« PreviousContinue »
earth. Here, by some unaccountable elaboration, partaking, however,
. of both the animal and vegetative processes — they grew, and assumed forms determined by their semina. The germinating power was communicated by the mineral properties — yet, however hard and unmanageable the character of the mineral substance, the animal principle was graciously allowed, by this theory, to determine its own form - a distinction that modern physiology refuses to allow our poor vegetative natures. It was supposed that stones vegetated according to certain laws, somewhat like crystallization, and that the structure of the fossil was determined by the vital principles, or the prototype, inherent in the seed. These seeds were the medium of communication, and the connecting link, between the organic and inorganic creation — the primitive materials prepared by the same plastic hand of nature for the propagation of animated and analogous existences.
However crude and unphilosophical these theories, they were supported by many distinguished names: nor are some of the present times, on other subjects, less strange and irrational. But, in reference to geology, or natural history, men have rapidly advanced. zoology, mineralogy, and comparative anatomy, are now included among the studies of the geologist. While geological science brings to light the animal and vegetable remains of an ancient world, a knowledge of kindred sciences enables us to determine their character, their situations, their species, and even their habits. How wide and how interesting, then, is the field of the geologist! Though but of comparatively recent
! origin, geology has done more to enlarge our minds, and to discover our relations with the animal creation, than all other physical sciences combined. This is the fortunate result of a department of that science, properly denominated fossil geology. There is, indeed, no branch of human knowledge which displays more important facts, or which, from the extraordinary character and novelty of those facts, is calculated to excite more intense interest, or produce a more lively curiosity, than this subject. Its range is immense, and its materials throughout fascinating. Every day discovers new sources of attraction and usefulness. Its votaries are every where enthusiastically engaged in successful researches, in disclosing, to our surprise, the wonders of primeval organic lifein discovering the relations of extinct and existing species, and in enlarging our conceptions of supreme wisdom, and the laws by which it is manifested.
In the branches of fossil ichthyology, conchology, ornithology, etc., the advancement of the science has been rapid beyond the example of any other. The devotion of Agassiz, Deshays, and others, serve to increase that of all admirers of the subject. Cuvier, that giant in natural history, has performed wonders in comparative anatomy, more surprising than the fabled personal exploits of Hercules. But to enumerate those who have been eminent in fossil geology, would be impossible, if not useless. The names of such will endure with their discoveries.
The geographical extent of the field which has developed these organic remains, is comparatively very limited. The basins of London and of Paris are the principal stages on which have been represented some of the doings of an infant creation. These districts, with Italy, parts of England, Germany, Spain, and America, comprise quite ali of the territorial surface yet explored. How extensive is the field still
before us, and how rich may not that field be, in all that is calculated to awaken our attention, and benefit human kind! The vast continent of America, already discovered to abound in the most remarkable organic remains, as well as valuable earthy salts, rich deposits of coal and useful metals, is in view, and what may it not bring to light? Its geological character is of the most interesting kind, and it has very justly elicited the admiration of European geologists.
With so little known, and yet so much interest so justly excited, on the subject of fossil geology, we anticipate the most splendid results from future investigations.
In treating this subject, divisions are necessary. As we have glanced at some of the opinions of former theorists for they cannot claim the title of geologists - we will, after some preliminary definitions, trace the progress in the discovery of fossil substances, and notice the extraordinary character, size, and structure, of the remains hitherto discovered, with the equally important facts and conclusions which they present.
Notwithstanding the researches which have been made, it would be absurd to suppose that they were yet sufficiently conclusive to afford the necessary materials for a complete theory of the earth, or the formation of its crust. By tracing the history of organic life, we are enabled to form rational and plausible opinions of the inorganic. Hence our subject, above all others, is valuable in determining the history of our planet. It is known, indeed, by it alone, that its age, instead of being six thousand years, may be as many millions. Certain it is, also, that the commonly adopted opinion is far, very far, from being correct, not only as it regards the duration of the earth, but the existence of animal and vegetable beings. While the remains of organic bodies are found to have been deposited far down in the range of stratified rocks, amid the early elements of our globe, and while they are traced from thence through all the series of strata, and their successive changes, to the broad day of its surface, we are enabled to draw, by strict comparisons and inquiry, such inferences, and to form such conclusions, as throw a blaze of light on the history of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. In all this range, we no where find man, his analogue or semblance; but every where do we observe the gradually progressive condition and organization of animals, quite up to the lord of the creation. The botanist and zoologist are associated with the geologist in these researches and conclusions, and they are alike interested in making the important inquiry, How many species and genera of animals and vegetables are extinct ? - how many are new, or have their analogues, among fossil remains ? — and what have been the climates or fluids which they have inhabited ?'
That the climate of the temperate zones, in which most of these remains have been found, has undergone essential changes, there cannot now be any doubt; for the most remarkable of both vegetable and animal fossils prove them to have been residents of a torrid zone, or of a climate even much warmer than that now between the tropics. The geological phenomena which we know to have taken place since the beginning of our world, serve to guide us in arriving at some satisfactory conclusion on this point. Physical geography, to which these changes are more immediately referable, also proves a necessary correspondence between the climate of our globe and superficial changes. These changes have been great and continuous. As land has, from time to time, prevailed over the old dominion of the waters, meteorological phenomena have been correspondingly influential, and a reduction of temperature has undoubtedly followed such changes. An age is sufficient to convince us that the encroachment of land on the water is progressive, particularly in the temperate region — for it is here that our own observation, though but a speck in the illimitable expanse of time, comes to the aid of historical truths.
It is an important fact, and a fundamental principle of geological science, that the same causes now prevail which characterized the distant periods of our world's existence; that similar phenomena continue to be manifested which have produced such mighty revolutions on the exterior of our planet ; that what has occurred, may again occur, or be reversed; the lofty mountain, towering in magnificence and solemn grandeur up to the cold and dark regions of silence and death, may bow down its proud head to the very depths of oceanic stillness and gloom. The hidden caves of submarine midnight may, in their turn, be lifted up high above the peering summits of Teneriffe, Mont Blanc, or the head of the immeasurable Himalaya. The tenants of the deep, deep sea' may suddenly take their habitations midway in air, or the innumerable small things of life — poor pensioners on the bounty of an hour' basking for the moment in the sun-lit ray, may as suddenly sink from the mountain's side, or the pleasant plain, to the hollow concaves of an unfathomable sea. Even man, with all his possessions and panoply of life — his domains, his joys, and his peerless mind may all, in one fell swoop, be forever ingulphed in some dark and tumultuous abyss. These things having been, may yet be. Our own recollections of the past, with the scenes of Lisbon, of Caraccas, and Callabria in view, remind us of the possibility of the future.
To these subterranean causes are we indebted for the presentation of the various and innumerable marine fossils, in mountain masses, which are strewed throughout our terrene sphere. Upheaved, as they have been, by volcanic action, we find genera and species, to which we were strangers, singularly imbedded and commingled. We find them on the soil which gave them alike existence and death. We find them alternating with those of different specific and generic characters, of land and of marine animals. We find them now masses of stone, yet as they were, in form and action, when overtaken by the embodying substances. We find them of the most gigantic size, and of the most anomalous characters: some with organs fitted alike for air, land, or water. We find those which inhabited water only, now the indurated tenants of the solid rock. We find those which died, as they lived and moved, on the soft surface, now immured far down in the rocky mountain; those which moved and died horizontally beneath the sea, now forming parts of high and immense vertical cliffs. We find those which were deposited in deep and horizontal beds, now enclosed in elevated strata, at high angles, and irregularly disposed. We find them thickly inhabiting some kinds of rocks, while in others they are never found; those which were in habitants of one particular climate and location, transported to other climates and other parts of the world. We find them entangled and accumulated in alluvia, by seas, lakes, and streams, which have long since disappeared; those which were exclusively marine, occupying the same alluvial formation with land animals. Indeed, the various and anomalous relative positions in which organic remains are now discovered — their immense numbers, and, to us, strange formations — admit of no definitive description, nor even an enumeration. We shall allude, however, in an ensuing number, to some of the probable causes which have been instrumental in effecting the changes, the depositions, and entombments of some of these fossil bodies, and sketch a limited description of their extraordinary forms and character — and shall content ourselves, thereafter, with the establishment of the general fact, that this planet of ours has undergone numerous and astonishing revolutions.
What though they tell thee thou hast nought,
Young land of beauty, to bear back,
To Time's long hallowed track;
When other lands were growing old -
Came to thy shores for gold:
Heed not the imputation thrown
So rashly on thy rising fame;
When Rome was but a name;
To the Atlantic's deep repose,
On Tiber's banks arose.
His bow had many a warrior bent,
In deadly conflict or the chase,
With Israel's royal race;
By Niagara's ceaseless roar,
To Albion's chalky shore.
What are the castle's turrets gray,
Clothed with the moss of centuries ten -
Between half savage men ?
Rife with the deeds of glory's day,
What are the pyramids which tower
High o'er old Egypt's sandy plain,
Which Time hath swept in vain ?
From home of death and mourning stone -
Of heroes long unknown.