bursting of the barrier, an artificial gallery, seven hundred feet in length, was cut through the ice, before the waters had risen to a great height. When at length they accumulated and flowed through this tunnel, they dissolved the ice, and thus deepened their channel, until nearly half of the whole contents of the lake were slowly drained off. But at length, on the approach of the hot season, the central portion of the remaining mass of ice gave way with a tremendous crash, and the residue of the lake was emptied in half an hour. In the course of its descent, the waters encountered several narrow gorges, and at each of these they rose to a great height, and then burst with new violence into the next basin, sweeping along rocks, forests, houses, bridges, and cultivated land. For the greater part of its course the flood resembled a moving mass of rock and mud, rather than of water. Some fragments of granitic rocks, of enormous magnitude, and which from their dimensions, might be compared without exaggeration to houses, were torn out of a more ancient alluvion, and borne down for a quarter of a mile. One of the fragments moved was sixty paces in circumference.15 The velocity of the water, in the first part of its course, was thirty-three feet per second, which diminished to six feet before it reached the Lake of Geneva, where it arrived in six hours and a half, the distance being forty-five miles.16

This flood left behind it, on the plains of Martigny, thousands of trees torn up by the roots, together with the ruins of buildings. Some of the houses in that town were filled with mud up to the second story. After expanding in the plain of Martigny, it entered the Rhone, and did no farther damage; but some bodies of men, who had been drowned above Martigny, were afterwards found, at the distance of about thirty miles, floating on the farther side of the Lake of Geneva, near Vevay.

The waters, on escaping from the temporary lake, intermixed with mud and rock, swept along, for the first four miles, at the rate of above twenty miles an hour; and M. Escher, the engineer, calculated that the flood furnished 300,000 cubic feet of water every second—an efflux which is five times greater than that of the Rhine below Basle. Now, if part of the lake had not been gradually drained off, the flood would have been nearly double, approaching in volume to some of the largest rivers in Europe. It is evident, therefore, that when we are speculating on the excavating force which a river may have exerted in any particular valley, the most important question is, not the volume of the existing stream, nor the present levels of its channel, nor even the nature of the rocks, but the probability of a succession of floods at some period since the time when the valley may have been first elevated above the sea.

For several months after the débâcle of 1818, the Dranse, having no settled channel, shifted its position continually from one side to the other of the valley, carrying away newly-erected bridges, undermining houses, and continuing to be charged with as large a quantity of earthy matter as the fluid could hold in suspension. I visited this valley four months after the flood, and was witness to the sweeping away of a bridge, and the undermining of part of a house. The greater part of the ice-barrier was then standing, presenting vertical cliffs 150 feet high, like ravines in the lava-currents of Etna or Auvergne, where they are intersected by rivers.

Inundations, precisely similar, are recorded to have occurred at former periods in this district, and from the same cause. In 1595, for example, a lake burst, and the waters, descending with irresistible fury, destroyed the town of Martigny, where from sixty to eighty persons perished. In a similar flood, fifty years before, 140 persons were drowned.

Flood at Tivoli, 1826.—I shall conclude with one more example derived from a land of classic recollections, the ancient Tibur, and which, like all the other inundations above alluded to, occurred within the present century. The younger Pliny, it will be remembered, describes a flood on the Anio, which destroyed woods, rocks, and houses, with the most sumptuous villas and works of arts.17 For four or five centuries consecutively, this “headlong stream,” as Horace truly called it, has often remained within its bounds, and then, after so long an interval of rest, has at different periods inundated its banks again, and widened its channel. The last of these catastrophes happened 15th Nov. 1826, after heavy rains, such as produced the floods before alluded to in Scotland. The waters appear also to have been impeded by an artificial dike, by which they were separated into two parts, a short distance above Tivoli. They broke through this dike; and leaving the left trench dry, precipitated themselves, with their whole weight, on the right side. Here they undermined, in the course of a few hours, a high cliff, and widened the river’s channel about fifteen paces. On this height stood the church of St. Lucia, and about thirty-six houses of the town of Tivoli, which were all carried away, presenting as they sank into the roaring flood, a terrific scene of destruction to the spectators on the opposite bank. As the foundations were gradually removed, each building, some of them edifices of considerable height, was first traversed with numerous rents, which soon widened into large fissures, until at length the roofs fell in with a crash, and then the walls sunk into the river, and were hurled down the cataract below.18

The destroying agency of the flood came within two hundred yards of the precipice on which the beautiful temple of Vesta stands; but fortunately this precious relic of antiquity was spared, while the wreck of modern structures was hurled down the abyss. Vesta, it will be remembered, in the heathen mythology, personified the stability of the earth; and when the Samian astronomer, Aristarchus, first taught that the earth revolved on its axis, and round the sun, he was publicly accused of impiety, “for removing the everlasting Vesta from her place.” Playfair observed, that when Hutton ascribed instability to the earth’s surface, and represented the continents which we inhabit as the theatre of incessant change and movement, his antagonists, who regarded them as unalterable, assailed him in a similar manner with accusations founded on religious prejudices.19 We might appeal to the excavating power of the Anio as corroborative of one of the most controverted parts of the Huttonian theory; and if the days of omens had not gone by, the geologists who now worship Vesta might regard the late catastrophe as portentous. We may, at least, recommend the modern votaries of the goddess to lose no time in making a pilgrimage to her shrine, for the next flood may not respect the temple.

Excavation of rocks by running water.—The rapidity with which even the smallest streams hollow out deep channels in soft and destructible soils is remarkably exemplified in volcanic countries, where the sand and half-consolidated tuffs opposed but a slight resistance to the torrents which descend the mountain-side. After the heavy rains which followed the eruption of Vesuvius in 1824, the water flowing from the Atrio del Cavallo cut, in three days, a new chasm through strata of tuff and ejected volcanic matter, to the depth of twenty-five feet. I found the old mule-road, in 1828, intersected by this new ravine.

The gradual erosion of deep chasms through some of the hardest rocks, by the constant passage of running water, charged with foreign matter, is another phenomenon of which striking examples may be adduced. Illustrations of this excavating power are presented by many valleys in central France where the channels of rivers have been barred up by solid currents of lava, through which the streams have re-excavated a passage, to the depth of from twenty to seventy feet and upwards, and often of great width. In these cases there are decisive proofs that neither the sea, nor any denuding wave or extraordinary body of water, has passed over the spot since the melted lava was consolidated. Every hypothesis of the intervention of sudden and violent agency is entirely excluded, because the cones of loose scoriæ, out of which the lavas flowed, are oftentimes at no great elevation above the rivers, and have remained undisturbed during the whole period which has been sufficient for the hollowing out of such enormous ravines.

Recent excavation by the Simeto.—But I shall at present confine myself to examples derived from events which have happened since the time of history.

Fig. 16.

Recent excavation of lava at the foot of Etna by the river Simeto.

At the western base of Etna, a current of lava (A A, fig. 16), descending from near the summit of the great volcano, has flowed to the distance of five or six miles, and then reached the alluvial plain of the Simeto, the largest of the Sicilian rivers, which skirts the base of Etna, and falls into the sea a few miles south of Catania. The lava entered the river about three miles above the town of Aderno, and not only occupied its channel for some distance, but, crossing to the opposite side of the valley, accumulated there in a rocky mass. Gemmellaro gives the year 1603 as the date of the eruption.20 The appearance of the current clearly proves, that it is one of the most modern of those of Etna; for it has not been covered or crossed by subsequent streams or ejections, and the olives which had been planted on its surface were all of small size, when I examined the spot in 1828, yet they were older than the natural wood on the same lava. In the course, therefore, of about two centuries, the Simeto has eroded a passage from fifty to several hundred feet wide, and in some parts from forty to fifty feet deep.

The portion of lava cut through is in no part porous or scoriaceous, but consists of a compact homogeneous mass of hard blue rock, somewhat inferior in weight to ordinary basalt, and containing crystals of olivine and glassy felspar. The general declivity of this part of the bed of the Simeto is not considerable; but, in consequence of the unequal waste of the lava, two water-falls occur at Passo Manzanelli, each about six feet in height. Here the chasm (B, fig. 16) is about forty feet deep, and only fifty broad.

The sand and pebbles in the river-bed consist chiefly of a brown quartzose sandstone, derived from the upper country; but the materials of the volcanic rock itself must have greatly assisted the attrition. This river, like the Caltabiano on the eastern side of Etna, has not yet cut down to the ancient bed of which it was dispossessed, and of which the probable position is indicated in the annexed diagram (C, fig. 16).

On entering the narrow ravine where the water foams down the two cataracts, we are entirely shut out from all view of the surrounding country; and a geologist who is accustomed to associate the characteristic features of the landscape with the relative age of certain rocks, can scarcely dissuade himself from the belief that he is contemplating a scene in some rocky gorge of a primary district. The external forms of the hard blue lava are as massive as any of the most ancient trap-rocks of Scotland. The solid surface is in some parts smoothed and almost polished by attrition, and covered in others with a white lichen, which imparts to it an air of extreme antiquity, so as greatly to heighten the delusion. But the moment we reascend the cliff the spell is broken; for we scarcely recede a few paces, before the ravine and river disappear, and we stand on the black and rugged surface of a vast current of lava, which seems unbroken, and which we can trace up nearly to the distant summit of that majestic cone which Pindar called “the pillar of heaven,” and which still continues to send forth a fleecy wreath of vapor, reminding us that its fires are not extinct, and that it may again give out a rocky stream, wherein other scenes like that now described may present themselves to future observers.

Fig. 17. Lake Erie. The Falls.  
Lime­stone Shale.
Lewiston. Niagara River. Queenstown.  

Falls of Niagara.—The falls of Niagara afford a magnificent example of the progressive excavation of a deep valley in solid rock. That river flows over a flat table-land, in a depression of which Lake Erie is situated. Where it issues from the lake, it is nearly a mile in width, and 330 feet above Lake Ontario, which is about 30 miles distant. For the first fifteen miles below Lake Erie the surrounding country, comprising Upper Canada on the west, and the state of New York on the east, is almost on a level with its banks, and nowhere more than thirty or forty feet above them.21 (See fig. 17.) The river being occasionally interspersed with low wooded islands, and having sometimes a width of three miles, glides along at first with a clear, smooth, and tranquil current, falling only fifteen feet in as many miles, and in this part of its course resembling an arm of Lake Erie. But its character is afterwards entirely changed, on approaching the Rapids, where it begins to rush and foam over a rocky and uneven limestone bottom, for the space of nearly a mile, till at length it is thrown down perpendicularly 165 feet at the Falls. Here the river is divided into two sheets of water by an island, the largest cataract being more than a third of a mile broad, the smaller one having a breadth of six hundred feet. When the water has precipitated itself into an unfathomable pool, it rushes with great velocity down the sloping bottom of a narrow chasm, for a distance of seven miles. This ravine varies from 200 to 400 yards in width from cliff to cliff; contrasting, therefore, strongly in its breadth with that of the river above. Its depth is from 200 to 300 feet, and it intersects for about seven miles the table-land before described, which terminates suddenly at Queenstown in an escarpment or long line of inland cliff facing northwards, towards Lake Ontario. The Niagara, on reaching the escarpment and issuing from the gorge, enters the flat country, which is so nearly on a level with Lake Ontario, that there is only a fall of about four feet in the seven additional miles which intervene between Queenstown and the shores of that lake.

It has long been the popular belief that the Niagara once flowed in a shallow valley across the whole platform, from the present site of the Falls to the escarpment (called the Queenstown heights), where it is supposed that the cataract was first situated, and that the river has been slowly eating its way backwards through the rocks for the distance of seven miles. This hypothesis naturally suggests itself to every observer, who sees the narrowness of the gorge at its termination, and throughout its whole course, as far up as the Falls, above which point the river expands as before stated. The boundary cliffs of the ravine are usually perpendicular, and in many places undermined on one side by the impetuous stream. The uppermost rock of the table-land at the Falls consists of hard limestone (a member of the Silurian series), about ninety feet thick, beneath which lie soft shales of equal thickness, continually undermined by the action of the spray, which rises from the pool into which so large a body of water is projected, and is driven violently by gusts of wind against the base of the precipice. In consequence of this action, and that of frost, the shale disintegrates and crumbles away, and portions of the incumbent rock overhang 40 feet, and often when unsupported tumble down, so that the Falls do not remain absolutely stationary at the same spot, even for half a century. Accounts have come down to us, from the earliest period of observation, of the frequent destruction of these rocks, and the sudden descent of huge fragments in 1818 and 1828, are said to have shaken the adjacent country like an earthquake. The earliest travellers, Hennepin and Kalm, who in 1678 and 1751 visited the Falls, and published views of them, attest the fact, that the rocks have been suffering from dilapidation for more than a century and a half, and that some slight changes, even in the scenery of the cataract have been brought about within that time. The idea, therefore, of perpetual and progressive waste is constantly present to the mind of every beholder; and as that part of the chasm, which has been the work of the last hundred and fifty years resembles precisely, in depth, width, and character, the rest of the gorge which extends seven miles below, it is most natural to infer, that the entire ravine has been hollowed out in the same manner, by the recession of the cataract.

It must at least be conceded, that the river supplies an adequate cause for executing the whole task thus assigned to it, provided we grant sufficient time for its completion. As this part of the country was a wilderness till near the end of the last century, we can obtain no accurate data for estimating the exact rate at which the cataract has been receding. Mr. Bakewell, son of the eminent geologist of that name, who visited the Niagara in 1829, made the first attempt to calculate from the observations of one who had lived forty years at the Falls, and who had been the first settler there, that the cataract had during that period gone back about a yard annually. But after the most careful inquiries which I was able to make, during my visit to the spot in 1841-2, I came to the conclusion that the average of one foot a year would be a much more probable conjecture. In that case, it would have required thirty-five thousand years for the retreat of the Falls, from the escarpment of Queenstown to their present site. It seems by no means improbable that such a result would be no exaggeration of the truth, although we cannot assume that the retrograde movement has been uniform. An examination of the geological structure of the district, as laid open in the ravine, shows that at every step in the process of excavation, the height of the precipice, the hardness of the materials at its base, and the quantity of fallen matter to be removed, must have varied. At some points it may have receded much faster than at present, but in general its progress was probably slower, because the cataract, when it began to recede, must have had nearly twice its present height.

From observations made by me in 1841, when I had the advantage of being accompanied by Mr. Hall, state geologist of New York, and in 1842, when I re-examined the Niagara district, I obtained geological evidence of the former existence of an old river-bed, which, I have no doubt, indicates the original channel through which the waters once flowed from the Falls to Queenstown, at the height of nearly three hundred feet above the bottom of the present gorge. The geological monuments alluded to, consist of patches of sand and gravel, forty feet thick, containing fluviatile shells of the genera Unio, Cyclas, Melania, &c., such as now inhabit the waters of the Niagara above the Falls. The identity of the fossil species with the recent is unquestionable, and these freshwater deposits occur at the edge of the cliffs bounding the ravine, so that they prove the former extension of an elevated shallow valley, four miles below the falls, a distinct prolongation of that now occupied by the Niagara, in the elevated region intervening between Lake Erie and the Falls. Whatever theory be framed for the hollowing out of the ravine further down, or for the three miles which intervene between the whirlpool and Queenstown, it will always be necessary to suppose the former existence of a barrier of rock, not of loose and destructible materials, such as those composing the drift in this district, somewhere immediately below the whirlpool. By that barrier the waters were held back for ages, when the fluviatile deposit, 40 feet in thickness, and 250 feet above the present channel of the river, originated. If we are led by this evidence to admit that the cataract has cut back its way for four miles, we can have little hesitation in referring the excavation of the remaining three miles below to a like agency, the shape of the chasm being precisely similar.

There have been many speculations respecting the future recession of the Falls, and the deluge that might be occasioned by the sudden escape of the waters of Lake Erie, if the ravine should ever be prolonged 16 miles backwards. But a more accurate knowledge of the geological succession of the rocks, brought to light by the State Survey, has satisfied every geologist that the Falls would diminish gradually in height before they travelled back two miles, and in consequence of a gentle dip of the strata to the south, the massive limestone now at the top would then be at their base, and would retard, and perhaps put an effectual stop to, the excavating process.

1 Miller, Phil. Trans. 1851, p. 155.

2 Phil. Trans. 1850, p. 354.

3 Hooker’s Himalayan Journal, ined.

4 Ibid.

5 See Manual of Geology, Index, Rain-prints.

6 See Lyell on recent and fossil rains. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1851, vol. vii. p. 239.

7 Lyell’s Second Visit to the United States, 1846, vol. ii. p. 25.

8 Encyc. Brit. art. Rivers.

9 Sir T. D. Lauder’s Account of the Great Floods in Morayshire, August, 1829.

10 Quarterly Jour. of Sci. &c. No. xii. New Series, p. 331.

11 Culley, Proceed. Geol. Soc. 1829.

12 Silliman’s Journal, vol. xv. No. 2, p. 216. Jan. 1829.

13 Silliman’s Journal, vol. xxxiv. p. 115.

14 See Lyell’s Second Visit to the U. S. vol. i. p. 69.

15 This block was measured by Capt. B. Hall, R. N.

16 Inundation of the Val de Bagnes, in 1818, Ed. Phil. Journ., vol. i. p. 187, from memoir of M. Escher.

17 Lib. viii. Epist. 17.

18 When at Tivoli, in 1829, I received this account from eye-witnesses of the event.

19 Illustr. of Hutt. Theory, § 3, p. 147.

20 Quadro Istorico dell’ Etna, 1824.

21 The reader will find in my Travels in North America, vol. i. ch. 2, a colored geological map and section of the Niagara district, also a bird’s-eye view of the Falls and adjacent country, colored geologically, of which the first idea was suggested by the excellent original sketch given by Mr. Bakewell. I have referred more fully to these and to Mr. Hall’s Report on the Geology of New York, as well as to the earlier writings of Hennepin and Kalm in the same work, and have speculated on the origin of the escarpment over which the Falls may have been originally precipitated. Vol. i. p. 32, and vol. ii. p. 93.

Chapter 15.

Transportation of Solid Matter by Ice.

Carrying power of river-ice—Rocks annually conveyed into the St. Lawrence by its tributaries—Ground-ice; its origin and transporting power—Glaciers—Theory of their downward movement—Smoothed and grooved rocks—The moraine unstratified—Icebergs covered with mud and stones—Limits of glaciers and icebergs—Their effects on the bottom when they run aground—Packing of coast-ice—Boulders drifted by ice on coast of Labrador—Blocks moved by ice in the Baltic.

The power of running water to carry sand, gravel, and fragments of rock to considerable distances is greatly augmented in those regions where, during some part of the year, the frost is of sufficient intensity to convert the water, either at the surface or bottom of rivers, into ice.

This subject may be considered under three different heads:—first, the effect of surface-ice and ground-ice in enabling streams to remove gravel and stones to a distance; secondly, the action of glaciers in the transport of boulders, and in the polishing and scratching of rocks; thirdly, the floating off of glaciers charged with solid matter into the sea, and the drifting of icebergs and coast-ice.

River-ice.—Pebbles and small pieces of rock may be seen entangled in ice, and floating annually down the Tay in Scotland, as far as the mouth of that river. Similar observations might doubtless be made respecting almost all the larger rivers of England and Scotland; but there seems reason to suspect that the principal transfer from place to place of pebbles and stones adhering to ice goes on unseen by us under water. For although the specific gravity of the compound mass may cause it to sink, it may still be very buoyant, and easily borne along by a feeble current. The ice, moreover, melts very slowly at the bottom of running streams in winter, as the water there is often nearly at the freezing point, as will be seen from what will be said in the sequel of ground-ice.

As we traverse Europe in the latitudes of Great Britain, we find the winters more severe, and the rivers more regularly frozen over. M. Lariviere relates that, being at Memel on the Baltic in 1821, when the ice of the river Niemen broke up, he saw a mass of ice thirty feet long which had descended the stream, and had been thrown ashore. In the middle of it was a triangular piece of granite, about a yard in diameter, resembling in composition the red granite of Finland.1

When rivers in the northern hemisphere flow from south to north, the ice first breaks up in the higher part of their course, and the flooded waters, bearing along large icy fragments, often arrive at parts of the stream which are still firmly frozen over. Great inundations are thus frequently occasioned by the obstructions thrown in the way of the descending waters, as in the case of the Mackenzie in North America, and the Irtish, Obi, Yenesei, Lena, and other rivers of Siberia. (See map, fig. 1, p. 79.) A partial stoppage of this kind lately occurred (Jan. 31, 1840) in the Vistula, about a mile and a half above the city of Dantzic, where the river, choked up by packed ice, was made to take a new course over its right bank, so that it hollowed out in a few days a deep and broad channel, many leagues in length, through a tract of sand-hills which were from 40 to 60 feet high.

In Canada, where the winter’s cold is intense, in a latitude corresponding to that of central France, several tributaries of the St. Lawrence begin to thaw in their upper course, while they remain frozen over lower down, and thus large slabs of ice are set free and thrown upon the unbroken sheet of ice below. Then begins what is called the packing of the drifted fragments; that is to say, one slab is made to slide over another, until a vast pile is built up, and the whole being frozen together, is urged onwards by the force of the dammed up waters and drift-ice. Thus propelled, it not only forces along boulders, but breaks off from cliffs, which border the rivers, huge pieces of projecting rock. By this means several buttresses of solid masonry, which, up to the year 1836, supported a wooden bridge on the St. Maurice, which falls into the St. Lawrence, near the town of Trois Rivières, lat. 46° 20’, were thrown down, and conveyed by the ice into the main river; and instances have occurred at Montreal of wharfs and stone-buildings, from 30 to 50 feet square, having been removed in a similar manner. We learn from Captain Bayfield that anchors laid down within high-water mark, to secure vessels hauled on shore for the winter, must be cut out of the ice on the approach of spring, or they would be carried away. In 1834, the Gulnare’s bower-anchor, weighing half a ton, was transported some yards by the ice, and so firmly was it fixed, that the force of the moving ice broke a chain-cable suited for a 10-gun brig, and which had rode the Gulnare during the heaviest gales in the gulf. Had not this anchor been cut out of the ice, it would have been earned into deep water and lost.2


View taken by Lieut. Bowen, from the N. E., in the Spring of 1835, at Richelieu Rapid, lat. 46° N.

The scene represented in the annexed plate (pl. 2), from a drawing by Lieutenant Bowen, R. N., will enable the reader to comprehend the incessant changes which the transport of boulders produces annually on the low islands, shores, and bed of the St. Lawrence above Quebec. The fundamental rocks at Richelieu Rapid, situated in lat. 46° N., are limestone and slate, which are seen at low-water to be covered with boulders of granite. These boulders owe their spheroidal form chiefly to weathering, or action of frost, which causes the surface to exfoliate in concentric plates, so that all the more prominent angles are removed. At the point a is a cavity in the mud or sand of the beach, now filled with water, which was occupied during the preceding winter (1835) by the huge erratic b, a mass of granite, 70 tons’ weight, found in the spring following (1836) at a distance of several feet from its former position. Many small islands are seen on the river, such as c d, which afford still more striking proofs of the carrying and propelling power of ice. These islets are never under water, yet every winter ice is thrown upon them in such abundance, that it packs to the height of 20, and even 30 feet, bringing with it a continual supply of large stones or boulders, and carrying away others; the greatest number being deposited, according to Lieutenant Bowen, on the edge of deep water. On the island d, on the left of the accompanying view, a lighthouse is represented, consisting of a square wooden building, which having no other foundation than the boulders, requires to be taken down every winter, and rebuilt on the reopening of the river.

These effects of frost, which are so striking on the St. Lawrence above Quebec, are by no means displayed on a smaller scale below that city, where the gulf rises and falls with the tide. On the contrary; it is in the estuary, between the latitudes 47° and 49°, that the greatest quantity of gravel and boulders of large dimensions are carried down annually towards the sea. Here the frost is so intense, that a dense sheet of ice is formed at low water, which, on the rise of the tide, is lifted up, broken, and thrown in heaps on the extensive shoals which border the estuary. When the tide recedes, this packed ice is exposed to a temperature sometimes 30° below zero, which freezes together all the loose pieces of ice, as well as the granitic and other boulders. The whole of these are often swept away by a high tide, or when the river is swollen by the melting of the snow in Spring. One huge block of granite, 15 feet long by 10 feet both in width and height, and estimated to contain 1500 cubic feet, was conveyed in this manner to some distance in the year 1837, its previous position being well known, as up to that time it had been used by Captain Bayfield as a mark for the surveying station.

Ground-ice.—When a current of cold air passes over the surface of a lake or stream it abstracts from it a quantity of heat, and the specific gravity of the water being thereby increased, the cooled portion sinks. This circulation may continue until the whole body of fluid has been cooled down to the temperature of 40° F., after which, if the cold increase, the vertical movement ceases, the water which is uppermost expands and floats over the heavier fluid below, and when it has attained a temperature of 32° Fahr. it sets into a sheet of ice. It should seem therefore impossible, according to this law of congelation, that ice should ever form at the bottom of a river; and yet such is the fact, and many speculations have been hazarded to account for so singular a phenomenon. M. Arago is of opinion that the mechanical action of a running stream produces a circulation by which the entire body of water is mixed up together, and cooled alike, and the whole being thus reduced to the freezing point, ice begins to form at the bottom for two reasons, first, because there is less motion there, and secondly, because the water is in contact with solid rock or pebbles which have a cold surface.3 Whatever explanation we adopt, there is no doubt of the fact, that in countries where the intensity and duration of the cold is great, rivers and torrents acquire an increase of carrying power by the formation of what is called ground-ice. Even in the Thames we learn from Dr. Plott that pieces of this kind of ice, having gravel frozen on to their under side, rise up from the bottom in winter, and float on the surface. In the Siberian rivers, Weitz describes large stones as having been brought up from the river’s bed in the same manner, and made to float.4

Glaciers.—In the temperate zone, the snow lies for months in winter on the summit of every high mountain, while in the arctic regions, a long summer’s day of half a year’s duration is insufficient to melt the snow, even on land just raised above the level of the sea. It is therefore not surprising, since the atmosphere becomes colder in proportion as we ascend in it, that there should be heights, even in tropical countries, where the snow never melts. The lowest limit to which the perpetual snow extends downwards, from the tops of mountains at the equator, is an elevation of not less than 16,000 feet above the sea; while in the Swiss Alps, in lat. 46° N. it reaches as low as 8,500 feet above the same level, the loftier peaks of the Alpine chain being from 12,000 to 15,000 feet high. The frozen mass augmenting from year to year would add indefinitely to the altitude of alpine summits, were it not relieved by its descent through the larger and deeper valleys to regions far below the general snow-line. To these it slowly finds its way in the form of rivers of ice, called glaciers, the consolidation of which is produced by pressure, and by the congelation of water infiltered into the porous mass, which is always undergoing partial liquefaction, and receiving in summer occasional showers of rain on its surface. In a day of hot sunshine, or mild rain, innumerable rills of pure and sparkling water run in icy channels along the surface of the glaciers, which in the night shrink, and come to nothing. They are often precipitated in bold cascades into deep fissures in the ice, and contribute together with springs to form torrents, which flow in tunnels at the bottom of the glaciers for many a league, and at length issue at their extremities, from beneath beautiful caverns or arches. The waters of these streams are always densely charged with the finest mud, produced by the grinding of rock and sand under the weight of the moving mass. (See fig. 18.)

Fig. 18.

Glacier with medial and lateral moraines and with terminal cave

The length of the Swiss glaciers is sometimes twenty miles, their width in the middle portion, where they are broadest, occasionally two or three miles; their depth or thickness sometimes more than 600 feet. When they descend steep slopes, and precipices, or are forced through narrow gorges, the ice is broken up, and assumes the most fantastic and picturesque forms, with lofty peaks and pinnacles, projecting above the general level. These snow-white masses are often relieved by a dark background of pines, as in the valley of Chamouni; and are not only surrounded with abundance of the wild rhododendron in full flower, but encroach still lower into the region of cultivation, and trespass on fields where the tobacco-plant is flourishing by the side of the peasant’s hut.

The cause of glacier motion has of late been a subject of careful investigation and much keen controversy. Although a question of physics, rather than of geology, it is too interesting to allow me to pass it by without some brief mention. De Saussure, whose travels in the Alps are full of original observations, as well as sound and comprehensive general views, conceived that the weight of the ice might be sufficient to urge it down the slope of the valley, if the sliding motion were aided by the water flowing at the bottom. For this “gravitation theory” Charpentier, followed by Agassiz, substituted the hypothesis of dilatation. The most solid ice is always permeable to water, and penetrated by innumerable fissures and capillary tubes, often extremely minute. These tubes imbibe the aqueous fluid during the day, which freezes, it is said, in the cold of the night, and expands while in the act of congelation. The distension of the whole mass exerts an immense force, tending to propel the glacier in the direction of least resistance—“in other words, down the valley.” This theory was opposed by Mr. Hopkins on mathematical and mechanical grounds, in several able papers. Among other objections, he pointed out that the friction of so enormous a body as a glacier on its bed is so great, that the vertical direction would always be that of least resistance, and if a considerable distension of the mass should take place, by the action of freezing, it would tend to increase its thickness, rather than accelerate its downward progress. He also contended (and his arguments were illustrated by many ingenious experiments), that a glacier can move along an extremely slight slope, solely by the influence of gravitation, owing to the constant dissolution of ice in contact with the rocky bottom, and the number of separate fragments into which the glacier is divided by fissures, so that freedom of motion is imparted to its several parts somewhat resembling that of an imperfect fluid. To this view Professor James Forbes objected, that gravitation would not supply an adequate cause for the sliding of solid ice down slopes having an inclination of no more than four or five degrees, still less would it explain how the glacier advances where the channel expands and contracts. The Mer de Glace in Chamouni, for example, after being 2000 yards wide, passes through a strait only 900 yards in width. Such a gorge, it is contended, would be choked up by the advance of any solid mass, even if it be broken up into numerous fragments. The same acute observer remarked, that water in the fissures and pores of glaciers cannot, and does not part with its latent heat, so as to freeze every night to a great depth, or far in the interior of the mass. Had the dilatation theory been true, the chief motion of the glacier would have occurred about sunset, when the freezing of the water must be greatest, and it had, in fact, been at first assumed by those who favored that hypothesis, that the mass moved faster at the sides, where the melting of ice was promoted by the sun’s heat, reflected from boundary precipices.

Agassiz appears to have been the first to commence, in 1841, aided by a skilful engineer, M. Escher de la Linth, a series of exact measurements to ascertain the laws of glacier motion, and he soon discovered, contrary to his preconceived notions, that the stream of ice moved more slowly at the sides than at the centre, and faster in the middle region of the glacier than at its extremity.5 Professor James Forbes, who had joined Mr. Agassiz during his earlier investigations in the Alps, undertook himself an independent series of experiments, which he followed up with great perseverance, to determine the laws of glacier motion. These he found to agree very closely with the laws governing the course of rivers, their progress being greater in the centre than at the sides, and more rapid at the surface than at the bottom. This fact was verified by carefully fixing a great number of marks in the ice, arranged in a straight line, which gradually assumed a beautiful curve, the middle part pointing down the glacier, and showing a velocity there, double or treble that of the lateral parts.6 He ascertained that the rate of advance by night was nearly the same as by day, and that even the hourly march of the icy stream could be detected, although the progress might not amount to more than six or seven inches in twelve hours. By the incessant though invisible advance of the marks placed on the ice, “time,” says Mr. Forbes, “was marked out as by a shadow on a dial, and the unequivocal evidence which I obtained, that even while walking on a glacier we are, day by day, and hour by hour, imperceptibly carried on by the resistless flow of the icy stream, filled me with admiration.” (Travels in the Alps, p. 133.) In order to explain this remarkable regularity of motion, and its obedience to laws so strictly analogous to those of fluids, the same writer proposed the theory that the ice, instead of being solid and compact, is a viscous or plastic body, capable of yielding to great pressure, and the more so in proportion as its temperature is higher, and as it approaches more nearly to the melting point. He endeavors to show that this hypothesis will account for many complicated phenomena, especially for a ribboned or veined structure which is everywhere observable in the ice, and might be produced by lines of discontinuity, arising from the different rates at which the various portions of the semi-rigid glacier advance and pass each other. Many examples are adduced to prove that a glacier can model itself to the form of the ground over which it is forced, exactly as would happen if it possessed a certain ductility, and this power of yielding under intense pressure, is shown not to be irreconcilable with the idea of the ice being sufficiently compact to break into fragments, when the strain upon its parts is excessive; as where the glacier turns a sharp angle, or descends upon a rapid or convex slope. The increased velocity in summer is attributed partly to the greater plasticity of the ice, when not exposed to intense cold, and partly to the hydrostatic pressure of the water in the capillary tubes, which imbibe more of this liquid in the hot season.

On the assumption of the ice being a rigid mass, Mr. Hopkins attributed the more rapid motions in the centre to the unequal rate at which the broad stripes of ice, intervening between longitudinal fissures, advance; but besides that there are parts of the glacier where no such fissures exist, such a mode of progression, says Mr. Forbes, would cause the borders of large transverse rents or “crevasses,” to be jagged like a saw, instead of being perfectly even and straight-edged.7 An experiment recently made by Mr. Christie, secretary to the Royal Society, appears to demonstrate that ice, under great pressure, possesses a sufficient degree of moulding and self-adapting power to allow it to be acted upon, as if it were a pasty substance. A hollow shell of iron an inch and a half thick, the interior being ten inches in diameter, was filled with water, in the course of a severe winter, and exposed to the frost, with the fuze-hole uppermost. A portion of the water expanded in freezing, so as to protrude a cylinder of ice from the fuze-hole; and this cylinder continued to grow inch by inch in proportion as the central nucleus of water froze. As we cannot doubt that an outer shell of ice is first formed, and then another within, the continued rise of the column through the fuze-hole must proceed from the squeezing of successive shells of ice concentrically formed, through the narrow orifice; and yet the protruded cylinder consisted of entire, and not fragmentary ice.8

The agency of glaciers in producing permanent geological changes consists partly in their power of transporting gravel, sand, and huge stones to great distances, and partly in the smoothing, polishing, and scoring of their rocky channels, and the boundary walls of the valleys through which they pass. At the foot of every steep cliff or precipice in high Alpine regions, a talus is seen of rocky fragments detached by the alternate action of frost and thaw. If these loose masses, instead of accumulating on a stationary base, happen to fall upon a glacier, they will move along with it, and, in place of a single heap, they will form in the course of years a long stream of blocks. If a glacier be 20 miles long, and its annual progression about 500 feet, it will require about two centuries for a block thus lodged upon its surface to travel down from the higher to the lower regions, or to the extremity of the icy mass. This terminal point remains usually unchanged from year to year, although every part of the ice is in motion, because the liquefaction by heat is just sufficient to balance the onward movement of the glacier, which may be compared to an endless file of soldiers, pouring into a breach, and shot down as fast as they advance.

The stones carried along on the ice are called in Switzerland the “moraines” of the glacier. There is always one line of blocks on each side or edge of the icy stream, and often several in the middle, where they are arranged in long ridges or mounds, often several yards high. (See fig. 18, p. 223.) The cause of these “medial moraines” was first explained by Agassiz, who referred them to the confluence of tributary glaciers.9 Upon the union of two streams of ice, the right lateral moraine of one of the streams comes in contact with the left lateral moraine of the other, and they afterwards move on together, in the centre, if the confluent glaciers are equal in size, or nearer to one side if unequal.

All sand and fragments of soft stone which fall through fissures and reach the bottom of the glaciers, or which are interposed between the glacier and the steep sides of the valley, are pushed along, and ground down into mud, while the larger and harder fragments have their angles worn off. At the same time the fundamental and boundary rocks are smoothed and polished, and often scored with parallel furrows, or with lines and scratches produced by hard minerals, such as crystals of quartz, which act like the diamond upon glass.10 This effect is perfectly different from that caused by the action of water, or a muddy torrent forcing along heavy fragments; for when stones are fixed firmly in the ice, and pushed along by it under great pressure, in straight lines, they scoop out long rectilinear furrows or grooves parallel to each other.11 The discovery of such markings at various heights far above the surface of the existing glaciers and for miles beyond their present terminations, affords geological evidence of the former extension of the ice beyond its present limits in Switzerland and other countries.

The moraine of the glacier, observes Charpentier, is entirely devoid of stratification, for there has been no sorting of the materials, as in the case of sand, mud, and pebbles, when deposited by running water. The ice transports indifferently, and to the same spots, the heaviest blocks and the finest particles, mingling all together, and leaving them in one confused and promiscuous heap wherever it melts.12

Icebergs.—In countries situated in high northern latitudes, like Spitzbergen, between 70° and 80° N., glaciers, loaded with mud and rock, descend to the sea, and there huge fragments of them float off and become icebergs. Scoresby counted 500 of these bergs drifting along in latitudes 69° and 70° N., which rose above the surface from the height of 100 to 200 feet, and measured from a few yards to a mile in circumference.13 Many of them were loaded with beds of earth and rock of such thickness, that the weight was conjectured to be from 50,000 to 100,000 tons. Specimens of the rocks were obtained, and among them were granite, gneiss, mica-schist, clay-slate, granular felspar, and greenstone. Such bergs must be of great magnitude; because the mass of ice below the level of the water is about eight times greater than that above. Wherever they are dissolved, it is evident that the “moraine” will fall to the bottom of the sea. In this manner may submarine valleys, mountains, and platforms become strewed over with gravel, sand, mud, and scattered blocks of foreign rock, of a nature perfectly dissimilar from all in the vicinity, and which may have been transported across unfathomable abysses. If the bergs happen to melt in still water, so that the earthy and stony materials may fall tranquilly to the bottom, the deposit will probably be unstratified, like the terminal moraine of a glacier; but whenever the materials are under the influence of a current of water as they fall, they will be sorted and arranged according to their relative weight and size, and therefore more or less perfectly stratified.

In a former chapter it was stated that some ice islands have been known to drift from Baffin’s Bay to the Azores, and from the South Pole to the immediate neighborhood of the Cape of Good Hope, so that the area over which the effects of moving ice may be experienced, comprehends a large portion of the globe.

We learn from Von Buch that the most southern point on the continent of Europe at which a glacier comes down to the sea is in Norway, in lat. 67° N.14 But Mr. Darwin has shown, that they extend to the sea, in South America, in latitudes more than 20° nearer the equator than in Europe; as, for example, in Chili, where, in the Gulf of Penas, lat. 46° 40’ S., or the latitude of central France; and in Sir George Eyre’s Sound, in the latitude of Paris, they give origin to icebergs, which were seen in 1834 carrying angular pieces of granite, and stranding them in fiords, where the shores were composed of clay-slate.15 A large proportion, however, of the ice-islands seen floating both in the northern and southern hemispheres, are probably not generated by glaciers, but rather by the accumulation of coast ice. When the sea freezes at the base of a lofty precipice, the sheet of ice is prevented from adhering to the land by the rise and fall of the tide. Nevertheless, it often continues on the shore at the foot of the cliff, and receives accessions of drift snow blown from the land. Under the weight of this snow the ice sinks slowly if the water be deep, and the snow is gradually converted into ice by partial liquefaction and re-congelation. In this manner, islands of ice of great thickness and many leagues in length, originate, and are eventually blown out to sea by off-shore winds. In their interior are inclosed many fragments of stone which had fallen upon them from overhanging cliffs during their formation. Such floating icebergs are commonly flat-topped, but their lower portions are liable to melt in latitudes where the ocean at a moderate depth is usually warmer than the surface water and the air. Hence their centre of gravity changes continually, and they turn over and assume very irregular shapes.

In a voyage of discovery made in the antarctic regions in 1839, a dark-colored angular mass of rock was seen imbedded in an iceberg, drifting along in mid-ocean in lat. 61° S. That part of the rock which was visible was about 12 feet in height, and from 5 to 6 in width, but the dark color of the surrounding ice indicated that much more of the stone was concealed. A sketch made by Mr. Macnab, when the vessel was within a quarter of a mile of it, is now published.16 This iceberg, one of many observed at sea on the same day, was between 250 and 300 feet high, and was no less than 1400 miles from any certainly known land. It is exceedingly improbable, says Mr. Darwin, in his notice of this phenomenon, that any land will hereafter be discovered within 100 miles of the spot, and it must be remembered that the erratic was still firmly fixed in the ice, and may have sailed for many a league farther before it dropped to the bottom.17

Captain Sir James Ross, in his antarctic voyage in 1841, 42, and 43, saw multitudes of icebergs transporting stones and rocks of various sizes, with frozen mud, in high southern latitudes. His companion, Dr. J. Hooker, informs me that he came to the conclusion that most of the southern icebergs have stones in them, although they are usually concealed from view by the quantity of snow which falls upon them.

In the account given by Messrs. Dease and Simpson, of their recent arctic discoveries, we learn that in lat. 71° N., long. 156° W., they found “a long low spit, named Point Barrow, composed of gravel and coarse sand, in some parts more than a quarter of a mile broad, which the pressure of the ice had forced up into numerous mounds, that, viewed from a distance, assumed the appearance of huge boulder rocks.”18

This fact is important, as showing how masses of drift ice, when stranding on submarine banks, may exert a lateral pressure capable of bending and dislocating any yielding strata of gravel, sand, or mud. The banks on which icebergs occasionally run aground between Baffin’s Bay and Newfoundland, are many hundred feet under water, and the force with which they are struck will depend not so much on the velocity as the momentum of the floating ice-islands. The same berg is often carried away by a change of wind, and then driven back again upon the same bank, or it is made to rise and fall by the waves of the ocean, so that it may alternately strike the bottom with its whole weight, and then be lifted up again until it has deranged the superficial beds over a wide area. In this manner the geologist may account, perhaps, for the circumstance that in Scandinavia, Scotland, and other countries where erratics are met with, the beds of sand, loam, and gravel are often vertical, bent, and contorted into the most complicated folds, while the underlying strata, although composed of equally pliant materials, are horizontal. But some of these curvatures of loose strata may also have been due to repeated alternations of layers of gravel and sand, ice and snow, the melting of the latter having caused the intercalated beds of indestructible matter to assume their present anomalous position.

There can be little doubt that icebergs must often break off the peaks and projecting points of submarine mountains, and must grate upon and polish their surface, furrowing or scratching them in precisely the same way as we have seen that glaciers act on the solid rocks over which they are propelled.19

To conclude: it appears that large stones, mud, and gravel are carried down by the ice of rivers, estuaries, and glaciers, into the sea, where the tides and currents of the ocean, aided by the wind, cause them to drift for hundreds of miles from the place of their origin. Although it will belong more properly to the seventh and eighth chapters to treat of the transportation of solid matter by the movements of the ocean, I shall add here what I have farther to say on this subject in connection with ice.

The saline matter which sea-water holds in solution, prevents its congelation, except where the most intense cold prevails. But the drifting of the snow from the land often renders the surface-water brackish near the coast, so that a sheet of ice is readily formed there, and by this means a large quantity of gravel is frequently conveyed from place to place, and heavy boulders also, when the coast-ice is packed into dense masses. Both the large and small stones thus conveyed usually travel in one direction like shingle-beaches, and this was observed to take place on the coast of Labrador and Gulf of St. Lawrence, between the latitudes 50° and 60° N., by Capt. Bayfield, during his late survey. The line of coast alluded to is strewed over for a distance of 700 miles with ice-borne boulders, often 6 feet in diameter, which are for the most part on their way from north to south, or in the direction of the prevailing current. Some points on this coast have been observed to be occasionally deserted, and then again at another season thickly bestrewed with erratics.

Fig. 19.

Boulders, chiefly of granite, stranded by ice on the coast of Labrador, between lat. 50° and 60° N. (Lieut. Bowen, R. N.)

1 Consid. sur les Blocs Errat. 1829.

2 Capt. Bayfield, Geol. Soc. Proceedings, vol. ii. p. 223.

3 M. Arago, Annuaire, &c. 1833; and Rev. J. Farquharson, Phil. Trans. 1835, p. 329.

4 Journ. of Roy. Geograph. Soc. vol. vi. p. 416.

5 See Système Glaciaire, by Agassiz, Guyot, and Desor, pp. 436, 437, 445. Mr. Agassiz, at p. 462, states that he published in the Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift for 1841, this result as to the central motion being greater than that of the sides, and was, therefore, the first to correct his own previous mistake.

6 J. Forbes. 8th Letter on Glaciers, Aug. 1844.

7 See Mr. Hopkins on Motion of Glaciers, Cambridge Phil. Trans. 1844, and Phil. Mag. 1845. Some of the late concessions of this author as to a certain plasticity in the mass, appear to me to make the difference between him and Professor Forbes little more than one of degree. (For the latest summary of Prof. Forbes’ views, see Phil. Trans. 1846, pt. 2.)

8 This experiment is cited by Mr. Forbes, Phil. Trans. 1846, p. 206; and I have conversed with Mr. Christie on the subject.

9 Etudes sur les Glaciers, 1840.

10 See Manual of Geol. ch. xi.

11 Agassiz, Jam. Ed. New Phil. Journ. No. 54, p. 388.

12 Charpentier, Ann. des Mines, tom. viii.; see also Papers by MM. Venetz and Agassiz.

13 Voyage in 1822, p. 233.

14 Travels in Norway.

15 Darwin’s Journal, p. 283.

16 Journ. of Roy. Geograph. Soc. vol. ix. p. 526.

17 Journ. of Roy. Geograph. Soc. vol. ix. p. 529.

18 Ibid. vol. viii. p. 221.

19 In my Travels in N. America, pp. 19, 23, &c., and Second Visit to the U. S., vol. i. ch. 2, also in my Manual of Geology, a more full account of the action of floating ice and coast-ice, and its bearing on geology, will be found.

The accompanying drawing (fig. 19), for which I am indebted to Lieut. Bowen, R. N., represents the ordinary appearance of the Labrador coast, between the latitudes of 50° and 60° N. Countless blocks, chiefly granitic, and of various sizes, are seen lying between high and low-water mark. Capt. Bayfield saw similar masses carried by ice through the Straits of Belle Isle, between Newfoundland and the American continent, which he conceives may have travelled in the course of years from Baffin’s Bay, a distance which may be compared in our hemisphere to the drifting of erratics from Lapland and Iceland as far south as Germany, France, and England.

It may be asked in what manner have these blocks been originally detached? We may answer that some have fallen from precipitous cliffs, others have been lifted up from the bottom of the sea, adhering by their tops to the ice, while others have been brought down by rivers and glaciers.

The erratics of North America are sometimes angular, but most of them have been rounded either by friction or decomposition. The granite of Canada, as before remarked (p. 221 ), has a tendency to concentric exfoliation, and scales off in spheroidal coats when exposed to the spray of the sea during severe frosts. The range of the thermometer in that country usually exceeds, in the course of the year, 100°, and sometimes 120° F.; and, to prevent the granite used in the buildings of Quebec from peeling off in winter, it is necessary to oil and paint the squared stones.

In parts of the Baltic, such as the Gulf of Bothnia, where the quantity of salt in the water amounts in general to one fourth only of that in the ocean, the entire surface freezes over in winter to the depth of 5 or 6 feet. Stones are thus frozen in, and afterwards lifted up about 3 feet perpendicularly on the melting of the snow in summer, and then carried by floating ice-islands to great distances. Professor Von Baer states, in a communication on this subject to the Academy of St. Petersburg, that a block of granite, weighing a million of pounds, was carried by ice during the winter of 1837-8 from Finland to the island of Hockland, and two other huge blocks were transported about the years 1806 and 1814 by packed ice on the south coast of Finland, according to the testimony of the pilots and inhabitants, one block having travelled about a quarter of a mile, and lying about 18 feet above the level of the sea.20

More recently Dr. Forchhammer has shown that in the Sound, the Great Belt, and other places near the entrance of the Baltic, ground-ice forms plentifully at the bottom and then rises to the surface, charged with sand and gravel, stones and sea-weed. Sheets of ice, also, with included boulders, are driven up on the coast during storms, and “packed” to a height of 50 feet. To the motion of such masses, but still more to that of the ground-ice, the Danish professor attributes the striation of rocky surfaces, forming the shores and bed of the sea, and he relates a striking fact to prove that large quantities of rocky fragments are annually carried by ice out of the Baltic. “In the year 1807,” he says, “at the time of the bombardment of the Danish fleet, an English sloop-of-war, riding at anchor in the roads at Copenhagen, blew up. In 1844, or thirty-seven years afterwards, one of our divers, known to be a trustworthy man, went down to save whatever might yet remain in the shipwrecked vessel. He found the space between decks entire, but covered with blocks from 6 to 8 cubic feet in size, and some of them heaped one upon the other. He also affirmed, that all the sunk ships which he had visited in the Sound, were in like manner strewed over with blocks.”

Dr. Forchhammer also informs us, that during an intense frost in February, 1844, the Sound was suddenly frozen over, and sheets of ice, driven by a storm, were heaped up at the bottom of the Bay of Täarbeijk, threatening to destroy a fishing-village on the shore. The whole was soon frozen together into one mass, and forced up on the beach, forming a mound more than 16 feet high, which threw down the walls of several buildings. “When I visited the spot next day, I saw ridges of ice, sand, and pebbles, not only on the shore, but extending far out into the bottom of the sea, showing how greatly its bed had been changed, and how easily, where it is composed of rock, it may be furrowed and streaked by stones firmly fixed in the moving ice.”21

20 Jam. Ed. New Phil. Journ. No. xlviii. p. 439.

21 Bulletin de la Soc. Géol. de France, 1847, tom. iv. pp. 1182, 1183.

Chapter 16.

Phenomena of Springs.

Origin of Springs—Artesian wells—Borings at Paris—Distinct causes by which mineral and thermal waters may be raised to the surface—Their connection with volcanic agency—Calcareous springs—Travertin of the Elsa—Baths of San Vignone and of San Filippo, near Radicofani—Spheroidal structure in travertin—Lake of the Solfatara, near Rome—Travertin at Cascade of Tivoli—Gypseous, siliceous, and ferruginous springs—Brine springs—Carbonated springs—Disintegration of granite in Auvergne—Petroleum springs—Pitch lake of Trinidad.

Origin of springs.—The action of running water on the surface of the land having been considered, we may next turn our attention to what may be termed “the subterranean drainage,” or the phenomena of springs. Every one is familiar with the fact, that certain porous soils, such as loose sand and gravel, absorb water with rapidity, and that the ground composed of them soon dries up after heavy showers. If a well be sunk in such soils, we often penetrate to considerable depths before we meet with water; but this is usually found on our approaching the lower parts of the formation, where it rests on some impervious bed; for here the water, unable to make its way downwards in a direct line, accumulates as in a reservoir, and is ready to ooze out into any opening which may be made, in the same manner as we see the salt water flow into, and fill, any hollow which we dig in the sands of the shore at low tide.

The facility with which water can percolate loose and gravelly soils is clearly illustrated by the effect of the tides in the Thames between Richmond and London. The river, in this part of its course, flows through a bed of gravel overlying clay, and the porous superstratum is alternately saturated by the water of the Thames as the tide rises, and then drained again to the distance of several hundred feet from the banks when the tide falls, so that the wells in this tract regularly ebb and flow.

If the transmission of water through a porous medium be so rapid, we cannot be surprised that springs should be thrown out on the side of a hill, where the upper set of strata consist of chalk, sand, or other permeable substances, while the subjacent are composed of clay or other retentive soils. The only difficulty, indeed, is to explain why the water does not ooze out everywhere along the line of junction of the two formations, so as to form one continuous land-soak, instead of a few springs only, and these far distant from each other. The principal cause of this concentration of the waters at a few points is, first, the frequency of rents and fissures, which act as natural drains; secondly, the existence of inequalities in the upper surface of the impermeable stratum, which lead the water, as valleys do on the external surface of a country, into certain low levels and channels.

That the generality of springs owe their supply to the atmosphere is evident from this, that they become languid, or entirely cease to flow, after long droughts, and are again replenished after a continuance of rain. Many of them are probably indebted for the constancy and uniformity of their volume to the great extent of the subterranean reservoirs with which they communicate, and the time required for these to empty themselves by percolation. Such a gradual and regulated discharge is exhibited, though in a less perfect degree, in every great lake which is not sensibly affected in its level by sudden showers, but only slightly raised; so that its channel of efflux, instead of being swollen suddenly like the bed of a torrent, is enabled to carry off the surplus water gradually.

Much light has been thrown, of late years, on the theory of springs, by the boring of what are called by the French “Artesian wells,” because the method has long been known and practised in Artois; and it is now demonstrated that there are sheets, and in some places currents of fresh water, at various depths in the earth. The instrument employed in excavating these wells is a large augur, and the cavity bored is usually from three to four inches in diameter. If a hard rock is met with, it is first triturated by an iron rod, and the materials being thus reduced to small fragments or powder, are readily extracted. To hinder the sides of the well from falling in, as also to prevent the spreading of the ascending water in the surrounding soil, a jointed pipe is introduced, formed of wood in Artois, but in other countries more commonly of metal. It frequently happens that, after passing through hundreds of feet of retentive soils, a water-bearing stratum is at length pierced, when the fluid immediately ascends to the surface, and flows over. The first rush of the water up the tube is often violent, so that for a time the water plays like a fountain, and then, sinking, continues to flow over tranquilly, or sometimes remains stationary at a certain depth below the orifice of the well. This spouting of the water in the first instance is probably owing to the disengagement of air and carbonic acid gas, for both of these have been seen to bubble up with the water.1

At Sheerness, at the mouth of the Thames, a well was bored on a low tongue of land near the sea, through 300 feet of the blue clay of London, below which a bed of sand and pebbles was entered, belonging, doubtless, to the plastic clay formation; when this stratum was pierced, the water burst up with impetuosity, and filled the well. By another perforation at the same place, the water was found at the depth of 328 feet below the surface clay; it first rose rapidly to the height of 189 feet, and then, in the course of a few hours, ascended to an elevation of eight feet above the level of the ground. In 1824 a well was dug at Fulham, near the Thames, at the Bishop of London’s, to the depth of 317 feet, which, after traversing the tertiary strata, was continued through 67 feet of chalk. The water immediately rose to the surface, and the discharge was about 50 gallons per minute. In the garden of the Horticultural Society at Chiswick, the borings passed through 19 feet of gravel, 242½ feet of clay and loam, and 67½ feet of chalk, and the water then rose to the surface from a depth of 329 feet.2 At the Duke of Northumberland’s, above Chiswick, the borings were carried to the extraordinary depth of 620 feet, so as to enter the chalk, when a considerable volume of water was obtained, which rose four feet above the surface of the ground. In a well of Mr. Brooks, at Hammersmith, the rush of water from a depth of 360 feet was so great, as to inundate several buildings and do considerable damage; and at Tooting, a sufficient stream was obtained to turn a wheel, and raise the water to the upper stories of the houses.3 In 1838, the total supply obtained from the chalk near London was estimated at six million gallons a day, and, in 1851, at nearly double that amount, the increase being accompanied by an average fall of no less than two feet a year in the level to which the water rose. The water stood commonly, in 1822, at high-water mark, and had sunk in 1851 to 45, and in some wells to 65 feet below high-water mark.4 This fact shows the limited capacity of the subterranean reservoir. In the last of three wells bored through the chalk at Tours, to the depth of several hundred feet, the water rose 32 feet above the level of the soil, and the discharge amounted to 300 cubic yards of water every twenty-four hours.5

By way of experiment, the sinking of a well was commenced at Paris in 1834, which had reached, in November, 1839, a depth of more than 1600 English feet, and yet no water ascended to the surface. The government were persuaded by M. Arago to persevere, if necessary, to the depth of more than 2000 feet; but when they had descended above 1800 English feet below the surface, the water rose through the tube (which was about ten inches in diameter), so as to discharge half a million of gallons of limpid water every twenty-four hours. The temperature of the water increased at the rate of 1·8° F. for every 101 English feet, as they went down, the result agreeing very closely with the anticipations of the scientific advisers of this most spirited undertaking.

Mr. Briggs, the British consul in Egypt, obtained water between Cairo and Suez, in a calcareous sand, at the depth of thirty feet; but it did not rise in the well.6 But other borings in the same desert, of variable depth, between 50 and 300 feet, and which passed through alternations of sand, clay, and siliceous rock, yielded water at the surface.7

The rise and overflow of the water in Artesian wells is generally referred, and apparently with reason, to the same principle as the play of an artificial fountain. Let the porous stratum or set of strata, a a, rest on the impermeable rock d, and be covered by another mass of an impermeable nature. The whole mass a a may easily, in such a position, become saturated with water, which may descend from its higher and exposed parts—a hilly region to which clouds are attracted, and where rain falls in abundance. Suppose that at some point, as at b, an opening be made, which gives a free passage upwards to the waters confined in a a, at so low a level that they are subjected to the pressure of a considerable column of water collected in the more elevated portion of the same stratum. The water will then rush out, just as the liquid from a large barrel which is tapped, and it will rise to a height corresponding to the level of its point of departure, or, rather, to a height which balances the pressure previously exerted by the confined waters against the roof and sides of the stratum or reservoir a a. In like manner, if there happen to be a natural fissure c, a spring will be produced at the surface on precisely the same principle.

Fig. 20.

Among the causes of the failure of Artesian wells, we may mention those numerous rents and faults which abound in some rocks, and the deep ravines and valleys by which many countries are traversed; for, when these natural lines of drainage exist, there remains a small quantity only of water to escape by artificial issues. We are also liable to be baffled by the great thickness either of porous or impervious strata, or by the dip of the beds, which may carry off the waters from the adjoining high lands to some trough in an opposite direction, as when the borings are made at the foot of an escarpment where the strata incline inwards, or in a direction opposite to the face of the cliffs.

The mere distance of hills or mountains need not discourage us from making trials; for the waters which fall on these higher lands readily penetrate to great depths through highly inclined or vertical strata, or through the fissures of shattered rocks, and after flowing for a great distance, must often reascend and be brought up again by other fissures, so as to approach the surface in the lower country. Here they may be concealed beneath the covering of undisturbed horizontal beds, which it may be necessary to pierce in order to reach them. It should be remembered, that the course of waters flowing under ground bears but a remote resemblance to that of rivers on the surface, there being, in the one case, a constant descent from a higher to a lower level from the source of the stream to the sea; whereas, in the other, the water may at one time sink far below the level of the ocean, and afterwards rise again high above it.

Among other curious facts ascertained by aid of the borer, it is proved that in strata of different ages and compositions, there are often open passages by which the subterranean waters circulate. Thus, at St. Ouen, in France, five distinct sheets of water were intersected in a well, and from each of these a supply obtained. In the third waterbearing stratum, at the depth of 150 feet, a cavity was found in which the borer fell suddenly about a foot, and thence the water ascended in great volume.8 The same falling of the instrument, as in a hollow space, has been remarked in England and other countries. At Tours, in 1830, a well was perforated quite through the chalk, when the water suddenly brought up, from a depth of 364 feet, a great quantity of fine sand, with much vegetable matter and shells. Branches of a thorn several inches long, much blackened by their stay in the water, were recognized, as also the stems of marsh plants, and some of their roots, which were still white, together with the seeds of the same in a state of preservation, which showed that they had not remained more than three or four months in the water. Among the seeds were those of the marsh plant Galium uliginosum; and among the shells, a freshwater species (Planorbis marginatus), and some land species, as Helix rotundata, and H. striata. M. Dujardin, who, with others, observed this phenomenon, supposes that the waters had flowed from some valleys of Auvergne or the Vivarais since the preceding autumn.9

An analogous phenomenon is recorded at Reimke, near Bochum in Westphalia, where the water of an Artesian well brought up, from a depth of 156 feet, several small fish, three or four inches long, the nearest streams in the country being at a distance of some leagues.10

In both cases it is evident that water had penetrated to great depths, not simply by filtering through a porous mass, for then it would have left behind the shells, fish, and fragments of plants, but by flowing through some open channels in the earth. Such examples may suggest the idea that the leaky beds of rivers are often the feeders of springs.

Mineral and Thermal Springs.

Almost all springs, even those which we consider the purest, are impregnated with some foreign ingredients, which, being in a state of chemical solution, are so intimately blended with the water as not to affect its clearness, while they render it, in general, more agreeable to our taste, and more nutritious than simple rain-water. But the springs called mineral contain an unusual abundance of earthy matter in solution, and the substances with which they are impregnated correspond remarkably with those evolved in a gaseous form by volcanoes. Many of these springs are thermal, i. e., their temperature is above the mean temperature of the place, and they rise up through all kinds of rock; as, for example, through granite, gneiss, limestone, or lava, but are most frequent in volcanic regions, or where violent earthquakes have occurred at eras comparatively modern.

The water given out by hot springs is generally more voluminous and less variable in quantity at different seasons than that proceeding from any others. In many volcanic regions, jets of steam, called by the Italians “stufas,” issue from fissures, at a temperature high above the boiling point, as in the neighborhood of Naples, and in the Lipari Isles, and are disengaged unceasingly for ages. Now, if such columns of steam, which are often mixed with other gases, should be condensed before reaching the surface by coming in contact with strata filled with cold water, they may give rise to thermal and mineral springs of every degree of temperature. It is, indeed, by this means only, and not by hydrostatic pressure, that we can account for the rise of such bodies of water from great depths; nor can we hesitate to admit the adequacy of the cause, if we suppose the expansion of the same elastic fluids to be sufficient to raise columns of lava to the lofty summits of volcanic mountains. Several gases, the carbonic acid in particular, are disengaged in a free state from the soil in many districts, especially in the regions of active or extinct volcanoes; and the same are found more or less intimately combined with the waters of all mineral springs, both cold and thermal. Dr. Daubeny and other writers have remarked, not only that these springs are most abundant in volcanic regions, but that when remote from them, their site usually coincides with the position of some great derangement in the strata; a fault, for example, or great fissure, indicating that a channel of communication has been opened with the interior of the earth at some former period of local convulsion. It is also ascertained that at great heights in the Pyrenees and Himalaya mountains hot springs burst out from granitic rocks, and they are abundant in the Alps also, these chains having all been disturbed and dislocated at times comparatively modern, as can be shown by independent geological evidence.

The small area of volcanic regions may appear, at first view, to present an objection to these views, but not so when we include earthquakes among the effects of igneous agency. A large proportion of the land hitherto explored by geologists can be shown to have been rent or shaken by subterranean movements since the oldest tertiary strata were formed. It will also be seen, in the sequel, that new springs have burst out, and others have had the volume of their waters augmented, and their temperature suddenly raised after earthquakes, so that the description of these springs might almost with equal propriety have been given under the head of “igneous causes,” as they are agents of a mixed nature, being at once igneous and aqueous.

But how, it will be asked, can the regions of volcanic heat send forth such inexhaustible supplies of water? The difficulty of solving this problem would, in truth, be insurmountable, if we believed that all the atmospheric waters found their way into the basin of the ocean; but in boring near the shore we often meet with streams of fresh water at the depth of several hundred feet below the sea level; and these probably descend, in many cases, far beneath the bottom of the sea, when not artificially intercepted in their course. Yet, how much greater may be the quantity of salt water which sinks beneath the floor of the ocean, through the porous strata of which it is often composed, or through fissures rent in it by earthquakes. After penetrating to a considerable depth, this water may encounter a heat of sufficient intensity to convert it into vapor, even under the high pressure to which it would then be subjected. This heat would probably be nearest the surface in volcanic countries, and farthest from it in those districts which have been longest free from eruptions or earthquakes.

It would follow from the views above explained, that there must be a twofold circulation of terrestrial waters; one caused by solar heat, and the other by heat generated in the interior of our planet. We know that the land would be unfit for vegetation, if deprived of the waters raised into the atmosphere by the sun; but it is also true that mineral springs are powerful instruments in rendering the surface subservient to the support of animal and vegetable life. Their heat is said to promote the development of the aquatic tribes in many parts of the ocean, and the substances which they carry up from the bowels of the earth to the habitable surface, are of a nature and in a form which adapts them peculiarly for the nutrition of animals and plants.

As these springs derive their chief importance to the geologist from the quantity and quality of the earthy materials which, like volcanoes, they convey from below upwards, they may properly be considered in reference to the ingredients which they hold in solution. These consist of a great variety of substances; but chiefly salts with bases of lime, magnesia, alumine, and iron, combined with carbonic, sulphuric, and muriatic acids. Muriate of soda, silica, and free carbonic acid are frequently present; also springs of petroleum, or liquid bitumen, and of naphtha.

Calcareous springs.—Our first attention is naturally directed to springs which are highly charged with calcareous matter, for these produce a variety of phenomena of much interest in geology. It is known that rain-water collecting carbonic acid from the atmosphere has the property of dissolving the calcareous rocks over which it flows, and thus, in the smallest ponds and rivulets, matter is often supplied for the earthy secretions of testacea, and for the growth of certain plants on which they feed. But many springs hold so much carbonic acid in solution, that they are enabled to dissolve a much larger quantity of calcareous matter than rain-water; and when the acid is dissipated in the atmosphere, the mineral ingredients are thrown down, in the form of porous tufa or of more compact travertin.11

Auvergne.—Calcareous springs, although most abundant in limestone districts, are by no means confined to them, but flow out indiscriminately from all rock formations. In central France, a district where the primary rocks are unusually destitute of limestone, springs copiously charged with carbonate of lime rise up through the granite and gneiss. Some of these are thermal, and probably derive their origin from the deep source of volcanic heat, once so active in that region. One of these springs, at the northern base of the hill upon which Claremont is built, issues from volcanic peperino, which rests on granite. It has formed, by its incrustations, an elevated mound of travertin, or white concretionary limestone, 240 feet in length, and, at its termination, sixteen feet high and twelve wide. Another encrusting spring in the same department, situated at Chaluzet, near Pont Gibaud, rises in a gneiss country, at the foot of a regular volcanic cone, at least twenty miles from any calcareous rock. Some masses of tufaceous deposit, produced by this spring, have an oolitic texture.

Valley of the Elsa.—If we pass from the volcanic district of France to that which skirts the Apennines in the Italian peninsula, we meet with innumerable springs which have precipitated so much calcareous matter, that the whole ground in some parts of Tuscany is coated over with tufa and travertin, and sounds hollow beneath the foot.

In other places in the same country, compact rocks are seen descending the slanting sides of hills, very much in the manner of lava currents, except that they are of a white color and terminate abruptly when they reach the course of a river. These consist of a calcareous precipitate from springs, some of which are still flowing, while others have disappeared or changed their position. Such masses are frequent on the slope of the hills which bound the valley of the Elsa, one of the tributaries of the Arno, which flows near Colle, through a valley several hundred feet deep, shaped out of a lacustrine formation, containing fossil shells of existing species. I observed here that the travertin was unconformable to the lacustrine beds, its inclination according with the slope of the sides of the valley. One of the finest examples which I saw was at the Molino delle Caldane, near Colle. The Senà, and several other small rivulets which feed the Elsa, have the property of encrusting wood and herbs with calcareous stone. In the bed of the Elsa itself, aquatic plants, such as Charæ, which absorb large quantities of carbonate of lime, are very abundant.

Fig. 21.

Section of travertin, San Vignone.

Baths of San Vignone.—Those persons who have merely seen the action of petrifying waters in England, will not easily form an adequate conception of the scale on which the same process is exhibited in those regions which lie nearer to the active centres of volcanic disturbance. One of the most striking examples of the rapid precipitation of carbonate of lime from thermal waters, occurs in the hill of San Vignone in Tuscany, at a short distance from Radicofani, and only a few hundred yards from the high road between Sienna and Rome. The spring issues from near the summit of a rocky hill, about 100 feet in height. The top of the hill stretches in a gently inclined platform to the foot of Mount Amiata, a lofty eminence, which consists in great part of volcanic products. The fundamental rock, from which the spring issues, is a black slate, with serpentine (b b, fig. 21), belonging to the older Apennine formation. The water is hot, has a strong taste, and, when not in very small quantity, is of a bright green color. So rapid is the deposition near the source, that in the bottom of a conduit-pipe for carrying off the water to the baths, and which is inclined at an angle of 30°, half a foot of solid travertin is formed every year. A more compact rock is produced where the water flows slowly; and the precipitation in winter, when there is least evaporation, is said to be more solid, but less in quantity by one-fourth, than in summer. The rock is generally white; some parts of it are compact, and ring to the hammer; others are cellular, and with such cavities as are seen in the carious part of bone or the siliceous millstone of the Paris basin. A portion of it also below the village of San Vignone consists of incrustations of long vegetable tubes, and may be called tufa. Sometimes the travertin assumes precisely the botryoidal and mammillary forms, common to similar deposits in Auvergne, of a much older date; and, like them, it often scales off in thin, slightly undulating layers.

A large mass of travertin (c, fig. 21) descends the hill from the point where the spring issues, and reaches to the distance of about half a mile east of San Vignone. The beds take the slope of the hill at about an angle of 6°, and the planes of stratification are perfectly parallel. One stratum, composed of many layers, is of a compact nature, and fifteen feet thick; it serves as an excellent building stone, and a mass of fifteen feet in length was, in 1828, cut out for the new bridge over the Orcia. Another branch of it (a, fig. 21) descends to the west, for 250 feet in length, of varying thickness, but sometimes 200 feet deep; it is then cut off by the small river Orcia, as some glaciers in Switzerland descend into a valley till their progress is suddenly arrested by a transverse stream of water.

The abrupt termination of the mass of rock at the river, where its thickness is undiminished, clearly shows that it would proceed much farther if not arrested by the stream, over which it impends slightly. But it cannot encroach upon the channel of the Orcia, being constantly undermined, so that its solid fragments are seen strewed amongst the alluvial gravel. However enormous, therefore, the mass of solid rock may appear which has been given out by this single spring, we may feel assured that it is insignificant in volume when compared to that which has been carried to the sea since the time when it began to flow. What may have been the length of that period of time we have no data for conjecturing. In quarrying the travertin, Roman tiles have been sometimes found at the depth of five or six feet.

Baths of San Filippo.—On another hill, not many miles from that last mentioned, and also connected with Mount Amiata, the summit of which is about three miles distant, are the celebrated baths of San Filippo. The subjacent rocks consist of alternations of black slate, limestone, and serpentine. There are three warm springs containing carbonate and sulphate of lime, and sulphate of magnesia. The water which supplies the baths falls into a pond, where it has been known to deposit a solid mass thirty feet thick in about twenty years.12 A manufactory of medallions in basso-relievo is carried on at these baths. The water is conducted by canals into several pits, in which it deposits travertin and crystals of sulphate of lime. After being thus freed from its grosser parts, it is conveyed by a tube to the summit of a small chamber, and made to fall through a space of ten or twelve feet. The current is broken in its descent by numerous crossed sticks, by which the spray is dispersed around upon certain moulds, which are rubbed lightly over with a solution of soap, and a deposition of solid matter like marble is the result, yielding a beautiful cast of the figures formed in the mould. The geologist may derive from these experiments considerable light, in regard to the high slope of the strata at which some semi-crystalline precipitations can be formed; for some of the moulds are disposed almost perpendicularly, yet the deposition is nearly equal in all parts.

A hard stratum of stone, about a foot in thickness, is obtained from the waters of San Filippo in four months; and, as the springs are powerful, and almost uniform in the quantity given out, we are at no loss to comprehend the magnitude of the mass which descends the hill, which is a mile and a quarter in length and the third of a mile in breadth, in some places attaining a thickness of 250 feet at least. To what length it might have reached it is impossible to conjecture, as it is cut off, like the travertin of San Vignone, by a small stream, where it terminates abruptly. The remainder of the matter held in solution is carried on probably to the sea.

Spheroidal structure in travertin.—But what renders this recent limestone of peculiar interest to the geologist, is the spheroidal form which it assumes, analogous to that of the cascade of Tivoli, afterwards to be described. (See fig. 22, p. 244.) The lamination of some of the concentric masses is so minute that sixty may be counted in the thickness of an inch, yet, notwithstanding these marks of gradual and successive deposition, sections are sometimes exhibited of what might seem to be perfect spheres. This tendency to a mammillary and globular structure arises from the facility with which the calcareous matter is precipitated in nearly equal quantities on all sides of any fragment of shell or wood or any inequality of the surface over which the mineral water flows, the form of the nucleus being readily transmitted through any number of successive envelopes. But these masses can never be perfect spheres, although they often appear such when a transverse section is made in any line not in the direction of the point of attachment. There are, indeed, occasionally seen small oolitic and pisolitic grains, of which the form is globular; for the nucleus, having been for a time in motion in the water, has received fresh accessions of matter on all sides.

In the same manner I have seen, on the vertical walls of large steam-boilers, the heads of nails or rivets covered by a series of enveloping crusts of calcareous matter, usually sulphate of lime; so that a concretionary nodule is formed, preserving a nearly globular shape, when increased to a mass several inches in diameter. In these, as in many travertins, there is often a combination of the concentric and radiated structure.

Campagna di Roma.—The country around Rome, like many parts of the Tuscan States already referred to, has been at some former period the site of numerous volcanic eruptions; and the springs are still copiously impregnated with lime, carbonic acid, and sulphuretted hydrogen. A hot spring was discovered about 1827, near Civita Vecchia, by Signor Riccioli, which deposits alternate beds of a yellowish travertin, and a white granular rock, not distinguishable, in hand specimens, either in grain, color, or composition, from statuary marble. There is a passage between this and ordinary travertin. The mass accumulated near the spring is in some places about six feet thick.

Lake of the Solfatara.—In the Campagna, between Rome and Tivoli, is the Lake of the Solfatara, called also Lago di Zolfo (lacus albula), into which flows continually a stream of tepid water from a smaller lake, situated a few yards above it. The water is a saturated solution of carbonic acid gas, which escapes from it in such quantities in some parts of its surface, that it has the appearance of being actually in ebullition. “I have found by experiment,” says Sir Humphry Davy, “that the water taken from the most tranquil part of the lake, even after being agitated and exposed to the air, contained in solution more than its own volume of carbonic acid gas, with a very small quantity of sulphuretted hydrogen. Its high temperature, which is pretty constant at 80° of Fahr., and the quantity of carbonic acid that it contains, render it peculiarly fitted to afford nourishment to vegetable life. The banks of travertin are everywhere covered with reeds, lichen, confervæ, and various kinds of aquatic vegetables; and at the same time that the process of vegetable life is going on, the crystallizations of the calcareous matter, which is everywhere deposited, in consequence of the escape of carbonic acid, likewise proceed. There is, I believe, no place in the world where there is a more striking example of the opposition or contrast of the laws of animate and inanimate nature, of the forces of inorganic chemical affinity, and those of the powers of life.”13

The same observer informs us that he fixed a stick in a mass of travertin covered by the water in the month of May, and in April following he had some difficulty in breaking, with a sharp-pointed hammer, the mass which adhered to the stick, and which was several inches in thickness. The upper part was a mixture of light tufa and the leaves of confervæ; below this was a darker and more solid travertin, containing black and decomposed masses of confervæ; in the inferior part the travertin was more solid, and of a gray color, but with cavities probably produced by the decomposition of vegetable matter.14

The stream which flows out of this lake fills a canal about nine feet broad and four deep, and is conspicuous in the landscape by a line of vapor which rises from it. It deposits calcareous tufa in this channel, and the Tiber probably receives from it, as well as from numerous other streams, much carbonate of lime in solution, which may contribute to the rapid growth of its delta. A large proportion of the most splendid edifices of ancient and modern Rome are built of travertin, derived from the quarries of Ponte Lucano, where there has evidently been a lake at a remote period, on the same plain as that already described.

Fig. 22.

Section of spheroidal concretionary Travertin under the Cascade of Tivoli.

Travertin of Tivoli.—In the same neighborhood the calcareous waters of the Anio incrust the reeds which grow on its banks, and the foam of the cataract of Tivoli forms beautiful pendant stalactites. On the sides of the deep chasm into which the cascade throws itself, there is seen an extraordinary accumulation of horizontal beds of tufa and travertin, from four to five hundred feet in thickness. The section immediately under the temples of Vesta and the Sibyl, displays, in a precipice about four hundred feet high, some spheroids which are from six to eight feet in diameter, each concentric layer being about the eighth of an inch in thickness. The preceding diagram exhibits about fourteen feet of this immense mass, as seen in the path cut out of the rock in descending from the temple of Vesta to the Grotto di Nettuno. I have not attempted to express in this drawing the innumerable thin layers of which these magnificent spheroids are composed, but the lines given mark some of the natural divisions into which they are separated by minute variations in the size or color of the laminæ. The undulations also are much smaller in proportion to the whole circumference than in the drawing. The beds (a a) are of hard travertin and soft tufa; below them is a pisolite (b), the globules being of different sizes: underneath this appears a mass of concretionary travertin (c c), some of the spheroids being of the above-mentioned extraordinary size. In some places (as at d) there is a mass of amorphous limestone, or tufa, surrounded by concentric layers. At the bottom is another bed of pisolite (b), in which the small nodules are about the size and shape of beans, and some of them of filberts, intermixed with some smaller oolitic grains. In the tufaceous strata, wood is seen converted into a light tufa.

There can be little doubt that the whole of this deposit was formed in an extensive lake which existed when the external configuration of this country varied greatly from that now observed. The Anio throws itself into a ravine excavated in the ancient travertin, and its waters give rise to masses of calcareous stone, scarcely if at all distinguishable from the older rock. I was shown, in 1828, in the upper part of the travertin, the hollow left by a cart-wheel, in which the outer circle and the spokes had been decomposed, and the spaces which they filled left void. It seemed to me at the time impossible to explain the position of this mould without supposing that the wheel was imbedded before the lake was drained; but Sir R. Murchison suggests that it may have been washed down by a flood into the gorge in modern times, and then incrusted with calcareous tufa in the same manner as the wooden beam of the church of St. Lucia was swept down in 1826, and stuck fast in the Grotto of the Syren, where it still remains, and will eventually be quite imbedded in travertin.

I have already endeavored to explain (p. 241), when speaking of the travertin of San Filippo, how the spheroidal masses represented in figure 22 may have been formed.

Sulphureous and gypseus springs.—The quantity of other mineral ingredients wherewith springs in general are impregnated, is insignificant in comparison to lime, and this earth is most frequently combined with carbonic acid. But as sulphuric acid, and sulphuretted hydrogen are very frequently supplied by springs, gypsum may, perhaps, be deposited largely in certain seas and lakes. Among other gypseous precipitates at present known on the land, I may mention those of Baden, near Vienna, which feed the public bath. Some of these supply singly from 600 to 1000 cubic feet of water per hour, and deposit a fine powder, composed of a mixture of sulphate of lime with sulphur and muriate of lime.15 The thermal waters of Aix, in Savoy, in passing through strata of Jurassic limestone, turn them into gypsum or sulphate of lime. In the Andes, at the Puenta del Inca, Lieutenant Brand found a thermal spring at the temperature of 91° Fahr., containing a large proportion of gypsum with carbonate of lime and other ingredients. 16 Many of the mineral springs of Iceland, says Mr. R. Bunsen, deposit gypsum.17 and sulphureous acid gas escapes plentifully from them as from the volcanoes of the same island. It may, indeed, be laid down as a general rule, that the mineral substances dissolved in hot springs agree very closely with those which are disengaged in a gaseous form from the craters of active volcanoes.

Siliceous springs.—Azores.—In order that water should hold a very large quantity of silica in solution, it seems necessary that it should be raised to a high temperature.18 The hot springs of the Valle das Fernas, in the island of St. Michael, rising through volcanic rocks, precipitate vast quantities of siliceous sinter. Around the circular basin of the largest spring, which is between twenty and thirty feet in diameter, alternate layers are seen of a coarser variety of sinter mixed with clay, including grass, ferns, and reeds, in different states of petrifaction. In some instances, alumina, which is likewise deposited from the hot waters, is the mineralizing material. Branches of the same ferns which now flourish in the island are found completely petrified, preserving the same appearance as when vegetating, except that they acquire an ash-gray color. Fragments of wood, and one entire bed from three to five feet in depth, composed of reeds now common in the island, have become completely mineralized.

The most abundant variety of siliceous sinter occurs in layers, from a quarter to half an inch in thickness, accumulated on each other often to the height of a foot and upwards, and constituting parallel, and for the most part horizontal, strata many yards in extent. This sinter has often a beautiful semi-opalescent lustre. A recent breccia is also in the act of forming, composed of obsidian, pumice, and scoriæ, cemented by siliceous sinter.19

Geysers of Iceland.—But the hot springs in various parts of Iceland, particularly the celebrated geysers, afford the most remarkable example of the deposition of silex.20 The circular reservoirs into which the geysers fall, are lined in the interior with a variety of opal, and round the edges with sinter. The plants incrusted with the latter substance have much the same appearance as those incrusted with calcareous tufa in our own country. They consist of various grasses, the horse-tail (Equisetum), and leaves of the birch-tree, which are the most common of all, though no trees of this species now exist in the surrounding country. The petrified stems also of the birch occur in a state much resembling agatized wood.21

By analysis of the water, Mr. Faraday has ascertained that the solution of the silex is promoted by the presence of the alkali, soda. He suggests that the deposition of silica in an insoluble state takes place partly because the water when cooled by exposure to the air is unable to retain as much silica as when it issues from the earth at a temperature of 180° or 190° Fahr.; and partly because the evaporation of the water decomposes the compound of silica and soda which previously existed. This last change is probably hastened by the carbonic acid of the atmosphere uniting with the soda. The alkali, when disunited from the silica, would readily be dissolved in and removed by running water.22

Mineral waters, even when charged with a small proportion of silica, as those of Ischia, may supply certain species of corals, sponges, and infusoria, with matter for their siliceous secretions; but there is little doubt that rivers obtain silex in solution from another and far more general source, namely, the decomposition of felspar. When this mineral, which is so abundant an ingredient in the hypogene and trappean rocks, has disintegrated, it is found that the residue, called porcelain clay, contains a small proportion only of the silica which existed in the original felspar, the other part having been dissolved and removed by water.23

Ferruginous springs.—The waters of almost all springs contain some iron in solution; and it is a fact familiar to all, that many of them are so copiously impregnated with this metal, as to stain the rocks or herbage through which they pass, and to bind together sand and gravel into solid masses. We may naturally, then, conclude that this iron, which is constantly conveyed from the interior of the earth into lakes and seas, and which does not escape again from them into the atmosphere by evaporation, must act as a coloring and cementing principle in the subaqueous deposits now in progress. Geologists are aware that many ancient sandstones and conglomerates are bound together or colored by iron.

Brine springs.—So great is the quantity of muriate of soda in some springs, that they yield one-fourth of their weight in salt. They are rarely, however, so saturated, and generally contain, intermixed with salt, carbonate and sulphate of lime, magnesia, and other mineral ingredients. The brine springs of Cheshire are the richest in our country; those of Northwich being almost saturated. Those of Barton also, in Lancashire, and Droitwich in Worcestershire, are extremely rich.24 They are known to have flowed for more than 1000 years, and the quantity of salt which they have carried into the Severn and Mersey must be enormous. These brine springs rise up through strata of sandstone and red marl, which contain large beds of rock salt. The origin of the brine, therefore, may be derived in this and many other instances from beds of fossil salt; but as muriate of soda is one of the products of volcanic emanations and of springs in volcanic regions, the original source of salt may be as deep seated as that of lava.

Many springs in Sicily contain muriate of soda, and the “fiume salso,” in particular, is impregnated with so large a quantity, that cattle refuse to drink of it. A hot spring, rising through granite, at Saint Nectaire, in Auvergne, may be mentioned as one of many, containing a large proportion of muriate of soda, together with magnesia and other ingredients.25

Carbonated springs.—Auvergne.—Carbonic acid gas is very plentifully disengaged from springs in almost all countries, but particularly near active or extinct volcanoes. This elastic fluid has the property of decomposing many of the hardest rocks with which it comes in contact, particularly that numerous class in whose composition felspar is an ingredient. It renders the oxide of iron soluble in water, and contributes, as was before stated, to the solution of calcareous matter. In volcanic districts these gaseous emanations are not confined to springs, but rise up in the state of pure gas from the soil in various places. The Grotto del Cane, near Naples, affords an example, and prodigious quantities are now annually disengaged from every part of the Limagne d’Auvergne, where it appears to have been developed in equal quantity from time immemorial. As the acid is invisible, it is not observed, except an excavation be made, wherein it immediately accumulates, so that it will extinguish a candle. There are some springs in this district, where the water is seen bubbling and boiling up with much noise, in consequence of the abundant disengagement of this gas. In the environs of Pont-Gibaud, not far from Clermont, a rock belonging to the gneiss formation, in which lead-mines are worked, has been found to be quite saturated with carbonic acid gas, which is constantly disengaged. The carbonates of iron, lime, and manganese are so dissolved, that the rock is rendered soft, and the quartz alone remains unattacked.26 Not far off is the small volcanic cone of Chaluzet, which once broke up through the gneiss, and sent forth a lava stream.

Supposed atmosphere of carbonic acid.—Prof. Bischoff in his history of volcanoes,27 has shown what enormous quantities of carbonic acid gas are exhaled in the vicinity of the extinct craters of the Rhine (in the neighborhood of the Laacher-see, for example, and the Eifel), and also in the mineral springs of Nassau and other countries, where there are no immediate traces of volcanic action. It would be easy to calculate in how short a period the solid carbon, thus emitted from the interior of the earth in an invisible form, would amount to a quantity as great as could be obtained from the trees of a large forest, and how many thousand years would be required to supply the materials of a dense seam of pure coal from the same source. Geologists who favor the doctrine of the former existence of an atmosphere highly charged with carbonic acid, at the period of the ancient coal-plants, have not sufficiently reflected on the continual disengagement of carbon, which is taking place in a gaseous form from springs, as also in a free state from the ground and from volcanic craters into the air. We know that all plants are now engaged in secreting carbon, and many thousands of large trees are annually floated down by great rivers, and buried in their alluvial deposits; but before we can assume that the quantity of carbon which becomes permanently locked up in the earth by such agency will bring about an essential change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, we must be sure that the trees annually buried contain more carbon than is given out from the interior of the earth in the same lapse of time. Every large area covered by a dense mass of peat, bears ample testimony to the fact, that several million tons of carbon have been taken from the air, by the powers of vegetable life, and stored up in the earth’s crust, a large quantity of oxygen having been at the same time set free; but we cannot infer from these circumstances, that the constitution of the atmosphere has been materially deranged, until we have data for estimating the rate at which dead animal and vegetable substances are daily putrefying,—organic remains and various calcareous rocks decomposing, and volcanic regions emitting fresh volumes of carbonic acid gas. That the ancient carboniferous period was one of vast duration all geologists are agreed; instead, therefore, of supposing an excess of carbonic acid in the air at that epoch, for the support of a peculiar flora, we may imagine Time to have multiplied the quantity of carbon given out annually by mineral springs, volcanic craters, and other sources, until the component elements of any given number of coal-seams had been evolved from below, without any variation taking place in the constitution of the atmosphere. It has been too common, in reasoning on this question, to compute the loss of carbon by the volume of coal stored up in the ancient strata, and to take no account of the annual gain, by the restoration of carbonic acid to the atmosphere, through the machinery above alluded to.28

Disintegrating effects of carbonic acid.—The disintegration of granite is a striking feature of large districts in Auvergne, especially in the neighborhood of Clermont. This decay was called by Dolomieu, “la maladie du granite;” and the rock may with propriety be said to have the rot, for it crumbles to pieces in the hand. The phenomenon may, without doubt, be ascribed to the continual disengagement of carbonic acid gas from numerous fissures.

In the plains of the Po, between Verona and Parma, especially at Villa Franca, south of Mantua, I observed great beds of alluvium, consisting chiefly of primary pebbles, percolated by spring-water, charged with carbonate of lime and carbonic acid in great abundance. They are for the most part incrusted with calc-sinter; and the rounded blocks of gneiss, which have all the outward appearance of solidity, have been so disintegrated by the carbonic acid as readily to fall to pieces.

The subtraction of many of the elements of rocks by the solvent power of carbonic acid, ascending both in a gaseous state and mixed with spring-water in the crevices of rocks, must be one of the most powerful sources of those internal changes and rearrangements of particles so often observed in strata of every age. The calcareous matter, for example, of shells, is often entirely removed and replaced by carbonate of iron, pyrites, silex, or some other ingredient, such as mineral waters usually contain in solution. It rarely happens, except in limestone rocks, that the carbonic acid can dissolve all the constituent parts of the mass; and for this reason, probably, calcareous rocks are almost the only ones in which great caverns and long winding passages are found.

Petroleum springs.—Springs of which the waters contain a mixture of petroleum and the various minerals allied to it, as bitumen, naphtha, asphaltum, and pitch, are very numerous, and are, in many cases, undoubtedly connected with subterranean fires, which raise or sublime the more subtle parts of the bituminous matters contained in rocks. Many springs in the territory of Modena and Parma, in Italy, produce petroleum in abundance; but the most powerful, perhaps, yet known, are those on the Irawadi, in the Burman empire. In one locality there are said to be 520 wells, which yield annually 400,000 hogsheads of petroleum.29

Pitch lake of Trinidad.—Fluid bitumen is seen to ooze from the bottom of the sea, on both sides of the island of Trinidad, and to rise up to the surface of the water. Near Cape La Braye there is a vortex which, in stormy weather, according to Captain Mallet, gushes out, raising the water five or six feet, and covers the surface for a considerable space with petroleum, or tar; and the same author quotes Gumilla, as stating, in his “Description of the Orinoco,” that about seventy years ago, a spot of land on the western coast of Trinidad, near half-way between the capital and an Indian village, sank suddenly, and was immediately replaced by a small lake of pitch, to the great terror of the inhabitants.30

It is probable that the great pitch lake of Trinidad owes its origin to a similar cause; and Dr. Nugent has justly remarked, that in that district all the circumstances are now combined from which deposits of pitch may have originated. The Orinoco has for ages been rolling down great quantities of woody and vegetable bodies into the surrounding sea, where, by the influence of currents and eddies, they may be arrested and accumulated in particular places. The frequent occurrence of earthquakes and other indications of volcanic action in those parts lend countenance to the opinion, that these vegetable substances may have undergone, by the agency of subterranean fire, those transformations and chemical changes which produce petroleum; and this may, by the same causes, be forced up to the surface, where, by exposure to the air, it becomes inspissated, and forms the different varieties of pure and earthy pitch, or asphaltum, so abundant in the island.31

It may be stated generally, that a large portion of the finer particles and the more crystalline substances, found in sedimentary rocks of different ages, are composed of the same elements as are now held in solution by springs, while the coarser materials bear an equally strong resemblance to the pebbles and sedimentary matter carried down by torrents and rivers. It should also be remembered, that it is not only during inundations, when the muddy sediment is apparent, that rivers are busy in conveying solid matter to the sea, but that even when their waters are perfectly transparent, they are annually bearing along vast masses of carbon, lime, and silica to the ocean.

1 Consult J. Prestwich, Water-bearing Strata around London. 1851. (Van Voorst)

2 Sabine, Journ. of Sci. No. xxxiii. p. 72. 1824.

3 Héricart de Thury, “Puits Forés,” p. 49.

4 Prestwich, p. 69.

5 Bull. de la Soc. Géol. de France, tom. iii. p. 194.

6 Boué Résumé des Prog. de la Géol. en 1832, p. 184.

7 Seventh Rep. Brit. Ass. 1837, p. 66.

8 H. de Thury, p. 295.

9 Bull. de la Soc. Géol de France, tom. i. p. 93.

10 Bull. de la Soc. Géol. de France, tom. ii. p. 248.

11 See Glossary, “Tufa,” “Travertin.”

12 Dr. Grosse on the Baths of San Filippo, Ed. Phil. Journ. vol. ii p. 292.

13 Consolations in Travel, pp. 123-125.

14 Ibid. p. 127.

15 C. Prevost, Essai sur la Constitution Physique du Bassin de Vienne, p. 10.

16 Travels across the Andes, p. 240.

17 Annalen der Chem. 1847.

18 Daubeny on Volcanoes, p. 222.

19 Dr. Webster on the Hot Springs of Furnas, Ed. Phil. Journ. vol. vi. p. 306.

20 See a cut of the Icelandic geyser, chap. 32.

21 M. Robert, Bullétin de la Soc. Géol. de France, tom. vii. p. 11.

22 Barrow’s Iceland, p. 209.

23 See Lyell’s Manual of Elementary Geology; and Dr. Turner, Jam. Ed. New Phil. Journ. No. xxx. p. 246.

24 L. Horner, Geol. Trans, vol. ii. p. 94.

25 Ann. de l’Auvergne, tome i. p. 234.

26 Ann. Scient. de l’Auvergne, tome ii. June, 1829.

27 Edinb. New Phil. Journ. Oct. 1839.

28 See Lyell’s Travels in N. America, vol. i p. 150.

29 Symes, Embassy to Ava, vol. ii. Geol. Trans. second series, vol. ii. part iii. p. 388.

30 Dr. Nugent, Geol. Trans. vol. i. p. 69.

31 Ibid. p. 67.

Chapter 17.

Reproductive Effects of Rivers.

Lake deltas—Growth of the delta of the Upper Rhine in the Lake of Geneva—Computation of the age of deltas—Recent deposits in Lake Superior—Deltas of inland seas—Course of the Po—Artificial embankments of the Po and Adige—Delta of the Po, and other rivers entering the Adriatic—Rapid conversion of that gulf into land—Mineral characters of the new deposits—Marine delta of the Rhone—Various proofs of its increase—Stony nature of its deposits—Coast of Asia Minor—Delta of the Nile.

Deltas in Lakes.

I have already spoken in the 14th chapter of the action of running water, and of the denuding power of rivers, but we can only form a just conception of the excavating and removing force exerted by such bodies of water, when we have the advantage of examining the reproductive effects of the same agents: in other words, of beholding in a palpable form the aggregate amount of matter, which they have thrown down at certain points in their alluvial plains, or in the basins of lakes and seas. Yet it will appear, when we consider the action of currents, that the growth of deltas affords a very inadequate standard by which to measure the entire carrying power of running water, since a considerable portion of fluviatile sediment is swept far out to sea.

Deltas may be divided into, first, those which are formed in lakes; secondly, those in island seas, where the tides are almost imperceptible; and, thirdly, those on the borders of the ocean. The most characteristic distinction between the lacustrine and marine deltas consists in the nature of the organic remains which become imbedded in their deposits; for, in the case of a lake, it is obvious that these must consist exclusively of such genera of animals as inhabit the land or the waters of a river or a lake; whereas, in the other case, there will be an admixture, and most frequently a predominance, of animals which inhabit salt water. In regard, however, to the distribution of inorganic matter, the deposits of lakes and seas are formed under very analogous circumstances.

Lake of Geneva.—Lakes exemplify the first reproductive operations in which rivers are engaged when they convey the detritus of rocks and the ingredients of mineral springs from mountainous regions. The accession of new land at the mouth of the Rhone, at the upper end of the Lake of Geneva, or the Leman Lake, presents us with an example of a considerable thickness of strata which have accumulated since the historical era. This sheet of water is about thirty-seven miles long, and its breadth is from two to eight miles. The shape of the bottom is very irregular, the depth having been found by late measurements to vary from 20 to 160 fathoms.1 The Rhone, where it enters at the upper end, is turbid and discolored; but its waters, where it issues at the town of Geneva, are beautifully clear and transparent. An ancient town, called Port Vallais (Portus Valesiæ of the Romans), once situated at the water’s edge, at the upper end, is now more than a mile and a half inland—this intervening alluvial tract having been acquired in about eight centuries. The remainder of the delta consists of a flat alluvial plain, about five or six miles in length, composed of sand and mud, a little raised above the level of the river, and full of marshes.

Sir Henry De la Beche found, after numerous soundings in all parts of the lake, that there was a pretty uniform depth of from 120 to 160 fathoms throughout the central region, and on approaching the delta, the shallowing of the bottom began to be very sensible at a distance of about a mile and three quarters from the mouth of the Rhone; for a line drawn from St. Gingoulph to Vevey gives a mean depth of somewhat less than 600 feet, and from that part of the Rhone, the fluviatile mud is always found along the bottom.2 We may state, therefore, that the new strata annually produced are thrown down upon a slope about two miles in length; so that, notwithstanding the great depth of the lake, the new deposits are inclined at so slight an angle, that the dip of the beds would be termed, in ordinary geological language, horizontal.

The strata probably consist of alternations of finer and coarser particles; for, during the hotter months from April to August, when the snows melt, the volume and velocity of the river are greatest, and large quantities of sand, mud, vegetable matter, and drift-wood are introduced; but during the rest of the year, the influx is comparatively feeble, so much so, that the whole lake, according to Saussure, stands six feet lower. If, then, we could obtain a section of the accumulation formed in the last eight centuries, we should see a great series of strata, probably from 600 to 900 feet thick (the supposed original depth of the head of the lake), and nearly two miles in length, inclined at a very slight angle. In the mean time, a great number of smaller deltas are growing around the borders of the lake, at the mouths of rapid torrents, which pour in large masses of sand and pebbles. The body of water in these torrents is too small to enable them to spread out the transported matter over so extensive an area as the Rhone does. Thus, for example, there is a depth of eighty fathoms within half a mile of the shore, immediately opposite the great torrent which enters east of Ripaille, so that the dip of the strata in that minor delta must be about four times as great as those deposited by the main river at the upper extremity of the lake.3

Chronological computations of the age of deltas.—The capacity of this basin being now ascertained, it would be an interesting subject of inquiry, to determine in what number of years the Leman Lake will be converted into dry land. It would not be very difficult to obtain the elements for such a calculation, so as to approximate at least to the quantity of time required for the accomplishment of the result. The number of cubic feet of water annually discharged by the river into the lake being estimated, experiments might be made in the winter and summer months, to determine the proportion of matter held in suspension or in chemical solution by the Rhone. It would be also necessary to allow for the heavier matter drifted along at the bottom, which might be estimated on hydrostatical principles, when the average size of the gravel and the volume and velocity of the stream at different seasons were known. Supposing all these observations to have been made, it would be more easy to calculate the future than the former progress of the delta, because it would be a laborious task to ascertain, with any degree of precision, the original depth and extent of that part of the lake which is already filled up. Even if this information were actually obtained by borings, it would only enable us to approximate within a certain number of centuries to the time when the Rhone began to form its present delta; but this would not give us the date of the origin of the Leman Lake in its present form, because the river may have flowed into it for thousands of years, without importing any sediment whatever. Such would have been the case, if the waters had first passed through a chain of upper lakes; and that this was actually the fact, seems indicated by the course of the Rhone between Martigny and the Lake of Geneva, and, still more decidedly, by the channels of many of its principal feeders.

If we ascend, for example, the valley through which the Dranse flows, we find that it consists of a succession of basins, one above the other, in each of which there is a wide expanse of flat alluvial lands, separated from the next basin by a rocky gorge, once perhaps the barrier of a lake. The river seems to have filled these lakes, one after the other, and to have partially cut through the barriers, some of which it is still gradually eroding to a greater depth. Before, therefore, we can pretend even to hazard a conjecture as to the era at which the principal delta of Lake Leman or any other delta commenced, we must be thoroughly acquainted with the geographical features and geological history of the whole system of higher valleys which communicate with the main stream, and all the changes which they have undergone since the last series of convulsions which agitated and altered the face of the country.

Lake Superior.—Lake Superior is the largest body of freshwater in the world, being above 1700 geographical miles in circumference when we follow the sinuosities of its coasts, and its length, on a curved line drawn through its centre, being more than 400, and its extreme breadth above 150 geographical miles. Its surface is nearly as large as the whole of England. Its average depth varies from 80 to 150 fathoms; but, according to Captain Bayfield, there is reason to think that its greatest depth would not be overrated at 200 fathoms, so that its bottom is, in some parts, nearly 600 feet below the level of the Atlantic, its surface being about as much above it. There are appearances in different parts of this, as of the other Canadian lakes, leading us to infer that its waters formerly occupied a higher level than they reach at present; for at a considerable distance from the present shores, parallel lines of rolled stones and shells are seen rising one above the other, like the seats of an amphitheatre. These ancient lines of shingle are exactly similar to the present beaches in most bays, and they often attain an elevation of 40 or 50 feet above the present level. As the heaviest gales of wind do not raise the waters more than three or four feet, the elevated beaches have by some been referred to the subsidence of the lake at former periods, in consequence of the wearing down of its barrier; by others to the upraising of the shores by earthquakes, like those which have produced similar phenomena on the coast of Chili.

The streams which discharge their waters into Lake Superior are several hundred in number, without reckoning those of smaller size; and the quantity of water supplied by them is many times greater than that discharged at the Falls of St. Mary, the only outlet. The evaporation, therefore, is very great, and such as might be expected from so vast an extent of surface. On the northern side, which is encircled by primary mountains, the rivers sweep in many large boulders with smaller gravel and sand, chiefly composed of granitic and trap rocks. There are also currents in the lake in various directions, caused by the continued prevalence of strong winds, and to their influence we may attribute the diffusion of finer mud far and wide over great areas; for by numerous soundings made during Captain Bayfield’s survey, it was ascertained that the bottom consists generally of a very adhesive clay, containing shells of the species at present existing in the lake. When exposed to the air, this clay immediately becomes indurated in so great a degree, as to require a smart blow to break it. It effervesces slightly with diluted nitric acid, and is of different colors in different parts of the lake; in one district blue, in another red, and in a third white, hardening into a substance resembling pipeclay.4 From these statements, the geologist will not fail to remark how closely these recent lacustrine formations in America resemble the tertiary argillaceous and calcareous marls of lacustrine origin in Central France. In both cases many of the genera of shells most abundant, as Limnea and Planorbis, are the same; and in regard to other classes of organic remains there must be the closest analogy, as I shall endeavor more fully to explain when speaking of the imbedding of plants and animals in recent deposits.

Deltas of Inland Seas.

Having thus briefly considered some of the lacustrine deltas now in progress, we may next turn our attention to those of inland seas.

Course of the Po.—The Po affords an instructive example of the manner in which a great river bears down to the sea the matter poured into it by a multitude of tributaries descending from lofty chains of mountains. The changes gradually effected in the great plain of Northern Italy, since the time of the Roman republic, are considerable. Extensive lakes and marshes have been gradually filled up, as those near Placentia, Parma, and Cremona, and many have been drained naturally by the deepening of the beds of rivers. Deserted river-courses are not unfrequent, as that of the Serio Morto, which formerly fell into the Adda, in Lombardy. The Po also itself has often deviated from its course, having after the year 1390 deserted part of the territory of Cremona, and invaded that of Parma; its old channel being still recognizable, and bearing the name of Po Morto. There is also an old channel of the Po in the territory of Parma, called Po Vecchio, which was abandoned in the twelfth century, when a great number of towns were destroyed.

Artificial embankments of Italian rivers.—To check these and similar aberrations, a general system of embankment has been adopted; and the Po, Adige, and almost all their tributaries, are now confined between high artificial banks. The increased velocity acquired by streams thus closed in, enables them to convey a much larger portion of foreign matter to the sea; and, consequently, the deltas of the Po and Adige have gained far more rapidly on the Adriatic since the practice of embankment became almost universal. But, although more sediment is borne to the sea, part of the sand and mud, which in the natural state of things would be spread out by annual inundations over the plain, now subsides in the bottom of the river-channels; and their capacity being thereby diminished, it is necessary, in order to prevent inundations in the following spring, to extract matter from the bed, and to add it to the banks of the river. Hence it happens that these streams now traverse the plain on the top of high mounds, like the waters of aqueducts, and at Ferrara the surface of the Po has become more elevated than the roofs of the houses.5 The magnitude of these barriers is a subject of increasing expense and anxiety, it having been sometimes found necessary to give an additional height of nearly one foot to the banks of the Adige and Po in a single season.

The practice of embankment was adopted on some of the Italian rivers as early as the thirteenth century; and Dante, writing in the beginning of the fourteenth, describes, in the seventh circle of hell, a rivulet of tears separated from a burning sandy desert by embankments “like those which, between Ghent and Bruges, were raised against the ocean, or those which the Paduans had erected along the Brenta to defend their villas on the melting of the Alpine snows.”

Quale i Fiamminghi tra Guzzante e Bruggia,

Temendo il fiotto che in ver lor s’avventa,

Fanno lo schermo, perchè il mar si fuggia,

E quale i Padovan lungo la Brenta,

Per difender lor ville e lor castelli,

Anzi che Chiarentana il caldo senta.—

Inferno, Canto xv.

1 De la Beche, Ed. Phil. Journ. vol. ii. p. 107. Jan. 1820.

2 De la Beche, MS.

3 De la Beche, MS.

4 Trans. of Lit. and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, vol. i. p. 5, 1829.

5 Prony, see Cuvier, Disc. Prelim, p. 146.

In the Adriatic, from the northern part of the Gulf of Trieste, where the Isonzo enters, down to the south of Ravenna, there is an uninterrupted series of recent accessions of land, more than 100 miles in length, which, within the last 2000 years, have increased from two to twenty miles in breadth. A line of sand-bars of great length has been formed nearly all along the western coast of this gulf, inside of which are lagunes, such as those of Venice, and the large lagune of Comacchio, 20 miles in diameter. Newly deposited mud brought down by the streams is continually lessening the depth of the lagunes, and converting part of them into meadows.6 The Isonzo, Tagliamento, Piave, Brenta, Adige, and Po, besides many other inferior rivers, contribute to this advance of the coast-line and to the shallowing of the lagunes and the gulf.

Delta of the Po.—The Po and the Adige may now be considered as entering by one common delta, for two branches of the Adige are connected with arms of the Po, and thus the principal delta has been pushed out beyond those bars which separate the lagunes from the sea. The rate of the advance of this new land has been accelerated, as before stated, since the system of embanking the rivers became general, especially at that point where the Po and Adige enter. The waters are no longer permitted to spread themselves far and wide over the plains, and to leave behind them the larger portion of their sediment. Mountain torrents also have become more turbid since the clearing away of forests, which once clothed the southern flanks of the Alps. It is calculated that the mean rate of advance of the delta of the Po on the Adriatic between the years 1200 and 1600 was 25 yards or metres a year, whereas the mean annual gain from 1600 to 1804 was 70 metres.7

Adria was a seaport in the time of Augustus, and had, in ancient times, given its name to the gulf; it is now about twenty Italian miles inland. Ravenna was also a seaport, and is now about four miles from the main sea. Yet even before the practice of embankment was introduced, the alluvium of the Po advanced with rapidity on the Adriatic; for Spina, a very ancient city, originally built in the district of Ravenna, at the mouth of a great arm of the Po, was, so early as the commencement of our era, eleven miles distant from the sea.8

But although so many rivers are rapidly converting the Adriatic into land, it appears, by the observations of M. Morlot, that since the time of the Romans, there has been a general subsidence of the coast and bed of this sea in the same region to the amount of five feet, so that the advance of the new-made land has not been so fast as it would have been had the level of the coast remained unaltered. The signs of a much greater depression anterior to the historical period have also been brought to light by an Artesian well, bored in 1847, to the depth of more than 400 feet, which still failed to penetrate through the modern fluviatile deposit. The auger passed chiefly through beds of sand and clay, but at four several depths, one of them very near the bottom of the excavation, it pierced beds of turf, or accumulations of vegetable matter, precisely similar to those now formed superficially on the extreme borders of the Adriatic. Hence we learn that a considerable area of what was once land has sunk down 400 feet in the course of ages.9

The greatest depth of the Adriatic, between Dalmatia and the mouths of the Po, is twenty-two fathoms; but a large part of the Gulf of Trieste and the Adriatic, opposite Venice, is less than twelve fathoms deep. Farther to the south, where it is less affected by the influx of great rivers, the gulf deepens considerably. Donati, after dredging the bottom, discovered the new deposits to consist partly of mud and partly of rock, the rock being formed of calcareous matter, incrusting shells. He also ascertained, that particular species of testacea were grouped together in certain places, and were becoming slowly incorporated with the mud or calcareous precipitates.10 Olivi, also, found some deposits of sand, and others of mud, extending half way across the gulf; and he states that their distribution along the bottom was evidently determined by the prevailing current.11 It is probable, therefore, that the finer sediment of all the rivers at the head of the Adriatic may be intermingled by the influence of the current; and all the central parts of the gulf may be considered as slowly filling up with horizontal deposits, similar to those of the Subapennine hills, and containing many of the same species of shells. The Po merely introduces at present fine sand and mud, for it carries no pebbles farther than the spot where it joins the Trebia, west of Piacenza. Near the northern borders of the basin, the Isonzo, Tagliamento, and many other streams, are forming immense beds of sand and some conglomerate; for here some high mountains of Alpine limestone approach within a few miles of the sea.

In the time of the Romans, the hot-baths of Monfalcone were on one of several islands of Alpine limestone, between which and the mainland, on the north, was a channel of the sea, about a mile broad. This channel is now converted into a grassy plain, which surrounds the islands on all sides. Among the numerous changes on this coast, we find that the present channel of the Isonzo is several miles to the west of its ancient bed, in part of which, at Ronchi, the old Roman bridge which crossed the Via Appia was lately found buried in fluviatile silt.

Marine delta of the Rhone.—The lacustrine delta of the Rhone in Switzerland has already been considered (p. 251), its contemporaneous marine delta may now be described. Scarcely has the river passed out of the Lake of Geneva before its pure waters are again filled with sand and sediment by the impetuous Arve, descending from the highest Alps, and bearing along in its current the granitic detritus annually brought down by the glaciers of Mont Blanc. The Rhone afterwards receives vast contributions of transported matter from the Alps of Dauphiny, and the primary and volcanic mountains of Central France; and when at length it enters the Mediterranean, it discolors the blue waters of that sea with a whitish sediment, for the distance of between six and seven miles, throughout which space the current of fresh water is perceptible.

Strabo’s description of the delta is so inapplicable to its present configuration, as to attest a complete alteration in the physical features of the country since the Augustan age. It appears, however, that the head of the delta, or the point at which it begins to ramify, has remained unaltered since the time of Pliny, for he states that the Rhone divided itself at Arles into two arms. This is the case at present; one of the branches, the western, being now called Le Petit Rhône, which is again subdivided before entering the Mediterranean. The advance of the base of the delta, in the last eighteen centuries, is demonstrated by many curious antiquarian monuments. The most striking of these is the great and unnatural détour of the old Roman road from Ugernum to Beziers (Bœterræ) which went round by Nismes (Nemausus). It is clear that, when this was first constructed, it was impossible to pass in a direct line, as now, across the delta, and that either the sea or marshes intervened in a tract now consisting of terra firma.12 Astruc also remarks, that all the places on low lands, lying to the north of the old Roman road between Nismes and Beziers, have names of Celtic origin, evidently given to them by the first inhabitants of the country; whereas, the places lying south of that road, towards the sea, have names of Latin derivation, and were clearly founded after the Roman language had been introduced.

Another proof, also, of the great extent of land which has come into existence since the Romans conquered and colonized Gaul, is derived from the fact, that the Roman writers never mention the thermal waters of Balaruc in the delta, although they were well acquainted with those of Aix, and others still more distant, and attached great importance to them, as they invariably did to all hot springs. The waters of Balaruc, therefore, must have formerly issued under the sea—a common phenomenon on the borders of the Mediterranean; and on the advance of the delta they continued to flow out through the new deposits.

Among the more direct proofs of the increase of land, we find that Mese, described under the appellation of Mesua Collis by Pomponius Mela,13 and stated by him to be nearly an island, is now far inland. Notre Dame des Ports, also, was a harbor in 898, but is now a league from the shore. Psalmodi was an island in 815, and is now two leagues from the sea. Several old lines of towers and sea-marks occur at different distances from the present coast, all indicating the successive retreat of the sea, for each line has in its turn become useless to mariners; which may well be conceived, when we state that the Tower of Tignaux, erected on the shore so late as the year 1737, is already a mile remote from it.14

By the confluence of the Rhone and the currents of the Mediterranean, driven by winds from the south, sand-bars are often formed across the mouths of the river; by these means considerable spaces become divided off from the sea, and subsequently from the river also, when it shifts its channels of efflux. As some of these lagoons are subject to the occasional ingress of the river when flooded, and of the sea during storms, they are alternately salt and fresh. Others, after being filled with salt water, are often lowered by evaporation till they become more salt than the sea; and it has happened, occasionally, that a considerable precipitate of muriate of soda has taken place in these natural salterns. During the latter part of Napoleon’s career, when the excise laws were enforced with extreme rigor, the police was employed to prevent such salt from being used. The fluviatile and marine shells inclosed in these small lakes often live together in brackish water; but the uncongenial nature of the fluid usually produces a dwarfish size, and sometimes gives rise to strange varieties in form and color.

Captain Smyth in his survey of the coast of the Mediterranean, found the sea opposite the mouth of the Rhone, to deepen gradually from four to forty fathoms, within a distance of six or seven miles, over which the discolored fresh water extends; so that the inclination of the new deposits must be too slight to be appreciable in such an extent of section as a geologist usually obtains in examining ancient formations. When the wind blew from the southwest, the ships employed in the survey were obliged to quit their moorings; and when they returned, the new sand-banks in the delta were found covered over with a great abundance of marine shells. By this means, we learn how occasional beds of drifted marine shells may become interstratified with freshwater strata at a river’s mouth.

Stony nature of its deposits.—That a great proportion, at least, of the new deposit in the delta of the Rhone consists of rock, and not of loose incoherent matter, is perfectly ascertained. In the Museum at Montpelier is a cannon taken up from the sea near the mouth of the river, imbedded in a crystalline calcareous rock. Large masses, also, are continually taken up of an arenaceous rock, cemented by calcareous matter, including multitudes of broken shells of recent species. The observations lately made on this subject corroborate the former statement of Marsilli, that the earthy deposits of the coast of Languedoc form a stony substance, for which reason he ascribes a certain bituminous, saline, and glutinous nature to the substances brought down with sand by the Rhone.15 If the number of mineral springs charged with carbonate of lime which fall into the Rhone and its feeders in different parts of France be considered, we shall feel no surprise at the lapidification of the newly deposited sediment in this delta. It should be remembered, that the fresh water introduced by rivers being lighter than the water of the sea, floats over the latter, and remains upon the surface for a considerable distance. Consequently it is exposed to as much evaporation as the waters of a lake; and the area over which the river-water is spread, at the junction of great rivers and the sea, may well be compared, in point of extent, to that of considerable lakes.

Now, it is well known, that so great is the quantity of water carried off by evaporation in some lakes, that it is nearly equal to the water flowing in; and in some inland seas, as the Caspian, it is quite equal. We may, therefore, well suppose that, in cases where a strong current does not interfere, the greater portion not only of the matter held mechanically in suspension, but of that also which is in chemical solution, may be precipitated at no great distance from the shore. When these finer ingredients are extremely small in quantity, they may only suffice to supply crustaceous animals, corals, and marine plants, with the earthy particles necessary for their secretions; but whenever it is in excess (as generally happens if the basin of a river lie partly in a district of active or extinct volcanoes), then will solid deposits be formed, and the shells will at once be included in a rocky mass.

Coast of Asia Minor.—Examples of the advance of the land upon the sea are afforded by the southern coast of Asia Minor. Admiral Sir F. Beaufort has pointed out in his survey the great alterations effected since the time of Strabo, where havens are filled up, islands joined to the mainland, and where the whole continent has increased many miles in extent. Strabo himself, on comparing the outline of the coast in his time with its ancient state, was convinced, like our countryman, that it had gained very considerably upon the sea. The new-formed strata of Asia Minor consist of stone, not of loose incoherent materials. Almost all the streamlets and rivers, like many of those in Tuscany and the south of Italy, hold abundance of carbonate of lime in solution, and precipitate travertin, or sometimes bind together the sand and gravel into solid sandstones and conglomerates; every delta and sand-bar thus acquires solidity, which often prevents streams from forcing their way through them, so that their mouths are constantly changing their position.16

Delta of the Nile.—That Egypt was “the gift of the Nile,” was the opinion of her priests before the time of Herodotus; and Rennell observes, that the “configuration and composition of the low lands leave no room for doubt that the sea once washed the base of the rocks on which the pyramids of Memphis stand, the present base of which is washed by the inundation of the Nile, at an elevation of 70 or 80 feet above the Mediterranean. But when we attempt to carry back our ideas to the remote period when the foundation of the delta was first laid, we are lost in the contemplation of so vast an interval of time.”17 Herodotus observes, “that the country round Memphis seemed formerly to have been an arm of the sea gradually filled by the Nile, in the same manner as the Meander, Achelous, and other streams, had formed deltas. Egypt, therefore, he says, like the Red Sea, was once a long narrow bay, and both gulfs were separated by a small neck of land. If the Nile, he adds, should by any means have an issue into the Arabian Gulf, it might choke it up with earth in 20,000 or even, perhaps, in 10,000 years; and why may not the Nile have filled a still greater gulf with mud in the space of time which has passed before our age?”18

The distance between Memphis and the most prominent part of the delta in a straight line north and south, is about 100 geographical miles; the length of the base of the delta is more than 200 miles if we follow the coast between the ancient extreme eastern and western arms; but as these are now blocked up, that part only of Lower Egypt which intervenes between the Rosetta and Damietta branches, is usually called the delta, the coast line of which is about 90 miles in length. The bed of the river itself, says Sir J. G. Wilkinson, undergoes a gradual increase of elevation varying in different places, and always lessening in proportion as the river approaches the sea. “This increase of elevation in perpendicular height is much smaller in Lower than in Upper Egypt, and in the delta it diminishes still more; so that, according to an approximate calculation, the land about Elephantine, or the first cataract, lat. 24° 5’, has been raised nine feet in 1700 years; at Thebes, lat. 25° 43’, about seven feet; and at Heliopolis and Cairo, lat. 30°, about five feet ten inches. At Rosetta and the mouths of the Nile, lat. 31° 30’, the diminution in the perpendicular thickness of the deposit is lessened in a much greater decreasing ratio than in the straitened valley of Central and Upper Egypt, owing to the great extent, east and west, over which the inundation spreads.”19

For this reason the alluvial deposit does not cause the delta to protrude rapidly into the sea, although some ancient cities are now a mile or more inland, and the mouths of the Nile, mentioned by the earlier geographers, have been many of them silted up, and the outline of the coast entirely changed.

The bed of the Nile always keeps pace with the general elevation of the soil, and the banks of this river, like those of the Mississippi and its tributaries (see p. 265, are much higher than the flat land at a distance, so that they are seldom covered during the highest inundations. In consequence of the gradual rise of the river’s bed, the annual flood is constantly spreading over a wider area, and the alluvial soil encroaches on the desert, covering, to the depth of six or seven feet, the base of statues and temples which the waters never reached 3000 years ago. Although the sands of the Libyan deserts have in some places been drifted into the valley of the Nile, yet these aggressions, says Wilkinson, are far more than counterbalanced by the fertilizing effect of the water which now reaches farther inland towards the desert, so that the number of square miles of arable soil is greater at present than at any previous period.

Mud of the Nile.—On comparing the different analyses which have been published of this mud, it will be found that it contains a large quantity of argillaceous matter, with much peroxide of iron, some carbonate of lime, and a small proportion of carbonate of magnesia. The latest and most careful analysis by M. Lassaigne shows a singularly close resemblance in the proportions of the ingredients of silica, alumina, iron, carbon, lime, and magnesia, and those observed in ordinary mica;20 but a much larger quantity of calcareous matter is sometimes present.

In many places, as at Cairo, where artificial excavations have been made, or where the river has undermined its banks, the mud is seen to be thinly stratified, the upper part of each annual layer consisting of earth of a lighter color than the lower, and the whole separating easily from the deposit of the succeeding year. These annual layers are variable in thickness; but, according to the calculations of Girard and Wilkinson, the mean annual thickness of a layer at Cairo cannot exceed that of a sheet of thin pasteboard, and a stratum of two or three feet must represent the accumulation of a thousand years.

The depth of the Mediterranean is about twelve fathoms at a small distance from the shore of the delta; it afterwards increases gradually to 50, and then suddenly descends to 380 fathoms, which is, perhaps, the original depth of the sea where it has not been rendered shallower by fluviatile matter. We learn from Lieut. Newbold that nothing but the finest and lightest ingredients reach the Mediterranean, where he has observed the sea discolored by them to the distance of 40 miles from the shore.21 The small progress of the delta in the last 2000 years affords, perhaps, no measure for estimating its rate of growth when it was an inland bay, and had not yet protruded itself beyond the coast-line of the Mediterranean. A powerful current now sweeps along the shores of Africa, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the prominent convexity of Egypt, the western side of which is continually the prey of the waves; so that not only are fresh accessions of land checked, but ancient parts of the delta are carried away. By this cause, Canopus and some other towns have been overwhelmed; but to this subject I shall again refer when speaking of tides and currents.

6 See De Beaumont, Géologie Pratique, vol. i. p. 323, 1844.

7 Prony, cited by Cuvier, Discours Prélimin.

8 Brocchi, Conch. Foss. Subap. vol. i. p. 118.

9 Archiac, Histoire des Progrés de la Géol. 1848, vol. ii. p. 232.

10 Brocchi, Conch. Foss. Subap. vol. i. p. 39.

11 Ibid. vol. ii. p. 94.

12 Mém. d’Astruc, cited by Von Hoff, vol. i. p. 288.

13 Lib. ii. c. v.

14 Bouche, Chorographie et Hist. de Provence, vol. i. p. 23, cited by Von Hoft, vol. i. p. 290.

15 Hist. Phys. de la Mer.

16 Karamania, or a brief Description of the Coast of Asia Minor, &c. London, 1817.

17 Geog. Syst. of Herod, vol. ii. p. 107.

18 Euterpe, XI.

19 Journ. of Roy. Geograph. Soc. vol. ix. p. 432.

20 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. v.; Memoirs, p. 20; and Lassaigue, Journ. Pharm. t. v. p. 468.

21 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 1848, vol. iv. p. 342.

Chapter 18.

Reproductive Effects of Rivers—continued.

Deltas formed under the influence of tides—Basin and delta of the Mississippi—Alluvial plain—River-banks and bluffs—Curves of the river—Natural rafts and snags—New lakes, and effects of earthquakes—Antiquity of the delta—Delta of the Ganges and Brahmapootra—Head of the delta and Sunderbunds—Islands formed and destroyed—Crocodiles—Amount of fluviatile sediment in the water—Artesian boring at Calcutta—Proofs of subsidence—Age of the delta—Convergence of deltas—Origin of existing deltas not contemporaneous—Grouping of strata and stratification in deltas—Conglomerates—Constant interchange of land and sea.

In the last chapter several examples were given of the deltas of inland seas, where the influence of the tides is almost imperceptible. We may next consider those marine or oceanic deltas, where the tides play an important part in the dispersion of fluviatile sediment, as in the Gulf of Mexico, where they exert a moderate degree of force, and then in the Bay of Bengal, where they are extremely powerful. In regard to estuaries, which Rennel termed “negative deltas,” they will be treated of more properly when our attention is specially turned to the operations of tides and currents (chapters 20, 21, and 22). In this case, instead of the land gaining on the sea at the river’s mouth, the tides penetrate far inland beyond the general coast-line.

Basin and Delta of the Mississippi.

Alluvial plain.—The hydrographical basin of the Mississippi displays, on the grandest scale, the action of running water on the surface of a vast continent. This magnificent river rises nearly in the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude, and flows to the Gulf of Mexico in the twenty-ninth—a course, including its meanders, of more than three thousand miles. It passes from a cold climate, where the hunter obtains his furs and peltries, traverses the temperate latitudes, and discharges its waters into the sea in the region of rice, the cotton plant, and the sugar-cane. From near its mouth at the Balize a steamboat may ascend for 2000 miles with scarcely any perceptible difference in the width of the river. Several of its tributaries, the Red River, the Arkansas, the Missouri, the Ohio, and others, would be regarded elsewhere as of the first importance, and, taken together, are navigable for a distance many times exceeding that of the main stream. No river affords a more striking illustration of the law before mentioned, that an augmentation of volume does not occasion a proportional increase of surface, nay, is even sometimes attended with a narrowing of the channel. The Mississippi is half a mile wide at its junction with the Missouri, the latter being also of equal width; yet the united waters have only, from their confluence to the mouth of the Ohio, a medial width of about half a mile. The junction of the Ohio seems also to produce no increase, but rather a decrease, of surface.1 The St. Francis, White, Arkansas, and Red rivers are also absorbed by the main stream with scarcely any apparent increase of its width, although here and there it expands to a breadth of 1½, or even to 2 miles. On arriving at New Orleans, it is somewhat less than half a mile wide. Its depth there is very variable, the greatest at high water being 168 feet. The mean rate at which the whole body of water flows is variously estimated; according to Mr. Forshey the mean velocity of the current at the surface, somewhat exceeds 2-1/4 miles an hour when the water is at a mean height. For 300 miles above New Orleans the distance measured by the winding river is about twice as great as the distance in a right line. For the first 100 miles from the mouth the rate of fall is 1·80 inch per mile, for the second hundred 2 inches, for the third 2·30, for the fourth 2·57.

The alluvial plain of the Mississippi begins to be of great width below Cape Girardeau, 50 miles above the junction of the Ohio. At this junction it is about 50 miles broad, south of which it contracts to about 30 miles at Memphis, expands again to 80 miles at the mouth of the White River, and then, after various contractions and expansions, protrudes beyond the general coast-line, in a large delta, about 90 miles in width, from N. E. to S. W. Mr. Forshey estimates the area of the great plain as above defined at 31,200 square miles, with a circumference of about 3000 miles, exceeding the area of Ireland. If that part of this plain which lies below, or to the south of the branching off of the highest arm, called the Atchafalaya, be termed the delta, it constitutes less than half of the whole, being 14,000 square British miles in area. The delta may be said to be bounded on the east, west, and south by the sea; on the north chiefly by the broad valley-plain which entirely resembles it in character as in origin. The east and west boundaries of the alluvial region above the head of the delta consists of cliffs or bluffs, which on the east side of the Mississippi are very abrupt, and are undermined by the river at many points. They consist, from Baton Rouge in Louisiana, where they commence, as far north as the borders of Kentucky, of geological formations newer than the cretaceous, the lowest being Eocene, and the uppermost consisting of loam, resembling the loess of the Rhine, and containing freshwater and land shells almost all of existing species. (See fig. 23.) These recent shells are associated with the bones of the mastodon, elephant, tapir, mylodon, horse, ox, and other quadrupeds, most of them of extinct species.

I have endeavored to show in my Second Visit to the United States, that this extensive formation of loam is either an ancient alluvial plain or a delta of the great river, formed originally at a lower level, and since upheaved, and partially denuded.

Fig. 23.
Valley of the Mississippi.

1. Modern alluvium of Mississippi.   2. Loam or Loess.   3.f. Eocene.   4. Cretaceous.

The Mississippi in that part of its course which is below the mouth of the Ohio, frequently washes the eastern bluffs, but never once comes in contact with the western. These are composed of similar formations; but I learn from Mr. Forshey that they rise up more gently from the alluvial plain (as at a, fig. 23). It is supposed that the waters are thrown to the eastern side, because all the large tributary rivers entering from the west have filled that side of the great valley with their deltas, or with a sloping mass of clay and sand; so that the opposite bluffs are undermined, and the Mississippi is slowly but incessantly advancing eastward.2

Curves of the Mississippi.—The river traverses the plain in a meandering course, describing immense curves. After sweeping round the half of a circle, it is carried in a rapid current diagonally across the ordinary direction of its channel, to another curve of similar shape. Opposite to each of these, there is always a sand-bar, answering, in the convexity of its form, to the concavity of “the bend,” as it is called.3 The river, by continually wearing these curves deep, returns, like many other streams before described, on its own track, so that a vessel in some places, after sailing for twenty-five or thirty miles, is brought round again to within a mile of the place whence it started. When the waters approach so near to each other, it often happens at high floods that they burst through the small tongue of land, and insulate a portion, rushing through what is called the “cut-off,” so that vessels may pass from one point to another in half a mile to a distance which it previously required a voyage of twenty miles to reach. As soon as the river has excavated the new passage, bars of sand and mud are formed at the two points of junction with the old bend, which is soon entirely separated from the main river by a continuous mud-bank covered with wood. The old bend then becomes a semicircular lake of clear water, inhabited by large gar-fish, alligators, and wild fowl, which the steamboats have nearly driven away from the main river. A multitude of such crescent-shaped lakes, scattered far and wide over the alluvial plain, the greater number of them to the west, but some of them also eastward of the Mississippi, bear testimony of the extensive wanderings of the great stream in former ages. For the last two hundred miles above its mouth the course of the river is much less winding than above, there being only in the whole of that distance one great curve, that called the “English Turn.” This great straightness of the stream is ascribed by Mr. Forshey to the superior tenacity of the banks, which are more clayey in this region.

Fig. 24.

Section of channel, bank, levees (a and b), and swamps of Mississippi river.

The Mississippi has been incorrectly described by some of the earlier geographers, as a river running along the top of a long hill, or mound in a plain. In reality it runs in a valley, from 100 to 200 or more feet in depth, as a, c, b, fig. 24, its banks forming long strips of land parallel to the course of the main stream, and to the swamps g, f, and d, e, lying on each side. These extensive morasses, which are commonly well-wooded, though often submerged for months continuously, are rarely more than fifteen feet below the summit level of the banks. The banks themselves are occasionally overflowed, but are usually above water for a breadth of about two miles. They follow all the curves of the great river, and near New Orleans are raised artificially by embankments (or levees), a b, fig. 24, through which the river when swollen sometimes cuts a deep channel (or crevasse), inundating the adjoining low lands and swamps, and not sparing the lower streets of the great city.

The cause of the uniform upward slope of the river-bank above the adjoining alluvial plain is this: when the waters charged with sediment pass over the banks in the flood season, their velocity is checked among the herbage and reeds, and they throw down at once the coarser and more sandy matter with which they are charged. But the fine particles of mud are carried farther on, so that at the distance of about two miles, a thin film of fine clay only subsides, forming a stiff unctuous black soil, which gradually envelops the base of trees growing on the borders of the swamps.

Waste of the banks.—It has been said of a mountain torrent, that “it lays down what it will remove, and removes what it has laid down;” and in like manner the Mississippi, by the continual shifting of its course, sweeps away, during a great portion of the year, considerable tracts of alluvium, which were gradually accumulated by the overflow of former years, and the matter now left during the spring-floods will be at some future time removed. After the flood season, when the river subsides within its channel, it acts with destructive force upon the alluvial banks, softened and diluted by the recent overflow. Several acres at a time, thickly covered with wood, are precipitated into the stream; and large portions of the islands are frequently swept away.

“Some years ago,” observes Captain Hall, “when the Mississippi was regularly surveyed, all its islands were numbered, from the confluence of the Missouri to the sea; but every season makes such revolutions, not only in the number, but in the magnitude and situation of these islands, that this enumeration is now almost obsolete. Sometimes large islands are entirely melted away; at other places they have attached themselves to the main shore, or, which is the more correct statement, the interval has been filled up by myriads of logs cemented together by mud and rubbish.”4

Rafts.—One of the most interesting features in the great rivers of this part of America is the frequent accumulation of what are termed “rafts,” or masses of floating trees, which have been arrested in their progress by snags, islands, shoals, or other obstructions, and made to accumulate, so as to form natural bridges, reaching entirely across the stream. One of the largest of these was called the raft of the Atchafalaya, an arm of the Mississippi, which was certainly at some former time the channel of the Red River, when the latter found its way to the Gulf of Mexico by a separate course. The Atchafalaya being in a direct line with the general direction of the Mississippi, catches a large portion of the timber annually brought down from the north; and the drift-trees collected in about thirty-eight years previous to 1816 formed a continuous raft, no less than ten miles in length, 220 yards wide, and eight feet deep. The whole rose and fell with the water, yet was covered with green bushes and trees, and its surface enlivened in the autumn by a variety of beautiful flowers. It went on increasing till about 1835, when some of the trees upon it had grown to the height of about sixty feet. Steps were then taken by the State of Louisiana to clear away the whole raft, and open the navigation, which was effected, not without great labor, in the space of four years.

The rafts on Red River are equally remarkable: in some parts of its course, cedar-trees are heaped up by themselves, and in other places, pines. On the rise of the waters in summer hundreds of these are seen, some with their green leaves still upon them, just as they have fallen from a neighboring bank, others leafless, broken and worn in their passage from a far distant tributary: wherever they accumulate on the edge of a sand-bar they arrest the current, and soon become covered with sediment. On this mud the young willows and the poplars called cotton-wood spring up, their boughs still farther retarding the stream, and as the inundation rises, accelerating the deposition of new soil. The bank continuing to enlarge, the channel at length becomes so narrow that a single long tree may reach from side to side, and the remaining space is then soon choked up by a quantity of other timber.

“Unfortunately for the navigation of the Mississippi,” observes Captain Hall, “some of the largest trunks, after being cast down from the position on which they grew, get their roots entangled with the bottom of the river, where they remain anchored, as it were, in the mud. The force of the current naturally gives their tops a tendency downwards, and, by its flowing past, soon strips them of their leaves and branches. These fixtures, called snags, or planters, are extremely dangerous to the steam-vessels proceeding up the stream, in which they lie like a lance in rest, concealed beneath the water, with their sharp ends pointed directly against the bows of the vessels coming up. For the most part these formidable snags remain so still that they can be detected only by a slight ripple above them, not perceptible to inexperienced eyes. Sometimes, however, they vibrate up and down, alternately showing their heads above the surface and bathing them beneath it.”5 So imminent, until lately, was the danger caused by these obstructions, that almost all the boats on the Mississippi were constructed on a particular plan, to guard against fatal accidents; but in the last ten years, by the aid of the power of steam and the machinery of a snag-boat, as it is called, the greater number of these trunks of trees have been drawn out of the mud.6

The prodigious quantity of wood annually drifted down by the Mississippi and its tributaries, is a subject of geological interest, not merely as illustrating the manner in which abundance of vegetable matter becomes, in the ordinary course of nature, imbedded in submarine and estuary deposits, but as attesting the constant destruction of soil and transportation of matter to lower levels by the tendency of rivers to shift their courses. Each of these trees must have required many years, some of them centuries, to attain their full size; the soil, therefore, whereon they grew, after remaining undisturbed for long periods, is ultimately torn up and swept away.

It is also found in excavating at New Orleans, even at the depth of several yards below the level of the sea, that the soil of the delta contains innumerable trunks of trees, layer above layer, some prostrate, as if drifted, others broken off near the bottom, but remaining still erect, and with their roots spreading on all sides, as if in their natural position. In such situations they appeared to me to indicate a sinking of the ground, as the trees must formerly have grown in marshes above the sea-level. In the higher parts of the alluvial plain, for many hundred miles above the head of the delta, similar stools and roots of trees are also seen buried in stiff clay at different levels, one above the other, and exposed to view in the banks at low water. They point clearly to the successive growth of forests in the extensive swamps of the plain, where the ground was slowly raised, year after year, by the mud thrown down during inundations. These roots and stools belong chiefly to the deciduous cypress (Taxodium distichum), and other swamp-trees, and they bear testimony to the constant shifting of the course of the great river, which is always excavating land originally formed at some distance from its banks.

Formation of lakes in Louisiana..—Another striking feature in the basin of the Mississippi, illustrative of the changes now in progress, is the formation by natural causes of great lakes, and the drainage of others. These are especially frequent in the basin of the Red River in Louisiana, where the largest of them, called Bistineau, is more than thirty miles long, and has a medium depth of from fifteen to twenty feet. In the deepest parts are seen numerous cypress-trees, of all sizes, now dead, and most of them with their tops broken by the wind, yet standing erect under water. This tree resists the action of air and water longer than any other, and, if not submerged throughout the whole year, will retain life for an extraordinary period. Lake Bistineau, as well as Black Lake, Cado Lake, Spanish Lake, Natchitoches Lake, and many others, have been formed, according to Darby, by the gradual elevation of the bed of Red River, in which the alluvial accumulations have been so great as to raise its channel, and cause its waters, during the flood season, to flow up the mouths of many tributaries, and to convert parts of their courses into lakes. In the autumn, when the level of Red River is again depressed, the waters rush back, and some lakes become grassy meadows, with streams meandering through them.7 Thus, there is a periodical flux and reflux between Red River and some of these basins, which are merely reservoirs, alternately emptied and filled, like our tide estuaries—with this difference, that in the one case the land is submerged for several months continuously, and in the other twice in every twenty-four hours. It has happened, in several cases, that a raft of timber or a bar has been thrown by Red River across some of the openings of these channels, and then the lakes become, like Bistineau, constant repositories of water. But, even in these cases, their level is liable to annual elevation and depression, because the flood of the main river, when at its height, passes over the bar; just as, where sand-hills close the entrance of an estuary on the Norfolk or Suffolk coast, the sea, during some high tide or storm, has often breached the barrier and inundated again the interior.

I am informed by Mr. Featherstonhaugh that the plains of the Red River and the Arkansas are so low and flat, that whenever the Mississippi rises thirty feet above its ordinary level, those great tributaries are made to flow back, and inundate a region of vast extent. Both the streams alluded to contain red sediment, derived from the decomposition of red porphyry; and since 1833, when there was a great inundation in the Arkansas, an immense swamp has been formed near the Mammelle mountain, comprising 30,000 acres, with here and there large lagoons, where the old bed of the river was situated; in which innumerable trees, for the most part dead, are seen standing, of cypress, cotton-wood, or poplar, the triple-thorned acacia, and others, which are of great size. Their trunks appear as if painted red for about fifteen feet from the ground; at which height a perfectly level line extends through the whole forest, marking the rise of the waters during the last flood.8

But most probably the causes above assigned for the recent origin of these lakes are not the only ones. Subterranean movements have altered, so lately as the years 1811-12, the relative levels of various parts of the basin of the Mississippi, situated 300 miles northeast of Lake Bistineau. In those years the great valley, from the mouth of the Ohio to that of the St. Francis, including a tract 300 miles in length, and exceeding in area the whole basin of the Thames, was convulsed to such a degree, as to create new islands in the river, and lakes in the alluvial plain. Some of these were on the left or east bank of the Mississippi, and were twenty miles in extent; as, for example, those named Reelfoot and Obion in Tennessee, formed in the channels or valleys of small streams bearing the same names.9

But the largest area affected by the great convulsion lies eight or ten miles to the westward of the Mississippi, and inland from the town of New Madrid, in Missouri. It is called “the sunk country,” and is said to extend along the course of the White Water and its tributaries, for a distance of between seventy and eighty miles north and south, and thirty miles or more east and west. Throughout this area, innumerable submerged trees, some standing leafless, others prostrate, are seen; and so great is the extent of lake and marsh, that an active trade in the skins of muskrats, mink, otters, and other wild animals, is now carried on there. In March, 1846, I skirted the borders of the “sunk country” nearest to New Madrid, passing along the Bayou St. John and Little Prairie, where dead trees of various kinds, some erect in the water, others fallen, and strewed in dense masses over the bottom, in the shallows, and near the shore, were conspicuous. I also beheld countless rents in the adjoining dry alluvial plains, caused by the movements of the soil in 1811-12, and still open, though the rains, frost, and river inundations, have greatly diminished their original depth. I observed, moreover, numerous circular cavities, called “sunk holes,” from ten to thirty yards wide, and twenty feet or more in depth, which interrupt the general level of the plain. These were formed by the spouting out of large quantities of sand and mud during the earthquakes.10

That the prevailing changes of level in the delta and alluvial plain of the Mississippi have been caused by the subsidence, rather than the upheaval of land, appears to me established by the fact, that there are no protuberances of upraised alluvial soil, projecting above the level surface of the great plain. It is true that the gradual elevation of that plain, by new accessions of matter, would tend to efface every inequality derived from this source, but we might certainly have expected to find more broken ground between the opposite bluffs, had local upthrows of alluvial strata been of repeated occurrence.

Antiquity of the delta.—The vast size of the alluvial plain both above and below the head of the delta, or the branching off of the uppermost arm of the Atchafalaya, has been already alluded to. Its superficial dimensions, according to Mr. Forshey, exceed 30,000 square miles, nearly half of which belong to the true delta. The deposits consist partly of sand originally formed upon or near the banks of the river, and its tributaries, partly of gravel, swept down the main channel, of which the position has continually shifted, and partly of fine mud slowly accumulated in the swamps. The farther we descend the river towards its mouth, the finer becomes the texture of the sediment. The whole alluvial formation, from the base of the delta upwards, slopes with a very gentle inclination, rising about three inches in a mile from the level of the sea at the Balize, to the height of about 200 feet in a distance of about 800 miles.

That a large portion of this fluviatile deposit, together with the fluvio-marine strata now in progress near the Balize, consists of mud and sand with much vegetable matter intermixed, may be inferred from what has been said of the abundance of drift trees floated down every summer. These are seen matted together into a net-work around the extensive mud banks at the extreme mouths of the river. Every one acquainted with the geography of Louisiana is aware that the most southern part of the delta forms a long narrow tongue of land protruding for 50 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, at the end of which are numerous channels of discharge. This singular promontory consists simply of the river and its two low, flat banks, covered with reeds, young willows, and poplars. Its appearance answers precisely to that of the banks far in the interior, when nothing appears above water during inundations but the higher part of the sloping glacis or bank. In the one case we have the swamps or an expanse of freshwater with the tops of trees appearing above, in the other the bluish green surface of the Gulf of Mexico. An opinion has very commonly prevailed that this narrow promontory, the newest product of the river, has gained very rapidly upon the sea, since the foundation of New Orleans; but after visiting the Balize in 1846, in company with Dr. Carpenter, and making many inquiries of the pilots, and comparing the present outline of the coast with the excellent Spanish chart, published by Charlevoix 120 years before, we came to a different conclusion. The rate of permanent advance of the new land has been very slow, not exceeding perhaps one mile in a century. The gain may have been somewhat more rapid in former years, when the new strip of soil projected less far into the gulf, since it is now much more exposed to the action of a strong marine current. The tides also, when the waters of the river are low, enter into each opening, and scour them out, destroying the banks of mud and the sand-bars newly formed during the flood season.

An observation of Darby, in regard to the strata composing part of this delta, deserves attention. In the steep banks of the Atchafalaya, before alluded to, the following section, he says, is observable at low water:—first an upper stratum, consisting invariably of bluish clay, common to the banks of the Mississippi; below this a stratum of red ochreous earth, peculiar to Red River, under which the blue clay of the Mississippi again appears; and this arrangement is constant, proving, as that geographer remarks, that the waters of the Mississippi and the Red River occupied alternately, at some former periods, considerable tracts below their present point of union.11 Such alternations are probably common in submarine spaces situated between two converging deltas; for, before the two rivers unite, there must almost always be a certain period when an intermediate tract will by turns be occupied and abandoned by the waters of each stream; since it can rarely happen that the season of highest flood will precisely correspond in each. In the case of the Red River and Mississippi, which carry off the waters from countries placed under widely distant latitudes, an exact coincidence in the time of greatest inundation is very improbable.

The antiquity of the delta, or length of the period which has been occupied in the deposition of so vast a mass of alluvial matter, is a question which may well excite the curiosity of every geologist. Sufficient data have not yet been obtained to afford a full and satisfactory answer to the inquiry, but some approximation may already be made to the minimum of time required.

When I visited New Orleans, in February, 1846, I found that Dr. Riddell had made numerous experiments to ascertain the proportion of sediment contained in the waters of the Mississippi; and he concluded that the mean annual amount of solid matter was to the water as 1/1245 in weight, or about 1/3000 in volume.12 From the observations of the same gentleman, and those of Dr. Carpenter and Mr. Forshey, an eminent engineer, to whom I have before alluded, the average width, depth, and velocity of the Mississippi, and thence the mean annual discharge of water were deduced. I assumed 528 feet, or the tenth of a mile, as the probable thickness of the deposit of mud and sand in the delta; founding my conjecture chiefly on the depth of the Gulf of Mexico, between the southern point of Florida and the Balize, which equals on an average 100 fathoms, and partly on some borings 600 feet deep in the delta, near Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans, in which the bottom of the alluvial matter is said not to have been reached. The area of the delta being about 13,600 square statute miles, and the quantity of solid matter annually brought down by the river 3,702,758,400 cubic feet, it must have taken 67,000 years for the formation of the whole; and if the alluvial matter of the plain above be 264 feet deep, or half that of the delta,13 it must have required 33,500 more years for its accumulation, even if its area be estimated as only equal to that of the delta, whereas it is in fact larger. If some deduction be made from the time here stated, in consequence of the effect of the drift-wood, which must have aided in filling up more rapidly the space above alluded to, a far more important allowance must be made on the other hand, for the loss of matter, owing to the finer particles of mud not settling at the mouths of the river, but being swept out far to sea during the predominant action of the tides, and the waves in the winter months, when the current of fresh water is feeble. Yet however vast the time during which the Mississippi has been transporting its earthy burden to the ocean, the whole period, though far exceeding, perhaps, 100,000 years, must be insignificant in a geological point of view, since the bluffs or cliffs, bounding the great valley, and therefore older in date, and which are from 50 to 250 feet in perpendicular height, consist in great part of loam containing land, fluviatile, and lacustrine shells of species still inhabiting the same country. (See fig. 23, p. 265.)

Before we take leave of the great delta, we may derive an instructive lesson from the reflection that the new deposits already formed, or now accumulating, whether marine or freshwater, must greatly resemble in composition, and the general character of their organic remains, many ancient strata, which enter largely into the earth’s structure. Yet there is no sudden revolution in progress, whether on the land or in the waters, whether in the animate or the inanimate world. Notwithstanding the excessive destruction of soil and uprooting of trees, the region which yields a never-failing supply of drift-wood is densely clothed with noble forests, and is almost unrivalled in its power of supporting animal and vegetable life. In spite of the undermining of many a lofty bluff, and the encroachments of the delta on the sea—in spite of the earthquake, which rends and fissures the soil, or causes areas more than sixty miles in length to sink down several yards in a few months, the general features of the district remain unaltered, or are merely undergoing a slow and insensible change. Herds of wild deer graze on the pastures, or browse upon the trees; and if they diminish in number, it is only where they give way to man and the domestic animals which follow in his train. The bear, the wolf, the fox, the panther, and the wild-cat, still maintain themselves in the fastnesses of the forests of cypress and gum-tree. The racoon and the opossum are everywhere abundant, while the musk-rat, otter, and mink still frequent the rivers and lakes, and a few beavers and buffaloes have not yet been driven from their ancient haunts. The waters teem with aligators, tortoises, and fish, and their surface is covered with millions of migratory waterfowl, which perform their annual voyage between the Canadian lakes and the shores of the Mexican Gulf. The power of man begins to be sensibly felt, and many parts of the wilderness to be replaced by towns, orchards, and gardens. The gilded steamboats, like moving palaces, stem the force of the current, or shoot rapidly down the descending stream, through the solitudes of the forests and prairies. Already does the flourishing population of the great valley far exceed that of the thirteen United States when first they declared their independence. Such is the state of a continent where trees and stones are hurried annually by a thousand torrents, from the mountains to the plains, and where sand and finer matter are swept down by a vast current to the sea, together with the wreck of countless forests and the bones of animals which perish in the inundations. When these materials reach the gulf, they do not render the waters unfit for aquatic animals; but on the contrary, the ocean here swarms with life, as it generally does where the influx of a great river furnishes a copious supply of organic and mineral matter. Yet many geologists, when they behold the spoils of the land heaped in successive strata, and blended confusedly with the remains of fishes, or interspersed with broken shells and corals; when they see portions of erect trunks of trees with their roots still retaining their natural position, and one tier of these preserved in a fossil state above another, imagine that they are viewing the signs of a turbulent instead of a tranquil and settled state of the planet. They read in such phenomena the proof of chaotic disorder and reiterated catastrophes, instead of indications of a surface as habitable as the most delicious and fertile districts now tenanted by man.

Fig. 25.

Map of the Delta of the Ganges and Brahmapootra.

As an example of a still larger delta advancing upon the sea in opposition to more powerful tides, I shall next describe that of the Ganges and Brahmapootra (or Burrampooter). These, the two principal rivers of India, descend from the highest mountains in the world, and partially mingle their waters in the low plains of Hindostan, before reaching the head of the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmapootra, somewhat the larger of the two, formerly passed to the east of Dacca, even so lately as the beginning of the present century, pouring most of its waters into one of the numerous channels in the delta called “the Megna.” By that name the main stream was always spoken of by Rennell and others in their memoirs on this region. But the main trunk now unites with an arm of the Ganges considerably higher up, at a point about 100 miles distant from the sea; and it is constantly, according to Dr. Hooker, working its way westward, having formerly, as may be seen by ancient maps, moved eastward for a long period.

The area of the delta of the combined rivers, for it is impossible now to distinguish what belongs to each, is considerably more than double that of the Nile, even if we exclude from the delta a large extent of low, flat, alluvial plain, doubtless of fluviatile origin, which stretches more than 100 miles to the hills west of Calcutta (see map, fig. 25), and much farther in a northerly direction beyond the head of the great delta. The head of a delta is that point where the first arm is given off. Above that point a river receives the waters of tributaries flowing from higher levels; below it, on the contrary, it gives out portions of its waters to lower levels, through channels which flow into adjoining swamps, or which run directly to the sea. The Mississippi, as before described, has a single head, which originated at an unknown period when the Red River joined it. In the great delta of Bengal there may be said to be two heads nearly equidistant from the sea, that of the Ganges (G, map, fig. 25), about 30 miles below Rajmahal, or 216 statute miles in a direct line from the sea, and that of the Brahmapootra (B), below Chirapoonjee, where the river issues from the Khasia mountains, a distance of 224 miles from the Bay of Bengal.

It will appear, by reference to the map, that the great body of fresh water derived from the two rivers enters the bay on its eastern side; and that a large part of the delta bordering on the sea is composed of a labyrinth of rivers and creeks, all filled with salt water, except those immediately communicating with the Hoogly, or principal arm of the Ganges. This tract alone, known by the name of the Woods, or Sunderbunds (more properly Soonderbuns), a wilderness infested by tigers and crocodiles, is, according to Rennell, equal in extent to the whole principality of Wales.14

On the sea-coast there are eight great openings, each of which has evidently, at some ancient period, served in its turn as the principal channel of discharge. Although the flux and reflux of the tide extend even to the heads of the delta when the rivers are low, yet, when they are periodically swollen by tropical rains, their volume and velocity counteract the tidal current, so that, except very near the sea, the ebb and flow become insensible. During the flood season, therefore, the Ganges and Brahmapootra almost assume in their delta, the character of rivers entering an inland sea; the movements of the ocean being then subordinate to the force of the rivers, and only slightly disturbing their operations. The great gain of the delta in height and area takes place during the inundations; and, during other seasons of the year, the ocean makes reprisals, scouring out the channels, and sometimes devouring rich alluvial plains.

Islands formed and destroyed.—Major R. H. Colebrooke, in his account of the course of the Ganges, relates examples of the rapid filling up of some of its branches, and the excavation of new channels, where the number of square miles of soil removed in a short time (the column of earth being 114 feet high) was truly astonishing. Forty square miles, or 25,600 acres, are mentioned as having been carried away, in one place, in the course of a few years.15 The immense transportation of earthy matter by the Ganges and Brahmapootra is proved by the great magnitude of the islands formed in their channels during a period far short of that of a man’s life. Some of these, many miles in extent, have originated in large sand-banks thrown up round the points at the angular turning of the rivers, and afterwards insulated by breaches of the streams. Others, formed in the main channel, are caused by some obstruction at the bottom. A large tree, or a sunken boat, is sometimes sufficient to check the current, and cause a deposit of sand, which accumulates till it usurps a considerable portion of the channel. The river then undermines its banks on each side, to supply the deficiency in its bed, and the island is afterwards raised by fresh deposits during every flood. In the great gulf below Luckipour, formed by the united waters of the Ganges and Megna, some of the islands, says Rennell, rival in size and fertility the Isle of Wight. While the river is forming new islands in one part, it is sweeping away old ones in others. Those newly formed are soon overrun with reeds, long grass, the Tamarix Indica, and other shrubs, forming impenetrable thickets, where the tiger, the rhinoceros, the buffalo, deer, and other wild animals, take shelter. It is easy, therefore, to perceive, that both animal and vegetable remains may occasionally be precipitated into the flood, and become imbedded in the sediment which subsides in the delta.

Three or four species of crocodile, of two distinct sub-genera, abound in the Ganges, and its tributary and contiguous waters; and Mr. H. T. Colebrooke informed me, that he had seen both forms in places far inland, many hundred miles from the sea. The Gangetic crocodile, or Gavial (in correct orthography, Garial), is confined to the fresh water, living exclusively on fish, but the commoner kinds, called Koomiah and Muggar, frequent both fresh and salt, being much larger and fiercer in salt and brackish water.16 These animals swarm in the brackish water along the line of sand-banks, where the advance of the delta is most rapid. Hundreds of them are seen together in the creeks of the delta, or basking in the sun on the shoals without. They will attack men and cattle, destroying the natives when bathing, and tame and wild animals which come to drink. “I have not unfrequently,” says Mr. Colebrooke, “been witness to the horrid spectacle of a floating corpse seized by a crocodile with such avidity, that he half emerged above the water with his prey in his mouth.” The geologist will not fail to observe how peculiarly the habits and distribution of these saurians expose them to become imbedded in the horizontal strata of fine mud, which are annually deposited over many hundred square miles in the Bay of Bengal. The inhabitants of the land, which happen to be drowned or thrown into the water, are usually devoured by these voracious reptiles; but we may suppose the remains of the saurians themselves to be continually entombed in the new formations. The number, also, of bodies of the poorer class of Hindoos thrown annually into the Ganges is so great, that some of their bones or skeletons can hardly fail to be occasionally enveloped in fluviatile mud.

It sometimes happens, at the season when the periodical flood is at its height, that a strong gale of wind, conspiring with a high springtide, checks the descending current of the river, and gives rise to most destructive inundations. From this cause, in 1763, the waters at Luckipour rose six feet above their ordinary level, and the inhabitants of a considerable district, with their houses and cattle, were totally swept away.

The population of all oceanic deltas are particularly exposed to suffer by such catastrophes, recurring at considerable intervals of time; and we may safely assume that such tragical events have happened again and again since the Gangetic delta was inhabited by man. If human experience and forethought cannot always guard against these calamities, still less can the inferior animals avoid them; and the monuments of such disastrous inundations must be looked for in great abundance in strata of all ages, if the surface of our planet has always been governed by the same laws. When we reflect on the general order and tranquillity that reigns in the rich and populous delta of Bengal, notwithstanding the havoc occasionally committed by the depredations of the ocean, we perceive how unnecessary it is to attribute the imbedding of successive races of animals in older strata to extraordinary energy in the causes of decay and reproduction in the infancy of our planet, or to those general catastrophes and sudden revolutions so often resorted to.

Deposits in the delta.—The quantity of mud held in suspension by the waters of the Ganges and Brahmapootra is found, as might be expected, to exceed that of any of the rivers alluded to in this or the preceding chapters; for, in the first place, their feeders flow from mountains of unrivalled altitude, and do not clear themselves in any lakes, as does the Rhine in the Lake of Constance, or the Rhone in that of Geneva. And, secondly, their whole course is nearer the equator than that of the Mississippi, or any great river, respecting which careful experiments have been made, to determine the quantity of its water and earthy contents. The fall of rain, moreover, as we have before seen, is excessive on the southern flanks of the first range of mountains which rise from the plains of Hindostan, and still more remarkable is the quantity sometimes poured down in one day. (See above, p. 200.) The sea, where the Ganges and Brahmapootra discharge their main stream at the flood season, only recovers its transparency at the distance of from 60 to 100 miles from the delta; and we may take for granted that the current continues to transport the finer particles much farther south than where the surface water first becomes clear. The general slope, therefore, of the new strata must be extremely gentle. According to the best charts, there is a gradual deepening from four to about sixty fathoms, as we proceed from the base of the delta to the distance of about one hundred miles into the Bay of Bengal. At some few points seventy, or even one hundred, fathoms are obtained at that distance.

One remarkable exception, however, occurs to the regularity of the shape of the bottom. Opposite the middle of the delta, at the distance of thirty or forty miles from the coast, a deep submarine valley occurs, called the “swatch of no ground,” about fifteen miles in diameter, where soundings of 180, and even 300, fathoms fail to reach the bottom. (See map, p. 275.) This phenomenon is the more extraordinary, since the depression runs north to within five miles of the line of shoals; and not only do the waters charged with sediment pass over it continually, but, during the monsoons, the sea, loaded with mud and sand, is beaten back in that direction towards the delta. As the mud is known to extend for eighty miles farther into the gulf, an enormous thickness of matter must have been deposited in “the swatch.” We may conclude, therefore, either that the original depth of this part of the Bay of Bengal was excessive, or that subsidences have occurred in modern times. The latter conjecture is the less improbable, as the whole area of the delta has been convulsed in the historical era by earthquakes, and actual subsidences have taken place in the neighboring coast of Chittagong, while “the swatch” lies not far from the volcanic band which connects Sumatra, Barren Island, and Ramree.17

Opposite the mouth of the Hoogly river, and immediately south of Saugor Island, four miles from the nearest land of the delta, a new islet was formed about twenty years ago, called Edmonstone Island, on the centre of which a beacon was erected as a landmark in 1817. In 1818 the island had become two miles long and half a mile broad, and was covered with vegetation and shrubs. Some houses were then built upon it, and in 1820 it was used as a pilot station. The severe gale of 1823 divided it into two parts, and so reduced its size as to leave the beacon standing out in the sea, where, after remaining seven years, it was washed away. The islet in 1836 had been converted by successive storms into a sand-bank, half a mile long, on which a sea-mark was placed.

Although there is evidence of gain at some points, the general progress of the coast is very slow; for the tides, when the river water is low, are actively employed in removing alluvial matter. In the Sunderbunds the usual rise and fall of the tides is no more than eight feet, but, on the east side of the delta, Dr. Hooker observed, in the winter of 1851, a rise of from sixty to eighty feet, producing among the islands at the mouths of the Megna and Fenny rivers, a lofty wave or “bore” as they ascend, and causing the river water to be ponded back, and then to sweep down with great violence when the tide ebbs. The bay for forty miles south of Chittagong is so fresh that neither algæ nor mangroves will grow in it. We may, therefore, conceive how effective may be the current formed by so great a volume of water in dispersing fine mud over a wide area. Its power is sometimes augmented by the agitation of the bay during hurricanes in the month of May. The new superficial strata consists entirely of fine sand and mud; such, at least, are the only materials which are exposed to view in regular beds on the banks of the numerous creeks. Neither here or higher up the Ganges, could Dr. Hooker discover any land or freshwater shells in sections of the banks, which in the plains higher up sometimes form cliffs eighty feet in height at low water. In like manner I have stated18 that I was unable to find any buried shells in the delta or modern river cliffs of the Mississippi.

No substance so coarse as gravel occurs in any part of the delta of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, nor nearer the sea than 400 miles. Yet it is remarkable that the boring of an Artesian well at Fort William, near Calcutta, in the years 1835-1840, displayed, at the depth of 120 feet, clay and sand with pebbles. This boring was carried to a depth of 481 feet below the level of Calcutta, and the geological section obtained in the operation has been recorded with great care. Under the surface soil, at a depth of about ten feet, they came to a stiff blue clay about forty feet in thickness; below which was sandy clay, containing in its lower portion abundance of decayed vegetable matter, which at the bottom assumed the character of a stratum of black peat two feet thick. This peaty mass was considered as a clear indication (like the “dirt-bed” of Portland) of an ancient terrestrial surface, with a forest or Sunderbund vegetation. Logs and branches of a red-colored wood occur both above and immediately below the peat, so little altered that Dr. Wallich was able to identify them with the Soondri tree, Heritiera littoralis, one of the most prevalent forms, at the base of the delta. Dr. Falconer tells me that similar peat has been met with at other points round Calcutta at the depth of nine feet and twenty-five feet. It appears, therefore, that there has been a sinking down of what was originally land in this region, to the amount of seventy feet or more perpendicular; for Calcutta is only a few feet above the level of the sea, and the successive peat-beds seem to imply that the subsidence of the ground was gradual or interrupted by several pauses. Below the vegetable mass they entered upon a stratum of yellowish clay about ten feet thick, containing horizontal layers of kunkar (or kankar), a nodular, concretionary, argillaceous limestone, met with abundantly at greater or less depths in all parts of the valley of the Ganges, over many thousand square miles, and always presenting the same characters, even at a distance of one thousand miles north of Calcutta. Some of this kunkar is said to be of very recent origin in deposits formed by river inundations near Saharanpoor. After penetrating 120 feet, they found loam containing water-worn fragments of mica-slate and other kinds of rock, which the current of the Ganges can no longer transport to this region. In the various beds pierced through below, consisting of clay, marl, and friable sandstone, with kunkar here and there intermixed, no organic remains of decidedly marine origin were met with. Too positive a conclusion ought not, it is true, to be drawn from such a fact, when we consider the narrow bore of the auger and its effect in crushing shells and bones. Nevertheless, it is worthy of remark, that the only fossils obtained in a recognizable state were of a fluviatile or terrestrial character. Thus, at the depth of 350 feet, the bony shell of a tortoise, or trionyx, a freshwater genus, was found in sand, resembling the living species of Bengal. From the same stratum, also, they drew up the lower half of the humerus of a ruminant, at first referred to a hyæna. It was the size and shape, says Dr. Falconer, of the shoulder-bone of the Cervus porcinus, or common hog-deer, of India. At the depth of 380 feet, clay with fragments of lacustrine shells was incumbent on what appears clearly to have been another “dirt-bed,” or stratum of decayed wood, implying a period of repose of some duration, and a forest-covered land, which must have subsided 300 feet, to admit of the subsequent superposition of the overlying deposits. It has been conjectured that, at the time when this area supported trees, the land extended much farther out into the Bay of Bengal than now, and that in later times the Ganges, while enlarging its delta, has been only recovering lost ground from the sea.

At the depth of about 400 feet below the surface, an abrupt change was observed in the character of the strata, which were composed in great part of sand, shingle, and boulders, the only fossils observed being the vertebræ of a crocodile, shell of a trionyx, and fragments of wood very little altered, and similar to that buried in beds far above. These gravelly beds constituted the bottom of the section at the depth of 481 feet, when the operations were discontinued, in consequence of an accident which happened to the auger.

The occurrence of pebbles at the depths of 120 and 400 feet implies an important change in the geographical condition of the region around or near Calcutta. The fall of the river, or the general slope of the alluvial plain may have been formerly greater; or, before a general and perhaps unequal subsidence, hills once nearer the present base of the delta may have risen several hundred feet, forming islands in the bay, which may have sunk gradually, and become buried under fluviatile sediment.

Antiquity of the delta.—It would be a matter of no small scientific interest, if experiments were made to enable us to determine, with some degree of accuracy, the mean quantity of earthy matter discharged annually into the sea by the united waters of the Ganges and Brahmapootra. The Rev. Mr. Everest instituted, in 1831-2, a series of observations on the earthy matter brought down by the Ganges, at Ghazepoor, 500 miles from the sea. He found that, in 1831, the number of cubic feet of water discharged by the river per second at that place was, during the

Rains (4 months) 494,208
Winter (5 months) 71,200
Hot weather (3 months) 36,330

so that we may state in round numbers that 500,000 cubic feet per second flow down during the four months of the flood season, from June to September, and less than 60,000 per second during the remaining eight months.

The average quantity of solid matter suspended in the water during the rains was, by weight, 1/428th part; but as the water is about one-half the specific gravity of the dried mud, the solid matter discharged is 1/856th part in bulk, or 577 cubic feet per second. This gives a total of 6,082,041,600 cubic feet for the discharge in the 122 days of the rain. The proportion of sediment in the waters at other seasons was comparatively insignificant, the total amount during the five winter months being only 247,881,600 cubic feet, and during the three months of hot weather 38,154,240 cubic feet. The total annual discharge, then, would be 6,368,077,440 cubic feet.

This quantity of mud would in one year raise a surface of 228½ square miles, or a square space, each side of which should measure 15 miles, a height of one foot. To give some idea of the magnitude of this result, we will assume that the specific gravity of the dried mud is only one-half that of granite (it would, however, be more); in that case, the earthy matter discharged in a year would equal 3,184,038,720 cubic feet of granite. Now about 12½ cubic feet of granite weigh one ton; and it is computed that the great Pyramid of Egypt, if it were a solid mass of granite, would weigh about 600,000,000 tons. The mass of matter, therefore, carried down annually would, according to this estimate, more than equal in weight and bulk forty-two of the great pyramids of Egypt, and that borne down in the four months of the rains would equal forty pyramids. But if, without any conjecture as to what may have been the specific gravity of the mud, we attend merely to the weight of solid matter actually proved by Mr. Everest to have been contained in the water, we find that the number of tons weight which passed down in the 122 days of the rainy season was 339,413,760, which would give the weight of fifty-six pyramids and a half; and in the whole year 355,361,464 tons, or nearly the weight of sixty pyramids.

The base of the great Pyramid of Egypt covers eleven acres, and its perpendicular height is about five hundred feet. It is scarcely possible to present any picture to the mind which will convey an adequate conception of the mighty scale of this operation, so tranquilly and almost insensibly carried on by the Ganges, as it glides through its alluvial plain, even at a distance of 500 miles from the sea. It may, however, be stated, that if a fleet of more than eighty Indiamen, each freighted with about 1400 tons’ weight of mud, were to sail down the river every hour of every day and night for four months continuously, they would only transport from the higher country to the sea a mass of solid matter equal to that borne down by the Ganges, even in this part of its course, in the four months of the flood season. Or the exertions of a fleet of about 2000 such ships going down daily with the same burden, and discharging it into the gulf, would be no more than equivalent to the operations of the great river.

The most voluminous current of lava which has flowed from Etna within historical times was that of 1669. Ferrara, after correcting Borelli’s estimate, calculated the quantity of cubic yards of lava in this current at 140,000,000. Now, this would not equal in bulk one-fifth of the sedimentary matter which is carried down in a single year by the Ganges, past Ghazepoor, according to the estimate above explained; so that it would require five grand eruptions of Etna to transfer a mass of lava from the subterranean regions to the surface, equal in volume to the mud carried down in one year to that place.

Captain R. Strachey, of the Bengal Engineers, has remarked to me, not only that Ghazepoor, where Mr. Everest’s observations were made, is 500 miles from the sea, but that the Ganges has not been joined there by its most important feeders. These drain upon the whole 750 miles of the Himalaya, and no more than 150 miles of that mountain-chain have sent their contributions to the main trunk at Ghazepoor. Below that place, the Ganges is joined by the Gogra, Gunduk, Khosee, and Teesta from the north, to say nothing of the Sone flowing from the south, one of the largest of the rivers which rise in the table-land of central India. (See map, fig. 25, p. 275.) Moreover the remaining 600 miles of the Himalaya comprise that eastern portion of the basin where the rains are heaviest. (See above, p. 200.) The quantity of water therefore carried down to the sea may probably be four or five times as much as that which passes Ghazepoor.

The Brahmapootra, according to Major Wilcox,19 in the month of January, when it is near its minimum, discharges 150,000 cubic feet of water per second at Gwalpara, not many miles above the head of its delta. Taking the proportions observed at Ghazepoor at the different seasons as a guide, the probable average discharge of the Brahmapootra for the whole year may be estimated at about the same as that of the Ganges. Assuming this; and secondly, in order to avoid the risk of exaggeration, that the proportion of sediment in their waters is about a third less than Mr. Everest’s estimate, the mud borne down to the Bay of Bengal in one year would equal 40,000 millions of cubic feet, or between six and seven times as much as that brought down to Ghazepoor, according to Mr. Everest’s calculations in 1831, and ten times as much as that conveyed annually by the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Captain Strachey estimates the annually inundated portion of the delta at 250 miles in length by 80 in breadth, making an area of 20,000 square miles. The space south of this in the bay, where sediment is thrown down, may be 300 miles from E. to W. by 150 N. and S., or 45,000 square miles, which, added to the former, gives a surface of 65,000 square miles, over which the sediment is spread out by the two rivers. Suppose then the solid matter to amount to 40,000 millions of cubic feet per annum, the deposit, he observes, must be continued for forty-five years and three-tenths to raise the whole area a height of one foot, or 13,600 years to raise it 300 feet; and this, as we have seen, is much less than the thickness of the fluviatile strata actually penetrated, (and the bottom not reached) by the auger at Calcutta.

Nevertheless we can by no means deduce from these data alone, what will be the future rate of advance of the delta, nor even predict whether the land will gain on the sea, or remain stationary. At the end of 13,000 years the bay may be less shallow than now, provided a moderate depression, corresponding to that experienced in part of Greenland for many centuries shall take place (see chap. 30). A subsidence quite insensible to the inhabitants of Bengal, not exceeding two feet three inches in a century, would be more than sufficient to counterbalance all the efforts of the two mighty rivers to extend the limits of their delta. We have seen that the Artesian borings at Calcutta attest, what the vast depth of the “swatch” may also in all likelihood indicate, that the antagonist force of subsidence has predominated for ages over the influx of fluviatile mud, preventing it from raising the plains of Bengal, or from filling up a larger portion of the bay.

Concluding Remarks on Deltas.

Convergence of deltas.—If we possessed an accurate series of maps of the Adriatic for many thousand years, our retrospect would, without doubt, carry us gradually back to the time when the number of rivers descending from the mountains into that gulf by independent deltas was far greater in number. The deltas of the Po and the Adige, for instance, would separate themselves within the recent era, as, in all probability, would those of the Isonzo and the Torre. If, on the other hand, we speculate on future changes, we may anticipate the period when the number of deltas will greatly diminish; for the Po cannot continue to encroach at the rate of a mile in a hundred years, and other rivers to gain as much in six or seven centuries upon the shallow gulf, without new junctions occurring from time to time; so that Eridanus, “the king of rivers,” will continually boast a greater number of tributaries. The Ganges and the Brahmapootra have perhaps become partially confluent in the same delta within the historical, or at least within the human era; and the date of the junction of the Red River and the Mississippi would, in all likelihood, have been known, if America had not been so recently discovered. The union of the Tigris and the Euphrates must undoubtedly have been one of the modern geographical changes of our Earth, for Col. Rawlinson informs me that the delta of those rivers has advanced two miles in the last sixty years, and is supposed to have encroached about forty miles upon the Gulf of Persia in the course of the last twenty-five centuries.

When the deltas of rivers, having many mouths, converge, a partial union at first takes place by the confluence of some one or more of their arms; but it is not until the main trunks are connected above the head of the common delta, that a complete intermixture of their joint waters and sediment takes place. The union, therefore, of the Po and Adige, and of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, is still incomplete. If we reflect on the geographical extent of surface drained by rivers such as now enter the Bay of Bengal, and then consider how complete the blending together of the greater part of their transported matter has already become, and throughout how vast a delta it is spread by numerous arms, we no longer feel so much surprise at the area occupied by some ancient formations of homogeneous mineral composition. But our surprise will be still farther lessened, when we afterwards inquire (ch. 21) into the action of tides and currents in disseminating sediment.

Age of existing deltas.—If we could take for granted, that the relative level of land and sea had remained stationary ever since all the existing deltas began to be formed—could we assume that their growth commenced at one and the same instant when the present continents acquired their actual shape—we might understand the language of geologists who speak of “the epoch of existing continents.” They endeavor to calculate the age of deltas from this imaginary fixed period; and they calculate the gain of new land upon the sea, at the mouths of rivers, as having begun everywhere simultaneously. But the more we study the history of deltas, the more we become convinced that upward and downward movements of the land and contiguous bed of the sea have exerted, and continue to exert, an influence on the physical geography of many hydrographical basins, on a scale comparable in magnitude or importance to the amount of fluviatile deposition effected in an equal lapse of time. In the basin of the Mississippi, for example, proofs both of descending and ascending movements to a vertical amount of several hundred feet can be shown to have taken place since the existing species of land and freshwater shells lived in that region.20

The deltas also of the Po and Ganges have each, as we have seen (p. 257), when probed by the Artesian auger, borne testimony to a gradual subsidence of land to the extent of several hundred feet—old terrestrial surfaces, turf, peat, forest-land, and “dirt-beds,” having been pierced at various depths. The changes of level at the mouth of the Indus in Cutch (see below, chap. 27), and those of New Madrid in the valley of the Mississippi (see p. 270, and chap. 27), are equally instructive, as demonstrating unceasing fluctuations in the levels of those areas into which running water is transporting sediment. If, therefore, the exact age of all modern deltas could be known, it is scarcely probable that we should find any two of them in the world to have coincided in date, or in the time when their earliest deposits originated.

Grouping of strata in deltas.—The changes which have taken place in deltas, even within the times of history, may suggest many important considerations in regard to the manner in which subaqueous sediment is distributed. With the exception of some cases hereafter to be noticed, there are some general laws of arrangement which must evidently hold good in almost all the lakes and seas now filling up. If a lake, for example, be encircled on two sides by lofty mountains, receiving from them many rivers and torrents of different sizes, and if it be bounded on the other sides, where the surplus waters issue, by a comparatively low country, it is not difficult to define some of the leading geological features which must characterize the lacustrine formation, when this basin shall have been gradually converted into dry land by the influx of sediment. The strata would be divisible into two principal groups: the older comprising those deposits which originated on the side adjoining the mountains, where numerous deltas first began to form; and the newer group consisting of beds deposited in the more central parts of the basin, and towards the side farthest from the mountains. The following characters would form the principal marks of distinction between the strata in each series:—The more ancient system would be composed, for the most part, of coarser materials, containing many beds of pebbles and sand, often of great thickness, and sometimes dipping at a considerable angle. These, with associated beds of finer ingredients, would, if traced round the borders of the basin, be seen to vary greatly in color and mineral composition, and would also be very irregular in thickness. The beds, on the contrary, in the newer group, would consist of finer particles, and would be horizontal, or very slightly inclined. Their color and mineral composition would be very homogeneous throughout large areas, and would differ from almost all the separate beds in the older series.

The following causes would produce the diversity here alluded to between the two great members of such lacustrine formations:—When the rivers and torrents first reach the edge of the lake, the detritus washed down by them from the adjoining heights sinks at once into deep water, all the heavier pebbles and sand subsiding near the shore. The finer mud is carried somewhat farther out, but not to the distance of many miles, for the greater part may be seen, as, for example, where the Rhone enters the Lake of Geneva, to fall down in clouds to the bottom, not far from the river’s mouth. Thus alluvial tracts are soon formed at the mouths of every torrent and river, and many of these in the course of ages become of considerable extent. Pebbles and sand are then transported farther from the mountains; but in their passage they decrease in size by attrition, and are in part converted into mud and sand. At length some of the numerous deltas, which are all directed towards a common centre, approach near to each other; those of adjoining torrents become united, and each is merged, in its turn, in the delta of the largest river, which advances most rapidly into the lake, and renders all the minor streams, one after the other, its tributaries. The various mineral ingredients of all are thus blended together into one homogeneous mixture, and the sediment is poured out from a common channel into the lake.

As the average size of the transported particles decreases, while the force and volume of the main river augments, the newer deposits are diffused continually over a wider area, and are consequently more horizontal than the older. When at first there were many independent deltas near the borders of the basin, their separate deposits differed entirely from each other; one may have been charged, like the Arve where it joins the Rhone, with white sand and sediment derived from granite—another may have been black, like many streams in the Tyrol, flowing from the waste of decomposing rocks of dark slate—a third may have been colored by ochreous sediment, like the Red River in Louisiana—a fourth, like the Elsa in Tuscany, may have held much carbonate of lime in solution. At first they would each form distinct deposits of sand, gravel, limestone, marl, or other materials; but, after their junction, new chemical combinations and a distinct color would be the result, and the particles, having been conveyed ten, twenty, or a greater number of miles over alluvial plains, would become finer.

In those deltas where the tides and strong marine currents interfere, the above description would only be applicable, with certain modifications. If a series of earthquakes accompany the growth of a delta, and change the levels of the land from time to time, as in the region where the Indus now enters the sea, the phenomena will depart still more widely from the ordinary type. If, after a protracted period of rest, a delta sinks down, pebbles may be borne along in shallow water near the foot of the boundary hills, so as to form conglomerates overlying the fine mud previously thrown into deeper water in the same area.

Causes of stratification in deltas.—The stratified arrangement, which is observed to prevail so generally in aqueous deposits, is most frequently due to variations in the velocity of running water, which cannot sweep along particles of more than a certain size and weight when moving at a given rate. Hence, as the force of the stream augments or decreases, the materials thrown down in successive layers at particular places are rudely sorted, according to their dimensions, form, and specific gravity. Where this cause has not operated, as where sand, mud, and fragments of rock are conveyed by a glacier, a confused heap of rubbish devoid of all stratification is produced.

Natural divisions are also occasioned in deltas, by the interval of time which separates annually the deposition of matter during the periodical rains, or melting of snow upon the mountains. The deposit of each year may acquire some degree of consistency before that of the succeeding year is superimposed. A variety of circumstances also give rise annually, or sometimes from day to day, to slight variations in color, fineness of the particles, and other characters, by which alternations of strata distinct in texture and mineral ingredients must be produced. Thus, for example, at one period of the year, drift-wood may be carried down, and, at another, mud, as was before stated to be the case in the delta of the Mississippi; or at one time, when the volume and velocity of the stream are greatest, pebbles and sand may be spread over a certain area, over which, when the waters are low, fine matter or chemical precipitates are formed. During inundations, the turbid current of fresh water often repels the sea for many miles; but when the river is low, salt water again occupies the same space. When two deltas are converging, the intermediate space is often, for reasons before explained, alternately the receptacle of different sediments derived from the converging streams (see p. 272). The one is, perhaps, charged with calcareous, the other with argillaceous matter; or one sweeps down sand and pebbles, the other impalpable mud. These differences may be repeated with considerable regularity, until a thickness of hundreds of feet of alternating beds is accumulated. The multiplication, also, of shells and corals in particular spots, and for limited periods, gives rise occasionally to lines of separation, and divides a mass which might otherwise be homogeneous into distinct strata.

An examination of the shell marl now forming in the Scotch lakes, or the sediment termed “warp,” which subsides from the muddy water of the Humber and other rivers, shows that recent deposits are often composed of a great number of extremely thin layers, either even or slightly undulating, and preserving a general parallelism to the planes of stratification. Sometimes, however, the laminæ in modern strata are disposed diagonally at a considerable angle, which appears to take place where there are conflicting movements in the waters. In January, 1829, I visited, in company with Professor L. A. Necker, of Geneva, the confluence of the Rhone and Arve, when those rivers were very low, and were cutting channels through the vast heaps of débris thrown down from the waters of the Arve in the preceding spring. One of the sandbanks which had formed, in the spring of 1828, where the opposing currents of the two rivers neutralized each other, and caused a retardation in the motion, had been undermined; and the following is an exact representation of the arrangement of laminæ exposed in a vertical section. The length of the portion here seen is about twelve feet, and the height five. The strata A A consist of irregular alternations of pebbles and sand in undulating beds: below these are seams of very fine sand B B, some as thin as paper, others about a quarter of an inch thick. The strata C C are composed of layers of fine greenish-gray sand as thin as paper. Some of the inclined beds will be seen to be thicker at their upper, others at their lower extremity, the inclination of some being very considerable. These layers must have accumulated one on the other by lateral apposition, probably when one of the rivers was very gradually increasing or diminishing in velocity, so that the point of greatest retardation caused by their conflicting currents shifted slowly, allowing the sediment to be thrown down in successive layers on a sloping bank. The same phenomenon is exhibited in older strata of all ages.21

Fig. 26.

Section of a sand-bank in the bed of the Arve at its confluence with the Rhone, showing the stratification of deposits where currents meet.

If the bed of a lake or of the sea be sinking, whether at a uniform or an unequal rate, or oscillating in level during the deposition of sediment, these movements will give rise to a different class of phenomena, as, for example, to repeated alternations of shallow-water and deep-water deposits, each with peculiar organic remains, or to frequent repetitions of similar beds, formed at a uniform depth, and inclosing the same organic remains, and to other results too complicated and varied to admit of enumeration here.

Formation of conglomerates.—Along the base of the Maritime Alps, between Toulon and Genoa, the rivers, with few exceptions, are now forming strata of conglomerate and sand. Their channels are often several miles in breadth, some of them being dry, and the rest easily forded for nearly eight months in the year, whereas during the melting of the snow they are swollen, and a great transportation of mud and pebbles takes place. In order to keep open the main road from France to Italy, now carried along the sea-coast, it is necessary to remove annually great masses of shingle brought down during the flood season. A portion of the pebbles are seen in some localities, as near Nice, to form beds of shingle along the shore, but the greater part are swept into a deep sea. The small progress made by the deltas of minor rivers on this coast need not surprise us, when we recollect that there is sometimes a depth of two thousand feet at a few hundred yards from the beach, as near Nice. Similar observations might be made respecting a large proportion of the rivers in Sicily, and among others, respecting that which, immediately north of the port of Messina, hurries annually vast masses of granitic pebbles into the sea.

Constant interchange of land and sea.—I may here conclude my remarks on deltas, observing that, imperfect as is our information of the changes which they have undergone within the last three thousand years, they are sufficient to show how constant an interchange of sea and land is taking place on the face of our globe. In the Mediterranean alone, many flourishing inland towns, and a still greater number of ports, now stand where the sea rolled its waves since the era of the early civilization of Europe. If we could compare with equal accuracy the ancient and actual state of all the islands and continents, we should probably discover that millions of our race are now supported by lands situated where deep seas prevailed in earlier ages. In many districts not yet occupied by man, land animals and forests now abound where ships once sailed; and, on the other hand, we shall find, on inquiry, that inroads of the ocean have been no less considerable. When to these revolutions, produced by aqueous causes, we add analogous changes wrought by igneous agency, we shall, perhaps, acknowledge the justice of the conclusion of Aristotle, who declared that the whole land and sea on our globe periodically changed places.22

1 Flint’s Geography, vol. i. p. 142. Lyell’s Second Visit to the United States, vol. ii chaps. 28 to 34.

2 Geograph. Descrip. of Louisiana, by W. Darby, Philadelphia, 1816, p. 102.

3 Flint’s Geography, vol. i. p. 152.

4 Travels in North America, vol. iii. p. 361.

5 Travels in North America, vol. iii. p. 362.

6 “The boats are fitted,” says Captain Hall, “with what is called a snag-chamber;—a partition formed of stout planks, which is calked, and made so effectually water-tight that the foremost end of the vessel is cut off as entirely from the rest of the hold as if it belonged to another boat. If the steam-vessel happen to run against a snag, and that a hole is made in her bow, under the surface, this chamber merely fills with water.”—Travels in North America, vol. iii. p. 363.

7 Darby’s Louisiana, p. 33.

8 Featherstonhaugh, Geol. Report, Washington, 1835, p. 84.

9 Trees submerged in an upright position have been observed in other parts of N. America. Thus Captains Clark and Lewis found, about the year 1807, a forest of pines standing erect under water in the body of the Columbia river, which they supposed, from the appearance of the trees, to have been submerged only about twenty years. (Travels, &c. vol. ii. p. 241.) More lately (1835), the Rev. Mr. Parker observed on the same river (lat. 45° N., long. 121° W.) trees standing in their natural position in spots where the water was more than twenty feet deep. The tops of the trees had disappeared; but between high and low water-mark the trunks were only partially decayed; and the roots were seen through the clear water, spreading as they had grown in their native forest. (Tour beyond the Rocky Mountains, p. 132.) Some have inferred from these facts that a tract of land, more than twenty miles in length, must have subsided vertically; but Capt. Fremont, Dec. 1845 (Rep. of Explor. Exped. p. 195), satisfied himself that the submerged forests have been formed by immense land-slides from the mountains, which here closely shut in the river.

10 For an account of the “sunk country,” shaken by the earthquake of 1811-12, see Lyell’s Second Visit to the United States, ch. 33.

11 Darby’s Louisiana, p. 103.

12 The calculations here given were communicated to the British Association, in a lecture which I delivered at Southampton in September, 1846. (See Athenæum Journal, Sept. 26, 1846, and Report of British Association, 1846, p. 117.) Dr. Riddell has since repeated his experiments on the quantity of sediment in the river at New Orleans without any material variation in the results.

Mr. Forshey, in a memoir on the Physics of the Mississippi, published in 1850, adopts Dr. Riddell’s estimate for the quantity of mud, but takes 447,199 cubic feet per second as the average discharge of water for the year at Carrolton, nine miles above New Orleans, a result deduced from thirty years of observations. This being one-tenth more than I had assumed, would add a tenth to the sediment, and would diminish by one-eleventh the number of years required to accomplish the task above alluded to. “The cubic contents of sedimentary matter,” says Forshey, “are equal to 4,083,333,333, and this sediment would annually cover twelve miles square one foot deep.”

13 The Mississippi is continually shifting its course in the great alluvial plain, cutting frequently to the depth of 100, and even sometimes to the depth of 250 feet. As the old channels become afterwards filled up, or in a great degree obliterated, this excavation alone must have given a considerable depth to the basin, which receives the alluvial deposit, and subsidences like those accompanying the earthquake of New Madrid in 1811-12 may have given still more depth.

14 Account of the Ganges and Burrampooter rivers, by Major Rennell, Phil. Trans. 1781.

15 Trans. of the Asiatic Society, vol. vii. p. 14.

16 Cuvier referred the true crocodiles of the Ganges to a single species, C. biporcatus. But I learn from Dr. Falconer that there are three well-marked species, C. biporcatus, C. palustris, and C. bombifrons. C. bombifrons occurs in the northern branches of the Ganges, 1000 miles from Calcutta; C. biporcatus appears to be confined to the estuary; and C. palustris, to range from the estuary to the central parts of Bengal. The garial is found along with C. bombifrons in the north, and descends to the region of C. biporcatus in the estuary.

17 See below, ch. 22 and 29.

18 Second Visit to the United States, vol. ii. p. 145.

19 Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 466.

20 Lyell’s Second Visit to the United States, vol. ii. chap. 34.

21 See Manual of Geology by the Author.

22 See p. 13.

Chapter 19.

Destroying and Transporting Effects of Tides and Currents.

Difference in the rise of tides—Lagullas and Gulf currents—Velocity of currents—Causes of currents—Action of the sea on the British coast—Shetland Islands—Large blocks removed—Isles reduced to clusters of rocks—Orkney isles—Waste of East coast of Scotland—and East coast of England—Waste of the cliffs of Holderness, Norfolk, and Suffolk—Sand-dunes, how far chronometers—Silting up of estuaries—Yarmouth estuary—Suffolk coast—Dunwich—Essex coast—Estuary of the Thames—Goodwin Sands—Coast of Kent—Formation of the Straits of Dover—South coast of England—Sussex—Hants—Dorset—Portland—Origin of the Chesil Bank—Cornwall—Coast of Brittany.

Although the movements of great bodies of water, termed tides and currents, are in general due to very distinct causes, their effects cannot be studied separately; for they produce, by their joint action, aided by that of the waves, those changes which are objects of geological interest. These forces may be viewed in the same manner as we before considered rivers, first, as employed in destroying portions of the solid crust of the earth and removing them to other places; secondly, as reproductive of new strata.

Tides.—It would be superfluous at the present day to offer any remarks on the cause of the tides. They are not perceptible in lakes or in most inland seas; in the Mediterranean even, deep and extensive as is that sea, they are scarcely sensible to ordinary observation, their effects being quite subordinate to those of the winds and currents. In some places, however, as in the Straits of Messina, there is an ebb and flow to the amount of two feet and upwards; at Naples and at the Euripus, of twelve or thirteen inches; and at Venice, according to Rennell, of five feet.1 In the Syrtes, also, of the ancients, two wide shallow gulfs, which penetrate very far within the northern coast of Africa, between Carthage and Cyrene, the rise is said to exceed five feet.2

In islands remote from any continent, the ebb and flow of the ocean is very slight, as at St. Helena, for example, where it is rarely above three feet.3 In any given line of coast, the tides are greatest in narrow channels, bays, and estuaries, and least in the intervening tracts where the land is prominent. Thus, at the entrance of the estuary of the Thames and Medway, the rise of the spring tides is eighteen feet; but when we follow our eastern coast from thence northward, towards Lowestoff and Yarmouth, we find a gradual diminution, until at the places last mentioned, the highest rise is only seven or eight feet. From this point there begins again to be an increase, so that at Comer, where the coast again retires towards the west, the rise is sixteen feet; and towards the extremity of the gulf called “the Wash,” as at Lynn and in Boston Deeps, it is from twenty-two to twenty-four feet, and in some extraordinary cases twenty-six feet. From thence again there is a decrease towards, the north, the elevation at the Spurn Point being from nineteen to twenty feet, and at Flamborough Head and the Yorkshire coast from fourteen to sixteen feet.4

At Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, at the mouth of the Bristol Channel, the tides rise thirty-six feet; and at King-Road near Bristol, forty-two feet. At Chepstow on the Wye, a small river which opens into the estuary of the Severn, they reach fifty feet, and sometimes sixty-nine, and even seventy-two feet. A current which sets in on the French coast, to the west of Cape La Hague, becomes pent up by Guernsey, Jersey, and other islands, till the rise of the tide is from twenty to forty-five feet, which last height it attains at Jersey, and at St. Malo, a seaport of Brittany. The tides in the Basin of Mines, at the head of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, rise to the height of seventy feet.

There are, however, some coasts where the tides seem to offer an exception to the rule above mentioned; for while there is scarcely any rise in the estuary of the Plata in S. America, there is an extremely high tide on the open coast of Patagonia, farther to the south. Yet even in this region the tides reach their greatest elevation (about fifty feet) in the Straits of Magellan, and so far at least they conform to the general rule.5

Currents.—The most extensive and best determined system of currents, is that which has its source in the Indian Ocean under the influence of the trade winds; and which, after doubling the Cape of Good Hope, inclines to the northward, along the western coast of Africa, then across the Atlantic, near the equator, where it is called the equatorial current, and is lost in the Caribbean Sea, yet seems to be again revived in the current which issues from the Gulf of Mexico. From thence it flows rapidly through the Straits of Bahama, taking the name of the Gulf Stream, and passing in a northeasterly direction, by the Banks of Newfoundland, towards the Azores.

We learn from the posthumous work of Rennell on this subject, that the Lagullas current, so called from the cape and bank of that name, is formed by the junction of two streams, flowing from the Indian Ocean; the one from the channel of Mozambique, down the southeast coast of Africa; the other from the ocean at large. The collective stream is from ninety to one hundred miles in breadth, and runs at the rate of from two and a half to more than four miles per hour. It is at length turned westward by the Lagullas bank, which rises from a sea of great depth to within one hundred fathoms of the surface. It must therefore be inferred, says Rennell, that the current here is more than one hundred fathoms deep, otherwise the main body of it would pass across the bank, instead of being deflected westward, so as to flow round the Cape of Good Hope. From this cape it flows northward, as before stated, along the western coast of Africa, taking the name of the South Atlantic current. It then enters the Bight, or Bay of Benin, and is turned westward, partly by the form of the coast there, and partly, perhaps, by the Guinea current, which runs from the north into the same great bay. From the centre of this bay proceeds the equatorial current already mentioned, holding a westerly direction across the Atlantic, which it traverses, from the coast of Guinea to that of Brazil, flowing afterwards by the shores of Guiana to the West Indies. The breadth of this current varies from 160 to 450 geographical miles, and its velocity is from twenty-five to seventy-nine miles per day, the mean rate being about thirty miles. The length of its whole course is about 4000 miles. As it skirts the coast of Guiana, it is increased by the influx of the waters of the Amazon and Orinoco, and by their junction acquires accelerated velocity. After passing the island of Trinidad it expands, and is almost lost in the Caribbean Sea; but there appears to be a general movement of that sea towards the Mexican Gulf, which discharges the most powerful of all currents through the Straits of Florida, where the waters run in the northern part with a velocity of four or five miles an hour, having a breadth of from thirty-five to fifty miles.6

The temperature of the Gulf of Mexico is 86° F. in summer, or 6° higher than that of the ocean, in the same parallel (25° N. lat.), and a large proportion of this warmth is retained, even where the stream reaches the 43° N. lat. After issuing from the Straits of Florida, the current runs in a northerly direction to Cape Hatteras, in North Carolina, about 35° N. lat., where it is more than seventy miles broad, and still moves at the rate of seventy-five miles per day. In about the 40° N. lat., it is turned more towards the Atlantic by the extensive banks of Nantucket and St. George, which are from 200 to 300 feet beneath the surface of the sea; a clear proof that the current exceeds that depth. On arriving near the Azores, the stream widens, and overflows, as it were, forming a large expanse of warm water in the centre of the North Atlantic, over a space of 200 or 300 miles from north to south, and having a temperature of from 8° to 10° Fahr. above the surrounding ocean. The whole area, covered by the Gulf water, is estimated by Rennell at 2000 miles in length, and, at a mean, 350 miles in breadth; an area more extensive than that of the Mediterranean. The warm water has been sometimes known to reach the Bay of Biscay, still retaining five degrees of temperature above that of the adjoining ocean; and a branch of the Gulf current occasionally drifts fruits, plants, and wood, the produce of America and the West Indies, to the shores of Ireland and the Hebrides.

From the above statements we may understand why Rennell has characterized some of the principal currents as oceanic rivers, which he describes as being from 50 to 250 miles in breadth, and having a rapidity exceeding that of the largest navigable rivers of the continents, and so deep as to be sometimes obstructed, and occasionally turned aside, by banks, the tops of which do not rise within forty, fifty, or even one hundred fathoms of the surface of the sea.7

Greatest velocity of currents.—The ordinary velocity of the principal currents of the ocean is from one to three miles per hour; but when the boundary lands converge, large bodies of water are driven gradually into a narrow space, and then wanting lateral room, are compelled to raise their level. Whenever this occurs their velocity is much increased. The current which runs through the Race of Alderney, between the island of that name and the main land, has a velocity of about eight English miles an hour. Captain Hewett found that in the Pentland Firth, the stream, in ordinary spring tides, runs ten miles and a half an hour, and about thirteen miles during violent storms. The greatest velocity of the tidal current through the “Shoots” or New Passage, in the Bristol Channel, is fourteen English miles an hour; and Captain King observed, in his survey of the Straits of Magellan, that the tide ran at the same rate through the “First Narrows,” and about eight geographical miles an hour, in other parts of those straits.

Causes of currents.—That movements of no inconsiderable magnitude should be impressed on an expansive ocean, by winds blowing for many months in one direction, may easily be conceived, when we observe the effects produced in our own seas by the temporary action of the same cause. It is well known that a strong southwest or northwest wind invariably raises the tides to an unusual height along the west coast of England and in the Channel; and that a northwest wind of any continuance causes the Baltic to rise two feet and upwards above its ordinary level. Smeaton ascertained by experiment, that in a canal four miles in length, the water was kept up four inches higher at one end than at the other, merely by the action of the wind along the canal; and Rennell informs us that a large piece of water, ten miles broad, and generally only three feet deep, has, by a strong wind, had its waters driven to one side, and sustained so as to become six feet deep, while the windward side was laid dry.8

As water, therefore, he observes, when pent up so that it cannot escape, acquires a higher level, so, in a place where it can escape, the same operation produces a current; and this current will extend to a greater or less distance, according to the force by which it is produced. By the side of the principal oceanic currents, such as the Lagullas and the Gulf Stream, are parallel “counter-currents” running steadily in an opposite direction.

Currents flowing alternately in opposite directions are occasioned by the rise and fall of the tides. The effect of this cause is, as before observed, most striking in estuaries and channels between islands.

A third cause of oceanic currents is evaporation by solar heat, of which the great current setting through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean is a remarkable example, and will be fully considered in the next chapter. A stream of colder water also flows from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. It must happen in many other parts of the world that large quantities of water raised from one tract of the ocean by solar heat, are carried to some other where the vapor is condensed and falls in the shape of rain, and this, in flowing back again to restore equilibrium, will cause sensible currents.

These considerations naturally lead to the inquiry whether the level of those seas out of which currents flow, is higher than that of seas into which they flow. If not, the effect must be immediately equalized by under-currents or counter-currents. Arago is of opinion that, so far as observations have gone, there are no exact proofs of any such difference of level. It was inferred from the measurements of M. Lepére, that the level of the Mediterranean, near Alexandria, was lower by 26 feet 6 inches, than the Red Sea near Suez at low water, and about 30 feet lower than the Red Sea at the same place at high water,9 but Mr. Robert Stevenson affirms, as the result of a more recent survey, that there is no difference of level between the two seas.10

It was formerly imagined that there was an equal, if not greater, diversity in the relative levels of the Atlantic and Pacific, on the opposite sides of the Isthmus of Panama. But the levellings carried across that isthmus by Capt. Lloyd, in 1828, to ascertain the relative height of the Pacific Ocean at Panama, and of the Atlantic at the mouth of the river Chagres, have shown, that the difference of mean level between those oceans is not considerable, and, contrary to expectation, the difference which does exist is in favor of the greater height of the Pacific. According to this survey, the mean height of the Pacific is three feet and a half, or 3·52 above the Atlantic, if we assume the mean level of a sea to coincide with the mean between the extremes of the elevation and depression of the tides; for between the extreme levels of the greatest tides in the Pacific, at Panama, there is a difference of 27·44 feet; and at the usual spring tides 21·22 feet; whereas at Chagres this difference is only 1·16 feet, and is the same at all seasons of the year.

The tides, in short, in the Caribbean Sea are scarcely perceptible, not equalling those in some parts of the Mediterranean, whereas the rise is very high in the Bay of Panama; so that the Pacific is at high tide lifted up several feet above the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and then at low water let down as far below it.11 But astronomers are agreed that, on mathematical principles, the rise of the tidal wave above the mean level of a particular sea must be greater than the fall below it; and although the difference has been hitherto supposed insufficient to cause an appreciable error, it is, nevertheless, worthy of observation, that the error, such as it may be, would tend to reduce the small difference, now inferred, from the observations of Mr. Lloyd, to exist between the levels of the two oceans.

There is still another way in which heat and cold must occasion great movements in the ocean, a cause to which, perhaps, currents are principally due. Whenever the temperature of the surface of the sea is lowered, condensation takes place, and the superficial water, having its specific gravity increased, falls to the bottom, upon which lighter water rises immediately and occupies its place. When this circulation of ascending and descending currents has gone on for a certain time in high latitudes, the inferior parts of the sea are made to consist of colder or heavier fluid than the corresponding depths of the ocean between the tropics. If there be a free communication, if no chain of submarine mountains divide the polar from the equatorial basins, a horizontal movement will arise by the flowing of colder water from the poles to the equator, and there will then be a reflux of warmer superficial water from the equator to the poles. A well-known experiment has been adduced to elucidate this mode of action in explanation of the “trade winds.”12 If a long trough, divided in the middle by a sluice or partition, have one end filled with water and the other with quicksilver, both fluids will remain quiet so long as they are divided; but when the sluice is drawn up, the heavier fluid will rush along the bottom of the trough, while the lighter, being displaced, will rise, and, flowing in an opposite direction, spread itself at the top. In like manner the expansion and contraction of sea-water by heat and cold, have a tendency to set under-currents in motion from the poles to the equator, and to cause counter-currents at the surface, which are impelled in a direction contrary to that of the prevailing trade winds. The geographical and other circumstances being very complicated, we cannot expect to trace separately the movements due to each cause, but must be prepared for many anomalies, especially as the configuration of the bed of the ocean must often modify and interfere with the course of the inferior currents, as much as the position and form of continents and islands alter the direction of those on the surface. Thus on sounding at great depths in the Mediterranean, Captains Berard and D’Urville have found that the cold does not increase in a high ratio as in the tropical regions of the ocean, the thermometer remaining fixed at about 55° F. between the depths of 1000 and 6000 feet. This might have been anticipated, as Captain Smyth in his survey had shown that the deepest part of the Straits of Gibraltar is only 1320 feet, so that a submarine barrier exists there which must prevent the influx of any under-current of the ocean cooled by polar ice.

Each of the four causes above mentioned, the wind, the tides, evaporation, and the expansion and contraction of water by heat and cold, may be conceived to operate independently of the others, and although the influence of all the rest were annihilated. But there is another cause, the rotation of the earth on its axis, which can only come into play when the waters have already been set in motion by some one or all of the forces above described, and when the direction of the current so raised happens to be from south to north, or from north to south.

The principle on which this cause operates is probably familiar to the reader, as it has long been recognized in the case of the trade winds. Without enlarging, therefore, on the theory, it will be sufficient to offer an example of the mode of action alluded to. When a current flows from the Cape of Good Hope towards the Gulf of Guinea, it consists of a mass of water, which, on doubling the Cape, in lat. 35°, has a rotatory velocity of about 800 miles an hour; but when it reaches the line, where it turns westward, it has arrived at a parallel where the surface of the earth is whirled round at the rate of 1000 miles an hour, or about 200 miles faster. If this great mass of water was transferred suddenly from the higher to the lower latitude, the deficiency of its rotatory motion, relatively to the land and water with which it would come into juxtaposition, would be such as to cause an apparent motion of the most rapid kind (of no less than 200 miles an hour) from east to west.

In the case of such a sudden transfer, the eastern coast of America, being carried round in an opposite direction, might strike against a large body of water with tremendous violence, and a considerable part of the continent might be submerged. This disturbance does not occur, because the water of the stream, as it advances gradually into new zones of the sea which are moving more rapidly, acquires by friction an accelerated velocity. Yet as this motion is not imparted instantaneously, the fluid is unable to keep up with the full speed of the new surface over which it is successively brought. Hence, to borrow the language of Herschel, when he speaks of the trade winds, “it lags or hangs back, in a direction opposite to the earth’s rotation, that is, from east to west,”13 and thus a current, which would have run simply towards the north but for the rotation, may acquire a relative direction towards the west.

We may next consider a case where the circumstances are the converse of the above. The Gulf Stream flowing from about lat. 20° is at first impressed with a velocity of rotation of about 940 miles an hour, and runs to the lat. 40°, where the earth revolves only at the rate of 766 miles, or 174 miles slower. In this case a relative motion of an opposite kind may result; and the current may retain an excess of rotatory velocity, tending continually to deflect it eastward. Polar currents, therefore, or those flowing from high to low latitudes, are driven towards the eastern shores of continents, while tropical currents flowing towards the poles are directed against their western shores.

Thus it will be seen that currents depend, like the tides, on no temporary or accidental circumstances, but on the laws which preside over the motions of the heavenly bodies. But although the sum of their influence in altering the surface of the earth may be very constant throughout successive epochs, yet the points where these operations are displayed in fullest energy shift perpetually. The height to which the tides rise, and the violence and velocity of currents, depend in a great measure on the actual configuration of the land, the contour of a long line of continental or insular coast, the depth and breadth of channels, the peculiar form of the bottom of seas—in a word, on a combination of circumstances which are made to vary continually by many igneous and aqueous causes, and, amongst the rest, by the tides and currents themselves. Although these agents, therefore, of decay and reproduction are local in reference to periods of short duration, such as those which history embraces, they are nevertheless universal, if we extend our views to a sufficient lapse of ages.

Destroying and transporting power of currents.—After these preliminary remarks on the nature and causes of currents, their velocity and direction, we may next consider their action on the solid materials of the earth. We shall find that their efforts are, in many respects, strictly analogous to those of rivers. I have already treated in the third chapter, of the manner in which currents sometimes combine with ice, in carrying mud, pebbles, and large fragments of rock to great distances. Their operations are more concealed from our view than those of rivers, but extend over wider areas, and are therefore of more geological importance.

Waste of the British coasts.Shetland Islands.—If we follow the eastern and southern shores of the British islands, from our Ultima Thule in Shetland to the Land’s End in Cornwall, we shall find evidence of a series of changes since the historical era, very illustrative of the kind and degree of force exerted by tides and currents co-operating with the waves of the sea. In this survey we shall have an opportunity of tracing their joint power on islands, promontories, bays, and estuaries; on bold, lofty cliffs, as well as on low shores; and on every description of rock and soil, from granite to blown sand.

The northernmost group of the British islands, the Shetland, are composed of a great variety of rocks, including granite, gneiss, mica-slate, serpentine, greenstone, and many others, with some secondary rocks, chiefly sandstone and conglomerate. These islands are exposed continually to the uncontrolled violence of the Atlantic, for no land intervenes between their western shores and America. The prevalence, therefore, of strong westerly gales, causes the waves to be sometimes driven with irresistible force upon the coast, while there is also a current setting from the north. The spray of the sea aids the decomposition of the rocks, and prepares them to be breached by the mechanical force of the waves. Steep cliffs are hollowed out into deep caves and lofty arches; and almost every promontory ends in a cluster of rocks, imitating the forms of columns, pinnacles, and obelisks.

Drifting of large masses of rock.—Modern observations show that the reduction of continuous tracts to such insular masses is a process in which nature is still actively engaged. “The isle of Stenness,” says Dr. Hibbert, “presents a scene of unequalled desolation. In stormy winters, huge blocks of stones are overturned, or are removed from their native beds, and hurried up a slight acclivity to a distance almost incredible. In the winter of 1802, a tabular-shaped mass, eight feet two inches by seven feet, and five feet one inch thick, was dislodged from its bed, and removed to a distance of from eighty to ninety feet. I measured the recent bed from which a block had been carried away the preceding winter (A. D. 1818), and found it to be seventeen feet and a half by seven feet, and the depth two feet eight inches. The removed mass had been borne to a distance of thirty feet, when it was shivered into thirteen or more lesser fragments, some of which, were carried still farther, from 30 to 120 feet. A block, nine feet two inches by six feet and a half, and four feet thick, was hurried up the acclivity to a distance of 150 feet.”14

At Northmavine, also, angular blocks of stone have been removed in a similar manner to considerable distances by the waves of the sea, some of which are represented in the annexed figure.

Effects of lightning.—In addition to numerous examples of masses detached and driven by the waves, tides, and currents from their place, some remarkable effects of lightning are recorded in these isles. At Funzie, in Fetlar, about the middle of the last century, a rock of mica-schist, 105 feet long, ten feet broad, and in some places four feet thick, was in an instant torn by a flash of lightning from its bed, and broken into three large and several smaller fragments. One of these, twenty-six feet long, ten feet broad, and four feet thick, was simply turned over. The second, which was twenty-eight feet long, seventeen broad, and five feet in thickness, was hurled across a high point to the distance of fifty yards. Another broken mass, about forty feet long, was thrown still farther, but in the same direction, quite into the sea. There were also many smaller fragments scattered up and down.15

Fig. 27.

Stony fragments drifted by the sea. Northmavine, Shetland.

When we thus see electricity co-operating with the violent movements of the ocean in heaping up piles of shattered rocks on dry land and beneath the waters, we cannot but admit that a region which shall be the theatre, for myriads of ages, of the action of such disturbing causes, might present, at some future period, if upraised far above the bosom of the deep, a scene of havoc and ruin that may compare with any now found by the geologist on the surface of our continents.

In some of the Shetland Isles, as on the west of Meikle Roe, dikes, or veins of soft granite, have mouldered away; while the matrix in which they were inclosed, being of the same substance, but of a firmer texture, has remained unaltered. Thus, long narrow ravines, sometimes twenty feet wide, are laid open, and often give access to the waves. After describing some huge cavernous apertures into which the sea flows for 250 feet in Roeness, Dr. Hibbert, writing in 1822, enumerates other ravages of the ocean. “A mass of rock, the average dimensions of which may perhaps be rated at twelve or thirteen feet square, and four and a half or five in thickness, was first moved from its bed, about fifty years ago, to a distance of thirty feet, and has since been twice turned over.”

Passage forced by the sea through porphyritic rocks.—“But the most sublime scene is where a mural pile of porphyry, escaping the process of disintegration that is devastating the coast, appears to have been left as a sort of rampart against the inroads of the ocean;—the Atlantic, when provoked by wintry gales, batters against it with all the force of real artillery—the waves having, in their repeated assaults, forced themselves an entrance. This breach, named the Grind of the Navir (fig. 28), is widened every winter by the overwhelming surge that, finding a passage through it, separates large stones from its sides, and forces them to a distance of no less than 180 feet. In two or three spots, the fragments which have been detached are brought together in immense heaps, that appear as an accumulation of cubical masses, the product of some quarry.”16

Fig. 28.

Grind of the Navir—passage forced by the sea through rocks of hard porphyry.

1 Geog. of Herod, vol ii. p. 331.

2 Ibid. p. 328.

3 Romme, Vents et Courans, vol. ii. p. 2. Rev. F. Fallows, Quart. Journ. of Science, March, 1829.

4 The heights of these tides were given me by the late Captain Hewett, R. N.

5 On the authority of Admiral Sir F. Beaufort, R. N.

6 Consult the map of Currents by Capt. F. Beechy, R. N., Admiralty Manual, 1849, London.

7 Rennell on Currents, p. 58.

8 Rennell on the Channel current.

9 An. du Bureau des Long. 1836.

10 Second Parliamentary Report on Steam Communication with India, July, 1851.

11 Phil. Trans. 1830, p. 59.

12 See Capt. B. Hall, On Theory of Trade Winds, Fragments of Voy. second series, vol. i., and Appendix to Daniell’s Meteorology.

13 Treatise on Astronomy, chap. 3.

14 Descrip. of Shetland Islands, p. 527, Edin. 1822, to which work I am indebted for the following representations of rocks in the Shetland Isles.

15 Dr. Hibbert, from MSS. of Rev. George Low, of Fetlar.

16 Hibbert, p. 528.

It is evident from this example, that although the greater indestructibility of some rocks may enable them to withstand, for a longer time, the action of the elements, yet they cannot permanently resist. There are localities in Shetland, in which rocks of almost every variety of mineral composition are suffering disintegration; thus the sea makes great inroads on the clay slate of Fitfel Head, on the serpentine of the Vord Hill in Fetlar, and on the mica-schist of the Bay of Triesta, on the east coast of the same island, which decomposes into angular blocks. The quartz rock on the east of Walls, and the gneiss and mica-schist of Garthness, suffer the same fate.

Destruction of islands.—Such devastation cannot be incessantly committed for thousands of years without dividing islands, until they become at last mere clusters of rocks, the last shreds of masses once continuous. To this state many appear to have been reduced, and innumerable fantastic forms are assumed by rocks adjoining these islands to which the name of Drongs is applied, as it is to those of similar shape in Feroe.

Fig. 29.

Granitic rocks named the Drongs, between Papa Stour and Hillswick Ness.

Fig. 30.

Granitic rocks to the south of Hillswick Ness, Shetland.

The granite rocks (fig. 29), between Papa Stour and Hillswick Ness afford an example. A still more singular cluster of rocks is seen to the south of Hillswick Ness (fig. 30), which presents a variety of forms as viewed from different points, and has often been likened to a small fleet of vessels with spread sails.17 We may imagine that in the course of time Hillswick Ness itself may present a similar wreck, from the unequal decomposition of the rocks whereof it is composed, consisting of gneiss and mica-schist traversed in all directions by veins of felspar-porphyry.

Midway between the groups of Shetland and Orkney is Fair Island, said to be composed of sandstone with high perpendicular cliffs. The current runs with such velocity, that during a calm, and when there is no swell, the rocks on its shores are white with the foam of the sea driven against them. The Orkneys, if carefully examined, would probably illustrate our present topic as much as the Shetland group. The northeast promontory of Sanda, one of these islands, has been cut off in modern times by the sea, so that it became what is now called Start Island, where a lighthouse was erected in 1807, since which time the new strait has grown broader.

East coast of Scotland.—To pass over to the main land of Scotland, we find that in Inverness-shire there have been inroads of the sea at Fort George, and others in Morayshire, which have swept away the old town of Findhorn. On the coast of Kincardineshire, an illustration was afforded at the close of the last century, of the effect of promontories in protecting a line of low shore. The village of Mathers, two miles south of Johnshaven, was built on an ancient shingle beach, protected by a projecting ledge of limestone rock. This was quarried for lime to such an extent that the sea broke through, and in 1795 carried away the whole village in one night, and penetrated 150 yards inland, where it has maintained its ground ever since, the new village having been built farther inland on the new shore. In the bay of Montrose, we find the North Esk and the South Esk rivers pouring annually into the sea large quantities of sand and pebbles; yet they have formed no deltas, for the waves, aided by the current, setting across their mouths, sweep away all the materials. Considerable beds of shingle, brought down by the North Esk, are seen along the beach.

Proceeding southwards, we learn that at Arbroath, in Forfarshire, which stands on a rock of red sandstone, gardens and houses have been carried away since the commencement of the present century by encroachments of the sea. It had become necessary before 1828, to remove the lighthouses at the mouth of the estuary of the Tay, in the same county, at Button Ness, which were built on a tract of blown sand, the sea having encroached for three-quarters of a mile.

Force of waves and currents in estuaries.—The combined power which waves and currents can exert in estuaries (a term which I confine to bays entered both by rivers and the tides of the sea), was remarkably exhibited during the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the mouth of the Tay. The Bell Rock is a sunken reef, consisting of red sandstone, being from twelve to sixteen feet under the surface at high water, and about twelve miles from the mainland. At the distance of 100 yards, there is a depth, in all directions of two or three fathoms at low water. In 1807, during the erection of the lighthouse, six large blocks of granite, which had been landed on the reef, were removed by the force of the sea, and thrown over a rising ledge to the distance of twelve or fifteen paces; and an anchor, weighing about 22 cwt., was thrown up upon the rock.18 Mr. Stevenson informs us moreover, that drift stones, measuring upwards of thirty cubic feet, or more than two tons’ weight, have, during storms, been often thrown upon the rock from the deep water.19

Submarine forests.—Among the proofs that the sea has encroached on the land bordering the estuary of the Tay, Dr. Fleming has mentioned a submarine forest which has been traced for several miles along the northern shore of the county of Fife.20 But subsequent surveys seem to have shown that the bed of peat containing tree-roots, leaves, and branches, now occurring at a lower level than the Tay, must have come into its present position by a general sinking of the ground on which the forest grew. The peat-bed alluded to is not confined, says Mr. Buist, to the present channel of the Tay, but extends far beyond it, and is covered by stratified clay from fifteen to twenty-five feet in thickness, in the midst of which, in some places, is a bed full of sea-shells.21 Recent discoveries having established the fact that upward and downward movements have affected our island since the general coast-line had nearly acquired its present shape, we must hesitate before we attribute any given change to a single cause, such as the local encroachment of the sea upon low land.

On the coast of Fife, at St. Andrew’s, a tract of land, said to have intervened between the castle of Cardinal Beaton and the sea, has been entirely swept away, as were the last remains of the Priory of Crail, in the same county, in 1803. On both sides of the Frith of Forth, land has been consumed; at North Berwick in particular, and at Newhaven, where an arsenal and dock, built in the reign of James IV., in the fifteenth century, has been overflowed.

East coast of England.—If we now proceed to the English coast, we find records of numerous lands having been destroyed in Northumberland, as those near Bamborough and Holy Island, and at Tynemouth Castle, which now overhangs the sea, although formerly separated from it by a strip of land. At Hartlepool, and several other parts of the coast of Durham composed of magnesian limestone, the sea has made considerable inroads.

Coast of Yorkshire.—Almost the whole coast of Yorkshire, from the mouth of the Tees to that of the Humber, is in a state of gradual dilapidation. That part of the cliffs which consist of lias, the oolite series, and chalk, decays slowly. They present abrupt and naked precipices, often 300 feet in height; and it is only at a few points that the grassy covering of the sloping talus marks a temporary relaxation of the erosive action of the sea. The chalk cliffs are worn into caves and needles in the projecting headland of Flamborough, where they are decomposed by the salt spray, and slowly crumble away. But the waste is most rapid between that promontory and Spurn Point, or the coast of Holderness, as it is called, a tract consisting of beds of clay, gravel, sand, and chalk rubble. The irregular intermixture of the argillaceous beds causes many springs to be thrown out, and this facilitates the undermining process, the waves beating against them, and a strong current setting chiefly from the north. The wasteful action is very conspicuous at Dimlington Height, the loftiest point in Holderness, where the beacon stands on a cliff 146 feet above high water, the whole being composed of clay, with pebbles scattered through it.22 “For many years,” says Professor Phillips, “the rate at which the cliffs recede from Bridlington to Spurn, a distance of thirty-six miles, has been found by measurement to equal on an average two and a quarter yards annually, which, upon thirty-six miles of coast, would amount to about thirty acres a year. At this rate, the coast, the mean height of which above the sea is about forty feet, has lost one mile in breadth since the Norman Conquest, and more than two miles since the occupation of York (Eboracum) by the Romans.”23 The extent of this denudation, as estimated by the number of cubic feet of matter removed annually, will be again spoken of in chapter 22.

In the old maps of Yorkshire, we find spots, now sand-banks in the sea, marked as the ancient sites of the towns and villages of Auburn, Hartburn, and Hyde. “Of Hyde,” says Pennant, “only the tradition is left; and near the village of Hornsea, a street called Hornsea Beck has long since been swallowed.”24 Owthorne and its church have also been in great part destroyed, and the village of Kilnsea; but these places are now removed farther inland. The annual rate of encroachment at Owthorne for several years preceding 1830, is stated to have averaged about four yards. Not unreasonable fears are entertained that at some future time the Spurn Point will become an island, and that the ocean, entering into the estuary of the Humber, will cause great devastation.25 Pennant, after speaking of the silting up of some ancient ports in that estuary, observes, “But, in return, the sea has made most ample reprisals; the site, and even the very names of several places, once towns of note upon the Humber, are now only recorded in history; and Ravensper was at one time a rival to Hull (Madox, Ant. Exch. i. 422), and a port so very considerable in 1332, that Edward Baliol and the confederated English barons sailed from hence to invade Scotland; and Henry IV., in 1399, made choice of this port to land at, to effect the deposal of Richard II.; yet the whole of this has long since been devoured by the merciless ocean; extensive sands, dry at low water, are to be seen in their stead.”26

Pennant describes Spurn Head as a promontory in the form of a sickle, and says the land, for some miles to the north, was “perpetually preyed on by the fury of the German Sea, which devours whole acres at a time, and exposes on the shores considerable quantities of beautiful amber.”

Lincolnshire.—The maritime district of Lincolnshire consists chiefly of lands that lie below the level of the sea, being protected by embankments. Some of the fens were embanked and drained by the Romans; but after their departure the sea returned, and large tracts were covered with beds of silt, containing marine shells, now again converted into productive lands. Many dreadful catastrophes are recorded by incursions of the sea, whereby several parishes have been at different times overwhelmed.

Norfolk.—The decay of the cliffs of Norfolk and Suffolk is incessant. At Hunstanton, on the north, the undermining of the lower arenaceous beds at the foot of the cliff, causes masses of red and white chalk to be precipitated from above. Between Hunstanton and Weybourne, low hills, or dunes, of blown sand, are formed along the shore, from fifty to sixty feet high. They are composed of dry sand, bound in a compact mass by the long creeping roots of the plant called Marram (Arundo arenaria). Such is the present set of the tides, that the harbors of Clay, Wells, and other places are securely defended by these barriers; affording a clear proof that it is not the strength of the material at particular points that determines whether the sea shall be progressive or stationary, but the general contour of the coast.

The waves constantly undermine the low chalk cliffs, covered with sand and clay, between Weybourne and Sherringham, a certain portion of them being annually removed. At the latter town I ascertained, in 1829, some facts which throw light on the rate at which the sea gains upon the land. It was computed, when the present inn was built, in 1805, that it would require seventy years for the sea to reach the spot: the mean loss of land being calculated, from previous observations, to be somewhat less than one yard, annually. The distance between the house and the sea was fifty yards; but no allowance was made for the slope of the ground being from the sea, in consequence of which the waste was naturally accelerated every year, as the cliff grew lower, there being at each succeeding period less matter to remove when portions of equal area fell down. Between the years 1824 and 1829, no less than seventeen yards were swept away, and only a small garden was then left between the building and the sea. There was, in 1829, a depth of twenty feet (sufficient to float a frigate) at one point in the harbor of that port, where, only forty-eight years before, there stood a cliff fifty feet high, with houses upon it! If once in half a century an equal amount of change were produced suddenly by the momentary shock of an earthquake, history would be filled with records of such wonderful revolutions of the earth’s surface; but, if the conversion of high land into deep sea be gradual, it excites only local attention. The flagstaff of the Preventive Service station, on the south side of this harbor, was thrice removed inland between the years 1814 and 1829, in consequence of the advance of the sea.

Farther to the south we find cliffs, composed, like those of Holderness before mentioned, of alternating strata of blue clay, gravel, loam, and fine sand. Although they sometimes exceed 300 feet in height, the havoc made on the coast is most formidable. The whole site of ancient Cromer now forms part of the German Ocean, the inhabitants having gradually retreated inland to their present situation, from whence the sea still threatens to dislodge them. In the winter of 1825, a fallen mass was precipitated from near the lighthouse, which covered twelve acres, extending far into the sea, the cliffs being 250 feet in height.27 The undermining by springs has sometimes caused large portions of the upper part of the cliffs, with houses still standing upon them, to give way, so that it is impossible, by erecting breakwaters at the base of the cliffs, permanently to ward off the danger.

Fig. 31.

Tower of the buried Church of Eccles, Norfolk, A. D. 1839.
The inland slope of the hills of blown sand is shown in this view, with the lighthouse of Hasborough in the distance.

17 Hibbert, p. 519.

18 Account of Erection of Bell Rock Lighthouse, p. 163.

19 Ed. Phil. Journ. vol. iii. p. 54, 1820.

20 Quart. Journ. of Sci. &c., No. xiii. N. S. March, 1830.

21 Buist, Quart. Journ. of Agricult., No. xlv. p. 34, June, 1839.

22 Phillips’s Geology of Yorkshire, p. 61.

23 Rivers, Mountains, and Sea-coast of Yorkshire p. 122, 1853, London.

24 Arctic Zoology, vol. i. p. 10, Introduction.

25 Phillips’s Geol. of York. p. 60.

26 Arct. Zool. vol. i. p. 13, Introd.

27 Taylor’s Geology of East Norfolk, p. 32.

On the same coast, says Mr. R. C. Taylor, the ancient villages of Shipden, Wimpwell, and Eccles have disappeared; several manors and large portions of neighboring parishes having, piece after piece, been swallowed up; nor has there been any intermission, from time immemorial, in the ravages of the sea along a line of coast twenty miles in length, in which these places stood.28 Of Eccles, however, a monument still remains in the rained tower of the old church, which is half buried in the dunes of sand within a few paces (60?) of the sea-beach (fig. 31). So early as 1605 the inhabitants petitioned James I. for a reduction of taxes, as 300 acres of land, and all their houses, save fourteen, had then been destroyed by the sea. Not one half that number of acres now remains in the parish, and hills of blown sand now occupy the site of the houses which were still extant in 1605. When I visited the spot in 1839, the sea was fast encroaching on the sand-hills, and had laid open on the beach the foundations of a house fourteen yards square, the upper part of which had evidently been pulled down before it had been buried under sand. The body of the church has also been long buried, but the tower still remains visible.

M. E. de Beaumont has suggested that sand-dunes in Holland and other countries may serve as natural chronometers, by which the date of the existing continents may be ascertained. The sands, he says, are continually blown inland by the force of the winds, and by observing the rate of their march we may calculate the period when the movement commenced.29 But the example just given will satisfy every geologist that we cannot ascertain the starting-point of dunes, all coasts being liable to waste,