Starting from this landmark, the earlier geologists divided the world's history into three periods. As the historian recognizes Ancient History, the Middle Ages, and Modern History as distinct phases in the growth of the human race, so they distinguished between what they called the Primary period, when, as they believed, no life stirred on the surface of the earth; the Secondary or middle period, when animals and plants were introduced, and the land began to assume continental proportions; and the Tertiary period, or comparatively modern geological times, when the physical features of the earth as well as its inhabitants were approaching more nearly to the present condition of things. But as their investigations proceeded, they found that every one of these great ages of the world's history was divided into numerous lesser epochs, each of which had been characterized by a peculiar set of animals and plants, and had been closed by some great physical convulsion, disturbing and displacing the materials accumulated during such a period of rest.
The further study of these subordinate periods showed that what had been called Primary formations, namely, the volcanic or Plutonic rocks formerly believed to be confined to the first geological ages, belonged to all the periods, successive eruptions having taken place at all times, pouring up through the accumulated deposits, penetrating and injecting their cracks, fissures, and inequalities, as well as throwing out large masses on the surface. Up to our own day there has never been a period when such eruptions have not taken place, though they have been constantly diminishing in frequency and extent. In consequence of this discovery, that rocks of igneous character were by no means exclusively characteristic of the earliest times, they are now classified together upon very different grounds from those on which geologists first united them; though, as the name Primary was long retained, we still find it applied to them, even in geological works of quite recent date. This defect of nomenclature is to be regretted, as likely to mislead the student, because it seems to refer to time; whereas it no longer signifies the age of the rocks, but simply their character. The name Plutonic or Massive rocks is, however, now almost universally substituted for that of Primary.
A wide field of investigation still remains to be explored by the chemist and the geologist together, in the mineralogical character of the Plutonic rocks, which differs greatly in the different periods. The earlier eruptions seem to have been chiefly granitic, though this must not be understood in too wide a sense, since there are granite formations even as late as the Tertiary period; those of the middle periods were mostly porphyries and basalts; while in the more recent ones, lavas predominate. We have as yet no clew to the laws by which this distribution of volcanic elements in the formation of the earth is regulated; but there is found to be a difference in the crystals of the Plutonic rocks belonging to different ages, which, when fully understood may enable us to determine the age of any Plutonic rock by its mode of crystallization; so that the mineralogist will as readily tell you by its crystals whether a bit of stone of igneous origin belongs to this or that period of the world's history, as the palaeontologist will tell you by its fossils whether a piece of rock of aqueous origin belongs to the Silurian or Devonian or Carboniferous deposits.
Although subsequent investigations have multiplied so extensively not only the number of geological periods, but also the successive creations that have characterized them, yet the first general division into three great eras was nevertheless founded upon a broad and true generalization. In the first stratified rocks in which any organic remains are found, the highest animals are fishes, and the highest plants are cryptogams; in the middle periods reptiles come in, accompanied by fern and moss forests; in later times quadrupeds are introduced, with a dicotyledonous vegetation. So closely does the march of animal and vegetable life keep pace with the material progress of the world, that we may well consider these three divisions, included under the first general classification of its physical history, as the three Ages of Nature; the more important epochs which subdivide them may be compared to so many great dynasties, while the lesser periods are the separate reigns contained therein. Of such epochs there are ten, well known to geologists; of the lesser periods about sixty are already distinguished, while many more loom up from the dim regions of the past, just discerned by the eye of science, though their history is not yet unravelled.
Before proceeding further, I will enumerate the geological epochs in their succession, confining myself, however, to such as are perfectly well established, without alluding to those of which the limits are less definitely determined, and which are still subject to doubts and discussions among geologists. As I do not propose to make here any treatise of Geology, but simply to place before my readers some pictures of the old world, with the animals and plants that have inhabited it at various times, I shall avoid, as far as possible, all debatable ground, and confine myself to those parts of my subject which are best known, and can therefore be more clearly presented.
First, we have the Azoic period, devoid of life, as its name signifies,—namely, the earliest stratified deposits upon the heated film forming the first solid surface of the earth, in which no trace of living thing has ever been found. Next comes the Silurian period, when the crust of the earth had thickened and cooled sufficiently to render the existence of animals and plants upon it possible, and when the atmospheric conditions necessary to their maintenance were already established. Many of the names given to these periods are by no means significant of their character, but are merely the result of accident: as, for instance, that of Silurian, given by Sir Roderick Murchison to this set of beds, because he first studied them in that part of Wales occupied by the ancient tribe of the Silures. The next period, the Devonian, was for a similar reason named after the country of Devonshire in England, where it was first investigated. Upon this follows the Carboniferous period, with the immense deposits of coal from which it derives its name. Then comes the Permian period, named, again, from local circumstances, the first investigation of its deposits having taken place in the province of Permia in Russia. Next in succession we have the Triassic period, so called from the trio of rocks, the red sandstone, Muschel Kalk (shell-limestone), and Keuper (clay), most frequently combined in its formations; the Jurassic, so amply illustrated in the chain of the Jura, where geologists first found the clew to its history; and the Cretaceous period, to which the chalk cliffs of England and all the extensive chalk deposits belong. Upon these follow the so-called Tertiary formations, divided into three periods, all of which have received most characteristic names in this epoch of the world's history we see the first approach to a condition of things resembling that now prevailing, and Sir Charles Lyell has most fitly named its three divisions, the Eocene, Miocene, and Pliocene. The termination of the three words is made from the Greek word Kainos, recent; while Eos signifies dawn, Meion less, and Pleion more. Thus Eocene indicates the dawn of recent species, Pliocene their increase, while Miocene, the intermediate term, means less recent. Above these deposits comes what has been called in science the present period,—the modern times of the geologist,—that period to which man himself belongs, and since the beginning of which, though its duration be counted by hundreds of thousands of years, there has been no alteration in the general configuration of the earth, consequently no important modification of its climatic conditions, and no change in the animals and plants inhabiting it.
I have spoken of the first of these periods, the Azoic, as having been absolutely devoid of life, and I believe this statement to be strictly true; but I ought to add that there is a difference of opinion among geologists upon this point, many believing that the first surface of our globe may have been inhabited by living beings, but that all traces of their existence have been obliterated by the eruptions of melted materials, which not only altered the character of those earliest stratified rocks, but destroyed all the organic remains contained in them. It will be my object to show, not only that the absence of the climatic and atmospheric conditions essential to organic life, as we understand it, must have rendered the previous existence of any living beings impossible, but also that the completeness of the Animal Kingdom in those deposits where we first find organic remains, its intelligible and coherent connections with the successive creations of all geological times and with the animals now living, afford the strongest internal evidence that we have indeed found in the lower Silurian formations, immediately following the Azoic, the beginning of life upon earth. When a story seems to us complete and consistent from the beginning to the end, we shall not seek for a first chapter, even though the copy in which we have read it be so torn and defaced as to suggest the idea that some portion of it may have been lost. The unity of the work, as a whole, is an incontestable proof that we possess it in its original integrity. The validity of this argument will be recognized, perhaps, only by those naturalists to whom the Animal Kingdom has begun to appear as a connected whole. For those who do not see order in Nature it can have no value.
For a table containing the geological periods in their succession, I would refer to any modern text-book of Geology, or to an article in the Atlantic Monthly for March, 1862, upon "Methods of Study in Natural History," where they are given in connection with the order of introduction of animals upon earth.
Were these sets of rocks found always in the regular sequence in which I have enumerated them, their relative age would be easily determined, for their superposition would tell the whole story: the lowest would, of course, be the oldest, and we might follow without difficulty the ascending series, till we reached the youngest and uppermost deposits. But their succession has been broken up by frequent and violent alterations in the configuration of the globe. Land and water have changed their level,—islands have been transformed to continents,—sea-bottoms have become dry land, and dry land has sunk to form sea-bottoms,—Alps and Himalayas, Pyrenees and Apennines, Alleghanies and Rocky Mountains, have had their stormy birthdays since many of these beds have been piled one above another, and there are but few spots on the earth's surface where any number of them may be found in their original order and natural position. When we remember that Europe, which lies before us on the map as a continent, was once an archipelago of islands,—that, where the Pyrenees raise their rocky barrier between France and Spain, the waters of the Mediterranean and Atlantic met,—that, where the British Channel flows, dry land united England and France, and Nature in those days made one country of the lands parted since by enmities deeper than the waters that run between,—when we remember, in short, all the fearful convulsions that have torn asunder the surface of the earth, as if her rocky record had indeed been written on paper, we shall find a new evidence of the intellectual unity which holds together the whole physical history of the globe in the fact that through all the storms of time the investigator is able to trace one unbroken thread of thought from the beginning to the present hour.
The tree is known by its fruits,—and the fruits of chance are incoherence, incompleteness, unsteadiness, the stammering utterance of blind, unreasoning force. A coherence that binds all the geological ages in one chain, a stability of purpose that completes in the beings born to-day an intention expressed in the first creatures that swam in the Silurian ocean or crept upon its shores, a steadfastness of thought, practically recognized by man, if not acknowledged by him, whenever he traces the intelligent connection between the facts of Nature and combines them into what he is pleased to call his system of Geology, or Zooelogy, or Botany,—these things are not the fruits of chance or of an unreasoning force, but the legitimate results of intellectual power. There is a singular lack of logic, as it seems to me, in the views of the materialistic naturalists. While they consider classification, or, in other words, their expression of the relations between animals or between physical facts of any kind, as the work of their intelligence, they believe the relations themselves to be the work of physical causes. The more direct inference surely is, that, if it requires an intelligent mind to recognize them, it must have required an intelligent mind to establish them. These relations existed before man was created; they have existed ever since the beginning of time; hence, what we call the classification of facts is not the work of his mind in any direct original sense, but the recognition of an intelligent action prior to his own existence.
There is, perhaps, no part of the world, certainly none familiar to science, where the early geological periods can be studied with so much ease and precision as in the United States. Along their northern borders, between Canada and the United States, there runs the low line of hills known as the Laurentian Hills. Insignificant in height, nowhere rising more than fifteen hundred or two thousand feet above the level of the sea, these are nevertheless the first mountains that broke the uniform level of the earth's surface and lifted themselves above the waters. Their low stature, as compared with that of other more lofty mountain-ranges, is in accordance with an invariable rule, by which the relative age of mountains may be estimated. The oldest mountains are the lowest, while the younger and more recent ones tower above their elders, and are usually more torn and dislocated also. This is easily understood, when we remember that all mountains and mountain-chains are the result of upheavals, and that the violence of the outbreak must have been in proportion to the strength of the resistance. When the crust of the earth was so thin that the heated masses within easily broke through it, they were not thrown to so great a height, and formed comparatively low elevations, such as the Canadian hills or the mountains of Bretagne and Wales. But in later times, when young, vigorous giants, such as the Alps, the Himalayas, or, later still, the Rocky Mountains, forced their way out from their fiery prison-house, the crust of the earth was much thicker, and fearful indeed must have been the convulsions which attended their exit.
The Laurentian Hills form, then, a granite range, stretching from Eastern Canada to the Upper Mississippi, and immediately along its base are gathered the Azoic deposits, the first stratified beds, in which the absence of life need not surprise us, since they were formed beneath a heated ocean. As well might we expect to find the remains of fish or shells or crabs at the bottom of geysers or of boiling springs, as on those early shores bathed by an ocean of which the heat must have been so intense. Although, from the condition in which we find it, this first granite range has evidently never been disturbed by any violent convulsion since its first upheaval, yet there has been a gradual rising of that part of the continent; for the Azoic beds do not lie horizontally along the base of the Laurentian Hills in the position in which they must originally have been deposited, but are lifted and rest against their slopes. They have been more or less dislocated in this process, and are greatly metamorphized by the intense heat to which they must have been exposed. Indeed, all the oldest stratified rocks have been baked by the prolonged action of heat.
It may be asked how the materials for those first stratified deposits were provided. In later times, when an abundant and various soil covered the earth, when every river brought down to the ocean, not only its yearly tribute of mud or clay or lime, but the debris of animals and plants that lived and died in its waters or along its banks, when every lake and pond deposited at its bottom in successive layers the lighter or heavier materials floating in its waters and settling gradually beneath them, the process by which stratified materials are collected and gradually harden into rock is more easily understood. But when the solid surface of the earth was only just beginning to form, it would seem that the floating matter in the sea can hardly have been in sufficient quantity to form any extensive deposits. No doubt there was some abrasion even of that first crust; but the more abundant source of the earliest stratification is to be found in the submarine volcanoes that poured their liquid streams into the first ocean. At what rate these materials would be distributed and precipitated in regular strata it is impossible to determine; but that volcanic materials were so deposited in layers is evident from the relative position of the earliest rocks. I have already spoken of the innumerable chimneys perforating the Azoic beds, narrow outlets of Plutonic rock, protruding through the earliest strata. Not only are such funnels filled with the crystalline mass of granite that flowed through them in a liquid state, but it has often poured over their sides, mingling with the stratified beds around. In the present state of our knowledge, we can explain such appearances only by supposing that the heated materials within the earth's crust poured out frequently, meeting little resistance,—that they then scattered and were precipitated in the ocean around, settling in successive strata at its bottom,—that through such strata the heated masses within continued to pour again and again, forming for themselves the chimney-like outlets above mentioned.
Such, then, was the earliest American land,—a long, narrow island, almost continental in its proportions, since it stretched from the eastern borders of Canada nearly to the point where now the base of the Rocky Mountains meets the plain of the Mississippi Valley. We may still walk along its ridge and know that we tread upon the ancient granite that first divided the waters into a northern and southern ocean; and if our imaginations will carry us so far, we may look down toward its base and fancy how the sea washed against this earliest shore of a lifeless world. This is no romance, but the bald, simple truth; for the fact that this granite band was lifted out of the waters so early in the history of the world, and has not since been submerged, has, of course, prevented any subsequent deposits from forming above it. And this is true of all the northern part of the United States. It has been lifted gradually, the beds deposited in one period being subsequently raised, and forming a shore along which those of the succeeding one collected, so that we have their whole sequence before us. In regions where all the geological deposits (Silurian, Devonian, carboniferous, permian, triassic, etc.) are piled one upon another, and we can get a glimpse of their internal relations only where some rent has laid them open, or where their ragged edges, worn away by the abrading action of external influences, expose to view their successive layers, it must, of course, be more difficult to follow their connection. For this reason the American continent offers facilities to the geologist denied to him in the so-called Old World, where the earlier deposits are comparatively hidden, and the broken character of the land, intersected by mountains in every direction, renders his investigation still more difficult. Of course, when I speak of the geological deposits as so completely unveiled to us here, I do not forget the sheet of drift which covers the continent from north to south, and which we shall discuss hereafter, when I reach that part of my subject. But the drift is only a superficial and recent addition to the soil, resting loosely above the other geological deposits, and arising, as we shall see, from very different causes.
In this article I have intended to limit myself to a general sketch of the formation of the Laurentian Hills with the Azoic stratified beds resting against them. In the Silurian epoch following the Azoic we have the first beach on which any life stirred; it extended along the base of the Azoic beds, widening by its extensive deposits the narrow strip of land already upheaved. I propose ... to invite my readers to a stroll with me along that beach.
With what interest do we look upon any relic of early human history! The monument that tells of a civilization whose hieroglyphic records we cannot even decipher, the slightest trace of a nation that vanished and left no sign of its life except the rough tools and utensils buried in the old site of its towns or villages, arouses our imagination and excites our curiosity. Men gaze with awe at the inscription on an ancient Egyptian or Assyrian stone; they hold with reverential touch the yellow parchment-roll whose dim, defaced characters record the meagre learning of a buried nationality; and the announcement, that for centuries the tropical forests of Central America have hidden within their tangled growth the ruined homes and temples of a past race, stirs the civilized world with a strange, deep wonder.
To me it seems, that to look on the first land that was ever lifted above the waste of waters, to follow the shore where the earliest animals and plants were created when the thought of God first expressed itself in organic forms, to hold in one's hand a bit of stone from an old sea-beach, hardened into rock thousands of centuries ago, and studded with the beings that once crept upon its surface or were stranded there by some retreating wave, is even of deeper interest to men than the relies of their own race, for these things tell more directly of the thoughts and creative acts of God.
Standing in the neighborhood of Whitehall, near Lake George, one may look along such a seashore, and see it stretching westward and sloping gently southward as far as the eye can reach. It must have had a very gradual slope, and the waters must have been very shallow; for at that time no great mountains had been uplifted, and deep oceans are always the concomitants of lofty heights. We do not, however, judge of this by inference merely; we have an evidence of the shallowness of the sea in those days in the character of the shells found in the Silurian deposits, which shows that they belonged in shoal waters.
Indeed, the fossil remains of all times tell us almost as much of the physical condition of the world at different epochs as they do of its animal and vegetable population. When Robinson Crusoe first caught sight of the footprint on the sand, he saw in it more than the mere footprint, for it spoke to him of the presence of men on his desert island. We walk on the old geological shores, like Crusoe along his beach, and the footprints we find there tell us, too, more than we actually see in them. The crust of our earth is a great cemetery, where the rocks are tombstones on which the buried dead have written their own epitaphs. They tell us not only who they were and when and where they lived, but much also of the circumstances under which they lived. We ascertain the prevalence of certain physical conditions at special epochs by the presence of animals and plants whose existence and maintenance required such a state of things, more than by any positive knowledge respecting it. Where we find the remains of quadrupeds corresponding to our ruminating animals, we infer not only land, but grassy meadows also, and an extensive vegetation; where we find none but marine animals, we know the ocean must have covered the earth; the remains of large reptiles, representing, though in gigantic size, the half aquatic, half terrestrial reptiles of our own period, indicate to us the existence of spreading marshes still soaked by the retreating waters; while the traces of such animals as live now in sand and shoal waters, or in mud, speak to us of shelving sandy beaches and of mud-flats. The eye of the Trilobite tells us that the sun shone on the old beach where he lived; for there is nothing in nature without a purpose, and when so complicated an organ was made to receive the light, there must have been light to enter it. The immense vegetable deposits in the Carboniferous period announce the introduction of an extensive terrestrial vegetation; and the impressions left by the wood and leaves of the trees show that these first forests must have grown in a damp soil and a moist atmosphere. In short, all the remains of animals and plants hidden in the rocks have something to tell of the climatic conditions and the general circumstances under which they lived, and the study of fossils is to the naturalist a thermometer by which he reads the variations of temperature in past times, a plummet by which he sounds the depths of the ancient oceans,—a register, in fact, of all the important physical changes the earth has undergone.
But although the animals of the early geological deposits indicate shallow seas by their similarity to our shoal-water animals, it must not be supposed that they are by any means the same. On the contrary, the old shells, crustacea, corals, etc., represent types which have existed in all times with the same essential structural elements, but under different specific forms in the several geological periods. And here it may not be amiss to say something of what are called by naturalists representative types.
The statement that different sets of animals and plants have characterized the successive epochs is often understood as indicating a difference of another kind than that which distinguishes animals now living in different parts of the world. This is a mistake. There are so-called representative types all over the globe, united to each other by structural relations and separated by specific differences of the same kind as those that unite and separate animals of different geological periods. Take, for instance, mud-flats or sandy shores in the same latitudes of Europe and America; we find living on each, animals of the same structural character and of the same general appearance, but with certain specific differences, as of color, size, external appendages, etc. They represent each other on the two continents. The American wolves, foxes, bears, rabbits, are not the same as the European, but those of one continent are as true to their respective types as those of the other; under a somewhat different aspect they represent the same groups of animals. In certain latitudes, or under conditions of nearer proximity, these differences may be less marked. It is well known that there is a great monotony of type, not only among animals and plants, but in the human races also, throughout the Arctic regions; and some animals characteristic of the high North reappear under such identical forms in the neighborhood of the snow-fields in lofty mountains, that to trace the difference between the ptarmigans, rabbits, and other gnawing animals of the Alps, for instance, and those of the Arctics, is among the most difficult problems of modern science.
And so it is also with the animated world of past ages; in similar deposits of sand, mud, or lime, in adjoining regions of the same geological age, identical remains of animals and plants may be found; while at greater distances, but under similar circumstances, representative species may occur. In very remote regions, however, whether the circumstances be similar or dissimilar, the general aspect of the organic world differs greatly, remoteness in space being thus in some measure an indication of the degree of affinity between different faunae. In deposits of different geological periods immediately following each other, we sometimes find remains of animals and plants so closely allied to those of earlier or later periods that at first sight the specific differences are hardly discernible. The difficulty of solving these questions, and of appreciating correctly the differences and similarities between such closely allied organisms, explains the antagonistic views of many naturalists respecting the range of existence of animals, during longer or shorter geological periods; and the superficial way in which discussions concerning the transition of species are carried on, is mainly owing to an ignorance of the conditions above alluded to. My own personal observation and experience in these matters have led me to the conviction that every geological period has had its own representatives, and that no single species has been repeated in successive ages.
The laws regulating the geographical distribution of animals, and their combination into distinct zooelogical provinces called faunae, with definite limits, are very imperfectly understood as yet; but so closely are all things linked together from the beginning that I am convinced we shall never find the clew to their meaning till we carry on our investigations in the past and the present simultaneously. The same principle according to which animal and vegetable life is distributed over the surface of the earth now, prevailed in the earliest geological periods. The geological deposits of all times have had their characteristic faunae under various zones, their zooelogical provinces presenting special combinations of animal and vegetable life over certain regions, and their representative types reproducing in different countries, but under similar latitudes, the same groups with specific differences.
Of course, the nearer we approach the beginning of organic life, the less marked do we find the differences to be, and for a very obvious reason. The inequalities of the earth's surface, her mountain-barriers protecting whole continents from the Arctic winds, her open plains exposing others to the full force of the polar blasts, her snug valleys and her lofty heights, her tablelands and rolling prairies, her river-systems and her dry deserts, her cold ocean-currents pouring down from the high North on some of her shores, while warm ones from tropical seas carry their softer influence to others,—in short, all the contrasts in the external configuration of the globe, with the physical conditions attendant upon them, are naturally accompanied by a corresponding variety in animal and vegetable life.
But in the Silurian age, when there were no elevations higher than the Canadian hills, when water covered the face of the earth, with the exception of a few isolated portions lifted above the almost universal ocean, how monotonous must have been the conditions of life! And what should we expect to find on those first shores? If we are walking on a sea-beach to-day, we do not look for animals that haunt the forests or roam over the open plains, or for those that live in sheltered valleys or in inland regions or on mountain-heights. We look for Shells, for Mussels and Barnacles, for Crabs, for Shrimps, for Marine Worms, for Star-Fishes and Sea-Urchins, and we may find here and there a fish stranded on the sand or tangled in the seaweed.
SOME RECORDS OF THE ROCKS
(FROM A FIRST BOOK IN GEOLOGY.)
BY N.S. SHALER, S.D.
[Footnote 1: Copyright, 1884, by N.S. Shaler.]
The geologist cannot find his way back in the record of the great stone book, to the far-off day when life began. The various changes that come over rocks from the action of heat, of water, and of pressure, have slowly modified these ancient beds, so that they no longer preserve the frames of the animals that were buried in them.
These old rocks, which are so changed that we cannot any longer make sure that any animals lived in them, are called the "archaean," which is Greek for ancient. They were probably mud and sand and limestone when first made, but they have been changed to mica schists, gneiss, granite, marble, and other crystalline rocks. When any rock becomes crystalline, the fossils dissolve and disappear, as coins lose their stamp and form when they are melted in the jeweller's gold-pot.
These ancient rocks that lie deepest in the earth are very thick, and must have taken a great time in building; great continents must have been worn down by rain and waves in order to supply the waste out of which they were made. It is tolerably certain that they took as much time during their making as has been required for all the other times since they were formed. During the vast ages of this archaean the life of our earth began to be. We first find many certain evidences of life in the rocks which lie on top of the archaean rock, and are known as the Cambriani and Silurian periods. There we have creatures akin to our corals and crabs and worms, and others that are the distant kindred of the cuttle-fishes and of our lamp-shells. There were no backboned animals, that is to say, no land mammals, reptiles, or fishes at this stage of the earth's history. It is not likely that there was any land life except of plants and those forms like the lowest ferns, and probably mosses. Nor is it likely that there were any large continents as at the present time, but rather a host of islands lying where the great lands now are, the budding tops of the continents just appearing above the sea.
Although the life of this time was far simpler than at the present day, it had about as great variety as we would find on our present sea-floors. There were as many different species living at the same time on a given surface.
The Cambrian and Silurian time—the time before the coming of the fishes—must have endured for many million years without any great change in the world. Hosts of species lived and died; half a dozen times or more the life of the earth was greatly changed. New species came much like those that had gone before, and only a little gain here and there was perceptible at any time. Still, at the end of the Silurian, the life of the world had climbed some steps higher in structure and in intelligence.
The next set of periods is known as the Devonian. It is marked by the rapid extension of the fishes; for, although the fishes began in the uppermost Silurian, they first became abundant in this time. These, the first strong-jawed tyrants of the sea, came all at once, like a rush of the old Norman pirates into the peaceful seas of Great Britain. They made a lively time among the sluggish beings of that olden sea. Creatures that were able to meet feebler enemies were swept away or compelled to undergo great changes, and all the life of the oceans seems to have a spur given to it by these quicker-formed and quicker-willed animals. In this Devonian section of our rocks we have proofs that the lands were extensively covered with forests of low fern trees, and we find the first trace of air-breathing animals in certain insects akin to our dragon-flies. In this stage of the earth's history the fishes grew constantly more plentiful, and the seas had a great abundance of corals and crinoids. Except for the fishes, there were no very great changes in the character of the life from that which existed in the earlier time of the Cambrian and Silurian. The animals are constantly changing, but the general nature of the life remains the same as in the earlier time.
In the Carboniferous or coal-bearing age, we have the second great change in the character of the life on the earth. Of the earlier times, we have preserved only the rocks formed in the seas. But rarely do we find any trace of the land life or even of the life that lived along the shores. In this Carboniferous time, however, we have very extensive sheets of rocks which were formed in swamps in the way shown in the earlier part of this book. They constitute our coal-beds, which, though much worn away by rain and sea, still cover a large part of the land surface. These beds of coal grew in the air, and, although the swamps where they were formed had very little animal life in them, we find some fossils which tell us that the life of the land was making great progress; there are new insects, including beetles, cockroaches, spiders, and scorpions, and, what is far more important, there are some air-breathing, back-boned animals, akin to the salamanders and water-dogs of the present day. These were nearly as large as alligators, and of much the same shape, but they were probably born from the egg in the shape of tadpoles and lived for a time in the water as our young frogs, toads, and salamanders do. This is the first step upwards from the fishes to land vertebrates; and we may well be interested in it, for it makes one most important advance in creatures through whose lives our own existence became possible. Still, these ancient woods of the coal period must have had little of the life we now associate with the forests; there were still no birds, no serpents, no true lizards, no suck-giving animals, no flowers, and no fruits. These coal-period forests were sombre wastes of shade, with no sound save those of the wind, the thunder, and the volcano, or of the running streams and the waves on the shores.
In the seas of the Carboniferous time, we notice that the ancient life of the earth is passing away. Many creatures, such as the trilobites, die out, and many other forms such as the crinoids or sea lilies become fewer in kind and of less importance. These marks of decay in the marine life continue into the beds just after the Carboniferous, known as the Permian, which are really the last stages of the coal-bearing period.
When with the changing time we pass to the beds known as the Triassic, which were made just after the close of the Carboniferous time, we find the earth undergoing swift changes in its life. The moist climate and low lands that caused the swamps to grow so rapidly have ceased to be, and in their place we appear to have warm, dry air, and higher lands.
On these lands of the Triassic time the air-breathing life made very rapid advances. The plants are seen to undergo considerable changes. The ferns no longer make up all the forests, but trees more like the pines began to abound, and insects became more plentiful and more varied.
Hitherto the only land back-boned animal was akin to our salamanders. Now we have true lizards in abundance, many of them of large size. Some of them were probably plant-eaters, but most were flesh-eaters; some seem to have been tenants of the early swamps, and some dwelt in the forests.
The creatures related to the salamanders have increased in the variety of their forms to a wonderful extent. We know them best by the tracks which they have left on the mud stones formed on the borders of lakes or the edge of the sea. In some places these footprints are found in amazing numbers and perfection. The best place for them is in the Connecticut Valley, near Turner's Falls, Mass. At this point the red sandstone and shale beds, which are composed of thin layers having a total thickness of several hundred feet, are often stamped over by these footprints like the mud of a barnyard. From the little we can determine from these footprints, the creatures seem to have been somewhat related to our frogs, but they generally had tails, and, though provided with four legs, were in the habit of walking on the hind ones alone like the kangaroo. A few of these tracks are shown in the figure on this page.
These strange creatures were of many different species. Some of them must have been six or seven feet high, for their steps are as much as three feet apart, and seem to imply a creature weighing several hundred pounds. Others were not bigger than robins. Strangely enough, we have never found their bones nor the creatures on which they fed, and but for the formation of a little patch of rocks here and there we should not have had even these footprints to prove to us that such creatures had lived in the Connecticut Valley in this far-off time.
But these wonderful forms are less interesting than two or three little fossil jaw-bones that prove to us that in this Triassic time the earth now bore another animal more akin to ourselves, in the shape of a little creature that gave suck to its young. Once more life takes a long upward step in this little opossum-like animal, perhaps the first creature whose young was born alive. These little creatures called Microlestes or Dromatherium, of which only one or two different but related species have been found in England and in North Carolina, appear to have been insect-eaters of about the size and shape of the Australian creature shown in Fig. 7. So far we know it in but few specimens,—altogether only an ounce or two of bones,—but they are very precious monuments of the past.
In this Triassic time the climate appears to have been rather dry, for in it we have many extensive deposits of salt formed by the evaporation of closed lakes, of seas, such as are now forming on the bottom of the Dead Sea, and the Great Salt Lake of Utah, and a hundred or more other similar basins of the present day.
In the sea animals of this time we find many changes. Already some of the giant lizard-like animals, which first took shape on the land, are becoming swimming-animals. They changed their feet to paddles, which, with the help of a flattened tail, force them through the water.
The fishes on which these great swimming lizards preyed are more like the fishes of our present day than they were before. The trilobites are gone, and of the crinoids only a remnant is left. Most of the corals of the earlier days have disappeared, but the mollusks have not changed more than they did at several different times in the earliest stages of the earth's history.
After the Trias comes a long succession of ages in which the life of the world is steadily advancing to higher and higher planes; but for a long time there is no such startling change as that which came in the passage from the coal series of rocks to the Trias. This long set of periods is known to geologists as the age of reptiles. It is well named, for the kindred of the lizards then had the control of the land. There were then none of our large fish to dispute their control, so they shaped themselves to suit all the occupations that could give them a chance for a living. Some remained beasts of prey like our alligators, but grew to larger size; some took to eating the plants, and came to walk on their four legs as our ordinary beasts do, no longer dragging themselves on their bellies as do the lizard and alligator, their lower kindred. Others became flying creatures like our bats, only vastly larger, often with a spread of wing of fifteen or twenty feet. Yet others, even as strangely shaped, dwelt with the sharks in the sea.
In this time of the earth's history we have the first bird-like forms. They were feathered creatures, with bills carrying true teeth, and with strong wings; but they were reptiles in many features, having long, pointed tails such as none of our existing birds have. They show us that the birds are the descendants of reptiles, coming off from them as a branch does from the parent tree. The tortoises began in this series of rocks. At first they are marine or swimming forms, the box-turtles coming later. Here too begin many of the higher insects. Creatures like moths and bees appear, and the forests are enlivened with all the important kinds of insects, though the species were very different from those now living.
In the age of reptiles the plants have made a considerable advance. Palms are plenty; forms akin to our pines and firs abound, and the old flowerless group of ferns begins to shrink in size, and no longer spreads its feathery foliage over all the land as before. Still there were none of our common broad-leaved trees; the world had not yet known the oaks, birches, maples, or any of our hard-wood trees that lose their leaves in autumn; nor were the flowering plants, those with gay blossoms, yet on the earth. The woods and fields were doubtless fresh and green, but they wanted the grace of blossoms, plants, and singing-birds. None of the animals could have had the social qualities or the finer instincts that are so common among animals of the present day. There were probably no social animals like our ants and bees, no merry singing creatures; probably no forms that went in herds. Life was a dull round of uncared-for birth, cruel self-seeking, and of death. The animals at best were clumsy, poorly-endowed creatures, with hardly more intelligence than our alligators.
The little thread of higher life begun in the Microlestes and Dromatherium, the little insect-eating mammals of the forest, is visible all through this time. It held in its warm blood the powers of the time to come, but it was an insignificant thing among the mighty cold-blooded reptiles of these ancient lands. There are several species of them, but they are all small, and have no chance to make headway against the older masters of the earth.
The Jurassic or first part of the reptilian time shades insensibly into the second part, called the Cretaceous, which immediately follows it. During this period the lands were undergoing perpetual changes; rather deep seas came to cover much of the land surfaces, and there is some reason to believe that the climate of the earth became much colder than it had been, at least in those regions where the great reptiles had flourished. It may be that it is due to a colder climate that we owe the rapid passing away of this gigantic reptilian life of the previous age. The reptiles, being cold-blooded, cannot stand even a moderate winter cold, save when they are so small that they can crawl deep into crevices in the rocks to sleep the winter away, guarded from the cold by the warmth of the earth. At any rate these gigantic animals rapidly ceased to be, so that by the middle of the Cretaceous period they were almost all gone, except those that inhabited the sea; and at the end of this time they had shrunk to lizards in size. The birds continue to increase and to become more like those of our day; their tails shrink away, their long bills lose their teeth; they are mostly water-birds of large size, and there are none of our songsters yet; still they are for the first time perfect birds, and no longer half-lizard in their nature.
The greatest change in the plants is found in the coming of the broad-leaved trees belonging to the families of our oaks, maples, etc. Now for the first time our woods take on their aspect of to-day; pines and other cone-bearers mingle with the more varied foliage of nut-bearing or large-seeded trees. Curiously enough, we lose sight of the little mammals of the earlier time. This is probably because there is very little in the way of land animals of this period preserved to us. There are hardly any mines or quarries in the beds of this age to bring these fossils to light. In the most of the other rocks there is more to tempt man to explore them for coal ores or building stones.
In passing from the Cretaceous to the Tertiary, we enter upon the threshold of our modern world. We leave behind all the great wonders of the old world, the gigantic reptiles, the forests of tree ferns, the seas full of ammonites and belemnites, and come among the no less wonderful but more familiar modern forms. We come at once into lands and seas where the back-boned animals are the ruling beings. The reptiles have shrunk to a few low forms,—the small lizards, the crocodiles and alligators, the tortoises and turtles, and, as if to mark more clearly the banishment of this group from their old empire, the serpents, which are peculiarly degraded forms of reptiles which have lost the legs they once had, came to be the commonest reptiles of the earth.
The first mammals that have no pouches now appear. In earlier times, the suck-giving animals all belonged to the group that contains our opossums, kangaroos, etc. These creatures are much lower and feebler than the mammals that have no pouches. Although they have probably been on the earth two or three times as long as the higher mammals, they have never attained any eminent success whatever; they cannot endure cold climates; none of them are fitted for swimming as are the seals and whales, or for flying as the bats, or for burrowing as the moles; they are dull, weak things, which are not able to contend with their stronger, better-organized, higher kindred. They seem not only weak, but unable to fit themselves to many different kinds of existence.
In the lower part of the Tertiary rocks, we find at once a great variety of large beasts that gave suck to their young. It is likely that these creatures had come into existence in a somewhat earlier time in other lands, where we have not been able to study the fossils; for to make their wonderful forms slowly, as we believe them to have been made, would require a very long time. It is probable that during the Cretaceous time, in some land where we have not yet had a chance to study the rocks, these creatures grew to their varied forms, and that in the beginning of the Tertiary time, they spread into the regions where we find their bones.
Beginning with the Tertiary time, we find these lower kinsmen of man, through whom man came to be. The mammals were marked by much greater simplicity and likeness to each other than they now have. There were probably no monkeys, no horses, no bulls, no sheep, no goats, no seals, no whales, and no bats. All these animals had many-fingered feet. There were no cloven feet like those of our bulls, and no solid feet as our horses have. Their brains, which by their size give us a general idea of the intelligence of the creature, are small; hence we conclude that these early mammals were less intelligent than those of our day.
It would require volumes to trace the history of the growth of these early mammals, and show how they, step by step, came to their present higher state. We will take only one of the simplest of these changes, which happens to be also the one which we know best. This is the change that led to the making of our common horses, which seem to have been brought into life on the continent of North America. The most singular thing about our horses is that the feet have but one large toe or finger, the hoof, the hard covering of which is the nail of that extremity. Now it seems hard to turn the weak, five-fingered feet of the animals of the lower Tertiary—feet which seem to be better fitted for tree-climbing than anything else—into feet such as we find in the horse. Yet the change is brought about by easy stages that lead the successive creatures from the weak and loose-jointed foot of the ancient forms to the solid, single-fingered horse's hoof, which is wonderfully well-fitted for carrying a large beast at a swift speed, and is so strong a weapon of defence that an active donkey can kill a lion with a well-delivered kick.
The oldest of these creatures that lead to the horses is called Eohippus or beginning horse. This fellow had on the forefeet four large toes, each with a small hoof and fifth imperfect one, which answered to the thumb. The hind feet had gone further in the change, for they each had but three toes, each with hoofs, the middle-toed hoof larger and longer than the others. A little later toward our day we find another advance in the Orohippus, when the little imperfect thumb has disappeared, and there are only four toes on the forefeet and three on the hind.
Yet later we have the Mesohippus or half-way horse. There are still three toes on the hind foot, but one more of the fingers of the forefeet has disappeared. This time it is the little finger that goes, leaving only a small bone to show that its going was by a slow shrinking. The creature now has three little hoofs on each of its feet.
Still nearer our own time comes the Miohippus, which shows the two side hoofs on each foot shrinking up so that they do not touch the ground, but they still bear little hoofs. Lastly, about the time of man's coming on the earth, appears his faithful servant, the horse, in which those little side hoofs have disappeared, leaving only two little "splint" bones to mark the place where these side hoofs belong. Thus, step by step, our horses' feet were built up; while these parts were changing, the other parts of the animals were also slowly altering. They were at first smaller than our horses,—some of them not as large as an ordinary Newfoundland dog; others as small as foxes.
As if to remind us of his old shape, our horses now and then, but rarely, have, in place of the little splint bones above the hoof, two smaller hoofs, just like the foot of Miohippus. Sometimes these are about the size of a silver dollar, on the part that receives the shoe when horses are shod.
In this way, by slow-made changes, the early mammals pass into the higher. Out of one original part are made limbs as different as the feet of the horse, the wing of a bat, the paddle of a whale, and the hand of man. So with all the parts of the body the forms change to meet the different uses to which they are put.
At the end of this long promise, which was written in the very first animals, comes man himself, in form closely akin to the lower animals, but in mind immeasurably apart from them. We can find every part of man's body in a little different shape in the monkeys, but his mind is of a very different quality. While his lower kindred cannot be made to advance in intelligence any more than man himself can grow a horse's foot or a bat's wing, he is constantly going higher and higher in his mental and moral growth.
So far we have found but few traces of man that lead us to suppose that he has been for a long geological time on the earth, yet there is good evidence that he has been here for a hundred thousand years or more. It seems pretty clear that he has changed little in his body in all these thousands of generations. The earliest remains show us a large-brained creature, who used tools and probably had already made a servant of fire, which so admirably aids him in his work.
Besides the development of this wonderful series of animals, that we may call in a certain way our kindred, there have been several other remarkable advances in this Tertiary time, this age of crowning wonders in the earth's history. The birds have gone forward very rapidly; it is likely that there were no songsters at the first part of this period, but these singing birds have developed very rapidly in later times. Among the insects the most remarkable growth is among the ants, the bees, and their kindred. These creatures have very wonderful habits; they combine together for the making of what we may call states, they care for their young, they wage great battles, they keep slaves, they domesticate other insects, and in many ways their acts resemble the doings of man. Coming at about the same time as man, these intellectual insects help to mark this later stage of the earth as the intellectual period in its history. Now for the first time creatures are on the earth which can form societies and help each other in the difficult work of living.
Among the mollusks, the most important change is in the creation of the great, strong swimming squids, the most remarkable creatures of the sea. Some of these have arms that can stretch for fifty feet from tip to tip.
Among the plants, the most important change has been in the growth of flowering plants, which have been constantly becoming more plenty, and the plants which bear fruits have also become more numerous. The broad-leaved trees seem to be constantly gaining on the forests of narrow-leaved cone-bearers, which had in an earlier day replaced the forests of ferns.
In these Tertiary ages, as in the preceding times of the earth, the lands and seas were much changed in their shape. It seems that in the earlier ages the land had been mostly in the shape of large islands grouped close together where the continents now are. In this time, these islands grew together to form the united lands of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the twin American continents; so that, as life rose higher, the earth was better fitted for it. Still there were great troubles that it had to undergo. There were at least two different times during the Tertiary age termed glacial periods, times when the ice covered a large part of the northern continents, compelling life of all sorts to abandon great regions, and to find new places in more southern lands. Many kinds of animals and plants seem to have been destroyed in these journeys; but these times of trial, by removing the weaker and less competent creatures, made room for new forms to rise in their places. All advance in nature makes death necessary, and this must come to races as well as to individuals if the life of the world is to go onward and upward.
Looking back into the darkened past, of which we yet know but little compared with what we would like to know, we can see the great armies of living beings led onward from victory to victory toward the higher life of our own time. Each age sees some advance, though death overtakes all its creatures. Those that escape their actual enemies or accident, fall a prey to old age: volcanoes, earthquakes, glacial periods, and a host of other violent accidents sweep away the life of wide regions, yet the host moves on under a control that lies beyond the knowledge of science. Man finds himself here as the crowning victory of this long war. For him all this life appears to have striven. In his hands lies the profit of all its toil and pain. Surely this should make us feel that our duty to all these living things, that have shared in the struggle that has given man his elevation, is great, but above all, great is our duty to the powers that have been placed in our bodies and our minds.
THE PITCH LAKE IN THE WEST INDIES
(FROM AT LAST.)
BY C. KINGSLEY.
The Pitch Lake, like most other things, owes its appearance on the surface to no convulsion or vagary at all, but to a most slow, orderly, and respectable process of nature, by which buried vegetable matter, which would have become peat, and finally brown coal, in a temperate climate, becomes, under the hot tropic soil, asphalt and oil, continually oozing up beneath the pressure of the strata above it....
* * * * *
As we neared the shore, we perceived that the beach was black with pitch; and the breeze being off the land, the asphalt smell (not unpleasant) came off to welcome us. We rowed in, and saw in front of a little row of wooden houses a tall mulatto, in blue policeman's dress, gesticulating and shouting to us. He was the ward policeman, and I found him (as I did all the colored police) able and courteous, shrewd and trusty. These police are excellent specimens of what can be made of the negro, or half-negro, if he be but first drilled, and then given a responsibility which calls out his self-respect. He was warning our crew not to run aground on one or other of the pitch reefs, which here take the place of rocks. A large one, a hundred yards off on the left, has been almost all dug away, and carried to New York or to Paris to make asphalt-pavement.
The boat was run ashore, under his directions, on a spit of sand between the pitch; and when she ceased bumping up and down in the muddy surf, we scrambled out into a world exactly the hue of its inhabitants of every shade, from jet black to copper-brown. The pebbles on the shore were pitch. A tide-pool close by was enclosed in pitch; a four-eyes was swimming about in it, staring up at us; and when we hunted him, tried to escape, not by diving, but by jumping on shore on the pitch, and scrambling off between our legs. While the policeman, after profoundest courtesies, was gone to get a mule-cart to take us up to the lake, and planks to bridge its water channels, we took a look round at this oddest of corners of the earth.
In front of us was the unit of civilization,—the police-station, wooden, on wooden stilts (as all well-built houses are here), to insure a draught of air beneath them. We were, of course, asked to come in and sit down, but preferred looking about, under our umbrellas; for the heat was intense. The soil is half pitch, half brown earth, among which the pitch sweals in and out as tallow sweals from a candle. It is always in slow motion under the heat of the tropic sun; and no wonder if some of the cottages have sunk right and left in such a treacherous foundation. A stone or brick house could not stand here; but wood and palm-thatch are both light and tough enough to be safe, let the ground give way as it will.
The soil, however, is very rich. The pitch certainly does not injure vegetation, though plants will not grow actually in it. The first plants which caught our eyes were pine-apples, for which La Brea is famous. The heat of the soil, as well as the air, brings them to special perfection. They grow about anywhere, unprotected by hedge or fence; for the negroes here seem honest enough, at least toward each other; and at the corner of the house was a bush worth looking at, for we had heard of it for many a year. It bore prickly, heart-shaped pods an inch long, filled with seeds coated with a red waxy pulp.
This was a famous plant—Bixa orellana Roucou; and that pulp was the well-known annotto dye of commerce. In England and Holland it is used merely, I believe, to color cheeses, but in the Spanish Main to color human beings. The Indian of the Orinoco prefers paint to clothes; and when he has "roucoued" himself from head to foot, considers himself in full dress, whether for war or dancing. Doubtless he knows his own business best from long experience. Indeed, as we stood broiling on the shore, we began somewhat to regret that European manners and customs prevented our adopting the Guaraon and Arrawak fashion.
The mule-cart arrived; the lady of the party was put into it on a chair, and slowly bumped and rattled past the corner of Dundonald Street—so named after the old sea-hero, who was, in his life-time, full of projects for utilizing this same pitch—and up in pitch road, with a pitch gutter on each side.
The pitch in the road has been, most of it, laid down by hand, and is slowly working down the slight incline, leaving pools and ruts full of water, often invisible, because covered with a film of brown pitch-dust, and so letting in the unwary walker over his shoes. The pitch in the gutter-bank is in its native place, and as it spues slowly out of the soil into the ditch in odd wreaths and lumps, we could watch, in little, the process which has produced the whole deposit—probably the whole lake itself.
A bullock-cart, laden with pitch, came jolting down past us, and we observed that the lumps, when the fracture is fresh, have all a drawn out look; that the very air bubbles in them, which are often very numerous, are all drawn out likewise, long and oval, like the air-bubbles in some ductile lavas.
On our left, as we went on, the bush was low, all of yellow cassia and white Hibiscus, and tangled with lovely convolvulus-like creepers, Ipomoea and Echites, with white, purple or yellow flowers. On the right were negro huts and gardens, fewer and fewer as we went on,—all rich with fruit trees, especially with oranges, hung with fruit of every hue; and beneath them, of course, the pine-apples of La Brea. Everywhere along the road grew, seemingly wild here, that pretty low tree, Cashew, with rounded yellow-veined leaves and little green flowers, followed by a quaint pink and red-striped pear, from which hangs, at the larger and lower end, a kidney-shaped bean, which bold folk eat when roasted; but woe to those who try it when raw; for the acrid oil blisters the lips, and even while the beans are roasting the fumes of the oil will blister the cook's face if she holds it too near the fire.
As we went onward up the gentle slope (the rise is one hundred and thirty-eight feet in rather more than a mile), the ground became more and more full of pitch, and the vegetation poorer and more rushy, till it resembled, on the whole, that of an English fen. An Ipomoea or two, and a scarlet flowered dwarf Heliconia, kept up the tropic type, as does a stiff brittle fern about two feet high. We picked the weeds, which looked like English mint or basil, and found that most of them had three longitudinal nerves in each leaf, and were really Melastomas, though dwarfed into a far meaner habit than that of the noble forms we saw at Chaguanas, and again on the other side of the lake. On the right, too, in a hollow, was a whole wood of Groogroo palms, gray stemmed, gray leaved, and here and there a patch of white or black Roseau rose gracefully eight or ten feet high among the reeds.
The plateau of pitch now widened out, and the whole ground looked like an asphalt pavement, half overgrown with marsh-loving weeds, whose roots feed in the sloppy water which overlies the pitch. But, as yet, there was no sign of the lake. The incline, though gentle, shuts off the view of what is beyond. This last lip of the lake has surely overflowed, and is overflowing still, though very slowly. Its furrows all curve downward; and it is, in fact, as one of our party said, "a black glacier." The pitch, expanding under the burning sun of day, must needs expand most toward the line of least resistance—that is, downhill; and when it contracts again under the coolness of night, it contracts, surely, from the same cause, more downhill than uphill; and so each particle never returns to the spot whence it started, but rather drags the particles above it downward toward itself. At least, so it seemed to us. Thus may be explained the common mistake which is noticed by Messrs. Wall and Sawkins in their admirable description of the lake.
"All previous descriptions refer the bituminous matter scattered over the La Brea district, and especially that between the village and the lake, to streams which have issued at some former epoch from the lake, and extended into the sea. This supposition is totally incorrect, as solidification would probably have ensued before it had proceeded one-tenth of the distance; and such of the asphalt as has undoubtedly escaped from the lake has not advanced more than a few yards, and always presents the curved surfaces already described, and never appears as an extended sheet."
Agreeing with this statement as a whole, I nevertheless cannot but think it probable that a great deal of the asphalt, whether it be in large masses or in scattered veins, may be moving very slowly down hill, from the lake to the sea, by the process of expansion by day and contraction by night, and may be likened to a caterpillar, or rather caterpillars innumerable, progressing by expanding and contracting their rings, having strength enough to crawl down hill, but not strength enough to back up hill again.
At last we surmounted the last rise, and before us lay the famous lake—not at the bottom of a depression, as we expected, but at the top of a rise, whence the ground slopes away from it on two sides, and rises from it very slightly on the two others. The black pool glared and glittered in the sun. A group of islands, some twenty yards wide, were scattered about the middle of it. Beyond it rose a double forest of Moriche fan-palms; and to the right of them high wood with giant Mombins and undergrowth of Cocorite—a paradise on the other side of the Stygian pool.
We walked, with some misgivings, on to the asphalt, and found it perfectly hard. In a few steps we were stopped by a channel of clear water, with tiny fish and water-beetles in it; and, looking round, saw that the whole lake was intersected with channels, so unlike anything which can be seen elsewhere that it is not easy to describe them.
Conceive a crowd of mushrooms, of all shapes, from ten to fifty feet across, close together side by side, their tops being kept at exactly the same level, their rounded rims squeezed tight against each other; then conceive water poured on them so as to fill the parting seams, and in the wet season, during which we visited it, to overflow the tops somewhat. Thus would each mushroom represent, tolerably well, one of the innumerable flat asphalt bosses, which seem to have sprung up each from a separate centre, while the parting seams would be of much the same shape as those in the asphalt, broad and shallow atop, and rolling downward in a smooth curve, till they are at bottom mere cracks from two to ten feet deep. Whether these cracks actually close up below, and the two contiguous masses of pitch become one, cannot be seen. As far as the eye goes down, they are two, though pressed close to each other. Messrs. Wall and Sawkins explain the odd fact clearly and simply. The oil, they say, which the asphalt contains when it rises first, evaporates in the sun, of course most on the outside of the heap, leaving a thorough coat of asphalt, which has, generally, no power to unite with the corresponding coat of the next mass. Meanwhile Mr. Manross, an American gentleman, who has written a very clever and interesting account of the lake, seems to have been so far deceived by the curved and squeezed edges of these masses that he attributes to each of them a revolving motion, and supposes that the material is continually passing from the centre to the edges, when it "rolls under," and rises again in the middle. Certainly the strange stuff looks, at the first glance, as if it were behaving in this way; and certainly, also, his theory would explain the appearance of sticks and logs in the pitch. But Messrs. Wall and Sawkins say that they have observed no such motion: nor did we; and I agree with them, that it is not very obvious to what force, or what influence, it could be attributable. We must, therefore, seek some other way of accounting for the sticks—which utterly puzzled us, and which Mr. Manross well describes as "numerous pieces of wood, which, being involved in the pitch, are constantly coming to the surface. They are often several feet in length, and five or six inches in diameter. On reaching the surface they generally assume an upright position, one end being detained in the pitch, while the other is elevated by the lifting of the middle. They may be seen at frequent intervals over the lake, standing up to the height of two or even three feet. They look like stumps of trees protruding through the pitch; but their parvenu character is curiously betrayed by a ragged cap of pitch which invariably covers the top, and hangs down like hounds' ears on either side."
Whence do they come? Have they been blown on to the lake, or left behind by man? or are they fossil trees, integral parts of the vegetable stratum below which is continually rolling upward? or are they of both kinds? I do not know. Only this is certain, as Messrs. Wall and Sawkins have pointed out, that not only "the purer varieties of asphalt, such as approach or are identical with asphalt glance, have been observed" (though not, I think, in the lake itself) "in isolated masses, where there was little doubt of their proceeding from ligneous substances of larger dimensions, such as roots and pieces of trunks and branches," but, moreover, that "it is also necessary to admit a species of conversion by contact, since pieces of wood included accidentally in the asphalt, for example, by dropping from overhanging vegetation, are often found partially transformed into the material." This is a statement which we verified again and again, as we did the one which follows, namely, that the hollow bubbles which abound on the surface of the pitch "generally contain traces of the lighter portion of vegetation," and "are manifestly derived from leaves, etc., which are blown about the lake by the wind, and are covered with asphalt, and, as they become asphalt themselves, give off gases which form bubbles round them."
But how is it that those logs stand up out of the asphalt, with asphalt caps and hounds' ears (as Mr. Manross well phrases it) on the tops of them?
We pushed on across the lake, over the planks which the negroes laid down from island to island. Some, meanwhile, preferred a steeple-chase with water-jumps, after the fashion of the midshipmen on a certain second visit to the lake. How the negroes grinned delight and surprise at the vagaries of English lads—a species of animal altogether new to them; and how they grinned still more when certain staid and portly dignitaries caught the infection, and proved by more than one good leap that they too had been English school-boys—alas! long, long ago.
So, whether by bridging, leaping, or wading, we arrived at the little islands, and found them covered with a thick, low scrub; deep sedge, and among them Pinguins, like huge pine-apples without the apple; gray wild-pines, parasites on Matapalos, which, of course, have established themselves, like robbers and vagrants as they are, everywhere; a true holly, with box-like leaves; and a rare cocoa-plum, very like the holly in habit, which seems to be all but confined to these little patches of red earth, afloat on the pitch. Out of the scrub, when we were there, flew off two or three night-jars, very like our English species, save that they had white in the wings; and on the second visit one of the midshipmen, true to the English boy's bird's-nesting instinct, found one of their eggs, white-spotted, in a grass nest.
Passing these little islands, which are said (I know not how truly) to change their places and number, we came to the very fountains of Styx, to that part of the lake where the asphalt is still oozing up.
As the wind set toward us, we soon became aware of an evil smell—petroleum and sulphureted hydrogen at once—which gave some of us a headache. The pitch here is yellow and white with sulphur foam; so are the water-channels; and out of both water and pitch innumerable bubbles of gas arise, loathsome to the smell. We became aware that the pitch was soft under our feet. We left the impression of our boots; and if we had stood still awhile, we should soon have been ankle-deep. No doubt there are spots where, if a man stayed long enough, he would be slowly and horribly engulfed. "But," as Mr. Manross says truly, "in no place is it possible to form those bowl-like depressions round the observer described by former travellers." What we did see is that the fresh pitch oozes out at the lines of least resistance, namely, in the channels between the older and more hardened masses, usually at the upper ends of them, so that one may stand on pitch comparatively hard, and put one's hand into pitch quite liquid, which is flowing softly out, like some ugly fungoid growth, such as may be seen in old wine-cellars, into the water. One such pitch-fungus had grown several yards in length in the three weeks between our first and second visit; and on another, some of our party performed exactly the same feat as Mr. Manross.
"In one of the star-shaped pools of water, some five feet deep, a column of pitch had been forced perpendicularly up from the bottom. On reaching the surface of the water it had formed a sort of centre-table, about four feet in diameter, but without touching the sides of the pool. The stem was about a foot in diameter. I leaped out on this table, and found that it not only sustained my weight, but that the elasticity of the stem enabled me to rock it from side to side. Pieces torn from the edges of this table sank readily, showing that it had been raised by pressure, and not by its buoyancy."
True, though strange; but stranger still did it seem to us when we did at last what the negroes asked us, and dipped our hands into the liquid pitch, to find that it did not soil the fingers. The old proverb that one cannot touch pitch without being defiled happily does not stand true here, or the place would be intolerably loathsome. It can be scraped up, moulded into any shape you will, wound in a string (as was done by one of the midshipmen) round a stick, and carried off; but nothing is left on the hand save clean gray mud and water. It may be kneaded for an hour before the mud be sufficiently driven out of it to make it sticky. This very abundance of earthy matter it is which, while it keeps the pitch from soiling, makes it far less valuable than it would be were it pure.
It is easy to understand whence this earthy matter (twenty or thirty per cent) comes. Throughout the neighborhood the ground is full, to the depth of hundreds of feet, of coaly and asphaltic matter. Layers of sandstone or of shale containing this decayed vegetable alternate with layers which contain none; and if, as seems probable, the coaly matter is continually changing into asphalt and oil, and then working its way upward through every crack and pore, to escape from the enormous pressure of the superincumbent soil, it must needs carry up with it innumerable particles of the soils through which it passes.
In five minutes we had seen, handled, and smelt enough to satisfy us with this very odd and very nasty vagary of tropic nature; and as we did not wish to become faint and ill between the sulphureted hydrogen and the blaze of the sun reflected off the hot black pitch, we hurried on over the water-furrows, and through the sedge-beds to the farther shore—to find ourselves, in a single step, out of an Inferno into a Paradise.
A STALAGMITE CAVE
(FROM THE VOYAGE OF THE CHALLENGER.)
BY SIR C. WYVILLE THOMSON, KT., LL.D., ETC.
I think the Painter's Vale cave is the prettiest of the whole. The opening is not very large. It is an arch over a great mass of debris forming a steep slope into the cave, as if part of the roof of the vault had suddenly fallen in. At the foot of the bank of debris one can barely see in the dim light the deep clear water lying perfectly still and reflecting the roof and margin like a mirror. We clambered down the slope, and as the eye became more accustomed to the obscurity the lake stretched further back. There was a crazy little punt moored to the shore, and after lighting candles Captain Nares rowed the Governor back into the darkness, the candles throwing a dim light for a time—while the voices became more hollow and distant—upon the surface of the water and the vault of stalactite, and finally passing back as mere specks into the silence.
After landing the Governor on the opposite side, Captain Nares returned for me, and we rowed round the weird little lake. It was certainly very curious and beautiful; evidently a huge cavity out of which the calcareous sand had been washed or dissolved, and whose walls, still to a certain extent permeable, had been hardened and petrified by the constant percolation of water charged with carbonate of lime. From the roof innumerable stalactites, perfectly white, often several yards long and coming down to the delicacy of knitting-needles, hung in clusters; and wherever there was any continuous crack in the roof or wall, a graceful, soft-looking curtain of white stalactite fell, and often ended, much to our surprise. Deep in the water Stalagmites also rose up in pinnacles and fringes through the water, which was so exquisitely still and clear that it was something difficult to tell where the solid marble tracery ended, and its reflected image began. In this cave, which is a considerable distance from the sea, there is a slight change of level with the tide sufficient to keep the water perfectly pure. The mouth of the cave is overgrown with foliage, and every tree is draped and festooned with the fragrant Jasminum gracile, mingled not unfrequently with the "poison ivy" (Rhus toxicodendron). The Bermudians, especially the dark people, have a most exaggerated horror of this bush. They imagine that if one touch it or rub against it he becomes feverish, and is covered with an eruption. This is no doubt entirely mythical. The plant is very poisonous, but the perfume of the flower is rather agreeable, and we constantly plucked and smelt it without its producing any unpleasant effect. The tide was with us when we regained the Flats Bridge, and the galley shot down the rapid like an arrow, the beds of scarlet sponges and the great lazy trepangs showing perfectly clearly on the bottom at a fathom depth.
Every here and there throughout the islands there are groups of bodies of very peculiar form projecting from the surface of the limestone where it has been weathered. These have usually been regarded as fossil palmetto stumps, the roots of trees which have been overwhelmed with sand and whose organic matter has been entirely removed and replaced by carbonate of lime. Fig. 1 represents one of the most characteristic of these from a group on the side of the road in Boaz Island. It is a cylinder a foot in diameter and six inches or so high; the upper surface forms a shallow depression an inch deep surrounded by a raised border; the bottom of the cup is even, and pitted over with small depressions like the marks of rain-drops on sand; the walls of the cylinder seem to end a few inches below the surface of the limestone in a rounded boss, and all over this there are round markings or little cylindrical projections like the origins of rootlets. The object certainly appears to agree even in every detail with a fossil palm-root, and as the palmetto is abundant on the islands and is constantly liable to be destroyed by and ultimately enveloped in a mass of moving sand, it seemed almost unreasonable to question its being one. Still something about the look of these things made me doubt, with General Nelson, whether they were fossil palms, or indeed whether they were of organic origin at all; and after carefully examining and pondering over several groups of them, at Boaz Island, on the shore at Mount Langton, and elsewhere, I finally came to the conclusion that they were not fossils, but something totally different.
The form given in Fig. 1 is the most characteristic, and probably by far the most common; but very frequently one of a group of these, one which is evidently essentially the same as the rest and formed in the same way, has an oval or an irregular shape (Figs. 2, 3, and 4). In these we have the same raised border, the same scars on the outside, the same origins of root-like fibres, and the same pitting of the bottom of the shallow cup; but their form precludes the possibility of their being tree-roots. In some cases (Fig. 5), a group of so-called "palm-stems" is inclosed in a space surrounded by a ridge, and on examining it closely this outer ridge is found to show the same leaf-scars and traces of rootlets as the "palm-stems" themselves. In some cases very irregular honey-combed figures are produced which the examination of a long series of intermediate forms shows to belong to the same category (Fig. 6).
In the caves in the limestone, owing to a thread of water having found its way in a particular direction through the porous stone of the roof, a drop falls age after age on one spot on the cave-floor, accurately directed by the stalactite which it is all the time creating. The water contains a certain proportion of carbonate of lime, which is deposited as stalagmite as the water evaporates, and thus a ring-like crust is produced at a little distance from the spot where the drop falls. When a ring is once formed, it limits the spread of the drop, and determines the position of the wall bounding the little pool made by the drop. The floor of the cave gradually rises by the accumulation of sand and travertine, and with it rise the walls and floor of the cup by the deposit of successive layers of stalagmite produced by the drop percolating into the limestone of the floor which hardens it still further, but in this peculiar symmetrical way. From the floor and sides of the cup the water oozes into the softer limestone around and beneath; but, as in all these limestones, it does not ooze indiscriminately, but follows certain more free paths. These become soon lined and finally blocked with stalagmite, and it is these tubes and threads of stalagmite which afterwards in the pseudo-fossil represent the diverging rootlets.
Sometimes when two or more drops fall from stalactites close to one another the cups coalesce (Figs. 2, 3, and 4); sometimes one drop or two is more frequent than the other, and then we have the form shown in Figs. 3 and 4; sometimes many drops irregularly scattered form a large pool with its raised border, and a few drops more frequent and more constant than the rest grow their "palmetto stems" within its limit (Fig. 5); and sometimes a number of drops near one another make a curious regular pattern, with the partitions between the recesses quite straight (Fig. 6).
I have already referred to the rapid denudation which is going on in these islands, and to the extent to which they have been denuded within comparatively recent times. The floors of caves, from their being cemented into a nearly homogeneous mass by stalagmitic matter, are much harder than the ordinary porous blown limestone; and it seems that in many cases, after the rocks forming the walls and roof have been removed, disintegration has been at all events temporarily arrested by the floor. Where there is a flat surface of rock exposed anywhere on the island, it very generally bears traces of having been at one time the floor of a cave; and as the weather-wearing of the surface goes on, the old concretionary structures are gradually brought out again, the parts specially hardened by a localized slow infiltration of lime resist integration longest and project above the general surface. Often a surface of weathered rock is so studded with these symmetrical concretions, that it is hard to believe that one is not looking at the calcified stumps of a close-growing grove of palms.
THE BIG TREES OF CALIFORNIA
(FROM STUDIES SCIENTIFIC AND SOCIAL.)
BY ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE.
In the popular accounts of these trees it is usual to dwell only on the dimensions of the very largest known specimens, and sometimes even to exaggerate these. Even the smaller full-grown trees, however, are of grand dimensions, varying from fourteen to eighteen feet in diameter, at six feet above the ground, and keeping nearly the same thickness for perhaps a hundred feet. In the south Calaveras grove, where there are more than a thousand trees, the exquisite beauty of the trunks is well displayed by the numerous specimens in perfect health and vigor. The bark of these trees, seen at a little distance, is of a bright orange brown tint, delicately mottled with darker shades, and with a curious silky or plush-like gloss, which gives them a richness of color far beyond that of any other conifer. The tree which was cut down soon after the first discovery of the species, the stump of which is now covered with a pavilion, is twenty-five feet in diameter at six feet above the ground, but this is without the thick bark, which would bring it to twenty-seven feet when alive. A considerable portion of this tree still lies where it fell, and at one hundred and thirty feet from the base I found it to be still twelve and a half feet in diameter (or fourteen feet with the bark), while at the extremity of the last piece remaining, two hundred and fifteen feet from its base, it is six feet in diameter, or at least seven feet with the bark. The height of this tree when it was cut down is not recorded, but as one of the living trees is more than three hundred and sixty feet high, it is probable that this giant was not much short of four hundred feet.
In the accompanying picture the dead tree in the centre is that from which the bark was stripped, which was erected in the Crystal Palace and unfortunately destroyed by fire. It is called the "Mother of the Forest." The two trees nearer the foreground are healthy, medium-sized trees, about fifteen feet diameter at six feet above the ground.
The huge decayed trunk called "Father of the Forest," which has fallen perhaps a century or more, exhibits the grandest dimensions of any known tree. By measuring its remains, and allowing for the probable thickness of the bark, it seems to have been about thirty-five feet diameter near the ground, at ninety feet up fifteen feet, and even at a height of two hundred and seventy feet, it was nine feet in diameter. It is within the hollow trunk of this tree that a man on horse-back can ride—both man and horse being rather small; but the dimensions undoubtedly show that it was considerably larger than the "Pavilion tree," and that it carried its huge dimensions to a greater altitude; and although this does not prove it to have been much taller, yet it was in all probability more than four hundred feet in height.
Very absurd statements are made to visitors as to the antiquity of these trees, three or four thousand years being usually given as their age. This is founded on the fact that while many of the large Sequoias are greatly damaged by fire, the large pines and firs around them are quite uninjured. As many of these pines are assumed to be near a thousand years old, the epoch of the "great fire" is supposed to be earlier still, and as the Sequoias have not outgrown the fire-scars in all that time, they are supposed to have then arrived at their full growth. But the simple explanation of these trees alone having suffered so much from fire is, that their bark is unusually thick, dry, soft, and fibrous, and it thus catches fire more easily and burns more readily and for a longer time than that of the other coniferae. Forest fires occur continually, and the visible damage done to these trees has probably all occurred in the present century. Professor C.B. Bradley, of the University of California, has carefully counted the rings of annual growth on the stump of the "Pavilion tree," and found them to be twelve hundred and forty; and after considering all that has been alleged as to the uncertainty of this mode of estimating the age of a tree, he believes that in the climate of California, in the zone of altitude where these trees grow, the seasons of growth and repose are so strongly marked that the number of annual rings gives an accurate result.
Other points that have been studied by Professor Bradley are, the reason why there are so few young trees in the groves, and what is the cause of the destruction of the old trees. To take the last point first, these noble trees seem to be singularly free from disease or from decay due to old age. All the trees that have been cut down are solid to the heart, and none of the standing trees show any indications of natural decay. The only apparent cause for their overthrow is the wind, and by noting the direction of a large number of fallen trees it is found that the great majority of them lie more or less towards the south. This is not the direction of the prevalent winds, but many of the tallest trees lean towards the south, owing to the increased growth of their topmost branches towards the sun. They are then acted upon by violent gales, which loosen their roots, and whatever the direction of the wind that finally overthrows them, they fall in the direction of the over-balancing top weight. The young trees grow spiry and perfectly upright, but as soon as they overtop the surrounding trees and get the full influence of the sun and wind, the highest branches grow out laterally, killing those beneath their shade, and thus a dome-shaped top is produced. Taking into consideration the health and vigor of the largest trees, it seems probable that, under favorable conditions of shelter from violent winds, and from a number of trees around them of nearly equal height, big trees might be produced far surpassing in height and bulk any that have yet been discovered. It is to be hoped that if any such are found to exist in the extensive groves of these trees to the south of those which are alone accessible to tourists, the Californian Government will take steps to reserve a considerable tract containing them, for the instruction and delight of future generations.
The scarcity of young Sequoias strikes every visitor, the fact being that they are only to be found in certain favored spots. These are, either where the loose debris of leaves and branches which covers the ground has been cleared away by fire, or on the spots where trees have been uprooted. Here the young trees grow in abundance, and serve to replace those that fall. The explanation of this is, that during the long summer drought the loose surface debris is so dried up that the roots of the seedling Sequoias perish before they can penetrate the earth beneath. They require to germinate on the soil itself, and this they are enabled to do when the earth is turned up by the fall of a tree, or where a fire has cleared off the debris. They also flourish under the shade of the huge fallen trunks in hollow places, where moisture is preserved throughout the summer. Most of the other conifers of these forests, especially the pines, have much larger seeds than the Sequoias, and the store of nourishment in these more bulky seeds enables the young plants to tide over the first summer's drought. It is clear, therefore, that there are no indications of natural decay in these forest giants. In every stage of their growth they are vigorous and healthy, and they have nothing to fear except from the destroying hand of man.
Destruction from this cause is, however, rapidly diminishing both the giant Sequoia and its near ally the noble redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), a tree which is more beautiful in foliage and in some other respects more remarkable than its brother species, while there is reason to believe that under favorable conditions it reaches an equally phenomenal size. It once covered almost all the coast ranges of central and northern California, but has been long since cleared away in the vicinity of San Francisco, and greatly diminished elsewhere. A grove is preserved for the benefit of tourists near Santa Cruz, the largest tree being two hundred and ninety-six feet high, twenty-nine feet diameter at the ground and fifteen feet at six feet above it. One of these trees having a triple trunk is here figured from a photograph. Much larger trees, however, exist in the great forests of this tree in the northern part of the State; but these are rapidly being destroyed for the timber, which is so good and durable as to be in great demand. Hence Californians have a saying that the redwood is too good a tree to live. On the mountains a few miles east of the Bay of San Francisco, there are a number of patches of young redwoods, indicating where large trees have been felled, it being a peculiarity of this tree that it sends up vigorous young plants from the roots of old ones immediately around the base. Hence in the forests these trees often stand in groups arranged nearly in a circle, thus marking out the size of the huge trunks of their parents. It is from this quality that the tree has been named sempervirens, or ever flourishing. Dr. Gibbons, of Alameda, who has explored all the remains of the redwood forests in the neighborhood of Oakland, kindly took me to see the old burnt-out stump of the largest tree he had discovered. It is situated about fifteen hundred feet above the sea, and is thirty-four feet in diameter at the ground. This is as large as the very largest specimens of the Sequoia gigantea, but it may have spread out more at the base and have been somewhat smaller above, though this is not a special characteristic of the species.
WHAT IS EVOLUTION?
(FROM THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, MARCH, '93.)
BY PROFESSOR E.S. HOLDEN.
I was once trying to tell a boy, a friend of mine, what the scientific men mean by the long word Evolution, and to give him some idea of the plan of the world. I wanted an illustration of something that had grown—evolved, developed—from small beginnings up through more and more complicated forms, till it had reached some very complete form. I could think of no better example than the railway by which we were sitting. The trains were running over the very track where a wagon-road had lately been, and before that a country cart-track, and before that a bridle-path, and before that again a mere trail for cattle. So I took the road for an example, and tried to show my boy how it had grown from little things by slow degrees according to laws; and if you like, I will try to tell it again.
Just as one can go further and further back, and always find a bird to be the parent of the egg, and an egg to be the parent of that bird, so in the history of this road of ours; we may go back and back into the past, always finding something earlier, which is the cause of the something later. The earth, the planets, and the sun were all a fiery mist long ago. And in that mist, and in what came before it, we may look for the origin of things as they are. But we must begin somewhere. Let us begin with the landscape as we see it now,—hills, valleys, streams, mountains, grass,—but with only a single tree.
We will not try to say how the tree came there. At least, we will not try just yet. When we are through with the story you can say just as well as I can.
Suppose, then, a single oak-tree stood just on that hillside thousands and thousands of years ago. Grass was growing everywhere, and flowers, too. The seeds came with the winds. Year after year the oak-tree bore its acorns, hundreds and hundreds of them, and they fell on the grass beneath and rolled down the smooth slopes, and sprouted as best they could,—most of them uselessly so far as producing trees were concerned,—but each one did its duty and furnished its green sprout, and died if it found no nourishment.