THEORY OF THE EARTH, VOLUME I
With Proofs and Illustrations, in Four Parts
JAMES HUTTON, M.D. & F.R.S.E.
THEORY OF THE EARTH; with the Examination of different Opinions on that Subject.
THEORY OF THE EARTH; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe.
SECT. I.—Prospect of the Subject to be treated of.
SECT. II.—An Investigation of the Natural Operations employed in consolidating the Strata of the Globe.
SECT. III.—Investigation of the Natural Operations employed in the Production of Land above the Surface of the Sea.
SECT. IV.—System of Decay and Renovation observed in the Earth.
An Examination of Mr KIRWAN's Objections to the Igneous Origin of Stony Substances.
Of Physical Systems, and Geological Theories, in general.
The Supposition of Primitive Mountains refuted.
Concerning that which may be termed the Primary Part of the Present Earth.
The Theory of interchanging Sea and Land, illustrated by an Investigation of the Primary and Secondary Strata 421.
SECT. I.—A distinct view of the Primary and Secondary Strata.
SECT. II.—The Theory confirmed from Observations made on purpose to elucidate the Subject.
Opinions examined with regard to Petrifaction, or Mineral Concretion.
The Nature of Mineral Coal, and the Formation of Bituminous Strata, investigated.
SECT. I.—Purpose of this Inquiry.
SECT. II.—Natural History of Coal Strata, and Theory of this Geological Operation.
SECT. III.—The Mineralogical Operations of the Earth illustrated from the Theory of Fossil Coal.
THEORY OF THE EARTH;
DIFFERENT OPINIONS ON THAT SUBJECT.
IN EIGHT CHAPTERS.
THEORY of the EARTH; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration, of Land upon the Globe.
Prospect of the Subject to be treated of.
When we trace the parts of which this terrestrial system is composed, and when we view the general connection of those several parts, the whole presents a machine of a peculiar construction by which it is adapted to a certain end. We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom, to obtain a purpose worthy of the power that is apparent in the production of it.
We know little of the earth's internal parts, or of the materials which compose it at any considerable depth below the surface. But upon the surface of this globe, the more inert matter is replenished with plants, and with animal and intellectual beings.
Where so many living creatures are to ply their respective powers, in pursuing the end for which they were intended, we are not to look for nature in a quiescent state; matter itself must be in motion, and the scenes of life a continued or repeated series of agitations and events.
This globe of the earth is a habitable world; and on its fitness for this purpose, our sense of wisdom in its formation must depend. To judge of this point, we must keep in view, not only the end, but the means also by which that end is obtained. These are, the form of the whole, the materials of which it is composed, and the several powers which concur, counteract, or balance one another, in procuring the general result.
The form and constitution of the mass are not more evidently calculated for the purpose of this earth as a habitable world, than are the various substances of which that complicated body is composed. Soft and hard parts variously combine to form a medium consistence, adapted to the use of plants and animals; wet and dry are properly mixed for nutrition, or the support of those growing bodies; and hot and cold produce a temperature or climate no less required than a soil: Insomuch, that there is not any particular, respecting either the qualities of the materials, or the construction of the machine, more obvious to our perception, than are the presence and efficacy of design and intelligence in the power that conducts the work.
In taking this view of things, where ends and means are made the object of attention, we may hope to find a principle upon which the comparative importance of parts in the system of nature may be estimated, and also a rule for selecting the object of our inquiries. Under this direction, science may find a fit subject of investigation in every particular, whether of form, quality, or active power, that presents itself in this system of motion and of life; and which, without a proper attention to this character of the system, might appear anomalous and incomprehensible.
It is not only by seeing those general operations of the globe which depend upon its peculiar construction as a machine, but also by perceiving how far the particulars, in the construction of that machine, depend upon the general operations of the globe, that we are enabled to understand the constitution of this earth as a thing formed by design. We shall thus also be led to acknowledge an order, not unworthy of Divine wisdom, in a subject which, in another view, has appeared as the work of chance, or as absolute disorder and confusion.
To acquire a general or comprehensive view of this mechanism of the globe, by which it is adapted to the purpose of being a habitable world, it is necessary to distinguish three different bodies which compose the whole. These are, a solid body of earth, an aqueous body of sea, and an elastic fluid of air.
It is the proper shape and disposition of these three bodies that form this globe into a habitable world; and it is the manner in which these constituent bodies are adjusted to each other, and the laws of action by which they are maintained in their proper qualities and respective departments, that form the Theory of the machine which we are now to examine.
Let us begin with some general sketch of the particulars now mentioned.
1st, There is a central body in the globe. This body supports those parts which come to be more immediately exposed to our view, or which may be examined by our sense and observation. This first part is commonly supposed to be solid and inert; but such a conclusion is only mere conjecture; and we shall afterwards find occasion, perhaps, to form another judgment in relation to this subject, after we have examined strictly, upon scientific principles, what appears upon the surface, and have formed conclusions concerning that which must have been transacted in some more central part.
2dly, We find a fluid body of water. This, by gravitation, is reduced to a spherical form, and by the centrifugal force of the earth's rotation, is become oblate. The purpose of this fluid body is essential in the constitution of the world; for, besides affording the means of life and motion to a multifarious race of animals, it is the source of growth and circulation to the organized bodies of this earth, in being the receptacle of the rivers, and the fountain of our vapours.
3dly, We have an irregular body of land raised above the level of the ocean. This, no doubt, is the smallest portion of the globe; but it is the part to us by far most interesting. It is upon the surface of this part that plants are made to grow; consequently, it is by virtue of this land that animal life, as well as vegetation, is sustained in this world.
Lastly, We have a surrounding body of atmosphere, which completes the globe. This vital fluid is no less necessary, in the constitution of the world, than are the other parts; for there is hardly an operation upon the surface of the earth, that is not conducted or promoted by its means. It is a necessary condition for the sustenance of fire; it is the breath of life to animals; it is at least an instrument in vegetation; and, while it contributes to give fertility and health to things that grow, it is employed in preventing noxious effects from such as go into corruption. In short, it is the proper means of circulation for the matter of this world, by raising up the water of the ocean, and pouring it forth upon the surface of the earth.
Such is the mechanism of the globe: Let us now mention some of those powers by which motion is produced, and activity procured to the mere machine.
First, There is the progressive force, or moving power, by which this planetary body, if solely actuated, would depart continually from the path which it now pursues, and thus be for ever removed from its end, whether as a planetary body, or as a globe sustaining plants and animals, which may be termed a living world.
But this moving body is also actuated by gravitation, which inclines it directly to the central body of the sun. Thus it is made to revolve about that luminary, and to preserve its path.
It is also upon the same principles, that each particular part upon the surface of this globe, is alternately exposed to the influence of light and darkness, in the diurnal rotation of the earth, as well as in its annual revolution. In this manner are produced the vicissitudes of night and day, so variable in the different latitudes from the equator to the pole, and so beautifully calculated to equalise the benefits of light, so variously distributed in the different regions of the globe.
Gravitation, and the vis infita of matter, thus form the first two powers distinguishable in the operations of our system, and wisely adapted to the purpose for which they are employed.
We next observe the influence of light and heat, of cold and condensation. It is by means of these two powers that the various operations of this living world are more immediately transacted; although the other powers are no less required, in order to produce or modify these great agents in the economy of life, and system of our changing things.
We do not now inquire into the nature of those powers, or investigate the laws of light and heat, of cold and condemnation, by which the various purposes of this world are accomplished; we are only to mention those effects which are made sensible to the common understanding of mankind, and which necessarily imply a power that is employed. Thus, it is by the operation of those powers that the varieties of season in spring and autumn are obtained, that we are blessed with the vicissitudes of summer's heat and winter's cold, and that we possess the benefit of artificial light and culinary fire.
We are thus bountifully provided with the necessaries of life; we are supplied with things conducive to the growth and preservation of our animal nature, and with fit subjects to employ and to nourish our intellectual powers.
There are other actuating powers employed in the operations of this globe, which we are little more than able to enumerate; such are those of electricity, magnetism, and subterraneous heat or mineral fire.
Powers of such magnitude or force, are not to be supposed useless in a machine contrived surely not without wisdom; but they are mentioned here chiefly on account of their general effect; and it is sufficient to have named powers, of which the actual existence is well known, but of which the proper use in the constitution of the world is still obscure. The laws of electricity and magnetism have been well examined by philosophers; but the purposes of those powers in the economy of the globe have not been discovered. Subterraneous fire, again, although the most conspicuous in the operations of this world, and often examined by philosophers, is a power which has been still less understood, whether with regard to its efficient or final cause. It has hitherto appeared more like the accident of natural things, than the inherent property of the mineral region. It is in this last light, however, that I wish to exhibit it, as a great power acting a material part in the operations of the globe, and as an essential part in the constitution of this world.
We have thus surveyed the machine in general, with those moving powers, by which its operations, diversified almost ad infinitum, are performed. Let us now confine our view, more particularly, to that part of the machine on which we dwell, that so we may consider the natural consequences of those operations which, being within our view, we are better qualified to examine.
This subject is important to the human race, to the possessor of this world, to the intelligent being Man, who foresees events to come, and who, in contemplating his future interest, is led to inquire concerning causes, in order that he may judge of events which otherwise he could not know.
If, in pursuing this object, we employ our skill in research, not in forming vain conjectures; and if data are to be found, on which Science may form just conclusions, we should not long remain in ignorance with respect to the natural history of this earth, a subject on which hitherto opinion only, and not evidence, has decided: For in no subject, perhaps, is there naturally less defect of evidence, although philosophers, led by prejudice, or misguided by false theory, may have neglected to employ that light by which they should have seen the system of this world.
But to proceed in pursuing a little farther our general or preparatory ideas. A solid body of land could not have answered the purpose of a habitable world; for, a soil is necessary to the growth of plants; and a soil is nothing but the materials collected from the destruction of the solid land. Therefore, the surface of this land, inhabited by man, and covered with plants and animals, is made by nature to decay, in dissolving from that hard and, compact state in which it is found below the soil; and this soil is necessarily washed away, by the continual circulation of the water, running from the summits of the mountains towards the general receptacle of that fluid. The heights of our land are thus levelled with the shores; our fertile plains are formed from the ruins of the mountains; and those travelling materials are still pursued by the moving water, and propelled along the inclined surface of the earth These moveable materials, delivered into the sea, cannot, for a long continuance, rest upon the shore; for, by the agitation of the winds, the tides and currents, every moveable thing is carried farther and farther along the shelving bottom of the sea, towards the unfathomable regions of the ocean.
[Note 1: M. de Luc, in his second letter to me, published in the Monthly Review for 1790, says, "You ought to have proved that both gravel and sand are carried from our continents to the sea; which, on the contrary, I shall prove not to be the case." He then endeavours to prove his assertion, by observing, that, in certain places where there is not either sufficient declivity in the surface, or force in the running water, gravel and sand are made to rest, and do not travel to the sea. This surely is a fact to which I most readily assent; but, on the other hand, I hope he will acknowledge, that, where there is sufficient declivity in the surface, or force in the running water, sand, gravel, and stones, are travelled upon the land, and are thus carried into the sea—at last. This is all that my theory requires, and this is what I believe will be admitted, without any farther proof on my part.]
If the vegetable soil is thus constantly removed from the surface of the land, and if its place is thus to be supplied from the dissolution of the solid earth, as here represented, we may perceive an end to this beautiful machine; an end, arising from no error in its constitution as a world, but from that destructibility of its land which is so necessary in the system of the globe, in the economy of life and vegetation.
The immense time necessarily required for this total destruction of the land, must not be opposed to that view of future events, which is indicated by the surest facts, and most approved principles. Time, which measures every thing in our idea, and is often deficient to our schemes, is to nature endless and as nothing; it cannot limit that by which alone it had existence; and, as the natural course of time, which to us seems infinite, cannot be bounded by any operation that may have an end, the progress of things upon this globe, that is, the course of nature, cannot be limited by time, which must proceed in a continual succession. We are, therefore, to consider as inevitable the deduction of our land, so far as effected by those operations which are necessary in the purpose of the globe, considered as a habitable world; and, so far as we have not examined any other part of the economy of nature, in which other operations and a different intention might appear.
We have now considered the globe of this earth as a machine, constructed upon chemical as well as mechanical principles, by which its different parts are all adapted, in form, in quality, and in quantity, to a certain end; an end attained with certainty or success; and an end from which we may perceive wisdom, in contemplating the means employed.
But is this world to be considered thus merely as a machine, to last no longer than its parts retain their present position, their proper forms and qualities? Or may it not be also considered as an organized body? such as has a constitution in which the necessary decay of the machine is naturally repaired, in the exertion of those productive powers by which it had been formed.
This is the view in which we are now to examine the globe; to see if there be, in the constitution of this world, a reproductive operation, by which a ruined constitution may be again repaired, and a duration or stability thus procured to the machine, considered as a world sustaining plants and animals.
If no such reproductive power, or reforming operation, after due inquiry, is to be found in the constitution of this world, we should have reason to conclude, that the system of this earth has either been intentionally made imperfect, or has not been the work of infinite power and wisdom.
Here is an important question, therefore, with regard to the constitution of this globe; a question which, perhaps, it is in the power of man's sagacity to resolve; and a question which, if satisfactorily resolved, might add some lustre to science and the human intellect.
Animated with this great, this interesting view, let us strictly examine our principles, in order to avoid fallacy in our reasoning; and let us endeavour to support our attention, in developing a subject that is vast in its extent, as well as intricate in the relation of parts to be stated.
The globe of this earth is evidently made for man. He alone, of all the beings which have life upon this body, enjoys the whole and every part; he alone is capable of knowing the nature of this world, which he thus possesses in virtue of his proper right; and he alone can make the knowledge of this system a source of pleasure, and the means of happiness.
Man alone, of all the animated beings which enjoy the benefits of this earth, employs the knowledge which he there receives, in leading him to judge of the intention of things, as well as of the means by which they are brought about; and he alone is thus made to enjoy, in contemplation as well as sensual pleasure, all the good that may be observed in the constitution of this world; he, therefore, should be made the first subject of inquiry.
Now, if we are to take the written history of man for the rule by which we should judge of the time when the species first began, that period would be but little removed from the present state of things. The Mosaic history places this beginning of man at no great distance; and there has not been found, in natural history, any document by which a high antiquity might be attributed to the human race. But this is not the case with regard to the inferior species of animals, particularly those which inhabit the ocean and its shores. We find, in natural history, monuments which prove that those animals had long existed; and we thus procure a measure for the computation of a period of time extremely remote, though far from being precisely ascertained.
In examining things present, we have data from which to reason with regard to what has been; and, from what has actually been, we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen hereafter. Therefore, upon the supposition that the operations of nature are equable and steady, we find, in natural appearances, means for concluding a certain portion of time to have necessarily elapsed, in the production of those events of which we see the effects.
It is thus that, in finding the relics of sea-animals of every kind in the solid body of our earth, a natural history of those animals is formed, which includes a certain portion of time; and, for the ascertaining this portion of time, we must again have recourse to the regular operations of this world. We shall thus arrive at facts which indicate a period to which no other species of chronology is able to remount.
In what follows, therefore, we are to examine the construction of the present earth, in order to understand the natural operations of time past; to acquire principles, by which we may conclude with regard to the future course of things, or judge of those operations, by which a world, so wisely ordered, goes into decay; and to learn, by what means such a decayed world may be renovated, or the waste of habitable land upon the globe repaired.
This, therefore, is the object which we are to have in view during this physical investigation; this is the end to which are to be directed all the steps in our cosmological pursuit.
The solid parts of the globe are, in general, composed of sand, of gravel, of argillaceous and calcareous strata, or of the various compositions of these with some other substances, which it is not necessary now to mention. Sand is separated and sized by streams and currents; gravel is formed by the mutual attrition of stones agitated in water; and marly, or argillaceous strata, have been collected, by subsiding in water with which those earthy substances had been floated. Thus, so far as the earth is formed of these materials, that solid body would appear to have been the production of water, winds, and tides.
But that which renders the original of our land clear and evident, is the immense quantities of calcareous bodies which had belonged to animals, and the intimate connection of these masses of animal production with the other strata of the land. For it is to be proved, that all these calcareous bodies, from the collection of which the strata were formed, have belonged to the sea, and were produced in it.
We find the marks of marine animals in the most solid parts of the earth; consequently, those solid parts have been formed after the ocean was inhabited by those animals which are proper to that fluid medium. If, therefore, we knew the natural history of those solid parts, and could trace the operations of the globe, by which they had been formed, we would have some means for computing the time through which those species of animals have continued to live. But how shall we describe a process which nobody has seen performed, and of which no written history gives any account? This is only to be investigated, first, in examining the nature of those solid bodies, the history of which we want to know; and, 2dly, In examining the natural operations of the globe, in order to see if there now actually exist such operations, as, from the nature of the solid bodies, appear to have been necessary to their formation.
But, before entering more particularly into those points of discussion, by which the question is to be resolved, let us take a general view of the subject, in order to see what it is which science and observation must decide.
In all the regions of the globe, immense masses are found, which, though at present in the most solid state, appear to have been formed by the collection of the calcareous exuviae of marine animals. The question at present is not, in what manner those collections of calcareous relics have become a perfect solid body, and have been changed from an animal to a mineral substance; for this is a subject that will be afterwards considered; we are now only inquiring, if such is truly the origin of those mineral masses.
That all the masses of marble or limestone are composed of the calcareous matter of marine bodies, may be concluded from the following facts:
1st, There are few beds of marble or limestone, in which may not be found some of those objects which indicate the marine origin of the mass. If, for example, in a mass of marble, taken from a quarry upon the top of the Alps or Andes, there shall be found one cockle-shell, or piece of coral, it must be concluded, that this bed of stone had been originally formed at the bottom of the sea, as much as another bed which is evidently composed almost altogether of cockle-shells and coral. If one bed of limestone is thus found to have been of a marine origin, every concomitant bed of the same kind must be also concluded to have been formed in the same Manner.
[Note 2: "Cette sommite elevee de 984 toises au dessus de notre lac, et par consequent de 1172 au dessus de la mer, est remarquable en ce que l'on y voit des fragmens d'huitres petrifies.—Cette montagne est dominee par un rocher escarpe, qui s'il n'est pas inaccessible, est du moins d'un bien difficile acces; il paroit presqu'entierement compose de coquillages petrifies, renfermes dans un roc calcaire, ou marbre grossier noiratre. Les fragmens qui s'en detachent, et que l'on rencontre en montant a la Croix de fer, sont remplis de turbinites de differentes especes." M. DE SAUSSURE, Voyage dans les Alpes, p. 394.]
We thus shall find the greatest part of the calcareous masses upon this globe to have originated from marine calcareous bodies; for whether we examine marbles, limestones, or such solid masses as are perfectly changed from the state of earth, and are become compact and hard, or whether we examine the soft, earthy, chalky or marly strata, of which so much of this earth is composed, we still find evident proofs, that those beds had their origin from materials deposited at the bottom of the sea; and that they have the calcareous substance which they contain, from the same source as the marbles or the limestones.
2dly, In those calcareous strata, which are evidently of marine origin, there are many parts that are of a sparry structure, that is to say, the original texture of those beds, in such places, has been dissolved, and a new structure has been assumed, which is peculiar to a certain state of the calcareous earth. This change is produced by crystallisation, in consequence of a previous state of fluidity, which has so disposed the concreting parts, as to allow them to assume a regular shape and structure proper to that substance. A body, whose external form has been modified by this process, is called a crystal; one whose internal arrangement of parts is determined by it, is said to be of a sparry structure; and this is known from its fracture.
3dly, There are, in all the regions of the earth, huge masses of calcareous matter, in that crystalline form of sparry state, in which perhaps no vestige can be found of any organised body, nor any indication that such calcareous matter had belonged to animals; but as, in other masses, this sparry structure, or crystalline state, is evidently assumed by the marine calcareous substances, in operations which are natural to the globe, and which are necessary to the consolidation of the strata, it does not appear, that the sparry masses, in which no figured body is formed, have been originally different from other masses, which, being only crystallised in part, and in part still retaining their original form, leave ample evidence of their marine origin.
[Note 3: M. de Saussure, describing the marble of Aigle, says, "Les tables polies de ce marbre presentent frequemment des coquillages, dont la plupart sont des peignes stries, et de tres-beaux madrepores. Tous ces corps marins on pris entierement la nature et le grain meme du marbre, on n'y voit presque jamais la coquille sous sa forme originaire."]
We are led, in this manner, to conclude, that all the strata of the earth, not only those consisting of such calcareous masses, but others superincumbent upon these, have had their origin at the bottom of the sea, by the collection of sand and gravel, of shells, of coralline and crustaceous bodies, and of earths and clays, variously mixed, or separated and accumulated. Here is a general conclusion, well authenticated in the appearances of nature, and highly important in the natural history of the earth.
The general amount of our reasoning is this, that nine-tenths, perhaps, or ninety-nine hundredths of this earth, so far as we see, have been formed by natural operations of the globe, in collecting loose materials, and depositing them at the bottom of the sea; consolidating those collections in various degrees, and either elevating those consolidated masses above the level on which they were formed, or lowering the level of that sea.
There is a part of the solid earth which we may at present neglect, not as being persuaded that this part may not also be found to come under the general rule of formation with the rest, but as considering this part to be of no consequence in forming a general rule, which shall comprehend almost the whole, without doing it absolutely. This excluded part consists of certain mountains and masses of granite. These are thought to be still older in their formation, and are said never to be found superincumbent on strata which must be acknowledged as the productions of the sea.
Having thus found the greater part, if not the whole, of the solid land to have been originally composed at the bottom of the sea, we may now, in order to form a proper idea of these operations, suppose the whole of this seaborn land to be again dispersed along the bottom of the ocean, the surface of which would rise proportionally over the globe. We would thus have a spheroid of water, with granite rocks and islands scattered here and there. But this would not be the world which we inhabit; therefore, the question now is, how such continents, as we actually have upon the globe, could be erected above the level of the sea.
It must be evident, that no motion of the sea, caused by this earth revolving in the solar system, could bring about that end; for let us suppose the axis of the earth to be changed from the present poles, and placed in the equinoctial line, the consequence of this might, indeed, be the formation of a continent of land about each new pole, from whence the sea would run towards the new equator; but all the rest of the globe would remain an ocean. Some new points might be discovered, and others, which before appeared above the surface of the sea, would be sunk by the rising of the water; but, on the whole, land could only be gained substantially at the poles. Such a supposition, as this, if applied to the present state of things, would be destitute of every support, as being incapable of explaining what appears.
But even allowing that, by the changed axis of the earth, or any other operation of the globe, as a planetary body revolving in the solar system, great continents of land could have been erected from the place of their formation, the bottom of the sea, and placed in a higher elevation, compared with the surface of that water, yet such a continent as this could not have continued stationary for many thousand years; nor could a continent of this kind have presented to us, every where within its body, masses of consolidated marble, and other mineral substances, in a state as different as possible from that in which they were, when originally collected together in the sea.
Consequently, besides an operation, by which the earth at the bottom of the sea should be converted into an elevated land, or placed high above the level of the ocean, there is required, in the operations of the globe, a consolidating power, by which the loose materials that had subsided from water, should be formed into masses of the most perfect solidity, having neither water nor vacuity between their various constituent parts, nor in the pores of those constituent parts themselves.
Here is an operation of the globe, whether chemical or mechanical, which is necessarily connected with the formation of our present continents: Therefore, had we a proper understanding of this secret operation, we might thereby be enabled to form an opinion, with regard to the nature of that unknown power, by which the continents have been placed above the surface of that water wherein they had their birth.
If this consolidating operation be performed at the bottom of the ocean, or under great depths of the earth, of which our continents are composed, we cannot be witnesses to this mineral process, or acquire the knowledge of natural causes, by immediately observing the changes which they produce; but though we have not this immediate observation of those changes of bodies, we have, in science, the means of reasoning from distant events; consequently, of discovering, in the general powers of nature, causes for those events of which we see the effects.
That the consolidating operation, in general, lies out of the reach of our immediate observation, will appear from the following truth: All the consolidated masses, of which we now inquire into the cause, are, upon the surface of the earth, in a state of general decay, although the various natures of those bodies admit of that dissolution in very different degrees
From every view of the subject, therefore, we are directed to look into those consolidated masses themselves, in order to find principles from whence to judge of those operations by which they had attained their hardness or consolidated state.
It must be evident, that nothing but the most general acquaintance with the laws of acting substances, and with those of bodies changing by the powers of nature, can enable us to set about this undertaking with any reasonable prospect of success; and here the science of Chemistry must be brought particularly to our aid; for this science, having for its object the changes produced upon the sensible qualities, as they are called, of bodies, by its means we may be enabled to judge of that which is possible according to the laws of nature, and of that which, in like manner, we must consider as impossible.
[Note 4: Stalactical and certain ferruginous concretions may seem to form an exception to the generality of this proposition. But an objection of this kind could only arise from a partial view of things; for the concretion here is only temporary; it is in consequence of a solution, and it is to be followed by a dissolution, which will be treated of in its proper place.]
Whatever conclusions, therefore, by means of this science, shall be attained, in just reasoning from natural appearances, this must be held as evidence, where more immediate proof cannot be obtained; and, in a physical subject, where things actual are concerned, and not the imaginations of the human mind, this proof will be considered as amounting to a demonstration.
An Investigation of the Natural Operations employed in consolidating the Strata of the Globe.
We are now about to investigate those mineral operations of the globe by which the qualities of hardness and solidity, consequently of strength and durability, are procured to great bodies of this earth.
That those qualities are not original to such bodies, but actually superinduced in the natural operations of the earth, will appear from the examination of some of the hardest and most solid of those mineral bodies. In such masses, (for example of flint and agate,) we find included shells and coralline bodies. Consequently, there must be a natural operation in the globe for consolidating and hardening its soft and loose materials. It is concerning the nature of this consolidating operation that we are now to inquire.
There are just two ways in which porous or spongy bodies can be consolidated, and by which substances may be formed into masses of a natural shape and regular structure; the one of these is simple congelation from a fluid state, by means of cold; the other is accretion; and this includes a separatory operation, as well as that by which the solid body is to be produced. But in whichever of these ways solidity shall be procured, it must be brought about by first inducing fluidity, either immediately by the action of heat, or mediately with the assistance of a solvent, that is, by the operation of solution. Therefore, fire and water may be considered as the general agents in this operation, which we would explore.
Heat has been already mentioned as a general power, and as acting in all the different parts of the globe; I would now wish more particularly to call the attention of the reader to subterraneous fire, or heat, as a powerful agent in the mineral regions, and as a cause necessarily belonging to the internal constitution of this earth.
It is not our purpose at present to inquire into the particular nature of this power of subterraneous heat, or to trace the proper connection and analogy of the internal fire with that which is so necessary to our life, and which acts so great a part upon the surface of the earth, this being reserved for the last part. Our intention in here mentioning it, is only to dispose the mind to look for active powers or efficient causes, in that part of the earth which has been commonly considered as passive and inert, but which will be found extremely active, and the source of mighty revolutions in the fate of land.
There may, indeed, be some difficulty in conceiving all the modifications of this mineral power; but as, on the one hand, we are not arbitrarily to assume an agent, for the purpose of explaining events, or certain appearances which are not understood; so, on the other, we must not refuse to admit the action of a known power, when this is properly suggested in the appearances of things; and, though we may not understand all the modifications, or the whole capacity and regulation of this power in bodies, we are not to neglect the appropriating to it, as a cause, those effects which are natural to it, and which, so far as we know, cannot belong to any other. On all occasions, we are to judge from what we know; and, we are only to avoid concluding from our suppositions, in cases where evidence or real information is necessarily required. The subject now considered, subterraneous fire, will afford an example of that truth; and, a general view of this great natural power will here find a proper place, before the application of it for the explanation of natural appearances.
No event is more the object of our notice, or more interesting as a subject for our study, than is the burning of a fire: But, the more that philosophers have studied this subject, the more they seem to differ as to the manner in which that conspicuous event is to be explained. Therefore, being so ignorant with regard to that fire of which we see the origin as well as the more immediate effects, how cautious should we be in judging the nature of subterraneous fire from the burning of bodies, a subject which we so little understand.
But, though the cause of fire in general, or the operations of that power in its extreme degrees, be for us a subject involved in much obscurity, this is not the case with regard to the more common effects of heat; and, tho' the actual existence of subterraneous fire, as the cause of light and heat, might be a thing altogether problematical in our opinion; yet, as to other effects, there are some of these from which the action of that liquefying power may be certainly concluded as having taken place within the mineral region, although the cause should be in every other respect a thing to us unknown. In that case, where the operation or effect is evident, and cannot be disputed, to refuse to admit the power in question, merely because we had not seen it act, or because we know not every rule which it may observe in acting, would be only to found an argument upon our ignorance; it would be to misunderstand the nature of investigating physical truths, which must proceed by reasoning from effect to cause.
Our knowledge is extremely limited with regard to the effects of heat in bodies, while acting under different conditions, and in various degrees. But though our knowledge in these respects is limited, our judgment with regard to the efficacy of this power of heat is in its nature positive, and contains not any thing that is doubtful or uncertain. All mankind, who have the opportunity, know that the hard substance of ice is by heat converted into water, wherein no hardness remains; and the profound philosophy of Dr Black, in relation to the subject of latent heat, as that of Sir Isaac Newton, in relation to the weight of bodies, is not necessary to convince the world that in the one case ice will melt, and in the other, that heavy bodies will move when unsupported.
But though, in the abstract doctrine of latent heat, the ingenuity of man has discovered a certain measure for the quantity of those commutable effects which are perceived; and though this be a progress of science far above the apprehension of the vulgar, yet still, that solid bodies are changed into fluids, by the power of heat, is the same unalterable judgment, which the savage forms as well as the philosopher. Here, therefore, are evident effects, which mankind in general attribute to the power of heat; and it is from those known effects that we are to investigate subterraneous fire, or to generalise the power of heat, as acting in the interior parts, as well as on the surface of this earth.
If, indeed, there were any other cause for fluidity besides the operation of fire or the power of heat, in that case the most evident proof, with regard to the flowing, or former fluidity, of mineral bodies, would draw to no conclusion in proving the existence of mineral fire; but when we have not the smallest reason for conjecturing any other cause, or the least doubt with regard to that which, in the doctrine of latent heat, has been properly investigated, the proofs which we shall bring, of fusion in all the minerals of this earth, must be held as proofs of mineral fire, in like manner as the proof of subterraneous fire would necessarily imply mineral fusion as its natural effect.
Thus we have, in our physical investigation, several points in view. First, from the present state of things, to infer a former state of fusion among mineral bodies. Secondly, from that former fusion, to infer the actual existence of mineral fire in the system of the earth. And, lastly, from the acknowledged fact of subterraneous fire as a cause, to reason with regard to the effects of that power in mineral bodies.
But besides the power or effect of subterraneous heat in bodies which are unorganised, and without system, in the construction of their different parts, we have to investigate the proper purpose of this great agent in the system of this world, which may be considered as a species of organised body. Here, therefore, final causes are to be brought into view, as well as those which are efficient. Now, in a subject involved with so much obscurity, as must be for us the internal regions of the globe, the consideration of efficient and final causes may contribute mutually to each others evidence, when separately the investigation of either might be thought unsatisfactory or insufficient.
So far it seemed necessary to premise with regard to the great mineral power which we are to employ as an agent in the system of this earth; and it may be now observed, that it is in the proper relation of this power of heat and the fluidity or softness of bodies, as cause and effect, that we are to find a physical principle or argument for detecting those false theories of the earth that have been only imagined, and not properly founded on fact or observation. It is also by means of this principle, that we shall be enabled to form a true theory of the mineral region, in generalising particular effects to a common cause.
Let us now proceed in endeavouring to decide this important question, viz. By what active principle is it, that the present state of things, which we observe in the strata of the earth, a state so very different from that in which those bodies had been formed originally, has been brought about?
Two causes have been now proposed for the consolidating of loose materials which had been in an incoherent state; these are, on the one hand, fire; or, on the other, water, as the means of bringing about that event. We are, therefore, to consider well, what may be the consequences of consolidation by the one or other of those agents; and what may be the respective powers of those agents with respect to this operation.
If we are not informed in this branch of science, we may gaze without instruction upon the most convincing proofs of what we want to attain. If our knowledge is imperfect, we may form erroneous principles, and deceive ourselves in reasoning with regard to those works of nature, which are wisely calculated for our instruction.
The strata, formed at the bottom of the sea, are to be considered as having been consolidated, either by aqueous solution and crystallization, or by the effect of heat and fusion. If it is in the first of these two ways that the solid strata of the globe have attained to their present state, there will be a certain uniformity observable in the effects; and there will be general laws, by which this operation must have been conducted. Therefore, knowing those general laws, and making just observations with regard to the natural appearances of those consolidated masses, a philosopher, in his closet, should be able to determine, what may, and what may not have been transacted in the bowels of the earth, or below the bottom of the ocean.
Let us now endeavour to ascertain what may have been the power of water, acting under fixed circumstances, operating upon known substances, and conducting to a certain end.
The action of water upon all different substances is an operation with which we are familiar. We have it in our power to apply water in different degrees of heat for the solution of bodies, and under various degrees of compression; consequently, there is no reason to conclude any thing mysterious in the operations of the globe, which are to be performed by means of water, unless an immense compressing power should alter the nature of those operations. But compression alters the relation of evaporation only with regard to heat, or it changes the degree of heat which water may be made to sustain; consequently, we are to look for no occult quality in water acting upon bodies at the bottom of the deepest ocean, more than what can be observed in experiments which we have it in our power to try.
With regard again to the effect of time: Though the continuance of time may do much in those operations which are extremely slow, where no change, to our observation, had appeared to take place, yet, where it is not in the nature of things to produce the change in question, the unlimited course of time would be no more effectual, than the moment by which we measure events in our observations.
Water being the general medium in which bodies collected at the bottom of the sea are always contained, if those masses of collected matter are to be consolidated by solution, it must be by the dissolution of those bodies in that water as a menstruum, and by the concretion or crystallization of this dissolved matter, that the spaces, first occupied by water in those masses, are afterwards to be filled with a hard and solid substance; but without some other power, by which the water contained in those cavities and endless labyrinths of the strata, should be separated in proportion as it had performed its task, it is inconceivable how those masses, however changed from the state of their first subsidence, should be absolutely consolidated, without any visible or fluid water in their composition.
Besides this difficulty of having the water separated from the porous masses which are to be consolidated, there is another with which, upon this supposition, we have to struggle. This is, From whence should come the matter with which the numberless cavities in those masses are to be filled?
The water in the cavities and interstices of those bodies composing strata, must be in a stagnating state; consequently, it can only act upon the surfaces of those cavities which are to be filled up. But with what are they to be filled? Not with water; they are full of that already: Not with the substance of the bodies which contain that water; this would be only to make one cavity in order to fill up another. If, therefore, the cavities of the strata are to be filled with solid matter, by means of water, there must be made to pass through those porous masses, water impregnated with some other substances in a dissolved state; and the aqueous menstruum must be made to separate from the dissolved substance, and to deposit the same in those cavities through which the solution moves.
By such a supposition as this, we might perhaps explain a partial consolidation of those strata; but this is a supposition, of which the case under consideration does not admit; for in the present case, which is that of materials accumulated at the bottom of the ocean, there is not proper means for separating the dissolved matter from the water included in those enormous masses; nor are there any means by which a circulation in those masses may be formed. In this case, therefore, where the means are not naturally in the supposition, a philosopher, who is to explain the phenomenon by the natural operation of water in this situation, must not have recourse to another agent, still more powerful, to assist his supposition which cannot be admitted.
Thus, it will appear, that, to consolidate strata formed at the bottom of the sea, in the manner now considered, operations are required unnatural to this place; consequently, not to be supposed, in order to support a hypothesis.
But now, instead of inquiring how far water may be supposed instrumental in the consolidation of strata which were originally of a loose texture, we are to consider how far there may be appearances in those consolidated bodies, by which it might be concluded, whether or not the present state of their consolidation has been actually brought about by means of that agent.
If water had been the menstruum by which the consolidating matter was introduced into the interstices of strata, masses of those bodies could only be found consolidated with such substances as water is capable of dissolving; and these substances would be found only in such a state as the simple separation of the solvent water might produce.
In this case, the consolidation of strata would be extremely limited; for we cannot allow more power to water than we find it has in nature; nor are we to imagine to ourselves unlimited powers in bodies, on purpose to explain those appearances by which we should be made to know the powers of nature. Let us, therefore, attend, with every possible circumspection, to the appearances of those bodies, by means of which we are to investigate the principles of mineralogy, and know the laws of nature.
The question now before us concerns the consolidating substances of strata. Are these such as will correspond to the dissolving power of water, and to the state in which these substances might be left by the separation of their menstruum? No; far, far from this supposition is the conclusion that necessarily follows from natural appearances.
We have strata consolidated by calcareous spar, a thing perfectly distinguishable from the stalactical concretion of calcareous earth, in consequence of aqueous solution. We have strata made solid by the formation of fluor, a substance not soluble, so far as we know, by water. We have strata consolidated with sulphureous and bituminous substances, which do not correspond to the solution of water. We have strata consolidated with siliceous matter, in a state different from that under which it has been observed, on certain occasions, to be deposited by water. We have strata consolidated by feld-spar, a substance insoluble in water. We have strata consolidated by almost all the various metallic substances, with their almost endless mixtures and sulphureous compositions; that is to say, we find, perhaps, every different substance introduced into the interstices of strata which had been formed by subsidence at the bottom of the sea.
If it is by means of water that those interstices have been filled with those materials, water must be, like fire, an universal solvent, or cause of fluidity, and we must change entirely our opinion of water in relation to its chemical character. But there is no necessity thus to violate our chemical principles, in order to explain certain natural appearances; more especially if those appearances may be explained in another manner, consistently with the known laws of nature.
If, again, it is by means of heat and fusion that the loose and porous structure of strata shall be supposed to have been consolidated, then every difficulty which had occurred in reasoning upon the power or agency of water is at once removed. The loose and discontinuous body of a stratum may be closed by means of softness and compression; the porous structure of the materials may be consolidated, in a similar manner, by the fusion of their substance; and foreign matter may be introduced into the open structure of strata, in form of steam or exhalation, as well as in the fluid state of fusion; consequently, heat is an agent competent for the consolidation of strata, which water alone is not. If, therefore, such an agent could be found acting in the natural place of strata, we must pronounce it proper to bring about that end.
The examination of nature gives countenance to this supposition, so far as strata are found consolidated by every species of substance, and almost every possible mixture of those different substances; consequently, however difficult it may appear to have this application of heat, for the purpose of consolidating strata formed at the bottom of the ocean, we cannot, from natural appearances, suppose any other cause, as having actually produced the effects which are now examined.
This question, with regard to the means of consolidating the strata of the globe, is, to natural history, of the greatest importance; and it is essential in the theory now proposed to be given of the mineral system. It would, therefore, require to be discussed with some degree of precision in examining the particulars; but of these, there is so great a field, and the subject is so complicated in its nature, that volumes might be written upon particular branches only, without exhausting what might be laid upon the subject; because the evidence, though strong in many particulars, is chiefly to be enforced by a multitude of facts, conspiring, in a diversity of ways, to point out one truth, and by the impossibility of reconciling all these facts, except by means of one supposition.
But, as it is necessary to give some proof of that which is to be a principle in our reasoning afterwards, I shall now endeavour to generalise the subject as much as possible, in order to answer that end, and, at the same time, to point out the particular method of inquiry.
There are to be found, among the various strata of the globe, bodies formed of two different kinds of substances, siliceous bodies, and those which may be termed sulphureous or phlogistic. With one or other, or both of those we substances, every different consolidated stratum of the globe will be found so intimately mixed, or closely connected, that it must be concluded, by whatever cause those bodies of siliceous and sulphureous matter had been changed from a fluid to a concreted state, the strata must have been similarly affected by the same cause.
These two species of bodies, therefore, the siliceous and the sulphureous, may now be examined, in relation to the causes of their concretion, with a view to determine, what has been the general concreting or consolidating power, which has operated universally in the globe; and particularly to show, it has not been by means of any fluid solution, that strata in general have been consolidated, or that those particular substances have been crystallized and concreted.
Siliceous matter, physically speaking, is not soluble in water; that is to say, in no manner of way have we been enabled to learn, that water has the power of dissolving this matter.
Many other substances, which are so little soluble in water, that their solubility could not be otherwise detected of themselves, are made to appear soluble by means of siliceous matter; such is feld-spar, one of the component parts of rock-granite.
Feld-spar is a compound of siliceous, argillaceous, and calcareous earth, intimately united together. This compound siliceous body being, for ages, exposed to the weather, the calcareous part of it is dissolved, and the siliceous part is left in form of a soft white earth. But whether this dissolution is performed by pure water, or by means also of an acid, may perhaps be questioned. This, however, is certain, that we must consider siliceous substances as insoluble in water.
The water of Glezer in Iceland undoubtedly contains this substance in solution; but there is no reason to believe, that it is here dissolved by any other than the natural means; that is, an alkaline substance, by which siliceous bodies may be rendered soluble in water.
[Note 5: This conjecture, which I had thus formed, has been fully confirmed by the accurate analysis of those waters. See vol. 3d. of the Phil. Trans. of Edin.]
It may be, therefore, asserted, that no siliceous body having the hardness of flint, nor any crystallization of that substance, has ever been formed, except by fusion. If, by any art, this substance shall be dissolved in simple water, or made to crystallise from any solution, in that case, the assertion which has been here made may be denied. But where there is not the vestige of any proof, to authorise the supposition of flinty matter being dissolved by water, or crystallized from that solution, such an hypothesis cannot be admitted, in opposition to general and evident appearances.
[Note 6: The Chevalier de Dolomieu has imagined an ingenious theory for the solution of siliceous substances in water [Journal de Physique, Mai 1792.]. This theory has not been taken up merely at a venture, but is founded upon very accurate and interesting chemical experiments. Hitherto, however, the nature of the siliceous substance is not sufficiently known, to enable us to found, upon chemical principles, the mineral operations of nature. That siliceous substance may be dissolved, or rendered soluble in water, by means of alkaline salt, and that it may be also volatilised by means of the fluor acid, is almost all that we know upon the subject. But this is saying no more in relation to the mineral operations employed upon the siliceous substance, than it would be, in relation to those upon gold, to say that this metal is dissolved by aqua regia.
It is to be admitted, that every simple substance may have its menstruum, by means of which it may be retained with water in a dissolved state; but from this it does not follow, that it is by the means of aqueous solutions of all those mineral bodies, that nature operates the consolidation of bodies, which we find actually accomplished with all those different substances. It is the business of this work to show, that from all appearances in the mineral regions, as well as those upon the surface in the atmosphere, the supposition, of that manner of consolidating bodies by solution, is inconsistent both with natural appearances, and also with chemical principles.
Our ingenious author, who has, with, great diligence as well as an enlightened mind, observed the operations of nature upon the surface of the earth, here says, "ce n'est pas sans etonnement que je remarque depuis long-temps que jamais aucune eau qui coule a la surface de la terre n'attaque le quartz, aucune n'en tient en dissolution, pendant que celles qui circulent interieurement le corrodent aussi souvent qu'elles le deposent."—How dangerous it is in science for ingenious men to allow themselves to form conclusions, which the principles on which they reason do not strictly warrant, we have a remarkable example in the present case.
M. de Dolomieu sees no corrosion of quartz, or solution of that substance, upon the surface of the earth; from this, then, he concludes, that siliceous substance is not dissolved in that situation of things. On the other hand, he finds siliceous bodies variously concreted among the solid strata of the earth; and, from this he concludes, that siliceous substance has been both dissolved by water in the strata, and also there again concreted and crystallised in having been separated from the water. This is certainly what we all perceive; but we do not all allow ourselves to draw such inconclusive inferences from our premises. Notwithstanding the greatest accuracy of our observations, quartz may be dissolvable in a minute degree by water, upon the surface of this earth; and, all the appearances of siliceous bodies, in the mineral regions, where we cannot immediately see the operation, may be better explained by fusion than by aqueous solution.
But, from his chemical experiments, our author has conjectured that there may be a phlogistic substance, by means of which the siliceous earth is dissolved when in darkness; and that this solvent loses its power, if exposed to the light of day. I have one observation to oppose to this ingenious theory. Under deep black mosses, through which no ray of light can penetrate, every condition for dissolving siliceous bodies should be found, according to the supposition in question; neither will sufficient time be found wanting, in those deep mosses, upon the summits of our mountains; yet, examine the matter of fact? not the smallest solution is to be perceived in the siliceous parts of the stones which are found under those mosses, but every particle of iron is dissolved, so that the surface of every stone is white, and nothing but the siliceous earth of the feld-spar, and perhaps the argillaceous, is left.
Here we have in this author an instructive example: No person, in my opinion, has made such enlightened or scientific experiments, or such judicious observations with regard to the nature of siliceous substance, as a compound thing; no person reasons more distinctly in general, or sees more clearly the importance of his principles; yet, with regard to mineral concretions, how often has he been drawn thus inadvertently into improper generalization! I appeal to the analogy which, in this treatise, he has formed, between the stalactical concretions upon the surface of the earth, and the mineral concretions of siliceous substance. As an example of the great lights, and penetrating genius, of this assiduous studier of nature, I refer to the judicious observations which he has made upon the subject of aluminous earth, in this dissertation.
I am surprised to find this enlightened naturalist seeking, in the origin of this globe of our earth, a general principle of fluidity or solution in water, like the alkahest of the alchymists, by means of which the different substances in the chemical constitution of precious stones might have been united as well as crystallised. One would have thought, that a philosopher, so conversant in the operations of subterraneous fire, would have perceived, that there is but one general principle of fluidity or dissolution, and that this is heat.]
Besides this proof for the fusion of siliceous bodies, which is indirect, arising from the in dissolubility of that substance in water, there is another, which is more direct, being founded upon appearances which are plainly inconsistent with any other supposition, except that of simple fluidity induced by heat. The proof I mean is, the penetration of many bodies with a flinty substance, which, according to every collateral circumstance, must have been performed by the flinty matter in a simply fluid state, and not in a state of dissolution by a solvent.
These are flinty bodies perfectly insulated in strata both of chalk and sand. It requires but inspection to be convinced. It is not possible that flinty matter could be conveyed into the middle of those strata, by a menstruum in which it was dissolved, and thus deposited in that place, without the smallest trace of deposition in the surrounding parts.
But, besides this argument taken from what does not appear, the actual form in which those flinty masses are found, demonstrates, first, That they have been introduced among those strata in a fluid state, by injection from some other place. 2dly, That they have been dispersed in a variety of ways among those strata, then deeply immersed at the bottom of the sea; and, lastly, That they have been there congealed from the state of fusion, and have remained in that situation, while those strata have been removed from the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the present land.
To describe those particular appearances would draw this paper beyond the bounds of an essay. We must, therefore, refer those who would inquire more minutely into the subject, to examine the chalk-countries of France and England, in which the flint is found variously formed; the land-hills interspersed among those chalk-countries, which have been also injected by melted flint; and the pudding-stone of England, which I have not seen in its natural situation. More particularly, I would recommend an examination of the insulated masses of stone, found in the sand-hills by the city of Brussels; a stone which is formed by an injection of flint among sand, similar to that which, in a body of gravel, had formed the pudding-stone of England.
[Note 7: Accurate descriptions of those appearances, with drawings, would be, to natural history, a valuable acquisition.]
All these examples would require to be examined upon the spot, as a great part of the proof for the fusion of the flinty substance, arises, in my opinion, from the form in which those bodies are found, and the state of the surrounding parts. But there are specimens brought from many different places, which contain, in themselves, the most evident marks of this injection of the flinty substance in a fluid state. These are pieces of fossil wood, penetrated with a siliceous substance, which are brought from England, Germany, and Lochneagh in Ireland.
It appears from these specimens, that there has sometimes been a prior penetration of the body of wood, either with irony matter, or calcareous substance. Sometimes, again, which is the case with that of Lochneagh, there does not seem to have been any penetration of those two substances. The injected flint appears to have penetrated the body of this wood, immersed at the bottom of the sea, under an immense compression of water. This appears from the wood being penetrated partially, some parts not being penetrated at all.
Now, in the limits between those two parts, we have the most convincing proofs, that it had been flint in a simple fluid state which had penetrated the wood, and not in a state of solution.
First, Because, however little of the wood is left unpenetrated, the division is always distinct between the injected part and that which is not penetrated by the fluid flint. In this case, the flinty matter has proceeded a certain length, which is marked, and no farther; and, beyond this boundary, there is no partial impregnation, nor a gradation of the flintifying operation, as must have been the case if siliceous matter had been deposited from a solution. 2dly, The termination of the flinty impregnation has assumed such a form, precisely, as would naturally happen from a fluid flint penetrating that body.
In other specimens of this mineralising operation, fossil wood, penetrated, more or less, with ferruginous and calcareous substances, has been afterwards penetrated with a flinty substance. In this case, with whatever different substances the woody body shall be supposed to have been penetrated in a state of solution by water, the regular structure of the plant would still have remained, with its vacuities, variously filled with the petrifying substances, separated from the aqueous menstruum, and deposited in the vascular structure of the wood. There cannot be a doubt with regard to the truth of this proposition; for, as it is, we frequently find parts of the consolidated wood, with the vascular structure remaining perfectly in its natural shape and situation; but if it had been by aqueous solution that the wood had been penetrated and consolidated, all the parts of that body would be found in the same natural shape and situation.
This, however, is far from being the case; for while, in some parts, the vascular structure is preserved entire, it is also evident, that, in general, the woody structure is variously broken and dissolved by the fusion and crystallization of the flint. There are so many and such various convincing examples of this, that, to attempt to describe them, would be to exceed the bounds prescribed for this dissertation; but such specimens are in my possession, ready for the inspection of any person who may desire to study the subject.
We may now proceed to consider sulphureous substances, with regard to their solubility in water, and to the part which these bodies have acted in consolidating the strata of the globe.
The sulphureous substances here meant to be considered, are substances not soluble in, water, so far as we know, but fusible by heat, and inflammable or combustible by means of heat and vital air. These substances are of two kinds; the one more simple, the other more compound.
The most simple kind is composed of two different substances, viz. phlogiston, with certain specific substances; from which result, on the one hand, sulphur, and, on the other, proper coal and metals. The more compound sort, again, is oily matter, produced by vegetables, and forming bituminous bodies.
The first of these is found naturally combined with almost all metallic substances, which are then said to be mineralised with sulphur. Now, it is well known, that this mineralising operation is performed by means of heat or fusion; and there is no person skilled in chemistry that will pretend to say, this may be done by aqueous solution. The combination of iron and sulphur, for example, may easily be performed by fusion; but, by aqueous solution, this particular combination is again resolved, and forms an acido-metallic, that is, a vitriolic substance, after the phlogiston (by means of which it is insoluble in water) has been separated from the composition, by the assistance of vital air.
The variety of these sulphureo-metallic substances, in point of composition, is almost indefinite; but, unless they were all soluble in water, this could not have happened by the action of that solvent. If we shall allow any one of those bodies to have been formed by the fluidity of heat, they must all have been formed in the same manner; for there is such a chain of connection among those bodies in the mineral regions, that they must all have been composed, either, on the one hand, by aqueous solution, or, on the other, by means of heat and fusion.
Here, for example, are crystallised together in one mass, 1st, Pyrites, containing sulphur, iron, copper; 2dly, Blend, a composition of iron, sulphur, and calamine; 3dly, Galena, consisting of lead and sulphur; 4thly, Marmor metallicum, being the terra ponderosa, saturated with the vitriolic acid; a substance insoluble in water; 5thly, Fluor, a saturation of calcareous earth, with a peculiar acid, called the acid of spar, also insoluble in water; 6thly, Calcareous spar, of different kinds, being calcareous earth saturated with fixed air, and something besides, which forms a variety in this substance; lastly, Siliceous substance, or Quartz crystals. All these bodies, each possessing its proper shape, are mixed in such a manner as it would be endless to describe, but which may be expressed in general by saying, that they are mutually contained in, and contain each other.
Unless, therefore; every one of these different substances may be dissolved in water, and crystallised from it, it is in vain to look for the explanation of these appearances in the operations of nature, by the means of aqueous solution.
On the other hand, heat being capable of rendering all these substances fluid, they may be, with the greatest simplicity, transported from one place to another; and they may be made to concrete altogether at the same time, and distinctly separate in any place. Hence, for the explanation of those natural appearances, which are so general, no further conditions are required, than the supposition of a sufficient intensity of subterraneous fire or heat, and a sufficient degree of compression upon those bodies, which are to be subjected to that violent heat, without calcination or change. But, so far as this supposition is not gratuitous, the appearances of nature will be thus explained.
I shall only mention one specimen, which must appear most decisive of the question. It is, I believe, from an Hungarian mine. In this specimen, petro-silex, pyrites, and cinnabar, are so mixed together, and crystallised upon each other, that it is impossible to conceive any one of those bodies to have had its fluidity and concretion from a cause which had not affected the other two. Now, let those who would deny the fusion of this siliceous body explain how water could dissolve these three different bodies, and deposit them in their present shape. If, on the contrary, they have not the least shadow of reason for such a gratuitous supposition, the present argument must be admitted in its full force.
Sulphur and metals are commonly found combined in the mineral regions. But this rule is not universal; for they are also frequently in a separate state. There is not, perhaps, a metal, among the great number which are now discovered, that may not be found native, as they are called, or in their metallic state.
Metallic substances are also thus found in some proportion to the disposition of the particular metals, to resist the mineralising operations, and to their facility of being metallised by fire and fusion. Gold, which refuses to be mineralised with sulphur, is found generally in its native state. Iron, again, which is so easily mineralised and scorified, is seldom found in its malleable state. The other metals are all found more or less mineralised, though some of them but rarely in the native state.
Besides being found with circumstances thus corresponding to the natural facility, or to the impediments attending the metallization of those different calces, the native metals are also found in such a shape, and with such marks, as can only agree with the fusion of those bodies; that is to say, those appearances are perfectly irreconcilable with any manner of solution and precipitation.
For the truth of this assertion, among a thousand other examples, I appeal to that famous mass of native iron discovered by Mr Pallas in Siberia. This mass being so well known to all the mineralists of Europe, any comment upon its shape and structure will be unnecessary.
[Note 8: Since this Dissertation was written, M. de la Peyrouse has discovered a native manganese. The circumstances of this mineral are so well adapted for illustrating the present doctrine, and so well related by M. de la Peyrouse, that I should be wanting to the interest of mineral knowledge, were I not to give here that part of his Memoir.
"Lorsque je fis inserer dans le journal de physique de l'annee 1780, au mois de Janvier, une Dissertation contenant la classification des mines de manganese, je ne connoissois point, a cette epoque, la mine de manganese native. Elle a la couleur de son regule: Elle salit les doigts de la meme teinte. Son tissu parait aussi lamelleux, et les lames semblent affecter une sorte de divergence. Elle a ainsi que lui, l'eclat metallique; comme lui elle se laisse aplatir sous le marteau, et s'exfolie si l'on redouble les coups; mais une circonstance qui est trop frappante pour que je l'omette, c'est la figure de la manganese native, si prodigieusement conforme a celle du regule, qu'on s'y laisseroit tromper, si la mine n'etoit encore dans sa gangue: Figure tres-essentielle a observer ici, parce qu'elle est due a la nature meme de la manganese. En effet, pour reduire toutes les mines en general, il faut employer divers flux appropries. Pour la reduction de la manganese, bien loin d'user de ce moyen, il faut, au contraire, eloigner tout flux, produire la fusion, par la seule violence et la promptitude du feu. Et telle est la propension naturelle et prodigieuse de la manganese a la vitrification, qu'on n'a pu parvenir encore a reduire son regule en un seul culot; on trouve dans le creuset plusieurs petits boutons, qui forment autant de culots separes. Dans la mine de manganese native, elle n'est point en une seule masse; elle est disposee egalement en plusieurs culots separes, et un peu aplatis, comme ceux que l'art produit; beaucoup plus gros, a la verite, parce que les agens de la nature doivent avoir une autre energie, que ceux de nos laboratoires; et cette ressemblance si exacte, semble devoir vous faire penser que la mine native a ete produite par le feu, tout comme son regule. La presence de la chaux argentee de la manganese, me permettroit de croire que la nature n'a fait que reduire cette chaux. Du reste, cette mine native est tres-pure, et ne contient aucune partie attirable a l'aimant. Cette mine, unique jusqu'a ce moment, vient, tout comme les autres manganese que j'ai decrites, des mines de fer de Sem, dans la vallee de Viedersos, en Comte de Foix."—Journal de Physique, Janvier 1786.]
We come now to the second species of inflammable bodies called oily or bituminous. These substances are also found variously mixed with mineral bodies, as well as forming strata of themselves; they are, therefore, a proper subject for a particular examination.
In the process of vegetation, there are produced oily and resinous substances; and, from the collection of these substances at the bottom of the ocean, there are formed strata, which have afterwards undergone various degrees of beat, and have been variously changed, in consequence of the effects of that heat, according as the distillation of the more volatile parts of those bodies has been suffered to proceed.
In order to understand this, it must be considered, that, while immersed in water, and under insuperable compression, the vegetable, oily, and resinous substances, would appear to be unalterable by heat; and it is only in proportion as certain chemical separations take place, that these inflammable bodies are changed in their substance by the application of heat. Now, the most general change of this kind is in consequence of evaporation, or the distillation of their more volatile parts, by which oily substances become bituminous, and bituminous substances become coaly.
There is here a gradation which may be best understood, by comparing the extremes.
On the one hand, we know by experiment, that oily and bituminous substances can be melted and partly changed into vapour by heat, and that they become harder and denser, in proportion as the more volatile parts have evaporated from them. On the other hand, coaly substances are destitute of fusibility and volatility, in proportion as they have been exposed to greater degrees of heat, and to other circumstances favourable to the dissipation of their more volatile and fluid parts.
If, therefore, in mineral bodies, we find the two extreme states of this combustible substance, and also the intermediate states, we must either conclude, that this particular operation of heat has been thus actually employed in nature, or we must explain those appearances by some other means, in as satisfactory a manner, and so as shall be consistent with other appearances.
In this case, it will avail nothing to have recourse to the false analogy of water dissolving and crystallising salts, which has been so much employed for the explanation of other mineral appearances. The operation here in question is of a different nature, and necessarily requires both the powers of heat and proper conditions for evaporation.
Therefore, in order to decide the point, with regard to what is the power in nature by which mineral bodies have become solid, we have but to find bituminous substance in the most complete state of coal, intimately connected with some other substance, which is more generally found consolidating the strata, and assisting in the concretion of mineral substances. But I have in my possession the most undoubted proof of this kind. It is a mineral vein, or cavity, in which are blended together coal of the most fixed kind, quartz and marmor metallicum. Nor is this all; for the specimen now referred to is contained in a rock of this kind, which every naturalist now-a-days will allow to have congealed from a fluid state of fusion. I have also similar specimens from the same place, in which the coal is not of that fixed and infusible kind which burns without flame or smoke, but is bituminous or inflammable coal.
We have hitherto been resting the argument upon a single point, for the sake of simplicity or clearness, not for want of those circumstances which shall be found to corroborate the theory. The strata of fossil coal are found in almost every intermediate state, as well as in those of bitumen and charcoal. Of the one kind is that fossil coal which melts or becomes fluid upon receiving heat; of the other, is that species of coal, found both in Wales and Scotland, which is perfectly infusible in the fire, and burns like coals, without flame or smoke. The one species abounds in oily matter, the other has been distilled by heat, until it has become a caput mortuum, or perfect coal.
The more volatile parts of these bituminous bodies are found in their separate state on some occasions. There is a stratum of limestone in Fifeshire, near Raith, which, though but slightly tinged with a black colour, contains bituminous matter, like pitch, in many cavities, which are lined with calcareous spar crystallised. I have a specimen of such a cavity, in which the bitumen is in sphericles, or rounded drops, immersed in the calcareous spar.
Now, it is to be observed, that, if the cavity in the solid limestone or marble, which is lined with calcareous crystals containing pyrites, had been thus encrusted by means of the filtration of water, this water must have dissolved calcareous spar, pyrites, and bitumen. But these natural appearances would not even be explained by this dissolution and supposed filtration of those substances. There is also required, first, A cause for the separation of those different substances from the aqueous menstruum in which they had been dissolved; 2dly, An explanation of the way in which a dissolved bitumen should be formed into round hard bodies of the most solid structure; and, lastly, Some probable means for this complicated operation being performed, below the bottom of the ocean, in the close cavity of a marble stratum.
Thus, the additional proof, from the facts relating to the bituminous substances, conspiring with that from the phenomena of other bodies, affords the strongest corroboration of this opinion, that the various concretions found in the internal parts of strata have not been occasioned by means of aqueous solution, but by the power of heat and operation of simple fusion, preparing those different substances to concrete and crystallise in cooling.
The arguments which have been now employed for proving that strata have been consolidated by the power of heat, or by the means of fusion, have been drawn chiefly from the insoluble nature of those consolidating substances in relation to water, which is the only general menstruum that can be allowed for the mineral regions. But there are found, in the mineral kingdom, many solid masses of saltgem, which is a soluble substance. It may be now inquired, How far these masses, which are not infrequent in the earth, tend either to confirm the present theory, or, on the contrary, to give countenance to that which supposes water the chief instrument in consolidating strata.
The formation of salt at the bottom of the sea, without the assistance of subterranean fire, is not a thing unsupposable, as at first sight it might appear. Let us but suppose a rock placed across the gut of Gibraltar, (a case nowise unnatural), and the bottom of the Mediterranean would be certainly filled with salt, because the evaporation from the surface of that sea exceeds the measure of its supply.
But strata of salt, formed in this manner at the bottom of the sea, are as far from being consolidated by means of aqueous solution, as a bed of sand in the same situation; and we cannot explain the consolidation of such a stratum of salt by means of water, without supposing subterranean heat employed, to evaporate the brine which would successively occupy the interstices of the saline crystals. But this, it may be observed, is equally departing from the natural operation of water, as the means for consolidating the sediment of the ocean, as if we were to suppose the same thing done by heat and fusion. For the question is not, If subterranean heat be of sufficient intensity for the purpose of consolidating strata by the fusion of their substances; the question is, Whether it be by means of this agent, subterranean heat, or by water alone, without the operation of a melting heat, that those materials have been variously consolidated.
The example now under consideration, consolidated mineral salt, will serve to throw some light upon the subject; for, as it is to be shown, that this body of salt had been consolidated by perfect fusion, and not by means of aqueous solution, the consolidation of strata of indissoluble substances, by the operation of a melting heat, will meet with all that confirmation which the consistency of natural appearances can give.
The salt rock in Cheshire lies in strata of red marl. It is horizontal in its direction. I do not know its thickness, but it is dug thirty or forty feet deep. The body of this rock is perfectly solid, and the salt, in many places, pure, colourless, and transparent, breaking with a sparry cubical structure. But the greatest part is tinged by the admixture of the marl, and that in various degrees, from the slightest tinge of red, to the most perfect opacity. Thus, the rock appears as if it had been a mass of fluid salt, in which had been floating a quantity of marly substance, not uniformly mixed, but every where separating and subsiding from the pure saline substance.
There is also to be observed a certain regularity in this separation of the tinging from the colourless substance, which, at a proper distance, gives to the perpendicular section of the rock a distinguishable figure in its structure. When looking at this appearance near the bottom of the rock, it, at first, presented me with the figure of regular stratification; but, upon examining the whole mass of rock, I found, that it was only towards the bottom that this stratified appearance took place; and that, at the top of the rock, the most beautiful and regular figure was to be observed; but a figure the most opposite to that of stratification. It was all composed of concentric circles; and these appeared to be the section of a mass, composed altogether of concentric spheres, like those beautiful systems of configuration which agates so frequently present us with in miniature. In about eight or ten feet from the top, the circles growing large, were blended together, and gradually lost their regular appearance, until, at a greater depth, they again appeared in resemblance of a stratification.
This regular arrangement of the floating marly substance in the body of salt, which is that of the structure of a coated pebble, or that of concentric spheres, is altogether inexplicable upon any other supposition, than the perfect fluidity or fusion of the salt, and the attractions and repulsions of the contained substances. It is in vain to look, in the operations of solution and evaporation, for that which nothing but perfect fluidity or fusion can explain.
This example of a mineral salt congealed from a melted state, may be confirmed from another which I have from Dr Black, who suggested it to me. It is an alkaline salt, found in a mineral state, and described in the Philosophical Transactions, anno 1771. But to understand this specimen, something must be premised with regard to the nature of fossil alkali.
The fossil alkali crystallises from a dissolved state, in combining itself with a large portion of the water, in the manner of alum; and, in this case, the water is essential to the constitution of that transparent crystalline body; for, upon the evaporation of the water, the transparent salt loses its solidity, and becomes a white powder. If, instead of being gently dried, the crystalline salt is suddenly exposed to a sufficient degree of heat, that is, somewhat more than boiling water, it enters into the state of aqueous fusion, and it boils, in emitting the water by means of which it had been crystallised in the cold, and rendered fluid in that heated state. It is not possible to crystallise this alkaline salt from a dissolved state, without the combination of that quantity of water, nor to separate that water without destroying its crystalline state.
But in this mineral specimen, we have a solid crystalline salt, with a structure which, upon fracture, appears to be sparry and radiated, something resembling that of zeolite. It contains no water in its crystallization, but melts in a sufficient heat, without any aqueous fusion. Therefore, this salt must have been in a fluid state of fusion, immediately before its congelation and crystallization.
It would be endless to give examples of particular facts, so many are the different natural appearances that occur, attended with a variety of different circumstances.
There is one, however, which is peculiarly distinct, admits of sufficiently accurate description, and contains circumstances from which conclusions may be drawn with clearness. This is the ironstone, which is commonly found among the argillaceous strata, attendant upon fossil coal, both in Scotland and in England.