Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
by Robert Chambers
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Transcribed by David Price, email, from the 1844 John Churchill edition.



It is familiar knowledge that the earth which we inhabit is a globe of somewhat less than 8000 miles in diameter, being one of a series of eleven which revolve at different distances around the sun, and some of which have satellites in like manner revolving around them. The sun, planets, and satellites, with the less intelligible orbs termed comets, are comprehensively called the solar system, and if we take as the uttermost bounds of this system the orbit of Uranus (though the comets actually have a wider range), we shall find that it occupies a portion of space not less than three thousand six hundred millions of miles in extent. The mind fails to form an exact notion of a portion of space so immense; but some faint idea of it may be obtained from the fact, that, if the swiftest race-horse ever known had begun to traverse it, at full speed, at the time of the birth of Moses, he would only as yet have accomplished half his journey.

It has long been concluded amongst astronomers, that the stars, though they only appear to our eyes as brilliant points, are all to be considered as suns, representing so many solar systems, each bearing a general resemblance to our own. The stars have a brilliancy and apparent magnitude which we may safely presume to be in proportion to their actual size and the distance at which they are placed from us. Attempts have been made to ascertain the distance of some of the stars by calculations founded on parallax, it being previously understood that, if a parallax of so much as one second, or the 3600th of a degree, could be ascertained in any one instance, the distance might be assumed in that instance as not less than 19,200 millions of miles! In the case of the most brilliant star, Sirius, even this minute parallax could not be found; from which of course it was to be inferred that the distance of that star is something beyond the vast distance which has been stated. In some others, on which the experiment has been tried, no sensible parallax could be detected; from which the same inference was to be made in their case. But a sensible parallax of about one second has been ascertained in the case of the double star, alpha alpha, of the constellation of the Centaur, {3} and one of the third of that amount for the double star, 61 Cygni; which gave reason to presume that the distance of the former might be about twenty thousand millions of miles, and the latter of much greater amount. If we suppose that similar intervals exist between all the stars, we shall readily see that the space occupied by even the comparatively small number visible to the naked eye, must be vast beyond all powers of conception.

The number visible to the eye is about three thousand; but when a telescope of small power is directed to the heavens, a great number more come into view, and the number is ever increased in proportion to the increased power of the instrument. In one place, where they are more thickly sown than elsewhere, Sir William Herschel reckoned that fifty thousand passed over a field of view two degrees in breadth in a single hour. It was first surmised by the ancient philosopher, Democritus, that the faintly white zone which spans the sky under the name of the Milky Way, might be only a dense collection of stars too remote to be distinguished. This conjecture has been verified by the instruments of modern astronomers, and some speculations of a most remarkable kind have been formed in connexion with it. By the joint labours of the two Herschels, the sky has been "gauged" in all directions by the telescope, so as to ascertain the conditions of different parts with respect to the frequency of the stars. The result has been a conviction that, as the planets are parts of solar systems, so are solar systems parts of what may be called astral systems—that is, systems composed of a multitude of stars, bearing a certain relation to each other. The astral system to which we belong, is conceived to be of an oblong, flattish form, with a space wholly or comparatively vacant in the centre, while the extremity in one direction parts into two. The stars are most thickly sown in the outer parts of this vast ring, and these constitute the Milky Way. Our sun is believed to be placed in the southern portion of the ring, near its inner edge, so that we are presented with many more stars, and see the Milky Way much more clearly, in that direction, than towards the north, in which line our eye has to traverse the vacant central space. Nor is this all. Sir William Herschel, so early as 1783, detected a motion in our solar system with respect to the stars, and announced that it was tending towards the star ?, in the constellation Hercules. This has been generally verified by recent and more exact calculations, {5} which fix on a point in Hercules, near the star 143 of the 17th hour, according to Piozzi's catalogue, as that towards which our sun is proceeding. It is, therefore, receding from the inner edge of the ring. Motions of this kind, through such vast regions of space, must be long in producing any change sensible to the inhabitants of our planet, and it is not easy to grasp their general character; but grounds have nevertheless been found for supposing that not only our sun, but the other suns of the system pursue a wavy course round the ring FROM WEST TO EAST, crossing and recrossing the middle of the annular circle. "Some stars will depart more, others less, from either side of the circumference of equilibrium, according to the places in which they are situated, and according to the direction and the velocity with which they are put in motion. Our sun is probably one of those which depart furthest from it, and descend furthest into the empty space within the ring." {6} According to this view, a time may come when we shall be much more in the thick of the stars of our astral system than we are now, and have of course much more brilliant nocturnal skies; but it may be countless ages before the eyes which are to see this added resplendence shall exist.

The evidence of the existence of other astral systems besides our own is much more decided than might be expected, when we consider that the nearest of them must needs be placed at a mighty interval beyond our own. The elder Herschel, directing his wonderful tube towards the SIDES of our system, where stars are planted most rarely, and raising the powers of the instrument to the required pitch, was enabled with awe-struck mind to see suspended in the vast empyrean astral systems, or, as he called them, firmaments, resembling our own. Like light cloudlets to a certain power of the telescope, they resolved themselves, under a greater power, into stars, though these generally seemed no larger than the finest particles of diamond dust. The general forms of these systems are various; but one at least has been detected as bearing a striking resemblance to the supposed form of our own. The distances are also various, as proved by the different degrees of telescopic power necessary to bring them into view. The farthest observed by the astronomer were estimated by him as thirty-five thousand times more remote than Sirius, supposing its distance to be about twenty thousand millions of miles. It would thus appear, that not only does gravitation keep our earth in its place in the solar system, and the solar system in its place in our astral system, but it also may be presumed to have the mightier duty of preserving a local arrangement between that astral system and an immensity of others, through which the imagination is left to wander on and on without limit or stay, save that which is given by its inability to grasp the unbounded.

The two Herschels have in succession made some other most remarkable observations on the regions of space. They have found within the limits of our astral system, and generally in its outer fields, a great number of objects which, from their foggy appearance, are called nebulae; some of vast extent and irregular figure, as that in the sword of Orion, which is visible to the naked eye; others of shape more defined; others, again, in which small bright nuclei appear here and there over the surface. Between this last form and another class of objects, which appear as clusters of nuclei with nebulous matter around each nucleus, there is but a step in what appears a chain of related things. Then, again, our astral space shews what are called nebulous stars,—namely, luminous spherical objects, bright in the centre and dull towards the extremities. These appear to be only an advanced condition of the class of objects above described. Finally, nebulous stars exist in every stage of concentration, down to that state in which we see only a common star with a slight BUR around it. It may be presumed that all these are but stages in a progress, just as if, seeing a child, a boy, a youth, a middle-aged, and an old man together, we might presume that the whole were only variations of one being. Are we to suppose that we have got a glimpse of the process through which a sun goes between its original condition, as a mass of diffused nebulous matter, and its full-formed state as a compact body? We shall see how far such an idea is supported by other things known with regard to the occupants of space, and the laws of matter.

A superficial view of the astronomy of the solar system gives us only the idea of a vast luminous body (the sun) in the centre, and a few smaller, though various sized bodies, revolving at different distances around it; some of these, again, having smaller planets (satellites) revolving around them. There are, however, some general features of the solar system, which, when a profounder attention makes us acquainted with them, strike the mind very forcibly.

It is, in the first place, remarkable, that the planets all move nearly IN ONE PLANE, corresponding with the centre of the sun's body. Next, it is not less remarkable that the motion of the sun on its axis, those of the planets around the sun, and the satellites around their primaries, {9} and the motions of all on their axes, are IN ONE DIRECTION—namely, from west to east. Had all these matters been left to accident, the chances against the uniformity which we find would have been, though calculable, inconceivably great. Laplace states them at four millions of millions to one. It is thus powerfully impressed on us, that the uniformity of the motions, as well as their general adjustment to one plane, must have been a consequence of some cause acting throughout the whole system.

Some of the other relations of the bodies are not less remarkable. The primary planets shew a progressive increase of bulk and diminution of density, from the one nearest to the sun to that which is most distant. With respect to density alone, we find, taking water as a measure and counting it as one, that Saturn is 13/32, or less than half; Jupiter, 1 1/24; Mars, 3 2/7; Earth, 4 1/2; Venus, 5 11/15; Mercury 9 9/10, or about the weight of lead. Then the distances are curiously relative. It has been found that if we place the following line of numbers, -

0 3 6 12 24 48 96 192,

and add 4 to each, we shall have a series denoting the respective distances of the planets from the sun. It will stand thus -

4 7 10 16 28 52 100 196 Merc. Venus. Earth. Mars. Jupiter. Saturn. Uranus.

It will be observed that the first row of figures goes on from the second on the left hand in a succession of duplications, or multiplications by 2. Surely there is here a most surprising proof of the unity which I am claiming for the solar system. It was remarked when this curious relation was first detected, that there was a want of a planet corresponding to 28; the difficulty was afterwards considered as in a great measure overcome, by the discovery of four small planets revolving at nearly one mean distance from the sun, between Mars and Jupiter. The distances bear an equally interesting mathematical relation to the times of the revolutions round the sun. It has been found that, with respect to any two planets, the squares of the times of revolution are to each other in the same proportion as the cubes of their mean distances,—a most surprising result, for the discovery of which the world was indebted to the illustrious Kepler. Sir John Herschel truly observes—"When we contemplate the constituents of the planetary system from the point of view which this relation affords us, it is no longer mere analogy which strikes us, no longer a general resemblance among them, as individuals independent of each other, and circulating about the sun, each according to its own peculiar nature, and connected with it by its own peculiar tie. The resemblance is now perceived to be a true FAMILY LIKENESS; they are bound up in one chain—interwoven in one web of mutual relation and harmonious agreement, subjected to one pervading influence which extends from the centre to the farthest limits of that great system, of which all of them, the Earth included, must henceforth be regarded as members." {12}

Connecting what has been observed of the series of nebulous stars with this wonderful relationship seen to exist among the constituents of our system, and further taking advantage of the light afforded by the ascertained laws of matter, modern astronomers have suggested the following hypothesis of the formation of that system.

Of nebulous matter in its original state we know too little to enable us to suggest how nuclei should be established in it. But, supposing that, from a peculiarity in its constitution, nuclei are formed, we know very well how, by virtue of the law of gravitation, the process of an aggregation of the neighbouring matter to those nuclei should proceed, until masses more or less solid should become detached from the rest. It is a well-known law in physics that, when fluid matter collects towards or meets in a centre, it establishes a rotatory motion. See minor results of this law in the whirlwind and the whirlpool—nay, on so humble a scale as the water sinking through the aperture of a funnel. It thus becomes certain that when we arrive at the stage of a nebulous star, we have a rotation on an axis commenced.

Now, mechanical philosophy informs us that, the instant a mass begins to rotate, there is generated a tendency to fling off its outer portions—in other words, the law of centrifugal force begins to operate. There are, then, two forces acting in opposition to each other, the one attracting TO, the other throwing FROM, the centre. While these remain exactly counterpoised, the mass necessarily continues entire; but the least excess of the centrifugal over the attractive force would be attended with the effect of separating the mass and its outer parts. These outer parts would, then, be left as a ring round the central body, which ring would continue to revolve with the velocity possessed by the central mass at the moment of separation, but not necessarily participating in any changes afterwards undergone by that body. This is a process which might be repeated as soon as a new excess arose in the centrifugal over the attractive forces working in the parent mass. It might, indeed, continue to be repeated, until the mass attained the ultimate limits of the condensation which its constitution imposed upon it. From what cause might arise the periodical occurrence of an excess of the centrifugal force? If we suppose the agglomeration of a nebulous mass to be a process attended by refrigeration or cooling, which many facts render likely, we can easily understand why the outer parts, hardening under this process, might, by virtue of the greater solidity thence acquired, begin to present some resistance to the attractive force. As the solidification proceeded, this resistance would become greater, though there would still be a tendency to adhere. Meanwhile, the condensation of the central mass would be going on, tending to produce a separation from what may now be termed the SOLIDIFYING CRUST. During the contention between the attractions of these two bodies, or parts of one body, there would probably be a ring of attenuation between the mass and its crust. At length, when the central mass had reached a certain stage in its advance towards solidification, a separation would take place, and the crust would become a detached ring. It is clear, of course, that some law presiding over the refrigeration of heated gaseous bodies would determine the stages at which rings were thus formed and detached. We do not know any such law, but what we have seen assures us it is one observing and reducible to mathematical formulae.

If these rings consisted of matter nearly uniform throughout, they would probably continue each in its original form; but there are many chances against their being uniform in constitution. The unavoidable effects of irregularity in their constitution would be to cause them to gather towards centres of superior solidity, by which the annular form would, of course, be destroyed. The ring would, in short, break into several masses, the largest of which would be likely to attract the lesser into itself. The whole mass would then necessarily settle into a spherical form by virtue of the law of gravitation; in short, would then become a planet revolving round the sun. Its rotatory motion would, of course, continue, and satellites might then be thrown off in turn from its body in exactly the same way as the primary planets had been thrown off from the sun. The rule, if I can be allowed so to call it, receives a striking support from what appear to be its exceptions. While there are many chances against the matter of the rings being sufficiently equable to remain in the annular form till they were consolidated, it might nevertheless be otherwise in some instances; that is to say, the equableness might, in those instances, be sufficiently great. Such was probably the case with the two rings around the body of Saturn, which remain a living picture of the arrangement, if not the condition, in which all the planetary masses at one time stood. It may also be admitted that, when a ring broke up, it was possible that the fragments might spherify separately. Such seems to be the actual history of the ring between Jupiter and Mars, in whose place we now find four planets much beneath the smallest of the rest in size, and moving nearly at the same distance from the sun, though in orbits so elliptical, and of such different planes, that they keep apart.

It has been seen that there are mathematical proportions in the relative distances and revolutions of the planets of our system. It has also been suggested that the periods in the condensation of the nebulous mass, at which rings were disengaged, must have depended on some particular crises in the condition of that mass, in connexion with the laws of centrifugal force and attraction. M. Compte, of Paris, has made some approach to the verification of the hypothesis, by calculating what ought to have been the rotation of the solar mass at the successive times when its surface extended to the various planetary orbits. He ascertained that THAT ROTATION CORRESPONDED IN EVERY CASE WITH THE ACTUAL SIDEREAL REVOLUTION OF THE PLANETS, AND THAT THE ROTATION OF THE PRIMARY PLANETS IN LIKE MANNER CORRESPONDED WITH THE ORBITUAL PERIODS OF THE SECONDARIES. The process by which he arrived at this conclusion is not to be readily comprehended by the unlearned; but those who are otherwise, allow that it is a powerful support to the present hypothesis of the formation of the globes of space. {17}

The nebular hypothesis, as it has been called, obtains a remarkable support in what would at first seem to militate against it—the existence in our firmament of several thousands of solar systems, in which there are more than one sun. These are called double and triple stars. Some double stars, upon which careful observations have been made, are found to have a regular revolutionary motion round each other in ellipses. This kind of solar system has also been observed in what appears to be its rudimental state, for there are examples of nebulous stars containing two and three nuclei in near association. At a certain point in the confluence of the matter of these nebulous stars, they would all become involved in a common revolutionary motion, linked inextricably with each other, though it might be at sufficient distances to allow of each distinct centre having afterwards its attendant planets. We have seen that the law which causes rotation in the single solar masses, is exactly the same which produces the familiar phenomenon of a small whirlpool or dimple in the surface of a stream. Such dimples are not always single. Upon the face of a river where there are various contending currents, it may often be observed that two or more dimples are formed near each other with more or less regularity. These fantastic eddies, which the musing poet will sometimes watch abstractedly for an hour, little thinking of the law which produces and connects them, are an illustration of the wonders of binary and ternary solar systems.

The nebular hypothesis is, indeed, supported by so many ascertained features of the celestial scenery, and by so many calculations of exact science, that it is impossible for a candid mind to refrain from giving it a cordial reception, if not to repose full reliance upon it, even without seeking for it support of any other kind. Some other support I trust yet to bring to it; but in the meantime, assuming its truth, let us see what idea it gives of the constitution of what we term the universe, of the development of its various parts, and of its original condition.

Reverting to a former illustration—if we could suppose a number of persons of various ages presented to the inspection of an intelligent being newly introduced into the world, we cannot doubt that he would soon become convinced that men had once been boys, that boys had once been infants, and, finally, that all had been brought into the world in exactly the same circumstances. Precisely thus, seeing in our astral system many thousands of worlds in all stages of formation, from the most rudimental to that immediately preceding the present condition of those we deem perfect, it is unavoidable to conclude that all the perfect have gone through the various stages which we see in the rudimental. This leads us at once to the conclusion that the whole of our firmament was at one time a diffused mass of nebulous matter, extending through the space which it still occupies. So also, of course, must have been the other astral systems. Indeed, we must presume the whole to have been originally in one connected mass, the astral systems being only the first division into parts, and solar systems the second.

The first idea which all this impresses upon us is, that the formation of bodies in space is STILL AND AT PRESENT IN PROGRESS. We live at a time when many have been formed, and many are still forming. Our own solar system is to be regarded as completed, supposing its perfection to consist in the formation of a series of planets, for there are mathematical reasons for concluding that Mercury is the nearest planet to the sun, which can, according to the laws of the system, exist. But there are other solar systems within our astral system, which are as yet in a less advanced state, and even some quantities of nebulous matter which have scarcely begun to advance towards the stellar form. On the other hand, there are vast numbers of stars which have all the appearance of being fully formed systems, if we are to judge from the complete and definite appearance which they present to our vision through the telescope. We have no means of judging of the seniority of systems; but it is reasonable to suppose that, among the many, some are older than ours. There is, indeed, one piece of evidence for the probability of the comparative youth of our system, altogether apart from human traditions and the geognostic appearances of the surface of our planet. This consists in a thin nebulous matter, which is diffused around the sun to nearly the orbit of Mercury, of a very oblately spheroidal shape. This matter, which sometimes appears to our naked eyes, at sunset, in the form of a cone projecting upwards in the line of the sun's path, and which bears the name of the Zodiacal Light, has been thought a residuum or last remnant of the concentrating matter of our system, and thus may be supposed to indicate the comparative recentness of the principal events of our cosmogony. Supposing the surmise and inference to be correct, and they may be held as so far supported by more familiar evidence, we might with the more confidence speak of our system as not amongst the elder born of Heaven, but one whose various phenomena, physical and moral, as yet lay undeveloped, while myriads of others were fully fashioned and in complete arrangement. Thus, in the sublime chronology to which we are directing our inquiries, we first find ourselves called upon to consider the globe which we inhabit as a child of the sun, elder than Venus and her younger brother Mercury, but posterior in date of birth to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus; next to regard our whole system as probably of recent formation in comparison with many of the stars of our firmament. We must, however, be on our guard against supposing the earth as a recent globe in our ordinary conceptions of time. From evidence afterwards to be adduced, it will be seen that it cannot be presumed to be less than many hundreds of centuries old. How much older Uranus may be no one can tell, much less how more aged may be many of the stars of our firmament, or the stars of other firmaments than ours.

Another and more important consideration arises from the hypothesis; namely, as to the means by which the grand process is conducted. The nebulous matter collects around nuclei by virtue of the law of attraction. The agglomeration brings into operation another physical law, by force of which the separate masses of matter are either made to rotate singly, or, in addition to that single motion, are set into a coupled revolution in ellipses. Next centrifugal force comes into play, flinging off portions of the rotating masses, which become spheres by virtue of the same law of attraction, and are held in orbits of revolution round the central body by means of a composition between the centrifugal and gravitating forces. All, we see, is done by certain laws of matter, so that it becomes a question of extreme interest, what are such laws? All that can yet be said, in answer, is, that we see certain natural events proceeding in an invariable order under certain conditions, and thence infer the existence of some fundamental arrangement which, for the bringing about of these events, has a force and certainty of action similar to, but more precise and unerring than those arrangements which human society makes for its own benefit, and calls laws. It is remarkable of physical laws, that we see them operating on every kind of scale as to magnitude, with the same regularity and perseverance. The tear that falls from childhood's cheek is globular, through the efficacy of that same law of mutual attraction of particles which made the sun and planets round. The rapidity of Mercury is quicker than that of Saturn, for the same reason that, when we wheel a ball round by a string and make the string wind up round our fingers, the ball always flies quicker and quicker as the string is shortened. Two eddies in a stream, as has been stated, fall into a mutual revolution at the distance of a couple of inches, through the same cause which makes a pair of suns link in mutual revolution at the distance of millions of miles. There is, we might say, a sublime simplicity in this indifference of the grand regulations to the vastness or minuteness of the field of their operation. Their being uniform, too, throughout space, as far as we can scan it, and their being so unfailing in their tendency to operate, so that only the proper conditions are presented, afford to our minds matter for the gravest consideration. Nor should it escape our careful notice that the regulations on which all the laws of matter operate, are established on a rigidly accurate mathematical basis. Proportions of numbers and geometrical figures rest at the bottom of the whole. All these considerations, when the mind is thoroughly prepared for them, tend to raise our ideas with respect to the character of physical laws, even though we do not go a single step further in the investigation. But it is impossible for an intelligent mind to stop there. We advance from law to the cause of law, and ask, What is that? Whence have come all these beautiful regulations? Here science leaves us, but only to conclude, from other grounds, that there is a First Cause to which all others are secondary and ministrative, a primitive almighty will, of which these laws are merely the mandates. That great Being, who shall say where is his dwelling-place, or what his history! Man pauses breathless at the contemplation of a subject so much above his finite faculties, and only can wonder and adore!


The nebular hypothesis almost necessarily supposes matter to have originally formed one mass. We have seen that the same physical laws preside over the whole. Are we also to presume that the constitution of the whole was uniform?—that is to say, that the whole consisted of similar elements. It seems difficult to avoid coming to this conclusion, at least under the qualification that, possibly, various bodies, under peculiar circumstances attending their formation, may contain elements which are wanting, and lack some which are present in others, or that some may entirely consist of elements in which others are entirely deficient.

What are elements? This is a term applied by the chemist to a certain limited number of substances, (fifty-four or fifty-five are ascertained,) which, in their combinations, form all the matters of every kind present in and about our globe. They are called elements, or simple substances, because it has hitherto been found impossible to reduce them into others, wherefore they are presumed to be the primary bases of all matters. It has, indeed, been surmised that these so-called elements are only modifications of a primordial form of matter, brought about under certain conditions; but if this should prove to be the case, it would little affect the view which we are taking of cosmical arrangements. Analogy would lead us to conclude that the combinations of the primordial matter, forming our so-called elements, are as universal or as liable to take place everywhere as are the laws of gravitation and centrifugal force. We must therefore presume that the gases, the metals, the earths, and other simple substances, (besides whatever more of which we have no acquaintance,) exist or are liable to come into existence under proper conditions, as well in the astral system, which is thirty-five thousand times more distant than Sirius, as within the bounds of our own solar system or our own globe.

Matter, whether it consist of about fifty-five ingredients, or only one, is liable to infinite varieties of condition under different circumstances, or, to speak more philosophically, under different laws. As a familiar illustration, water, when subjected to a temperature under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, becomes ice; raise the temperature to 212 degrees, and it becomes steam, occupying a vast deal more space than it formerly did. The gases, when subjected to pressure, become liquids; for example, carbonic acid gas, when subjected to a weight equal to a column of water 1230 feet high, at a temperature of 32 degrees, takes this form: the other gases require various amounts of pressure for this transformation, but all appear to be liable to it when the pressure proper in each case is administered. Heat is a power greatly concerned in regulating the volume and other conditions of matter. A chemist can reckon with considerable precision what additional amount of heat would be required to vaporise all the water of our globe; how much more to disengage the oxygen which is diffused in nearly a proportion of one- half throughout its solids; and, finally, how much more would be required to cause the whole to become vaporiform, which we may consider as equivalent to its being restored to its original nebulous state. He can calculate with equal certainty what would be the effect of a considerable diminution of the earth's temperature—what changes would take place in each of its component substances, and how much the whole would shrink in bulk.

The earth and all its various substances have at present a certain volume in consequence of the temperature which actually exists. When, then, we find that its matter and that of the associate planets was at one time diffused throughout the whole space, now circumscribed by the orbit of Uranus, we cannot doubt, after what we know of the power of heat, that the nebulous form of matter was attended by the condition of a very high temperature. The nebulous matter of space, previously to the formation of stellar and planetary bodies, must have been a universal Fire Mist, an idea which we can scarcely comprehend, though the reasons for arriving at it seem irresistible. The formation of systems out of this matter implies a change of some kind with regard to the condition of the heat. Had this power continued to act with its full original repulsive energy, the process of agglomeration by attraction could not have gone on. We do not know enough of the laws of heat to enable us to surmise how the necessary change in this respect was brought about, but we can trace some of the steps and consequences of the process. Uranus would be formed at the time when the heat of our system's matter was at the greatest, Saturn at the next, and so on. Now this tallies perfectly with the exceeding diffuseness of the matter of those elder planets, Saturn being not more dense or heavy than the substance cork. It may be that a sufficiency of heat still remains in those planets to make up for their distance from the sun, and the consequent smallness of the heat which they derive from his rays. And it may equally be, since Mercury is twice the density of the earth, that its matter exists under a degree of cold for which that planet's large enjoyment of the sun's rays is no more than a compensation. Thus there may be upon the whole a nearly equal experience of heat amongst all these children of the sun. Where, meanwhile, is the heat once diffused through the system over and above what remains in the planets? May we not rationally presume it to have gone to constitute that luminous envelope of the sun, in which his warmth-giving power is now held to reside? It could not be destroyed—it cannot be supposed to have gone off into space—it must have simply been reserved to constitute, at the last, a means of sustaining the many operations of which the planets were destined to be the theatre.

The tendency of the whole of the preceding considerations is to bring the conviction that our globe is a specimen of all the similarly- placed bodies of space, as respects its constituent matter and the physical and chemical laws governing it, with only this qualification, that there are POSSIBLY shades of variation with respect to the component materials, and UNDOUBTEDLY with respect to the conditions under which the laws operate, and consequently the effects which they produce. Thus, there may be substances here which are not in some other bodies, and substances here solid may be elsewhere liquid or vaporiform. We are the more entitled to draw such conclusions, seeing that there is nothing at all singular or special in the astronomical situation of the earth. It takes its place third in a series of planets, which series is only one of numberless other systems forming one group. It is strikingly—if I may use such an expression—a member of a democracy. Hence, we cannot suppose that there is any peculiarity about it which does not probably attach to multitudes of other bodies—in fact, to all that are analogous to it in respect of cosmical arrangements.

It therefore becomes a point of great interest—what are the materials of this specimen? What is the constitutional character of this object, which may be said to be a sample, presented to our immediate observation, of those crowds of worlds which seem to us as the particles of the desert sand-cloud in number, and to whose profusion there are no conceivable local limits?

The solids, liquids, and aeriform fluids of our globe are all, as has been stated, reducible into fifty-five substances hitherto called elementary. Six are gases; oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen being the chief. Forty-two are metals, of which eleven are remarkable as composing, in combination with oxygen, certain earths, as magnesia, lime, alumin. The remaining six, including carbon, silicon, sulphur, have not any general appellation.

The gas oxygen is considered as by far the most abundant substance in our globe. It constitutes a fifth part of our atmosphere, a third part of water, and a large proportion of every kind of rock in the crust of the earth. Hydrogen, which forms two-thirds of water, and enters into some mineral substances, is perhaps next. Nitrogen, of which the atmosphere is four-fifths composed, must be considered as an abundant substance. The metal silicium, which unites with oxygen in nearly equal parts to form silica, the basis of nearly a half of the rocks in the earth's crust, is, of course, an important ingredient. Aluminium, the metallic basis of alumin, a large material in many rocks, is another abundant elementary substance. So, also, is carbon a small ingredient in the atmosphere, but the chief constituent of animal and vegetable substances, and of all fossils which ever were in the latter condition, amongst which coal takes a conspicuous place. The familiarly-known metals, as iron, tin, lead, silver, gold, are elements of comparatively small magnitude in that exterior part of the earth's body which we are able to investigate.

It is remarkable of the simple substances that they are generally in some compound form. Thus, oxygen and nitrogen, though in union they form the aerial envelope of the globe, are never found separate in nature. Carbon is pure only in the diamond. And the metallic bases of the earths, though the chemist can disengage them, may well be supposed unlikely to remain long uncombined, seeing that contact with moisture makes them burn. Combination and re-combination are principles largely pervading nature. There are few rocks, for example, that are not composed of at least two varieties of matter, each of which is again a compound of elementary substances. What is still more wonderful with respect to this principle of combination, all the elementary substances observe certain mathematical proportions in their unions. One volume of them unites with one, two, three, or more volumes of another, any extra quantity being sure to be left over, if such there should be. It is hence supposed that matter is composed of infinitely minute particles or atoms, each of which belonging to any one substance, can only (through the operation of some as yet hidden law) associate with a certain number of the atoms of any other. There are also strange predilections amongst substances for each other's company. One will remain combined in solution with another, till a third is added, when it will abandon the former and attach itself to the latter. A fourth being added, the third will perhaps leave the first, and join the new comer.

Such is an outline of the information which chemistry gives us regarding the constituent materials of our globe. How infinitely is the knowledge increased in interest, when we consider the probability of such being the materials of the whole of the bodies of space, and the laws under which these everywhere combine, subject only to local and accidental variations!

In considering the cosmogenic arrangements of our globe, our attention is called in a special degree to the moon.

In the nebular hypothesis, satellites are considered as masses thrown off from their primaries, exactly as the primaries had previously been from the sun. The orbit of any satellite is also to be regarded as marking the bounds of the mass of the primary at the time when that satellite was thrown off; its speed likewise denotes the rapidity of the rotatory motion of the primary at that particular juncture. For example, the outermost of the four satellites of Jupiter revolves round his body at the distance of 1,180,582 miles, shewing that the planet was once 3,675,501 miles in circumference, instead of being, as now, only 89,170 miles in diameter. This large mass took rather more than sixteen days six hours and a half (the present revolutionary period of the outermost satellite) to rotate on its axis. The innermost satellite must have been formed when the planet was reduced to a circumference of 309,075 miles, and rotated in about forty-two hours and a half.

From similar inferences, we find that the mass of the earth, at a certain point of time after it was thrown off from the sun, was no less than 482,000 miles in diameter, being sixty times what it has since shrunk to. At that time, the mass must have taken rather more than twenty-nine and a half days to rotate, (being the revolutionary period of the moon,) instead of as now, rather less than twenty-four hours.

The time intervening between the formation of the moon and the earth's diminution to its present size, was probably one of those vast sums in which astronomy deals so largely, but which the mind altogether fails to grasp.

The observations made upon the surface of the moon by telescopes, tend strongly to support the hypothesis as to all the bodies of space being composed of similar matters, subject to certain variations. It does not appear that our satellite is provided with that gaseous envelope which, on earth, performs so many important functions. Neither is there any appearance of water upon the surface; yet that surface is, like that of our globe, marked by inequalities and the appearance of volcanic operations. These inequalities and volcanic operations are upon a scale far greater than any which now exist upon the earth's surface. Although, from the greater force of gravitation upon its exterior, the mountains, other circumstances being equal, might have been expected to be much smaller than ours, they are, in many instances, equal in height to nearly the highest of our Andes. They are generally of extreme steepness, and sharp of outline, a peculiarity which might be looked for in a planet deficient in water and atmosphere, seeing that these are the agents which wear down ruggedness on the surface of our earth. The volcanic operations are on a stupendous scale. They are the cause of the bright spots of the moon, while the want of them is what distinguishes the duller portions, usually but erroneously called SEAS. In some parts, bright volcanic matter, besides covering one large patch, radiates out in long streams, which appear studded with subordinate foci of the same kind of energy. Other objects of a most remarkable character are ring mountains, mounts like those of the craters of earthly volcanoes, surrounded immediately by vast and profound circular pits, hollowed under the general surface, these again being surrounded by a circular wall of mountain, rising far above the central one, and in the inside of which are terraces about the same height as the inner eminence. The well-known bright spot in the south-east quarter, called by astronomers Tycho, and which can be readily distinguished by the naked eye, is one of these ring-mountains. There is one of 200 miles in diameter, with a pit 22,000 feet deep; that is, twice the height of AEtna. It is remarkable, that the maps given by Humboldt of a volcanic district in South America, and one illustrative of the formerly volcanic district of Auvergne, in France, present features strikingly like many parts of the moon's surface, as seen through a good glass.

These characteristics of the moon forbid the idea that it can be at present a theatre of life like the earth, and almost seem to declare that it never can become so. But we must not rashly draw any such conclusions. The moon may be only in an earlier stage of the progress through which the earth has already gone. The elements which seem wanting may be only in combinations different in those which exist here, and may yet be developed as we here find them. Seas may yet fill the profound hollows of the surface; an atmosphere may spread over the whole. Should these events take place, meteorological phenomena, and all the phenomena of organic life, will commence, and the moon, like the earth, will become a green and inhabited world.

It is unavoidably held as a strong proof in favour of any hypothesis, when all the relative phenomena are in harmony with it. This is eminently the case with the nebulous hypothesis, for here the associated facts cannot be explained on any other supposition. We have seen reason to conclude that the primary condition of matter was that of a diffused mass, in which the component molecules were probably kept apart through the efficacy of heat; that portions of this agglomerated into suns, which threw off planets; that these planets were at first very much diffused, but gradually contracted by cooling to their present dimensions. Now, as to our own globe, there is a remarkable proof of its having been in a fluid state at the time when it was finally solidifying, in the fact of its being bulged at the equator, the very form which a soft revolving body takes, and must inevitably take, under the influence of centrifugal force. This bulging makes the equatorial exceed the polar diameter as 230 to 229, which has been demonstrated to be precisely the departure from a correct sphere which might be predicated from a knowledge of the amount of the mass and the rate of rotation. There is an almost equally distinct memorial of the original high temperature of the materials, in the store of heat which still exists in the interior. The immediate surface of the earth, be it observed, exhibits only the temperature which might be expected to be imparted to such materials, by the heat of the sun. There is a point, very short way down, but varying in different climes, where all effect from the sun's rays ceases. Then, however, commences a temperature from an entirely different cause, one which evidently has its source in the interior of the earth, and which regularly increases as we descend to greater and greater depths, the rate of increment being about one degree Fahrenheit for every sixty feet; and of this high temperature there are other evidences, in the phenomena of volcanoes and thermal springs, as well as in what is ascertained with regard to the density of the entire mass of the earth. This, it will be remembered, is four and a half times the weight of water; but the actual weight of the principal solid substances composing the outer crust is as two and a half times the weight of water; and this, we know, if the globe were solid and cold, should increase vastly towards the centre, water acquiring the density of quicksilver at 362 miles below the surface, and other things in proportion, and these densities becoming much greater at greater depths; so that the entire mass of a cool globe should be of a gravity infinitely exceeding four and a half times the weight of water. The only alternative supposition is, that the central materials are greatly expanded or diffused by some means; and by what means could they be so expanded but by heat? Indeed, the existence of this central heat, a residuum of that which kept all matter in a vaporiform chaos at first, is amongst the most solid discoveries of modern science, {42} and the support which it gives to Herschel's explanation of the formation of worlds is most important. We shall hereafter see what appear to be traces of an operation of this heat upon the surface of the earth in very remote times; an effect, however, which has long passed entirely away. The central heat has, for ages, reached a fixed point, at which it will probably remain for ever, as the non-conducting quality of the cool crust absolutely prevents it from suffering any diminution.


Although the earth has not been actually penetrated to a greater depth than three thousand feet, the nature of its substance can, in many instances, be inferred for the depth of many miles by other means of observation. We see a mountain composed of a particular substance, with strata, or beds of other rock, lying against its sloped sides; we, of course, infer that the substance of the mountain dips away under the strata which we see lying against it. Suppose that we walk away from the mountain across the turned up edges of the stratified rocks, and that for many miles we continue to pass over other stratified rocks, all disposed in the same way, till by and bye we come to a place where we begin to cross the opposite edges of the same beds; after which we pass over these rocks all in reverse order till we come to another extensive mountain composed of similar material to the first, and shelving away under the strata in the same way. We should then infer that the stratified rocks occupied a basin formed by the rock of these two mountains, and by calculating the thickness right through these strata, could be able to say to what depth the rock of the mountain extended below. By such means, the kind of rock existing many miles below the surface can often be inferred with considerable confidence.

The interior of the globe has now been inspected in this way in many places, and a tolerably distinct notion of its general arrangements has consequently been arrived at. It appears that the basis rock of the earth, as it may be called, is of hard texture, and crystalline in its constitution. Of this rock, granite may be said to be the type, though it runs into many varieties. Over this, except in the comparatively few places where it projects above the general level in mountains, other rocks are disposed in sheets or strata, with the appearance of having been deposited originally from water; but these last rocks have nowhere been allowed to rest in their original arrangement. Uneasy movements from below have broken them up in great inclined masses, while in many cases there has been projected through the rents rocky matter more or less resembling the great inferior crystalline mass. This rocky matter must have been in a state of fusion from heat at the time of its projection, for it is often found to have run into and filled up lateral chinks in these rents. There are even instances where it has been rent again, and a newer melted matter of the same character sent through the opening. Finally, in the crust as thus arranged there are, in many places, chinks containing veins of metal. Thus, there is first a great inferior mass, composed of crystalline rock, and probably resting immediately on the fused and expanded matter of the interior: next, layers or strata of aqueous origin; next, irregular masses of melted inferior rock that have been sent up volcanically and confusedly at various times amongst the aqueous rocks, breaking up these into masses, and tossing them out of their original levels. This is an outline of the arrangements of the crust of the earth, as far as we can observe it. It is, at first sight, a most confused scene; but after some careful observation, we readily detect in it a regularity and order from which much instruction in the history of our globe is to be derived.

The deposition of the aqueous rocks, and the projection of the volcanic, have unquestionably taken place since the settlement of the earth in its present form. They are indeed of an order of events which we see going on, under the agency of more or less intelligible causes, even down to the present day. We may therefore consider them generally as comparatively recent transactions. Abstracting them from the investigations before us, we arrive at the idea of the earth in its first condition as a globe of its present size—namely, as a mass, externally at least, consisting of the crystalline kind of rock, with the waters of the present seas and the present atmosphere around it, though these were probably in considerably different conditions, both as to temperature and their constituent materials, from what they now are. We are thus to presume that that crystalline texture of rock which we see exemplified in granite is the condition into which the great bulk of the solids of our earth were agglomerated directly from the nebulous or vaporiform state. It is a condition eminently of combination, for such rock is invariably composed of two or more of four substances—silica, mica, quartz, and hornblende—which associate in it in the form of grains or crystals, and which are themselves each composed of a group of the simple or elementary substances.

Judging from the results and from still remaining conditions, we must suppose that the heat retained in the interior of the globe was more intense, or had greater freedom to act, in some places than in others. These became the scenes of volcanic operations, and in time marked their situations by the extrusion of traps and basalts from below—namely, rocks composed of the crystalline matter fused by intense heat, and developed on the surface in various conditions, according to the particular circumstances under which it was sent up; some, for example, being thrown up under water, and some in the open air, which conditions are found to have made considerable difference in its texture and appearance. The great stores of subterranean heat also served an important purpose in the formation of the aqueous rocks. These rocks might, according to Sir John Herschel, become subject to heat in the following manner:- While the surface of a particular mass of rock forms the bed of the sea, the heat is kept at a certain distance from that surface by the contact of the water; philosophically speaking, it radiates away the heat into the sea, and (to resort to common language) is cooled a good way down. But when new sediment settles at the bottom of that sea, the heat rises up to what was formerly the surface; and when a second quantity of sediment is laid down, it continues to rise through the first of the deposits, which then becomes subjected to those changes which heat is calculated to produce. This process is precisely the same as that of putting additional coats upon our own bodies; when, of course, the internal heat rises through each coat in succession, and the third (supposing there is a fourth above it) becomes as warm as perhaps the first originally was.

In speaking of sedimentary rocks, we may be said to be anticipating. It is necessary, first, to shew how such rocks were formed, or how stratification commenced.

Geology tells us as plainly as possible, that the original crystalline mass was not a perfectly smooth ball, with air and water playing round it. There were vast irregularities in the surface,— irregularities trifling, perhaps, compared with the whole bulk of the globe, but assuredly vast in comparison with any which now exist upon it. These irregularities might be occasioned by inequalities in the cooling of the substance, or by accidental and local sluggishness of the materials, or by local effects of the concentrated internal heat. From whatever cause they arose, there they were—enormous granitic mountains, interspersed with seas which sunk to a depth equally profound, and by which, perhaps, the mountains were wholly or partially covered. Now, it is a fact of which the very first principles of geology assure us, that the solids of the globe cannot for a moment be exposed to water, or to the atmosphere, without becoming liable to change. They instantly begin to wear down. This operation, we may be assured, proceeded with as much certainty in the earliest ages of our earth's history, as it does now, but upon a much more magnificent scale. There is the clearest evidence that the seas of those days were not in some instances less than a hundred miles in depth, however much more. The sub-aqueous mountains must necessarily have been of at least equal magnitude. The system of disintegration consequent upon such conditions would be enormous. The matters worn off, being carried into the neighbouring depths, and there deposited, became the components of the earliest stratified rocks, the first series of which is the Gneiss and Mica Slate System, or series, examples of which are exposed to view in the Highlands of Scotland and in the West of England. The vast thickness of these beds, in some instances, is what attests the profoundness of the primeval oceans in which they were formed; the Pensylvanian grawacke, a member of the next highest series, is not less than a hundred miles in direct thickness. We have also evidence that the earliest strata were formed in the presence of a stronger degree of heat than what operated in subsequent stages of the world, for the laminae of the gneiss and of the mica and chlorite schists are contorted in a way which could only be the result of a very high temperature. It appears as if the seas in which these deposits were formed, had been in the troubled state of a caldron of water nearly at boiling heat. Such a condition would probably add not a little to the disintegrating power of the ocean.

The earliest stratified rocks contain no matters which are not to be found in the primitive granite. They are the same in material, but only changed into new forms and combinations; hence they have been called by Mr. Lyell, metamorphic rocks. But how comes it that some of them are composed almost exclusively of one of the materials of granite; the mica schists, for example, of mica—the quartz rocks, of quartz, &c.? For this there are both chemical and mechanical causes. Suppose that a river has a certain quantity of material to carry down, it is evident that it will soonest drop the larger particles, and carry the lightest farthest on. To such a cause is it owing that some of the materials of the worn-down granite have settled in one place and some in another. {52} Again, some of these materials must be presumed to have been in a state of chemical solution in the primeval seas. It would be, of course, in conformity with chemical laws, that certain of these materials would be precipitated singly, or in modified combinations, to the bottom, so as to form rocks by themselves.

The rocks hitherto spoken of contain none of those petrified remains of vegetables and animals which abound so much in subsequently formed rocks, and tell so wondrous a tale of the past history of our globe. They simply contain, as has been said, mineral materials derived from the primitive mass, and which appear to have been formed into strata in seas of vast depth. The absence from these rocks of all traces of vegetable and animal life, joined to a consideration of the excessive temperature which seems to have prevailed in their epoch, has led to the inference that no plants or animals of any kind then existed. A few geologists have indeed endeavoured to shew that the absence of organic remains is no proof of the globe having been then unfruitful or uninhabited, as the heat to which these rocks have been subjected at the time of their solidification, might have obliterated any remains of either plants or animals which were included in them. But this is only an hypothesis of negation; and it certainly seems very unlikely that a degree of heat sufficient to obliterate the remains of plants or animals when dead, would ever allow of their coming into or continuing in existence.


We can scarcely be said to have passed out of these rocks, when we begin to find new conditions in the earth. It is here to be observed that the subsequent rocks are formed, in a great measure, of matters derived from the substance of those which went before, but contain also beds of limestone, which is to no small extent composed of an ingredient which has not hitherto appeared. Limestone is a carbonate of lime, a secondary compound, of which one of the ingredients, carbonic acid gas, presents the element CARBON, a perfect novelty in our progress. Whence this substance? The question is the more interesting, from our knowing that carbon is the main ingredient in organic things. There is reason to believe that its primeval condition was that of a gas, confined in the interior of the earth, and diffused in the atmosphere. The atmosphere still contains about a two-thousandth part of carbonic acid gas, forming the grand store from which the substance of each year's crop of herbage and grain is derived, passing from herbage and grain into animal substance, and from animals again rendered back to the atmosphere in their expired breath, so that its amount is never impaired. Knowing this, when we hear of carbon beginning to appear in the ascending series of rocks, we are unavoidably led to consider it as marking a time of some importance in the earth's history, a new era of natural conditions, one in which organic life has probably played a part.

It is not easy to suppose that, at this period, carbon was adopted directly in its gaseous form into rocks; for, if so, why should it not have been taken into earlier ones also? But we know that plants take it in, and transform it into substance; and we also know that there are classes of animals (marine polypes) which are capable of appropriating it, in connexion with lime, (carbonate of lime,) from the waters of the ocean, provided it be there in solution; and this substance do these animals deposit in masses (coral reefs) equal in extent to many strata. It has even been suggested, on strong grounds of probability, that a class of limestone beds are simply these reefs subjected to subsequent heat and pressure.

The appearance, then, of limestone beds in the early part of the stratified series, may be presumed to be connected with the fact of the commencement of organic life upon our planet, and, indeed, a consequent and a symptom of it.

It may not be out of place here to remark, that carbon is presumed to exist largely in the interior of the earth, from the fact of such considerable quantities of it issuing at this day, in the form of carbonic acid gas, from fissures and springs. The primeval and subsequent history of this element is worthy of much attention, and we shall have to revert to it as a matter greatly concerning our subject. Delabeche estimates the quantity of carbonic acid gas locked up in every cubic yard of limestone, at 16,000 cubic feet. The quantity locked up in coal, in which it forms from 64 to 75 per cent., must also be enormous. If all this were disengaged in a gaseous form, the constitution of the atmosphere would undergo a change, of which the first effect would be the extinction of life in all land animals. But a large proportion of it must have at one time been in the atmosphere. The atmosphere would then, of course, be incapable of supporting life in land animals. It is important, however, to observe that such an atmosphere would not be inconsistent with a luxuriant land vegetation; for experiment has proved that plants will flourish in air containing ONE-TWELFTH of this gas, or 166 times more than the present charge of our atmosphere. The results which we observe are perfectly consistent with, and may be said to presuppose an atmosphere highly charged with this gas, from about the close of the primary non-fossiliferous rocks to the termination of the carboniferous series, for there we see vast deposits (coal) containing carbon as a large ingredient, while at the same time the leaves of the Stone Book present no record of the contemporaneous existence of land animals.

The hypothesis of the connexion of the first limestone beds with the commencement of organic life upon our planet is supported by the fact, that in these beds we find the first remains of the bodies of animated creatures. My hypothesis may indeed be unsound; but, whether or not, it is clear, taking organic remains as upon the whole a faithful chronicle, that the deposition of these limestone beds was coeval with the existence of the earliest, or all but the earliest, living creatures upon earth.

And what were those creatures? It might well be with a kind of awe that the uninstructed inquirer would wait for an answer to this question. But nature is simpler than man's wit would make her, and behold, the interrogation only brings before us the unpretending forms of various zoophytes and polypes, together with a few single and double-valved shell-fish (mollusks), all of them creatures of the sea. It is rather surprising to find these before any vegetable forms, considering that vegetables appear to us as forming the necessary first link in the chain of nutrition; but it is probable that there were sea plants, and also some simpler forms of animal life, before this period, although of too slight a substance to leave any fossil trace of their existence.

The exact point in the ascending stratified series at which the first traces of organic life are to be found is not clearly determined. Dr. M'Culloch states that he found fossil orthocerata (a kind of shell-fish) so early as the gneiss tract of Loch Eribol, in Sutherland; but Messrs. Sedgwick and Murchison, on a subsequent search, could not verify the discovery. It has also been stated, that the gneiss and mica tract of Bohemia contains some seams of grawacke, in which are organic remains; but British geologists have not as yet attached much importance to this statement. We have to look a little higher in the series for indubitable traces of organic life.

Above the gneiss and mica slate system, or group of strata, is the Clay Slate and Grawacke Slate System; that is to say, it is higher in the ORDER OF SUPRAPOSITION, though very often it rests immediately on the primitive granite. The sub-groups of this system are in the following succession upwards:- 1, hornblende slate; 2, chiastolite slate; 3, clay slate; 4, Snowdon rocks, (grawacke and conglomerates;) 5, Bala limestone; 6, Plynlymmon rocks, (grawacke and grawacke slates, with beds of conglomerates.) This system is largely developed in the west and north of England, and it has been well examined, partly because some of the slate beds are extensively quarried for domestic purposes. If we overlook the dubious statements respecting Sutherland and Bohemia, we have in this "system" the first appearances of life upon our planet. The animal remains are chiefly confined to the slate beds, those named from Bala, in Wales, being the most prolific. Zoophyta, polyparia, crinoidea, conchifera, and crustacea, {60} are the orders of the animal kingdom thus found in the earliest of earth's sepulchres. The ORDERS are distinguished without difficulty, from the general characters of the creatures whose remains are found; but it is only in this general character that they bear a general resemblance to any creatures now existing. When we come to consider specific characters, we see that a difference exists—that, in short, the species and even genera are no longer represented upon earth. More than this, it will be found that the earliest species comparatively soon gave place to others, and that they are not represented even in the next higher group of rocks. One important remark has been made, that a comparatively small variety of species is found in the older rocks, although of some particular ones the remains are very abundant; as, for instance, of a species of asaphus, which is found between the laminae of some of the slate rocks of Wales, and the corresponding rocks of Normandy and Germany in enormous quantities.

Ascending to the next group of rocks, we find the traces of life become more abundant, the number of species extended, and important additions made in certain vestiges of fuci, or sea-plants, and of fishes. This group of rocks has been called by English geologists, the Silurian System, because largely developed at the surface of a district of western England, formerly occupied by a people whom the Roman historians call Silures. It is a series of sandstones, limestones, and beds of shale (hardened mud), which are classed in the following sub-groups, beginning with the undermost: —1, Llandillo rocks, (darkish calcareous flagstones;) 2 and 3, two groups called Caradoc rocks; 4, Wenlock shale; 5, Wenlock limestone; 6, Lower Ludlow rocks, (shales and limestones;) 7, Aymestry limestone; 8, Upper Ludlow rocks, (shales and limestone, chiefly micaceous.) From the lowest beds upwards, there are polypiaria, though most prevalent in the Wenlock limestone; conchifera, a vast number of genera, but all of the order brachiopoda, (including terebratula, pentamerus, spirifer, orthis, leptaena;) mollusca, of several orders and many genera, (including turritella, orthoceras, nautilus, bellerophon;) crustacea, all of them trilobites, (including trinucleus, asaphus, calamene.) A little above the Llandillo rocks, there have been discovered certain convoluted forms, which are now established as annelids, or sea-worms, a tribe of creatures still existing, (nereidina and serpulina,) and which may often be found beneath stones on a sea-beach. One of these, figured by Mr. Murchison, is furnished with feet in vast numbers all along its body, like a centipede. The occurrence of annelids is important, on account of their character and status in the animal kingdom. They are red-blooded and hermaphrodite, and form a link of connexion between the annulosa (white-blooded worms) and a humble class of the vertebrata. {62} The Wenlock limestone is most remarkable amongst all the rocks of the Silurian system, for organic remains. Many slabs of it are wholly composed of corals, shells, and trilobites, held together by shale. It contains many genera of crinoidea and polypiaria, and it is thought that some beds of it are wholly the production of the latter creatures, or are, in other words, coral reefs transformed by heat and pressure into rocks. Remains of fishes, of a very minute size, have been detected by Mr. Philips in the Aymestry limestone, being apparently the first examples of vertebrated animals which breathed upon our planet. In the upper Ludlow rocks, remains of six genera of fish have been for a longer period known; they belong to the order of cartilaginous fishes, an order of mean organization and ferocious habits, of which the shark and sturgeon are living specimens. "Some were furnished with long palates, and squat, firmly-based teeth, well adapted for crushing the strong-cased zoophytes and shells of the period, fragments of which occur in the foecal remains; some with teeth that, like the fossil sharks of the later formations, resemble lines of miniature pyramids, larger and smaller alternating; some with teeth sharp, thin, and so deeply serrated, that every individual tooth resembles a row of poniards set up against the walls of an armory; and these last, says Agassiz, furnished with weapons so murderous, must have been the pirates of the period. Some had their fins guarded with long spines, hooked like the beak of an eagle; some with spines of straighter and more slender form, and ribbed and furrowed longitudinally like columns; some were shielded by an armour of bony points, and some thickly covered with glistening scales." {64}

The traces of fuci in this system are all but sufficient to allow of a distinction of genera. In some parts of North America, extensive though thin beds of them have been found. A distinguished French geologist, M. Brogniart, has shewn that all existing marine plants are classifiable with regard to the zones of climate; some being fitted for the torrid zone, some for the temperate, some for the frigid. And he establishes that the fuci of these early rocks speak of a torrid climate, although they may be found in what are now temperate regions; he also states that those of the higher rocks betoken, as we ascend, a gradually diminishing temperature.

We thus early begin to find proofs of the general uniformity of organic life over the surface of the earth, at the time when each particular system of rocks was formed. Species identical with the remains in the Wenlock limestone occur in the corresponding class of rocks in the Eifel, and partially in the Harz, Norway, Russia, and Brittany. The situations of the remains in Russia are fifteen hundred miles from the Wenlock beds; but at the distance of between six and seven thousand from those,—namely, in the vale of Mississippi, the same species are discovered. Uniformity in animal life over large geographical areas argues uniformity in the conditions of animal life; and hence arise some curious inferences. Species, in the same low class of animals, are now much more limited; for instance, the Red Sea gives different polypiaria, zoophytes, and shell-fish, from the Mediterranean. It is the opinion of M. Brogniart, that the uniformity which existed in the primeval times can only be attributed to the temperature arising from the internal heat, which had yet, as he supposes, been sufficiently great to overpower the ordinary meteorological influences, and spread a tropical clime all over the globe.


We advance to a new chapter in this marvellous history—the era of the Old Red Sandstone System. This term has been recently applied to a series of strata, of enormous thickness in the whole mass, largely developed in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, and South Wales; also in the counties of Fife, Forfar, Moray, Cromarty, and Caithness; and in Russia and North America, if not in many other parts of the world. The particular strata forming the system are somewhat different in different countries; but there is a general character to the extent of these being a mixture of flagstones, marly rocks, and sandstones, usually of a laminous structure, with conglomerates. There is also a schist shewing the presence of bitumen; a remarkable new ingredient, since it is a vegetable production. In the conglomerates, of great extent and thickness, which form, in at least one district, the basis or leading feature of the system, inclosing water-worn fragments of quartz and other rocks, we have evidence of the seas of that period having been subjected to a violent and long-continued agitation, probably from volcanic causes. The upper members of the series bear the appearance of having been deposited in comparatively tranquil seas. The English specimens of this system shew a remarkable freedom from those disturbances which result in the interjection of trap; and they are thus defective in mineral ores. In some parts of England the old red sandstone system has been stated as 10,000 feet in thickness.

In this era, the forms of life which existed in the Silurian are continued: we have the same orders of marine creatures, zoophyta, polypiaria, conchifera, crustacea; but to these are added numerous fishes, some of which are of most extraordinary and surprising forms. Several of the strata are crowded with remains of fish, shewing that the seas in which those beds were deposited had swarmed with that class of inhabitants. The investigation of this system is recent; but already {68} M. Agassiz has ascertained about twenty genera, and thrice the number of species. And it is remarkable that the Silurian fishes are here only represented in genera; the whole of the SPECIES of that era had already passed away. Even throughout the sub-groups of the system itself, the species are changed; and these are phenomena observed throughout all the subsequent systems or geological eras; apparently arguing that, during the deposition of all the rocks, a gradual change of physical conditions was constantly going on. A varying temperature, or even a varying depth of sea, would at present be attended with similar changes in marine life; and by analogy we are entitled to assume that such variations in the ancient seas might be amongst the causes of that constant change of genera and species in the inhabitants of those seas to which the organic contents of the rocks bear witness.

Some of the fossils of this system,—the cephalaspis, coccosteus, pterichthys, holoptychius—are, in form and structure, entirely different from any fishes now existing, only the sturgeon family having any trace of affinity to them in any respect. They seem to form a sort of connecting link between the crustacea and true fishes.

The cephalaspis may be considered as making the smallest advance from the crustacean character; it very much resembles in form the asaphus of lower formations, having a longish tail-like body inserted within the cusp of a large crescent-shaped head, somewhat like a saddler's cutting-knife. The body is covered with strong plates of bone, enamelled, and the head was protected on the upper side with one large plate, as with a buckler—hence the name, implying buckler- head. A range of small fins conveys the idea of its having been as weak in motion as it is strong in structure. The coccosteus may be said to mark the next advance to fish creation. The outline of its body is of the form of a short thick coffin, rounded, covered with strong bony plates, and terminating in a long tail, which seems to have been the sole organ of motion. It is very remarkable, that, while the tail establishes this creature among the vertebrata and the fishes, its mouth has been opened vertically, like those of the crustaceans, but which is contrary to the mode of vertebrata generally. This seems a pretty strong mark of the link character of the coccosteus between these two great departments of the animal kingdom. The pterichthys has also strong bony plates over its body, arranged much like those of a tortoise, and has a long tail; but its most remarkable feature, and that which has suggested its name, is a pair of long and narrow wing-like appendages attached to the shoulders, which the creature is supposed to have erected for its defence when attacked by an enemy.

The holoptychius is of a flat oval form, furnished with fins, and ending in a long tail; the whole body covered with strong plates which overlap each other, and the head forming only a slight rounded projection from the general figure. The specimens in the lower beds are not above the size of a flounder; but in the higher strata, to judge by the size of the scales or plates which have been found, the creature attained a comparatively monstrous size.

The other fishes of the system,—the osteolepis, glyptolepis, dipterus, &c., are, in general outline, much like fishes still existing, but their organization has, nevertheless, some striking peculiarities. They have been entirely covered with bony scales or plates, enamelled externally; their spines are tipped with bone, and, as one striking and unvarying feature, the tail is only finned on the lower side. The internal skeleton, of which no traces have been preserved, is presumed to have been cartilaginous. They therefore unite the character of cartilaginous fishes with a character peculiar to themselves, and in which we see pretty clear vestiges of the pre- existent crustaceous form.

With regard to the link character of these animals, some curious facts are mentioned. It appears that in the imperfect condition of the vertebral column, and the inferior situation of the mouth in the pterichthys, coccosteus, &c., there is an analogy to the form of the dorsal cord and position of the mouth in the embryo of perfect fishes. The one-sided form of the tail in the osteolepis &c. finds a similar analogy in the form of the tail in the embryo of the salmon. It is not premature to remark how broadly these facts seem to hint at a parity of law affecting the progress of general creation, and the progress of an individual foetus of one of the more perfect animals.

It is equally ascertained of the types of being prevalent in the old red, as of those of the preceding system, that they are uniform in the corresponding strata of distant parts of the earth; for instance, Russia and North America.

In the old red sandstone, the marine plants, of which faint traces are observable in the Silurians, continue to appear. It would seem as if less change took place in the vegetation than in the animals of those early seas; and for this, as Mr. Miller has remarked, it is easy to imagine reasons. For example, an infusion of lime into the sea would destroy animal life, but be favourable to vegetation.

As yet there were no land animals or plants, and for this the presumable reason is, that no dry land as yet existed. We are not left to make this inference solely from the absence of land animals and plants; in the arrangement of the primary (stratified) rocks, we have further evidence of it. That these rocks were formed in a generally horizontal position, we are as well assured as that they were formed at the bottom of seas. But they are always found greatly inclined in position, tilted up against the slopes of the granitic masses which are beneath them in geological order, though often shooting up to a higher point in the atmosphere. No doubt can be entertained that these granitic masses, forming our principal mountain ranges, have been protruded from below, or, at least, thrust much further up, SINCE the deposition of the primary rocks. The protrusion was what tilted up the primary rocks; and the inference is, of course, unavoidable, that these mountains have risen chiefly, at least, since the primary rocks were laid down. It is remarkable that, while the primary rocks thus incline towards granitic nuclei or axes, the strata higher in the series rest against these again, generally at a less inclination, or none at all, shewing that these strata were laid down after the swelling mountain eminences had, by their protrusion, tilted up the primary strata. And thus it may be said an era of local upthrowing of the primitive and (perhaps) central matter of our planet, is established as happening about the close of the primary strata, and beginning of the next ensuing system. It may be called the Era of the Oldest Mountains, or, more boldly, of the formation of the detached portions of dry land over the hitherto watery surface of the globe—an important part of the designs of Providence, for which the time was now apparently come. It may be remarked, that volcanic disturbances and protrusions of trap took place throughout the whole period of the deposition of the primary rocks; but they were upon a comparatively limited scale, and probably all took place under water. It was only now that the central granitic masses of the great mountain ranges were thrown up, carrying up with them broken edges of the primary strata; a process which seems to have had this difference from the other, that it was the effect of a more tremendous force exerted at a lower depth in the earth, and generally acting in lines pervading a considerable portion of the earth's surface. We shall by-and-by see that the protrusion of some of the mountain ranges was not completed, or did not stop, at that period. There is no part of geological science more clear than that which refers to the ages of mountains. It is as certain that the Grampian mountains of Scotland are older than the Alps and Apennines, as it is that civilization had visited Italy, and had enabled her to subdue the world, while Scotland was the residence of "roving barbarians." The Pyrenees, Carpathians, and other ranges of continental Europe, are all younger than the Grampians, or even the insignificant Mendip Hills of southern England. Stratification tells this tale as plainly as Livy tells the history of the Roman republic. It tells us—to use the words of Professor Philips—that at the time when the Grampians sent streams and detritus to straits where now the valleys of the Forth and Clyde meet, the greater part of Europe was a wide ocean.

The last three systems—called, in England, the Cumbrian, Silurian, and Devonian, and collectively the palaeozoic rocks, from their containing the remains of the earliest inhabitants of the globe—are of vast thickness; in England, not much less than 30,000 feet, or nearly six miles. In other parts of the world, as we have seen, the earliest of these systems alone is of much greater depth—arguing an enormous profundity in the ocean in which they were formed.


We now enter upon a new great epoch in the history of our globe. There was now dry land. As a consequence of this fact, there was fresh water, for rain, instead of immediately returning to the sea, as formerly, was now gathered in channels of the earth, and became springs, rivers, and lakes. There was now a theatre for the existence of land plants and animals, and it remains to be inquired if these accordingly were produced.

The Secondary Rocks, in which our further researches are to be prosecuted, consist of a great and varied series, resting, generally unconformably, against flanks of the upturned primary rocks, sometimes themselves considerably inclined, at others, forming extensive basin-like beds, nearly horizontal; in many places, much broken up and shifted by disturbances from below. They have all been formed out of the materials of the older rocks, by virtue of the wearing power of air and water, which is still every day carrying down vast quantities of the elevated matter of the globe into the sea. But the separate strata are each much more distinct in the matter of its composition than might be expected. Some are siliceous or arenaceous (sandstones), composed mainly of fine grains from the quartz rocks—the most abundant of the primary strata. Others are argillaceous—clays, shales, &c., chiefly derived, probably, from the slate beds of the primary series. Others are calcareous, derived from the early limestone. As a general feature, they are softer and less crystalline than the primary rocks, as if they had endured less of both heat and pressure than the senior formation. There are beds (coal) formed solely of vegetable matter, and some others in which the main ingredient is particles of iron, (the iron black band.) The secondary rocks are quite as communicative with regard to their portion of the earth's history as the primitive were.

The first, or lowest, group of the secondary rocks is called the Carboniferous Formation, from the remarkable feature of its numerous interspersed beds of coal. It commences with the beds of the MOUNTAIN LIMESTONE, which, in some situations, as in Derbyshire and Ireland, are of great thickness, being alternated with chert (a siliceous sandstone), sandstones, shales, and beds of coal, generally of the harder and less bituminous kind (anthracite), the whole being covered in some places by the millstone grit, a siliceous conglomerate composed of the detritus of the primary rocks. The mountain limestone, attaining in England to a depth of eight hundred yards, greatly exceeds in volume any of the primary limestone beds, and shews an enormous addition of power to the causes formerly suggested as having produced this substance. In fact, remains of corals, crinoidea, and shells, are so abundant in it, as to compose three-fourths of the mass in some parts. Above the mountain limestone commence the more conspicuous COAL BEDS, alternating with sandstones, shales, beds of limestone, and ironstone. Coal is altogether composed of the matter of a terrestrial vegetation, transmuted by pressure. Some fresh-water shells have been found in it, but few of marine origin, and no remains of those zoophytes and crinoidea so abundant in the mountain limestone and other rocks. Coal beds exist in Europe, Asia, and America, and have hitherto been esteemed as the most valuable of mineral productions, from the important services which the substance renders in manufactures and in domestic economy. It is to be remarked, that there are some local variations in the arrangement of coal beds. In France, they rest immediately on the granite and other primary rocks, the intermediate strata not having been found at those places. In America, the kind called anthracite occurs among the slate beds, and this species also abounds more in the mountain limestone than with us. These last circumstances only shew that different parts of the earth's surface did not all witness the same events of a certain fixed series exactly at the same time. There had been an exhibition of dry land about the site of America, a little earlier than in Europe.

Some features of the condition of the earth during the deposition of the carboniferous group, are made out with a clearness which must satisfy most minds. First we are told of a time when carbonate of lime was formed in vast abundance at the bottoms of profound seas, accompanied by an unusually large population of corals and encrinites; while in some parts of the earth there were patches of dry land, covered with a luxuriant vegetation. Next we have a comparatively brief period of volcanic disturbance, (when the conglomerate was formed.) Then the causes favourable to the so abundant production of limestone, and the large population of marine acrita, decline, and we find the masses of dry land increase in number and extent, and begin to bear an amount of forest vegetation, far exceeding that of the most sheltered tropical spots of the present surface. The climate, even in the latitude of Baffin's Bay, was torrid, and perhaps the atmosphere contained a larger charge of carbonic acid gas (the material of vegetation) than it now does. The forests or thickets of the period, included no species of plants now known upon earth. They mainly consisted of gigantic shrubs, which are either not represented by any existing types, or are akin to kinds which are now only found in small and lowly forms. That these forests grew upon a Polynesia, or multitude of small islands, is considered probable, from similar vegetation being now found in such situations within the tropics. With regard to the circumstances under which the masses of vegetable matter were transformed into successive coal strata, geologists are divided. From examples seen at the present day, at the mouths of such rivers as the Mississippi, which traverse extensive sylvan regions, and from other circumstances to be adverted to, it is held likely by some that the vegetable matter, the rubbish of decayed forests, was carried by rivers into estuaries, and there accumulated in vast natural rafts, until it sunk to the bottom, where an overlayer of sand or mud would prepare it for becoming a stratum of coal. Others conceive that the vegetation first went into the condition of a peat moss, that a sink in the level then exposed it to be overrun by the sea, and covered with a layer of sand or mud; that a subsequent uprise made the mud dry land, and fitted it to bear a new forest, which afterwards, like its predecessor, became a bed of peat; that, in short, by repetitions of this process, the alternate layers of coal, sandstone, and shale, constituting the carboniferous group, were formed. It is favourable to this last view that marine fossils are scarcely found in the body of the coal itself, though abundant in the shale layers above and below it; also that in several places erect stems of trees are found with their roots still fixed in the shale beds, and crossing the sandstone beds at almost right angles, shewing that these, at least, had not been drifted from their original situations. On the other hand, it is not easy to admit such repeated risings and sinkings of surface as would be required, on this hypothesis, to form a series of coal strata. Perhaps we may most safely rest at present with the supposition that coal has been formed under both classes of circumstances, though in the latter only as an exception to the former.

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