HotFreeBooks.com
Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel
by Ignatius Donnelly
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
Home - Random Browse

{p. 394}

fell upon Asia, races may have survived there; the negro may have dwelt in India at that time; some of the strange Hill-tribes of China and India may have had no connection with Lif and Lifthraser.

But if we will suppose that the scene of man's survival was in that Atlantic island, Atlantis, then this would follow:

The remnant of mankind, whether they were a single couple, like Lif and Lifthraser; or a group of men and women, like Job and his companions; or a numerous party, like that referred to in the Navajo and Aztec legends, in any event, they would not and could not stay long in the cave. The distribution of the Drift shows that it fell within twelve hours; but there were probably several days thereafter during which the face of the earth was swept by horrible cyclones, born of the dreadful heat. As soon, however, as they could safely do so, the remnant of the people must have left the cave; the limited nature of their food-supplies would probably drive them out. Once outside, their condition was pitiable indeed. First, they encountered the great heat; the cooling of the atmosphere had not yet begun; water was a pressing want. Hence we read in the legends of Mimer's well, where Odin pawned his eye for a drink. And we are told, in an American legend, of a party who traveled far to find the life-giving well, and found the possessor sitting over it to hide it. It was during this period that the legends originated which refer to the capture of the cows and their recovery by demi-gods, Hercules or Rama.

Then the race began to wander. The world was a place of stones. Hunger drove them on. Then came the clouds, the rains, the floods, the snows, the darkness; and still the people wandered. The receded ocean laid bare the great ridges, if they had sunk in the catastrophe,

{p. 395}

and the race gradually spread to Europe, Africa, and America.

"But," says one, "how long did all this take?

Who shall say? It may have been days, weeks, months, years, centuries. The Toltec legends say that their ancestors wandered for more than a hundred years in the darkness.

The torrent-torn face of the earth; the vast rearrangement of the Drift materials by rivers, compared with which our own rivers are rills; the vast continental regions which were evidently flooded, all testify to an extraordinary amount of moisture first raised up from the seas and then cast down on the lands. Given heat enough to raise this mass, given the cold caused by its evaporation, given the time necessary for the great battle between this heat and this condensation, given the time to restore this body of water to the ocean, not once but many times,—for, along the southern border of the floods, where Muspelheim. and Niflheim met, the heat must have sucked up the water as fast almost as it fell, to fall again, and again to be lifted up, until the heat-area was driven back and water fell, at last, everywhere on the earth's face, and the extraordinary evaporation ceased,—this was a gigantic, long-continued battle.

But it may be asked:

"Suppose further study should disclose the fact that the Drift is found in Siberia and the rest of Asia, and over all the world, what then? "

It will not disprove my theory. It will simply indicate that the dbris did not, as I have supposed, strike the earth instantaneously, but that it continued to fall during twenty-four hours. If the comet was split into fragments, if there was the "Midgard-Serpent" as well as the

{p. 396}

"Fenris Wolf" and "the dog Garm," they need not necessarily have reached the earth at the same time.

Another says:

"You supposed in your book, 'Atlantis,' that the Glacial Age might have been caused by the ridges radiating from Atlantis shutting off the Gulf Stream and preventing the heated waters of the tropics from reaching the northern shores of the world."

True; and I have no doubt that these ridges did play an important part in producing climatic changes, subsequent to the Drift Age, by their presence or absence, their elevation or depression; but on fuller investigation I find that they are inadequate to account for the colossal phenomena of the Drift itself—the presence of the clay and gravel, the great heat and the tremendous downfall of water.

It may be asked,

"How does your theory account for the removal of great blocks, weighing many tons, for hundreds of miles from their original site?

The answer is plain. We know the power of the ordinary hurricanes of the earth. "The largest trees are uprooted, or have their trunks snapped in two; and few if any of the most massive buildings stand uninjured."[1] If we will remember the excessive heat and the electrical derangements that must have accompanied the Drift Age, we can realize the tremendous winds spoken of in many of the legends. We have but to multiply the hurricane of the West Indies, or the cyclone of the Mississippi Valley, a hundred or a thousand fold, and we shall have power enough to move all the blocks found scattered over the face of the Drift deposits or mixed with its material.

[1. Appletons' "American Cyclopdia," vol. ix, p. 80.]

{p. 397}

Another asks:

"How do you account for the fact that this Drift material does not resemble the usual arolites, which are commonly composed of iron, and unlike the stones of the earth?"

I nave shown that arolites have fallen that did not contain any iron, and that could not be distinguished from the material native to the earth. And it must be remembered that, while the shining meteoroids that blaze in periodical showers from radiant points in the sky are associated with comets, and are probably lost fragments of comet-tails, these meteoroids do not reach the earth, but are always burned out, far up in our atmosphere, by the friction produced by their motion. The iron arolite is of different origin. It may be a product of space itself, a condensation of metallic gases. The fact that it reaches the earth without being consumed would seem to indicate that it belongs at a lower level than the meteoric showers, and has, consequently, a less distance to fall and waste.

And these views are confirmed by a recent writer,[1] who, after showing that the meteoroids, or shooting-stars, are very different from meteorites or arolites, and seldom or never reach the earth, proceeds to account for the former. He says:

"Many theories have been advanced in the past to account for these strange bodies, but the evidence now accumulated proves beyond reasonable doubt that they are near relatives, and probably the dbris of comets.

"Tempel's comet is now known to be traveling in the same orbit as the November meteors, and is near the head of the train, and it appears, in like manner, that the second comet of 1862 (Swift's comet) is traveling in the orbit of the August meteors. And the first comet of 1881 seems to be similarly connected with the April meteors. . . .

[1. Ward's "Science Bulletin," E. E. II., 1882, p. 4.]

{p. 398}

"Although few scientific men now question a relationship between comets and the ordinary meteors, there are those, and among them some of our ablest men, who think that the large meteors, or bolides, and arolites, may be different astronomically, and perhaps physically, from the ordinary shooting-stars, and in the past some contended that they originated in our atmosphere others that they were ejected from terrestrial volcanoes. . . And at the present time the known facts, and all scientific thought, seem to point to the conclusion that the difference between them and ordinary shooting-stars is analogous to that between rain and mist, and, in addition to the reasons already given for connecting them with comets, may be mentioned the fact that meteorites bring with them carbonic acid, which is known to form so prominent a part of comets' tails; and if fragments of meteoric iron or stone be heated moderately in a vacuum, they yield up gases consisting of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, and the spectrum of these gases corresponds to the spectrum of a cornet's coma and tail.

"By studying their microscopical structure, Mr. Sorby has been able to determine that the material was at one time certainly in a state of fusion; and that the most remote condition of which we have positive evidence was that of small, detached, melted globules, the formation of which can not be explained in a satisfactory manner, except by supposing that their constituents were originally in the state of vapor, as they now exist in the atmosphere of the sun; and, on the temperature becoming lower, condensed into these "ultimate cosmical particles." These afterward collected into larger masses, which have been variously changed by subsequent metamorphic action, and broken up by repeated mutual impact, and often again collected together and solidified. The meteoric irons are probably those portions of the metallic constituents which were separated from the rest by fusion when the metamorphism was carried to that extreme point.'"

But if it be true, as is conceded, that all the planets and comets of the solar system were out-throwings from the sun itself, then all must be as much of one quality of

{p. 399}

material as half a dozen suits of clothes made from the same bolt of cloth. And hence our-brother-the-comet must be made of just such matter as our earth is made of. And hence, if a comet did strike the earth and deposited its ground-up and triturated material upon the earth's surface, we should find nothing different in that material from earth-substance of the same kind.

But, says another:

"If the Drift fell from a comet, why would not this clay-dust and these pebbles have been consumed before reaching the earth by the friction of our atmosphere just as we have seen the meteoroids consumed; or, if not entirely used up, why would these pebbles not show a fused surface, like the iron arolites? "

Here is the difference: a meteorite, a small or large stone, is detached, isolated, lone-wandering, lost in space; it comes within the tremendous attractive power of our globe; it has no parental attraction to restrain it; and it rushes headlong with lightning-like rapidity toward the earth, burning itself away as it falls.

But suppose two heavenly bodies, each with its own center of attraction, each holding its own scattered materials in place by its own force, to meet each other; then there is no more probability of the stones and dust of the comet flying to the earth, than there is of the stones and dust of the earth flying to the comet. And the attractive power of the comet, great enough to bold its gigantic mass in place through the long reaches of the fields of space, and even close up to the burning eye of the awful sun itself, holds its dust and pebbles and bowlders together until the very moment of impact with the earth. In short, they, the dust and stones, do not continue to follow the comet, because the earth has got in their way and arrested them. It was this terrific force of the

{p. 400}

comet's attraction, represented in a fearful rate of motion, that tore and pounded and scratched and furrowed our poor earth's face, as shown in the crushed and striated rocks under the Drift. They would have gone clean through the earth to follow the comet, if it had been possible.

If we can suppose the actual bulk of the comet to have greatly exceeded the bulk of the earth, then the superior attraction of the comet may have shocked the earth out of position. It has already been suggested that the inclination of the axis of the earth may have been changed at the time of the Drift; and the Esquimaux have a legend that the earth was, at that time, actually shaken out of its position. But upon this question I express no opinion.

But another may say:

"Your theory is impossible; these dense masses of clay and gravel could not have fallen from a comet, because the tails of comets are composed of material so attenuated that sometimes the stars are seen through them."

Granted: but remember that the clay did not come to the earth as clay, but as a finely comminuted powder or dust; it packed into clay after having been mixed with water. The particles of this dust must have been widely separated while in the comet's tail; if they had not been, instead of a deposit of a few hundred feet, we should have had one of hundreds of miles in thickness. We have seen, (page 94, ante,) that the tail of one comet was thirteen million miles broad; if the particles of dust composing that tail had been as minute as those of clay-dust, and if they had been separated from each other by many feet in distance, they would still have left a deposit on the face of any object passing through them much greater than the Drift. To illustrate my meaning: you ride on a summer day a hundred miles in a railroad-car, seated by an open

{p. 401}

window. There is no dust perceptible, at least not enough to obscure the landscape; yet at the end of the journey you find yourself covered with a very evident coating of dust. Now, suppose that, instead of traveling one hundred miles, your ride had been prolonged a million miles, or thirteen million miles; and, instead of the atmosphere being perfectly clear, you had moved through a cloud of dust, not dense enough to intercept the light of the stars, and yet dense enough to reflect the light of the sun, even as a smoke-wreath reflects it, and you can readily see that, long before you reached the end of your journey, you would be buried alive under hundreds of feet of dust. To creatures like ourselves, measuring our stature by feet and inches, a Drift-deposit three hundred feet thick is an immense affair, even as a deposit a foot thick would be to an ant; but, measured on an astronomical scale, with the foot-rule of the heavens, and the Drift is no more than a thin coating of dust, such as accumulates on a traveler's coat. Even estimating it upon the scale of our planet, it is a mere wrapping of tissue-paper thickness. In short, it must be remembered that we are an infinitely insignificant breed of little creatures, to whom a cosmical dust-shower is a cataclysm.

And that which is true of the clay-dust is true of the gravel. At a million miles' distance it, too, is dust; it runs in lines or streaks, widely separated; and the light shines between its particles as it does through the leaves of the trees

"And glimmering through the groaning trees Kirk Alloway seems in a blaze; Through every bore the beams are glancing."

But another says:

"Why do you think the finer parts of the material of the comet are carried farthest back from the head?"

{p. 402}

Because the attractive power lodged in the nucleus acts with most force on the largest masses; even as the rock is not so likely to leave the earth in a wind-storm as the dust; and in the flight of the comet through space, at the rate of three hundred and sixty-six miles per second, its lighter substances would naturally trail farthest behind it; for—

"The thing that's heavy in itself Upon enforcement flies with greatest speed."

And it would seem as if in time this trailing material of the comet falls so far behind that it loses its grip, and is lost; hence the showers of meteoroids.

Another says:

"I can not accept your theory as to the glacial clays they were certainly deposited in water, formed like silt, washed down from the adjacent continents."

I answer they were not, because:—

1. If laid down in water, they would be stratified; but they are not.

2. If laid down in water, they would be full of the fossils of the water, fresh-water shells, sea-shells, bones of fish, reptiles, whales, seals, etc.; but they are non-fossiliferous.

3. If laid down in water, they would not be made exclusively from granite. Where are the continents to be found which are composed of granite and nothing but granite?

4. Where were the continents, of any kind, from which these washings came? They must have reached from pole to pole, and filled the whole Atlantic Ocean. And how could the washings of rivers have made this uniform sheet, reaching over the whole length and half the breadth of this continent?

5. If these clays were made from land-washings, how comes it that in some places they are red, in others blue, in others yellow? In Western Minnesota you penetrate

{p. 403}

through twenty feet of yellow clay until you reach a thin layer of gravel, about an inch thick, and then pass at once, without any gradual transition, into a bed of blue clay fifty feet thick; and under this, again, you reach gravel. What separated these various deposits? The glacialists answer us that the yellow clay was deposited in fresh water, and the blue clay in salt water, and hence the difference in the color. But how did the water change instantly from salt to fresh? Why was there no interval of brackish water, during which the blue and yellow clays would have gradually shaded into each other? The transition from the yellow clay to the blue is as immediate and marked as if you were to lay a piece of yellow cloth across a piece of blue cloth. You can not take the salt out of a vast ocean, big enough to cover half a continent, in a day, a month, a year, or a century. And where were the bowl-like ridges of land that inclosed the continent, and kept out the salt water during the ages that elapsed while the yellow clay was being laid down in fresh water? And, above all, why are no such clays, blue, yellow, or red, now being formed anywhere on earth, under sheet-ice, glaciers, icebergs, or anything else? And how about the people who built cisterns, and used coins and iron implements before this silt was accumulated in the seas, a million years ago, for it must have taken that long to create these vast deposits if they were deposited as silt in the bottom of seas and lakes.

It may be asked:

"What relation, in order of time, do you suppose the Drift Age to hold to the Deluge of Noah and Deucalion? "

The latter was infinitely later. The geologists, as I have shown, suppose the Drift to have come upon the earth—basing their calculations upon the recession of the

{p. 404}

Falls of Niagara—about thirty thousand years ago. We have seen that this would nearly accord with the time given in Job, when he speaks of the position of certain constellations. The Deluge of Noah probably occurred somewhere from eight to eleven thousand years ago. Hence, about twenty thousand years probably intervened between the Drift and the Deluge. These were the "myriads of years" referred to by Plato, during which mankind dwelt on the great plain of Atlantis.

And this order of events agrees with all the legends.

In the Bible a long interval elapsed between the fall of man, or his expulsion from paradise, and the Deluge of Noah; and during this period mankind rose to civilization; became workers in the metals, musicians, and the builders of cities.

In the Egyptian history, as preserved by Plato, the Deluge of Deucalion, which many things prove to have been identical with the Deluge of Noah, was the last of a series of great catastrophes.

In the Celtic legends the great Deluge of Ogyges preceded the last deluge.

In the American legends, mankind have been many times destroyed, and as often renewed.

But it may be asked:

"Are you right in supposing that man first rose to civilization in a great Atlantic island?

We can conceive, as I have shown, mankind at some central point, like the Atlantic island, building up anew, after the Drift Age, the shattered fragments of pre-glacial civilization, and hence becoming to the post-glacial ancient world the center and apparent fountain of all cultivation. But in view of the curious discoveries made, as I have shown, in the glacial clays of the United

{p. 405}

States, further investigations may prove that it was on the North American Continent civilization was first born, and that it was thence moved eastward over the bridge-like ridges to Atlantis.

And it is, in this connection, remarkable that the Bible tells us (Genesis, chap. ii, v. 8):

"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man that he had formed."

He had first (v. 7) "formed man of the dust of the ground," and then he moves him eastward to Eden, to the garden.

And, as I have shown, when the fall of man came, when the Drift destroyed the lovely Tertiary conditions, man was again moved eastward; he was driven out of Eden, and the cherubims guarded the eastern extremity of the garden, to prevent man's return from (we will say) the shores of Atlantis. In other words, the present habitat of men is, as I have shown, according to the Bible, east of their former dwelling-place.

In the age of man's declension he moved eastward. In the age of his redemption he moves westward.

Hence, if the Bible is to be relied on, before man reached the garden of Eden, he had been created in some region west of the garden, to wit, in America; and here he may have first developed the civilization of which we find traces in Illinois, showing a metal-working race sufficiently advanced to have an alphabet and a currency.

But in all this we do not touch upon the question of where man was first formed by God.

The original birthplace of the human race who shall tell? It was possibly in some region now under the ocean, as Professor Winchell has suggested; there he was evolved during the mild, equable, gentle, plentiful,

406 CONCLUSIONS.

garden-age of the Tertiary; in the midst of the most favorable conditions for increasing the vigor of life and expanding it into new forms. It showed its influence by developing mammalian life in one direction into the monstrous forms of the mammoth and the mastodon, the climax of animal growth; and in the other direction into the more marvelous expansion of mentality found in man.

There are two things necessary to a comprehension of that which lies around us—development and design, evolution and purpose; God's way and God's intent. Neither alone will solve the problem. These are the two limbs of the right angle which meet at the first life-cell found on earth, and lead out until we find man at one extremity and God at the other.

Why should the religious world shrink from the theory of evolution? To know the path by which God has advanced is not to disparage God.

Could all this orderly nature have grown up out of chance, out of the accidental concatenation of atoms? As Bacon said:

"I would rather believe all the fables in the Talmud and the Koran than that this universal frame is without a mind!"

Wonderful thought! A flash of light through the darkness.

And what greater guarantee of the future can we have than evolution? If God has led life from the rudest beginnings, whose fossils are engraved, (blurred and obscured,) on the many pages of the vast geological volume, up to this intellectual, charitable, merciful, powerful world of to-day, who can doubt that the same hand will guide our posterity to even higher levels of development?

{p. 407}

If our thread of life has expanded from Cain to Christ, from the man who murders to him who submits to murder for the love of man, who can doubt that the Cain-like in the race will gradually pass away and the Christ-like dominate the planet?

Religion and science, nature and spirit, knowledge of God's works and reverence for God, are brethren, who should stand together with twined arms, singing perpetual praises to that vast atmosphere, ocean, universe of spirituality, out of which matter has been born, of which matter is but a condensation; that illimitable, incomprehensible, awe-full Something, before the conception of which men should go down upon the very knees of their hearts in adoration.

{p. 408}

CHAPTER V.

BIELA'S COMET.

HUMBOLDT Says:

"It is probable that the vapor of the tails of comets mingled with our atmosphere in the years 1819 and 1823."[1]

There is reason to believe that the present generation has passed through the gaseous prolongation of a comet's tail, and that hundreds of human beings lost their lives, somewhat as they perished in the Age of Fire and Gravel, burned up and poisoned by its exhalations.

And, although this catastrophe was upon an infinitely smaller scale than that of the old time, still it may throw some light upon the great cataclysm. At least it is a curious story, with some marvelous features:

On the 27th day of February, 1826, (to begin as M. Dumas would commence one of his novels,) M. Biela, an Austrian officer, residing at Josephstadt, in Bohemia, discovered a comet in the constellation Aries, which, at that time, was seen as a small round speck of filmy cloud. Its course was watched during the following month by M. Gambart at Marseilles and by M. Clausen at Altona, and those observers assigned to it an elliptical orbit, with a period of six years and three quarters for its revolution.

M. Damoiseau subsequently calculated its path, and announced that on its next return the comet would cross

[1. "Cosmos," Vol. i, p. 100.]

{p. 409}

the orbit of the earth, within twenty thousand miles of its track, and but about one month before the earth would have arrived at the same spot!

This was shooting close to the bull's-eye!

He estimated that it would lose nearly ten days on its return trip, through the retarding influence of Jupiter and Saturn; but, if it lost forty days instead of ten, what then?

But the comet came up to time in 1832, and the earth missed it by one month.

And it returned in like fashion in 1839 and 1846. But here a surprising thing occurred. Its proximity to the earth had split it in two; each half had a head and tail of its own; each had set up a separate government for itself; and they were whirling through space, side by side, like a couple of race-horses, about sixteen thousand miles apart, or about twice as wide apart as the diameter of the earth. Here is a picture of them, drawn from life.

#

BIELA'S COMET, SPLIT IN TWO, (From Guillemin's "The Heavens," page 247.)

{p. 410} Did the Fenris-Wolf, the Midgard-Serpent, and the Dog-Garm look like this?

In 1852, 1859, and 1866, the comet SHOULD have returned, but it did not. It was lost. It was dissipated. Its material was banging around the earth in fragments somewhere. I quote from a writer in a recent issue of the "Edinburgh Review":

The puzzled astronomers were left in a state of tantalizing uncertainty as to what had become of it. At the beginning of the year 1866 this feeling of bewilderment gained expression in the Annual Report of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society. The matter continued, nevertheless, in the same state of provoking uncertainty for another six years. The third period of the perihelion passage had then passed, and nothing had been seen of the missing luminary. But on the night of November 27, 1872, night-watchers were startled by a sudden and a very magnificent display of falling stars or meteors, of which there had been no previous forecast, and Professor Klinkerflues, of Berlin, having carefully noted the common radiant point in space from which this star-shower was discharged into the earth's atmosphere, with the intuition of ready genius jumped at once to the startling inference that here at last were traces of the missing luminary. There were eighty of the meteors that furnished a good position for the radiant point of the discharge, and that position, strange to say, was very much the same as the position in space which Biela's comet should have occupied just about that time on its fourth return toward perihelion. Klinkerflues, therefore, taking this spot as one point in the path of the comet, and carrying the path on as a track into forward space, fixed the direction there through which it should pass as a 'vanishing-point' at the other side of the starry sphere, and having satisfied himself of that further position he sent off a telegram to the other side of the world, where alone it could be seen—that is to say, to Mr. Pogson, of the Madras Observatory—which may be best told in his own nervous and simple words.

{p. 411}

Herr Klinkerflues's telegram to Mr. Pogson, of Madras, was to the following effect:

"'November 30th—Biela touched the earth on the 27th of November. Search for him near Theta Centauri.'

"The telegram reached Madras, through Russia, in one hour and thirty-five minutes, and the sequel of this curious passage of astronomical romance may be appropriately told in the words in which Mr. Pogson replied to Herr Klinkerflues's pithy message. The answer was dated Madras, the 6th of December, and was in the following words:

"'On the 30th of November, at sixteen hours, the time of the comet rising here, I was at my post, but hopelessly; clouds and rain gave me no chance. The next morning I had the same bad luck. But on the third trial, with a line of blue break, about 17 hours mean time, I found Biela immediately! Only four comparisons in successive minutes could be obtained, in strong morning twilight, with an anonymous star; but direct motion of 2.5 seconds decided that I had got the comet all right. I noted it—circular, bright, with, a decided nucleus, but NO TAIL, and about forty-five seconds in diameter. Next morning I got seven good comparisons with an anonymous star, showing a motion of 17.9 seconds in twenty-eight minutes, and I also got two comparisons with a Madras star in our current catalogue, and with 7,734 Taylor. I was too anxious to secure one good place for the one in hand to look for the other comet, and the fourth morning was cloudy and rainy.'

"Herr Klinkerflues's commentary upon this communication was that he forthwith proceeded to satisfy himself that no provoking accident had led to the discovery of a comet altogether unconnected with Biela's, although in this particular place, and that he was ultimately quite confident of the identity of the comet observed by Mr. Pogson with one of the two heads of Biela. It was subsequently settled that Mr. Pogson had, most probably, seen both heads of the comet, one on the first occasion of his successful search, and the second on the following day; and the meteor-shower experienced in Europe on November 27th was unquestionably due to the passage

{p. 412}

near the earth of a meteoric trail traveling in the track of the comet. When the question of a possible collision was mooted in 1832, Sir John Herschel remarked that such an occurrence might not be unattended with danger, and that on account of the intersection of the orbits of the earth and the comet a rencontre would in all likelihood take place within the lapse of some millions of years. As a matter of fact the collision did take place on November 27, 1872, and the result, so far as the earth was concerned, was a magnificent display of arial fireworks! But a more telling piece of ready-witted sagacity than this prompt employment of the telegraph for the apprehension of the nimble delinquent can scarcely be conceived. The sudden brush of the comet's tail, the instantaneous telegram to the opposite side of the world, and the glimpse thence of the vagrant luminary as it was just whisking itself off into space toward the star Theta Centauri, together constitute a passage that stands quite without a parallel in the experience of science."

But did the earth escape with a mere shower of fireworks?

I have argued that the material of a comet consists of a solid nucleus, giving out fire and gas, enveloped in a great gaseous mass, and a tail made up of stones, possibly gradually diminishing in size as they recede from the nucleus, until the after-part of it is composed of fine dust ground from the pebbles and bowlders; while beyond this there may be a still further prolongation into gaseous matter.

Now, we have seen that Biela's comets lost their tails. What became of them? There is no evidence to show whether they lost them in 1852, 1859, 1866, or 1872. The probabilities are that the demoralization took place before 1852, as otherwise the comets would have been seen, tails and all, in that and subsequent years. It is true that the earth came near enough in 1872 to attract some of the wandering gravel-stones toward itself, and that they fell,

{p. 413}

blazing and consuming themselves with the friction of our atmosphere, and reached the surface of our planet, if at all, as cosmic dust. But where were the rest of the assets of these bankrupt comets? They were probably scattered around in space, disjecta membra, floating hither and thither, in one place a stream of stones, in another a volume of gas; while the two heads had fled away, like the fugitive presidents of a couple of broken banks, to the Canadian refuge of "Theta Centauri"—shorn of their splendors and reduced to first principles.

Did anything out of the usual order occur on the face of the earth about this time?

Yes. In the year 1871, on Sunday, the 8th of October, at half past nine o'clock in the evening, events occurred which attracted the attention of the whole world, which caused the death of hundreds of human beings, and the destruction of millions of property, and which involved three different States of the Union in the wildest alarm and terror.

The summer of 1871 had been excessively dry; the moisture seemed to be evaporated out of the air; and on the Sunday above named the atmospheric conditions all through the Northwest were of the most peculiar character. The writer was living at the time in Minnesota, hundreds of miles from the scene of the disasters, and he can never forget the condition of things. There was a parched, combustible, inflammable, furnace-like feeling in the air, that was really alarming. It felt as if there were needed but a match, a spark, to cause a world-wide explosion. It was weird and unnatural. I have never seen nor felt anything like it before or since. Those who experienced it will bear me out in these statements.

At that hour, half past nine o'clock in the evening, at apparently the same moment, at points hundreds of miles

{p. 414}

apart, in three different States, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois, fires of the most peculiar and devastating kind broke out, so far as we know, by spontaneous combustion.

In Wisconsin, on its eastern borders, in a heavily timbered country, near Lake Michigan, a region embracing four hundred square miles, extending north from Brown County, and containing Peshtigo, Manistee, Holland, and numerous villages on the shores of Green Bay, was swept bare by an absolute whirlwind of flame. There were seven hundred and fifty people killed outright, besides great numbers of the wounded, maimed, and burned, who died afterward. More than three million dollars' worth of property was destroyed.[1]

It was no ordinary fire. I quote:

"At sundown there was a lull in the wind and comparative stillness. For two hours there were no signs of danger; but at a few minutes after nine o'clock, and by a singular coincidence, precisely the time at which the Chicago fire commenced, the people of the village heard a terrible roar. It was that of a tornado, crushing through the forests. Instantly the heavens were illuminated with a terrible glare. The sky, which had been so dark a moment before, burst into clouds of flame. A spectator of the terrible scene says the fire did not come upon them gradually from burning trees and other objects to the windward, but the first notice they had of it was a whirlwind of flame in great clouds from above the tops of the trees, which fell upon and entirely enveloped everything. The poor people inhaled it, or the intensely hot air, and fell down dead. This is verified by the appearance of many of the corpses. They were found dead in the roads and open spaces, where there were no visible marks of fire near by, with not a trace of burning upon their bodies or clothing. At the Sugar Bush, which is an extended clearing, in some places four miles in width,

[1. See "History of the Great Conflagration," Sheahan & Upton, Chicago, 1871, pp. 393, 394, etc.]

{p. 415}

corpses were found in the open road, between fences only slightly burned. No mark of fire was upon them; they lay there as if asleep. This phenomenon seems to explain the fact that so many were killed in compact masses. They seemed to have huddled together, in what were evidently regarded at the moment as the safest places, far away from buildings, trees, or other inflammable material, and there to have died together."[1]

Another spectator says:

"Much has been said of the intense heat of the fires which destroyed Peshtigo, Menekaune, Williamsonville, etc., but all that has been said can give the stranger but a faint conception of the reality. The heat has been compared to that engendered by a flame concentrated on an object by a blow-pipe; but even that would not account for some of the phenomena. For instance, we have in our possession a copper cent taken from the pocket of a dead man in the Peshtigo Sugar Bush, which will illustrate our point. This cent has been partially fused, but still retains its round form, and the inscription upon it is legible. Others, in the same pocket, were partially melted, and yet the clothing and the body of the man were not even singed. We do not know in what way to account for this, unless, as is asserted by some, the tornado and fire were accompanied by electrical phenomena."[2]

"It is the universal testimony that the prevailing idea among the people was, that the last day had come. Accustomed as they were to fire, nothing like this had ever been known. They could give no other interpretation to this ominous roar, this bursting of the sky with fame, and this dropping down of fire out of the very heavens, consuming instantly everything it touched.

"No two give a like description of the great tornado as it smote and devoured the village. It seemed as if 'the fiery fiends of hell had been loosened,' says one. 'It came in great sheeted flames from heaven,' says another. 'There was a pitiless rain of fire and SAND.' 'The

[1. See "History of the Great Conflagration," Sheahan & Upton, Chicago, 1871, p. 372.

2. Ibid., p. 373.]

{p. 416}

atmosphere was all afire.' Some speak of 'great balls of fire unrolling and shooting forth, in streams.' The fire leaped over roofs and trees, and ignited whole streets at once. No one could stand before the blast. It was a race with death, above, behind, and before them."[1]

A civil engineer, doing business in Peshtigo, says

"The heat increased so rapidly, as things got well afire, that, when about four hundred feet from the bridge and the nearest building, I was obliged to lie down behind a log that was aground in about two feet of water, and by going under water now and then, and holding my head close to the water behind the log, I managed to breathe. There were a dozen others behind the same log. If I had succeeded in crossing the river and gone among the buildings on the other side, probably I should have been lost, as many were."

We have seen Ovid describing the people of "the earth" crouching in the same way in the water to save themselves from the flames of the Age of Fire.

In Michigan, one Allison Weaver, near Port Huron, determined to remain, to protect, if possible, some mill-property of which he had charge. He knew the fire was coming, and dug himself a shallow well or pit, made a thick plank cover to place over it, and thus prepared to bide the conflagration.

I quote:

"He filled it nearly full of water, and took care to saturate the ground around it for a distance of several rods. Going to the mill, he dragged out a four-inch plank, sawed it in two, and saw that the parts tightly covered the mouth of the little well. 'I kalkerated it would be tech and go,' said he, 'but it was the best I could do.' At midnight he had everything arranged, and the roaring then was

[1. See "History of the Great Conflagration," Sheahan & Upton, Chicago, 1871, p. 374.]

{p. 417}

awful to hear. The clearing was ten to twelve acres in extent, and Weaver says that, for two hours before the fire reached him, there was a constant flight across the ground of small animals. As he rested a moment from giving the house another wetting down, a horse dashed into the opening at full speed and made for the house. Weaver could see him tremble and shake with excitement and terror, and felt a pity for him. After a moment the animal gave utterance to a snort of dismay, ran two or three times around the house, and then shot on into the woods like a rocket."

We have, in the foregoing pages, in the legends of different nations, descriptions of the terrified animals flying with the men into the caves of the earth to escape the great conflagration.

'I Not long after this the fire came. Weaver stood by his well, ready for the emergency, yet curious to see the breaking-in of the flames. The roaring increased in volume, the air became oppressive, a cloud of dust and cinders came showering down, and he could see the flame through the trees. It did not run along the ground, or leap from tree to tree, but it came on like a tornado, a sheet of flame reaching from the earth to the tops of the trees. As it struck the clearing he jumped into his well, and closed over the planks. He could no longer see, but he could hear. He says that the flames made no halt whatever, or ceased their roaring for an instant, but he hardly got the opening closed before the house and mill were burning tinder, and both were down in five minutes. The smoke came down upon him powerfully, and his den was so hot he could hardly breathe.

"He knew that the planks above him were on fire, but, remembering their thickness, he waited till the roaring of the flames had died away, and then with his head and hands turned them over and put out the fire by dashing up water with his hands. Although it was a cold night, and the water had at first chilled him, the heat gradually warmed him up until he felt quite comfortable. He remained in his den until daylight, frequently turning

{p. 418}

over the planks and putting out the fire, and then the worst had passed. The earth around was on fire in spots, house and mill were gone, leaves, brush, and logs were swept clean away as if shaved off and swept with a broom, and nothing but soot and ashes were to be seen."[1]

In Wisconsin, at Williamson's Mills, there was a large but shallow well on the premises belonging to a Mr. Boorman. The people, when cut off by the flames and wild with terror, and thinking they would find safety in the water, leaped into this well. "The relentless fury of the flames drove them pell-mell into the pit, to struggle with each other and die—some by drowning, and others by fire and suffocation. None escaped. Thirty-two bodies were found there. They were in every imaginable position; but the contortions of their limbs and the agonizing expressions of their faces told the awful tale."[2]

The recital of these details, horrible though they may be, becomes excusable when we remember that the ancestors of our race must have endured similar horrors in that awful calamity which I have discussed in this volume.

James B. Clark, of Detroit, who was at Uniontown, Wisconsin, writes:

"The fire suddenly made a rush, like the flash of a train of gunpowder, and swept in the shape of a crescent around the settlement. It is almost impossible to conceive the frightful rapidity of the advance of the flames. The rushing fire seemed to eat up and annihilate the trees."

They saw a black mass coming toward them from the wall of flame:

"It was a stampede of cattle and horses thundering toward us, bellowing moaning, and neighing as they galloped

[1. See "History of the Great Conflagration," Sheahan & Upton, Chicago, 1871, p. 390.

2. Ibid., p. 386.]

{p. 419}

on; rushing with fearful speed, their eyeballs dilated and glaring with terror, and every motion betokening delirium of fright. Some had been badly burned, and must have plunged through a long space of flame in the desperate effort to escape. Following considerably behind came a solitary horse, panting and snorting and nearly exhausted. He was saddled and bridled, and, as we first thought, had a bag lashed to his back. As he came up we were startled at the sight of a young lad lying fallen over the animal's neck, the bridle wound around his hands, and the mane being clinched by the fingers. Little effort was needed to stop the jaded horse, and at once release the helpless boy. He was taken into the house, and all that we could do was done; but he had inhaled the smoke, and was seemingly dying. Some time elapsed and he revived enough to speak. He told his name—Patrick Byrnes—and said: 'Father and mother and the children got into the wagon. I don't know what became of them. Everything is burned up. I am dying. Oh! is hell any worse than this?'"[1]

How vividly does all this recall the book of Job and the legends of Central America, which refer to the multitudes of the burned, maimed, and wounded lying in the caverns, moaning and crying like poor Patrick Byrnes, suffering no less in mind than in body!

When we leave Wisconsin and pass about two hundred and fifty miles eastward, over Lake Michigan and across the whole width of the State of Michigan, we find much the same condition of things, but not so terrible in the loss of human life. Fully fifteen thousand people were rendered homeless by the fires; and their food, clothing, crops, horses, and cattle were destroyed. Of these five to six thousand were burned out the same night that the fires broke out in Chicago and Wisconsin. The

[1. See "History of the Great Conflagration," Sheahan & Upton, Chicago, 1871, p. 383.]

{p. 420}

total destruction of property exceeded one million dollars; not only villages and cities, but whole townships, were swept bare.

But it is to Chicago we must turn for the most extraordinary results of this atmospheric disturbance. It is needless to tell the story in detail. The world knows it by heart:

Blackened and bleeding, helpless, panting, prone, On the charred fragments of her shattered throne, Lies she who stood but yesterday alone."

I have only space to refer to one or two points.

The fire was spontaneous. The story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow having started the conflagration by kicking over a lantern was proved to be false. It was the access of gas from the tail of Biela's comet that burned up Chicago!

The fire-marshal testified:

"I felt it in my bones that we were going to have a burn."

He says, speaking of O'Leary's barn:

"We got the fire under control, and it would not have gone a foot farther; but the next thing I knew they came and told me that St. Paul's church, about two squares north, was on fire."[1]

They checked the church-fire, but—

"The next thing I knew the fire was in Bateham's planing-mill."

A writer in the New York "Evening Post" says he saw in Chicago "buildings far beyond the line of fire, and in no contact with it, burst into flames from the interior."

[1. See "History of the Great Conflagration," Sheahan & Upton, Chicago, 1871, p. 163.]

{p. 421}

It must not be forgotten that the fall of 1871 was marked by extraordinary conflagrations in regions widely separated. On the 8th. of October, the same day the Wisconsin, Michigan, and Chicago fires broke out, the States of Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois were severely devastated by prairie-fires; while terrible fires raged on the Alleghanies, the Sierras of the Pacific coast, and the Rocky Mountains, and in the region of the Red River of the North.

"The Annual Record of Science and Industry" for 1876, page 84, says:

"For weeks before and after the great fire in Chicago in 1872, great areas of forest and prairie-land, both in the United States and the British Provinces, were on fire."

The flames that consumed a great part of Chicago were of an unusual character and produced extraordinary effects. They absolutely melted the hardest building-stone, which had previously been considered fire-proof. Iron, glass, granite, were fused and run together into grotesque conglomerates, as if they had been put through a blast-furnace. No kind of material could stand its breath for a moment.

I quote again from Sheahan & Upton's Work:

"The huge stone and brick structures melted before the fierceness of the flames as a snow-flake melts and disappears in water, and almost as quickly. Six-story buildings would take fire and disappear for ever from sight in five minutes by the watch. . . . The fire also doubled on its track at the great Union Depot and burned half a mile southward in the very teeth of the gale—a gale which blew a perfect tornado, and in which no vessel could have lived on the lake. . . . Strange, fantastic fires of blue, red, and green played along the cornices of buildings."[1]

[1. "History of the Chicago Fire," pp. 85, 86.]

{p. 422}

Hon. William B. Ogden wrote at the time:

"The fire was accompanied by the fiercest tornado of wind ever known to blow here."[1]

"The most striking peculiarity of the fire was its intense heat. Nothing exposed to it escaped. Amid the hundreds of acres left bare there is not to be found a piece of wood of any description, and, unlike most fires, it left nothing half burned. . . . The fire swept the streets of all the ordinary dust and rubbish, consuming it instantly."[2]

The Athens marble burned like coal!

"The intensity of the heat may be judged, and the thorough combustion of everything wooden may be understood, when we state that in the yard of one of the large agricultural-implement factories was stacked some hundreds of tons of pig-iron. This iron was two hundred feet from any building. To the south of it was the river, one hundred and fifty feet wide. No large building but the factory was in the immediate vicinity of the fire. Yet, so great was the heat, that this pile of iron melted and run, and is now in one large and nearly solid mass."[3]

The amount of property destroyed was estimated by Mayor Medill at one hundred and fifty million dollars; and the number of people rendered houseless, at one hundred and twenty-five thousand. Several hundred lives were lost.

All this brings before our eyes vividly the condition of things when the comet struck the earth; when conflagrations spread over wide areas; when human beings were consumed by the million; when their works were obliterated, and the remnants of the multitude fled before the rushing flames, filled with unutterable consternation;

[1. "History of the Chicago Fire," p. 87.

2. Ibid., p. 119.

3. Ibid., p. 121.]

{p. 423}

and as they jumped pell-mell into wells, so we have seen them in Job clambering down ropes into the narrow-mouthed, bottomless pit.

Who shall say how often the characteristics of our atmosphere have been affected by accessions from extraterrestrial sources, resulting in conflagrations or pestilences, in failures of crops, and in famines? Who shall say how far great revolutions and wars and other perturbations of humanity have been due to similar modifications? There is a world of philosophy in that curious story, "Dr. Ox's Hobby," wherein we are told how he changed the mental traits of a village of Hollanders by increasing the amount of oxygen in the air they breathed.

{p. 424}

CHAPTER VI.

THE UNIVERSAL BELIEF OF MANKIND.

THERE are some thoughts and opinions which we seem to take by inheritance; we imbibe them with our mothers' milk; they are in our blood; they are received insensibly in childhood.

We have seen the folk-lore of the nations, passing through the endless and continuous generation of children, unchanged from the remotest ages.

In the same way there is an untaught but universal feeling which makes all mankind regard comets with fear and trembling, and which unites all races of men in a universal belief that some day the world will be destroyed by fire.

There are many things which indicate that a far-distant, prehistoric race existed in the background of Egyptian and Babylonian development, and that from this people, highly civilized and educated, we have derived the arrangement of the heavens into constellations, and our divisions of time into days, weeks, years, and centuries. This people stood much nearer the Drift Age than we do. They understood it better. Their legends and religious beliefs were full of it. The gods carved on Hindoo temples or painted on the walls of Assyrian, Peruvian, or American structures, the flying dragons, the winged gods, the winged animals, Gucumatz, Rama, Siva, Vishnu, Tezcatlipoca, were painted in the very colors of the clays which came from the disintegration of the granite, "red,

{p. 425}

white, and blue," the very colors which distinguished the comet; and they are all reminiscences of that great monster. The idols of the pagan world are, in fact, congealed history, and will some day be intelligently studied as such.

Doubtless this ancient astronomical, zodiac-building, and constellation-constructing race taught the people the true doctrine of comets; taught that the winding serpent, the flying dragon, the destructive winged dog, or wolf, or lion, whose sphinx-like images now frown upon us from ancient walls and door-ways, were really comets; taught how one of them had actually struck the earth; and taught that in the lapse of ages another of these multitudinous wanderers of space would again encounter our globe, and end all things in one universal conflagration.

And down through the race this belief has come, and down through the race it will go, to the consummation of time.

We find this "day of wrath" prefigured in the words of Malachi, (chap. iv, v. 1):

"1. For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

"2. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

"3. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts."

We find the same great catastrophe foretold in the book of Revelation, (chap. xii, v. 3):

"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

{p. 426}

"4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth."

And again, (chap. vi):

"12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

"13. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

"14. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

"15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

"16. And said to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb

17. For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"

Here we seem to have the story of Job over again, in this prefiguration of the future.

The Ethiopian copy of the apocryphal book of Enoch contains a poem, which is prefixed to the body of that work, and which the learned author of "Nimrod" supposes to be authentic. It certainly dates from a vast antiquity. It is as follows:

"Enoch, a righteous man, who was with God, answered and spoke while his eyes were open, and while he saw a holy vision in the heavens. . . .

"Upon this account I spoke, and conversed with him who will go forth from his habitation, the holy and mighty One, the God of the world.

"Who will hereafter tread upon the mountain Sinai, and appear with his hosts, and he manifested in the strength of his power from heaven.

{p. 427}

"All shall be afraid, and the watchers be terrified. Great fear and trembling shall seize even to the ends of the earth.

"The lofty mountains shall be troubled, and the exalted hills depressed, melting like honeycomb in the flame.

"The earth shall be immerged, and all things which are in it perish. . . .

"He shall preserve the elect, and toward them exercise clemency. . . . The whole earth is full of water."

This is either history or prophecy.

In the Second Epistle General of Peter, (chap. iii,) we have some allusions to the past, and some prophecies based upon the past, which are very curious:

Verse 5. "For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water."

That is to say, the earth was, as in Ovid and Ragnarok, and the legends generally, an island, "standing out of the water and in the water."

Verse 6. "Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished."

This seems to refer to the island Atlantis, "overflowed with water," and destroyed, as told by Plato; thereby forming a very distinct connection between the Island of Poseidon and the Deluge of Noah.

We read on:

Verse 7. "But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men."

Verse 10. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

{p. 428}

The Gothic mythology tells us that Surt, with his flaming sword, "shall come at the end of the world; he shall vanquish all the gods; he shall give up the universe a prey to the flames."

This belief in the ultimate destruction of the world and all its inhabitants by fire was found among the American races as well as those of the Old World:

"The same terror inspired the Peruvians at every eclipse; for some day—taught the Amantas—the shadow will veil the sun for ever, and land, moon, and stars will be wrapped in a devouring conflagration, to know no regeneration."[1]

The Algonquin races believed that some day Michabo "will stamp his foot on the ground, flames will burst forth to consume the habitable land; only a pair, or only, at most, those who have maintained inviolate the institutions he ordained, will he protect and preserve to inhabit the new world he will then fabricate."[2]

Nearly all the American tribes had similar presentiments. The Chickasaws, the Mandans of the Missouri, the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, the Muyscas of Bogota, the Botocudos of Brazil, the Araucanians of Chili, the Winnebagoes, all have possessed such a belief from time immemorial. The Mayas of Yucatan had a prediction which Father Lizana, cur of Itzamal, preserved in the Spanish language:

"At the close of the ages, it hath been decreed, Shall perish and vanish each weak god of men, And the world shall be purged with ravening fire."

We know that among our own people, the European races, this looking forward to a conflagration which is to end all things is found everywhere; and that everywhere a comet is regarded with terror. It is a messenger of

[1. Brinton's "Myths," p. 235.

2. Ibid.]

{p. 429}

woe and disaster; it is a dreadful threat shining in the heavens; it is "God's rod," even as it was in Job's day.

I could fill pages with the proofs of the truth of this statement.

An ancient writer, describing the great meteoric shower of the year 1202, says:

"The stars flew against one another like a scattering swarm of locusts, to the right and left; this phenomenon lasted until daybreak; people were thrown into consternation and cried to God, the Most High, with confused clamor."[1]

The great meteoric display of 1366 produced similar effects. An historian of the time says:

"Those who saw it were filled with such great fear and dismay that they were astounded, imagining that they were all dead men, and that the end of the world had come."[2]

How could such a universal terror have fixed itself in the blood of the race, if it had not originated from some great primeval fact? And all this terror is associated with a dragon.

And Chambers says:

"The dragon appears in the mythical history and legendary poetry of almost every nation, as the emblem of the destructive and anarchical principle; . . . as misdirected physical force and untamable animal passions. . . . The dragon proceeds openly to work, running on its feet with expanded wings, and head and tail erect, violently and ruthlessly outraging decency and propriety, spouting fire and fury from both mouth and tail, and wasting and devastating the whole land."[3]

This fiery monster is the comet.

[1. Popular Science Monthly," June, 1882, p. 193.

2. Ibid., p. 193.

3. "Chambers's Encyclopaedia," vol. iii, p. 655.]

{p. 430}

And Milton speaks from the same universal inspiration when he tells us:

"A comet burned, That fires the length of Ophiucus huge In th' arctic sky, and from its horrid hair Shakes pestilence and war."

And in the Shakespeare plays[1] we read:

"Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night! Comets, importing change of times and states, Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky; And with them scourge the bad revolting stars."

Man, by an inherited instinct, regards the comet as a great terror and a great foe; and the heart of humanity sits uneasily when one blazes in the sky. Even to the scholar and the scientist they are a puzzle and a fear; they are erratic, unusual, anarchical, monstrous—something let loose, like a tiger of the heavens, athwart an orderly, peaceful, and harmonious world. They may be impalpable and harmless attenuations of gas, or they way be loaded with death and ruin; but in any event man can not contemplate them without terror.

[1. 1 Henry VI, 1, 1.]

{p. 431}

CHAPTER VII.

THE EARTH STRUCK BY COMETS MANY TIMES.

IF the reader is satisfied, from my reasoning and the facts I have adduced, that the so-called Glacial Age really represents a collision of the earth with one of these wandering luminaries of space, the question can not but occur to him, Was this the first and only occasion, during all the thousands of millions of years that our planet has been revolving on its axis and circling around the sun, that such a catastrophe has occurred?

The answer must be in the negative.

We find that all through the rocky record of our globe the same phenomena which we have learned to recognize as peculiar to the Drift Age are, at distant intervals, repeated.

The long ages of the Palozoic Time passed with few or no disturbances. The movements of the earth's crust oscillated at a rate not to exceed one foot in a century.[1] It was an age of peace. Then came a tremendous convulsion. It has been styled by the geologists "the epoch of the Appalachian revolution."

"Strata were upraised and flexed into great (olds, some of the folds a score or more of miles in span. Deep fissures were opened in the earth's crust," like the fiords or great rock-cracks which accompanied the Diluvial or Drift Age. "Rocks were consolidated; and over some parts sandstones and shales were crystallized into gneiss,

[1. Dana's "Text-Book," p. 150.]

{p. 432}

mica-schist, and other related rocks, and limestone into architectural and statuary marble. Bituminous coal was turned into anthracite in Pennsylvania."[1]

I copy from the same work (p. 153) the following cut, showing the extent to which the rocks were crushed out of shape:

#

SECTION ON THE SCHUYLKILL, PENNSYLVANIA.

P, Pottsville on the coal-measures; 2, Calciferous formation; 3, Trenton; 4, Hudson River; 5, Oneida and Niagara; 7, Lower Helderberg; 8, 10, 11, Devonian; 12, 13, Subcarboniferous; 14, Carboniferous, or coal-measures.

These tremendous changes were caused by a pressure of some kind which came from the east, from where the Atlantic Ocean now rolls.

"It was due to a lateral pressure, the folding having taken place just as it might in paper or cloth under a lateral or pushing movement."[2]

"It was accompanied by great heat which melted and consolidated the rocks, changed their condition, drove the volatile gases out of the bituminous coal and changed it into anthracite, in some places altered it to graphite, as if it had been passed through a furnace."[3]

It also made an almost universal slaughter of all forms of life:

"The extermination of life which took place at this time was one of the most extensive in all geological history; . . . no fossils of the Carboniferous formation occur in later rocks."[4]

[1. Dana's "Text-Book," p. 152.

2. Ibid., p. 155.

3. Ibid., p. 155.

4. Ibid., p. 157.]

{p. 433}

it was accompanied or followed, as in the Drift Age, by tremendous floods of water; the evaporated seas returned to the earth in wasting storms:

"The waters commenced the work of denudation, which has been continued to the present time."[1]

Is not all this a striking confirmation of my theory?

Here we find that, long before the age of man, a fearful catastrophe happened to the earth. Its rocks were melted—not merely decomposed, as in the Drift Age,—but actually melted and metamorphosed; the heat, as in the Drift Age, sucked up the waters of the seas, to cast them down again in great floods; it wiped out nearly all the life of the planet, even as the Drift Age exterminated the great mammals; whatever drift then fell probably melted with the burning rocks.

Here are phenomena which no ice-sheet, though it were a thousand miles thick, can explain; here is heat, not ice; combustion, not cold; and yet all these phenomena are but the results which we have seen would naturally follow the contact of the earth with a comet.

But while, in this particular case, the size of the comet, or its more fiery nature, melted the surface of the globe, and changed the very texture of the solid rocks, we find in the geological record the evidences of repeated visitations when Drift was thrown upon the earth in great quantities; but the heat, as in the last Drift Age, was not great enough to consume all things.

In the Cambrian formation, conglomerates are found, combinations of stones and hardened clay, very much like the true "till."

In the Lower Silurian of the south of Scotland, large blocks and bowlders (from one foot to five feet in diameter)

[1. Dana's "Text-Book," p. 156.]

{p. 434}

are found, "of gneiss, syenite, granite, etc., none of which belong to the rocks of that neighborhood."

Geikie says:

"Possibly these bowlders may have come from some ancient Atlantis, transported by ice."[1]

The conglomerates belonging to the Old Red Sandstone formation in the north of England and in Scotland, we are told, "closely resemble a consolidated bowlder drift."[2]

Near Victoria, in Australia, a conglomerate was found nearly one hundred feet in thickness.

"Great beds of conglomerate occur at the bottom of the Carboniferous, in various parts of Scotland, which it is difficult to believe are other than ancient morainic dbris. They are frequently quite unstratified, and the stones often show that peculiar blunted form which is so characteristic of glacial work."[3]

Professor Ramsay found well-scratched and blunted stones in a Permian conglomerate.

In the north of Scotland, a coarse, bowlder-conglomerate is associated with the Jurassic strata. The Cretaceous formation has yielded great stones and bowlders. In the Eocene of Switzerland, erratics have been found, some angular and some rounded. They often attain great size; one measured one hundred and five feet in length, ninety feet in breadth, and forty-five feet in height. Some of the blocks consist of a kind of granite not known to occur anywhere in the Alps.

Geikie says:

"The occurrence in the Eocene of huge ice-carried blocks seems incomprehensible when the general character of the Eocene fossils is taken into account, for these have a somewhat tropical aspect. So, likewise, the appearance of ice-transported blocks in the Miocene is a sore puzzle,

[1. "The Great Ice Age," p. 478.

2. Ibid., p. 479.

3. Ibid.]

{p. 435}

as the fossils imbedded in this formation speak to us of tropical and sub-tropical climates having prevailed in Central Europe."[1]

It was precisely during the age when a warm climate prevailed in Spitzbergen and North Greenland that these erratics were dropped down on the plains of Italy!

And, strange to say, just as we have found the Drift-deposits of Europe and America unfossiliferous,—that is to say, containing no traces of animal or vegetable life,—so these strange stone and clay deposits of other and more ancient ages were in like manner unfossiliferous.[2]

In the "flysch" of the Eocene of the Alps, few or no fossils have been found. In the conglomerates of Turin, belonging to the Upper Miocene period, not a single organic remain has been found.

What conclusion is forced upon us?

That, written in the rocky pages of the great volume of the planet, are the records of repeated visitations from the comets which then rushed through the heavens.

No trace is left of their destructive powers, save the huge, unstratified, unfossiliferous deposits of clay and stones and bowlders, locked away between great layers of the sedimentary rocks.

Can it be that there wanders through immeasurable space, upon an orbit of such size that millions of years are required to complete it, some monstrous luminary, so vast that when it returns to us it fills a large part of the orbit which the earth describes around the sun, and showers down upon us deluges of dbris, while it fills the world with flame? And are these recurring strata of stones and clay and bowlders, written upon these widely separated pages of the geologic volume, the record of its oft and regularly recurring visitations?

[1. "The Great Ice Age," p. 480.

2. Ibid., p. 481.]

{p. 436}

Who shall say? Science will yet compare minutely the composition of these different conglomerates. No secret can escape discovery when the light of a world's intelligence is brought to bear upon it.

And even here we stumble over a still more tremendous fact:

It has been supposed that the primeval granite was the molten crust of the original glowing ball of the earth, when it first hardened as it cooled.

But, lo! the microscope, (so Professor Whichell tells us,) reveals that this very granite, this foundation of all our rocks, this ancient globe-crust, is itself made up of sedimentary rocks, which were melted, fused, and run together in some awful conflagration which wiped out all life on the planet.

Beyond the granite, then, there were seas and shores, winds and rains, rivers and sediment carried into the waters to form the rocks melted up in this granite; there were countless ages; possibly there were animals and man; but all melted and consumed together. Was this, too, the result of a comet visitation?

Who shall tell the age of this old earth? Who shall count the ebbs and flows of eternity? Who shall say how often this planet has been developed up to the highest forms of life, and how often all this has been obliterated in universal fire?

The earth is one great tomb of life:

"All that tread The globe are but a handful to the tribes That slumber in its bosom."

In endless series the ages stretch along—birth, life, development, destruction. And so shall it be till time is no more.

{p. 437}

CHAPTER VIII.

THE AFTER-WORD.

WHEN that magnificent genius, Francis Bacon, sent forth one of his great works to the world, he wrote this prayer:

"Thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the first-born of thy creatures, and didst pour into man the intellectual light as the top and consummation of thy workmanship, be pleased to protect and govern this work, which coming from thy goodness returneth to thy glory. . . . We humbly beg that this mind may be steadfastly in us; and that thou, by our hands and the hands of others, on whom thou shalt bestow the same spirit, wilt please to convey a largess of new alms to thy family of mankind."

And again he says:

"This also we beg, that human things may not prejudice such as are divine; neither that from the unlocking of the gates of sense, and the kindling of a greater natural light, anything of incredulity, or intellectual night, may arise in our minds toward divine mysteries."

In the same spirit, but humbly halting afar after this illustrious man, I should be sorry to permit this book to go out to the world without a word to remove the impression which some who read it, and may believe it, may form, that such a vast catastrophe as I have depicted militates against the idea that God rules and cares for his world and his creatures. It will be asked, If "there is a special providence even in the fall of a sparrow," how

{p. 438}

could He have permitted such a calamity as this to overtake a beautiful, populous, and perhaps civilized world?

Here we fall again upon the great debate of Job, and we may answer in the words which the author of that book puts into the mouth of God himself, when from out the whirlwind he answered him:

"Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him "He that reproveth God, let him answer."

In other words, Who and what is man to penetrate the counsels and purposes of the Creator; and who are you, Job?—

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare it, if thou hast understanding.

"Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who has stretched the line upon it?

"Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner-stone thereof?

"When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy."

Consider, Job, the littleness of man, the greatness of the universe; and what right have you to ask Him, who made all this, the reasons for his actions?

And this is a sufficient answer: A creature seventy inches long prying into the purposes of an Awful Something, whose power ranges so far that blazing suns are seen only as mist-specks!

But I may make another answer:

Although it seems that many times have comets smitten the earth, covering it with dbris, or causing its rocks to boil, and its waters to ascend into the heavens, yet, considering all life, as revealed in the fossils, from the first cells unto this day, nothing has perished that was worth preserving.

{p. 439}

So far as we can judge, after every cataclysm the world has risen to higher levels of creative development.

If I am right, despite these incalculable tons of matter piled on the earth, despite heat and cyclones and darkness and ice and floods, not even a tender tropical plant fit to adorn or sustain man's life was blotted out; not an animal valuable for domestication was exterminated; and not even the great inventions which man had attained to, during the Tertiary Age, were lost. Nothing died but that which stood in the pathway of man's development,—the monstrous animals, the Neanderthal races, the half-human creatures intermediate between man and the brute. The great centers of human activity to-day in Europe and America are upon the Drift-deposits; the richest soils are compounded of the so-called glacial clays. Doubtless, too, the human brain was forced during the Drift Age to higher reaches of development under the terrible ordeals of the hour.

Surely, then, we can afford to leave God's planets in God's hands. Not a particle of dust is whirled in the funnel of the cyclone but God identifies it, and has marked its path.

If we fall again upon

"Axe-ages, sword-ages, Wind-ages, murder-ages—

if "sensual sins grow huge"; if "brother spoils brother" if Sodom and Gomorrah come again—who can say that God may not bring out of the depths of space a rejuvenating comet?

Be assured of one thing—this world tends now to a deification of matter.

Dives says: "The earth is firm under my feet; I own my possessions down to the center of the earth and up to

{p. 440}

the heavens. If fire sweeps away my houses, the insurance company reimburses me; if mobs destroy them, the government pays me; if civil war comes, I can convert them into bonds and move away until the storm is over; if sickness comes, I have the highest skill at my call to fight it back; if death comes, I am again insured, and my estate makes money by the transaction; and if there is another world than this, still am I insured: I have taken out a policy in the ——- church, and pay my premiums semiannually to the minister."

And Dives has an unexpressed belief that heaven is only a larger Wall Street, where the millionaires occupy the front benches, while those who never had a bank account on earth sing in the chorus.

Speak to Dives of lifting up the plane of all the underfed, under-paid, benighted millions of the earth—his fellow-men—to higher levels of comfort, and joy, and intelligence—not tearing down any but building up all—and Dives can not understand you.

Ah, Dives! consider, if there is no other life than this, the fate of these uncounted millions of your race! What does existence give to them? What do they get out of all this abundant and beautiful world?

To look down the vista of such a life as theirs is like gazing into one of the corridors of the Catacombs: an alley filled with reeking bones of dead men; while from the cross-arches, waiting for the poor man's coming on, ghastly shapes look out:—sickness and want and sin and grim despair and red-eyed suicide.

Put yourself in his place, Dives, locked up in such a cavern as that, and the key thrown away!

Do not count too much, Dives, on your lands and houses and parchments; your guns and cannon and laws; your insurance companies and your governments. There

{p. 441}

may be even now one coming from beyond Arcturus, or Aldebaran, or Coma Berenices, with glowing countenance and horrid hair, and millions of tons of dbris, to overwhelm you and your possessions, and your corporations, and all the ant-like devices of man in one common ruin.

Build a little broader, Dives. Establish spiritual relations. Matter is not everything. You do not deal in certainties. You are but a vitalized speck, filled with a fraction of God's delegated intelligence, crawling over an egg-shell filled with fire, whirling madly through infinite space, a target for the bombs of a universe.

Take your mind off your bricks and mortar, and put out your tentacles toward the great spiritual world around you. Open communications with God. You can not help God. For Him who made the Milky Way you can do nothing. But here are his creatures. Not a nerve, muscle, or brain-convolution of the humblest of these but duplicates your own; you excel them simply in the coordination of certain inherited faculties which have given you success. Widen your heart. Put your intellect to work to so readjust the values of labor, and increase the productive capacity of Nature, that plenty and happiness, light and hope, may dwell in every heart, and the Catacombs be closed for ever.

And from such a world God will fend off the comets with his great right arm, and the angels will exult over it in heaven.

End of Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
Home - Random Browse