One might naturally suppose that the science of the earth which lies at man's feet would at least have kept pace with the science of the distant stars. But perhaps the very obviousness of the phenomena delayed the study of the crust of the earth. It is the unattainable that allures and mystifies and enchants the developing mind. The proverbial child spurns its toys and cries for the moon.

So in those closing days of the eighteenth century, when astronomers had gone so far towards explaining the mysteries of the distant portions of the universe, we find a chaos of opinion regarding the structure and formation of the earth. Guesses were not wanting to explain the formation of the world, it is true, but, with one or two exceptions, these are bizarre indeed. One theory supposed the earth to have been at first a solid mass of ice, which became animated only after a comet had dashed against it. Other theories conceived the original globe as a mass of water, over which floated vapors containing the solid elements, which in due time were precipitated as a crust upon the waters. In a word, the various schemes supposed the original mass to have been ice, or water, or a conglomerate of water and solids, according to the random fancies of the theorists; and the final separation into land and water was conceived to have taken place in all the ways which fancy, quite unchecked by any tenable data, could invent.

Whatever important changes in the general character of the surface of the globe were conceived to have taken place since its creation were generally associated with the Mosaic: deluge, and the theories which attempted to explain this catastrophe were quite on a par with those which dealt with a remoter period of the earth's history. Some speculators, holding that the interior of the globe is a great abyss of waters, conceived that the crust had dropped into this chasm and had thus been inundated. Others held that the earth had originally revolved on a vertical axis, and that the sudden change to its present position bad caused the catastrophic shifting of its oceans. But perhaps the favorite theory was that which supposed a comet to have wandered near the earth, and in whirling about it to have carried the waters, through gravitation, in a vast tide over the continents.

Thus blindly groped the majority of eighteenth-century philosophers in their attempts to study what we now term geology. Deluded by the old deductive methods, they founded not a science, but the ghost of a science, as immaterial and as unlike anything in nature as any other phantom that could be conjured from the depths of the speculative imagination. And all the while the beckoning earth lay beneath the feet of these visionaries; but their eyes were fixed in air.

At last, however, there came a man who had the penetration to see that the phantom science of geology needed before all else a body corporeal, and who took to himself the task of supplying it. This was Dr. James Hutton, of Edinburgh, physician, farmer, and manufacturing chemist—patient, enthusiastic, level-headed devotee of science. Inspired by his love of chemistry to study the character of rocks and soils, Hutton had not gone far before the earth stood revealed to him in a new light. He saw, what generations of predecessors had blindly refused to see, that the face of nature everywhere, instead of being rigid and immutable, is perennially plastic, and year by year is undergoing metamorphic changes. The solidest rocks are day by day disintegrated slowly, but none the less surely, by wind and rain and frost, by mechanical attrition and chemical decomposition, to form the pulverized earth and clay. This soil is being swept away by perennial showers, and carried off to the oceans. The oceans themselves beat on their shores, and eat insidiously into the structure of sands and rocks. Everywhere, slowly but surely, the surface of the land is being worn away; its substance is being carried to burial in the seas.

Should this denudation continue long enough, thinks Hutton, the entire surface of the continents must be worn away. Should it be continued LONG ENOUGH! And with that thought there flashes on his mind an inspiring conception—the idea that solar time is long, indefinitely long. That seems a simple enough thought —almost a truism—to the twentieth-century mind; but it required genius to conceive it in the eighteenth. Hutton pondered it, grasped its full import, and made it the basis of his hypothesis, his "theory of the earth."


The hypothesis is this—that the observed changes of the surface of the earth, continued through indefinite lapses of time, must result in conveying all the land at last to the sea; in wearing continents away till the oceans overflow them. What then? Why, as the continents wear down, the oceans are filling up. Along their bottoms the detritus of wasted continents is deposited in strata, together with the bodies of marine animals and vegetables. Why might not this debris solidify to form layers of rocks—the basis of new continents? Why not, indeed?

But have we any proof that such formation of rocks in an ocean-bed has, in fact, occurred? To be sure we have. It is furnished by every bed of limestone, every outcropping fragment of fossil-bearing rock, every stratified cliff. How else than through such formation in an ocean-bed came these rocks to be stratified? How else came they to contain the shells of once living organisms imbedded in their depths? The ancients, finding fossil shells imbedded in the rocks, explained them as mere freaks of "nature and the stars." Less superstitious generations had repudiated this explanation, but had failed to give a tenable solution of the mystery. To Hutton it is a mystery no longer. To him it seems clear that the basis of the present continents was laid in ancient sea-beds, formed of the detritus of continents yet more ancient.

But two links are still wanting to complete the chain of Hutton's hypothesis. Through what agency has the ooze of the ocean-bed been transformed into solid rock? and through what agency has this rock been lifted above the surface of the water to form new continents? Hutton looks about him for a clew, and soon he finds it. Everywhere about us there are outcropping rocks that are not stratified, but which give evidence to the observant eye of having once been in a molten state. Different minerals are mixed together; pebbles are scattered through masses of rock like plums in a pudding; irregular crevices in otherwise solid masses of rock—so-called veinings—are seen to be filled with equally solid granite of a different variety, which can have gotten there in no conceivable way, so Hutton thinks, but by running in while molten, as liquid metal is run into the moulds of the founder. Even the stratified rocks, though they seemingly have not been melted, give evidence in some instances of having been subjected to the action of heat. Marble, for example, is clearly nothing but calcined limestone.

With such evidence before him, Hutton is at no loss to complete his hypothesis. The agency which has solidified the ocean-beds, he says, is subterranean heat. The same agency, acting excessively, has produced volcanic cataclysms, upheaving ocean-beds to form continents. The rugged and uneven surfaces of mountains, the tilted and broken character of stratified rocks everywhere, are the standing witnesses of these gigantic upheavals.

And with this the imagined cycle is complete. The continents, worn away and carried to the sea by the action of the elements, have been made over into rocks again in the ocean-beds, and then raised once more into continents. And this massive cycle, In Hutton's scheme, is supposed to have occurred not once only, but over and over again, times without number. In this unique view ours is indeed a world without beginning and without end; its continents have been making and unmaking in endless series since time began.

Hutton formulated his hypothesis while yet a young man, not long after the middle of the century. He first gave it publicity in 1781, in a paper before the Royal Society of Edinburgh:

"A solid body of land could not have answered the purpose of a habitable world," said Hutton, "for a soil is necessary to the growth of plants, and a soil is nothing but the material collected from the destruction of the solid land. Therefore the surface of this land inhabited by man, and covered by plants and animals, is made by nature to decay, in dissolving from that hard and compact state in which it is found; and this soil is necessarily washed away by the continual circulation of the water running from the summits of the mountains towards the general receptacle of that fluid.

"The heights of our land are thus levelled with our shores, our fertile plains are formed from the ruins of the mountains; and those travelling materials are still pursued by the moving water, and propelled along the inclined surface of the earth. These movable materials, delivered into the sea, cannot, for a long continuance, rest upon the shore, for by the agitation of the winds, the tides, and the currents every movable thing is carried farther and farther along the shelving bottom of the sea, towards the unfathomable regions of the ocean.

"If the vegetable soil is thus constantly removed from the surface of the land, and if its place is then to be supplied from the dissolution of the solid earth as here represented, we may perceive an end to this beautiful machine; an end arising from no error in its constitution as a world, but from that destructibility of its land which is so necessary in the system of the globe, in the economy of life and vegetation.

"The immense time necessarily required for the total destruction of the land must not be opposed to that view of future events which is indicated by the surest facts and most approved principles. Time, which measures everything in our idea, and is often deficient to our schemes, is to nature endless and as nothing; it cannot limit that by which alone it has existence; and as the natural course of time, which to us seems infinite, cannot be bounded by any operation that may have an end, the progress of things upon this globe that in the course of nature cannot be limited by time must proceed in a continual succession. We are, therefore, to consider as inevitable the destruction of our land, so far as effected by those operations which are necessary in the purpose of the globe, considered as a habitable world, and so far as we have not examined any other part of the economy of nature, in which other operations and a different intention might appear.

"We have now considered the globe of this earth as a machine, constructed upon chemical as well as mechanical principles, by which its different parts are all adapted, in form, in quality, and quantity, to a certain end—an end attained with certainty of success, and an end from which we may perceive wisdom in contemplating the means employed.

"But is this world to be considered thus merely as a machine, to last no longer than its parts retain their present position, their proper forms and qualities? Or may it not be also considered as an organized body such as has a constitution, in which the necessary decay of the machine is naturally repaired in the exertion of those productive powers by which it has been formed?

"This is the view in which we are now to examine the globe; to see if there be, in the constitution of the world, a reproductive operation by which a ruined constitution may be again repaired and a duration of stability thus procured to the machine considered as a world containing plants and animals.

"If no such reproductive power, or reforming operation, after due inquiry, is to be found in the constitution of this world, we should have reason to conclude that the system of this earth has either been intentionally made imperfect or has not been the work of infinite power and wisdom."[1]

This, then, was the important question to be answered—the question of the constitution of the globe. To accomplish this, it was necessary, first of all, to examine without prejudice the material already in hand, adding such new discoveries from time to time as might be made, but always applying to the whole unvarying scientific principles and inductive methods of reasoning.

"If we are to take the written history of man for the rule by which we should judge of the time when the species first began," said Hutton, "that period would be but little removed from the present state of things. The Mosaic history places this beginning of man at no great distance; and there has not been found, in natural history, any document by which high antiquity might be attributed to the human race. But this is not the case with regard to the inferior species of animals, particularly those which inhabit the ocean and its shores. We find in natural history monuments which prove that those animals had long existed; and we thus procure a measure for the computation of a period of time extremely remote, though far from being precisely ascertained.

"In examining things present, we have data from which to reason with regard to what has been; and from what actually has been we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen hereafter. Therefore, upon the supposition that the operations of nature are equable and steady, we find, in natural appearances, means for concluding a certain portion of time to have necessarily elapsed in the production of those events of which we see the effects.

"It is thus that, in finding the relics of sea animals of every kind in the solid body of our earth, a natural history of those animals is formed, which includes a certain portion of time; and for the ascertaining this portion of time we must again have recourse to the regular operations of this world. We shall thus arrive at facts which indicate a period to which no other species of chronology is able to remount.

"We find the marks of marine animals in the most solid parts of the earth, consequently those solid parts have been formed after the ocean was inhabited by those animals which are proper to that fluid medium. If, therefore, we knew the natural history of these solid parts, and could trace the operations of the globe by which they have been formed, we would have some means for computing the time through which those species of animals have continued to live. But how shall we describe a process which nobody has seen performed and of which no written history gives any account? This is only to be investigated, first, in examining the nature of those solid bodies the history of which we want to know; and, secondly, in examining the natural operations of the globe, in order to see if there now exist such operations as, from the nature of the solid bodies, appear to have been necessary for their formation.

"There are few beds of marble or limestone in which may not be found some of those objects which indicate the marine object of the mass. If, for example, in a mass of marble taken from a quarry upon the top of the Alps or Andes there shall be found one cockle-shell or piece of coral, it must be concluded that this bed of stone has been originally formed at the bottom of the sea, as much as another bed which is evidently composed almost altogether of cockle-shells and coral. If one bed of limestone is thus found to have been of marine origin, every concomitant bed of the same kind must be also concluded to have been formed in the same manner.

"In those calcareous strata, which are evidently of marine origin, there are many parts which are of sparry structure—that is to say, the original texture of those beds in such places has been dissolved, and a new structure has been assumed which is peculiar to a certain state of the calcareous earth. This change is produced by crystallization, in consequence of a previous state of fluidity, which has so disposed the concerting parts as to allow them to assume a regular shape and structure proper to that substance. A body whose external form has been modified by this process is called a CRYSTAL; one whose internal arrangement of parts is determined by it is said to be of a SPARRY STRUCTURE, and this is known from its fracture.

"There are, in all the regions of the earth, huge masses of calcareous matter in that crystalline form or sparry state in which, perhaps, no vestige can be found of any organized body, nor any indication that such calcareous matter has belonged to animals; but as in other masses this sparry structure or crystalline state is evidently assumed by the marine calcareous substances in operations which are natural to the globe, and which are necessary to the consolidation of the strata, it does not appear that the sparry masses in which no figured body is formed have been originally different from other masses, which, being only crystallized in part, and in part still retaining their original form, have ample evidence of their marine origin.

"We are led, in this manner, to conclude that all the strata of the earth, not only those consisting of such calcareous masses, but others superincumbent upon these, have had their origin at the bottom of the sea.

"The general amount of our reasoning is this, that nine-tenths, perhaps, or ninety-nine-hundredths, of this earth, so far as we see, have been formed by natural operations of the globe in collecting loose materials and depositing them at the bottom of the sea; consolidating those collections in various degrees, and either elevating those consolidated masses above the level on which they were formed or lowering the level of that sea.

"Let us now consider how far the other proposition of strata being elevated by the power of heat above the level of the sea may be confirmed from the examination of natural appearances. The strata formed at the bottom of the ocean are necessarily horizontal in their position, or nearly so, and continuous in their horizontal direction or extent. They may be changed and gradually assume the nature of each other, so far as concerns the materials of which they are formed, but there cannot be any sudden change, fracture, or displacement naturally in the body of a stratum. But if the strata are cemented by the heat of fusion, and erected with an expansive power acting below, we may expect to find every species of fracture, dislocation, and contortion in those bodies and every degree of departure from a horizontal towards a vertical position.

"The strata of the globe are actually found in every possible position: for from horizontal they are frequently found vertical; from continuous they are broken and separated in every possible direction; and from a plane they are bent and doubled. It is impossible that they could have originally been formed, by the known laws of nature, in their present state and position; and the power that has been necessarily required for their change has not been inferior to that which might have been required for their elevation from the place in which they have been formed."[2]

From all this, therefore, Hutton reached the conclusion that the elevation of the bodies of land above the water on the earth's surface had been effected by the same force which had acted in consolidating the strata and giving them stability. This force he conceived to be exerted by the expansion of heated matter.

"We have," he said, "been now supposing that the beginning of our present earth had been laid in the bottom of the ocean, at the completion of the former land, but this was only for the sake of distinctness. The just view is this, that when the former land of the globe had been complete, so as to begin to waste and be impaired by the encroachment of the sea, the present land began to appear above the surface of the ocean. In this manner we suppose a due proportion to be always preserved of land and water upon the surface of the globe, for the purpose of a habitable world such as this which we possess. We thus also allow time and opportunity for the translation of animals and plants to occupy the earth.

"But if the earth on which we live began to appear in the ocean at the time when the LAST began to be resolved, it could not be from the materials of the continent immediately preceding this which we examine that the present earth has been constructed; for the bottom of the ocean must have been filled with materials before land could be made to appear above its surface.

"Let us suppose that the continent which is to succeed our land is at present beginning to appear above the water in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; it must be evident that the materials of this great body, which is formed and ready to be brought forth, must have been collected from the destruction of an earth which does not now appear. Consequently, in this true statement of the case there is necessarily required the destruction of an animal and vegetable earth prior to the former land; and the materials of that earth which is first in our account must have been collected at the bottom of the ocean, and begun to be concocted for the production of the present earth, when the land immediately preceding the present had arrived at its full extent.

"We have now got to the end of our reasoning; we have no data further to conclude immediately from that which actually is; but we have got enough; we have the satisfaction to find that in nature there are wisdom, system, and consistency. For having in the natural history of the earth seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of our present inquiry is that we find no vestige of a beginning—no prospect of an end."

Altogether remarkable as this paper seems in the light of later knowledge, neither friend nor foe deigned to notice it at the moment. It was not published in book form until the last decade of the century, when Hutton had lived with and worked over his theory for almost fifty years. Then it caught the eye of the world. A school of followers expounded the Huttonian doctrines; a rival school under Werner in Germany opposed some details of the hypothesis, and the educated world as a whole viewed the disputants askance. The very novelty of the new views forbade their immediate acceptance. Bitter attacks were made upon the "heresies," and that was meant to be a soberly tempered judgment which in 1800 pronounced Hutton's theories "not only hostile to sacred history, but equally hostile to the principles of probability, to the results of the ablest observations on the mineral kingdom, and to the dictates of rational philosophy." And all this because Hutton's theory presupposed the earth to have been in existence more than six thousand years.

Thus it appears that though the thoughts of men had widened, in those closing days of the eighteenth century, to include the stars, they had not as yet expanded to receive the most patent records that are written everywhere on the surface of the earth. Before Hutton's views could be accepted, his pivotal conception that time is long must be established by convincing proofs. The evidence was being gathered by William Smith, Cuvier, and other devotees of the budding science of paleontology in the last days of the century, but their labors were not brought to completion till a subsequent epoch.


In the mean time, James Hutton's theory that continents wear away and are replaced by volcanic upheaval gained comparatively few adherents. Even the lucid Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory, which Playfair, the pupil and friend of the great Scotchman, published in 1802, did not at once prove convincing. The world had become enamoured of the rival theory of Hutton's famous contemporary, Werner of Saxony —the theory which taught that "in the beginning" all the solids of the earth's present crust were dissolved in the heated waters of a universal sea. Werner affirmed that all rocks, of whatever character, had been formed by precipitation from this sea as the waters cooled; that even veins have originated in this way; and that mountains are gigantic crystals, not upheaved masses. In a word, he practically ignored volcanic action, and denied in toto the theory of metamorphosis of rocks through the agency of heat.

The followers of Werner came to be known as Neptunists; the Huttonians as Plutonists. The history of geology during the first quarter of the nineteenth century is mainly a recital of the intemperate controversy between these opposing schools; though it should not be forgotten that, meantime, the members of the Geological Society of London were making an effort to hunt for facts and avoid compromising theories. Fact and theory, however, were too closely linked to be thus divorced.

The brunt of the controversy settled about the unstratified rocks—granites and their allies—which the Plutonists claimed as of igneous origin. This contention had the theoretical support of the nebular hypothesis, then gaining ground, which supposed the earth to be a cooling globe. The Plutonists laid great stress, too, on the observed fact that the temperature of the earth increases at a pretty constant ratio as descent towards its centre is made in mines. But in particular they appealed to the phenomena of volcanoes.

The evidence from this source was gathered and elaborated by Mr. G. Poulett Scrope, secretary of the Geological Society of England, who, in 1823, published a classical work on volcanoes in which he claimed that volcanic mountains, including some of the highest- known peaks, are merely accumulated masses of lava belched forth from a crevice in the earth's crust.

"Supposing the globe to have had any irregular shape when detached from the sun," said Scrope, "the vaporization of its surface, and, of course, of its projecting angles, together with its rotatory motion on its axis and the liquefaction of its outer envelope, would necessarily occasion its actual figure of an oblate spheroid. As the process of expansion proceeded in depth, the original granitic beds were first partially disaggregated, next disintegrated, and more or less liquefied, the crystals being merged in the elastic vehicle produced by the vaporization of the water contained between the laminae.

"Where this fluid was produced in abundance by great dilatation—that is, in the outer and highly disintegrated strata, the superior specific gravity of the crystals forced it to ooze upward, and thus a great quantity of aqueous vapor was produced on the surface of the globe. As this elastic fluid rose into outer space, its continually increasing expansion must have proportionately lowered its temperature; and, in consequence, a part was recondensed into water and sank back towards the more solid surface of the globe.

"And in this manner, for a certain time, a violent reciprocation of atmospheric phenomena must have continued—torrents of vapor rising outwardly, while equally tremendous torrents of condensed vapor, or rain, fell towards the earth. The accumulation of the latter on the yet unstable and unconsolidated surface of the globe constituted the primeval ocean. The surface of this ocean was exposed to continued vaporization owing to intense heat; but this process, abstracting caloric from the stratum of the water below, by partially cooling it, tended to preserve the remainder in a liquid form. The ocean will have contained, both in solution and suspension, many of the matters carried upward from the granitic bed in which the vapors from whose condensation it proceeded were produced, and which they had traversed in their rise. The dissolved matters will have been silex, carbonates, and sulphates of lime, and those other mineral substances which water at an intense temperature and under such circumstances was enabled to hold in solution. The suspended substances will have been all the lighter and finer particles of the upper beds where the disintegration had been extreme; and particularly their mica, which, owing to the tenuity of its plate-shaped crystals, would be most readily carried up by the ascending fluid, and will have remained longest in suspension.

"But as the torrents of vapor, holding these various matters in solution and suspension, were forced upward, the greater part of the disintegrated crystals by degrees subsided; those of felspar and quartz first, the mica being, as observed above, from the form of its plates, of peculiar buoyancy, and therefore held longest in suspension.

"The crystals of felspar and quartz as they subsided, together with a small proportion of mica, would naturally arrange themselves so as to have their longest dimensions more or less parallel to the surface on which they rest; and this parallelism would be subsequently increased, as we shall see hereafter, by the pressure of these beds sustained between the weight of the supported column of matter and the expansive force beneath them. These beds I conceive, when consolidated, to constitute the gneiss formation.

"The farther the process of expansion proceeded in depth, the more was the column of liquid matter lengthened, which, gravitating towards the centre of the globe, tended to check any further expansion. It is, therefore, obvious that after the globe settled into its actual orbit, and thenceforward lost little of its enveloping matter, the whole of which began from that moment to gravitate towards its centre, the progress of expansion inwardly would continually increase in rapidity; and a moment must have at length arrived hen the forces of expansion and repression had reached an equilibrium and the process was stopped from progressing farther inwardly by the great pressure of the gravitating column of liquid.

This column may be considered as consisting of different strata, though the passage from one extremity of complete solidity to the other of complete expansion, in reality, must have been perfectly gradual. The lowest stratum, immediately above the extreme limit of expansion, will have been granite barely DISAGGREGATED, and rendered imperfectly liquid by the partial vaporization of its contained water.

"The second stratum was granite DISINTEGRATED; aqueous vapor, having been produced in such abundance as to be enabled to rise upward, partially disintegrating the crystals of felspar and mica, and superficially dissolving those of quartz. This mass would reconsolidate into granite, though of a smaller grain than the preceding rock.

"The third stratum was so disintegrated that a greater part of the mica had been carried up by the escaping vapor IN SUSPENSION, and that of quartz in solution; the felspar crystals, with the remaining quartz and mica, SUBSIDING by their specific gravity and arranging themselves in horizontal planes.

"The consolidation of this stratum produced the gneiss formation.

"The fourth zone will have been composed of the ocean of turbid and heated water, holding mica, etc., in suspension, and quartz, carbonate of lime, etc., in solution, and continually traversed by reciprocating bodies of heated water rising from below, and of cold fluid sinking from the surface, by reason of their specific gravities.

"The disturbance thus occasioned will have long retarded the deposition of the suspended particles. But this must by degrees have taken place, the quartz grains and the larger and coarser plates of mica subsiding first and the finest last.

"But the fragments of quartz and mica were not deposited alone; a great proportion of the quartz held in SOLUTION must have been precipitated at the same time as the water cooled, and therefore by degrees lost its faculty of so much in solution. Thus was gradually produced the formation of mica-schist, the mica imperfectly recrystallizing or being merely aggregated together in horizontal plates, between which the quartz either spread itself generally in minute grains or unified into crystalline nuclei. On other spots, instead of silex, carbonate of lime was precipitated, together with more or less of the nucaceous sediment, and gave rise to saccharoidal limestones. At a later period, when the ocean was yet further cooled down, rock-salt and sulphate of lime were locally precipitated in a similar mode.

"The fifth stratum was aeriform, and consisted in great part of aqueous vapors; the remainder being a compound of other elastic fluids (permanent gases) which had been formed probably from the volatilization of some of the substances contained in the primitive granite and carried upward with the aqueous vapor from below. These gases will have been either mixed together or otherwise disposed, according to their different specific gravities or chemical affinities, and this stratum constituted the atmosphere or aerial envelope of the globe.

"When, in this manner, the general and positive expansion of the globe, occasioned by the sudden reduction of outward pressure, had ceased (in consequence of the REPRESSIVE FORCE, consisting of the weight of its fluid envelope, having reached an equilibrium with the EXPANSIVE FORCE, consisting of the caloric of the heated nucleus), the rapid superficial evaporation of the ocean continued; and, by gradually reducing its temperature, occasioned the precipitation of a proportionate quantity of the minerals it held in solution, particularly its silex. These substances falling to the bottom, accompanied by a large proportion of the matters held in solution, particularly the mica, in consequence of the greater comparative tranquillity of the ocean, agglomerated these into more or less compact beds of rock (the mica-schist formation), producing the first crust or solid envelope of the globe. Upon this, other stratified rocks, composed sometimes of a mixture, sometimes of an alternation of precipitations, sediments, and occasionally of conglomerates, were by degrees deposited, giving rise to the TRANSITION formations.

"Beneath this crust a new process now commenced. The outer zones of crystalline matter having been suddenly refrigerated by the rapid vaporization and partial escape of the water they contained, abstracted caloric from the intensely heated nucleus of the globe. These crystalline zones were of unequal density, the expansion they had suffered diminishing from above downward.

"Their expansive force was, however, equal at all points, their temperature everywhere bearing an inverse ratio to their density. But when by the accession of caloric from the inner and unliquefied nucleus the temperature, and consequently the expansive force of the lower strata of dilated crystalline matter, was augmented, it acted upon the upper and more liquefied strata. These being prevented from yielding OUTWARDLY by the tenacity and weight of the solid involucrum of precipitated and sedimental deposits which overspread them, sustained a pressure out of proportion to their expansive force, and were in consequence proportionately condensed, and by the continuance of the process, where the overlying strata were sufficiently resistant, finally consolidated.

"This process of consolidation must have progressed from above downward, with the increase of the expansive force in the lower strata, commencing from the upper surface, which, its temperature being lowest, offered the least resistance to the force of compression.

"By this process the upper zone of crystalline matter, which had intumesced so far as to allow of the escape of its aqueous vapor and of much of its mica and quartz, was resolidified, the component crystals arranging themselves in planes perpendicular to the direction of the pressure by which the mass was consolidated—that is, to the radius of the globe. The gneiss formation, as already observed, was the result.

"The inferior zone of barely disintegrated granite, from which only a part of the steam and quartz and none of the mica had escaped, reconsolidated in a confused or granitoidal manner; but exhibits marks of the process it had undergone in its broken crystals of felspar and mica, its rounded and superficially dissolved grains of quartz, its imbedded fragments (broken from the more solid parts of the mass, as it rose, and enveloped by the softer parts), its concretionary nodules and new minerals, etc.

"Beneath this, the granite which had been simply disintegrated was again solidified, and returned in all respects to its former condition. The temperature, however, and with it the expansive force of the inferior zone, was continually on the increase, the caloric of the interior of the globe still endeavoring to put itself in equilibrio by passing off towards the less-intensely heated crust.

"This continually increasing expansive force must at length have overcome the resistance opposed by the tenacity and weight of the overlying consolidated strata. It is reasonable to suppose that this result took place contemporaneously, or nearly so, on many spots, wherever accidental circumstances in the texture or composition of the oceanic deposits led them to yield more readily; and in this manner were produced those original fissures in the primeval crust of the earth through some of which (fissures of elevation) were intruded portions of interior crystalline zones in a solid or nearly solid state, together with more or less of the intumescent granite, in the manner above described; while others (fissures of eruption) gave rise to extravasations of the heated crystalline matter, in the form of lavas—that is, still further liquefied by the greater comparative reduction of the pressure they endured."[3]

The Neptunists stoutly contended for the aqueous origin of volcanic as of other mountains. But the facts were with Scrope, and as time went on it came to be admitted that not merely volcanoes, but many "trap" formations not taking the form of craters, had been made by the obtrusion of molten rock through fissures in overlying strata. Such, for example, to cite familiar illustrations, are Mount Holyoke, in Massachusetts, and the well-known formation of the Palisades along the Hudson.

But to admit the "Plutonic" origin of such widespread formations was practically to abandon the Neptunian hypothesis. So gradually the Huttonian explanation of the origin of granites and other "igneous" rocks, whether massed or in veins, came to be accepted. Most geologists then came to think of the earth as a molten mass, on which the crust rests as a mere film. Some, indeed, with Lyell, preferred to believe that the molten areas exist only as lakes in a solid crust, heated to melting, perhaps, by electrical or chemical action, as Davy suggested. More recently a popular theory attempts to reconcile geological facts with the claim of the physicists, that the earth's entire mass is at least as rigid as steel, by supposing that a molten film rests between the observed solid crust and the alleged solid nucleus. But be that as it may, the theory that subterranean heat has been instrumental in determining the condition of "primary" rocks, and in producing many other phenomena of the earth's crust, has never been in dispute since the long controversy between the Neptunists and the Plutonists led to its establishment.


If molten matter exists beneath the crust of the earth, it must contract in cooling, and in so doing it must disturb the level of the portion of the crust already solidified. So a plausible explanation of the upheaval of continents and mountains was supplied by the Plutonian theory, as Hutton had from the first alleged. But now an important difference of opinion arose as to the exact rationale of such upheavals. Hutton himself, and practically every one else who accepted his theory, had supposed that there are long periods of relative repose, during which the level of the crust is undisturbed, followed by short periods of active stress, when continents are thrown up with volcanic suddenness, as by the throes of a gigantic earthquake. But now came Charles Lyell with his famous extension of the "uniformitarian" doctrine, claiming that past changes of the earth's surface have been like present changes in degree as well as in kind. The making of continents and mountains, he said, is going on as rapidly to-day as at any time in the past. There have been no gigantic cataclysmic upheavals at any time, but all changes in level of the strata as a whole have been gradual, by slow oscillation, or at most by repeated earthquake shocks such as are still often experienced.

In support of this very startling contention Lyell gathered a mass of evidence of the recent changes in level of continental areas. He corroborated by personal inspection the claim which had been made by Playfair in 1802, and by Von Buch in 1807, that the coast-line of Sweden is rising at the rate of from a few inches to several feet in a century. He cited Darwin's observations going to prove that Patagonia is similarly rising, and Pingel's claim that Greenland is slowly sinking. Proof as to sudden changes of level of several feet, over large areas, due to earthquakes, was brought forward in abundance. Cumulative evidence left it no longer open to question that such oscillatory changes of level, either upward or downward, are quite the rule, and it could not be denied that these observed changes, if continued long enough in one direction, would produce the highest elevations. The possibility that the making of even the highest ranges of mountains had been accomplished without exaggerated catastrophic action came to be freely admitted.

It became clear that the supposedly stable-land surfaces are in reality much more variable than the surface of the "shifting sea"; that continental masses, seemingly so fixed, are really rising and falling in billows thousands of feet in height, ages instead of moments being consumed in the sweep between crest and hollow.

These slow oscillations of land surfaces being understood, many geological enigmas were made clear— such as the alternation of marine and fresh-water formations in a vertical series, which Cuvier and Brongniart had observed near Paris; or the sandwiching of layers of coal, of subaerial formation, between layers of subaqueous clay or sandstone, which may be observed everywhere in the coal measures. In particular, the extreme thickness of the sedimentary strata as a whole, many times exceeding the depth of the deepest known sea, was for the first time explicable when it was understood that such strata had formed in slowly sinking ocean-beds.

All doubt as to the mode of origin of stratified rocks being thus removed, the way was opened for a more favorable consideration of that other Huttonian doctrine of the extremely slow denudation of land surfaces. The enormous amount of land erosion will be patent to any one who uses his eyes intelligently in a mountain district. It will be evident in any region where the strata are tilted—as, for example, the Alleghanies— that great folds of strata which must once have risen miles in height have in many cases been worn entirely away, so that now a valley marks the location of the former eminence. Where the strata are level, as in the case of the mountains of Sicily, the Scotch Highlands, and the familiar Catskills, the evidence of denudation is, if possible, even more marked; for here it is clear that elevation and valley have been carved by the elements out of land that rose from the sea as level plateaus.

But that this herculean labor of land-sculpturing could have been accomplished by the slow action of wind and frost and shower was an idea few men could grasp within the first half-century after Hutton propounded it; nor did it begin to gain general currency until Lyell's crusade against catastrophism, begun about 1830, had for a quarter of a century accustomed geologists to the thought of slow, continuous changes producing final results of colossal proportions. And even long after that it was combated by such men as Murchison, Director-General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, then accounted the foremost field-geologist of his time, who continued to believe that the existing valleys owe their main features to subterranean forces of upheaval. Even Murchison, however, made some recession from the belief of the Continental authorities, Elie de Beaumont and Leopold von Buch, who contended that the mountains had sprung up like veritable jacks-in-the-box. Von Buch, whom his friend and fellow-pupil Von Humboldt considered the foremost geologist of the time, died in 1853, still firm in his early faith that the erratic bowlders found high on the Jura had been hurled there, like cannon-balls, across the valley of Geneva by the sudden upheaval of a neighboring mountain-range.


The bowlders whose presence on the crags of the Jura the old Gerinan accounted for in a manner so theatrical had long been a source of contention among geologists. They are found not merely on the Jura, but on numberless other mountains in all north-temperate latitudes, and often far out in the open country, as many a farmer who has broken his plough against them might testify. The early geologists accounted for them, as for nearly everything else, with their supposititious Deluge. Brongniart and Cuvier and Buckland and their contemporaries appeared to have no difficulty in conceiving that masses of granite weighing hundreds of tons had been swept by this current scores or hundreds of miles from their source. But, of course, the uniformitarian faith permitted no such explanation, nor could it countenance the projection idea; so Lyell was bound to find some other means of transportation for the puzzling erratics.

The only available medium was ice, but, fortunately, this one seemed quite sufficient. Icebergs, said Lyell, are observed to carry all manner of debris, and deposit it in the sea-bottoms. Present land surfaces have often been submerged beneath the sea. During the latest of these submergences icebergs deposited the bowlders now scattered here and there over the land. Nothing could be simpler or more clearly uniformitarian. And even the catastrophists, though they met Lyell amicably on almost no other theoretical ground, were inclined to admit the plausibility of his theory of erratics. Indeed, of all Lyell's nonconformist doctrines, this seemed the one most likely to meet with general acceptance.

Yet, even as this iceberg theory loomed large and larger before the geological world, observations were making in a different field that were destined to show its fallacy. As early as 1815 a sharp-eyed chamois- hunter of the Alps, Perraudin by name, had noted the existence of the erratics, and, unlike most of his companion hunters, had puzzled his head as to how the bowlders got where he saw them. He knew nothing of submerged continents or of icebergs, still less of upheaving mountains; and though he doubtless had heard of the Flood, he had no experience of heavy rocks floating like corks in water. Moreover, he had never observed stones rolling uphill and perching themselves on mountain-tops, and he was a good enough uniformitarian (though he would have been puzzled indeed had any one told him so) to disbelieve that stones in past times had disported themselves differently in this regard from stones of the present. Yet there the stones are. How did they get there?

The mountaineer thought that he could answer that question. He saw about him those gigantic serpent- like streams of ice called glaciers, "from their far fountains slow rolling on," carrying with them blocks of granite and other debris to form moraine deposits. If these glaciers had once been much more extensive than they now are, they might have carried the bowlders and left them where we find them. On the other hand, no other natural agency within the sphere of the chamois-hunter's knowledge could have accomplished this, ergo the glaciers must once have been more extensive. Perraudin would probably have said that common-sense drove him to this conclusion; but be that as it may, he had conceived one of the few truly original and novel ideas of which the nineteenth century can boast.

Perraudin announced his idea to the greatest scientist in his little world—Jean de Charpentier, director of the mines at Bex, a skilled geologist who had been a fellow-pupil of Von Buch and Von Humboldt under Werner at the Freiberg School of Mines. Charpentier laughed at the mountaineer's grotesque idea, and thought no more about it. And ten years elapsed before Perraudin could find any one who treated his notion with greater respect. Then he found a listener in M. Venetz, a civil engineer, who read a paper on the novel glacial theory before a local society in 1823. This brought the matter once more to the attention of De Charpentier, who now felt that there might be something in it worth investigation.

A survey of the field in the light of the new theory soon convinced Charpentier that the chamois-hunter had all along been right. He became an enthusiastic supporter of the idea that the Alps had once been imbedded in a mass of ice, and in 1836 he brought the notion to the attention of Louis Agassiz, who was spending the summer in the Alps. Agassiz was sceptical at first, but soon became a convert.

In 1840 Agassiz published a paper in which the results of his Alpine studies were elaborated.

"Let us consider," he says, "those more considerable changes to which glaciers are subject, or rather, the immense extent which they had in the prehistoric period. This former immense extension, greater than any that tradition has preserved, is proved, in the case of nearly every valley in the Alps, by facts which are both many and well established. The study of these facts is even easy if the student is looking out for them, and if he will seize the least indication of their presence; and, if it were a long time before they were observed and connected with glacial action, it is because the evidences are often isolated and occur at places more or less removed from the glacier which originated them. If it be true that it is the prerogative of the scientific observer to group in the field of his mental vision those facts which appear to be without connection to the vulgar herd, it is, above all, in such a case as this that he is called upon to do so. I have often compared these feeble effects, produced by the glacial action of former ages, with the appearance of the markings upon a lithographic stone, prepared for the purpose of preservation, and upon which one cannot see the lines of the draughtsman's work unless it is known beforehand where and how to search for them.

"The fact of the former existence of glaciers which have now disappeared is proved by the survival of the various phenomena which always accompany them, and which continue to exist even after the ice has melted. These phenomena are as follows:

"1. Moraines.—The disposition and composition of moraines enable them to be always recognized, even when they are no longer adjacent to a glacier nor immediately surround its lower extremities. I may remark that lateral and terminal moraines alone enable us to recognize with certainty the limits of glacial extension, because they can be easily distinguished from the dikes and irregularly distributed stones carried down by the Alpine torrents, The lateral moraines deposited upon the sides of valleys are rarely affected by the larger torrents, but they are, however, often cut by the small streams which fall down the side of a mountain, and which, by interfering with their continuity, make them so much more difficult to recognize.

"2. The Perched Bowlders.—It often happens that glaciers encounter projecting points of rock, the sides of which become rounded, and around which funnel- like cavities are formed with more or less profundity. When glaciers diminish and retire, the blocks which have fallen into these funnels often remain perched upon the top of the projecting rocky point within it, in such a state of equilibrium that any idea of a current of water as the cause of their transportation is completely inadmissible on account of their position. When such points of rock project above the surface of the glacier or appear as a more considerable islet in the midst of its mass (such as is the case in the Jardin of the Mer de Glace, above Montavert), such projections become surrounded on all sides by stones which ultimately form a sort of crown around the summit whenever the glaciers decrease or retire completely. Water currents never produce anything like this; but, on the contrary, whenever a stream breaks itself against a projecting rock, the stones which it carries down are turned aside and form a more or less regular trail. Never, under such circumstances, can the stones remain either at the top or at the sides of the rock, for, if such a thing were possible, the rapidity of the current would be accelerated by the increased resistance, and the moving bowlders would be carried beyond the obstruction before they were finally deposited.

"3. The polished and striated rocks, such as have been described in Chapter XIV., afford yet further evidence of the presence of a glacier; for, as has been said already, neither a current nor the action of waves upon an extensive beach produces such effects. The general direction of the channels and furrows indicates the direction of the general movement of the glacier, and the streaks which vary more or less from this direction are produced by the local effects of oscillation and retreat, as we shall presently see.

"4. The Lapiaz, or Lapiz, which the inhabitants of German Switzerland call Karrenfelder, cannot always be distinguished from erosions, because, both produced as they are by water, they do not differ in their exterior characteristics, but only in their positions. Erosions due to torrents are always found in places more or less depressed, and never occur upon large inclined surfaces. The Lapiaz, on the contrary, are frequently found upon the projecting parts of the sides of valleys in places where it is not possible to suppose that water has ever formed a current. Some geologists, in their embarrassment to explain these phenomena, have supposed that they were due to the infiltration of acidulated water, but this hypothesis is purely gratuitous.

"We will now describe the remains of these various phenomena as they are found in the Alps outside the actual glacial limits, in order to prove that at a certain epoch glaciers were much larger than they are to-day.

"The ancient moraines, situated as they are at a great distance from those of the present day, are nowhere so distinct or so frequent as in Valais, where MM. Venetz and J. de Charpentier noticed them for the first time; but as their observations are as yet unpublished, and they themselves gave me the information, it would be an appropriation of their discovery if I were to describe them here in detail. I will limit myself to say that there can be found traces, more or less distinct, of ancient terminal moraines in the form of vaulted dikes at the foot of every glacier, at a distance of a few minutes' walk, a quarter of an hour, a half-hour, an hour, and even of several leagues from their present extremities. These traces become less distinct in proportion to their distance from the glacier, and, since they are also often traversed by torrents, they are not as continuous as the moraines which are nearer to the glaciers. The farther these ancient moraines are removed from the termination of a glacier, the higher up they reach upon the sides of the valley, which proves to us that the thickness of the glacier must have been greater when its size was larger. At the same time, their number indicates so many stopping-places in the retreat of the glacier, or so many extreme limits of its extension—limits which were never reached again after it had retired. I insist upon this point, because if it is true that all these moraines demonstrate a larger extent of the glacier, they also prove that their retreat into their present boundaries, far from having been catastrophic, was marked on the contrary by periods of repose more or less frequent, which caused the formation of a series of concentric moraines which even now indicate their retrogression.

"The remains of longitudinal moraines are less frequent, less distinct, and more difficult to investigate, because, indicating as they do the levels to which the edges of the glacier reached at different epochs, it is generally necessary to look for them above the line of the paths along the escarpments of the valleys, and hence it is not always possible to follow them along a valley. Often, also, the sides of a valley which enclosed a glacier are so steep that it is only here and there that the stones have remained in place. They are, nevertheless, very distinct in the lower part of the valley of the Rhone, between Martigny and the Lake of Geneva, where several parallel ridges can be observed, one above the other, at a height of one thousand, one thousand two hundred, and even one thousand five hundred feet above the Rhone. It is between St. Maurice and the cascade of Pissevache, close to the hamlet of Chaux-Fleurie, that they are most accessible, for at this place the sides of the valley at different levels ascend in little terraces, upon which the moraines have been preserved. They are also very distinct above the Bains de Lavey, and above the village of Monthey at the entrance of the Val d'Illiers, where the sides of the valley are less inclined than in many other places.

"The perched bowlders which are found in the Alpine valleys, at considerable distances from the glaciers, occupy at times positions so extraordinary that they excite in a high degree the curiosity of those who see them. For instance, when one sees an angular stone perched upon the top of an isolated pyramid, or resting in some way in a very steep locality, the first inquiry of the mind is, When and how have these stones been placed in such positions, where the least shock would seem to turn them over? But this phenomenon is not in the least astonishing when it is seen to occur also within the limits of actual glaciers, and it is recalled by what circumstances it is occasioned.

"The most curious examples of perched stones which can be cited are those which command the northern part of the cascade of Pissevache, close to Chaux-Fleurie, and those above the Bains de Lavey, close to the village of Morcles; and those, even more curious, which I have seen in the valley of St. Nicolas and Oberhasli. At Kirchet, near Meiringen, can be seen some very remarkable crowns of bowlders around several domes of rock which appear to have been projected above the surface of the glacier which surrounded them. Something very similar can be seen around the top of the rock of St. Triphon.

"The extraordinary phenomenon of perched stones could not escape the observing eye of De Saussure, who noticed several at Saleve, of which he described the positions in the following manner: 'One sees,' said he, 'upon the slope of an inclined meadow, two of these great bowlders of granite, elevated one upon the other, above the grass at a height of two or three feet, upon a base of limestone rock on which both rest. This base is a continuation of the horizontal strata of the mountain, and is even united with it visibly on its lower face, being cut perpendicularly upon the other sides, and is not larger than the stone which it supports.' But seeing that the entire mountain is composed of the same limestone, De Saussure naturally concluded that it would be absurd to think that it was elevated precisely and only beneath the blocks of granite. But, on the other hand, since he did not know the manner in which these perched stones are deposited in our days by glacial action, he had recourse to another explanation: He supposes that the rock was worn away around its base by the continual erosion of water and air, while the portion of the rock which served as the base for the granite had been protected by it. This explanation, although very ingenious, could no longer be admitted after the researches of M. Elie de Beaumont had proved that the action of atmospheric agencies was not by a good deal so destructive as was theretofore supposed. De Saussure speaks also of a detached bowlder, situated upon the opposite side of the Tete-Noire, 'which is,' he says, 'of so great a size that one is tempted to believe that it was formed in the place it occupies; and it is called Barme russe, because it is worn away beneath in the form of a cave which can afford accommodation for more than thirty persons at a time."[4]

But the implications of the theory of glaciers extend, so Agassiz has come to believe, far beyond the Alps. If the Alps had been covered with an ice sheet, so had many other regions of the northern hemisphere. Casting abroad for evidences of glacial action, Agassiz found them everywhere in the form of transported erratics, scratched and polished outcropping rocks, and moraine-like deposits. Finally, he became convinced that the ice sheet that covered the Alps had spread over the whole of the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere, forming an ice cap over the globe. Thus the common-sense induction of the chamois- hunter blossomed in the mind of Agassiz into the conception of a universal ice age.

In 1837 Agassiz had introduced his theory to the world, in a paper read at Neuchatel, and three years later he published his famous Etudes sur les Glaciers, from which we have just quoted. Never did idea make a more profound disturbance in the scientific world. Von Buch treated it with alternate ridicule, contempt, and rage; Murchison opposed it with customary vigor; even Lyell, whose most remarkable mental endowment was an unfailing receptiveness to new truths, could not at once discard his iceberg theory in favor of the new claimant. Dr. Buckland, however, after Agassiz had shown him evidence of former glacial action in his own Scotland, became a convert—the more readily, perhaps, as it seemed to him to oppose the uniformitarian idea. Gradually others fell in line, and after the usual imbittered controversy and the inevitable full generation of probation, the idea of an ice age took its place among the accepted tenets of geology. All manner of moot points still demanded attention—the cause of the ice age, the exact extent of the ice sheet, the precise manner in which it produced its effects, and the exact nature of these effects; and not all of these have even yet been determined. But, details aside, the ice age now has full recognition from geologists as an historical period. There may have been many ice ages, as Dr. Croll contends; there was surely one; and the conception of such a period is one of the very few ideas of our century that no previous century had even so much as faintly adumbrated.


But, for that matter, the entire subject of historical geology is one that had but the barest beginning before our century. Until the paleontologist found out the key to the earth's chronology, no one—not even Hutton— could have any definite idea as to the true story of the earth's past. The only conspicuous attempt to classify the strata was that made by Werner, who divided the rocks into three systems, based on their supposed order of deposition, and called primary, transition, and secondary.

Though Werner's observations were confined to the small province of Saxony, he did not hesitate to affirm that all over the world the succession of strata would be found the same as there, the concentric layers, according to this conception, being arranged about the earth with the regularity of layers on an onion. But in this Werner was as mistaken as in his theoretical explanation of the origin of the "primary" rocks. It required but little observation to show that the exact succession of strata is never precisely the same in any widely separated regions. Nevertheless, there was a germ of truth in Werner's system. It contained the idea, however faultily interpreted, of a chronological succession of strata; and it furnished a working outline for the observers who were to make out the true story of geological development. But the correct interpretation of the observed facts could only be made after the Huttonian view as to the origin of strata had gained complete acceptance.

When William Smith, having found the true key to this story, attempted to apply it, the territory with which he had to deal chanced to be one where the surface rocks are of that later series which Werner termed secondary. He made numerous subdivisions within this system, based mainly on the fossils. Meantime it was found that, judged by the fossils, the strata that Brongniart and Cuvier studied near Paris were of a still more recent period (presumed at first to be due to the latest deluge), which came to be spoken of as tertiary. It was in these beds, some of which seemed to have been formed in fresh-water lakes, that many of the strange mammals which Cuvier first described were found.

But the "transition" rocks, underlying the "secondary" system that Smith studied, were still practically unexplored when, along in the thirties, they were taken in hand by Roderick Impey Murchison, the reformed fox-hunter and ex-captain, who had turned geologist to such notable advantage, and Adam Sedgwick, the brilliant Woodwardian professor at Cambridge.

Working together, these two friends classified the

transition rocks into chronological groups, since familiar to every one in the larger outlines as the Silurian system (age of invertebrates) and the Devonian system (age of fishes)—names derived respectively from the country of the ancient Silures, in Wales and Devonshire, England. It was subsequently discovered that these systems of strata, which crop out from beneath newer rocks in restricted areas in Britain, are spread out into broad, undisturbed sheets over thousands of miles in continental Europe and in America. Later on Murchison studied them in Russia, and described them, conjointly with Verneuil and Von Kerserling, in a ponderous and classical work. In America they were studied by Hall, Newberry, Whitney, Dana, Whitfield, and other pioneer geologists, who all but anticipated their English contemporaries.

The rocks that are of still older formation than those studied by Murchison and Sedgwick (corresponding in location to the "primary" rocks of Werner's conception) are the surface feature of vast areas in Canada, and were first prominently studied there by William I. Logan, of the Canadian Government Survey, as early as 1846, and later on by Sir William Dawson. These rocks —comprising the Laurentian system—were formerly supposed to represent parts of the original crust of the earth, formed on first cooling from a molten state; but they are now more generally regarded as once-stratified deposits metamorphosed by the action of heat.

Whether "primitive" or metamorphic, however, these Canadian rocks, and analogous ones beneath the fossiliferous strata of other countries, are the oldest portions of the earth's crust of which geology has any present knowledge. Mountains of this formation, as the Adirondacks and the Storm King range, overlooking the Hudson near West Point, are the patriarchs of their kind, beside which Alleghanies and Sierra Nevadas are recent upstarts, and Rockies, Alps, and Andes are mere parvenus of yesterday.

The Laurentian rocks were at first spoken of as representing "Azoic" time; but in 1846 Dawson found a formation deep in their midst which was believed to b e the fossil relic of a very low form of life, and after that it became customary to speak of the system as "Eozoic." Still more recently the title of Dawson's supposed fossil to rank as such has been questioned, and Dana's suggestion that the early rocks be termed merely Archman has met with general favor. Murchison and Sedgwick's Silurian, Devonian, and Carboniferous groups (the ages of invertebrates, of fishes, and of coal plants, respectively) are together spoken of as representing Paleozoic time. William Smith's system of strata, next above these, once called "secondary," represents Mesozoic time, or the age of reptiles. Still higher, or more recent, are Cuvier and Brongniart's tertiary rocks, representing the age of mammals. Lastly, the most recent formations, dating back, however, to a period far enough from recent in any but a geological sense, are classed as quaternary, representing the age of man.

It must not be supposed, however, that the successive "ages" of the geologist are shut off from one another in any such arbitrary way as this verbal classification might seem to suggest. In point of fact, these "ages" have no better warrant for existence than have the "centuries" and the "weeks" of every-day computation. They are convenient, and they may even stand for local divisions in the strata, but they are bounded by no actual gaps in the sweep of terrestrial events.

Moreover, it must be understood that the "ages" of different continents, though described under the same name, are not necessarily of exact contemporaneity. There is no sure test available by which it could be shown that the Devonian age, for instance, as outlined in the strata of Europe, did not begin millions of years earlier or later than the period whose records are said to represent the Devonian age in America. In attempting to decide such details as this, mineralogical data fail us utterly. Even in rocks of adjoining regions identity of structure is no proof of contemporaneous origin; for the veritable substance of the rock of one age is ground up to build the rocks of subsequent ages. Furthermore, in seas where conditions change but little the same form of rock may be made age after age. It is believed that chalk-beds still forming in some of our present seas may form one continuous mass dating back to earliest geologic ages. On the other hand, rocks different in character maybe formed at the same time in regions not far apart—say a sandstone along shore, a coral limestone farther seaward, and a chalk-bed beyond. This continuous stratum, broken in the process of upheaval, might seem the record of three different epochs.

Paleontology, of course, supplies far better chronological tests, but even these have their limitations. There has been no time since rocks now in existence were formed, if ever, when the earth had a uniform climate and a single undiversified fauna over its entire land surface, as the early paleontologists supposed. Speaking broadly, the same general stages have attended the evolution of organic forms everywhere, but there is nothing to show that equal periods of time witnessed corresponding changes in diverse regions, but quite the contrary. To cite but a single illustration, the marsupial order, which is the dominant mammalian type of the living fauna of Australia to-day, existed in Europe and died out there in the tertiary age. Hence a future geologist might think the Australia of to-day contemporaneous with a period in Europe which in reality antedated it by perhaps millions of years.

All these puzzling features unite to render the subject of historical geology anything but the simple matter the fathers of the science esteemed it. No one would now attempt to trace the exact sequence of formation of all the mountains of the globe, as Elie de Beaumont did a half-century ago. Even within the limits of a single continent, the geologist must proceed with much caution in attempting to chronicle the order in which its various parts rose from the matrix of the sea. The key to this story is found in the identification of the strata that are the surface feature in each territory. If Devonian rocks are at the surface in any given region, for example, it would appear that this region became a land surface in the Devonian age, or just afterwards. But a moment's consideration shows that there is an element of uncertainty about this, due to the steady denudation that all land surfaces undergo. The Devonian rocks may lie at the surface simply because the thousands of feet of carboniferous strata that once lay above them have been worn away. All that the cautious geologist dare assert, therefore, is that the region in question did not become permanent land surface earlier than the Devonian age.

But to know even this is much—sufficient, indeed, to establish the chronological order of elevation, if not its exact period, for all parts of any continent that have been geologically explored—understanding always that there must be no scrupling about a latitude of a few millions or perhaps tens of millions of years here and there.

Regarding our own continent, for example, we learn through the researches of a multitude of workers that in the early day it was a mere archipelago. Its chief island—the backbone of the future continent—was a great V-shaped area surrounding what is now Hudson Bay, an area built tip, perhaps, through denudation of a yet more ancient polar continent, whose existence is only conjectured. To the southeast an island that is now the Adirondack Mountains, and another that is now the Jersey Highlands rose above the waste of waters, and far to the south stretched probably a line of islands now represented by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Far off to the westward another line of islands foreshadowed our present Pacific border. A few minor islands in the interior completed the archipelago.

From this bare skeleton the continent grew, partly by the deposit of sediment from the denudation of the original islands (which once towered miles, perhaps, where now they rise thousands of feet), but largely also by the deposit of organic remains, especially in the interior sea, which teemed with life. In the Silurian ages, invertebrates—brachiopods and crinoids and cephalopods—were the dominant types. But very early—no one knows just when—there came fishes of many strange forms, some of the early ones enclosed in turtle-like shells. Later yet, large spaces within the interior sea having risen to the surface, great marshes or forests of strange types of vegetation grew and deposited their remains to form coal-beds. Many times over such forests were formed, only to be destroyed by the oscillations of the land surface. All told, the strata of this Paleozoic period aggregate several miles in thickness, and the time consumed in their formation stands to all later time up to the present, according to Professor Dana's estimate, as three to one.

Towards the close of this Paleozoic era the Appalachian Mountains were slowly upheaved in great convoluted folds, some of them probably reaching three or four miles above the sea-level, though the tooth of time has since gnawed them down to comparatively puny limits. The continental areas thus enlarged were peopled during the ensuing Mesozoic time with multitudes of strange reptiles, many of them gigantic in size. The waters, too, still teeming with invertebrates and fishes, had their quota of reptilian monsters; and in the air were flying reptiles, some of which measured twenty- five feet from tip to tip of their batlike wings. During this era the Sierra Nevada Mountains rose. Near the eastern border of the forming continent the strata were perhaps now too thick and stiff to bend into mountain folds, for they were rent into great fissures, letting out floods of molten lava, remnants of which are still in evidence after ages of denudation, as the Palisades along the Hudson, and such elevations as Mount Holyoke in western Massachusetts.

Still there remained a vast interior sea, which later on, in the tertiary age, was to be divided by the slow uprising of the land, which only yesterday—that is to say, a million, or three or five or ten million, years ago— became the Rocky Mountains. High and erect these young mountains stand to this day, their sharp angles and rocky contours vouching for their youth, in strange contrast with the shrunken forms of the old Adirondacks, Green Mountains, and Appalachians, whose lowered heads and rounded shoulders attest the weight of ages. In the vast lakes which still remained on either side of the Rocky range, tertiary strata were slowly formed to the ultimate depth of two or three miles, enclosing here and there those vertebrate remains which were to be exposed again to view by denudation when the land rose still higher, and then, in our own time, to tell so wonderful a story to the paleontologist.

Finally, the interior seas were filled, and the shore lines of the continent assumed nearly their present outline.

Then came the long winter of the glacial epoch—perhaps of a succession of glacial epochs. The ice sheet extended southward to about the fortieth parallel, driving some animals before it, and destroying those that were unable to migrate. At its fulness, the great ice mass lay almost a mile in depth over New England, as attested by the scratched and polished rock surfaces and deposited erratics in the White Mountains. Such a mass presses down with a weight of about one hundred and twenty-five tons to the square foot, according to Dr. Croll's estimate. It crushed and ground everything beneath it more or less, and in some regions planed off hilly surfaces into prairies. Creeping slowly forward, it carried all manner of debris with it. When it melted away its terminal moraine built up the nucleus of the land masses now known as Long Island and Staten Island; other of its deposits formed the "drumlins" about Boston famous as Bunker and Breed's hills; and it left a long, irregular line of ridges of "till" or bowlder clay and scattered erratics clear across the country at about the latitude of New York city.

As the ice sheet slowly receded it left minor moraines all along its course. Sometimes its deposits dammed up river courses or inequalities in the surface, to form the lakes which everywhere abound over Northern territories. Some glacialists even hold the view first suggested by Ramsey, of the British Geological Survey, that the great glacial sheets scooped out the basins of many lakes, including the system that feeds the St. Lawrence. At all events, it left traces of its presence all along the line of its retreat, and its remnants exist to this day as mountain glaciers and the polar ice cap. Indeed, we live on the border of the last glacial epoch, for with the closing of this period the long geologic past merges into the present.


And the present, no less than the past, is a time of change. This is the thought which James Hutton conceived more than a century ago, but which his contemporaries and successors were so very slow to appreciate. Now, however, it has become axiomatic—one can hardly realize that it was ever doubted. Every new scientific truth, says Agassiz, must pass through three stages —first, men say it is not true; then they declare it hostile to religion; finally, they assert that every one has known it always. Hutton's truth that natural law is changeless and eternal has reached this final stage. Nowhere now could you find a scientist who would dispute the truth of that text which Lyell, quoting from Playfair's Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory, printed on the title-page of his Principles: "Amid all the revolutions of the globe the economy of Nature has been uniform, and her laws are the only things that have resisted the general movement. The rivers and the rocks, the seas and the continents, have been changed in all their parts; but the laws which direct those changes, and the rules to which they are subject, have remained invariably the same."

But, on the other hand, Hutton and Playfair, and in particular Lyell, drew inferences from this principle which the modern physicist can by no means admit. To them it implied that the changes on the surface of the earth have always been the same in degree as well as in kind, and must so continue while present forces hold their sway. In other words, they thought of the world as a great perpetual-motion machine. But the modern physicist, given truer mechanical insight by the doctrines of the conservation and the dissipation of energy, will have none of that. Lord Kelvin, in particular, has urged that in the periods of our earth's in fancy and adolescence its developmental changes must have been, like those of any other infant organism, vastly more rapid and pronounced than those of a later day; and to every clear thinker this truth also must now seem axiomatic.

Whoever thinks of the earth as a cooling globe can hardly doubt that its crust, when thinner, may have heaved under strain of the moon's tidal pull—whether or not that body was nearer—into great billows, daily rising and falling, like waves of the present seas vastly magnified.

Under stress of that same lateral pressure from contraction which now produces the slow depression of the Jersey coast, the slow rise of Sweden, the occasional belching of an insignificant volcano, the jetting of a geyser, or the trembling of an earthquake, once large areas were rent in twain, and vast floods of lava flowed over thousands of square miles of the earth's surface, perhaps, at a single jet; and, for aught we know to the contrary, gigantic mountains may have heaped up their contorted heads in cataclysms as spasmodic as even the most ardent catastrophist of the elder day of geology could have imagined.

The atmosphere of that early day, filled with vast volumes of carbon, oxygen, and other chemicals that have since been stored in beds of coal, limestone, and granites, may have worn down the rocks on the one hand and built up organic forms on the other, with a rapidity that would now seem hardly conceivable.

And yet while all these anomalous things went on, the same laws held sway that now are operative; and a true doctrine of uniformitarianism would make no unwonted concession in conceding them all—though most of the imbittered geological controversies of the middle of the nineteenth century were due to the failure of both parties to realize that simple fact.

And as of the past and present, so of the future. The same forces will continue to operate; and under operation of these unchanging forces each day will differ from every one that has preceded it. If it be true, as every physicist believes, that the earth is a cooling globe, then, whatever its present stage of refrigeration, the time must come when its surface contour will assume a rigidity of level not yet attained. Then, just as surely, the slow action of the elements will continue to wear away the land surfaces, particle by particle, and transport them to the ocean, as it does to-day, until, compensation no longer being afforded by the upheaval of the continents, the last foot of dry land will sink for the last time beneath the water, the last mountain- peak melting away, and our globe, lapsing like any other organism into its second childhood, will be on the surface—as presumably it was before the first continent rose—one vast "waste of waters." As puny man conceives time and things, an awful cycle will have lapsed; in the sweep of the cosmic life, a pulse- beat will have throbbed.