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ART. I. THE CONSERVATISM OF NATURE; OR, LIFE VERSUS DENUDATION.-No. I.
FROM THE STAND-POINT OF COMMON OBSERVATION.
FROM the above heading it will be seen that we claim not the
power of scientific classification, or scientific detail. The character we assume is that of common observers. But even observers are held responsible in their relations and deference to scientific truth; a responsibility best fulfilled, we opine, in the estimation of Mr. Huxley, by profound reverence and profound silence. Should we be wanting in profundity of reverence and silence in his presence, the probability is we shall be reminded of our ignorance, and told, as he told a member of the British Association for the advancement of Science, that we are not competent to deal with the subject. Now, where right thinking and acting is demanded, the power of thought and of action is acknowledged, and, as a necessary sequence, the right of free speech follows. Mr. Huxley, as well as the "Observer," is amenable to the laws, conditions, and moral requirements which the right of free speech implies and imposes, especially the moral requirement of humility, for that is demanded of, and needed by, all; by the "savan" as well as the ploughman. The "Savan" may arise far above the difficulties and mysteries that puzzle the "ploughman," but it is only to come in contact with difficulties and mysteries more numerous and of a higher and more subtle kind. For as we near the infinite the abysses are deeper, the mountains higher, and the only way for even the philosopher to lay the demons that arise around him is, to take his stand on the known, the practical, and the good, and to bow, in humble reverence, before the ultimate, the infinite, just as the ploughman bows to facts which to him are equally mysterious and authoritative.
Of all the subjects which the mind of man has investigated, or can investigate, perhaps the science of Geology requires the greatest amount of that patience and candour, that prudence and humility, which ought to characterise all honest truthseekers, arising partly from the comparatively recent period during which attention has been given to geological investigation in the true spirit of the inductive philosophy; partly from the transmutation of many of its so-called facts into fiction; and partly from the wide and almost illimitable field which it opens up to all minds given to speculate and theorise. But if the scientific and theoretical in geology blend with and take root in the practical, and the practical rises to the platform of the scientific, if a man only infers from, and teaches to others, that which he knows, even geology, in its facts and bearings, may be successfully and usefully studied, not only by the "savan," but by all those who are possessed of no other philosophy higher than that of common observation and experience.
The facts intended to be discoursed of in these papers, "The Power of Life, versus the Power of Denudation," like all other facts, lead to an infinite variety of speculation if pursued to their ultimates; speculation in which the "village swain cannot advance many degrees beyond the facts themselves. But as to whether life exists at this point, or has been destroyed by denuing influence, at that point the swain can decide just as well as the "savan." The question is not respecting the philosophy of agents, but their operative results, and their operative results at a point which he sees and knows. For whether a stone, or a rock, in the bed of a river is the seat on which is perched a fresh water shell, or covered by a vegetable covering, or whether it has been denuded from its original condition and form, are questions which the common observer is competent to decide; and as to surety of results, we hold that this power to observe is all the skill required in relation to the question in hand by the mode of investigating it which we propose. For in order to secure competency and surety of results, we purpose to limit our statements to investigations, and facts observed within a district well-known to us, viz.: To the conservatism and balance of nature, as exhibited on the face of the carboniferous system as existing and developed within the water-sheds of the rivers Wear and Tees. Our chief reason for thus limiting our statements is that we have never thoroughly investigated the existence and operations of animal and vegetable life in any of the more recent systems and series of existing strata. We believe that the phenomena of vegetable and animal life, as far as our own country is concerned, are much the same to what they are the wide world over; but we limit our reasonings and remarks to the facts which have come under our own observation in the streams and valleys and mountains of our own locality. We pass, also, without
remark the operations of the sea as a denuder, knowing little by accurate observation of its doings, and perhaps less of its philosophy. But the foundations and bulwarks of our native hills we have examined, and as far as the natural influences now operating upon and amongst them go, we find the faith of our childhood confirmed, and believe that in their present form, without any sensible variation, worthy of note, that even geologically they are everlasting, except He who is the source of all law and the creator of all systems in the exercise of his power shall say, "Let there be death." We almost fancy we see the smile of sarcasm playing on the countenance of a "professional," should he condescend to read such remarks as the foregoing; a compliment that we trust we shall appreciate at its true value, and one we are afraid we shall only be too ready to return. But we would remind the scoffer that the remarks just made relate more to our faith than to our philosophy. We believe that, in the district named above, the influences of life and destruction are so finely balanced, that separated from all foreign influences they would continue for ever, that is, reasoning from the actual to the probable, for if a state of things can endure one thousand years, why not ten thousand, or for ever, if the present balance of natural forces endures? But when we reason, as we sometimes do, from the possible to the actual, and prophesy the future from the past, we see at once that by a slow (it may be imperceptible) sinking of the sea shore, or the setting in of a "Glacier frost," all the sanctity and beauty of our mountain home may be invaded, and destroyed, and sunk in the ocean, to be no more seen, except some last memento of it floating past on an iceberg. But our faith is firm in the continuance of the present balance of nature, and, therefore, hopeful of the future, though, as will be perceived, like the faith of all nonprofessionals, it includes a great deal more than our knowledge has attained unto. But for the present we leave the subject of Faith, and proceed to
A STATEMENT OF THE CASE.
If one position is assumed in geological science with greater confidence than another, it is that all the sedimentary strata of the globe have been derived from the primary, and that the present agents of denudation have been the excavators, separators, conveyers, and depositors of them in their present position and condition. This is the position assumed by the moderates, while the advanced geologists contend that these agents are working as powerfully, universally, and systematically as ever they did in the past, or as a recent writer (after enumerating all the denuding influences referred to) says, "To what, it may be asked, does all this lead? If such a constant destruction of the land be a part
of the system of nature, it necessarily follows that if her laws continue to endure, the whole of our present continents must in time disappear under the surface of the sea. Undoubtedly to that, and to no other conclusion must we arrive; but such a transference of the land which now rises above the surface of the sea is in perfect accordance with what geology tells us has been the economy of nature in times past. All the stratified masses of which the crust of the earth is composed, however high their position may now be, must at one time have been at the bottom of the sea; and the materials of which they are composed must have constituted the component parts of other rocks, which, in a former condition of the earth's surface, must have been acted upon and abraded by similar agents. In every great group of strata we find beds composed of large water-worn fragments, materials supplied, most probably, by rivers which had a rapid descent to the sea; but as such water-courses form but a small proportion to those which traverse the low and level countries, and carry only the finer particles to the sea, so we find that the beds of conglomerates bear only a small proportion to those strata the materials of which are in a comminuted state-an additional fact in support of the doctrine, that the formation of strata in past times took place under circumstances analogous to those which are now in progress, that is, that the laws of the material world have continued unaltered. But renovation as well as decay is a part of the economy of nature, and the subterranean forces which raised our present continents may, in after ages, repeat the process, and other Alps and other Andes may be produced from the materials which are now washed from our shores, and are now accumulating in the unfathomable depths of the ocean."-English Cyclopædia, article Alluvium.
We have given the above extract from a work distinguished for moderation in the statement of scientific theory and teaching, and what we have now quoted may be taken as a fair and proper statement of the subject under discussion, and though it may appear rather inconsistent with the character we have assumed, i.e., common observers, and an apparent deviation from the matter of fact and practical character cf these papers, yet before entering more directly into the subject, we offer a few objections to the theory included in the paragraph just quoted.
Firstly,―This theory declares that the destruction of the present state of things is inevitable, and consequently that existence, organic and un-organic, sentient and rational must perish; that the security, order, and harmony of the present cannot be perpetuated into the future, for as our sea beach has been raised four feet in the present historical era, it necessarily follows that, like others of the geological eras of the past, it will be raised 4,000 feet in the future, or vice versa. As earthquakes have shaken our
earth, and in some localities rent it asunder, and engulphed cities with their inhabitants, shaken continents, and overturned mountains even in the present age, so will it be in the future; our present "Alps" must give place to "Alps higher still." A few volcanoes exist which have covered cities, mountains, and filled up valleys with their fiery lava. As this has occurred in the past so will it be in the future. They will deposit traps, basalts, even thicker and wider-spread than "The Great Whin Sill." Now all these things are possible, and may be, but are we sure that they will be? Are we quite sure that the logic by which we arrive at these conclusions is irrefragable?
Secondly, This theory reaches certain results by reasoning from data that are at best only probable. The past and the present may be the true interpreters of the future, or they may not; the known may be a prophecy of the unknown, or it may not; chaos may be the successor of order, or it may not; the present relation of law to law, as to equality of power and results, may be the same, or it may not. Has it been so in the past? The present balance of nature may be complete and perfect, or it may not. Has it been demonstrated that it is not complete? Who can affirm this fairly?
Thirdly,―This theory ignores the principle of design which is manifested in nature, and the fact to which her operations seems to point; not to an endless change, but to a definite end. Do not the past changes of the globe point to the present and the permanent? do not the lower developments of life indicate the higher? did not the deposition and existence of coal indicate its use and present applications? did not the stores of the useful and precious metals indicate the coming wants and applications of civilised life? did not the creation and existence of the diamond and ruby indicate that there was a fair one" to come whose arms and forehead they should adorn, and when this Queen of Beauty, in company with the "Antropological Savan" has actually walked on to, and has taken possession of the stage of the globe, are we not warranted in asserting that the fulness of geological time has now come, and that the great end of creation, as it regards the physical condition and configuration of the world, is now attained, viz:-That it is now a fit and proper habitation for man to dwell in? Talk of the formation of more limestone, coal, freestone, &c., where are the proofs that any more are needed? talk of "Alps" over and above those we now have, how many precious lives have been sacrificed in exploring those we have, and still they are comparatively unknown? Surely when the "Antropologist" has been developed, and such a profusion of subjects provided by nature for his investigation and the exercise of his philosophical