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Scientific Essays and Lectures by Charles Kingsley

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These people, at a very remote epoch, emerged from a country highly
civilised, but sunk in the superstitions of nature-worship. They
invaded and mingled with tribes whose superstitions were even more
debased, silly, and foul than those of the Egyptians from whom they
escaped. Their own masses were for centuries given up to nature-
worship. Now, among those Jews arose men--a very few--sages--
prophets--call them what you will, the men were inspired heroes and
philosophers--who assumed towards nature an attitude utterly
different from the rest of their countrymen and the rest of the then
world; who denounced superstition and the dread of nature as the
parent of all manner of vice and misery; who for themselves said
boldly that they discerned in the universe an order, a unity, a
permanence of law, which gave them courage instead of fear. They
found delight and not dread in the thought that the universe obeyed
a law which could not be broken; that all things continued to that
day according to a certain ordinance. They took a view of Nature
totally new in that age; healthy, human, cheerful, loving, trustful,
and yet reverent--identical with that which happily is beginning to
prevail in our own day. They defied those very volcanic and
meteoric phenomena of their land, to which their countrymen were
slaying their own children in the clefts of the rocks, and, like
Theophrastus's superstitious man, pouring their drink-offerings on
the smooth stones of the valley; and declared that, for their part,
they would not fear, though the earth was moved, and though the
hills were carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters
raged and swelled, and the mountains shook at the tempest.

The fact is indisputable. And you must pardon me if I express my
belief that these men, if they had felt it their business to found a
school of inductive physical science, would, owing to that temper of
mind, have achieved a very signal success. I ground that opinion on
the remarkable, but equally indisputable fact, that no nation has
ever succeeded in perpetuating a school of inductive physical
science, save those whose minds have been saturated with this same
view of Nature, which they have--as an historic fact--slowly but
thoroughly learnt from the writings of these Jewish sages.

Such is the fact. The founders of inductive physical science were
not the Jews; but first the Chaldaeans, next the Greeks, next their
pupils the Romans--or rather a few sages among each race. But what
success had they? The Chaldaean astronomers made a few discoveries
concerning the motions of the heavenly bodies, which, rudimentary as
they were, still prove them to have been men of rare intellect. For
a great and a patient genius must he have been, who first
distinguished the planets from the fixed stars, or worked out the
earliest astronomical calculation. But they seem to have been
crushed, as it were, by their own discoveries. They stopped short.
They gave way again to the primeval fear of Nature. They sank into
planet-worship. They invented, it would seem, that fantastic
pseudo-science of astrology, which lay for ages after as an incubus
on the human intellect and conscience. They became the magicians
and quacks of the old world; and mankind owed them thenceforth
nothing but evil. Among the Greeks and Romans, again, those sages
who dared face Nature like reasonable men, were accused by the
superstitious mob as irreverent impious atheists. The wisest of
them all, Socrates, was actually put to death on that charge; and
finally, they failed. School after school, in Greece and Rome,
struggled to discover, and to get a hearing for, some theory of the
universe which was founded on something like experience, reason,
common sense. They were not allowed to prosecute their attempt.
The mud-ocean of ignorance and fear in which they struggled so
manfully was too strong for them; the mud-waves closed over their
heads finally, as the age of the Antonines expired; and the last
effort of Graeco-Roman thought to explain the universe was
Neoplatonism--the muddiest of the muddy--an attempt to apologise
for, and organise into a system, all the nature-dreading
superstitions of the Roman world. Porphyry, Plotinus, Proclus, poor
Hypatia herself, and all her school--they may have had themselves no
bodily fear of Nature; for they were noble souls. Yet they spent
their time in justifying those who had; in apologising for the
superstitions of the very mob which they despised: just as--it
sometimes seems to me--some folk in these days are like to end in
doing; begging that the masses might be allowed to believe in
anything, however false, lest they should believe in nothing at all:
as if believing in lies could do anything but harm to any human
being. And so died the science of the old world, in a true second
childhood, just where it began.

The Jewish sages, I hold, taught that science was probable; the
Greeks and Romans proved that it was possible. It remained for our
race, under the teaching of both, to bring science into act and

Many causes contributed to give them this power. They were a
personally courageous race. This earth has yet seen no braver men
than the forefathers of Christian Europe, whether Scandinavian or
Teuton, Angle or Frank. They were a practical hard-headed race,
with a strong appreciation of facts, and a strong determination to
act on them. Their laws, their society, their commerce, their
colonisation, their migrations by land and sea, proved that they
were such. They were favoured, moreover, by circumstances, or--as I
should rather put it--by that divine Providence which determined
their times, and the bounds of their habitation. They came in as
the heritors of the decaying civilisation of Greece and Rome; they
colonised territories which gave to man special fair play, but no
more, in the struggle for existence, the battle with the powers of
Nature; tolerably fertile, tolerably temperate; with boundless means
of water communication; freer than most parts of the world from
those terrible natural phenomena, like the earthquake and the
hurricane, before which man lies helpless and astounded, a child
beneath the foot of a giant. Nature was to them not so inhospitable
as to starve their brains and limbs, as it has done for the
Esquimaux or Fuegian; and not so bountiful as to crush them by its
very luxuriance, as it has crushed the savages of the tropics. They
saw enough of its strength to respect it; not enough to cower before
it: and they and it have fought it out; and it seems to me,
standing either on London Bridge or on a Holland fen-dyke, that they
are winning at last.

But they had a sore battle: a battle against their own fear of the
unseen. They brought with them, out of the heart of Asia, dark and
sad nature-superstitions, some of which linger among our peasantry
till this day, of elves, trolls, nixes, and what not. Their Thor
and Odin were at first, probably, only the thunder and the wind:
but they had to be appeased in the dark marches of the forest, where
hung rotting on the sacred oaks, amid carcases of goat and horse,
the carcases of human victims. No one acquainted with the early
legends and ballads of our race, but must perceive throughout them
all the prevailing tone of fear and sadness. And to their own
superstitions they added those of the Rome which they conquered.
They dreaded the Roman she-poisoners and witches, who, like Horace's
Canidia, still performed horrid rites in graveyards and dark places
of the earth. They dreaded as magical the delicate images engraved
on old Greek gems. They dreaded the very Roman cities they had
destroyed. They were the work of enchanters. Like the ruins of St.
Albans here in England, they were all full of devils, guarding the
treasures which the Romans had hidden. The Caesars became to them
magical man-gods. The poet Virgil became the prince of
necromancers. If the secrets of Nature were to be known, they were
to be known by unlawful means, by prying into the mysteries of the
old heathen magicians, or of the Mohammedan doctors of Cordova and
Seville; and those who dared to do so were respected and feared, and
often came to evil ends. It needed moral courage, then, to face and
interpret fact. Such brave men as Pope Gerbert, Roger Bacon,
Galileo, even Kepler, did not lead happy lives; some of them found
themselves in prison. All the medieval sages--even Albertus Magnus-
-were stigmatised as magicians. One wonders that more of them did
not imitate poor Paracelsus, who, unable to get a hearing for his
coarse common sense, took--vain and sensual--to drinking the
laudanum which he himself had discovered, and vaunted as a priceless
boon to men; and died as the fool dieth, in spite of all his wisdom.
For the "Romani nominis umbra," the shadow of the mighty race whom
they had conquered, lay heavy on our forefathers for centuries. And
their dread of the great heathens was really a dread of Nature, and
of the powers thereof. For when the authority of great names has
reigned unquestioned for many centuries, those names become, to the
human mind, integral and necessary parts of Nature itself. They
are, as it were, absorbed into it; they become its laws, its canons,
its demiurges, and guardian spirits; their words become regarded as
actual facts; in one word, they become a superstition, and are
feared as parts of the vast unknown; and to deny what they have said
is, in the minds of the many, not merely to fly in the face of
reverent wisdom, but to fly in the face of facts. During a great
part of the Middle Ages, for instance, it was impossible for an
educated man to think of nature itself, without thinking first of
what Aristotle had said of her. Aristotle's dicta were Nature; and
when Benedetti, at Venice, opposed in 1585 Aristotle's opinions on
violent and natural motion, there were hundreds, perhaps, in the
universities of Europe--as there certainly were in the days of the
immortal "Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum"--who were ready, in spite of
all Benedetti's professed reverence for Aristotle, to accuse him of
outraging not only the father of philosophy, but Nature itself and
its palpable and notorious facts. For the restoration of letters in
the fifteenth century had not at first mended matters, so strong was
the dread of Nature in the minds of the masses. The minds of men
had sported forth, not toward any sound investigation of facts, but
toward an eclectic resuscitation of Neoplatonism; which endured, not
without a certain beauty and use--as let Spenser's "Faerie Queen"
bear witness--till the latter half of the seventeenth century.

After that time a rapid change began. It is marked by--it has been
notably assisted by--the foundation of our own Royal Society. Its
causes I will not enter into; they are so inextricably mixed, I
hold, with theological questions, that they cannot be discussed
here. I will only point out to you these facts: that, from the
latter part of the seventeenth century, the noblest heads and the
noblest hearts of Europe concentrated themselves more and more on
the brave and patient investigation of physical facts, as the source
of priceless future blessings to mankind; that the eighteenth
century which it has been the fashion of late to depreciate, did
more for the welfare of mankind, in every conceivable direction,
than the whole fifteen centuries before it; that it did this good
work by boldly observing and analysing facts; that this boldness
towards facts increased in proportion as Europe became indoctrinated
with the Jewish literature; and that, notably, such men as Kepler,
Newton, Berkeley, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Descartes, in whatsoever else
they differed, agreed in this, that their attitude towards Nature
was derived from the teaching of the Jewish sages. I believe that
we are not yet fully aware how much we owe to the Jewish mind, in
the gradual emancipation of the human intellect. The connection may
not, of course, be one of cause and effect; it may be a mere
coincidence. I believe it to be a cause; one of course of very many
causes: but still an integral cause. At least the coincidence is
too remarkable a fact not to be worthy of investigation.

I said, just now--The emancipation of the human intellect. I did
not say--Of science or of the scientific intellect; and for this

That the emancipation of science is the emancipation of the common
mind of all men. All men can partake of the gains of free
scientific thought, not merely by enjoying its physical results, but
by becoming more scientific men themselves.

Therefore it was, that though I began my first lecture by defining
superstition, I did not begin my second by defining its antagonist,
science. For the word "science" defines itself. It means simply
knowledge; that is, of course, right knowledge, or such an
approximation as can be obtained; knowledge of any natural object,
its classification, its causes, its effects; or in plain English,
what it is, how it came where it is, and what can be done with it.

And scientific method, likewise, needs no definition; for it is
simply the exercise of common sense. It is not a peculiar, unique,
professional, or mysterious process of the understanding: but the
same which all men employ, from the cradle to the grave, in forming
correct conclusions.

Every one who knows the philosophic writings of Mr. John Stuart
Mill, will be familiar with this opinion. But to those who have no
leisure to study him, I should recommend the reading of Professor
Huxley's third lecture on the origin of species.

In that he shows, with great logical skill, as well as with some
humour, how the man who, on rising in the morning finds the parlour-
window open, the spoons and teapot gone, the mark of a dirty hand on
the window-sill, and that of a hob-nailed boot outside, and comes to
the conclusion that someone has broken open the window, and stolen
the plate, arrives at that hypothesis--for it is nothing more--by a
long and complex train of inductions and deductions of just the same
kind as those which, according to the Baconian philosophy, are to be
used for investigating the deepest secrets of Nature.

This is true, even of those sciences which involve long mathematical
calculations. In fact, the stating of the problem to be solved is
the most important element in the calculation; and that is so
thoroughly a labour of common sense that an utterly uneducated mart
may, and often does, state an abstruse problem clearly and
correctly; seeing what ought to be proved, and perhaps how to prove
it, though he may be unable to work the problem out for want of
mathematical knowledge.

But that mathematical knowledge is not--as all Cambridge men are
surely aware--the result of any special gift. It is merely the
development of those conceptions of form and number which every
human being possesses; and any person of average intellect can make
himself a fair mathematician if he will only pay continuous
attention; in plain English, think enough about the subject.

There are sciences, again, which do not involve mathematical
calculation; for instance, botany, zoology, geology, which are just
now passing from their old stage of classificatory sciences into the
rank of organic ones. These are, without doubt, altogether within
the scope of the merest common sense. Any man or woman of average
intellect, if they will but observe and think for themselves,
freely, boldly, patiently, accurately, may judge for themselves of
the conclusions of these sciences, may add to these conclusions
fresh and important discoveries; and if I am asked for a proof of
what I assert, I point to "Rain and Rivers," written by no professed
scientific man, but by a colonel in the Guards, known to fame only
as one of the most perfect horsemen in the world.

Let me illustrate my meaning by an example. A man--I do not say a
geologist, but simply a man, squire or ploughman--sees a small
valley, say one of the side-glens which open into the larger valleys
in the Windsor forest district. He wishes to ascertain its age.

He has, at first sight, a very simple measure--that of denudation.
He sees that the glen is now being eaten out by a little stream, the
product of innumerable springs which arise along its sides, and
which are fed entirely by the rain on the moors above. He finds, on
observation, that this stream brings down some ten cubic yards of
sand and gravel, on an average, every year. The actual quantity of
earth which has been removed to make the glen may be several million
cubic yards. Here is an easy sum in arithmetic. At the rate of ten
cubic yards a-year, the stream has taken several hundred thousand
years to make the glen.

You will observe that this result is obtained by mere common sense.
He has a right to assume that the stream originally began the glen,
because he finds it in the act of enlarging it; just as much right
as he has to assume, if he find a hole in his pocket, and his last
coin in the act of falling through it, that the rest of his money
has fallen through the same hole. It is a sufficient cause, and the
simplest. A number of observations as to the present rate of
denudation, and a sum which any railroad contractor can do in his
head, to determine the solid contents of the valley, are all that
are needed. The method is that of science: but it is also that of
simple common sense. You will remember, therefore, that this is no
mere theory or hypothesis, but a pretty fair and simple conclusion
from palpable facts; that the probability lies with the belief that
the glen is some hundreds of thousands of years old; that it is not
the observer's business to prove it further, but other persons' to
disprove it, if they can.

But does the matter end here? No. And, for certain reasons, it is
good that it should not end here.

The observer, if he be a cautious man, begins to see if he can
disprove his own conclusions; moreover, being human, he is probably
somewhat awed, if not appalled, by his own conclusion. Hundreds of
thousands of years spent in making that little glen! Common sense
would say that the longer it took to make, the less wonder there was
in its being made at last: but the instinctive human feeling is the
opposite. There is in men, and there remains in them, even after
they are civilised, and all other forms of the dread of Nature have
died out in them, a dread of size, of vast space, of vast time; that
latter, mind, being always imagined as space, as we confess when we
speak instinctively of a space of time. They will not understand
that size is merely a relative, not an absolute term; that if we
were a thousand times larger than we are, the universe would be a
thousand times smaller than it is; that if we could think a thousand
times faster than we do, time would be a thousand times longer than
it is; that there is One in whom we live, and move, and have our
being, to whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years
as one day. I believe this dread of size to be merely, like all
other superstitions, a result of bodily fear; a development of the
instinct which makes a little dog run away from a big dog. Be that
as it may, every observer has it; and so the man's conclusion seems
to him strange, doubtful: he will reconsider it.

Moreover, if he be an experienced man, he is well aware that first
guesses, first hypotheses, are not always the right ones; and if he
be a modest man, he will consider the fact that many thousands of
thoughtful men in all ages, and many thousands still, would say,
that the glen can only be a few thousand, or possibly a few hundred,
years old. And he will feel bound to consider their opinion; as far
as it is, like his own, drawn from facts, but no further.

So he casts about for all other methods by which the glen may have
been produced, to see if any one of them will account for it in a
shorter time.

1. Was it made by an earthquake? No; for the strata on both sides
are identical, at the same level, and in the same plane.

2. Or by a mighty current? If so, the flood must have run in at
the upper end, before it ran out at the lower. But nothing has run
in at the upper end. All round above are the undisturbed gravel-
beds of the horizontal moor, without channel or depression.

3. Or by water draining off a vast flat as it was upheaved out of
the sea? That is a likely guess. The valley at its upper end
spreads out like the fingers of a hand, as the gullies in tide-muds

But that hypothesis will not stand. There is no vast unbroken flat
behind the glen. Right and left of it are other similar glens,
parted from it by long narrow ridges: these also must be explained
on the same hypothesis; but they cannot. For there could not have
been surface-drainage to make them all, or a tenth of them. There
are no other possible hypotheses; and so he must fall back on the
original theory--the rain, the springs, the brook; they have done it
all, even as they are doing it this day.

But is not that still a hasty assumption? May not their denuding
power have been far greater in old times than now?

Why should it? Because there was more rain then than now? That he
must put out of court; there is no evidence of it whatsoever.

Because the land was more friable originally? Well, there is a
great deal to be said for that. The experience of every countryman
tells him that bare or fallow land is more easily washed away than
land under vegetation. And no doubt, when these gravels and sands
rose from the sea, they were barren for hundreds of years. He has
some measure of the time required, because he can tell roughly how
long it takes for sands and shingles left by the sea to become
covered with vegetation. But he must allow that the friability of
the land must have been originally much greater than now, for
hundreds of years.

But again, does that fact really cut off any great space of time
from his hundreds of thousands of years? For when the land first
rose from the sea, that glen was not there. Some slight bay or bend
in the shore determined its site. That stream was not there. It
was split up into a million little springs, oozing side by side from
the shore, and having each a very minute denuding power, which kept
continually increasing by combination as the glen ate its way
inwards, and the rainfall drained by all these little springs was
collected into the one central stream. So that when the ground
being bare was most liable to be denuded, the water was least able
to do it; and as the denuding power of the water increased, the
land, being covered with vegetation, became more and more able to
resist it. All this he has seen, going on at the present day in the
similar gullies worn in the soft strata of the South Hampshire
coast; especially round Bournemouth.

So the two disturbing elements in the calculation may be fairly set
off against each other, as making a difference of only a few
thousands or tens of thousands of years either way; and the age of
the glen may fairly be, if not a million years, yet such a length of
years as mankind still speak of with bated breath, as if forsooth it
would do them some harm.

I trust that every scientific man in this room will agree with me,
that the imaginary squire or ploughman would have been conducting
his investigation strictly according to the laws of the Baconian
philosophy. You will remark, meanwhile, that he has not used a
single scientific term, or referred to a single scientific
investigation; and has observed nothing and thought nothing, which
might not have been observed and thought by any one who chose to use
his common sense, and not to be afraid.

But because he has come round, after all this further investigation,
to something very like his first conclusion, was all that further
investigation useless? No--a thousand times, no. It is this very
verification of hypotheses which makes the sound ones safe, and
destroys the unsound. It is this struggle with all sorts of
superstitions which makes science strong and sure, and her march
irresistible, winning ground slowly, but never receding from it. It
is this buffeting of adversity which compels her not to rest
dangerously upon the shallow sand of first guesses, and single
observations; but to strike her roots down, deep, wide, and
interlaced, into the solid ground of actual facts.

It is very necessary to insist on this point. For there have been
men in all past ages--I do not say whether there are any such now,
but I am inclined to think that there will be hereafter--men who
have tried to represent scientific method as something difficult,
mysterious, peculiar, unique, not to be attained by the unscientific
mass; and this not for the purpose of exalting science, but rather
of discrediting her. For as long as the masses, educated or
uneducated, are ignorant of what scientific method is, they will
look on scientific men, as the middle age looked on necromancers, as
a privileged, but awful and uncanny caste, possessed of mighty
secrets; who may do them great good, but may also do them great
harm. Which belief on the part of the masses will enable these
persons to instal themselves as the critics of science, though not
scientific men themselves: and--as Shakespeare has it--to talk of
Robin Hood, though they never shot in his bow. Thus they become
mediators to the masses between the scientific and the unscientific
worlds. They tell them--You are not to trust the conclusions of men
of science at first hand. You are not fit judges of their facts or
of their methods. It is we who will, by a cautious eclecticism,
choose out for you such of their conclusions as are safe for you;
and them we will advise you to believe. To the scientific man, on
the other hand, as often as anything is discovered unpleasing to
them, they will say, imperiously and e cathedra--Your new theory
contradicts the established facts of science. For they will know
well that whatever the men of science think of their assertion, the
masses will believe it; totally unaware that the speakers are by
their very terms showing their ignorance of science; and that what
they call established facts scientific men call merely provisional
conclusions, which they would throw away to-morrow without a pang
were the known facts explained better by a fresh theory, or did
fresh facts require one.

This has happened too often. It is in the interest of superstition
that it should happen again; and the best way to prevent it surely
is to tell the masses--Scientific method is no peculiar mystery,
requiring a peculiar initiation. It is simply common sense,
combined with uncommon courage, which includes uncommon honesty and
uncommon patience; and if you will be brave, honest, patient, and
rational, you will need no mystagogues to tell you what in science
to believe and what not to believe; for you will be just as good
judges of scientific facts and theories as those who assume the
right of guiding your convictions. You are men and women: and more
than that you need not be.

And let me say that the man of our days whose writings exemplify
most thoroughly what I am going to say is the justly revered Mr.
Thomas Carlyle.

As far as I know he has never written on any scientific subject.
For aught I am aware of, he may know nothing of mathematics or
chemistry, of comparative anatomy or geology. For aught I am aware
of, he may know a great deal about them all, and, like a wise man,
hold his tongue, and give the world merely the results in the form
of general thought. But this I know: that his writings are
instinct with the very spirit of science; that he has taught men,
more than any living man, the meaning and end of science; that he
has taught men moral and intellectual courage; to face facts boldly,
while they confess the divineness of facts; not to be afraid of
Nature, and not to worship Nature; to believe that man can know
truth; and that only in as far as he knows truth can he live
worthily on this earth. And thus he has vindicated, as no other man
in our days has done, at once the dignity of Nature and the dignity
of spirit. That he would have made a distinguished scientific man,
we may be as certain from his writings as we may be certain, when we
see a fine old horse of a certain stamp, that he would have made a
first-class hunter, though he has been unfortunately all his life in
harness. Therefore, did I try to train a young man of science to be
true, devout, and earnest, accurate and daring, I should say--Read
what you will: but at least read Carlyle. It is a small matter to
me--and I doubt not to him--whether you will agree with his special
conclusions: but his premises and his method are irrefragable; for
they stand on the "voluntatem Dei in rebus revelatam"--on fact and
common sense.

And Mr. Carlyle's writings, if I am correct in my estimate of them,
will afford a very sufficient answer to those who think that the
scientific habit of mind tends to irreverence.

Doubtless this accusation will always be brought against science by
those who confound reverence with fear. For from blind fear of the
unknown, science does certainly deliver man. She does by man as he
does by an unbroken colt. The colt sees by the road side some quite
new object--a cast-away boot, an old kettle, or what not. What a
fearful monster! What unknown terrific powers may it not possess!
And the colt shies across the road, runs up the bank, rears on end;
putting itself thereby, as many a man does, in real danger. What
cure is there? But one: experience. So science takes us, as we
should take the colt, gently by the halter; and makes us simply
smell at the new monster; till after a few trembling sniffs, we
discover, like the colt, that it is not a monster, but a kettle.
Yet I think, if we sum up the loss and gain, we shall find the
colt's character has gained, rather than lost, by being thus
disabused. He learns to substitute a very rational reverence for
the man who is breaking him in, for a totally irrational reverence
for the kettle; and becomes thereby a much wiser and more useful
member of society, as does the man when disabused of his

From which follows one result. That if science proposes--as she
does--to make men brave, wise, and independent, she must needs
excite unpleasant feelings in all who desire to keep men cowardly,
ignorant, and slavish. And that too many such persons have existed
in all ages is but too notorious. There have been from all time,
goetai, quacks, powwow men, rain-makers, and necromancers of various
sorts, who having for their own purposes set forth partial, ill-
grounded, fantastic, and frightful interpretations of nature, have
no love for those who search after a true, exact, brave, and hopeful
one. And therefore it is to be feared, or hoped, that science and
superstition will to the world's end remain irreconcilable and
internecine foes.

Conceive the feelings of an old Lapland witch, who has had for the
last fifty years all the winds in a sealskin bag, and has been
selling fair breezes to northern skippers at so much a puff,
asserting her powers so often, poor old soul, that she has got to
half believe them herself--conceive, I say, her feelings at seeing
her customers watch the Admiralty storm-signals, and con the weather
reports in The Times. Conceive the feelings of Sir Samuel Baker's
African friend, Katchiba, the rain-making chief, who possessed a
whole houseful of thunder and lightning--though he did not, he
confessed, keep it in a bottle as they do in England--if Sir Samuel
had had the means, and the will, of giving to Katchiba's Negros a
course of lectures on electricity, with appropriate experiments, and
a real bottle full of real lightning among the foremost.

It is clear that only two methods of self-defence would have been
open to the rain-maker: namely, either to kill Sir Samuel, or to
buy his real secret of bottling the lightning, that he might use it
for his own ends. The former method--that of killing the man of
science--was found more easy in ancient times; the latter in these
modern ones. And there have been always those who, too good-natured
to kill the scientific man, have patronised knowledge, not for its
own sake, but for the use which may be made of it; who would like to
keep a tame man of science, as they would a tame poet, or a tame
parrot; who say--Let us have science by all means, but not too much
of it. It is a dangerous thing; to be doled out to the world, like
medicine, in small and cautious doses. You, the scientific man,
will of course freely discover what you choose. Only do not talk
too loudly about it: leave that to us. We understand the world,
and are meant to guide and govern it. So discover freely: and
meanwhile hand over your discoveries to us, that we may instruct and
edify the populace with so much of them as we think safe, while we
keep our position thereby, and in many cases make much money by your
science. Do that, and we will patronise you, applaud you, ask you
to our houses; and you shall be clothed in purple and fine linen,
and fare sumptuously with us every day. I know not whether these
latter are not the worst enemies which science has. They are often
such excellent, respectable, orderly, well-meaning persons. They
desire so sincerely that everyone should be wise: only not too
wise. They are so utterly unaware of the mischief they are doing.
They would recoil with horror if they were told they were so many
Iscariots, betraying Truth with a kiss.

But science, as yet, has withstood both terrors and blandishments.
In old times she endured being imprisoned and slain. She came to
life again. Perhaps it was the will of Him in whom all things live,
that she should live. Perhaps it was His spirit which gave her

She can endure, too, being starved. Her votaries have not as yet
cared much for purple and fine linen, and sumptuous fare. There are
a very few among them who, joining brilliant talents to solid
learning, have risen to deserved popularity, to titles, and to
wealth. But even their labours, it seems to me, are never rewarded
in any proportion to the time and the intellect spent on them, nor
to the benefits which they bring to mankind; while the great
majority, unpaid and unknown, toil on, and have to find in science
her own reward. Better, perhaps, that it should be so. Better for
science that she should be free, in holy poverty, to go where she
will and say what she knows, than that she should be hired out at so
much a year to say things pleasing to the many, and to those who
guide the many. And so, I verily believe, the majority of
scientific men think. There are those among them who have obeyed
very faithfully St. Paul's precept: "No man that warreth entangleth
himself with the affairs of this life." For they have discovered
that they are engaged in a war--a veritable war--against the rulers
of darkness, against ignorance and its twin children, fear and
cruelty. Of that war they see neither the end nor even the plan.
But they are ready to go on; ready, with Socrates, "to follow reason
whithersoever it leads;" and content, meanwhile, like good soldiers
in a campaign, if they can keep tolerably in a line, and use their
weapons, and see a few yards ahead of them through the smoke and the
woods. They will come out somewhere at last; they know not where
nor when: but they will come out at last, into the daylight and the
open field; and be told then--perhaps to their own astonishment--as
many a gallant soldier has been told, that by simply walking
straight on, and doing the duty which lay nearest them, they have
helped to win a great battle, and slay great giants, earning the
thanks of their country and of mankind.

And, meanwhile, if they get their shilling a-day of fighting-pay,
they are content. I had almost said, they ought to be content. For
science is, I verily believe, like virtue, its own exceeding great
reward. I can conceive few human states more enviable than that of
the man to whom, panting in the foul laboratory, or watching for his
life under the tropic forest, Isis shall for a moment lift her
sacred veil, and show him, once and for ever, the thing he dreamed
not of; some law, or even mere hint of a law, explaining one fact;
but explaining with it a thousand more, connecting them all with
each other and with the mighty whole, till order and meaning shoots
through some old Chaos of scattered observations.

Is not that a joy, a prize, which wealth cannot give, nor poverty
take away? What it may lead to, he knows not. Of what use it may
become, he knows not. But this he knows, that somewhere it must
lead; of some use it will be. For it is a truth; and having found a
truth, he has exorcised one more of the ghosts which haunt humanity.
He has left one object less for man to fear; one object more for man
to use. Yes, the scientific man may have this comfort, that
whatever he has done, he has done good; that he is following a
mistress who has never yet conferred aught but benefits on the human

What physical science may do hereafter I know not; but as yet she
has done this:

She has enormously increased the wealth of the human race; and has
therefore given employment, food, existence, to millions who,
without science, would either have starved or have never been born.
She has shown that the dictum of the early political economists,
that population has a tendency to increase faster than the means of
subsistence, is no law of humanity, but merely a tendency of the
barbaric and ignorant man, which can be counteracted by increasing
manifold by scientific means his powers of producing food. She has
taught men, during the last few years, to foresee and elude the most
destructive storms; and there is no reason for doubting, and many
reasons for hoping, that she will gradually teach men to elude other
terrific forces of nature, too powerful and too seemingly capricious
for them to conquer. She has discovered innumerable remedies and
alleviations for pains and disease. She has thrown such light on
the causes of epidemics, that we are able to say now that the
presence of cholera--and probably of all zymotic diseases--in any
place, is usually a sin and a shame, for which the owners and
authorities of that place ought to be punishable by law, as
destroyers of their fellow-men; while for the weak, for those who,
in the barbarous and semi-barbarous state--and out of that last we
are only just emerging--how much has she done; an earnest of much
more which she will do? She has delivered the insane--I may say by
the scientific insight of one man, more worthy of titles and
pensions than nine-tenths of those who earn them--I mean the great
and good Pinel--from hopeless misery and torture into comparative
peace and comfort, and at least the possibility of cure. For
children, she has done much, or rather might do, would parents read
and perpend such books as Andrew Combe's and those of other writers
on physical education. We should not then see the children, even of
the rich, done to death piecemeal by improper food, improper
clothes, neglect of ventilation and the commonest measures for
preserving health. We should not see their intellects stunted by
Procrustean attempts to teach them all the same accomplishments, to
the neglect, most often, of any sound practical training of their
faculties. We should not see slight indigestion, or temporary
rushes of blood to the head, condemned and punished as sins against
Him who took up little children in His arms and blessed them.

But we may have hope. When we compare education now with what it
was even forty years ago, much more with the stupid brutality of the
monastic system, we may hail for children, as well as for grown
people, the advent of the reign of common sense.

And for woman--What might I not say on that point? But most of it
would be fitly discussed only among physicians and biologists: here
I will say only this: Science has exterminated, at least among
civilised nations, witch-manias. Women--at least white women--are
no longer tortured or burnt alive from man's blind fear of the
unknown. If science had done no more than that, she would deserve
the perpetual thanks and the perpetual trust, not only of the women
whom she has preserved from agony, but the men whom she has
preserved from crime.

These benefits have already accrued to civilised men, because they
have lately allowed a very few of their number peaceably to imitate
Mr. Rarey, and find out what nature--or rather, to speak at once
reverently and accurately, He who made nature--is thinking of, and
obey the "voluntatem Dei in rebus revelatam." This science has
done, while yet in her infancy. What she will do in her maturity,
who dare predict? At least, in the face of such facts as these,
those who bid us fear, or restrain, or mutilate science, bid us
commit an act of folly, as well as of ingratitude, which can only
harm ourselves. For science has as yet done nothing but good. Will
any one tell me what harm it has ever done? When any one will show
me a single result of science, of the knowledge of and use of
physical facts, which has not tended directly to the benefit of
mankind, moral and spiritual, as well as physical and economic--then
I shall be tempted to believe that Solomon was wrong when he said
that the one thing to be sought after on earth, more precious than
all treasure, she who has length of days in her right hand, and in
her left hand riches and honour, whose ways are ways of pleasantness
and all her paths are peace, who is a tree of life to all who lay
hold on her, and makes happy every one who retains her, is--as you
will see if you will yourselves consult the passage--that very
Wisdom--by which God has founded the earth; and that very
Understanding--by which He has established the heavens.


Ladies and gentlemen, we may of course think of anything which we
choose in a gravel-pit, as we may anywhere else. Thought is free:
at least so we fancy.

But the most right sort of thought, after all, is thought about what
lies nearest us; not always, but surely once in a way, that we may
understand something of everyday objects. And therefore it may be
well worth our while to go once into a gravel-pit, and think about
it, till we have learnt what a gravel-pit is.

Learnt what a gravel-pit is? Everybody knows.

If it be so, everybody knows more than I know. We all know a
gravel-pit when we see one; but we do not all know what we see. I
do not know. I know a little; a few scraps of fact about these pits
round here, though about no others. Were I to go into a pit a
hundred miles, even fifty miles off, I could tell you nothing
certain about it; perhaps might make a dozen mistakes. But what I
know, with tolerable certainty, about the pits round here, I wish to
tell you to-night.

But why? You do not need, one in ten of you, to know anything about
gravel, unless you be highway surveyor, or have a garden-walk to
make; and then someone will easily tell you where the best gravel is
to be got, at so much a load.

Very true; but you come here to-night to instruct yourselves; that
is, to learn, if you can, something more about the world you live
in; something more about God who made the world.

And you come here to educate yourselves; to educe and bring out your
own powers of perceiving, judging, reasoning; to improve yourselves
in the art of all arts, which is, the art of learning. That is
mental education.

Now if a gravel-pit will teach you a little about these things, you
will surely call it a rich gravel-pit. If it helps you to wisdom,
which is worth more than gold; which is the only way to get gold
wisely, and spend it wisely; then we will call our pit no more a
gravel-pit, but a wisdom-pit, a mine of wisdom.

Let us go out, then, in fancy (for it is too cold to go out in
person) to Hook Common, scramble down into the first gravel-pit we
come to, and see what we can see.

The first thing we see is a quantity of stones, more or less
rounded, lying in gravel and poor clay.

Well--what do those stones tell us?

These stones, as I told you when I addressed you last, are ancient
and venerable worthies. They have seen a great deal in their time.
They have had a great deal of knocking about, and have stood it
manfully. They have stood the knocking about of three worlds
already; and have done their duty therein; and they are ready (if
you choose to mend the road with them) to stand the knocking about
of this fourth world, and being most excellent gravel, to do their
duty in this world likewise; which is more, I fear, than either you
or I can say for ourselves.

Three worlds?

Yes. Standing there in the gravel-pit, I see three old worlds, in
each of which these stones played their part; and this world of man
for the fourth, and the best of all--for man if not for the stones.
I speak sober truth. Let me explain it step by step.

You know the chalk-hills to the south; and the sands of Crooksbury
and the Hind Head beyond them. There is one world.

You know the clays and sands of Hook and Newnham, Dogmersfield and
Shapley Heath, and all the country to the north as far as Reading.
There is a second world.

You know the gravel-pit itself; and all the upper soils and gravels,
which are spread over the length and breadth of the country to the
north. There is a third world.

Let us take them one by one.

First, the chalk.

The chalk-hills rise much higher than the surrounding country; but
you must not therefore suppose that they were made after it, and
laid on the top of it. That guess would be true, if you went south-
east from here toward the Hind Head. The chalk lies on the top of
the sands of Crooksbury Hill, and the clays of Holt Forest; but it
dips underneath the sands of Shapley Heath, and the clays of
Dogmersfield, and reappears from underneath them again at Reading.

Thus you at Odiham stand on the edge of a chalk basin; of what was
once a sea, or estuary, with shores of chalk, which begins at the
foot of the High Clere Hills, and runs eastward, widening as it
goes, past London, into the Eastern Sea. Everywhere under this
great basin is the floor of chalk, covered with clays and sands,
which, for certain reasons, are called by geologists Tertiary

But what has this to do with a gravel-pit?

This first. That all the flints in this pit have come out of the
chalk. They are coloured, most of them, with iron, which has turned
them brown; but they are exactly the same flints as those gray ones
in the chalk-pit on the other side of the town.

How do I know that?

I think our own eyes will prove it: they are the same shapes, and
of the same substance; but as a still surer proof, we find exactly
the same fossils in them; sponges, choanites (which were something
like our modern sea-anemones), corals, and "shepherds' crowns" as
the boys call the fossil sea-urchins. The species of all these, and
of other fossils, in the chalk-pit and in the gravel-pit, are
absolutely identical. The natural conclusion is, then, that the
gravel has been formed from the washings of the chalk. The white
lime of the chalk has been carried away in water by some flood or
floods; the heavier flints have been left behind.

Stop now one moment, and think. You all know how very few flints
there are in the chalk-pit, in proportion to the mass of chalk. You
all know what vast gravel-beds cover the country to the north, and
often to the thickness of many feet. Try and conceive, then, what a
much more vast mass of chalk must have been washed away, to leave
that vast mass of gravel behind it.--Conceive? It is past
conception. I will but give you two hints as to its probable size.

The chalk to the eastward, between here and Farnham, is a far
narrower and shallower band than anywhere else in England. Its
narrowest point is, I believe, beneath the bishop's palace at
Farnham, where it may be a hundred feet thick, instead of several
hundred, as it usually is in other parts of England. The cause of
this is, that the whole of the upper chalk has been washed away, to
form the gravel-beds to the north and east of us.

Again. Some of you may have been on the Hind Head or on Leith Hill,
and have looked southward over the glorious prospect of the rich
Weald, spread out five hundred feet below--a sight to make an
Englishman proud of his native land. Now, the mass of chalk which
has been carried away began behind you, at the Hogsback, and the
line of chalk-hills which runs to Boxhill, and stretched hundreds of
feet above your head as you stand on Hind Head or Leith Hill, right
over the old Weald of Sussex to the chalk of the South Downs. And
out of the scourings of that vast mass of chalk was our gravel-pit

Of that, and also of the Hind Head sands below it.

For you will find a great deal of sharp sand in our gravel-pits,
which has not, I believe, come from the grinding of chalk flints;
for if it had been ground, it would not be the sharp sand it is; the
particles would be rounded off at the edges. This is probably sand
from the Hind Head; from what geologists term the greensands, below
the chalk.

And I have a better proof of this--at least I should have in every
gravel-pit at Eversley--in a few pieces of a stone which is not
chalk-flint at all; flattish and oblong, not more than two or three
inches in diameter; of a grayish colour, and a porous worm-eaten
surface, which no chalk-flint ever has. They are chert, which
abound in the greensand formation; and insignificant as they look,
are a great token of a most important fact; that the currents which
formed our sands and gravels set from the south during a long series
of ages, first till they had washed away all the chalk off the
Weald, and next till they had washed away a great part of the sands,
which then became exposed, the remains whereof form great commons
over a wide tract of Surrey.

Now let me pause, and ask you to observe one thing. How, in
inductive science, we arrive, by patient and simple observation of
the things around us, at the most grand and surprising results. Of
course I am not giving you the whole of the facts which have made
this argument certain. I am only giving you enough to make it
probable to you. Its certainty has been proved by many different
men, labouring in many different parts of England, and of the
Continent also, and then comparing their discoveries together;
often, of course, making mistakes; but each working on patiently,
and correcting their early mistakes by fresh facts, till they have
at last got hold of the true key to the mystery, and are as certain
of the existence of the great island of the Weald, and its gradual
destruction by the waves and currents of an ancient sea, as if they
had seen it with their bodily eyes. You must take all this, of
course, as truth from me to-night; but you may go and examine for
yourselves; and see how far your own common sense and observations
agree with those of learned geologists.

The history of this great Wealden island to the south-east of us is
obscure enough; but a few general facts, which bear upon our gravel-
pit, I can give you.

I must begin, however, ages before the Wealden island existed; when
the chalk of which its mass was composed was at the bottom of a deep

We know now what chalk is, and how it was made. We know that it was
deposited as white lime mud, at a vast sea-depth, seemingly
undisturbed by winds or currents. We know that not only the flint,
but the chalk itself, is made up of shells; the shell of little
microscopic animalcules smaller than a needle's point, in millions
of millions, some whole, some broken, some in powder, which lived,
and died, and decayed for ages in the great chalk sea.

We know this, I say. We had suspected it long ago, and become more
and more certain of it as the years went on. But now we seem to
have a proof of it which is past gainsaying.

In the late survey of the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, with a view
to laying down the electric telegraph between England and America,
by Lieutenant Maury of the American navy, a great discovery was
made. It was found that the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, after you
have left the land a few hundred miles, is one vast plain of mud, of
some thirteen hundred miles in breadth. But here is the wonder; it
was found that at a depth, averaging 1,600 fathoms--9,600 feet--in
utter darkness, the sea floor is covered with countless millions of
animalcule-shells, of the same families, though not of the same
species, as those which compose the chalk.

At the bottom of a still ocean, then, the chalk was deposited. But
it took many an age to raise it to where Odiham chalk-pit now

But how was it raised?

By the upheaving force of earthquakes. Or rather, by the upheaving
force which causes earthquakes, when it acts in a single shock,
cracking the earth's crust by an explosion; but which acts, too,
slowly and quietly, uplifting day by day, and year by year, some
portions of the earth's surface, and letting others sink down; as in
the case of the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, which is now
1,300 feet below the level of the Mediterranean.

That these upheaving forces were much more violent than now, in the
earlier epochs of our planet, we have some reason to believe: but
the subject is too long a one to enter on now; and all I can say is,
that you must conceive for yourself the chalk gradually brought up
to the surface, worn away along a shifting shoreline by the waves of
the sea, and covered in shallow water by the clays and sands on
which Odiham stands; and which compose the earliest part of our
second world.

A second world; a new world. We can use no weaker expression. When
we compare the chalk with the strata which lie upon it, we can only
call them a complete new creation.

For not only were they deposited in shallow water; a great deal of
them, probably, near river-mouths, and by the force of violent
currents, as the irregularity of their lower bed proves: but there
is hardly a plant or animal found in the chalk itself, which is
found in the gravels, sands, or clays above it. The shells are all
new species; unseen before in this planet. The vegetables, as far
as we know them, are all different from anything found in the chalk,
or in the beds below it. God Almighty, for His own good pleasure,
has made all things new. It is a very awful fact; but it is a very
certain one. Several times, in the history of our planet, has the
Lord God fulfilled the words of the Psalmist:

"Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return again to their

"Thou sendest forth thy breath, they are made: and thou renewest
the face of the earth."

But in no instance, perhaps, is the gulf so vast; is the leap from
one world to another so sheer, as that between the chalk and the
London clay above it.

But how do I know that there was a shore-line here? And how do I
know that the chalk was covered with sand-beds?

I know that there was a shore-line here, from this fact. If you
will look at the surface of the chalk, where the sands and clays lie
on it, you will find that it is not smooth; that the beds do not
rest conformably on each other, as if they had been laid down
quietly by successive tides, while the chalk below was still soft
mud. So far from it, the chalk must have become hard rock, and have
been exposed to the action of the sea waves, for centuries, perhaps,
before the sands began to cover it. For you find the surface of the
chalk furrowed, worn into deep pits, which are often filled with
sand, and gravel, and rounded lumps of chalk. You may see this for
yourselves, in the topmost layer of any chalk-pit round here. You
may see, even, in some places, the holes which boring shells, such
as work now close to the tide-level, have made in it; all the signs,
in fact, of the chalk having been a rocky sea-beach for ages.

The first bed which you will generally find upon the water-worn
surface of the chalk is a layer of green-sand and green-coated
flints. Among these are met with in many places beds of a great
oyster, now unknown in life. I cannot say whether there are any
here; but at Reading, to the east of Farnham, at Croydon, and under
London, they are abundant. There must have been miles and miles of
oyster-bed at the bottom of that Eocene sea; among the oyster-beds,
beds of a peculiar pebble, which we shall see in our gravel-pit.

They are flints; but very small, dark, often almost black, and quite
round and polished. Compare them with the average flints of the
pit, and you see that while the average flints are fresh from the
chalk, these have plainly been rolled and rounded for years. They
are (except in their dark colour) exactly such shingle as forms the
south-coast beach about Hastings and Brighton. They are the shingle
beaches of the Eocene sea, part of which are preserved under the
London clay. To the north a vast bed of them remains in its
original place, on Blackheath near London; while part, in the
district to the south, which the London clay has not covered, have
been washed away, and carried into our gravel-pit, to mingle with
other flints fresh from the chalk.

I said just now that I had proof that a great tract of the chalk-
hills which are now bare, was once covered with sand and gravel.
Here, in the presence of these dark pebbles, is a proof. But I have
another, and a yet more curious one.

For our gravel-pit, if it be, will possibly yield us another, and a
more curious object. You most of you have seen, I dare say, large
stones, several feet long, taken out of these pits. In the gravels
and sands at Pirbright they are so plentiful that they are quarried
for building-stone. And good building-stone they make; being
exceedingly hard, so that no weather will wear them away. They are
what is called saccharine (that is, sugary) sandstone. If you chip
off a bit, you find it exactly like fine whity-brown sugar, only
intensely hard. Now these stones have become very famous; for two
reasons. First, the old Druids used them to build their temples.
Second, it is a most puzzling question where they came from.

First. They were used to build Druid temples.

If you go to the further lodge of Dogmersfield Park, which opens
close to the Barley-mow Inn, you will see there several of them,
about five feet high each, set up on end. They run in a line
through the plantation past the lodge, along the park palings; one
or two are in an adjoining field. They are the remains of a double
line; an avenue of stones, which has formed part of an ancient
British temple.

I know no more than that: of that I am certain.

But if you go to the Chalk Downs of Wiltshire, you see these temples
in their true grandeur. You have all heard of Stonehenge on
Salisbury Plain. Some of you may have heard of the great Druid
temple at Abury in Wilts, which, were it not all but destroyed,
would be even grander than Stonehenge. These are made of this same

But where did the sandstone come from? You may say, it "grew" of
itself in our sands and gravels; but it certainly did not "grow" on
the top of a bare chalk down. The Druids must have brought the
stones thither, then, from neighbouring gravel-pits. They brought
them, no doubt: but not from gravel-pits. The stones are found
loose on the downs on the top of the bare chalk, in places where
they plainly have not been put by man.

For instance, near Marlborough is a long valley in the chalk, which,
for perhaps half a mile, is full of huge blocks of this sandstone,
lying about on the turf. The "gray wethers" the shepherds call
them. One look at them would show you that no man's hand had put
them there. They look like a river of stone, if I may so speak; as
if some mighty flood had rolled them along down the valley, and
there left them behind as it sunk.

Now, whence did they come?

Many answers have been given to that question. It was supposed by
many learned men that they had been brought from the sandstone
mountains of Wales, like the rolled pebbles of which I spoke just
now. But the answer to that was, that these great stones are not
rolled: they are all squarish, more or less; their edges are often
sharp and fresh, instead of being polished almost into balls, as
they would have been in rolling two hundred miles along a sea-
bottom, before such a tremendous current as would have been needed
to carry them.

Then rose a very clever guess. They must have been carried by
icebergs, as much silt and stones (we know) has been carried, and
have dropped, like them, to the bottom, when the icebergs melted.

There is great reason in that; but we have cause now to be certain
that they did not come from Wales. That they are not pieces of a
rock older than the chalk, but much younger; that they were very
probably formed close to where they now lie.

Now--how do we know that?

If you are not tired with all this close reasoning, I will tell
you.--If you are, say so: but as I said at first, I want to show
you what steady and sharp head-work this same geology requires, even
in the nearest gravel-pit.

Well, then. I do not think our gravel-pit will tell us what we
want: but I know one which will.

You have all heard of Lady Grenville's lovely place, Dropmore,
beyond Maidenhead; where the taste of that good and great man, the
late Lord Grenville, converted into a paradise of landscape-
gardening art a barren common, full of clay and gravel-pits. Lord
Grenville wanted stones for rockwork; in those pits he found some
blocks, of the same substance as those of Stonehenge or Pirbright.
And they contain the answer. The upper surface of most of them is
the usual clear sugar-sandstone: but the under surface of many has
round pebbles imbedded in it, looking just like plums in a pudding;
the smaller above and the larger below, as if they had sunk slowly
through the fluid sand, before the whole mass froze, as it were,
suddenly together. And these pebbles are nothing else than rolled
chalk flints.

That settles the matter. The pebbles could not come from Wales;
there are no flints there. They could not have been made before the
chalk; for out of the chalk they came; and the only explanation
which is left to us, I believe, is, that over the tops of the chalk
downs; over our heads where we stand now, there once stretched
layers of sand and gravel, "Tertiary strata" as I have been calling
them to you; and among them layers of this same hard sandstone.

When the floods came they must have swept away all these soft sands
and gravels (possibly to make the Bagshot sands, of which I shall
speak presently), and left the chalk downs bare; but while they had
strength to move the finer particles, they had not generally
strength to move these sandstone blocks, but let them drop through,
and remain upon the freshly-bared floor of chalk, as the only relics
of a tertiary land long since swept away; while some were carried
off, possibly by icebergs, as far as Pirbright, and dropped, as the
icebergs melted, both there, at Dogmersfield, and also, though few
and small, in Eversley and the neighbourhood.

But how came these tertiary sandstones to be so very hard, while the
strata around them are so soft?

Ladies and gentlemen, I know no more than you. Experience seems to
say that stone will not harden into that sugary crystalline state,
save under the influence of great heat: but I do not know how the
heat should have got to that layer in particular. Possibly there
may have been eruptions of steam, of boiling water holding silex
(flint) in solution--a very rare occurrence: but something similar
is still going on in the famous Geysers or boiling springs of
Iceland. However, I have no proof that this was the cause. I
suppose we shall find out some day how it happened; for we must
never despair of finding out anything which depends on facts.

Part of the town of Odiham, and of North Warnborough, stands, I
believe, upon these lower beds, which are called by geologists the
Woolwich and Reading beds, and the Plastic clays, from the good
brick earth which is so often found among them. But as soon as you
get to Hook Common, and to Dogmersfield Park, you enter on a fresh
deposit; the great bed of the London clay.

I give you a rough section, from a deep well at Dogmersfield House;
from which you may see how steeply the chalk dips down here under
the clay, so that Odiham stands, as it were, on the chalk beach of
the clay sea.

In boring that well there were pierced:

Forty feet of the upper sands (the Bagshot sands), of which I shall
speak presently.

Three hundred and thirty feet of London clay.

Then about forty feet of mottled clays and sands.

Whether the chalk was then reached, I do not know. It must have
been close below. But these mottled clays and sands abound in water
(being indeed the layer which supplies the great breweries in
London, and those soda-water bottles on dumb-waiters which squirt in
Trafalgar Square); and (I suppose) the water being reached, the
boring ceased.

Now, this great bed of London clay, even more than the sands below
it, deserves the title of a new creation.

As a proof--some of you may recollect, when the South-Western
Railway was in making, seeing shells--some of them large and
handsome ones--Nautili, taken out of the London clay cutting near

Nautili similar to them (but not the same) are now only found in the
hottest parts of the Indian seas; and what is more, not one of those
shells is the same as the shells you find in the chalk. Throughout
this great bed of London clay, the shells, the remains of plants and
animals, are altogether a new creation. If you look carefully at
the London clay shells, you will be struck with their general
likeness to fresh East Indian shells; and rightly so. They do
approach our modern live shells in form, far more than any which
preceded them; and indeed, a few of the London clay shells exist
still in foreign seas; in the beds, again, above the clay, you will
meet with still more species which are yet alive; while in the
chalk, and below the chalk, you never meet, I believe, with a single
recent shell. It is for this reason that the London clay is said to
be Eocene, that is, the dawn of the new creation.

The chalk, I told you, seems to have been deposited at the bottom of
a still and deep ocean. But the London clay, we shall find, was
deposited in a comparatively shallow sea, least in depth toward High
Clere on the west, and deepening towards London and the mouth of the

For not only is the clay deeper as you travel eastward, but--and
this is a matter to which geologists attach great importance--the
character of the shells differs in different parts of the clay.

You must know that certain sorts of shells live in deep water, and
certain in shallow. You may prove this to yourselves, on a small
scale, whenever you go to the seaside. You will find that the shell
which crawl on the rocks about high-water mark are different from
those which you find at low-tide mark; and those again different
from the shells which are brought up by the oyster-dredgers from the
sea outside. Now, the lower part of the clay, near here, contains
shallow-water shells: but if you went forty miles to the eastward,
you would find in the corresponding lower beds of the clay, deep-
water shells, and far above them, shallow-water shells such as you
find here: a fact which shows plainly that this end of the clay sea
was shallowest, and therefore first filled up.

But again--and this is a very curious fact--between the time of the
Plastic clays and sands, with their oyster-beds and black pebbles,
and that of the London clay, great changes had taken place. The
Plastic clay and sands were deposited during a period of earthquake,
of upheaval and subsidence of ancient lands; and therefore of
violent currents and flood waves, seemingly rushing down from, or
round the shores of that Wealden island to the south of us, on the
shore of which island Odiham once stood. We know this from the
great irregularity of the beds: while the absence of that
irregularity proves to us that the London clay was deposited in a
quiet sea.

But more. A great change in the climate of this country had taken
place meanwhile; slowly perhaps: but still it had taken place.

In the lowest clay above the chalk are found at Reading many leaves,
and buds, and seeds of trees, showing that there was dry land near;
and these trees, as far as the best botanists can guess, were trees
like those we have in England now. Not of the same species, of
course: but still trees belonging to a temperate climate, which had
its regular warm summer and cold winter.

But before the London clay had been all deposited, this temperate
climate had changed to a tropical one; and the plants and animals of
the upper part of the London clay had begun to resemble rather those
of the mouths of the African slave-rivers.

Extraordinary as this is, it is certainly true.

We know that the country near the mouth of the Thames, and probably
the land round us here, was low rich soil, some half under water,
some overflowed by rivers; some by fresh or brackish pools. We know
all this; for we find the shells which belong to a shallow sea,
mixed with fresh-water ones. We know, too, that the climate of this
rich lowland was a tropical one. We know that the neighbourhood of
the Isle of Sheppey, at the mouth of the Thames, was covered with
rich tropic vegetation; with screw pines and acacias, canes and
gourds, tenanted by opossums, bats, and vultures: that huge snakes
twined themselves along the ground, tortoises dived in the pools,
and crocodiles basked on the muds, while the neighbouring seas
swarmed with sharks as huge and terrible as those of a West Indian

It is all very wonderful, ladies and gentlemen: but be it is: and
all we can say is, with the Mussulman--"God is great."

And then--when, none knows but God--there came a time in which some
convulsion of nature changed the course of the sea currents, and
probably destroyed a vast tract of land between England and France,
and probably also, that sunken island of Atlantis of which old Plato
dreamed--the vast tract which connected for ages Ireland, Cornwall,
Brittany, and Portugal. That convulsion covered up the rich clays
with those barren sands and gravels, which now rise in flat and
dreary steppes, on the Beacon Hill, Aldershot Moors, Hartford Bridge
Flat, Frimley ridges, and Windsor Forest. That rich old world was
all swept away, and instead of it desolation and barrenness, piling
up slowly on its ruins a desert of sand and shingle, rising inch by
inch out of a lifeless sea. There is something very awful to me in
the barrenness of those Bagshot sands, after the rich tropic life of
the London clay. Not a fossil is to be found in them for miles.
Save a few shells, I believe, near Pirbright, there is not a hint
that a living being inhabited that doleful sea.

But do not suppose, gentlemen and ladies, that we have yet got our
gravel-pit made, or that the way-worn pebbles of which it is
composed are near the end of their weary journey. Poor old stones!
Driven out of their native chalk, rolled for ages on a sea-beach,
they have tried to get a few centuries' sleep in the Eocene sands on
the top of the chalk hills behind us, while the London clay was
being deposited peacefully in the tropic sea below; and behold, they
are swept out, once more, and hurled pell-mell upon the clay, two
hundred feet over our heads.

Over our heads, remember. We have come now to a time when Hartford
Bridge Flats stretched away to the Beacon Hill, and many a mile to
the south-eastward--even down into Kent, and stretched also over
Winchfield and Dogmersfield hither.

What broke them up? What furrowed out their steep side-valleys?
What formed the magnificent escarpment of the Beacon Hill, or the
lesser one of Finchamstead Ridges? What swept away all but a thin
cap of them on the upper part of Dogmersfield Park, another under
Winchfield House; another at Bearwood, and so forth?

The convulsions of a third world; more fertile in animal life than
those which preceded it: but also, more terrible and rapid, if
possible, in its changes.

Of this third world, the one which (so to speak) immediately
preceded our own, we know little yet. Its changes are so
complicated that geologists have as yet hardly arranged them. But
what we can see, I will sketch for you shortly.

A great continent to the south--England, probably an island at the
beginning of the period, united to the continent by new beds--the
Mammoth ranging up to where we now stand.

Then a period of upheaval. The German Ocean becomes dry land. The
Thames, a far larger river than now, runs far eastward to join the
Seine, and the Rhine, and other rivers, which altogether flow
northward, in one enormous stream, toward the open sea between
Scotland and Norway.

And with this, a new creation of enormous quadrupeds, as yet
unknown. Countless herds of elephants pastured by the side of that
mighty river, where now the Norfolk fisherman dredges their teeth
and bones far out in open sea. The hippopotamus floundered in the
Severn, the rhinoceros ranged over the south-western counties;
enormous elk and oxen, of species now extinct, inhabited the vast
fir and larch forests which stretched from Norfolk to the farthest
part of Wales; hyenas and bears double the size of our modern ones,
and here and there the sabre-toothed tiger, now extinct, prowled out
of the caverns in the limestone hills, to seek their bulky prey.

We see, too, a period--whether the same as this, or after it, I know
not yet--in which the mountains of Wales and Cumberland rose to the
limits of eternal frost, and Snowdon was indeed Snowdon, an alp down
whose valleys vast glaciers spread far and wide; while the reindeer
of Lapland, the marmot of the Alps, and the musk ox of Hudson's Bay,
fed upon alpine plants, a few of whose descendants still survive, as
tokens of the long past age of ice. And at every successive
upheaval of the western mountains the displaced waters of the ocean
swept over the lower lands, filling the valley of the Thames and of
the Wey with vast beds of drift gravel, containing among its chalk
flints, fragments of stone from every rock between here and Wales,
teeth of elephants, skulls of ox and musk ox; while icebergs,
breaking away from the glaciers of the Welsh Alps, sailed down over
the spot where we now are, dropping their imbedded stones and silt,
to confuse more utterly than before the records of a world rocking
and throbbing above the shocks of the nether fire.

At last the convulsions get weak. The German Ocean becomes sea once
more; the north-western Alps sink again to a level far lower even
than their present one; only to rise again, but not so high as
before; sea-beaches and sea-shells fill many of our lower valleys;
whales by hundreds are stranded (as in the Farnham vale) where is
now dry land. Gradually the sunken land begins to rise again, and
falls perhaps again, and rises again after that, more and more
gently each time, till as it were the panting earth, worn out with
the fierce passions of her fiery youth, has sobbed herself to sleep
once more, and this new world of man is made. And among it, I know
not when, or by what diluvial wave out of hundreds which swept the
Pleistocene earth, was deposited our little gravel-pit, from which
we started on our journey through three worlds.


Enough for us that He knows when, in whose hand are the times and
the seasons--God the Father of the spirits of all flesh.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, take from hence a lesson. I have
brought you a long and a strange road. Starting from this seemingly
uninteresting pit, we have come upon the records of three older
worlds, and on hints of worlds far older yet. We have come to them
by no theories, no dreams of the fancy, but by plain honest
reasoning, from plain honest facts. That wonderful things had
happened, we could see: but why they had happened, we saw not.
When we began to ask the reason of this thing or of that, remember
how we had to stop, and laying our hands upon our mouths, only say
with the Mussulman: "God is great." We pick our steps, by lanthorn
light indeed, and slowly, but still surely and safely, along a dark
and difficult road: but just as we are beginning to pride ourselves
on having found our way so cleverly, we come to an edge of darkness;
and see before our feet a bottomless abyss, down which our feeble
lanthorn will not throw its light a yard.

Such is true science. Is it a study to make men conceited and self-
sufficient? Believe it not. If a scientific man, or one who calls
himself so, be conceited, the conceit was there before the science;
part of his natural defects: and if it stays there long after he
has really given himself to the patient study of nature, then is he
one of those of whom Solomon has said: "Though you pound a fool in
a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his folly depart
from him."

For what more fit to knock the conceit out of a student, than being
pounded by these same hard facts--which tell him just enough to let
him know--how little he knows? What more fit to make a man patient,
humble, reverent, than being stopped short, as every man of science
is, after each half-dozen steps, by some tremendous riddle which he
cannot explain--which he may have to wait years to get explained--
which as far as he can see will never be explained at all?

The poet says: "An undevout astronomer is mad," and he says truth.
It is only those who know a little of nature, who fancy that they
know much. I have heard a young man say, after hearing a few
popular chemical lectures, and seeing a few bottle and squirt
experiments: Oh, water--water is only oxygen and hydrogen!--as if
he knew all about it. While the true chemist would smile sadly
enough at the youth's hasty conceit, and say in his heart: "Well,
he is a lucky fellow. If he knows all about it, it is more than I
do. I don't know what oxygen IS, or hydrogen, either. I don't even
know whether there are any such things at all. I see certain
effects in my experiments which I must attribute to some cause, and
I call that cause oxygen, because I must call it something; and
other effects which I must attribute to another cause, and I call
that hydrogen. But as for oxygen, I don't know whether it really
exists. I think it very possible that it is only an effect of
something else--another form of a something, which seems to make
phosphorus, iodine, bromine, and certain other substances: and as
for hydrogen--I know as little about it. I don't know but what all
the metals, gold, silver, iron, tin, sodium, potassium, and so
forth, are not different forms of hydrogen, or of something else
which is the parent of hydrogen. In fact, I know but very little
about the matter; except this, that I do know very little; and that
the more I experiment, and the more I analyse, the more unexpected
puzzles and wonders I find, and the more I expect to find till my
dying day. True, I know a vast number of facts and laws, thank God;
and some very useful ones among them: but as to the ultimate and
first causes of those facts and laws, I know no more than the
shepherd-boy outside; and can say no more than he does, when he
reads in the Psalms at school: "I, and all around me, are fearfully
and wonderfully made; marvellous are Thy works, and that my soul
knoweth right well."

And so, my friends, though I have seemed to talk to you of great
matters this night; of the making and the destruction of world after
world: yet what does all I have said come to? I have not got one
step beyond what the old Psalmist learnt amid the earthquakes and
volcanoes of the pastures and the forests of Palestine, three
thousand years ago. I have not added to his words; I have only
given you new facts to prove that he had exhausted the moral lesson
of the subject, when he said:

These all wait upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in
due season.

Thou givest, and they gather: thou openest thy hand, and they are
filled with good.

Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; thou takest away their
breath; they die and return to their dust.

Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created; and thou renewest
the face of the earth.

But--The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever. The Lord shall
rejoice in his works. Amen.


Ladies and gentlemen, I speak to you to-night as to persons
assembled, somewhat, no doubt, for amusement, but still more for
instruction. Institutions such as this were originally founded for
the purpose of instruction; to supply to those who wish to educate
themselves some of the advantages of a regular course of scholastic
or scientific training, by means of classes and of lectures.

I myself prize classes far higher than I do lectures. From my own
experience, a lecture is often a very dangerous method of teaching;
it is apt to engender in the mind of men ungrounded conceit and
sciolism, or the bad habit of knowing about subjects without really
knowing the subject itself. A young man hears an interesting
lecture, and carries away from it doubtless a great many new facts
and results: but he really must not go home fancying himself a much
wiser man; and why? Because he has only heard the lecturer's side
of the story. He has been forced to take the facts and the results
on trust. He has not examined the facts for himself. He has had no
share in the process by which the results were arrived at. In
short, he has not gone into the real scientia, that is, the
"knowing" of the matter. He has gained a certain quantity of
second-hand information: but he has gained nothing in mental
training, nothing in the great "art of learning," the art of finding
out things for himself, and of discerning truth from falsehood. Of
course, where the lecture is a scientific one, illustrated by
diagrams, this defect is not so extreme: but still the lecturer who
shows you experiments, is forced to choose those which shall be
startling and amusing, rather than important; he is seldom or never
able, unless he is a man of at once the deepest science and the most
extraordinary powers of amusing, to give you those experiments in
the proper order which will unfold the subject to you step by step;
and after all, an experiment is worth very little to you, unless you
perform it yourself, ask questions about it, or vary it a little to
solve difficulties which arise in your own mind.

Now mind--I do not say all this to make you give up attending
lectures. Heaven forbid. They amuse, that is, they turn the mind
off from business; they relax it, and as it were bathe and refresh
it with new thoughts, after the day's drudgery or the day's
commonplaces; they fill it with pleasant and healthful images for
afterthought. Above all, they make one feel what a fair, wide,
wonderful world one lives in; how much there is to be known, and how
little one knows; and to the earnest man suggest future subjects of
study. I only ask you not to expect from lectures what they can
never give; but as to what they can give, I consider, I assure you,
the lecturer's vocation a most honourable one in the present day,
even if we look on him as on a mere advertiser of nature's wonders.
As such I appear here to-night; not to teach you natural history;
for that you can only teach yourselves: but to set before you the
subject and its value, and if possible, allure some of you to the
study of it.

I have said that lectures do not supply mental training; that only
personal study can do that. The next question is, What study? And
that is a question which I do not answer in a hurry, when I say, The
study of natural history. It is not, certainly, a study which a
young man entering on the business of self-education would be likely
to take up. To him, naturally, man is the most important subject.
His first wish is to know the human world; to know what men are,
what they have thought, what they have done. And therefore, you
find that poetry, history, politics, and philosophy are the matters
which most attract the self-guided student. I do not blame him, but
he seems to me to be beginning at the middle, rather than at the
beginning. I fell into the same fault myself more than once, when I
was younger, and meddled in matters too high for me, instead of
refraining my soul, and keeping it low; so I can sympathise with
others who do so. But I can assure them that they will find such
lofty studies do them good only in proportion as they have first
learnt the art of learning. Unless they have learnt to face facts
manfully, to discriminate between them skilfully, to draw
conclusions from them rigidly; unless they have learnt in all things
to look, not for what they would like to be true, but for what is
true, because God has done it, and it cannot be undone--then they
will be in danger of taking up only the books which suit their own
prejudices--and every one has his prejudices--and using them, not to
correct their own notions, but to corroborate and pamper them; to
confirm themselves in their first narrow guesses, instead of
enlarging those guesses into certainty. The son of a Tory turn will
read Tory books, the son of a Radical turn Radical books; and the
green spectacles of party and prejudice will be deepened in hue as
he reads on, instead of being thrown away for the clear white glass
of truth, which will show him reason in all honest sides, and good
in all honest men.

But, says the young man, I wish to be wide-minded and wide-hearted--
I study for that very purpose. I will be fair, I will be patient, I
will hear all sides ere I judge. And I doubt not that he speaks
honestly. But (I quote with all reverence) though the spirit be
willing, the flesh is weak. Studies which have to do with man's
history, man's thoughts, man's feelings, are too exciting, too
personal, often, alas, too tragical, to allow us to read them calmly
at first. The men and women of whom we read are so like ourselves
(for the human heart is the same in every age), that we
unconsciously begin to love or hate them in the first five minutes,
and read history as we do a novel, hurrying on to see when the
supposed hero and heroine get safely married, and the supposed
villain safely hanged, at the end of the chapter, having forgotten
all the while, in our haste, to ascertain which is the hero and
which is the villain. Mary Queen of Scots was "beautiful and
unfortunate"--what heart would not bleed for a beautiful woman in
trouble? Why stop to ask whether she brought it on herself? She
was seventeen years in prison. Why stop to ascertain what sort of a
prison it was? And as for her guilt, the famous Casket Letters
were, of course, a vile forgery. Impossible that they could be
true. Hoot down the cold-hearted, and disagreeable, and troublesome
man of facts, who will persist in his stupid attempt to disenchant
you, and repeat--But the Casket Letters were not a forgery, and we
can prove it, if you will but listen to the facts. Her prison, as
we will show you (if you will be patient and listen to facts),
consisted in greater pomp and luxury than that of most noblemen,
with horses, hounds, books, music, liberty to hunt and amuse herself
in every way, even in intriguing with every court of Europe, as we
can show you again, if you will be patient and listen to facts. And
she herself was a very wicked and false woman, an adulteress and a
murderess (though fearfully ill-trained in early youth), who sowed
the wind, poor wretch, from girlhood to old age, and therefore
reaped the whirlwind, receiving the just reward of her deeds.
Catherine of Russia, meanwhile, instead of being beautiful and
unfortunate, was only handsome and successful. Brand her as a
disgrace to human nature. The morals and ways of the two were
pretty much on a par, with these exceptions in Catherine's favour--
that she had strong passions, Mary none; that she lived in outer
darkness and practical heathendom, while Mary had the light shining
all round her, and refused it deliberately again and again. What
matter to the sentimentalist? Hiss the stupid hard-hearted man of
facts, by all means. What if he be right? He has no business to be
right; we will consider him wrong accordingly, of our own sovereign
will and pleasure. For after all, if we had the facts put before us
(says the conscience of many a hearer), we could not judge of them;
we read to be amused and instructed, not to study cases like so many
barristers. So is history read. And so, alas, is history written,
too often, for want of a steady and severe training which would
enable people to judge dispassionately of facts. In politics the
case is the same. In poetry, which appeals more directly to the
feelings, it must needs be still worse; as has been shown sadly
enough of late by the success of several poems, in which every
possible form of bad taste has only met with unbounded admiration
from the many who have not had their senses exercised to discern
between good and evil.

Now what seems to me to be wanted for young minds, is a study in
which no personal likes or dislikes shall tempt them out of the path
of mental honesty; a study in which they shall be free to look at
facts exactly as they are, and draw their conclusions patiently and
dispassionately. And such a study I have found in that of natural

Do not fancy it, I beg you, an easy thing to judge fairly of facts;
even to discover the facts at all, when they are staring you in the
face; and to see what it is that you do see. Any lawyer will tell
you, that if you ask three honest men to bear testimony concerning
an event which happened but yesterday, none of them, if he be at all
an interested party, will give you exactly the same account of it:
not that he wishes to say what is untrue; but that different parts
of the whole matter having struck each man with different force, a
different picture has been left on each man's memory. I have been
utterly astounded of late, in investigating these strange stories of
table-turning and spirit-rapping, to find how even clear-headed and
well-instructed persons (as one had fancied them) become unable to
examine fairly into a thing, the moment the desire to believe has
entered the heart; and how no amount of mere cultivation, if the
scientific habit of mind be wanting, can prevent people from finding
(as in table-turning) miracles in the most simple mechanical
accidents; or from becoming (as in spirit-rapping) the dupes of the
most clumsy, palpable, and degrading impostures, even after they
have been exposed over and over again in print. Humiliating,
indeed, it is, in this so self-confident and boastful nineteenth
century, amid steam-engines, railroads, electric telegraphs, and all
the wonders of our inductive science, to find exploded superstitions
leaping back into life even more monstrous and irrational than in
past ages, and to see our modern Pharisees and Sadducees, like those
in Judea of old, seeking after a sign of an unseen world; and being
unable to find one either in the heaven above or in the earth
beneath, discovering it at last (I am almost ashamed to speak the
words) under the parlour-table.

Against such extravagances, and against the loose sentimental tone
of mind which begets them, hardly anything would be a better
safeguard than the habitual study of nature. The chemist, the
geologist, the botanist, the zoologist, has to deal with facts which
will make him master of them, and of himself, only in proportion as
he obeys them. Many of you doubtless know Lord Bacon's famous
apothegm, Nature is only conquered by obeying her; and will
understand me when I say, that you cannot understand, much less use
for scientific purposes, the meanest pebble, unless you first obey
that pebble. Paradoxical; but true.

See this pebble which I hold in my hand, picked up out of the street
as I came along; it shall be my only object to-night. There the
thing is; and is as it is, and in no other way; and such it will be,
and so it will behave and act, in spite of me, and all my fancies
about it, and notions of what it ought to have been like, and what
it ought to have done. It is a thought of God's; and strong by the
eternal laws of matter, which are the will of God. It has the whole
universe, sun, and stars, and all, backing it by God's appointment,
to keep it where it is and what it is; and till (as Lord Bacon has
it) I have discovered and obeyed the will of God revealed in that
pebble, it is to me a riddle more insoluble than the Sphinx's, a
fortress more impregnable than Sevastopol. I may crush it: but
destroying is not conquering: but I cannot even mend the road with
it prudently, until I have discovered whether Almighty God has made
it fit to mend roads with. I may have the genius of a Plato or of a
Shakespeare, but all my genius will not avail to penetrate that
pebble, or see anything in it but a little round dirty stone, until
I have treated the pebble with reverence, as a thing independent of
my likes and dislikes, fancies, and aspirations; and have asked it
humbly to tell me its story, taking counsel meanwhile of hundreds of
kindred pebbles, each as silent and reserved as this one; and
watched and listened patiently, through many mistakes and
misreadings, to what it has to say for itself, and what God has made
it to be. And then at last that little black rounded pebble, from
the street outside, may, and will surely, if I be patient and honest
enough, tell me a tale wilder and grander than any which I could
have dreamed for myself; will shame the meanness of my imagination,
by the awful magnificence of God's facts, and say to me:

"Ages and AEons since, thousands on thousands of years before there
was a man to till the ground, I the little pebble was a living
sponge, in the milky depths of the great chalk ocean; and hundreds
of living atomies, each more fantastic than a ghost-painter's
dreams, swam round me, and grew on me, and multiplied, till I became
a tiny hive of wonders, each one of which would take you a life to
understand. And then, I cannot yet tell you how, and till I tell
you you will never know, the delicate flint-needles in my skin
gathered other particles of flint to them, and I and all my
inhabitants became a stone; and the chalk-mud settled round us, I
know not how, and covered us in; and for ages on ages I lay buried
in the nether dark, and felt the glow of the nether fires, and was
cracked and tossed by a hundred earthquakes. Again and again I have
been part of an island, and then again sunk beneath the sea, to be
upheaved again after long centuries, till I saw the light once more,
and dropped from the face of some chalk cliff far away among high
hills which have long since been swept off the face of the earth,
and was tossed by currents till I became a pebble on the beach,
while Reading was a sand-bank in a shallow sea. There I lay and
rolled till I was rounded, for many a century more; till flood after
flood past over me, and a new earth was made; and I was mixed up
with fresh flints from wasting chalk-hills, and with freestones from
the Gloucestershire wolds, and with quartz-boulders from the
mountains of Wales, while over me swept the carcases of drowned
elephants and bisons, and many a monstrous beast; and above me
floated uprooted palms, and tropic fruits and seeds, and the wrecks
of a dying world. And then there came another age--

And it grew wondrous cold;
And ice mast-high came floating by,
As green as emerald;

and as the icebergs melted in the sun, the stones and the silt fell
out of them, and covered me up; and I was in darkness once more,
vexed by many an earthquake, till I became part of this brave
English land. And now I am a pebble here in Reading street, to be
ground beneath the wheels of busy men: and yet you cannot kill me,
or hinder my fulfilling the law which cannot be broken. This year I
am a pebble in the street; and next year I shall be dust upon the
fields above; and the year after that I shall be alive again, and
rise from the ground as fair green wheat-stems, bearing up food for
the use of man. And even after that you cannot kill me. The
trampled and sodden straw will rot only to enter into a new life;
and I shall pass through a fresh cycle of strange adventures, age
after age, till time shall be no more; doing my work in my
generation, and fulfilling to the last the will of God, as
faithfully as when I was the water-breathing sponge in the abysses
of the old chalk sea." All this and more, gentlemen and ladies, the
pebble could tell to you, and will: but he is old and venerable,
and like old men, he wishes to be approached with respect, and does
not like to be questioned too much or too rapidly; so that you must
not be offended if you meet with more than one rebuff from him; or
if he keeps stubborn silence, till he has seen that you are a modest
and attentive person, to whom it is worth while to open a little of
his forty or fifty thousand years' experience.

Second only to the good effect of this study on the logical faculty,
seems to me to be its effect on the imagination. Not merely in such
objects as the pebble, whose history I have so hastily, but I must
add faithfully, sketched; but in the tiniest piece of mould on a
decayed fruit, the tiniest animalcule from the stagnant pool, will
imagination find inexhaustible wonders, and fancy a fairy-land. And
I beg my elder hearers not to look on this as light praise.
Imagination is a valuable thing; and even if it were not, it is a
thing, a real thing, a faculty which every one has, and with which
you must do something. You cannot ignore it; it will assert its own
existence. You will be wise not to neglect it in young children;
for if you do not provide wholesome food for it, it will find
unwholesome food for itself. I know that many, especially men of
business, are inclined to sneer at it, and ask what is the use of
it? The simple answer is, God has made it; and He has made nothing
in vain. But you will find that in practice, in action, in
business, imagination is a most useful faculty, and is so much
mental capital, whensoever it is properly trained. Consider but
this one thing, that without imagination no man can possibly invent
even the pettiest object; that it is one of the faculties which
essentially raises man above the brutes, by enabling him to create
for himself; that the first savage who ever made a hatchet must have
imagined that hatchet to himself ere he began it; that every new
article of commerce, every new opening for trade, must be arrived at
by acts of imagination; by the very same faculty which the poet or
the painter employs, only on a different class of objects; remember
that this faculty is present in some strength in every mind of any
power, in every mind which can do more than follow helplessly in the
beaten track, and do nothing but what it has seen others do already:
and then see whether it be not worth while to give the young a study
which above all others is fitted to keep this important and
universal faculty in health. Now, from fifty to five-and-twenty
years ago, under the influence of the Franklin and Edgeworth school
of education, imagination was at a discount. That school was a good
school enough: but here was one of its faults. It taught people to
look on imagination as quite a useless, dangerous, unpractical, bad
thing, a sort of mental disease. And now, as is usual after an
unfair depreciation of anything, has come a revolution; and an
equally unfair glorifying of the imagination; the present generation
have found out suddenly that the despised faculty is worth
something, and therefore are ready to believe it worth everything;
so that nowadays, to judge from the praise heaped on some poets, the
mere possession of imagination, however ill regulated, will atone
for every error of false taste, bad English, carelessness for truth;
and even for coarseness, blasphemy, and want of common morality; and
it is no longer charity, but fancy, which is to cover the multitude
of sins.

The fact is, that youth will always be the period of imagination;
and the business of a good education will always be to prevent that
imagination from being thrown inward, and producing a mental fever,
diseasing itself and the whole character by feeding on its own
fancies, its own day dreams, its own morbid feelings, its likes and
dislikes; even if it do not take at last to viler food, to French
novels, and lawless thoughts, which are but too common, alas! though
we will not speak of them here.

To turn the imagination not inwards, but outwards; to give it a
class of objects which may excite wonder, reverence, the love of
novelty and of discovering, without heating the brain or exciting
the passions--this is one of the great problems of education; and I
believe from experience that the study of natural history supplies
in great part what we want. The earnest naturalist is pretty sure
to have obtained that great need of all men, to get rid of self. He
who, after the hours of business, finds himself with a mind relaxed
and wearied, will not be tempted to sit at home dreaming over
impossible scenes of pleasure, or to go for amusement to haunts of
coarse excitement, if he have in every hedge-bank, and wood land,
and running stream, in every bird among the boughs, and every cloud
above his head, stores of interest which will enable him to forget
awhile himself, and man, and all the cares, even all the hopes of
life, and to be alone with the inexhaustible beauty and glory of
Nature, and of God who made her. An hour or two every day spent
after business-hours in botany, geology, entomology, at the
telescope or the microscope, is so much refreshment gained for the
mind for to-morrow's labour, so much rest for irritated or anxious
feelings, often so much saved from frivolity or sin. And how easy
this pursuit. How abundant the subjects of it! Look round you
here. Within the reach of every one of you are wonders beyond all
poets' dreams. Not a hedge-bank but has its hundred species of
plants, each different and each beautiful; and when you tire of
them--if you ever can tire--a trip into the meadows by the Thames,
with the rich vegetation of their dikes, floating flower-beds of
every hue, will bring you as it were into a new world, new forms,
new colours, new delight. You ask why this is? And you find
yourself at once involved in questions of soil and climate, which
lead you onward, step by step, into the deepest problems of geology
and chemistry. In entomology, too, if you have any taste for the
beauties of form and colour, any fondness for mechanical and
dynamical science, the insects, even to the smallest, will supply
endless food for such likings; while their instincts and their
transformations, as well as the equally wondrous chemical
transformation of salts and gases into living plants, which
agricultural chemistry teaches you, will tempt you to echo every day
Mephistopheles's magic song, when he draws wine out of the table in
Auersbach's cellar:

Wine is grapes, and grapes are wood--
The wooden board yields wine as good:
It is but a deeper glance
Into Nature's countenance.
All is plain to him who seeth;
Lift the veil and look beneath,
And behold, the wise man saith,
Miracles, if you have faith.

Believe me you need not go so far to find more than you will ever
understand. An hour's summer walk, in the company of some one who
knows what to look for and how to look for it, by the side of one of
those stagnant dikes in the meadows below, would furnish you with
subjects for a month's investigation, in the form of plants, shells,
and animalcules, on each of which a whole volume might be written.
And even at this seemingly dead season of the year, fancy not that
nature is dead--not even that she sleeps awhile. Every leaf which
drops from the bough, to return again into its gases and its dust,
is working out chemical problems which have puzzled a Boyle and a
Lavoisier, and about which a Liebig and a Faraday will now tell you
that they have but some dim guess, and that they stand upon the
threshold of knowledge like (as Newton said of himself) children
gathering a few pebbles, upon the shore of an illimitable sea. In
every woodland, too, innumerable fungi are at work, raising from the
lower soil rich substances, which, strewed on the surface by quick
decay, will form food for plants higher than themselves; while they,
by their variety and beauty, both of form and colour, might well
form studies for any painter, and by the obscure laws of their
reproduction, studies for any philosopher. Why, there is not a heap
of dead leaves among which by picking it through carefully you might
not find some twenty species of delicate and elegant land-shells;
hardly a tree-foot at which, among the moss and mould, you might not
find the chrysalides of beautiful moths, where caterpillars have
crawled down the trunk in autumn, to lie there self-buried and die
to live again next spring in a new and fairer shape. And if you
cannot reach even there, go to the water-but in the nearest yard,
and there, in one pinch of green scum, in one spoonful of water,
behold a whole "Divina Commedia" of living forms, more fantastic a
thousand times than those with which Dante peopled his unseen world:
and then feel, as you should feel, abashed at the ignorance and
weakness of mortal man; abashed still more at that rash conceit of
his, which makes him fancy himself the measure of all things; and
say with me: "Oh Lord, thy works are manifold; thy ways are very
deep. In wisdom hast thou made them all, the earth is full of thy
riches. Thou openest thy hand, and fillest all things living with
plenteousness; they continue this day according to thine ordinance,
for all things serve thee. Thou hast made them fast for ever and
ever; thou hast given them a law which shall not be broken. Let
them praise the name of the Lord; for he spake the word and they
were made, he commanded, and they were created."

This I shall say, but little more than this, on the religious effect
of the study of natural history. I do not wish to preach a sermon
to you. I can trust God's world to bear better witness than I can,
of the Loving Father who made it. I thank him from my own
experience for the testimony of His Creation, only next to the
testimony of His Bible. I have watched scientific discoveries which
were supposed in my boyhood to be contrary to revelation, found out
one by one to confirm and explain revelation, as crude and hasty
theories were corrected by more abundant facts, and men saw more
clearly what both the Bible and Nature really did say; and I can
trust that the same process will go on for ever, and that God's
earth and God's word will never contradict each other. I have found
the average of scientific men, not less, but more, godly and
righteous men than the average of their neighbours; and I can trust
that this will be more and more the case as science deepens and
widens. And therefore I can trust that every patient, truthful, and
healthful mind will, the more it contemplates the works of God, re-
echo St. Paul's great declaration that the Invisible things of God
are clearly seen from the foundation of the world, being understood
by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.
And so trusting, I pass on to a lower view of the subject, and yet
not an unnecessary one.

In an industrial country like this, the practical utility of any
study must needs be always thrown into the scale; and natural
history seems at first sight somewhat unpractical. What money will
it earn for a man in after life?--is a question which will be asked;
and which it is folly to despise. For if the only answer be: "None
at all," a man has a right to rejoin: "Then let me take up some
pursuit which will train and refresh my mind as much as this one,
and yet be of pecuniary benefit to me some day." If you can find
such a study, by all means follow it: but I say that this study too
may be of great practical benefit in after life. How much money
have I, young as I am, seen wasted for want of a little knowledge of
botany, geology, or chemistry. How many a clever man becomes the
dupe of empirics for want of a little science. How many a mine is
sought for where no mine could be; or crop attempted to be grown,
where no such crop could grow. How many a hidden treasure, on the
other hand, do men walk over unheeding. How many a new material,
how many an improved process in manufacture is possible, yet is
passed over, for want of a little science. And for the man who
emigrates, and comes in contact with rude nature teeming with
unsuspected wealth, of what incalculable advantage to have if it be
but the rudiments of those sciences, which will tell him the
properties, and therefore the value, of the plants, the animals, the
minerals, the climates with which he meets? True--home-learnt
natural history will not altogether teach him about these things,
because most of them must needs be new: but it will teach him to
compare and classify them as he finds them, and so by analogy with
things already known to him, to discover their intrinsic worth.

For natural history stands to man's power over Nature, that is, to
his power of being useful to himself and to mankind, in the same
relation as do geography, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, political
economy; none of them, perhaps, bearing directly on his future
business in life; but all training his mind for his business, all
giving him the rudiments of laws which he will hereafter work out
and apply to his profession. And even at home, be sure that such
studies will bear fruit in after life. The productive wealth of
England is not exhausted, doubt it not; our grandchildren may find
treasures in this our noble island of which we never dreamed, even
as we have found things of which our forefathers dreamed not.
Recollect always that a great market town like this is not merely a
commercial centre; not perhaps even a commercial centre at all: but
that she is an agricultural centre, and one of the most important in
England; that the increase of science here will be sure more or less
to extend itself to the neighbourhood: and then lay to heart this
one fact. A friend of mine, and one whom I am proud to call my
friend, succeeding to an estate, thought good to cultivate it
himself. And being a man of common sense, he thought good to know
something of what he was doing. And he said to himself: The soil,
and the rain, and the air are my raw materials. I ought surely then
to find out what soil, and rain, and air are; so I must become a
geologist and a meteorologist. Vegetable substances are what I am
to make. And I ought surely to know what it is that I am making; so
I must become a botanist. The raw material does somehow or other
become manufactured into the produce; the soil into the vegetable.
I ought surely to know a little about the processes of my own
manufacture; so I must learn chemistry. Chance and blind custom are
not enough for me. At best they can but leave me where they found
me, at their mercy. Science I need; and science I will acquire.
What was the result? After many a mistake and disappointment, he
succeeded in discovering on his own estate a mine of unsuspected
wealth--not of gold indeed, but of gold's worth--the elements of
human food. He discovered why some parts of his estate were
fertile, while others were barren; and by applying the knowledge
thus gained, he converted some of his most barren fields into his
most fertile ones; he preserved again and again his crops from
blight, while those of others perished all around him; he won for
himself wealth, and the respect and honour of men of science; while
those around him, slowly opening their eyes to his improvements,
followed his lessons at second-hand, till the whole agriculture of
an important district has become gradually but permanently improved,
under the auspices of one patient and brave man, who knew that
knowledge was power, and that only by obeying nature can man conquer

Bear in mind both these last great proverbs; and combine them in
your mind. Remember that while England is, and ever will be,
behindhand in metaphysical and scholastic science, she is the nation
which above all others has conquered nature by obeying her; that as
it pleased God that the author of that proverb, the father of
inductive science, Bacon Lord Verulam, should have been an
Englishman, so it has pleased Him that we, Lord Bacon's countrymen,
should improve that precious heirloom of science, inventing,
producing, exporting, importing, till it seems as if the whole human
race, and every land from the equator to the pole must henceforth
bear the indelible impress and sign manual of English science.

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