Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

waters, that the luminaries of the day and night were set." Geographically, the early Jews knew of the land stretching from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and also of Egypt; but little beyond these. The Phoenicians, D. c. 1000, had coasted the Mediterranean and the Euxine Seas; but the popular belief still ran to th: etiiei, that whoever sailed beyond the pillars of Lercules, had left the order anal law of the habitable earth behind liim, and illusi Wandler bopelessly ani perishı. Rouglı maritime experience, or sheer love of adventure, disabused the Phoenician and l'artlagenian ininul first of these fables; or, rather, enabled these intrepid laulers to pull away the fatal limit of natural order, Soutlı, to (ape Dojacar, and then to the Guinea coast, North, to Britain, and then 10 where Pytheas fixed the Ultima Thule of the philosophers, either at Iceland or the extreme north point of the present Vorway. The fables of this Thule and of the island Atlantis, point not very dimly, however, toward the American continent, and seem to indicate i residual geograpical knowledge of wiler than the then existing range, and apparently coming clown from a distant and more travelled generation. Even granting this, the method of this new growth of information reveals what the former must have been : and the principle remains unchanged.

But, at the days of their highest culture and broadest sway, the Greeks and Romans had no true knowledge of the earth and its environments. It was a mainly flat expanse, clustered around the Vediterranean—the " Internal Sea"-nd terminating in terra incognito, quite short of the northern coasts of Europe and Asia, omitting the north-eastern, and much of the eastern territory of the latter continent, and middle and southern Africa. To the devices resorted to for supporting this tabular world, reference here is unnecessary. On either hand, the sun, moon, and stars arose from, and set in the waters of the sea ; and dwellers along the far Ilesperiani shores could hear, at ils setting, the seetling of the hot sun-ball, is it dipped its burning brow in the waves! Then, like the outskirts of history, in time, the outskirts of this shred of il world were peopled with fabulous creations. There were the leadless Blemimyes, and the Ilyperboreans (strangely enough, for a Siberian climate), exempt from death and even from disease; and besides these, the Pygmies, the Cynocephali, with heads of dogs, and the Cimmerians, dwelling in utter night.

Even in mythological times, Elysium, the abode of the blessed after death, underwent a compulsory removal. At the first, it was free from intrusion in remote Iesperia ; but the progress of geographical discovery at length revealed here an altogether unsaintly people of Iberi and Axuitani. Thereupon, Elysium was removed by some to the middle of air or ocean ; but the common consent finally found room for it most conveniently below ground, placing it alongside of Tartarus, near the middle of the earth. It was these regions, under slight change of name, and that “mountain" intermediate, added by a later age, that in the beginning of the fourteenth century, were visited to so good purpose by Dante and his guide Virgil. Navigators, then, ambitious generals, migrating hordes, and, perhaps travellers, had thus somewhat widened the geographical limits. Omitting reports of a circumnavigation of Africa, and remote castern trade, we have outlined the world as Ptolmey left it, and as on bis authority it was accepted for 1300 years, even to the time of Columbus. In another field, however, lay the true germs of an enlarging human thought : that field, it will be surmised was ASTRONOMY, misnamed the science of the stars, really the science of orbtenanteil space.

Chaldean shepherds laid the patient file to the shackles that held the wings of thought. Watching away weary hours under the still hcaren, they felt the first movings of the true scientific spirit. They would know the laws of march of the celestial hosts. Their registers of observations, commenced B. c. 2234, and extending through 1903 years, came finally into the possession of the Grecian philosopliers, in the time of Aristotle. Thus, in truth, thousands of years before its consummation by Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, they had commenced a course of inductive research, which resulted in detaching the planetary spaces of our system from each other, and the whole from the remoter region of the stars. Parts of this grand and patient evolution of law and system, Bacon had before him while studying and embodying the canons of induction—the instrument and guide to the surer and vastly multiplied advances of subsequent time.

Clearly, for those who could comprehend their theories, Pythagoras, Ilipparchus and Ptolemy, did much toward replacing the mythological heavens with the actual tellur-ambient space. Pythagoras, about B. c. 530, reasoning from such observations as were

at his command, was led to a theory of ten celestial spheres, one for the carth, seven for the other then known planetary bodies, one for the fixed stars, the tenth imaginary ; these being at distances from the carth corresponling with the mathematical proportions of the musical scale—the latter also his discovery. He held that the planets were habitable ; and that the earth was a globe, so that nations could have their antipodes. Thus, at the very time when Socrates was condemned and suffering death upon the charge of irreverence and impiety, a few philosophical minds, and that of the martyr among them, already secretly knew that they had cracked the narrow concave, and routed forever the divinities from their cups and their smoke-wreaths. It has been inferred, even, that Pythagoras possessed the true idea of the solar system. If it were so), still the clearness and magnitude of his conception were lost from all but a few of philosophical turn and capacity, and eventually had died in effect out of human thought ; otherwise, Copernicus could not, in A. 1. 1530, or near 2100 years later, have so startled mankind by propounding formally, though perhaps anew, the true, heliocentric theory.

But the world was, this time, prepared for the broader outlook. For already had Columbus thought around the carth, and with incredible patience and singleness of purpose, had succeeded in finding the (to cultivated man) unknown, or long forgotten, twin of the lemispheres; while, at about the time when Copernicus was resolving in his own mind his system, Magellan, in 1519, following in the wake of the setting sun, was first circumnavigating the newly-liscerned globe. The return of his ship, after a three years' voyage, and long after, the labors of Tycho and Kepler, and the telescope of Galileo, confirmed the new views. What wonder that it was at such a time, in the first century of the art of printing, and even while Copernicus meditated his noble astronomical idea, that Luther and the Reformation arose prominent in the religious world? It was a time of wonderful activity, of new illumination, and of strange and larger thought, that like wildfire was running over a continent. · Ilow much that was narrow and mcan in conception, was then, practically, toppled forever out of the way!

Since that time, resorting to successively higher telescopic powers, astronomers have brought up to view in succession from the still unexhausted depths of space, shoals remote, and then

more remote, of suns, whose light, though flying 192,000 miles in each second of time, they feel warranted in concluding, has been for 30, 100, 500, 1,000 years even, on its swift, silent march through the intervening abyss! And now, in the place of the mere negative fact of our inability to imagine bounds to space, we seem to find reason to put the positive belief, that neither space nor the spheres that dot it at so wide intervals can have any terminus whatever.

Aristotle and Plato taught the cternity of the material world, but on speculative grounds merely. Modern geology and palaeontology, upon grounds purely scientific, present to us demands for almost boundless installments of time, as required to have elapsed since the formative stage of our planet began, and even since organized life appeared on its surface; and we are ready to believe, for inmense periods since the advent of man. Laplace's Nebular Hypothesis of the formation of our sun-system, by the slow condensation of a diffused and rarefied matter, a generated rotation of the compacting mass, and the throwing off of rings, which contracted into planetry bodies, reiterates and extends the demand. Nor is this hypothesis yet reduced to mere caput mortuum in the alembic of scientific thought. Consider the striking generalization recently urged again by Professor Kirkwood, that, all the movements in our system, orbital and rotatory, are from west to east, save the orbital paths of the satellites of Uranus, and perhaps of Neptune, and of a large proportion of the nearly 800 known comets. The peculiarity of these latter and exceptional cases, at once suggests the fact of some peculiar cause. And again, let it be remembered that the presence of apparent nebulæ in the heavens, was a mere incident in the progress of the theory; and that this had its basis in actual phenomena of our system, and in analogous physical facts.

The same demand for time arises upon a review of the physical geography of our planet, and of the distribution of life on it; and, within the last few years only, from discovery of mementoes of primacval human activities and arts, with which living archæologists may consider themselves as especially favored. That fragment of pottery, for example, from the Delta of the Nile, found imbedded at a depth to which the slow droppings of silt from the river waters, as observation and mathematics indicate, must have been contributed during 13,500 years! To this, add the repeated

discoveries, within the last thirty, especially within the last three years, of implements and other relics of a race of flint workers, wlm, julging from the strata and circumstances in which these remains occur, must have antelated the stone aige, as this dil those of brwiese and of irwit, and who were contemporaneous with the mammoth, and with now extinct species of the horse, the ox, and rhinoceros. llere, live or six thousand years fail to satisfy the coulions; and tens of thousands become highly probable.

l'ur it is a mark of all the lines of evidence going to show an exceeiling' antiquity of our earth, that while they wholly cease to gudde our researches big years, conturies, or millenniums of terrestrial time, they still insist on mis periods, separable by several Successive parls of masual change. And the candid explorer can refuse only to admit such periods, only first, by denying that very uniformity in natural operations, upon the admission of which all his veritable explorations proscced, and so many of them prove successful ; or, seronolly, by returning to the child's conception, that the work of the ('reative fiat include the making of the strati and their contents just what they are—the metamorphic rocks, the slates, the pebbles, sanıl, soil, and conglomerates, and even the coal-beds, and fossil plants and skeletons, all of which natural agencies coulil form so easily and so exactly, but from the production of which all idea of natural agencies must be compulsorily and by intellectual violence excluded! But to accept the former horn of this dilemma, is to stultify the scientist's labors, and make him it triller ; while to claim the latter, is to teach a gigantic deception on the part of the Creator, played on human reason and crclulity. When men of science shall accept cither, they will have prepared themselves for adoption of the lIindoo cosmogony and the Iristotelian physics. But they must reject the child-ideas of to-lay, as they do the systems of a less mature age ; and so their earth and man must have come down from indefinitely remote time.

of the chronologists, who the most nearly satisfy the advocates of a restricted duration of our planet, and of life upon it, no two agree. Meanwhile, Bunsen, assuredly a man of judgment and erudition, and llales, Usher, Josephus, or the Talmudists, were no morc-yields to the pressure of scientific discovery, and grants at least 19,752 years since the period which may be termed that of the creation of the world. The nebular hypothesis asks, for

« VorigeDoorgaan »