THE EARTH AS MODIFIED BY HUMAN ACTION.
A NEW EDITION OF MAN AND NATURE.
GEORGE P. MARSH.
"Not all the winds, and storms, and earthquakes, and seas, and seasons of the world, have done so much to revolutionize the earth as MAN, the power of an endless life, has done since the day he came forth upon it, and received dominion over it."—H. Bushnell, Sermon on the Power of an Endless Life.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The object of the present volume is: to indicate the character and, approximately, the extent of the changes produced by human action in the physical conditions of the globe we inhabit; to point out the dangers of imprudence and the necessity of caution in all operations which, on a large scale, interfere with the spontaneous arrangements of the organic or the inorganic world; to suggest the possibility and the importance of the restoration of disturbed harmonies and the material improvement of waste and exhausted regions; and, incidentally, to illustrate the doctrine that man is, in both kind and degree, a power of a higher order than any of the other forms of animated life, which, like him, are nourished at the table of bounteous nature.
In the rudest stages of life, man depends upon spontaneous animal and vegetable growth for food and clothing, and his consumption of such products consequently diminishes the numerical abundance of the species which serve his uses. At more advanced periods, he protects and propagates certain esculent vegetables and certain fowls and quadrupeds, and, at the same time, wars upon rival organisms which prey upon these objects of his care or obstruct the increase of their numbers. Hence the action of man upon the organic world tends to derange its original balances, and while it reduces the numbers of some species, or even extirpates them altogether, it multiplies other forms of animal and vegetable life.
The extension of agricultural and pastoral industry involves an enlargement of the sphere of man's domain, by encroachment upon the forests which once covered the greater part of the earth's surface otherwise adapted to his occupation. The felling of the woods has been attended with momentous consequences to the drainage of the soil, to the external configuration of its surface, and probably, also, to local climate; and the importance of human life as a transforming power is, perhaps, more clearly demonstrable in the influence man has thus exerted upon superficial geography than in any other result of his material effort.
Lands won from the woods must be both drained and irrigated; river-banks and maritime coasts must be secured by means of artificial bulwarks against inundation by inland and by ocean floods; and the needs of commerce require the improvement of natural and the construction of artificial channels of navigation. Thus man is compelled to extend over the unstable waters the empire he had already founded upon the solid land.
The upheaval of the bed of seas and the movements of water and of wind expose vast deposits of sand, which occupy space required for the convenience of man, and often, by the drifting of their particles, overwhelm the fields of human industry with invasions as disastrous as the incursions of the ocean. On the other hand, on many coasts, sand-hills both protect the shores from erosion by the waves and currents, and shelter valuable grounds from blasting sea-winds. Man, therefore, must sometimes resist, sometimes promote, the formation and growth of dunes, and subject the barren and flying sands to the same obedience to his will to which he has reduced other forms of terrestrial surface.
Besides these old and comparatively familiar methods of material improvement, modern ambition aspires to yet grander achievements in the conquest of physical nature, and projects are meditated which quite eclipse the boldest enterprises hitherto undertaken for the modification of geographical surface.
The natural character of the various fields where human industry has effected revolutions so important, and where the multiplying population and the impoverished resources of the globe demand new triumphs of mind over matter, suggests a corresponding division of the general subject, and I have conformed the distribution of the several topics to the chronological succession in which man must be supposed to have extended his sway over the different provinces of his material kingdom. I have, then, in the introductory chapter, stated, in a comprehensive way, the general effects and the prospective consequences of human action upon the earth's surface and the life which peoples it. This chapter is followed by four others in which I have traced the history of man's industry as exerted upon Animal and Vegetable Life, upon the Woods, upon the Waters, and upon the Sands; and to these I have added a concluding chapter upon Man.
It is perhaps superfluous to add, what indeed sufficiently appears upon every page of the volume, that I address myself not to professed physicists, but to the general intelligence of observing and thinking men; and that my purpose is rather to make practical suggestions than to indulge in theoretical speculations more properly suited to a different class from that for which I write.
GEORGE P. MARSH.
December 1, 1868.
PREFACE TO THE PRESENT EDITION.
In preparing for the press an Italian translation of this work, published at Florence in 1870, I made numerous corrections in the statement of both facts and opinions; I incorporated into the text and introduced in notes a large amount of new data and other illustrative matter; I attempted to improve the method by differently arranging many of the minor subdivisions of the chapters; and I suppressed a few passages which teemed to me superfluous. In the present edition, which is based on the Italian translation, I have made many further corrections and changes of arrangement of the original matter; I have rewritten a considerable portion of the work, and have made, in the text and in notes, numerous and important additions, founded partly on observations of my own, partly on those of other students of Physical Geography, and though my general conclusions remain substantially the same as those I first announced, yet I think I may claim to have given greater completeness and a more consequent and logical form to the whole argument
Since the publication of the original edition, Mr. Elisee Reclus, in the second volume of his admirable work, La Terre (Paris, 1868), lately made accessible to English-reading students, has treated, in a general way, the subject I have undertaken to discuss. He has, however, occupied himself with the conservative and restorative, rather than with the destructive, effects of human industry, and he has drawn an attractive and encouraging picture of the ameliorating influences of the action of man, and of the compensations by which he, consciously or unconsciously, makes amends for the deterioration which he has produced in the medium he inhabits. The labors of Mr. Reclus, therefore, though aiming at a much higher and wider scope than I have had in view, are, in this particular point, a complement to my own. I earnestly recommend the work of this able writer to the attention of my readers.
George P. Marsh
Rome, May 1, 1878.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Natural Advantages of the Territory of the Roman Empire—Physical Decay of that Territory—Causes of the Decay—Reaction of Man on Nature—Observation of Nature—Uncertainty of Our Historical Knowledge of Ancient Climates—Uncertainty of Modern Meteorology—Stability of Nature—Formation of Bogs—Natural Conditions Favorable to Geographical Change—Destructiveness of Man—Human and Brute Action Compared—Limits of Human Power—Importance of Physical Conservation and Restoration—Uncertainty as to Effects of Human Action
TRANSFER, MODIFICATION, AND EXTIRPATION OF VEGETABLE AND OF ANIMAL SPECIES.
Modern Geography takes Account of Organic Life—Geographical Importance of Plants—Origin of Domestic Vegetables—Transfer of Vegetable Life—Objects of Modern Commerce—Foreign Plants, how Introduced—Vegetable Power of Accommodation—Agricultural Products of the United States—Useful American Plants Grown in Europe—Extirpation of Vegetables—Animal Life as a Geological and Geographical Agency—Origin and Transfer of Domestic Quadrupeds—Extirpation of Wild Quadrupeds—Large Marine Animals Relatively Unimportant in Geography—Introduction and Breeding of Fish—Destruction of Fish—Geographical Importance of Birds—Introduction of Birds—Destruction of Birds—Utility and Destruction of Reptiles—Utility of Insects and Worms—Injury to the Forest by Insects—Introduction of Insects—Destruction of Insects—Minute Organisms
The Habitable Earth Originally Wooded—General Meteorological Influence of the Forest—Electrical Action of Trees—Chemical Influence of Woods—Trees as Protection against Malaria—Trees as Shelter to Ground to the Leeward—Influence of the Forest as Inorganic on Temperature—Thermometrical Action of Trees as Organic—Total Influence of the Forest on Temperature—Influence of Forests as Inorganic on Humidity of Air and Earth—Influence as Organic—Balance of Conflicting Influences—Influence of Woods on Precipitation—Total Climatic Action of the Forest—Influence of the Forest on Humidity of Soil—The Forest in Winter—Summer Rain, Importance of—Influence of the Forest on the Flow of Springs—Influence of the Forest on Inundations and Torrents—Destructive Action of Torrents—Floods of the Ardeche—Excavation by Torrents—Extinction of Torrents—Crushing Force of Torrents—Transporting Power of Water—The Po and its Deposits—Mountain Slides—Forest as Protection against Avalanches—Minor Uses of the Forest—Small Forest Plants and Vitality of Seeds—Locusts do not Breed in Forests—General Functions of Forest—General Consequences of Destruction of—Due Proportion of Woodland—Proportion of Woodland in European Countries—Forests of Great Britain—Forests of France—Forests of Italy—Forests of Germany—Forests of United States—American Forest Trees—European and American Forest Trees Compared—The Forest does not furnish Food for Man—First Removal of the Forest—Principal Causes of Destruction of Forest—Destruction and Protection of Forests by Governments—Royal Forests and Game-laws—Effects of the French Revolution—Increased Demand for Lumber—Effects of Burning Forest—Floating of Timber—Restoration of the Forest—Economy of the Forest—Forest Legislation—Plantation of Forests In America—Financial Results of Forest Plantations—Instability of American Life
Land Artificially Won from the Waters—Great Works of Material Improvement—Draining of Lincolnshire Fens—Incursions of the Sea in the Netherlands—Origin of Sea-dikes—Gain and Loss of Land in the Netherlands—Marine Deposits on the Coast of Netherlands—Draining of Lake of Haarlem—Draining of the Zuiderzee—Geographical Effects of—Improvements in the Netherlands—Ancient Hydraulic Works—Draining of Lake Celano by Prince Torlonia—Incidental Consequences of Draining Lakes—Draining of Marshes—Agricultural Draining—Meteorological Effects of Draining—Geographical Effects of Draining—Geographical Effects of Aqueducts and Canals—Antiquity of Irrigation—Irrigation in Palestine, India, and Egypt—Irrigation in Europe—Meteorological Effects of Irrigation—Water withdrawn from Rivers for Irrigation—Injurious Effects of Rice-culture—Salts Deposited by Water of Irrigation—Subterranean Waters—Artesian Wells—Artificial Springs—Economizing Precipitation—Inundations in France—Basins of Reception—Diversion of Rivers—Glacier Lakes—River Embankments—Other Remedies against Inundations—Dikes of the Nile—Deposits of Tuscan Rivers—Improvements in Tuscan Maremma—Improvements in Val di Chiana—Coast of the Netherlands
Origin of Sand—Sand now Carried to the Sea—Beach Sands of Northern Africa—Sands of Egypt—Sand Dunes and Sand Plains—Coast Dunes—Sand Banks—Character of Dune Sand—Interior Structure of Dunes—Geological Importance of Dunes—Dunes on American Coasts—Dunes of Western Europe—Age, Character, and Permanence of Dunes—Dunes as a Barrier against the Sea—Encroachments of the Sea—Liimfjord—Coasts of Schleswig-Holstein, Netherlands, and France—Movement of Dunes—Control of Dunes by Man—Inland Dunes—Inland Sand Plains
GREAT PROJECTS OF PHYSICAL CHANGE ACCOMPLISHED OR PROPOSED BY MAN.
Cutting of Isthmuses—Canal of Suez—Maritime Canals in Greece—Canals to Dead Sea—Canals to Libyan Desert—Maritime Canals in Europe—Cape Cod Canal—Changes in Caspian—Diversion of the Nile—Diversion of the Rhine—Improvements in North American Hydrography—Soil below Rock—Covering Rock with Earth—Desert Valleys—Effects of Mining—Duponchel's Plans of Improvement—Action of Man on the Weather—Resistance to Great Natural Forces—Incidental Effects of Human Action—Nothing Small In Nature
THE EARTH AS MODIFIED BY HUMAN ACTION.
Natural Advantages of the Territory of the Roman Empire.—Physical Decay of that Territory.—Causes of the Decay.—Reaction of Man on Nature.— Observation of Nature.—Uncertainty of Our Historical Knowledge of Ancient Climates.—Uncertainty of Modern Meteorology.—Stability of Nature.—Formation of Bogs—Natural Conditions Favorable to Geographical Change.—Destructiveness of Man—Human and Brute Action Compared.—Limits of Human Power.—Importance of Physical Conservation and Restoration—Uncertainty as to Effects of Human Action.
Natural Advantages of the Territory of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire, at the period of its greatest expansion, comprised the regions of the earth most distinguished by a happy combination of physical conditions. The provinces bordering on the principal and the secondary basins of the Mediterranean enjoyed in healthfulness and equability of climate, in fertility of soil, in variety of vegetable and mineral products, and in natural facilities for the transportation and distribution of exchangeable commodities, advantages which have not been possessed in any equal degree by any territory of like extent in the Old World or the New. The abundance of the land and of the waters adequately supplied every material want, ministered liberally to every sensuous enjoyment. Gold and silver, indeed, were not found in the profusion which has proved so baneful to the industry of lands richer in veins of the precious metals; but mines and river beds yielded them in the spare measure most favorable to stability of value in the medium of exchange, and, consequently, to the regularity of commercial transactions. The ornaments of the barbaric pride of the East, the pearl, the ruby, the sapphire, and the diamond—though not unknown to the luxury of a people whose conquests and whose wealth commanded whatever the habitable world could contribute to augment the material splendor of their social life—were scarcely native to the territory of the empire; but the comparative rarity of these gems in Europe, at somewhat earlier periods, was, perhaps, the very circumstance that led the cunning artists of classic antiquity to enrich softer stones with engravings, which invest the common onyx and cornelian with a worth surpassing, in cultivated eyes, the lustre of the most brilliant oriental jewels.
Of these manifold blessings the temperature of the air, the distribution of the rains, the relative disposition of land and water, the plenty of the sea, the composition of the soil, and the raw material of the primitive arts, were wholly gratuitous gifts. Yet the spontaneous nature of Europe, of Western Asia, of Libya, neither fed nor clothed the civilized inhabitants of those provinces. The luxuriant harvests of cereals that waved on every field from the shores of the Rhine to the banks of the Nile, the vines that festooned the hillsides of Syria, of Italy and of Greece, the olives of Spain, the fruits of the gardens of the Hesperides, the domestic quadrupeds and fowls known in ancient rural husbandry—all these were original products of foreign climes, naturalized in new homes, and gradually ennobled by the art of man, while centuries of persevering labor were expelling the wild vegetation, and fitting the earth for the production of more generous growths. Every loaf was eaten in the sweat of the brow. All must be earned by toil. But toil was nowhere else rewarded by so generous wages; for nowhere would a given amount of intelligent labor produce so abundant, and, at the same time, so varied returns of the good things of material existence.
Physical Decay of the Territory of the Roman Empire.
If we compare the present physical condition of the countries of which I am speaking, with the descriptions that ancient historians and geographers have given of their fertility and general capability of ministering to human uses, we shall find that more than one-half their whole extent—not excluding the provinces most celebrated for the profusion and variety of their spontaneous and their cultivated products, and for the wealth and social advancement of their inhabitants—is either deserted by civilized man and surrendored to hopeless desolation, or at least greatly reduced in both productiveness and population. Vast forests have disappeared from mountain spurs and ridges; the vegetable earth accumulated beneath the trees by the decay of leaves and fallen trunks, the soil of the alpine pastures which skirted and indented the woods, and the mould of the upland fields, are washed away; meadows, once fertilized by irrigation, are waste and unproductive because the cisterns and reservoirs that supplied the ancient canals are broken, or the springs that fed them dried up; rivers famous in history and song have shrunk to humble brooklets; the willows that ornamented and protected the banks of the lesser watercourses are gone, and the rivulets have ceased to exist as perennial currents, because the little water that finds its way into their old channels is evaporated by the droughts of summer, or absorbed by the parched earth before it reaches the lowlands; the beds of the brooks have widened into broad expanses of pebbles and gravel, over which, though in the hot season passed dryshod, in winter sealike torrents thunder; the entrances of navigable streams are obstructed by sandbars; and harbors, once marts of an extensive commerce, are shoaled by the deposits of the rivers at whose mouths they lie; the elevation of the beds of estuaries, and the consequently diminished velocity and increased lateral spread of the streams which flow into them, have converted thousands of leagues of shallow sea and fertile lowland into unproductive and miasmatic morasses.
Besides the direct testimony of history to the ancient fertility of the now exhausted regions to which I refer—Northern Africa, the greater Arabian peninsula, Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia and many other provinces of Asia Minor, Greece, Sicily, and parts of even Italy and Spain—the multitude and extent of yet remaining architectural ruins, and of decayed works of internal improvement, show that at former epochs a dense population inhabited those now lonely districts. Such a population could have been sustained only by a productiveness of soil of which we at present discover but slender traces; and the abundance derived from that fertility serves to explain how large armies, like those of the ancient Persians, and of the Crusaders and the Tartars in later ages, could, without an organized commissariat, secure adequate supplies in long marches through territories which, in our times, would scarcely afford forage for a single regiment.
It appears then, that the fairest and fruitfulest provinces of the Roman Empire, precisely that portion of terrestrial surface, in short, which, about the commencement of the Christian era, was endowed with the greatest superiority of soil, climate, and position, which had been carried to the highest pitch of physical improvement, and which thus combined the natural and artificial conditions best fitting it for the habitation and enjoyment of a dense and highly refined and cultivated population, are now completely exhausted of their fertility, or so diminished in productiveness, as, with the exception of a few favored oases that have escaped the general ruin, to be no longer capable of affording sustenance to civilized man. If to this realm of desolation we add the now wasted and solitary soils of Persia and the remoter East that once fed their millions with milk and honey, we shall see that a territory larger than all Europe, the abundance of which sustained in bygone centuries a population scarcely inferior to that of the whole Christian world at the present day, has been entirely withdrawn from human use, or, at best, is thinly inhabited by tribes too few in numbers, too poor in superfluous products, and too little advanced in culture and the social arts, to contribute anything to the general moral or material interests of the great commonwealth of man.
Causes of this Decay.
The decay of these once flourishing countries is partly due, no doubt, to that class of geological causes whose action we can neither resist nor guide, and partly also to the direct violence of hostile human force; but it is, in a far greater proportion, either the result of man's ignorant disregard of the laws of nature, or an incidental consequence of war and of civil and ecclesiastical tyranny and misrule. Next to ignorance of these laws, the primitive source, the causa causarum, of the acts and neglects which have blasted with sterility and physical decrepitude the noblest half of the empire of the Caesars, is, first, the brutal and exhausting despotism which Rome herself exercised over her conquered kingdoms, and even over her Italian territory; then, the host of temporal and spiritual tyrannies which she left as her dying curse to all her wide dominion, and which, in some form of violence or of fraud, still brood over almost every soil subdued by the Roman legions. [Footnote: In the Middle Ages, feudalism, and a nominal Christianity, whose corruptions had converted the most beneficent of religions into the most baneful of superstitions, perpetuated every abuse of Roman tyranny, and added new oppressions and new methods of extortion to those invented by older despotisms. The burdens in question fell most heavily on the provinces that had been longest colonized by the Latin race, and those are the portions of Europe which have suffered the greatest physical degradation. "Feudalism," says Blanqui, "was a concentration of scourges. The peasant, stripped of the inheritance of his fathers, became the property of inflexible, ignorant, indolent masters; he was obliged to travel fifty leagues with their carts whenever they required it; he labored for them three days in the week, and surrendered to them half the product of his earnings during the other three; without their consent he could not change his residence, or marry. And why, indeed, should he wish to marry, when he could scarcely save enough to maintain himself The Abbot Alcuin had twenty thousand slaves, called SERFS, who were forever attached to the soil. This is the great cauue of the rapid depopulation observed in the Middle Ages, and of the prodigious multitude of monasteries which sprang up on every side. It was doubtless a relief to such miserable men to find in the cloisters a retreat from oppression; but the human race never suffered a more cruel outrage, industry never received a wound better calculated to plunge the world again into the darkness of the rudest antiquity. It suffices to say that the prediction of the approaching end of the world, industriously spread by the rapacious monks at this time, was received without terror."—Resume de l'Histoire du Commerce, p. 156.] Man cannot struggle at once against human oppression and the destructive forces of inorganic nature. "When both are combined against him, he succumbs after a shorter or longer struggle, and the fields he has won from the primeval wood relapse into their original state of wild and luxuriant, but unprofitable forest growth, or fall into that of a dry and barren wilderness. The abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, which, in the time of Charlemagne, had possessed a million of acres, was, down to the Revolution, still so wealthy, that the personal income of the abbot was 300,000 livres. Theabbey of Saint-Denis was nearly as rich as that of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.—Lavergne, Economie Rurale de la France, p. 104.
Paul Louis Courier quotes from La Bruyere the following striking picture of the condition of the French peasantry in his time: "One sees certain dark, livid, naked, sunburnt, wild animals, male and female, scattered over the country and attached to the soil, which they root and turn over with indomitable perseverance. They have, as it were, an articulate voice, and when they rise to their feet, they show a human face. They are, in fact, men; they creep at night into dens, where they live on black bread, water, and roots. They spare other men the labor of ploughing, Bowing, and harvesting, and therefore deserve some small share of the bread they have grown." "These are his own words," adds Courier, "and he is speaking of the fortunate peasants, of those who had work and bread, and they were then the few."—Petition a la Chambre des Deputes pour les Villageois l'en empeche ce danser.
Arthur Young, who travelled in France from 1787 to 1789, gives, in the twenty-first chapter of his Travels, a frightful account of the burdens of the rural population even at that late period. Besides the regular governmental taxes, and a multitude of heavy fines imposed for trifling offense, he enumerates about thirty seignorial rights, the very origin and nature of some of which are now unknown, while those of some others are as repulsive to humanity and morality, as the worst abuses ever practised by heathen despotism. But Young underrates the number of these oppressive impositions. Moreau de Jonnes, a higher authority, asserts that in a brief examination he had discovered upwards of three hundred distinct lights of the feudatory over the person or the property of his vassal. See Etat Economique et Social de la France, Paris, 1890, p. 389. Most of these, indeed, had been commuted for money payments, and were levied on the peasantry as pecuniary imposts for the benefit of prelates and lay lords, who, by virtue of their nobility, were exempt from taxation. The collection of the taxes was enforced with unrelenting severity. On one occasion, in the reign of Louis XIV., the troops sent out against the recreant peasants made more than 3,000 prisoners, of whom 400 were condemned to the galleys for life, and a number so large that the government did not dare to disclose it, were hung on trees or broken on the wheel.—Moreau de Jonnes, Etat Economique et Social de la France, p. 420. Who can wonder at the hostility of the French plebeian classes towards the aristocracy in the days of the Revolution?
Rome imposed on the products of agricultural labor in the rural districts taxes which the sale of the entire harvest would scarcely discharge; she drained them of their population by military conscription; she impoverished the peasantry by forced and unpaid labor on public works; she hampered industry and both foreign and internal commerce by absurd restrictions and unwise regulations. [Footnote: Commerce, in common with all gainful occupations except agriculture, was despised by the Romans, and the exercise of it was forbidden to the higher ranks. Cicero, however, admits that though retail trade, which could only prosper by lying and knavery, was contemptible, yet wholesale commerce was not altogether to be condemned, and might even be laudable, provided the merchant retired early from trade and invested his gaits in farm lands.—De Officiis, lib. i.,42.] Hence, large tracts of land were left uncultivated, or altogether deserted, and exposed to all the destructive forces which act with such energy on the surface of the earth when it is deprived of those protections by which nature originally guarded it, and for which, in well-ordered husbandry, human ingenuity has contrived more or less efficient substitutes. [Footnote: The temporary depopulation of an exhausted soil may be, in some cases, a physical, though, like fallows in agriculture, a dear-bought advantage. Under favorable circumstances, the withdrawal of man and his flocks allows the earth to clothe itself again with forests, and in a few generations to recover its ancient productiveness. In the Middle Ages, worn-out fields were depopulated, in many parts of the Continent, by civil and ecclesiastical tyrannies, which insisted on the surrender of the half of a loaf already too small to sustain its producer. Thus abandoned, these lands often relapsed into the forest state, and, some centuries later, were again brought under cultivation with renovated fertility.] Similar abuses have tended to perpetuate and extend these evils in later ages, and it is but recently that, even in the most populous parts of Europe, public attention has been half awakened to the necessity of restoring the disturbed harmonies of nature, whose well-balanced influences are so propitious to all her organic offspring, and of repaying to our great mother the debt which the prodigality and the thriftlessness of former generations have imposed upon their successors—thus fulfilling the command of religion and of practical wisdom, to use this world as not abusing it.
Reaction of Man on Nature.
The revolutions of the seasons, with their alternations of temperature and of length of day and night, the climates of different zones, and the general conditions and movements of the atmosphere and the seas, depend upon causes for the most part cosmical, and, of course, wholly beyond our control. The elevation, configuration, and composition of the great masses of terrestrial surface, and the relative extent and distribution of land and water, are determined by geological influences equally remote from our jurisdiction. It would hence seem that the physical adaptation of different portions of the earth to the use and enjoyment of man is a matter so strictly belonging to mightier than human powers, that we can only accept geographical nature as we find her, and be content with such soils and such skies as she spontaneously offers.
But it is certain that man has reacted upon organized and inorganic nature, and thereby modified, if not determined, the material structure of his earthly home. The measure of that reaction manifestly constitutes a very important element in the appreciation of the relations between mind and matter, as well as in the discussion of many purely physical problems. But though the subject has been incidentally touched upon by many geographers, and treated with much fulness of detail in regard to certain limited fields of human effort and to certain specific effects of human action, it has not, as a whole, so tar as I know, been made matter of special observation, or of historical research, by any scientific inquirer. Indeed, until the influence of geographical conditions upon human life was recognized as a distinct branch of philosophical investigation, there was no motive for the pursuit of such speculations; and it was desirable to inquire how far we have, or can, become the architects of our own abiding place, only when it was known how the mode of our physical, moral, and intellectual being is affected by the character of the home which Providence has appointed, and we have fashioned, for our material habitation. [Footnote:Gods Almagt wenkte van den troon, En schiep elk volk een land ter woon: Hier vestte Zij een grondgebied, Dat Zij ona zelven scheppon llet.] It is still too early to attempt scientific method in discussing this problem, nor is our present store of the necessary facts by any means complete enough to warrant me in promising any approach to fulness of statement respecting them. Systematic observation in relation to this subject has hardly yet begun, and the scattered data which have chanced to be recorded have never been collected. It has now no place in the general scheme of physical science, and is matter of suggestion and speculation only, not of established and positive conclusion. At present, then, all that I can hope is to excite an interest in a topic of much economical importance, by pointing out the directions and illustrating the modes in which human action has been, or may be, most injurious or most beneficial in its influence upon the physical conditions of the earth we inhabit We cannot always distinguish between the results of man's action and the effects of purely geological or cosmical causes. The destruction of the forests, the drainage of lakes and marshes, and the operations of rural husbandry and industrial art have unquestionably tended to produce great changes in the hygrometric, thermometric, electric, and chemical condition of the atmosphere, though we are not yet able to measure the force of the different elements of disturbance, or to say how far they have been neutralised by each other, or by still obscurer influences; and it is equally certain that the myriad forms of animal and vegetable life, which covered the earth when man first entered upon the theatre of a nature whose harmonies he was destined to derange, have been, through his interference, greatly changed in numerical proportion, sometimes much modified in form and product, and sometimes entirely extirpated. [Footnote: Man has not only subverted the natural numerical relations of wild as well as domestic quadrupeds, fish, birds, reptile, insect, and common plants, and even of still humbler tribes of animal and vegetable life, but he has effected in the forms, habits, nutriment and products of the organisms which minister to his wants and his pleasures, changes which, more than any other manifestaion of human energy, resemble the exercise of a creative power. Even wild animals have been compelled by him, through the destruction of plants and insects which furnished their proper aliment, to resort to food belonging to a different kingdom of nature. Thus a New Zealand bird, originally granivorous and insectivorous, has become carnivorous, from the want of its natural supplies, and now tears the fleeces from the backs of the sheep, in order to feed on their living flesh. All these changes have exercised more or less direct or indirect action on the inorganic surface of the globe; and the history of the geographical revolutions thus produced would furnish ample material for a volume.
The modification of organic species by domestication is a branch of philosophic inquiry which we may almost say has been created by Darwin; but the geographical results of these modifications do not appear to have yet been made a subject of scientific investigation.
I do not know that the following passage from Pliny has ever been cited in connection with the Darwinian theories but it is worth a reference:
"But behold a very strange and new fashion of them [cucumbers] in Campane, for there you shall have abundance of them come up in forme of a Quince. And as I heare say, one of the channced so to grow first at a very venture; but afterwards from the seed of it came a whole race and progenie of the like, which therefore they call Melonopopones, as a man would say, the Quince-pompions or cucumbers"—Pliny, Nat. Hist., Holland's translation, book xix, c.5
The word cucumis used in the original of this passage embraces many of the cucurbitaceae, but the context shows that here means the cucumber.
The physical revolutions thus wrought by man have not indeed all been destructive to human interests, and the heaviest blows he has inflicted upon nature have not been wholly without their compensations. Soils to which no nutritious vegetable was indigenous, countries which once brought forth but the fewest products suited for the sustenance and comfort of man—while the severity of their climates created and stimulated the greatest number and the most imperious urgency of physical wants—surfaces the most rugged and intractable, and least blessed with natural facilities of communication, have been brought in modern times to yield and distribute all that supplies the material necessities, all that contributes to the sensuous enjoyments and conveniences of civilized life. The Scythia, the Thule, the Britain, the Germany, and the Gaul which the Roman writers describe in such forbidding terms, have been brought almost to rival the native luxuriance and easily won plenty of Southern Italy; and, while the fountains of oil and wine that refreshed old Greece and Syria and Northern Africa have almost ceased to flow, and the soils of those fair lands are turned to thirsty and inhospitable deserts, the hyperborean regions of Europe have learnod to conquer, or rather compensate, the rigors of climate, and have attained to a material wealth and variety of product that, with all their natural advantages, the granaries of the ancient world can hardly be said to have enjoyed.
Observation of Nature.
In these pages it is my aim to stimulate, not to satisfy, curiosity, and it is no part of my object to save my readers the labor of observation or of thought. For labor is life, and Death lives where power lives unused. [Footnote: Verses addressed by G. C. to Sir Walter Raleigh.—Haklutt, i., p. 608.]
Self is the schoolmaster whose lessons are best worth his wages; and since the subject I am considering has not yet become a branch of formal instruction, those whom it may interest can, fortunately, have no pedagogue but themselves. To the natural philosopher, the descriptive poet, the painter, the sculptor, and indeed every earnest observer, the power most important to cultivate, and, at the same time, hardest to acquire, is that of seeing what is before him. Sight is a faculty; seeing, an art. The eye is a physical but not a self-acting apparatus, and in general it sees only what it seeks. Like a mirror, it reflects objects presented to it; but it may be as insensible as a mirror, and not consciously perceive what it reflects. [Footnote: —I troer, at Synets Sands er lagt i Oiet, Mens dette kun er Redskab. Synet strommer Fra Sjaelens Dyb, og Oiets fine Nerver Gaae ud fra Hjernens hemmelige Vaerksted. Henrik Hertz, Kong Rene's Datter, sc. ii.
In the material eye, you think, sight lodgeth! The EYE is but an organ. SEEING streameth from the soul's inmost depths. The fine perceptive Nerve springeth from the brain's mysterious workshop.]
It has been maintained by high authority, that the natural acuteness of our sensuous faculties cannot be heightened by use, and hence, that the minutest details of the image formed on the retina are as perfect in the most untrained as in the most thoroughly disciplined organ. This may be questioned, and it is agreed on all hands that the power of multifarious perception and rapid discrimination may be immensely increased by well-directed practice. [Footnote: Skill in marksmanship, whether with firearms or with other projectile weapons, depends more upon the training of the eye than is generally supposed, and I have often found particularly good shots to possess an almost telescopic vision. In the ordinary use of the rifle, the barrel is guided by the eye, but there are sportemen who fire with the butt of the gun at the hip. In this case, as in the use of the sling, the lasso, and the bolas, in hurling the knife (see Babinet, Lectures, vii., p. 84), in throwing the boomerang, the javelin, or a stone, and in the employment of the blowpipe and the bow, the movements of the hand and arm are guided by that mysterious sympathy which exists between the eye and the unseeing organs of the body. "Some men wonder whye, in casting a man's eye at the marke, the hand should go streighte. Surely if he considered the nature of a man's eye he would not wonder at it: for this I am certaine of, that no servaunt to his maister, no childe to his father, is so obedient, as every joynte and peece of the bodye is to do whatsover the eye biddes."—Roger Ascham, Taxophilus, Book ii.
In shooting the tortoises of the Amazon and its tributaries, the Indians use an arrow with a long twine and a float attached to it. Ave-Lallemant (Die Benutzung der Palmen am Amazonenstrom, p. 32) thus describes their mode of aiming: "As the arrow, if aimed directly at the floating tortoise, would strike it at a small angle and glance from its fiat and wet shell, the archers have a peculiar method of shooting. They are able to calculate exactly their own muscular effort, the velocity of the stream, the distance and size of the tortoise, and they shoot the arrow directly up into the air, so that it falls almost vertically upon the shell of the tortoise, and sticks in it." Analogous calculations—if such physico-mental operations can property be so called—are made in the use of other missiles; for no projectile flies in a right line to its mark. But the exact training of the eye lies at the bottom of them all, and marksmanship depends almost wholly upon the power of that organ, whose directions the blind muscles implicitly follow. Savages accustomed only to the use of the bow become good shots with firearms after very little practice. It is perhaps not out of place to observe here that our English word aim comes from the Latin aestimo, I calculate or estimate. See Wedgwood's Dictionary of English Etymology, and the note to the American edition, under Aim.
Another proof of the control of the limbs by the eye has been observed in deaf-and-dumb schools, and others where pupils are first taught to write on large slates or blackboards. The writing is in large characters, the small letters being an inch or more high. They are formed with chalk or a slate pencil firmly grasped in the fingers, and by appropriate motions of the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, not of the finger joints. Nevertheless, when a pen is put into the hand of a pupil thus taught, his handwriting, though produced by a totally different set of muscles and muscular movements, is identical in character with that which he has practised on the blackboard. For a very remarkable account of the restoration of vision impaired from age, by judicious training, see Lessons in Life, by Timothy Titcomb, lesson xi. It has been much doubted whether the artists of the classic ages possessed a more perfect light than those of modern times, or whether, in executing their minute mosaics and gem engravings, they need magnifiers. Glasses ground convex have been found at Pompeii, but they are too rudely fashioned and too imperfectly polished to have been of any practical use for optical purposes. But though the ancient artists may have had a microscopic vision, their astronomers cannot have had a telescopic power of sight; for they did not discover the satellites of Jupiter, which are often seen with the naked eye at Oormeeah, in Persia, and sometimes, as I can testify by personal observation, at Cairo.]
This exercise of the eye I desire to promote, and, next to moral and religious doctrine, I know no more important practical lessons in this earthly life of ours—which, to the wise man, is a school from the cradle to the grave—than those relating to the employment of the sense of vision in the study of nature.
The pursuit of physical geography, embracing actual observation of terrestrial surface, affords to the eye the best general training that is accessible to all. The majority of even cultivated men have not the time and means of acquiring anything beyond a very superficial acquaintance with any branch of physical knowledge.
Natural science has become so vastly extended, its recorded facts and its unanswered questions so immensely multiplied, that every strictly scientific man must be a specialist, and confine the researches of a whole life within a comparatively narrow circle. The study I am recommending, in the view I propose to take of it, is yet in that imperfectly developed state which allows its votaries to occupy themselves with broad and general views attainable by every person of culture, and it does not now require a knowledge of special details which only years of application can master. It may be profitably pursued by all; and every traveller, every lover of rural scenery, every agriculturist, who will wisely use the gift of sight, may add valuable contributions to the common stock of knowledge on a subject which, as I hope to convince my readers, though long neglected, and now inartificially presented, is not only a very important but a very interesting field of inquiry.
Measurement of Man's Influence.
The exact measurement of the geographical and climatic changes hitherto effected by man is impracticable, and we possess, in relation to them, the means of only qualitative, not quantitative analysis. The fact of such revolutions is established partly by historical evidence, partly by analogical deduction from effects produced, in our own time, by operations similar in character to those which must have taken place in more or less remote ages of human action. Both sources of information are alike defective in precision; the latter, for general reasons too obvious to require specification; the former, because the facts to which it bears testimony occurred before the habit or the means of rigorously scientific observation upon any branch of physical research, and especially upon climatic changes, existed.
UNCERTAINTY OF OUR HISTORICAL CONCLUSIONS ON ANCIENT CLIMATES.
The invention of measures of heat and of atmospheric moisture, pressure, and precipitation, is extremely recent. Hence, ancient physicists have left us no thermometric or barometric records, no tables of the fall, evaporation, and flow of waters, and even no accurate maps of coast lines and the course of rivers. Their notices of these phenomena are almost wholly confined to excessive and exceptional instances of high or of low temperatures, extraordinary falls of rain and snow, and unusual floods or droughts. Our knowledge of the meteorological condition of the earth, at any period more than two centuries before our own time, is derived from these imperfect details, from the vague statements of ancient historians and geographers in regard to the volume of rivers and the relative extent of forest and cultivated land, from the indications furnished by the history of the agriculture and rural economy of past generations, and from other almost purely casual sources of information. [Footnote: The subject of climatic change, with and without reference to human action as a cause, has been much discussed by Moreau de Jonnes, Dureau de la Malle, Arago, Humboldt, Fuster, Gasparin, Becquerel, Schleiden, and many other writers in Europe, and by Noah Webster, Forry, Drake, and others in America. Fraas has endeavored to show, by the history of vegetation in Greece, not merely that clearing and cultivation have affected climate, but that change of climate has essentially modified the character of vegetable life. See his Klima und Pflansenwelt in der Zeit.]
Among these latter we must rank certain newly laid open fields of investigation, from which facts bearing on the point now under consideration have been gathered. I allude to the discovery of artificial objects in geological formations older than any hitherto recognized as exhibiting traces of the existence of man; to the ancient lacustrine habitations of Switzerland and of the terremare of Italy, [Footnote: See two learned articles by Pigorini, in the Nuova Antologia for January and October, 1870.] containing the implements of the occupants, remains of their food, and other relics of human life; to the curious revelations of the Kjokkenmoddinger, or heaps of kitchen refuse, in Denmark and elsewhere, and of the peat mosses in the same and other northern countries; to the dwellings and other evidences of the industry of man in remote ages sometimes laid bare by the movement of sand dunes on the coasts of France and of the North Sea; and to the facts disclosed on the tide-washed flats of the latter shores by excavations in Halligs or inhabited mounds which were probably raised before the era of the Roman Empire. [Footnote: For a very picturesque description of the Halligs, see Pliny, N.H., Book xvi, c. 1.] These remains are memorials of races which have left no written records, which perished at a period beyond the reach of even historical tradition. The plants and animals that furnished the relics found in the deposits were certainly contemporaneous with man; for they are associated with his works, and have evidently served his uses. In some cases, the animals belonged to species well ascertained to be now altogether extinct; in some others, both the animals and the vegetables, though extant elsewhere, have ceased to inhabit the regions where their remains are discovered. From the character of the artificial objects, as compared with others belonging to known dates, or at least to known periods of civilization, ingenious inferences have been drawn as to their age; and from the vegetable remains which accompany them, as to the climates of Central and Northern Europe at the time of their production.
There are, however, sources of error which have not always been sufficiently guarded against in making these estimates. When a boat, composed of several pieces of wood fastened together by pins of the same material, is dug out of a bog, it is inferred that the vessel, and the skeletons and implements found with it, belong to an age when the use of iron was not known to the builders. But this conclusion is not warranted by the simple fact that metals were not employed in its construction; for the Nubians at this day build boats large enough to carry half a dozen persons across the Nile, out of small pieces of acacia wood pinned together entirely with wooden bolts, and large vessels of similar construction are used by the islanders of the Malay archipelago. Nor is the occurrence of flint arrow heads and knives, in conjunction with other evidences of human life, conclusive proof as to the antiquity of the latter. Lyell informs us that some Oriental tribes still continue to use the same stone implements as their ancestors, "after that mighty empires, where the use of metals in the arts was well known, had flourished for three thousand years in their neighborhood;" [Footnote: Antiquity of Man, p. 377.] and the North American Indians now manufacture weapons of stone, and even of glass, chipping them in the latter case out of the bottoms of thick bottles, with great facility. [Footnote: "One of the Indians seated himself near me, and made from a fragment of quartz, with a simple piece of round bone, one end of which was hemispherical, with a small crease in it (as if worn by a thread) the sixteenth of an inch deep, an arrow head which was very sharp and piercing, and such as they use on all their arrows. The skill and rapidity with which it was made, without a blow, but by simply breaking the sharp edges with the creased bone by the strength of his hands—for the crease merely served to prevent the instrument from slipping, affording no leverage—was remarkable."—Reports of Explorations and Surveys for Pacific Railroad, vol. ii., 1855, Lieut. Beckwith'S Report, p. 43. See also American Naturalist for May, 1870, and especially Stevens, Flint Chips, London, 1870, pp. 77 et seq.
Mariette Bey lately saw an Egyptian barber shave the head of an Arab with a flint razor.]
We may also be misled by our ignorance of the commercial relations existing between savage tribes. Extremely rude nations, in spite of their jealousies and their perpetual wars, sometimes contrive to exchange the products of provinces very widely separated from each other. The mounds of Ohio contain pearls, thought to be marine, which must have come from the Gulf of Mexico, or perhaps even from California, and the knives and pipes found in the same graves are often formed of far-fetched material, that was naturally paid for by some home product exported to the locality whence the material was derived. The art of preserving fish, flesh, and fowl by drying and smoking is widely diffused, and of great antiquity. The Indians of Long Island Sound are said to have carried on a trade in dried shell fish with tribes residing very far inland. From the earliest ages, the inhabitants of the Faroe and Orkney Islands, and of the opposite mainland coasts, have smoked wild fowl and other flesh. Hence it is possible that the animal and the vegetable food, the remains of which are found in the ancient deposits I am speaking of, may sometimes have been brought from climates remote from that where it was consumed.
The most important, as well as the most trustworthy conclusions with respect to the climate of ancient Europe and Asia, are those drawn from the accounts given by the classical writers of the growth of cultivated plants; but these are by no means free from uncertainty, because we can seldom be sure of an identity of species, almost never of an identity of race or variety, between vegetables known to the agriculturists of Greece and Rome and those of modern times which are thought most nearly to resemble them. Besides this, there is always room for doubt whether the habits of plants long grown in different countries may not have been so changed by domestication or by natural selection, that the conditions of temperature and humidity which they required twenty centuries ago were different from those at present demanded for their advantageous cultivation. [Footnote: Probably no cultivated vegetable affords so good an opportunity of studying the law of acclimation of plants as maize or Indian corn. Maize is grown from the tropics to at least lat. 47 degrees in Northeastern America, and farther north in Europe. Every two or three degrees of latitude brings you to a new variety with new climatic adaptations, and the capacity of the plant to accommodate itself to new conditions of temperature and season seems almost unlimited.
Many persons now living remember that, when the common tomato was first introduced into Northern New England, it often failed to ripen; but, in the course of a very few years, it completely adapted itself to the climate, and now not only matures both its fruit and its seeds with as much certainty as any cultivated vegetable, but regularly propagates itself by self-sown seed. Meteorological observations, however, do not show any amelioration of the summer climate in those States within that period.
It may be said that these cases—and indeed all cases of a supposed acclimation consisting in physiological changes—are instances of the origination of new varieties by natural selection, the hardier maize, tomato, and other vegetables of the North, being the progeny of seeds of individuals endowed, exceptionally, with greater power of resisting cold than belongs in general to the species which produced them. But, so far as the evidence of change of climate, from a difference in vegetable growth, is concerned, it is immaterial whether we adopt this view or maintain the older and more familiar doctrine of a local modification of character in the plants in question.
Maize and the tomato, if not new to human use, have not been long known to civilization, and were, very probably, reclaimed and domesticated at a much more recent period than the plants which form the great staples of agricultural husbandry in Europe and Asia. Is the great power of accommodation to climate possessed by them due to this circumstance There is some reason to suppose that the character of maize has been sensibly changed by cultivation in South America; for, according to Tschudi, the ears of this grain found in old Peruvian tombs belong to varieties not now known in Peru.—Travels in Peru, chap. vii. See important observations in Schubeler, Die Pflanzenwelt Norwegans (Allgemeiner Theil), Christinania, 1873, 77 and following pp.] Even if we suppose an identity of species, of race, and of habit to be established between a given ancient and modern plant, the negative fact that the latter will not grow now where it flourished two thousand years ago does not in all cases prove a change of climate. The same result might follow from the exhaustion of the soil, [Footnote: The cultivation of madder is said to have been introduced into Europe by an Oriental in the year 1765, and it was first planted in the neighborhood of Avignon. Of course, it has been grown in that district for less than a century; but upon soils where it has been a frequent crop, it is already losing much of its coloring properties.—Lavergne, Economic Rurale de la France, pp. 250-201.
I believe there is no doubt that the cultivation of madder in the vicinity of Avignon is of recent introduction; but it is certain that it was grown by the ancient Romans, and throughout nearly all Europe in the middle ages. The madder brought from Persia to France, may belong to a different species, or at least variety.] or from a change in the quantity of moisture it habitually contains. After a district of country has been completely or even partially cleared of its forest growth, and brought under cultivation, the drying of the soil, under favorable circumstances, goes on for generations, perhaps for ages. [Footnote: In many parts of New England there are tracts, many square miles in extent and presenting all varieties of surface and exposure, which were partially cleared sixty or seventy years ago, and where little or no change in the proportion of cultivated ground, pasturage, and woodland has taken place since. In some cases, these tracts compose basins apparently scarcely at all exposed to any local influence in the way of percolation or infiltration of water towards or from neighboring valleys. But in such situations, apart from accidental disturbances, the ground is growing drier and drier from year to year, springs are still disappearing, and rivulets still diminishing in their summer supply of water. A probable explanation of this is to be found in the rapid drainage of the surface of cleared ground, which prevents the subterranean natural reservoirs, whether cavities or merely strata of bibulous earth, from filling up. How long this process is to last before an equilibrium is reached, none can say. It may be, for years; it may be, for centuries.
Livingstone states facts which strongly favor the supposition that a secular desiccation is still going on in central Africa, and there is reason to suspect that a like change is taking place in California. When the regions where the earth is growing drier were cleared of wood, or, indeed, whether forests ever grew there, we are unable to say, but the change appears to have been long in progress. A similar revolution appears to have occurred in Arabia Petraea. In many of the wadis, and particularly in the gorges between Wadi Feiran and Wadi Esh Sheikh, there are water-worn banks showing that, at no very remote period, the winter floods must have risen fifty feet in channels where the growth of acacias and tamarisks and the testimony of the Arabs concur to prove that they have not risen six feet within the memory or tradition of the present inhabitants. Recent travellers have discovered traces of extensive ancient cultivation, and of the former existence of large towns in the Tih desert, in localities where all agriculture is now impossible for want of water. Is this drought due to the destruction of ancient forests or to some other cause?
For important observations on supposed changes of climate in our Western prairie region, from cultivation of the soil and the introduction of domestic cattle, see Bryant's valuable Forest Trees, 1871, chapter v., and Hayden, Preliminary Report on Survey of Wyoming, p. 455. Some physicists believe that the waters of our earth are, from chemical of other less known causes, diminishing by entering into new inorganic combinations, and that this element will finally disappear from the globe.]
In other cases, from injudicioua husbandry, or the diversion or choking up of natural water-courses, it may become more highly charged with humidity. An increase or diminution of the moisture of a soil almost necessarily supposes an elevation or a depression of its winter or its summer heat, and of its extreme if not of its mean annual temperature, though such elevation or depression may be so slight as not sensibly to raise or lower the mercury in a thermometer exposed to the open air. Any of these causes, more or less humidity, or more or less warmth of soil, would affect the growth both of wild and of cultivated vegetation, and consequently, without any appreciable change in atmospheric temperature, precipitation, or evaporation, plants of a particular species might cease to be advantageously cultivated where they had once been easily reared. [Footnote: The soil of newly subdued countries is generally highly favorable to the growth of the fruits of the garden and the orchard, but usually becomes much less so in a very few years. Plums, of many varieties, were formerly grown, in great perfection and abundance, in many parts of New England where at present they can scarcely be reared at all; and the peach, which, a generation or two ago, succeeded admirably in the southern portion of the same States, has almost ceased to be cultivated there. The disappearance of these fruits is partly due to the ravages of insects, which have in later years attacked them; but this is evidently by no means the sole, or even the principal cause of their decay. In these cases, it is not to the exhaustion of the particular acres on which the fruit trees have grown that we are to ascribe their degeneracy, but to a general change in the condition of the soil or the air; for it is equally impossible to rear them successfully on absolutely new land in the neighborhood of grounds where, not long since, they bore the finest fruit.
I remember being told, many years ago, by intelligent early settlers of the State of Ohio, that the apple trees raised there from seed sown soon after the land was cleared, bore fruit in less than half the time required to bring to bearing those reared from seed gown when the ground had been twenty years under cultivation. Analogous changes occur slowly and almost imperceptibly even in spontaneous vegetation. In the peat mosses of Denmark, Scotch firs and other trees not now growing in the same localities, are found in abundance. Every generation of trees leaves the soil in a different state from that in which it found it; every tree that springs up in a group of trees of another species than its own, grows under different influences of light and shade and atmosphere from its predecessors. Hence the succession of crops, which occurs in all natural forests, seems to be due rather to changes of condition than of climate. See chapter iii., post.]
Uncertainty of Modern Meteorology.
We are very imperfectly acquainted with the present mean and extreme temperature, or the precipitation and the evaporation of any extensive region, even in countries most densely peopled and best supplied with instruments and observers. The progress of science is constantly detecting errors of method in older observations, and many laboriously constructed tables of meteorological phenomena are now thrown aside as fallacious, and therefore worse than useless, because some condition necessary to secure accuracy of result was neglected, in obtaining and recording the data on which they were founded.
To take a familiar instance: it is but recently that attention has been drawn to the great influence of slight differences in station upon the results of observations of temperature and precipitation. Two thermometers hung but a few hundred yards from each other differ not unfrequently five, sometimes even ten degrees in their readings; [Footnote: Tyndall, in a lecture on Radiation, expresses the opinion that from ten to fifteen per cent. of the heat radiated from the earth is absorbed by aqueous vapor within ten feet of the earth's surface.—Fragments of Science, 3d edition, London, 1871, p. 203. Thermometers at most meteorological stations, when not suspended at points regulated by the mere personal convenience of the observer, are hung from 20 to 40 feet above the ground. In such positions they are less exposed to disturbance from the action of surrounding bodies than at a lower level, and their indications are consequently more uniform; but according to Tyndall's views they do not mark the temperature of the atmospheric stratum in which nearly all the vegetables useful to man, except forest trees, bud and blossom and ripen, and in which a vast majority of the ordinary operations of material life are performed. They give the rise and fall of the mercury at heights arbitrarily taken, without reference to the relations of temperature to human interests, or to any other scientific consideration than a somewhat less liability to accidental disturbance.] and when we are told that the annual fall of rain on the roof of the observatory at Paris is two inches less than on the ground by the side of it, we may see that the height of the rain-gauge above the earth is a point of much consequence in making estimates from its measurements. [Footnote: Careful observations by the late lamented Dallas Bache appeared to show that there is no such difference in the quantity of precipitation falling at slightly different levels as has been generally supposed. The apparent difference was ascribed by Prof. Bache to the irregular distribution of the drops of rain and flakes of snow, exposed, as they are, to local disturbances by the currents of air around the corners of buildings or other accidents of the surface. This consideration much increases the importance of great care in the selection of positions for rain-gauges. But Mr. Bache's conclusions seem not to be accepted by late experimenters in England. See Quarterly Journal of Science for January, 1871, p. 123.]
The data from which results have been deduced with respect to the hygrometrical and thermometrical conditions, to the climate in short, of different countries, have very often been derived from observations at single points in cities or districts separated by considerable distances. The tendency of errors and accidents to balance each other authorizes us, indeed, to entertain greater confidence than we could otherwise feel in the conclusions drawn from such tables; but it is in the highest degree probable that they would be much modified by more numerous series of observations, at different stations within narrow limits. [Footnote: The nomenclature of meteorology is vague and sometimes equivocal. Not long since, it was suspected that the observers reporting to a scientific institution did not agree in their understanding of the mode of expressing the direction of the wind prescribed by their instructions. It was found, upon inquiry, that very many of them used the names of the compass-points to indicate the quarter FROM which the wind blew, while others employed them to signify the quarter TOWARDS which the atmospheric currents were moving. In some instances, the observers were no longer within the reach of inquiry, and of course their tables of the wind were of no value. "Winds," says Mrs. Somerville, "are named from the points whence they blow, currents exactly the reverse. An easterly wind comes from the east; whereas on easterly current comes from the west, and flows towards the east."—Physical Geography, p. 229.
There is no philological ground for this distinction, and it probably originated in a confusion of the terminations -WARDLY and -ERLY, both of which are modern. The root of the former ending implies the direction TO or TO-WARDS which motion is supposed. It corresponds to, and is probably allied with, the Latin VERSUS. The termination -ERLY is a corruption or softening of -ERNLY, easterly for easternly, and many authors of the nineteenth century so write it. In Haklnyt (i., p. 2), EASTERLY is applied to place, "EASTERLY bounds," and means EASTERN. In a passage in Drayton, "EASTERLY winds" must mean winds FROM the east; but the same author, in speaking of nations, uses NORTHERLY for NORTHERN. Lakewell says: "The sonne cannot goe more SOUTHERNLY from us, nor come more NORTHERNLY towards us." Holland, in his translation of Pliny, referring to the moon, has: "When shee is NORTHERLY," and "shee is gone SOUTHERLY." Richardson, to whom I am indebted for the above citations, quotes a passage from Dampier where WESTERLY is applied to the wind, but the context does not determine the direction. The only example of the termination -WARDLY given by this lexicographer is from Donne, where it means TOWARDS the west.
Shakespeare, in Hamlet(v., ii.), uses NORTHERLY wind for wind FROM the north. Milton does not employ either of these terminations, nor were they known to the Anglo-Saxons, who, however, had adjectives of direction in -AN or -EN, -ern and -weard, the last always meaning the point TOWARDS which motion in supposed, the others that FROM which it proceeds. The vocabulary of science has no specific name for one of the most important phenomena in meteorology—I mean for watery vapor condensed and rendered visible by cold. The Latins expressed this condition of water by the word vapor. For INVISIBLE vapor they had no name, because they did not know that it existed, and Van Helmont was obliged to invent a word, gas, as a generic name for watery and other fluids in the invisible state. The moderns have perverted the meaning of the word vapor, and in science its use is confined to express water in the gaseous and invisible state. When vapor in rendered visible by condensation, we call it fog or mist—between which two words there is no clearly established distinction—if it is lying on or near the surface of the earth or of water; when it floats in the air we call it cloud. But these words express the form and position of the humid aggregation, not the condition of the water-globules which compose it. The breath from our mouths, the steam from an engine, thrown out into cold air, become visible, and consist of water in the same state as in fog or cloud; but we do not apply those terms to these phenomena. It would be an improvement in meteorological nomenclature to restore vapor to its original meaning, and to employ a new word, such for example as hydrogas, to explain the new scientific idea of water in the invisible state.]
There is one branch of research which is of the utmost importance in reference to these questions, but which, from the great difficulty of direct observation upon it, has been less successfully studied than almost any other problem of physical science. I refer to the proportions between precipitation, superficial drainage, absorption, and evaporation. Precise actual measurement of these quantities upon even a single acre of ground is impossible; and in all cabinet experiments on the subject, the conditions of the surface observed are so different from those which occur in nature, that we cannot safely reason from one case to the other. In nature, the inclination and exposure of the ground, the degree of freedom or obstruction of the flow of water over the surface, the composition and density of the soil, the presence or absence of perforations by worms and small burrowing quadrupeds—upon which the permeability of the ground by water and its power of absorbing and retaining or transmitting moisture depend—its temperature, the dryness or saturation of the subsoil, vary at comparatively short distances; and though the precipitation upon very small geographical basins and the superficial flow from them may be estimated with an approach to precision, yet even here we have no present means of knowing how much of the water absorbed by the earth is restored to the atmosphere by evaporation, and how much carried off by infiltration or other modes of underground discharge. When, therefore, we attempt to use the phenomena observed on a few square or cubic yards of earth, as a basis of reasoning upon the meteorology of a province, it is evident that our data must be insufficient to warrant positive general conclusions. In discussing the climatology of whole countries, or even of comparatively small local divisions, we may safely say that none can tell what percentage of the water they receive from the atmosphere is evaporated; what absorbed by the ground and conveyed off by subterranean conduits; what carried down to the sea by superficial channels; what drawn from the earth or the air by a given extent of forest, of short pasture vegetation, or of tall meadow-grass; what given out again by surfaces so covered, or by bare ground of various textures and composition, under different conditions of atmospheric temperature, pressure, and humidity; or what is the amount of evaporation from water, ice, or snow, under the varying exposures to which, in actual nature, they are constantly subjected. If, then, we are so ignorant of all these climatic phenomena in the best-known regions inhabited by man, it is evident that we can rely little upon theoretical deductions applied to the former more natural state of the same regions—less still to such as are adopted with respect to distant, strange, and primitive countries.
STABILITY OF NATURE.
Nature, left undisturbed, so fashions her territory as to give it almost unchanging permanence of form, outline, and proportion, except when shattered by geologic convulsions; and in these comparatively rare cases of derangement, she sets herself at once to repair the superficial damage, and to restore, as nearly as practicable, the former aspect of her dominion. In new countries, the natural inclination of the ground, the self-formed slopes and levels, are generally such as best secure the stability of the soil. They have been graded and lowered or elevated by frost and chemical forces and gravitation and the flow of water and vegetable deposit and the action of the winds, until, by a general compensation of conflicting forces, a condition of equilibrium has been readied which, without the action of main, would remain, with little fluctuation, for countless ages. We need not go far back to reach a period when, in all that portion of the North American continent which has been occupied by British colonization, the geographical elements very nearly balanced and compensated each other. At the commencement of the seventeenth century, the soil, with insignificant exceptions, was covered with forests; [Footnote: I do not here speak of the vast prairie region of the Mississippi valley, which cannot properly said ever to have been a field of British colonization; but of the original colonies, and their dependencies in the territory of the present United States, and in Canada. It is, however, equally true of the Western prairies as of the Eastern forest land, that they had arrived at a state of equilibrium, though under very different conditions.] and whenever the Indian, in consequence of war or the exhaustion of the beasts of the chase, abandoned the narrow fields he had planted and the woods he had burned over, they speedily returned, by a succession of herbaceous, arborescent, and arboreal growths, to their original state. Even a single generation sufficed to restore them almost to their primitive luxuriance of forest vegetation. [Footnote: The great fire of Miramichi in 1825, probably the most extensive and terrific conflagration recorded in authentic history, spread its ravages over nearly six thousand square miles, chiefly of woodland, and was of such intensity that it seemed to consume the very soil itself. But so great are the recuperative powers of nature, that, in twenty-five years, the ground was thickly covered again with tree of fair dimensions, except where cultivation and pasturage kept down the forest growth.]