Town Geology by Charles Kingsley

Transcribed by David Price, email TOWN GEOLOGY PREFACE This little book, including the greater part of this Preface, has shaped itself out of lectures given to the young men of the city of Chester. But it does not deal, in its present form, with the geology of the neighbourhood of Chester only. I have
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  • 1872
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Transcribed by David Price, email



This little book, including the greater part of this Preface, has shaped itself out of lectures given to the young men of the city of Chester. But it does not deal, in its present form, with the geology of the neighbourhood of Chester only. I have tried so to recast it, that any townsman, at least in the manufacturing districts of England and Scotland, may learn from it to judge, roughly perhaps, but on the whole accurately, of the rocks and soils of his own neighbourhood. He will find, it is true, in these pages, little or nothing about those “Old Red Sandstones,” so interesting to a Scotchman; and he will have to bear in mind, if he belong to the coal districts of Scotland, that the “stones in the wall” there belong to much older rocks than those “New Red Sandstones” of which this book treats; and that the coal measures of Scotland, with the volcanic rocks which have disturbed them, are often very different in appearance to the English coal measures. But he will soon learn to distinguish the relative age of rocks by the fossils found in them, which he can now, happily, study in many local museums; and he may be certain, for the rest, that all rocks and soils whatsoever which he may meet have been laid down by the agents, and according to the laws, which I have tried to set forth in this book; and these only require, for the learning of them, the exercise of his own observation and common sense. I have not tried to make this a handbook of geological facts. Such a guide (and none better) the young man will find in Sir Charles Lyell’s “Student’s Elements of Geology.” I have tried rather to teach the method of geology, than its facts; to furnish the student with a key to all geology, rough indeed and rudimentary, but sure and sound enough, I trust, to help him to unlock most geological problems which he may meet, in any quarter of the globe. But young men must remember always, that neither this book, nor all the books in the world, will make them geologists. No amount of book learning will make a man a scientific man; nothing but patient observation, and quiet and fair thought over what he has observed. He must go out for himself, see for himself, compare and judge for himself, in the field, the quarry, the cutting. He must study rocks, ores, fossils, in the nearest museum; and thus store his head, not with words, but with facts. He must verify–as far as he can–what he reads in books, by his own observation; and be slow to believe anything, even on the highest scientific authority, till he has either seen it, or something like enough to it to make it seem to him probable, or at least possible. So, and so only, will he become a scientific man, and a good geologist; and acquire that habit of mind by which alone he can judge fairly and wisely of facts of any kind whatsoever.

I say–facts of any kind whatsoever. If any of my readers should be inclined to say to themselves: Geology may be a very pleasant study, but I have no special fancy for it. I had rather learn something of botany, astronomy, chemistry, or what not–I shall answer: By all means. Learn any branch of Natural Science you will. It matters little to me which you learn, provided you learn one at least. But bear in mind, and settle it in your hearts, that you will learn no branch of science soundly, so as to master it, and be able to make use of it, unless you acquire that habit and method of mind which I am trying to teach you in this book. I have tried to teach it you by geology, because geology is, perhaps, the simplest and the easiest of all physical sciences. It appeals more than any to mere common sense. It requires fewer difficult experiments, and expensive apparatus. It requires less previous knowledge of other sciences, whether pure or mixed; at least in its rudimentary stages. It is more free from long and puzzling Greek and Latin words. It is specially, the poor man’s science. But if you do not like it, study something else. Only study that as you must study geology; proceeding from the known to the unknown by observation and experiment.

But here some of my readers may ask, as they have a perfect right to ask, why I wish young men to learn Natural Science at all? What good will the right understanding of geology, or of astronomy, or of chemistry, or of the plants or animals which they meet–what good, I say, will that do them?

In the first place, they need, I presume, occupation after their hours of work. If any of them answer: “We do not want occupation, we want amusement. Work is very dull, and we want something which will excite our fancy, imagination, sense of humour. We want poetry, fiction, even a good laugh or a game of play”–I shall most fully agree with them. There is often no better medicine for a hard-worked body and mind than a good laugh; and the man who can play most heartily when he has a chance of playing is generally the man who can work most heartily when he must work. But there is certainly nothing in the study of physical science to interfere with genial hilarity; though, indeed, some solemn persons have been wont to reprove the members of the British Association, and specially that Red Lion Club, where all the philosophers are expected to lash their tails and roar, of being somewhat too fond of mere and sheer fun, after the abstruse papers of the day are read and discussed. And as for harmless amusement, and still more for the free exercise of the fancy and the imagination, I know few studies to compare with Natural History; with the search for the most beautiful and curious productions of Nature amid her loveliest scenery, and in her freshest atmosphere. I have known again and again working men who in the midst of smoky cities have kept their bodies, their minds, and their hearts healthy and pure by going out into the country at odd hours, and making collections of fossils, plants, insects, birds, or some other objects of natural history; and I doubt not that such will be the case with some of my readers.

Another argument, and a very strong one, in favour of studying some branch of Natural Science just now is this–that without it you can hardly keep pace with the thought of the world around you.

Over and above the solid gain of a scientific habit of mind, of which I shall speak presently, the gain of mere facts, the increased knowledge of this planet on which we live, is very valuable just now; valuable certainly to all who do not wish their children and their younger brothers to know more about the universe than they do.

Natural Science is now occupying a more and more important place in education. Oxford, Cambridge, the London University, the public schools, one after another, are taking up the subject in earnest; so are the middle-class schools; so I trust will all primary schools throughout the country; and I hope that my children, at least, if not I myself, will see the day, when ignorance of the primary laws and facts of science will be looked on as a defect, only second to ignorance of the primary laws of religion and morality.

I speak strongly, but deliberately. It does seem to me strange, to use the mildest word, that people whose destiny it is to live, even for a few short years, on this planet which we call the earth, and who do not at all intend to live on it as hermits, shutting themselves up in cells, and looking on death as an escape and a deliverance, but intend to live as comfortably and wholesomely as they can, they and their children after them–it seems strange, I say, that such people should in general be so careless about the constitution of this same planet, and of the laws and facts on which depend, not merely their comfort and their wealth, but their health and their very lives, and the health and the lives of their children and descendants.

I know some will say, at least to themselves: “What need for us to study science? There are plenty to do that already; and we shall be sure sooner or later to profit by their discoveries; and meanwhile it is not science which is needed to make mankind thrive, but simple common sense.”

I should reply, that to expect to profit by other men’s discoveries when you do not pay for them–to let others labour in the hope of entering into their labours, is not a very noble or generous state of mind–comparable somewhat, I should say, to that of the fatting ox, who willingly allows the farmer to house him, till for him, feed him, provided only he himself may lounge in his stall, and eat, and NOT be thankful. There is one difference in the two cases, but only one– that while the farmer can repay himself by eating the ox, the scientific man cannot repay himself by eating you; and so never gets paid, in most cases, at all.

But as for mankind thriving by common sense: they have not thriven by common sense, because they have not used their common sense according to that regulated method which is called science. In no age, in no country, as yet, have the majority of mankind been guided, I will not say by the love of God, and by the fear of God, but even by sense and reason. Not sense and reason, but nonsense and unreason, prejudice and fancy, greed and haste, have led them to such results as were to be expected–to superstitions, persecutions, wars, famines, pestilence, hereditary diseases, poverty, waste–waste incalculable, and now too often irremediable–waste of life, of labour, of capital, of raw material, of soil, of manure, of every bounty which God has bestowed on man, till, as in the eastern Mediterranean, whole countries, some of the finest in the world, seem ruined for ever: and all because men will not learn nor obey those physical laws of the universe, which (whether we be conscious of them or not) are all around us, like walls of iron and of adamant–say rather, like some vast machine, ruthless though beneficent, among the wheels of which if we entangle ourselves in our rash ignorance, they will not stop to set us free, but crush us, as they have crushed whole nations and whole races ere now, to powder. Very terrible, though very calm, is outraged Nature.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though He sit, and wait with patience, With exactness grinds He all.

It is, I believe, one of the most hopeful among the many hopeful signs of the times, that the civilised nations of Europe and America are awakening slowly but surely to this truth. The civilised world is learning, thank God, more and more of the importance of physical science; year by year, thank God, it is learning to live more and more according to those laws of physical science, which are, as the great Lord Bacon said of old, none other than “Vox Dei in rebus revelata”–the Word of God revealed in facts; and it is gaining by so doing, year by year, more and more of health and wealth; of peaceful and comfortable, even of graceful and elevating, means of life for fresh millions.

If you want to know what the study of physical science has done for man, look, as a single instance, at the science of Sanatory Reform; the science which does not merely try to cure disease, and shut the stable-door after the horse is stolen, but tries to prevent disease; and, thank God! is succeeding beyond our highest expectations. Or look at the actual fresh amount of employment, of subsistence, which science has, during the last century, given to men; and judge for yourselves whether the study of it be not one worthy of those who wish to help themselves, and, in so doing, to help their fellow-men. Let me quote to you a passage from an essay urging the institution of schools of physical science for artisans, which says all I wish to say and more:

“The discoveries of Voltaic electricity, electromagnetism, and magnetic electricity, by Volta, OErsted, and Faraday, led to the invention of electric telegraphy by Wheatstone and others, and to the great manufactures of telegraph cables and telegraph wire, and of the materials required for them. The value of the cargo of the Great Eastern alone in the recent Bombay telegraph expedition was calculated at three millions of pounds sterling. It also led to the employment of thousands of operators to transmit the telegraphic messages, and to a great increase of our commerce in nearly all its branches by the more rapid means of communication. The discovery of Voltaic electricity further led to the invention of electro-plating, and to the employment of a large number of persons in that business. The numerous experimental researches on specific heat, latent heat, the tension of vapours, the properties of water, the mechanical effect of heat, etc., resulted in the development of steam-engines, and railways, and the almost endless employments depending upon their construction and use. About a quarter of a million of persons are employed on railways alone in Great Britain. The various original investigations on the chemical effects of light led to the invention of photography, and have given employment to thousands of persons who practise that process, or manufacture and prepare the various material and articles required in it. The discovery of chlorine by Scheele led to the invention of the modern processes of bleaching, and to various improvements in the dyeing of the textile fabrics, and has given employment to a very large number of our Lancashire operatives. The discovery of chlorine has also contributed to the employment of thousands of printers, by enabling Esparto grass to be bleached and formed into paper for the use of our daily press. The numerous experimental investigations in relation to coal-gas have been the means of extending the use of that substance, and of increasing the employment of workmen and others connected with its manufacture. The discovery of the alkaline metals by Davy, of cyanide of potassium, of nickel, phosphorus, the common acids, and a multitude of other substances, has led to the employment of a whole army of workmen in the conversion of those substances into articles of utility. The foregoing examples might be greatly enlarged upon, and a great many others might be selected from the sciences of physics and chemistry: but those mentioned will suffice. There is not a force of Nature, nor scarcely a material substance that we employ, which has not been the subject of several, and in some cases of numerous, original experimental researches, many of which have resulted, in a greater or less degree, in increasing the employment for workmen and others.” {1}

“All this may be very true. But of what practical use will physical science be to me?”

Let me ask in return: Are none of you going to emigrate? If you have courage and wisdom, emigrate you will, some of you, instead of stopping here to scramble over each other’s backs for the scraps, like black-beetles in a kitchen. And if you emigrate, you will soon find out, if you have eyes and common sense, that the vegetable wealth of the world is no more exhausted than its mineral wealth. Exhausted? Not half of it–I believe not a tenth of it–is yet known. Could I show you the wealth which I have seen in a single Tropic island, not sixty miles square–precious timbers, gums, fruits, what not, enough to give employment and wealth to thousands and tens of thousands, wasting for want of being known and worked– then you would see what a man who emigrates may do, by a little sound knowledge of botany alone.

And if not. Suppose that any one of you, learning a little sound Natural History, should abide here in Britain to your life’s end, and observe nothing but the hedgerow plants, he would find that there is much more to be seen in those mere hedgerow plants than he fancies now. The microscope will reveal to him in the tissues of any wood, of any seed, wonders which will first amuse him, then puzzle him, and at last (I hope) awe him, as he perceives that smallness of size interferes in no way with perfection of development, and that “Nature,” as has been well said, “is greatest in that which is least.” And more. Suppose that he went further still. Suppose that he extended his researches somewhat to those minuter vegetable forms, the mosses, fungi, lichens; suppose that he went a little further still, and tried what the microscope would show him in any stagnant pool, whether fresh water or salt, of Desmidiae, Diatoms, and all those wondrous atomies which seem as yet to defy our classification into plants or animals. Suppose he learnt something of this, but nothing of aught else. Would he have gained no solid wisdom? He would be a stupider man than I have a right to believe any of my readers to be, if he had not gained thereby somewhat of the most valuable of treasures–namely, that inductive habit of mind, that power of judging fairly of facts, without which no good or lasting work will be done, whether in physical science, in social science, in politics, in philosophy, in philology, or in history.

But more: let me urge you to study Natural Science, on grounds which may be to you new and unexpected–on social, I had almost said on political, grounds.

We all know, and I trust we all love, the names of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood. We feel, I trust, that these words are too beautiful not to represent true and just ideas; and that therefore they will come true, and be fulfilled, somewhen, somewhere, somehow. It may be in a shape very different from that which you, or I, or any man expects; but still they will be fulfilled.

But if they are to come true, it is we, the individual men, who must help them to come true for the whole world, by practising them ourselves, when and where we can. And I tell you–that in becoming scientific men, in studying science and acquiring the scientific habit of mind, you will find yourselves enjoying a freedom, an equality, a brotherhood, such as you will not find elsewhere just now.

Freedom: what do we want freedom for? For this, at least; that we may be each and all able to think what we choose; and to say what we choose also, provided we do not say it rudely or violently, so as to provoke a breach of the peace. That last was Mr. Buckle’s definition of freedom of speech. That was the only limit to it which he would allow; and I think that that is Mr. John Stuart Mill’s limit also. It is mine. And I think we have that kind of freedom in these islands as perfectly as any men are likely to have it on this earth.

But what I complain of is, that when men have got the freedom, three out of four of them will not use it. What?–someone will answer–Do you suppose that I will not say what I choose, and that I dare not speak my own mind to any man? Doubtless. But are you sure first, that you think what you choose, or only what someone else chooses for you? Are you sure that you make up your own mind before you speak, or let someone else make it up for you? Your speech may be free enough, my good friend; and Heaven forbid that it should be anything else: but are your thoughts free likewise? Are you sure that, though you may hate bigotry in others, you are not somewhat of a bigot yourself? That you do not look at only one side of a question, and that the one which pleases you? That you do not take up your opinions at second hand, from some book or some newspaper, which after all only reflects your own feelings, your own opinions? You should ask yourselves that question, seriously and often: “Are my thoughts really free?” No one values more highly than I do the advantage of a free press. But you must remember always that a newspaper editor, however honest or able, is no more infallible than the Pope; that he may, just as you may, only see one side of a question, while any question is sure to have two sides, or perhaps three or four; and if you only see the side which suits you, day after day, month after month, you must needs become bigoted to it. Your thoughts must needs run in one groove. They cannot (as Mr. Matthew Arnold would say) “play freely round” a question; and look it all over, boldly, patiently, rationally, charitably.

And I tell you that if you, or I, or any man, want to let our thoughts play freely round questions, and so escape from the tendency to become bigoted and narrow-minded which there is in every human being, then we must acquire something of that inductive habit of mind which the study of Natural Science gives. It is, after all, as Professor Huxley says, only common sense well regulated. But then it is well regulated; and how precious it is, if you can but get it. The art of seeing, the art of knowing what you see; the art of comparing, of perceiving true likenesses and true differences, and so of classifying and arranging what you see: the art of connecting facts together in your own mind in chains of cause and effect, and that accurately, patiently, calmly, without prejudice, vanity, or temper–this is what is wanted for true freedom of mind. But accuracy, patience, freedom from prejudice, carelessness for all except the truth, whatever the truth may be–are not these the virtues of a truly free spirit? Then, as I said just now, I know no study so able to give that free habit of mind as the Study of Natural Science.

Equality, too: whatever equality may or may not be just, or possible; this at least, is just, and I hope possible; that every man, every child, of every rank, should have an equal chance of education; an equal chance of developing all that is in him by nature; an equal chance of acquiring a fair knowledge of those facts of the universe which specially concern him; and of having his reason trained to judge of them. I say, whatever equal rights men may or may not have, they have this right. Let every boy, every girl, have an equal and sound education. If I had my way, I would give the same education to the child of the collier and to the child of a peer. I would see that they were taught the same things, and by the same method. Let them all begin alike, say I. They will be handicapped heavily enough as they go on in life, without our handicapping them in their first race. Whatever stable they come out of, whatever promise they show, let them all train alike, and start fair, and let the best colt win.

Well: but there is a branch of education in which, even now, the poor man can compete fairly against the rich; and that is, Natural Science. In the first place, the rich, blind to their own interest, have neglected it hitherto in their schools; so that they have not the start of the poor man on that subject which they have on many. In the next place, Natural Science is a subject which a man cannot learn by paying for teachers. He must teach it himself, by patient observation, by patient common sense. And if the poor man is not the rich man’s equal in those qualities, it must be his own fault, not his purse’s. Many shops have I seen about the world, in which fools could buy articles more or less helpful to them; but never saw I yet an observation-shop, nor a common-sense shop either. And if any man says, “We must buy books:” I answer, a poor man now can obtain better scientific books than a duke or a prince could sixty years ago, simply because then the books did not exist. When I was a boy I would have given much, or rather my father would have given much, if I could have got hold of such scientific books as are to be found now in any first-class elementary school. And if more expensive books are needed; if a microscope or apparatus is needed; can you not get them by the co-operative method, which has worked so well in other matters? Can you not form yourselves into a Natural Science club, for buying such things and lending them round among your members; and for discussion also, the reading of scientific papers of your own writing, the comparing of your observations, general mutual help and mutual instructions? Such societies are becoming numerous now, and gladly should I see one in every town. For in science, as in most matters, “As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

And Brotherhood: well, if you want that; if you want to mix with men, and men, too, eminently worth mixing with, on the simple ground that “a man’s a man for a’ that;” if you want to become the acquaintances, and–if you prove worthy–the friends, of men who will be glad to teach you all they know, and equally glad to learn from you anything you can teach them, asking no questions about you, save, first–Is he an honest student of Nature for her own sake? And next- -Is he a man who will not quarrel, or otherwise behave in an unbrotherly fashion to his fellow-students?–If you want a ground of brotherhood with men, not merely in these islands, but in America, on the Continent–in a word, all over the world–such as rank, wealth, fashion, or other artificial arrangements of the world cannot give and cannot take away; if you want to feel yourself as good as any man in theory, because you are as good as any man in practice, except those who are better than you in the same line, which is open to any and every man; if you wish to have the inspiring and ennobling feeling of being a brother in a great freemasonry which owns no difference of rank, of creed, or of nationality–the only freemasonry, the only International League which is likely to make mankind (as we all hope they will be some day) one–then become men of science. Join the freemasonry in which Hugh Miller, the poor Cromarty stonemason, in which Michael Faraday, the poor bookbinder’s boy, became the companions and friends of the noblest and most learned on earth, looked up to by them not as equals merely but as teachers and guides, because philosophers and discoverers.

Do you wish to be great? Then be great with true greatness; which is,–knowing the facts of nature, and being able to use them. Do you wish to be strong? Then be strong with true strength; which is, knowing the facts of nature, and being able to use them. Do you wish to be wise? Then be wise with true wisdom; which is, knowing the facts of nature, and being able to use them. Do you wish to be free? Then be free with true freedom; which is again, knowing the facts of nature, and being able to use them.

I dare say some of my readers, especially the younger ones, will demur to that last speech of mine. Well, I hope they will not be angry with me for saying it. I, at least, shall certainly not he angry with them. For when I was young I was very much of what I suspect is their opinion. I used to think one could get perfect freedom, and social reform, and all that I wanted, by altering the arrangements of society and legislation; by constitutions, and Acts of Parliament; by putting society into some sort of freedom-mill, and grinding it all down, and regenerating it so. And that something can be done by improved arrangements, something can be done by Acts of Parliament, I hold still, as every rational man must hold.

But as I grew older, I began to see that if things were to be got right, the freedom-mill would do very little towards grinding them right, however well and amazingly it was made. I began to see that what sort of flour came out at one end of the mill, depended mainly on what sort of grain you had put in at the other; and I began to see that the problem was to get good grain, and then good flour would be turned out, even by a very clumsy old-fashioned sort of mill. And what do I mean by good grain? Good men, honest men, accurate men, righteous men, patient men, self-restraining men, fair men, modest men. Men who are aware of their own vast ignorance compared with the vast amount that there is to be learned in such a universe as this. Men who are accustomed to look at both sides of a question; who, instead of making up their minds in haste like bigots and fanatics, wait like wise men, for more facts, and more thought about the facts. In one word, men who had acquired just the habit of mind which the study of Natural Science can give, and must give; for without it there is no use studying Natural Science; and the man who has not got that habit of mind, if he meddles with science, will merely become a quack and a charlatan, only fit to get his bread as a spirit-rapper, or an inventor of infallible pills.

And when I saw that, I said to myself–I will train myself, by Natural Science, to the truly rational, and therefore truly able and useful, habit of mind; and more, I will, for it is my duty as an Englishman, train every Englishman over whom I can get influence in the same scientific habit of mind, that I may, if possible, make him, too, a rational and an able man.

And, therefore, knowing that most of you, my readers–probably all of you, as you ought and must if you are Britons, think much of social and political questions—therefore, I say, I entreat you to cultivate the scientific spirit by which alone you can judge justly of those questions. I ask you to learn how to “conquer nature by obeying her,” as the great Lord Bacon said two hundred and fifty years ago. For so only will you in your theories and your movements, draw “bills which nature will honour”–to use Mr. Carlyle’s famous parable–because they are according to her unchanging laws, and not have them returned on your hands, as too many theorists’ are, with “no effects” written across their backs.

Take my advice for yourselves, dear readers, and for your children after you; for, believe me, I am showing you the way to true and useful, and, therefore, to just and deserved power. I am showing you the way to become members of what I trust will be–what I am certain ought to be–the aristocracy of the future.

I say it deliberately, as a student of society and of history. Power will pass more and more, if all goes healthily and well, into the hands of scientific men; into the hands of those who have made due use of that great heirloom which the philosophers of the seventeenth century left for the use of future generations, and specially of the Teutonic race.

For the rest, events seem but too likely to repeat themselves again and again all over the world, in the same hopeless circle. Aristocracies of mere birth decay and die, and give place to aristocracies of mere wealth; and they again to “aristocracies of genius,” which are really aristocracies of the noisiest, of mere scribblers and spouters, such as France is writhing under at this moment. And when these last have blown off their steam, with mighty roar, but without moving the engine a single yard, then they are but too likely to give place to the worst of all aristocracies, the aristocracy of mere “order,” which means organised brute force and military despotism. And, after that, what can come, save anarchy, and decay, and social death?

What else?–unless there be left in the nation, in the society, as the salt of the land, to keep it all from rotting, a sufficient number of wise men to form a true working aristocracy, an aristocracy of sound and rational science? If they be strong enough (and they are growing stronger day by day over the civilised world), on them will the future of that world mainly depend. They will rule, and they will act–cautiously we may hope, and modestly and charitably, because in learning true knowledge they will have learnt also their own ignorance, and the vastness, the complexity, the mystery of nature. But they will be able to rule, they will be able to act, because they have taken the trouble to learn the facts and the laws of nature. They will rule; and their rule, if they are true to themselves, will be one of health and wealth, and peace, of prudence and of justice. For they alone will be able to wield for the benefit of man the brute forces of nature; because they alone will have stooped, to “conquer nature by obeying her.”

So runs my dream. I ask my young readers to help towards making that dream a fact, by becoming (as many of them as feel the justice of my words) honest and earnest students of Natural Science.

But now: why should I, as a clergyman, interest myself specially in the spread of Natural Science? Am I not going out of my proper sphere to meddle with secular matters? Am I not, indeed, going into a sphere out of which I had better keep myself, and all over whom I may have influence? For is not science antagonistic to religion? and, if so, what has a clergyman to do, save to warn the young against it, instead of attracting them towards it?

First, as to meddling with secular matters. I grudge that epithet of “secular” to any matter whatsoever. But I do more; I deny it to anything which God has made, even to the tiniest of insects, the most insignificant atom of dust. To those who believe in God, and try to see all things in God, the most minute natural phenomenon cannot be secular. It must be divine; I say, deliberately, divine; and I can use no less lofty word. The grain of dust is a thought of God; God’s power made it; God’s wisdom gave it whatsoever properties or qualities it may possess; God’s providence has put it in the place where it is now, and has ordained that it should be in that place at that moment, by a train of causes and effects which reaches back to the very creation of the universe. The grain of dust can no more go from God’s presence, or flee from God’s Spirit, than you or I can. If it go up to the physical heaven, and float (as it actually often does) far above the clouds, in those higher strata of the atmosphere which the aeronaut has never visited, whither the Alpine snow-peaks do not rise, even there it will be obeying physical laws which we term hastily laws of Nature, but which are really the laws of God: and if it go down into the physical abyss; if it be buried fathoms, miles, below the surface, and become an atom of some rock still in the process of consolidation, has it escaped from God, even in the bowels of the earth? Is it not there still obeying physical laws, of pressure, heat, crystallisation, and so forth, which are laws of God- -the will and mind of God concerning particles of matter? Only look at all created things in this light–look at them as what they are, the expressions of God’s mind and will concerning this universe in which we live–“the Word of God,” as Bacon says, “revealed in facts”- -and then you will not fear physical science; for you will be sure that, the more you know of physical science, the more you will know of the works and of the will of God. At least, you will be in harmony with the teaching of the Psalmist: “The heavens,” says he, “declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork. There is neither speech nor language where their voices are not heard among them.” So held the Psalmist concerning astronomy, the knowledge of the heavenly bodies; and what he says of sun and stars is true likewise of the flowers around our feet, of which the greatest Christian poet of modern times has said–

To me the meanest flower that grows may give Thoughts that do lie too deep for tears.

So, again, you will be in harmony with the teaching of St. Paul, who told the Romans “that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the-world, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead;” and who told the savages of Lycaonia that “God had not left Himself without witness, in that He did good and sent men rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling men’s hearts with food and gladness.” Rain and fruitful seasons witnessed to all men of a Father in heaven. And he who wishes to know how truly St. Paul spoke, let him study the laws which produce and regulate rain and fruitful seasons, what we now call climatology, meteorology, geography of land and water. Let him read that truly noble Christian work, Maury’s “Physical Geography of the Sea;” and see, if he be a truly rational man, how advanced science, instead of disproving, has only corroborated St. Paul’s assertion, and how the ocean and the rain-cloud, like the sun and stars, declare the glory of God. And if anyone undervalues the sciences which teach us concerning stones and plants and animals, or thinks that nothing can be learnt from them concerning God–allow one who has been from childhood only a humble, though he trusts a diligent student of these sciences–allow him, I say, to ask in all reverence, but in all frankness, who it was who said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” “Consider the birds of the air- -and how your Heavenly Father feedeth them.”

Consider them. If He has bid you do so, can you do so too much?

I know, of course, the special application which our Lord made of these words. But I know, too, from experience, that the more you study nature, in all her forms the more you will find that the special application itself is deeper, wider, more literally true, more wonderful, more tender, and if I dare use such a word, more poetic, than the unscientific man can guess.

But let me ask you further–do you think that our Lord in that instance, and in those many instances in which He drew his parables and lessons from natural objects, was leading men’s minds on to dangerous ground, and pointing out to them a subject of contemplation in the laws and processes of the natural world, and their analogy with those of the spiritual world, the kingdom of God–a subject of contemplation, I say, which it was not safe to contemplate too much?

I appeal to your common sense. If He who spoke these words were (as I believe) none other than the Creator of the universe, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made that is made, do you suppose that He would have bid you to consider His universe, had it been dangerous for you to do so?

Do you suppose, moreover, that the universe, which He, the Truth, the Light, the Love, has made, can be otherwise then infinitely worthy to be considered? or that the careful, accurate, and patient consideration of it, even to its minutest details, can be otherwise than useful to man, and can bear witness of aught, save the mind and character of Him who made it? And if so, can it be a work unfit for, unworthy of, a clergyman–whose duty is to preach Him to all, and in all ways,–to call on men to consider that physical world which, like the spiritual world, consists, holds together, by Him, and lives and moves and has its being in Him?

And here I must pause to answer an objection which I have heard in my youth from many pious and virtuous people–better people in God’s sight, than I, I fear, can pretend to be.

They used to say, “This would be all very true if there were not a curse upon the earth.” And then they seemed to deduce, from the fact of that curse, a vague notion (for it was little more) that this world was the devil’s world, and that therefore physical facts could not be trusted, because they were disordered, and deceptive, and what not.

Now, in justice to the Bible, and in justice to the Church of England, I am bound to say that such a statement, or anything like it, is contrary to the doctrines of both. It is contrary to Scripture. According to it, the earth is not cursed. For it is said in Gen. viii. 21, “And the Lord said, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” According to Scripture, again, physical facts are not disordered. The Psalmist says, “They continue this day according to their ordinance; for all things serve Thee.” And again, “Thou hast made them fast for ever and ever. Thou hast given them a law which cannot be broken.”

So does the Bible (not to quote over again the passages which I have already given you from St. Paul, and One greater than St. Paul) declare the permanence of natural laws, and the trustworthiness of natural phenomena as obedient to God. And so does the Church of England. For she has incorporated into her services that magnificent hymn, which our forefathers called the Song of the Three Children; which is, as it were, the very flower and crown of the Old Testament; the summing up of all that is true and eternal in the old Jewish faith; as true for us as for them: as true millions of years hence as it is now–which cries to all heaven and earth, from the skies above our heads to the green herb beneath our feet, “O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord; praise Him and magnify Him for ever.” On that one hymn I take my stand. That is my charter as a student of Natural Science. As long as that is sung in an English church, I have a right to investigate Nature boldly without stint or stay, and to call on all who have the will, to investigate her boldly likewise, and with Socrates of old, to follow the Logos whithersoever it leads.

The Logos. I must pause on that word. It meant at first, no doubt, simply speech, argument, reason. In the mind of Socrates it had a deeper meaning, at which he only dimly guessed; which was seen more clearly by Philo and the Alexandrian Jews; which was revealed in all its fulness to the beloved Apostle St. John, till he gathered speech to tell men of a Logos, a Word, who was in the beginning with God, and was God; by whom all things were made, and without Him was not anything made that was made; and how in Him was Life, and the Life was the light of men; and that He was none other than Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yes, that is the truth. And to that truth no man can add, and from it no man can take away. And as long as we believe that as long as we believe that in His light alone can we see light–as long as we believe that the light around us, whether physical or spiritual, is given by Him without whom nothing is made–so long we shall not fear to meet Light, so long we shall not fear to investigate Life; for we shall know, however strange or novel, beautiful or awful, the discoveries we make may be, we are only following the Word whithersoever He may lead us; and that He can never lead us amiss


My dear readers, let me, before touching on the special subject of this paper, say a few words on that of the whole series.

It is geology: that is, the science which explains to us the RIND of the earth; of what it is made; how it has been made. It tells us nothing of the mass of the earth. That is, properly speaking, an astronomical question. If I may be allowed to liken this earth to a fruit, then astronomy will tell us–when it knows–how the fruit grew, and what is inside the fruit. Geology can only tell us at most how its rind, its outer covering, grew, and of what it is composed; a very small part, doubtless, of all that is to be known about this planet.

But as it happens, the mere rind of this earth-fruit which has, countless ages since, dropped, as it were, from the Bosom of God, the Eternal Fount of Life–the mere rind of this earth-fruit, I say, is so beautiful and so complex, that it is well worth our awful and reverent study. It has been well said, indeed, that the history of it, which we call geology, would be a magnificent epic poem, were there only any human interest in it; did it deal with creatures more like ourselves than stones, and bones, and the dead relics of plants and beasts. Whether there be no human interest in geology; whether man did not exist on the earth during ages which have seen enormous geological changes, is becoming more and more an open question.

But meanwhile all must agree that there is matter enough for interest–nay, room enough for the free use of the imagination, in a science which tells of the growth and decay of whole mountain-ranges, continents, oceans, whole tribes and worlds of plants and animals.

And yet it is not so much for the vastness and grandeur of those scenes of the distant past, to which the science of geology introduces us, that I value it as a study, and wish earnestly to awaken you to its beauty and importance. It is because it is the science from which you will learn most easily a sound scientific habit of thought. I say most easily; and for these reasons. The most important facts of geology do not require, to discover them, any knowledge of mathematics or of chemical analysis; they may be studied in every bank, every grot, every quarry, every railway-cutting, by anyone who has eyes and common sense, and who chooses to copy the late illustrious Hugh Miller, who made himself a great geologist out of a poor stonemason. Next, its most important theories are not, or need not be, wrapped up in obscure Latin and Greek terms. They may be expressed in the simplest English, because they are discovered by simple common sense. And thus geology is (or ought to be), in popular parlance, the people’s science–the science by studying which, the man ignorant of Latin, Greek, mathematics, scientific chemistry, can yet become–as far as his brain enables him–a truly scientific man.

But how shall we learn science by mere common sense?

First. Always try to explain the unknown by the known. If you meet something which you have not seen before, then think of the thing most like it which you have seen before; and try if that which you know explains the one will not explain the other also. Sometimes it will; sometimes it will not. But if it will, no one has a right to ask you to try any other explanation.

Suppose, for instance, that you found a dead bird on the top of a cathedral tower, and were asked how you thought it had got there. You would say, “Of course, it died up here.” But if a friend said, “Not so; it dropped from a balloon, or from the clouds;” and told you the prettiest tale of how the bird came to so strange an end, you would answer, “No, no; I must reason from what I know. I know that birds haunt the cathedral tower; I know that birds die; and therefore, let your story be as pretty as it may, my common sense bids me take the simplest explanation, and say–it died here.” In saying that, you would be talking scientifically. You would have made a fair and sufficient induction (as it is called) from the facts about birds’ habits and birds’ deaths which you know.

But suppose that when you took the bird up you found that it was neither a jackdaw, nor a sparrow nor a swallow, as you expected, but a humming-bird. Then you would be adrift again. The fact of it being a humming-bird would be a new fact which you had not taken into account, and for which your old explanation was not sufficient; and you would have to try a new induction–to use your common sense afresh–saying, “I have not to explain merely how a dead bird got here, but how a dead humming-bird.”

And now, if your imaginative friend chimed in triumphantly with: “Do you not see that I was right after all? Do you not see that it fell from the clouds? that it was swept away hither, all the way from South America, by some south-westerly storm, and wearied out at last, dropped here to find rest, as in a sacred-place?” what would you answer? “My friend, that is a beautiful imagination; but I must treat it only as such, as long as I can explain the mystery more simply by facts which I do know. I do not know that humming-birds can be blown across the Atlantic alive. I do know they are actually brought across the Atlantic dead; are stuck in ladies’ hats. I know that ladies visit the cathedral; and odd as the accident is, I prefer to believe, till I get a better explanation, that the humming-bird has simply dropped out of a lady’s hat.” There, again, you would be speaking common sense; and using, too, sound inductive method; trying to explain what you do not know from what you do know already.

Now, I ask of you to employ the same common sense when you read and think of Geology.

It is very necessary to do so. For in past times men have tried to explain the making of the world around them, its oceans, rivers, mountains, and continents, by I know not what of fancied cataclysms and convulsions of nature; explaining the unknown by the still more unknown, till some of their geological theories were no more rational, because no more founded on known facts, than that of the New Zealand Maories, who hold that some god, when fishing, fished up their islands out of the bottom of the ocean. But a sounder and wiser school of geologists now reigns; the father of whom, in England at least, is the venerable Sir Charles Lyell. He was almost the first of Englishmen who taught us to see–what common sense tells us- -that the laws which we see at work around us now have been most probably at work since the creation of the world; and that whatever changes may seem to have taken place in past ages, and in ancient rocks, should be explained, if possible, by the changes which are taking place now in the most recent deposits–in the soil of the field.

And in the last forty years–since that great and sound idea has become rooted in the minds of students, and especially of English students, geology has thriven and developed, perhaps more than any other science; and has led men on to discoveries far more really astonishing and awful than all fancied convulsions and cataclysms.

I have planned this series of papers, therefore, on Sir Charles Lyell’s method. I have begun by trying to teach a little about the part of the earth’s crust which lies nearest us, which we see most often; namely, the soil; intending, if my readers do me the honour to read the papers which follow, to lead them downward, as it were, into the earth; deeper and deeper in each paper, to rocks and minerals which are probably less known to them than the soil in the fields. Thus you will find I shall lead you, or try to lead you on, throughout the series, from the known to the unknown, and show you how to explain the latter by the former. Sir Charles Lyell has, I see, in the new edition of his “Student’s Elements of Geology,” begun his book with the uppermost, that is, newest, strata, or layers; and has gone regularly downwards in the course of the book to the lowest or earliest strata; and I shall follow his plan.

I must ask you meanwhile to remember one law or rule, which seems to me founded on common sense; namely, that the uppermost strata are really almost always the newest; that when two or more layers, whether of rock or earth–or indeed two stones in the street, or two sheets on a bed, or two books on a table–any two or more lifeless things, in fact, lie one on the other, then the lower one was most probably put there first, and the upper one laid down on the lower. Does that seem to you a truism? Do I seem almost impertinent in asking you to remember it? So much the better. I shall be saved unnecessary trouble hereafter.

But some one may say, and will have a right to say, “Stop–the lower thing may have been thrust under the upper one.” Quite true: and therefore I said only that the lower one was most probably put there first. And I said “most probably,” because it is most probable that in nature we should find things done by the method which costs least force, just as you do them. I will warrant that when you want to hide a thing, you lay something down on it ten times for once that you thrust it under something else. You may say, “What? When I want to hide a paper, say, under the sofa-cover, do I not thrust it under?”

No, you lift up the cover, and slip the paper in, and let the cover fall on it again. And so, even in that case, the paper has got into its place first.

Now why is this? Simply because in laying one thing on another you only move weight. In thrusting one thing under another, you have not only to move weight, but to overcome friction. That is why you do it, though you are hardly aware of it: simply because so you employ less force, and take less trouble.

And so do clays and sands and stones. They are laid down on each other, and not thrust under each other, because thus less force is expended in getting them into place.

There are exceptions. There are cases in which nature does try to thrust one rock under another. But to do that she requires a force so enormous, compared with what is employed in laying one rock on another, that (so to speak) she continually fails; and instead of producing a volcanic eruption, produces only an earthquake. Of that I may speak hereafter, and may tell you, in good time, how to distinguish rocks which have been thrust in from beneath, from rocks which have been laid down from above, as every rock between London and Birmingham or Exeter has been laid down. That I only assert now. But I do not wish you to take it on trust from me. I wish to prove it to you as I go on, or to do what is far better for you: to put you in the way of proving it for yourself, by using your common sense.

At the risk of seeming prolix, I must say a few more words on this matter. I have special reasons for it. Until I can get you to “let your thoughts play freely” round this question of the superposition of soils and rocks, there will be no use in my going on with these papers.

Suppose then (to argue from the known to the unknown) that you were watching men cleaning out a pond. Atop, perhaps, they would come to a layer of soft mud, and under that to a layer of sand. Would not common sense tell you that the sand was there first, and that the water had laid down the mud on the top of it? Then, perhaps, they might come to a layer of dead leaves. Would not common sense tell you that the leaves were there before the sand above them? Then, perhaps, to a layer of mud again. Would not common sense tell you that the mud was there before the leaves? And so on down to the bottom of the pond, where, lastly, I think common sense would tell you that the bottom of the pond was there already, before all the layers which were laid down on it. Is not that simple common sense?

Then apply that reasoning to the soils and rocks in any spot on earth. If you made a deep boring, and found, as you would in many parts of this kingdom, that the boring, after passing through the soil of the field, entered clays or loose sands, you would say the clays were there before the soil. If it then went down into sandstone, you would say–would you not?–that sandstone must have been here before the clay; and however thick–even thousands of feet- -it might be, that would make no difference to your judgment. If next the boring came into quite different rocks; into a different sort of sandstone and shales, and among them beds of coal, would you not say–These coal-beds must have been here before the sandstones? And if you found in those coal-beds dead leaves and stems of plants, would you not say–Those plants must have been laid down here before the layers above them, just as the dead leaves in the pond were?

If you then came to a layer of limestone, would you not say the same? And if you found that limestone full of shells and corals, dead, but many of them quite perfect, some of the corals plainly in the very place in which they grew, would you not say–These creatures must have lived down here before the coal was laid on top of them? And if, lastly, below the limestone you came to a bottom rock quite different again, would you not say–The bottom rock must have been here before the rocks on the top of it?

And if that bottom rock rose up a few miles off, two thousand feet, or any other height, into hills, what would you say then? Would you say: “Oh, but the rock is not bottom rock; is not under the limestone here, but higher than it. So perhaps in this part it has made a shift, and the highlands are younger than the lowlands; for see, they rise so much higher?” Would not that be as wise as to say that the bottom of the pond was not there before the pond mud, because the banks round the pond rose higher than the mud?

Now for the soil of the field.

If we can understand a little about it, what it is made of, and how it got there, we shall perhaps be on the right road toward understanding what all England–and, indeed, the crust of this whole planet–is made of; and how its rocks and soils got there.

But we shall best understand how the soil in the field was made, by reasoning, as I have said, from the known to the unknown. What do I mean? This: On the uplands are fields in which the soil is already made. You do not know how? Then look for a field in which the soil is still being made. There are plenty in every lowland. Learn how it is being made there; apply the knowledge which you learn from them to the upland fields which are already made.

If there is, as there usually is, a river-meadow, or still better, an aestuary, near your town, you have every advantage for seeing soil made. Thousands of square feet of fresh-made soil spread between your town and the sea; thousands more are in process of being made.

You will see now why I have begun with the soil in the field; because it is the uppermost, and therefore latest, of all the layers; and also for this reason, that, if Sir Charles Lyell’s theory be true–as it is–then the soils and rocks below the soil of the field may have been made in the very same way in which the soil of the field is made. If so, it is well worth our while to examine it.

You all know from whence the soil comes which has filled up, in the course of ages, the great aestuaries below London, Stirling, Chester, or Cambridge.

It is river mud and sand. The river, helped by tributary brooks right and left, has brought down from the inland that enormous mass. You know that. You know that every flood and freshet brings a fresh load, either of fine mud or of fine sand, or possibly some of it peaty matter out of distant hills. Here is one indisputable fact from which to start. Let us look for another.

How does the mud get into the river? The rain carries it thither.

If you wish to learn the first elements of geology by direct experiment, do this: The next rainy day–the harder it rains the better–instead of sitting at home over the fire, and reading a book about geology, put on a macintosh and thick boots, and get away, I care not whither, provided you can find there running water. If you have not time to get away to a hilly country, then go to the nearest bit of turnpike road, or the nearest sloping field, and see in little how whole continents are made, and unmade again. Watch the rain raking and sifting with its million delicate fingers, separating the finer particles from the coarser, dropping the latter as soon as it can, and carrying the former downward with it toward the sea. Follow the nearest roadside drain where it runs into a pond, and see how it drops the pebbles the moment it enters the pond, and then the sand in a fan-shaped heap at the nearest end; but carries the fine mud on, and holds it suspended, to be gradually deposited at the bottom in the still water; and say to yourself: Perhaps the sands which cover so many inland tracts were dropped by water, very near the shore of a lake or sea, and by rapid currents. Perhaps, again, the brick clays, which are often mingled with these sands, were dropped, like the mud in the pond, in deeper water farther from the shore, and certainly in stilt water. But more. Suppose once more, then, that looking and watching a pond being cleared out, under the lowest layer of mud, you found–as you would find in any of those magnificent reservoirs so common in the Lancashire hills–a layer of vegetable soil, with grass and brushwood rooted in it. What would you say but: The pond has not been always full. It has at some time or other been dry enough to let a whole copse grow up inside it?

And if you found–as you will actually find along some English shores–under the sand hills, perhaps a bed of earth with shells and bones; under that a bed of peat; under that one of blue silt; under that a buried forest, with the trees upright and rooted; under that another layer of blue silt full of roots and vegetable fibre; perhaps under that again another old land surface with trees again growing in it; and under all the main bottom clay of the district–what would common sense tell you? I leave you to discover for yourselves. It certainly would not tell you that those trees were thrust in there by a violent convulsion, or that all those layers were deposited there in a few days, or even a few years; and you might safely indulge in speculations about the antiquity of the aestuary, and the changes which it has undergone, with which I will not frighten you at present.

It will be fair reasoning to argue thus. You may not be always right in your conclusion, but still you will be trying fairly to explain the unknown by the known.

But have Rain and Rivers alone made the soil?

How very much they have done toward making it you will be able to judge for yourselves, if you will read the sixth chapter of Sir Charles Lyell’s new “Elements of Geology,” or the first hundred pages of that admirable book, De la Beche’s “Geological Observer;” and last, but not least, a very clever little book called “Rain and Rivers,” by Colonel George Greenwood.

But though rain, like rivers, is a carrier of soil, it is more. It is a maker of soil, likewise; and by it mainly the soil of an upland field is made, whether it be carried down to the sea or not.

If you will look into any quarry you will see that however compact the rock may be a few feet below the surface, it becomes, in almost every case, rotten and broken up as it nears the upper soil, till you often cannot tell where the rock ends and the soil begins.

Now this change has been produced by rain. First, mechanically, by rain in the shape of ice. The winter rain gets into the ground, and does by the rock what it has done by the stones of many an old building. It sinks into the porous stone, freezes there, expands in freezing, and splits and peels the stone with a force which is slowly but surely crumbling the whole of Northern Europe and America to powder.

Do you doubt me? I say nothing but what you can judge of yourselves. The next time you go up any mountain, look at the loose broken stones with which the top is coated, just underneath the turf. What has broken them up but frost? Look again, as stronger proof, at the talus of broken stones–screes, as they call them in Scotland; rattles, as we call them in Devon–which lie along the base of many mountain cliffs. What has brought them down but frost? If you ask the country folk they will tell you whether I am right or not. If you go thither, not in the summer, but just after the winter’s frost, you will see for yourselves, by the fresh frost-crop of newly-broken bits, that I am right. Possibly you may find me to be even more right than is desirable, by having a few angular stones, from the size of your head to that of your body, hurled at you by the frost- giants up above. If you go to the Alps at certain seasons, and hear the thunder of the falling rocks, and see their long lines–moraines, as they are called–sliding slowly down upon the surface of the glacier, then you will be ready to believe the geologist who tells you that frost, and probably frost alone, has hewn out such a peak as the Matterhorn from some vast table-land; and is hewing it down still, winter after winter, till some day, where the snow Alps now stand, there shall be rolling uplands of rich cultivable soil.

So much for the mechanical action of rain, in the shape of ice. Now a few words on its chemical action.

Rain water is seldom pure. It carries in it carbonic acid; and that acid, beating in shower after shower against the face of a cliff– especially if it be a limestone cliff–weathers the rock chemically; changing (in case of limestone) the insoluble carbonate of lime into a soluble bicarbonate, and carrying that away in water, which, however clear, is still hard. Hard water is usually water which has invisible lime in it; there are from ten to fifteen grains and more of lime in every gallon of limestone water. I leave you to calculate the enormous weight of lime which must be so carried down to the sea every year by a single limestone or chalk brook. You can calculate it, if you like, by ascertaining the weight of lime in each gallon, and the average quantity of water which comes down the stream in a day; and when your sum is done, you will be astonished to find it one not of many pounds, but probably of many tons, of solid lime, which you never suspected or missed from the hills around. Again, by the time the rain has sunk through the soil, it is still less pure. It carries with it not only carbonic acid, but acids produced by decaying vegetables–by the roots of the grasses and trees which grow above; and they dissolve the cement of the rock by chemical action, especially if the cement be lime or iron. You may see this for yourselves, again and again. You may see how the root of a tree, penetrating the earth, discolours the soil with which it is in contact. You may see how the whole rock, just below the soil, has often changed in colour from the compact rock below, if the soil be covered with a dense layer of peat or growing vegetables.

But there is another force at work, and quite as powerful as rain and rivers, making the soil of alluvial flats. Perhaps it has helped, likewise, to make the soil of all the lowlands in these isles–and that is, the waves of the sea.

If you ever go to Parkgate, in Cheshire, try if you cannot learn there a little geology.

Walk beyond the town. You find the shore protected for a long way by a sea-wall, lest it should be eaten away by the waves. What the force of those waves can be, even on that sheltered coast, you may judge–at least you could have judged this time last year–by the masses of masonry torn from their iron clampings during the gale of three winters since. Look steadily at those rolled blocks, those twisted stanchions, if they are there still; and then ask yourselves- -it will be fair reasoning from the known to the unknown–What effect must such wave-power as that have had beating and breaking for thousands of years along the western coasts of England, Scotland, Ireland? It must have eaten up thousands of acres–whole shires, may be, ere now. Its teeth are strong enough, and it knows neither rest nor pity, the cruel hungry sea. Give it but time enough, and what would it not eat up? It would eat up, in the course of ages, all the dry land of this planet, were it not baffled by another counteracting force, of which I shall speak hereafter.

As you go on beyond the sea-wall, you find what it is eating up. The whole low cliff is going visibly. But whither is it going? To form new soil in the aestuary. Now you will not wonder how old harbours so often become silted up. The sea has washed the land into them. But more, the sea-currents do not allow the sands of the aestuary to escape freely out to sea. They pile it up in shifting sand-banks about the mouth of the aestuary. The prevailing sea-winds, from whatever quarter, catch up the sand, and roll it up into sand-hills. Those sand-hills are again eaten down by the sea, and mixed with the mud of the tide-flats, and so is formed a mingled soil, partly of clayey mud, partly of sand; such a soil as stretches over the greater part of all our lowlands.

Now, why should not that soil, whether in England or in Scotland, have been made by the same means as that of every aestuary.

You find over great tracts of East Scotland, Lancashire, Norfolk, etc., pure loose sand just beneath the surface, which looks as if it was blown sand from a beach. Is it not reasonable to suppose that it is? You find rising out of many lowlands, crags which look exactly like old sea-cliffs eaten by the waves, from the base of which the waters have gone back. Why should not those crags be old sea-cliffs? Why should we not, following our rule of explaining the unknown by the known, assume that such they are till someone gives us a sound proof that they are not; and say–These great plains of England and Scotland were probably once covered by a shallow sea, and their soils made as the soil of any tide-flat is being made now?

But you may say, and most reasonably “The tide-flats are just at the sea-level. The whole of the lowland is many feet above the sea; it must therefore have been raised out of the sea, according to your theory: and what proofs have you of that?”

Well, that is a question both grand and deep, on which I shall not enter yet; but meanwhile, to satisfy you that I wish to play fair with you, I ask you to believe nothing but what you can prove for yourselves. Let me ask you this: suppose that you had proof positive that I had fallen into the river in the morning; would not your meeting me in the evening be also proof positive that somehow or other I had in the course of the day got out of the river? I think you will accept that logic as sound.

Now if I can give you proof positive, proof which you can see with your own eyes, and handle with your own hands, and alas! often feel but too keenly with your own feet, that the whole of the lowlands were once beneath the sea; then will it not be certain that, somehow or other, they must have been raised out of the sea again?

And that I propose to do in my next paper, when I speak of the pebbles in the street.

Meanwhile I wish you to face fairly the truly grand idea, which all I have said tends to prove true–that all the soil we see is made by the destruction of older soils, whether soft as clay, or hard as rock; that rain, rivers, and seas are perpetually melting and grinding up old land, to compose new land out of it; and that it must have been doing so, as long as rain, rivers, and seas have existed. “But how did the first land of all get made?” I can only reply: A natural question: but we can only answer that, by working from the known to the unknown. While we are finding out how these later lands were made and unmade, we may stumble on some hints as to how the first primeval continents rose out of the bosom of the sea.

And thus I end this paper. I trust it has not been intolerably dull. But I wanted at starting to show my readers something of the right way of finding out truth on this and perhaps on all subjects; to make some simple appeals to your common sense; and to get you to accept some plain rules founded on common sense, which will be of infinite use to both you and me in my future papers.

I hope, meanwhile, that you will agree with me, that there is plenty of geological matter to be seen and thought over in the neighbourhood of any town.

Be sure, that wherever there is a river, even a drain; and a stone quarry, or even a roadside bank; much more where there is a sea, or a tidal aestuary, there is geology enough to be learnt, to explain the greater part of the making of all the continents on the globe.


If you, dear reader, dwell in any northern town, you will almost certainly see paving courts and alleys, and sometimes–to the discomfort of your feet–whole streets, or set up as bournestones at corners, or laid in heaps to be broken up for road-metal, certain round pebbles, usually dark brown or speckled gray, and exceedingly tough and hard. Some of them will be very large–boulders of several feet in diameter. If you move from town to town, from the north of Scotland as far down as Essex on the east, or as far down as Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton (at least) on the west, you will still find these pebbles, but fewer and smaller as you go south. It matters not what the rocks and soils of the country round may be. However much they may differ, these pebbles will be, on the whole, the same everywhere.

But if your town be south of the valley of the Thames, you will find, as far as I am aware, no such pebbles there. The gravels round you will be made up entirely of rolled chalk flints, and bits of beds immediately above or below the chalk. The blocks of “Sarsden” sandstone–those of which Stonehenge is built–and the “plum-pudding stones” which are sometimes found with them, have no kindred with the northern pebbles. They belong to beds above the chalk.

Now if, seeing such pebbles about your town, you inquire, like a sensible person who wishes to understand something of the spot on which he lives, whence they come, you will be shown either a gravel- pit or a clay-pit. In the gravel the pebbles and boulders lie mixed with sand, as they do in the railway cutting just south of Shrewsbury; or in huge mounds of fine sweet earth, as they do in the gorge of the Tay about Dunkeld, and all the way up Strathmore, where they form long grassy mounds–tomauns as they call them in some parts of Scotland–askers as they call them in Ireland. These mounds, with their sweet fresh turf rising out of heather and bog, were tenanted– so Scottish children used to believe–by fairies. He that was lucky might hear inside them fairy music, and, the jingling of the fairy horses’ trappings. But woe to him if he fell asleep upon the mound, for he would be spirited away into fairyland for seven years, which would seem to him but one day. A strange fancy; yet not so strange as the actual truth as to what these mounds are, and how they came into their places.

Or again, you might find that your town’s pebbles and boulders came out of a pit of clay, in which they were stuck, without any order or bedding, like plums and raisins in a pudding. This clay goes usually by the name of boulder-clay. You would see such near any town in Cheshire and Lancashire; or along Leith shore, near Edinburgh; or, to give one more instance out of hundreds, along the coast at Scarborough. If you walk along the shore southward of that town, you will see, in the gullies of the cliff, great beds of sticky clay, stuffed full of bits of every rock between the Lake mountains and Scarborough, from rounded pebbles of most ancient rock down to great angular fragments of ironstone and coal. There, as elsewhere, the great majority of the pebbles have nothing to do with the rock on which the clay happens to lie, but have come, some of them, from places many miles away.

Now if we find spread over a low land pebbles composed of rocks which are only found in certain high lands, is it not an act of common sense to say–These pebbles have come from the highlands? And if the pebbles are rounded, while the rocks like them in the highlands always break off in angular shapes, is it not, again, an act of mere common sense to say–These pebbles were once angular, and have been rubbed round, either in getting hither or before they started hither?

Does all this seem to you mere truism, my dear reader? If so, I am sincerely glad to hear it. It was not so very long ago that such arguments would have been considered not only no truisms, but not even common sense.

But to return, let us take, as an example, a sample of these boulder clay pebbles from the neighbourhood of Liverpool and Birkenhead, made by Mr. De Rance, the government geological surveyor:

Granite, greenstone, felspar porphyry, felstone, quartz rock (all igneous rocks, that is, either formed by, or altered by volcanic heat, and almost all found in the Lake mountains), 37 per cent.

Silurian grits (the common stones of the Lake mountains deposited by water), 43 per cent.

Ironstone, 1 per cent.

Carboniferous limestone, 5 per cent.

Permian or Triassic sandstones, i.e. rocks immediately round Liverpool, 12 per cent.

Now, does not this sample show, as far as human common sense can be depended on, that the great majority of these stones come from the Lake mountains, sixty or seventy miles north of Liverpool? I think your common sense will tell you that these pebbles are not mere concretions; that is, formed out of the substance of the clay after it was deposited. The least knowledge of mineralogy would prove that. But, even if you are no mineralogist, common sense will tell you, that if they were all concreted out of the same clay, it is most likely that they would be all of the same kind, and not of a dozen or more different kinds. Common sense will tell you, also, that if they were all concreted out of the same clay, it is a most extraordinary coincidence, indeed one too strange to be believed, if any less strange explanation can be found–that they should have taken the composition of different rocks which are found all together in one group of mountains to the northward. You will surely say–If this be granite, it has most probably come from a granite mountain; if this be grit, from a grit-stone mountain, and so on with the whole list. Why–are we to go out of our way to seek improbable explanations, when there is a probable one staring us in the face?

Next–and this is well worth your notice–if you will examine the pebbles carefully, especially the larger ones, you will find that they are not only more or less rounded, but often scratched; and often, too, in more than one direction, two or even three sets of scratches crossing each other; marked, as a cat marks an elder stem when she sharpens her claws upon it; and that these scratches have not been made by the quarrymen’s tools, but are old marks which exist–as you may easily prove for yourself–while the stone is still lying in its bed of clay. Would it not be an act of mere common sense to say–These scratches have been made by the sharp points of other stones which have rubbed against the pebbles somewhere, and somewhen, with great force?

So far so good. The next question is–How did these stones get into the clay? If we can discover that, we may also discover how they wore rounded and scratched. We must find a theory which will answer our question; and one which, as Professor Huxley would say, “will go on all-fours,” that is, will explain all the facts of the case, and not only a few of them.

What, then, brought the stones?

We cannot, I think, answer that question, as some have tried to answer it, by saying that they were brought by Noah’s flood. For it is clear, that very violent currents of water would be needed to carry boulders, some of them weighing many tons, for many miles. Now Scripture says nothing of any such violent currents; and we have no right to put currents, or any other imagined facts, into Scripture out of our own heads, and then argue from them as if not we, but the text of Scripture had asserted their existence.

But still, they may have been rolled hither by water. That theory certainly would explain their being rounded; though not their being scratched. But it will not explain their being found in the clay.

Recollect what I said in my first paper: that water drops its pebbles and coarser particles first, while it carries the fine clayey mud onward in solution, and only drops it when the water becomes still. Now currents of such tremendous violence as to carry these boulder stones onward, would have carried the mud for many miles farther still; and we should find the boulders, not in clay, but lying loose together, probably on a hard rock bottom, scoured clean by the current. That is what we find in the beds of streams; that is just what we do not find in this case.

But the boulders may have been brought by a current, and then the water may have become still, and the clay settled quietly round them. What? Under them as well as over them? On that theory also we should find them only at the bottom of the clay. As it is, we find them scattered anywhere and everywhere through it, from top to bottom. So that theory will not do. Indeed, no theory will do which supposes them to have been brought by water alone.

Try yourself, dear reader, and make experiments, with running water, pebbles, and mud. If you try for seven years, I believe, you will never contrive to make your pebbles lie about in your mud, as they lie about in every pit in the boulder clay.

Well then, there we are at fault, it seems. We have no explanation drawn from known facts which will do–unless we are to suppose, which I don’t think you will do, that stones, clay, and all were blown hither along the surface of the ground, by primeval hurricanes, ten times worse than those of the West Indies, which certainly will roll a cannon a few yards, but cannot, surely, roll a boulder stone a hundred miles.

Now, suppose that there was a force, an agent, known–luckily for you, not to you–but known too well to sailors and travellers; a force which is at work over the vast sheets of land at both the north and south poles; at work, too, on every high mountain range in the world, and therefore a very common natural force; and suppose that this force would explain all the facts, namely–

How the stones got here;

How they were scratched and rounded;

How they were imbedded in clay;

because it is notoriously, and before men’s eyes now, carrying great stones hundreds of miles, and scratching and rounding them also; carrying vast deposits of mud, too, and mixing up mud and stones just as we see them in the brick-pits,–Would not our common sense have a right to try that explanation?–to suspect that this force, which we do not see at work in Britain now, may have been at work here ages since? That would at least be reasoning from the known to the unknown. What state of things, then, do we find among the highest mountains; and over whole countries which, though not lofty, lie far enough north or south to be permanently covered with ice?

We find, first, an ice-cap or ice-sheet, fed by the winter’s snows, stretching over the higher land, and crawling downward and outward by its own weight, along the valleys, as glaciers.

We find underneath the glaciers, first a moraine profonde, consisting of the boulders and gravel, and earth, which the glacier has ground off the hillsides, and is carrying down with it.

These stones, of course, grind, scratch, and polish each other; and in like wise grind, scratch, and polish the rock over which they pass, under the enormous weight of the superincumbent ice.

We find also, issuing from under each glacier a stream, carrying the finest mud, the result of the grinding of the boulders against each other and the glacier.

We find, moreover, on the surface of the glaciers, moraines superieures–long lines of stones and dirt which had fallen from neighbouring cliffs, and are now travelling downward with the glaciers.

Their fate, if the glacier ends on land, is what was to be expected. The stones from above the glacier fall over the ice-cliff at its end, to mingle with those thrown out from underneath the glacier, and form huge banks of boulders, called terminal moraines, while the mud runs off, as all who have seen glaciers know, in a turbid torrent.

Their fate, again, is what was to be expected if the glacier ends, as it commonly does in Arctic regions, in the sea. The ice grows out to sea-ward for more than a mile sometimes, about one-eighth of it being above water, and seven-eighths below, so that an ice-cliff one hundred feet high may project into water eight hundred feet deep. At last, when it gets out of its depth, the buoyancy of the water breaks it off in icebergs, which float away, at the mercy of tides and currents, often grounding again in shallower water, and ploughing the sea-bottom as they drag along it. These bergs carry stones and dirt, often in large quantities; so that, whenever a berg melts or capsizes, it strews its burden confusedly about the sea-floor.

Meanwhile the fine mud which is flowing out from under the ice goes out to sea likewise, colouring the water far out, and then subsiding as a soft tenacious ooze, in which the stones brought out by the ice are imbedded. And this ooze–so those who have examined it assert– cannot be distinguished from the brick-clay, or fossiliferous boulder-clay, so common in the North. A very illustrious Scandinavian explorer, visiting Edinburgh, declared, as soon as he saw the sections of boulder-clay exhibited near that city, that this was the very substance which he saw forming in the Spitzbergen ice- fiords. {3}

I have put these facts as simply and baldly as I can, in order that the reader may look steadily at them, without having his attention drawn off, or his fancy excited, by their real poetry and grandeur. Indeed, it would have been an impertinence to have done otherwise; for I have never seen a live glacier, by land or sea, though I have seen many a dead one. And the public has had the opportunity, lately, of reading so many delightful books about “peaks, passes, and glaciers,” that I am bound to suppose that many of my readers know as much, or more, about them than I do.

But let us go a step farther; and, bearing in our minds what live glaciers are like, let us imagine what a dead glacier would be like; a glacier, that is, which had melted, and left nothing but its skeleton of stones and dirt.

We should find the faces of the rock scored and polished, generally in lines pointing down the valleys, or at least outward from the centre of the highlands, and polished and scored most in their upland or weather sides. We should find blocks of rock left behind, and perched about on other rocks of a different kind. We should find in the valleys the old moraines left as vast deposits of boulder and shingle, which would be in time sawn through and sorted over by the rivers. And if the sea-bottom outside were upheaved, and became dry land, we should find on it the remains of the mud from under the glacier, stuck full of stones and boulders iceberg-dropped. This mud would be often very irregularly bedded; for it would have been disturbed by the ploughing of the icebergs, and mixed here and there with dirt which had fallen from them. Moreover, as the sea became shallower and the mud-beds got awash one after the other, they would be torn about, re-sifted, and re-shaped by currents and by tides, and mixed with shore-sand ground out of shingle-beach, thus making confusion worse confounded. A few shells, of an Arctic or northern type, would be found in it here and there. Some would have lived near those later beaches, some in deeper water in the ancient ooze, wherever the iceberg had left it in peace long enough for sea-animals to colonise and breed in it. But the general appearance of the dried sea-bottom would be a dreary and lifeless waste of sands, gravels, loose boulders, and boulder-bearing clays; and wherever a boss of bare rock still stood up, it would be found ground down, and probably polished and scored by the ponderous icebergs which had lumbered over it in their passage out to sea.

In a word, it would look exactly as vast tracts of the English, Scotch, and Irish lowlands must have looked before returning vegetation coated their dreary sands and clays with a layer of brown vegetable soil.

Thus, and I believe thus only, can we explain the facts connected with these boulder pebbles. No agent known on earth can have stuck them in the clay, save ice, which is known to do so still elsewhere.

No known agent can have scratched them as they are scratched, save ice, which is known to do so still elsewhere.

No known agent–certainly not, in my opinion, the existing rivers– can have accumulated the vast beds of boulders which lie along the course of certain northern rivers; notably along the Dee about Aboyne–save ice bearing them slowly down from the distant summits of the Grampians.

No known agent, save ice, can have produced those rounded, and polished, and scored, and fluted rochers moutonnes “sheep-backed rocks”–so common in the Lake district; so common, too, in Snowdon, especially between the two lakes of Llanberis; common in Kerry; to be seen anywhere, as far as I have ascertained, around the Scotch Highlands, where the turf is cleared away from an unweathered surface of the rock, in the direction in which a glacier would have pressed against it had one been there. Where these polishings and scorings are found in narrow glens, it is, no doubt, an open question whether some of them may not be the work of water. But nothing but the action of ice can have produced what I have seen in land-locked and quiet fords in Kerry–ice-flutings in polished rocks below high-water mark, so large that I could lie down in one of them. Nothing but the action of ice could produce what may be seen in any of our mountains- -whole sheets of rock ground down into rounded flats, irrespective of the lie of the beds, not in valleys, but on the brows and summits of mountains, often ending abruptly at the edge of some sudden cliff, where the true work of water, in the shape of rain and frost, is actually destroying the previous work of ice, and fulfilling the rule laid down (I think by Professor Geikie in his delightful book on Scotch scenery as influenced by its geology), that ice planes down into flats, while water saws out into crags and gullies; and that the rain and frost are even now restoring Scotch scenery to something of that ruggedness and picturesqueness which it must have lost when it lay, like Greenland, under the indiscriminating grinding of a heavy sheet of ice.

Lastly; no known agent, save ice, will explain those perched boulders, composed of ancient hard rocks, which may be seen in so many parts of these islands and of the Continent. No water power could have lifted those stones, and tossed them up high and dry on mountain ridges and promontories, upon rocks of a totally different kind. Some of my readers surely recollect Wordsworth’s noble lines about these mysterious wanderers, of which he had seen many a one about his native hills:

As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie Couched on the bald top of an eminence,
Wonder to all who do the same espy
By what means it could thither come, and whence; So that it seems a thing endued with sense: Like a sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself.

Yes; but the next time you see such a stone, believe that the wonder has been solved, and found to be, like most wonders in Nature, more wonderful than we guessed it to be. It is not a sea-beast which has crawled forth, but an ice-beast which has been left behind; lifted up thither by the ice, as surely as the famous Pierre-a-bot, forty feet in diameter, and hundreds of boulders more, almost as large as cottages, have been carried by ice from the distant Alps right across the lake of Neufchatel, and stranded on the slopes of the Jura, nine hundred feet above the lake. {4}

Thus, I think, we have accounted for facts enough to make it probable that Britain was once covered partly by an ice-sheet, as Greenland is now, and partly, perhaps, by an icy sea. But, to make assurance more sure, let us look for new facts, and try whether our ice-dream will account for them also. Let us investigate our case as a good medical man does, by “verifying his first induction.”

He says: At the first glance, I can see symptoms a, b, c. It is therefore probable that my patient has got complaint A. But if he has he ought to have symptom d also. If I find that, my guess will be yet more probable. He ought also to have symptom e, and so forth; and as I find successively each of these symptoms which are proper to A, my first guess will become more and more probable, till it reaches practical certainty.

Now let us do the same, and say–If this strange dream be true, and the lowlands of the North were once under an icy sea, ought we not to find sea-shells in their sands and clays? Not abundantly, of course. We can understand that the sea-animals would be too rapidly covered up in mud, and too much disturbed by icebergs and boulders, to be very abundant. But still, some should surely be found here and there.

Doubtless; and if my northern-town readers will search the boulder- clay pits near them, they will most probably find a few shells, if not in the clay itself, yet in sand-beds mixed with them, and probably underlying them. And this is a notable fact, that the more species of shells they find, the more they will find–if they work out their names from any good book of conchology–of a northern type; of shells which notoriously, at this day, inhabit the colder seas.

It is impossible for me here to enter at length on a subject on which a whole literature has been already written. Those who wish to study it may find all that they need know, and more, in Lyell’s “Student’s Elements of Geology,” and in chapter xii. of his “Antiquity of Man.” They will find that if the evidence of scientific conchologists be worth anything, the period can be pointed out in the strata, though not of course in time, at which these seas began to grow colder, and southern and Mediterranean shells to disappear, their places being taken by shells of a temperate, and at last of an Arctic climate; which last have since retreated either toward their native North, or into cold water at great depths. From Essex across to Wales, from Wales to the aestuary of the Clyde, this fact has been verified again and again. And in the search for these shells, a fresh fact, and a most startling one, was discovered. They are to be found not only in the clay of the lowlands, but at considerable heights up the hills, showing that, at some time or other, these hills have been submerged beneath the sea.

Let me give one example, which any tourist into Wales may see for himself. Moel Tryfaen is a mountain over Carnarvon. Now perched on the side of that mountain, fourteen hundred feet above the present sea-level, is an ancient sea-beach, five-and-thirty feet thick, lying on great ice-scratched boulders, which again lie on the mountain slates. It was discovered by the late Mr. Trimmer, now, alas! lost to Geology. Out of that beach fifty-seven different species of shells have been taken; eleven of them are now exclusively Arctic, and not found in our seas; four of them are still common to the Arctic seas and to our own; and almost all the rest are northern shells.

Fourteen hundred feet above the present sea: and that, it must be understood, is not the greatest height at which such shells may be found hereafter. For, according to Professor Ramsay, drift of the same kind as that on Moel Tryfaen is found at a height of two thousand three hundred feet.

Now I ask my readers to use their common sense over this astounding fact–which, after all, is only one among hundreds; to let (as Mr. Matthew Arnold would well say) their “thought play freely” about it; and consider for themselves what those shells must mean. I say not may, but must, unless we are to believe in a “Deus quidam deceptor,” in a God who puts shells upon mountain-sides only to befool honest human beings, and gives men intellects which are worthless for even the simplest work. Those shells must mean that that mountain, and therefore the mountains round it, must have been once fourteen hundred feet at least lower than they are now. That the sea in which they were sunk was far colder than now. That icebergs brought and dropped boulders round their flanks. That upon those boulders a sea- beach formed, and that dead shells were beaten into it from a sea- bottom close by. That, and no less, Moel Tryfaen must mean.

But it must mean, also, a length of time which has been well called “appalling.” A length of time sufficient to let the mountain sink into the sea. Then length of time enough to enable those Arctic shells to crawl down from the northward, settle, and propagate themselves generation after generation; then length of time enough to uplift their dead remains, and the beach, and the boulders, and all Snowdonia, fourteen hundred feet into the air. And if anyone should object that the last upheaval may have been effected suddenly by a few tremendous earthquakes, we must answer–We have no proof of it. Earthquakes upheave lands now only by slight and intermittent upward pulses; nay, some lands we know to rise without any earthquake pulses, but by simple, slow, upward swelling of a few feet in a century; and we have no reason, and therefore no right, to suppose that Snowdonia was upheaved by any means or at any rate which we do not witness now; and therefore we are bound to allow, not only that there was a past “age of ice,” but that that age was one of altogether enormous duration.

But meanwhile some of you, I presume, will be ready to cry–Stop! It may be our own weakness; but you are really going on too fast and too far for our small imaginations. Have you not played with us, as well as argued with us, till you have inveigled us step by step into a conclusion which we cannot and will not believe? That all this land should have been sunk beneath an icy sea? That Britain should have been as Greenland is now? We can’t believe it, and we won’t.

If you say so, like stout common-sense Britons, who have a wholesome dread of being taken in with fine words and wild speculations, I assure you I shall not laugh at you even in private. On the contrary, I shall say–what I am sure every scientific man will say– So much the better. That is the sort of audience which we want, if we are teaching natural science. We do not want haste, enthusiasm, gobe-moucherie, as the French call it, which is agape to snap up any new and vast fancy, just because it is new and vast. We want our readers to be slow, suspicious, conservative, ready to “gib,” as we say of a horse, and refuse the collar up a steep place, saying–I must stop and think. I don’t like the look of the path ahead of me. It seems an ugly place to get up. I don’t know this road, and I shall not hurry over it. I must go back a few steps, and make sure. I must see whether it is the right road; whether there are not other roads, a dozen of them perhaps, which would do as well and better than this.

This is the temper which finds out truth, slowly, but once and for all; and I shall be glad, not sorry, to see it in my readers.

And I am bound to say that it has been by that temper that this theory has been worked out, and the existence of this past age of ice, or glacial epoch, has been discovered, through many mistakes, many corrections, and many changes of opinion about details, for nearly forty years of hard work, by many men, in many lands.

As a very humble student of this subject, I may say that I have been looking these facts in the face earnestly enough for more than twenty years, and that I am about as certain that they can only be explained by ice, as I am that my having got home by rail can only be explained by steam.

But I think I know what startles you. It is the being asked to believe in such an enormous change in climate, and in the height of the land above the sea. Well–it is very astonishing, appalling–all but incredible, if we had not the facts to prove it. But of the facts there can be no doubt. There can be no doubt that the climate of this northern hemisphere has changed enormously more than once. There can be no doubt that the distribution of land and water, the shape and size of its continents and seas, have changed again and again. There can be no doubt that, for instance, long before the age of ice, the whole North of Europe was much warmer than it is now.

Take Greenland, for instance. Disco Island lies in Baffin’s Bay, off the west coast of Greenland, in latitude 70 degrees, far within the Arctic circle. Now there certain strata of rock, older than the ice, have not been destroyed by the grinding of the ice-cap; and they are full of fossil plants. But of what kind of plants? Of the same families as now grow in the warmer parts of the United States. Even a tulip-tree has been found among them. Now how is this to be explained?

Either we must say that the climate of Greenland was then so much warmer than now, that it had summers probably as hot as those of New York; or we must say that these leaves and stems were floated thither from the United States. But if we say the latter, we must allow a change in the shape of the land which is enormous. For nothing now can float northward from the United States into Baffin’s Bay. The polar current sets OUT of Baffin’s Bay southward, bringing icebergs down, not leaves up, through Davis’s Straits. And in any case we must allow that the hills of Disco Island were then the bottom of a sea: or how would the leaves have been deposited in them at all?

So much for the change of climate and land which can be proved to have gone on in Greenland. It has become colder. Why should it not some day become warmer again?

Now for England. It can be proved, as far as common sense can prove anything, that England was, before the age of ice, much warmer than it is now, and grew gradually cooler and cooler, just as, while the age of ice was dying out, it grew warmer again.

Now what proof is there of that?

This. Underneath London–as, I dare say, many of you know–there lies four or five hundred feet of clay. But not ice-clay. Anything but that, as you will see. It belongs to a formation late (geologically speaking), but somewhat older than those Disco Island beds.

And what sort of fossils do we find in it?

In the first place, the shells, which are abundant, are tropical– Nautili, Cones, and such like. And more, fruits and seeds are found in it, especially at the Isle of Sheppey. And what are they? Fruits of Nipa palms, a form only found now at river-mouths in Eastern India and the Indian islands; Anona-seeds; gourd-seeds; Acacia fruits–all tropical again; and Proteaceous plants too–of an Australian type. Surely your common sense would hint to you, that this London clay must be mud laid down off the mouth of a tropical river. But your common sense would be all but certain of that, when you found, as you would find, the teeth and bones of crocodiles and turtles, who come to land, remember, to lay their eggs; the bones, too, of large mammals, allied to the tapir of India and South America, and the water-hog of the Cape. If all this does not mean that there was once a tropic climate and a tropic river running into some sea or other where London now stands, I must give up common sense and reason as deceitful and useless faculties; and believe nothing, not even the evidence of my own senses.

And now, have I, or have I not, fulfilled the promise which I made– rashly, I dare say some of you thought–in my first paper? Have I, or have I not, made you prove to yourself, by your own common sense, that the lowlands of Britain were underneath the sea in the days in which these pebbles and boulders were laid down over your plains? Nay, have we not proved more? Have we not found that that old sea was an icy sea? Have we not wandered on, step by step, into a whole true fairyland of wonders? to a time when all England, Scotland, and Ireland were as Greenland is now? when mud streams have rushed down from under glaciers on to a cold sea-bottom, when “ice, mast high, came floating by, as green as emerald?” when Snowdon was sunk for at least fourteen hundred feet of its height? when (as I could prove to you, had I time) the peaks of the highest Cumberland and Scotch mountains alone stood out, as islets in a frozen sea?

We want to get an answer to one strange question, and we have found a group of questions stranger still, and got them answered too. But so it is always in science. We know not what we shall discover. But this, at least, we know, that it will be far more wonderful than we had dreamed. The scientific explorer is always like Saul of old, who set out simply to find his father’s asses, and found them–and a kingdom besides.

I should have liked to have told you more about this bygone age of ice. I should have liked to say something to you on the curious question–which is still an open one–whether there were not two ages of ice; whether the climate here did not, after perhaps thousands of years of Arctic cold, soften somewhat for a while–a few thousand years, perhaps–and then harden again into a second age of ice, somewhat less severe, probably, than the first. I should have liked to have hinted at the probable causes of this change–indeed, of the age of ice altogether–whether it was caused by a change in the distribution of land and water, or by change in the height and size of these islands, which made them large enough, and high enough, to carry a sheet of eternal snow inland; or whether, finally, the age of ice was caused by an actual change in the position of the whole planet with regard to its orbit round the sun–shifting at once the poles and the tropics; a deep question that latter, on which astronomers, whose business it is, are still at work, and on which, ere young folk are old, they will have discovered, I expect, some startling facts. On that last question, I, being no astronomer, cannot speak. But I should have liked to have said somewhat on matters on which I have knowledge enough, at least, to teach you how much there is to be learnt. I should have liked to tell the student of sea-animals–how the ice-age helps to explain, and is again explained by, the remarkable discoveries which Dr. Carpenter and Mr. Wyville Thompson have just made, in the deep-sea dredgings in the North Atlantic. I should have liked to tell the botanist somewhat of the pro-glacial flora–the plants which lived here before the ice, and lasted, some of them at least, through all those ages of fearful cold, and linger still on the summits of Snowdon, and the highest peaks of Cumberland and Scotland. I should have liked to have told the lovers of zoology about the animals which lived before the ice– of the mammoth, or woolly elephant; the woolly rhinoceros, the cave lion and bear, the reindeer, the musk oxen, the lemmings and the marmots which inhabited Britain till the ice drove them out southward, even into the South of France; and how as the ice retreated, and the climate became tolerable once more, some of them– the mammoth and rhinoceros, the bison, the lion, and many another mighty beast reoccupied our lowlands, at a time when the hippopotamus, at least in summer, ranged freely from Africa and Spain across what was then dry land between France and England, and fed by the side of animals which have long since retreated to Norway and to Canada. I should have liked to tell the archaeologist of the human beings–probably from their weapons and their habits–of the same race as the present Laplanders, who passed northward as the ice went back, following the wild reindeer herds from the South of France into our islands, which were no islands then, to be in their turn driven northward by stronger races from the east and south. But space presses, and I fear that I have written too much already.

At least, I have turned over for you a few grand and strange pages in the book of nature, and taught you, I hope, a key by which to decipher their hieroglyphics. At least, I have, I trust, taught you to look, as I do, with something of interest, even of awe, upon the pebbles in the street.


This is a large subject. For in the different towns of these islands, the walls are built of stones of almost every age, from the earliest to the latest; and the town-geologist may find a quite different problem to solve in the nearest wall, on moving from one town to another twenty miles off. All I can do, therefore, is to take one set of towns, in the walls of which one sort of stones is commonly found, and talk of them; taking care, of course, to choose a stone which is widely distributed. And such, I think, we can find in the so-called New Red sandstone, which, with its attendant marls, covers a vast tract–and that a rich and busy one–of England. From Hartlepool and the mouth of the Tees, down through Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire; over the manufacturing districts of central England; down the valley of the Severn; past Bristol and the Somersetshire flats to Torquay in South Devon; up north-westward through Shropshire and Cheshire; past Liverpool and northward through Lancashire; reappearing again, north of the Lake mountains, about Carlisle and the Scotch side of the Solway Frith, stretches the New Red sandstone plain, from under which everywhere the coal-bearing rocks rise as from a sea. It contains, in many places, excellent quarries of building-stone; the most famous of which, perhaps, are the well-known Runcorn quarries, near Liverpool, from which the old Romans brought the material for the walls and temples of ancient Chester, and from which the stone for the restoration of Chester Cathedral is being taken at this day. In some quarters, especially in the north-west of England, its soil is poor, because it is masked by that very boulder- clay of which I spoke in my last paper. But its rich red marls, wherever they come to the surface, are one of God’s most precious gifts to this favoured land. On them, one finds oneself at once in a garden; amid the noblest of timber, wheat, roots, grass which is green through the driest summers, and, in the western counties, cider-orchards laden with red and golden fruit. I know, throughout northern Europe, no such charming scenery, for quiet beauty and solid wealth, as that of the New Red marls; and if I wished to show a foreigner what England was, I should take him along them, from Yorkshire to South Devon, and say–There. Is not that a country worth living for,–and worth dying for if need be?

Another reason which I have for dealing with the New Red sandstone is this–that (as I said just now) over great tracts of England, especially about the manufacturing districts, the town-geologist will find it covered immediately by the boulder clay.

The townsman, finding this, would have a fair right to suppose that the clay was laid down immediately, or at least soon after, the sandstones or marls on which it lies; that as soon as the one had settled at the bottom of some old sea, the other settled on the top of it, in the same sea.

A fair and reasonable guess, which would in many cases, indeed in most, be quite true. But in this case it would be a mistake. The sandstone and marls are immensely older than the boulder-clay. They are, humanly speaking, some four or five worlds older.

What do I mean? This–that between the time when the one, and the time when the other, was made, the British Islands, and probably the whole continent of Europe, have changed four or five times; in shape; in height above the sea, or depth below it; in climate; in the kinds of plants and animals which have dwelt on them, or on their sea- bottoms. And surely it is not too strong a metaphor, to call such changes a change from an old world to a new one.

Mind. I do not say that these changes were sudden or violent. It is far more probable that they are only part and parcel of that vast but slow change which is going on everywhere over our whole globe. I think that will appear probable in the course of this paper. But that these changes have taken place, is my main thesis. The fact I assert; and I am bound to try and prove it. And in trying to do so, I shall no longer treat my readers, as I did in the first two papers, like children. I shall take for granted that they now understand something of the method by which geological problems are worked out; and can trust it, and me; and shall state boldly the conclusions of geologists, only giving proof where proof is specially needed.

Now you must understand that in England there are two great divisions of these New Red sandstones, “Trias,” as geologists call them. An upper, called in Germany Keuper, which consists, atop, of the rich red marl, below them, of sandstones, and of those vast deposits of rock-salt, which have been long worked, and worked to such good purpose, that a vast subsidence of land has just taken place near Nantwich in Cheshire; and serious fears are entertained lest the town itself may subside, to fill up the caverns below, from whence the salt has been quarried. Underneath these beds again are those which carry the building-stone of Runcorn. Now these beds altogether, in Cheshire, at least, are about 3,400 feet thick; and were not laid down in a year, or in a century either.

Below them lies a thousand feet of sandstones, known in Germany by the name of “Bunter,” from its mottled and spotted appearance. What lies under them again, does not concern us just now.

I said that the geologists called these beds the Trias; that is, the triple group. But as yet we have heard of only two parts of it. Where is the third?

Not here, but in Germany. There, between the Keuper above and the Bunter below, lies a great series of limestone beds, which, from the abundance of fossils which they contain, go by the name of Muschelkalk. A long epoch must therefore have intervened between the laying down of the Bunter and of the Keuper. And we have a trace of that long epoch, even in England. The Keuper lies, certainly, immediately on the Bunter; but not always “conformably” on it. That

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