The Plurality of Worlds Part 3

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23. And as the infinite extent which we necessarily ascribe to s.p.a.ce, allows us to find room, without any mental difficulty, for the vast distances which astronomy reveals, and even leaves us rather embarra.s.sed with the infinite extent which lies beyond our farthest explorations; so the infinite duration which we, in like manner, necessarily ascribe to past time, makes it easy for us, so far as our powers of intellect are concerned, to go millions of millions of years backwards, in order to trace the beginning of the earth’s existence,–the first step of terrestrial creation. It is as easy for the mind of man to reason respecting a system which is billions or trillions of miles in extent, and has endured through the like number of years, or centuries, as it is to reason about a system (the earth, for instance,) which is forty million feet in extent, and has endured for a hundred thousand million of seconds, that is, a few thousand years.

24. This statement is amply sufficient for the argument which we have to found upon it; but before I proceed to do that, I will give another view which has recently been adopted by some geologists, of the mode in which the successive periods of creation, which geological research discloses to us, have pa.s.sed into one another. According to this new view, we find no sufficient reason to believe that the history of the earth, as read by us in the organic and mechanical phenomena of its superficial parts, has consisted of such an alternation of periods of violence and of repose, as we have just attempted to describe. According to these theorists, strata have succeeded strata, one group of animals and plants has followed another, through a season of uniform change; with no greater paroxysm or catastrophe, it may be, than has occurred during the time that man has been an observer of the earth. It may be asked, how is this consistent with the phenomena which we have described;–with the vast ma.s.ses of ruin, which mark the end of one period and the beginning of another, as is the case in pa.s.sing from the coal measures of England to the superinc.u.mbent beds;–with the highly-inclined strata of the central ma.s.ses, and the level beds of the upper formations which have been described as marking the mountain ranges of Europe? To these questions, a reply is furnished, we are told, by a more extensive and careful examination of the strata. It may be, that in certain localities, in certain districts, the transition, from the mountain limestone and the coal, to the superjacent sandstones and oolites, is abrupt and seemingly violent; marked by _unconformable_ positions of the upper upon the lower strata, by beds of conglomerate, by the absence of organic remains in certain of these beds. But if we follow these very strata into other parts of the world, or even into other parts of this island, we find that this abruptness and incongruity between the lower and the higher strata disappears. Between the mountain-limestone and the red sandstone which lies over it, certain new beds are found, which fill up the incoherent interval; which offer the same evidence as the strata below and above them, of having been produced tranquilly; and which do not violently differ in position from either group. The appearance of incoherence in the series arose from the occurrence, in the region first examined, of a gap, which is here filled up,–a blank which is here supplied. Hence it is inferred, that whatever of violence and extreme disturbance is indicated by the dislocations and ruins there observed, was local and partial only; and that, at the very time when these fragmentary beds, void of organized beings, were forming in one place, there were, at the same time, going on, in another part of the earth’s surface, not far removed, the processes of the life, death and imbedding of species, as tranquilly as at any other period. And the same a.s.sertion is made with regard to the more general fact, before described, of the stratigraphical const.i.tution of mountain chains. It is a.s.serted that the unconformable relation of the strata which compose the different parts of those chains, is a local occurrence only; and that the same strata, if followed into other regions, are found conformable to each other; or are reduced to a virtually continuous scheme, by the interpolation of other strata, which make a transition, in which no evidence of exceptional violence appears.

25. We shall not attempt (it is not at all necessary for us to do so) to decide between the doctrines of the two geological schools which thus stand in this opposition to each other. But it will be useful to our argument to state somewhat further the opinions of this latter school on one main point. We must explain the view which these geologists take of the mode of succession of one group of _organized_ beings to another; by which, as we have said, the different successive strata are characterized. Such a phenomenon, it would at first seem, cannot be brought within the ordinary rules of the existing state of things. The species of plants and animals which inhabit the earth, do not change from age to age; they are the same in modern times, as they were in the most remote antiquity, of which we have any record. The dogs and horses, sheep and cattle, lions and wolves, eagles and swallows, corn and vines, oaks and cedars, which occupy the earth now, are not, we have the strongest reasons to believe, essentially different now from what they were in the earliest ages. At least, if one or two species have disappeared, no new species have come into existence. We cannot conceive a greater violation of the known laws of nature, than that such an event as the appearance of a new species should have occurred. Even those who hold the uniformity of the mechanical changes of the earth, and of the rate of change, from age to age, and from one geological period to another; must still, it would seem, allow that the zoological and phytological changes of which geology gives her testimony, are complete exceptions to what is now taking place. The formation of strata at the bottom of the ocean from the ruin of existing continents, may be going on at present. Even the elevation of the bed of the ocean in certain places, as a process imperceptibly slow, may be in action at this moment, as these theorists hold that it is. But still, even when the beds thus formed are elevated into mountain chains, if that should happen, in the course of myriads of years, (according to the supposition it cannot be effected in a less period,) the strata of such mountain chains will still contain only the species of such creatures as now inhabit the waters; and we shall have, even then, no succession of organic epochs, such as geology discovers in the existing mountains of the earth.

26. The answer which is made to this objection appears to me to involve a license of a.s.sumption on the part of the _uniformitarian_ geologist, (as such theorists have been termed,) which goes quite beyond the bounds of natural philosophy: but I wish to state it; partly, in order to show that the most ingenious men, stimulated by the exigencies of a theory, which requires some hypothesis concerning the succession of species, to make it coherent and complete, have still found it impossible to bring the creation of species of plants and animals within the domain of natural science; and partly, to show how easily and readily geological theorists are led to a.s.sume periods of time, even of a higher order than those which I have ventured to suggest.

27. It must, however, be first stated, as a fact on which the a.s.sumption is founded which I have to notice, that the organic groups by which these successive strata are characterized, are not so distinct and separate, as it was convenient, for the sake of explanation, to describe them in the first instance. Although each body of strata is marked by predominant groups of genera and species, yet it is not true, that all the species of each formation disappear, when we proceed to the next.

Some species and genera endure through several successive groups of strata; while others disappear, and new forms come into view, as we ascend. And thus, the change from one set of organic forms to another, as we advance in time, is made, not altogether by abrupt transitions, but in part continuously. The uniformitarian, in the case of organic, as in the case of mechanical change, obliterates or weakens the evidence of sudden and catastrophic leaps, by interposing intermediate steps, which involve, partly the phenomena of the preceding, and partly those of the subsequent condition. As he allows no universal transition from one deposit to a succeeding discrepant and unconformable deposit, so he allows no abrupt and complete transition from one collection of organic beings,–one creation, as we may call it,–to another. If creation must needs be an act out of the region of natural science, he will have it to be at least an act not exercised at distant intervals, and on peculiar occasions; but constantly going on, and producing its effects, as much at one time in the geological history of the world, as at another.

28. And this he holds, not only with regard to the geological periods which have preceded the existing condition of the earth, but also with regard to the transition from those previous periods to that in which we live. The present population of the earth is not one in which all previous forms are extinct. The past population of the earth was not one in which there are found no creatures still living. On the contrary, he finds that there exists a vast ma.s.s of strata, superior to the secondary strata, which are characterized by extinct forms, and are yet inferior to those deposits which are now going on by the agency of obvious causes. These ma.s.ses of strata contain a population of creatures, partly extinct species, and partly such species as are still living on our land and in our waters. The proportion in which the old and the new species occur in such strata, is various; and the strata are so numerous, so rich in organic remains, so different from each other, and have been so well explored, that they have been cla.s.sified and named according to the proportion of new and of old species which they contain. Those which contain the largest proportion of species still living, have been termed _Pliocene_, as containing a _greater_ number of _new_ or recent species.

Below these, are strata which are termed _Miocene_, implying a _smaller_ number of _new_ species. Below these again, are others which have been termed _Eocene_, as containing few new species indeed, but yet enough to mark the _dawn_, the _Eos_, of the existing state of the organic world.

These strata are, in many places, of very considerable thickness; and their number, their succession, and the great amount of extinct species which they contain, shows, in a manner which cannot be questioned, (if the evidence of geology is accepted at all,) in what a gradual manner, a portion at least, of the existing forms of organic life have taken the place of a different population previously existing on the surface of the globe.

29. And thus the uniformitarian is led to consider the facts which geology brings to light, as indicating a slow and almost imperceptible, but, upon the whole, constant series of changes, not only in the position of the earth’s materials, but in its animal and vegetable population. Land becomes sea and sea becomes land; the beds of oceans are elevated into mountain regions, carrying with them the remains of their inhabitants; sheets of lava pour from volcanic vents and overwhelm the seats of life; and these, again, become fields of vegetation; or, it may be, descend to the depths of the sea, and are overgrown with groves of coral; lakes are filled with sediment, imbedding the remains of land animals, and form the museums of future zoologists; the deltas of mighty rivers become the centres of continents, and are excavated as coal-fields by men in remote ages. And yet all this time, so slow is the change, that man is unaware such changes are going on. He knows that the mountains of Scandinavia are rising out of the Baltic at the rate of a few feet in a century; he knows that the fertile slope of Etna has been growing for thousands of years by the addition of lava streams and parasitic volcanos; he knows that the delta of the Mississippi acc.u.mulates hundreds of miles of vegetable matter every generation; he knows that the sh.o.r.es of Europe are yielding to the sea; but all these appear to him minute items, not worth summing; infinitesimal quant.i.ties, which he cannot integrate. And so, in truth, they are, for him. His ephemeral existence does not allow him to form a just conception, in any ordinary state of mind, of the effects of this constant agency of change, working through countless thousands of years. But Time, inexhausted and unremitting, sums the series, integrates the formula of change; and thus pa.s.ses, with sure though noiseless progress, from one geological epoch to another.

30. And in the meanwhile, to complete the view thus taken by the uniformitarian of the geological history of the earth, by some constant but inscrutable law, creative agency is perpetually at work, to introduce, into this progressive system of things, new species of vegetable and animal life. Organic forms, ever and ever new ones, are brought into being, and left, visible footsteps, as it were, of the progress which Time has made;–marks placed between the rocky leaves of the book of creation; by which man, when his time comes, may turn back and read the past history of his habitation. But the point for us to remark is, the immeasurable, the inconceivable length of time, if any length of time could be inconceivable, which is required of our thoughts, by this new a.s.sumption of the constant production of new species, as a law of creation. We might feel ourselves well nigh overwhelmed, when, by looking at processes which we see producing only a few feet of height or breadth or depth during the life of man, we are called upon to imagine the construction of Alps and Andes,–when we have to imagine a world made a few inches in a century. But there, at least, we had _something_ to start from: the element of change was small, but there _was_ an element of change: we had to expand, but we had not to originate. But in conceiving that all the myriads of successive species, which we find in the earth’s strata, have come into being by a law which is now operating, we have _nothing_ to start from. We have seen, and know of, no such change; all sober and skilful naturalists reject it, as a fact not belonging to our time. We have here to build a theory without materials;–to sum a series of which every term, so far as we know, is nothing;–to introduce into our scientific reasonings an a.s.sumption contrary to all scientific knowledge.

31. This appears to me to be the real character of the a.s.sumption of the constant creation of new species. But, as I have said, it is not my business here, to p.r.o.nounce upon the value or truth of this a.s.sumption.

The only use which I wish to make of it is this:–If any persons, who have adopted the geological view which I have just been explaining, should feel any interest in the speculations here offered to their notice, they must needs be (as I have no doubt they will be) even more willing than other geologists, to grant to our argument a scale of time for geological succession, corresponding in magnitude to the scale of distances which astronomy teaches us, as those which measure the relation of the universe to the earth.

This being supposed to be granted, I am prepared to proceed with my argument.

CHAPTER VI.

THE ARGUMENT FROM GEOLOGY.

1. I have endeavored to explain that, according to the discoveries of geologists, the ma.s.ses of which the surface of the earth is composed, exhibit indisputable evidence that, at different successive periods, the land and the waters which occupy it, have been inhabited by successive races of plants and animals; which, when taken in large groups, according to the ascending or descending order of the strata, consist of species different from those above and below them. Many of these groups of species are of forms so different from any living things which now exist, as to give to the life of those ancient periods an aspect strangely diverse from that which life now displays, and to transfer us, in thought, to a creation remote in its predominant forms from that among which we live. I have shown also, that the life and successive generations of these groups of species, and the events by which the rocks which contain these remains have been brought into their present situation and condition, must have occupied immense intervals of time;–intervals so large that they deserve to be compared, in their numerical expression, with the intervals of s.p.a.ce which separate the planets and stars from each other. It has been seen, also, that the best geologists and natural historians have not been able to devise any hypothesis to account for the successive introduction of these new species into the earth’s population; except the exercise of a series of acts of creation, by which they have been brought into being; either in groups at once, or in a perpetual succession of one or a few species, which the course of long intervals of time might acc.u.mulate into groups of species. It is true, that some speculators have held that by the agency of natural causes, such as operate upon organic forms, one species might be trans.m.u.ted into another; external conditions of climate, food, and the like, being supposed to conspire with internal impulses and tendencies, so as to produce this effect. This supposition is, however, on a more exact examination of the laws of animal life, found to be dest.i.tute of proof; and the doctrine of the successive creation of species remains firmly established among geologists. That the _extinction_ of species, and of groups of species, may be accounted for by natural causes, is a proposition much more plausible, and to a certain extent, probable; for we have good reason to believe that, even within the time of human history, some few species have ceased to exist upon the earth. But whether the extinction of such vast groups of species as the ancient strata present to our notice, can be accounted for in this way, at least without a.s.suming the occurrence of great catastrophes, which must for a time, have destroyed all forms of life in the district in which they occurred, appears to be more doubtful. The decision of these questions, however, is not essential to our purpose.

What is important is, that immense numbers of tribes of animals have tenanted the earth for countless ages, before the present state of things began to be.

2. The present state of things is that to which the existence and the history of MAN belong; and the remark which I now have to make is, that the existence and the history of Man are facts of an entirely different order from any which existed in any of the previous states of the earth; and that this history has occupied a series of years which, compared with geological periods, may be regarded as very brief and limited.

3. The remains of man are nowhere found in the strata which contain the records of former states of the earth. Skeletons of vast varieties of creatures have been disinterred from their rocky tombs; but these cemeteries of nature supply no portion of a human skeleton. In earlier periods of natural science, when comparative anatomy was as yet very imperfectly understood, no doubt, many fossil bones were supposed to be human bones. The remains of giants and of antediluvians were frequent in museums. But a further knowledge of anatomy has made it appear that such bones all belong to animals, of one kind or another; often, to animals utterly different, in their form and skeleton, from man. Also some bones, really human, have been found petrified in situations in which petrification has gone on in recent times, and is still going on. Human skeletons, imbedded in rocks by this process, have been found in the island of Guadaloupe, and elsewhere. But this phenomenon is easily distinguishable from the petrified bones of other animals, which are found in rocks belonging to really geological periods; and does not at all obliterate the distinction between the geological and the historical periods.

4. Indeed not bones only, but objects of art, produced by human workmanship, are found fossilized and petrified by the like processes; and these, of course, belong to the historical period. Human bones, and human works, are found in such deposits as mora.s.ses, sand-banks, lava-streams, mounds of volcanic ashes; and many of them may be of unknown, and, compared with the duration of a few generations, of very great antiquity; but such deposits are distinguishable, generally without difficulty, from the strata in which the geologist reads the records of former creations. It has been truly said, that the geologist is an _Antiquary_; for, like the antiquary, he traces a past condition of things in the remains and effects of it which still subsist; but it has also been truly said, at the same time, that he is an antiquary _of a new Order_; for the remains which he studies are those which ill.u.s.trate the history of the earth, not of man. The geologist’s antiquity is not that of ornaments and arms, utensils and habiliments, walls and mounds; but of species and of genera, of seas and of mountains. It is true, that the geologist may have to study the works of man, in order to trace the effects of causes which produce the results which he investigates; as when he examines the pholad-pierced pillars of Pateoli, to prove the rise and the fall of the ground on which they stand; or notes the anchoring-rings in the wall of some Roman edifice, once a maritime fort, but now a ruin remote from the sea; or when he remarks the streets in the towns of Scania, which are now below the level of the Baltic,[1] and therefore show that the land has sunk since these pavements were laid. But in studying such objects, the geologist considers the hand of man as only one among many agencies. Man is to him only one of the natural causes of change.

5. And if, with the ill.u.s.trious author to whom we have just referred,[2]

we liken the fossil remains, by which the geologist determines the age of his strata, to the Medals and Coins in which the antiquary finds the record of reigns and dynasties; we must still recollect that a _Coin_ really discloses a vast body of characteristics of man, to which there is nothing approaching in the previous condition of the world. For how much does a Coin or Medal indicate? Property; exchange; government; a standard of value; the arts of mining, a.s.saying, coining, drawing, and sculpture; language, writing, and reckoning; historical recollections, and the wish to be remembered by future ages. All this is involved in that small human work, a Coin. If the fossil remains of animals may (as has been said) be termed Medals struck by Nature to record the epochs of her history; Medals must be said to be, not merely, like fossil remains, records of material things; they are the records of thought, purpose, society, long continued, long improved, supplied with multiplied aids and helps; they are the permanent results, in a minute compa.s.s, of a vast progress, extending through all the ramifications of human life.

6. Not a coin merely, but any, the rudest work of human art, carries us far beyond the domain of mere animal life. There is no transition from man to animals. No doubt, there are races of men very degraded, barbarous, and brutish. No doubt there are kinds of animals which are very intelligent and sagacious; and some which are exceedingly disposed to and adapted to companionship with man. But by elevating the intelligence of the brute, we do not make it become the intelligence of the man. By making man barbarous, we do not make him cease to be a man.

Animals have their especial capacities, which may be carried very far, and may approach near to human sagacity, or may even go beyond it; but the capacity of man is of a different kind. It is a capacity, not for becoming sagacious, but for becoming rational; or rather it is a capacity which he has in virtue of being rational. It is a capacity of progress. In animals, however sagacious, however well trained, the progress in skill and knowledge is limited, and very narrowly limited.

The creature soon reaches a boundary, beyond which it cannot pa.s.s; and even if the acquired habits be transmitted by descent to another generation, (which happens in the case of dogs and several other animals,) still the race soon comes to a stand in its accomplishments.

But in man, the possible progress from generation to generation, in intelligence and knowledge, and we may also say, in power, is indefinite; or if this be doubted, it is at least so vast, that compared with animals, his capacity is infinite. And this capacity extends to all races of men its characterizing efficacy: for we have good reason to believe that there is no race of human beings who may not, by a due course of culture, continued through generations, be brought into a community of intelligence and power with the most intelligent and the most powerful races. This seems to be well established, for instance, with regard to the African negroes; so long regarded by most, by some probably regarded still, as a race inferior to Europeans. It has been found that they are abundantly capable of taking a share in the arts, literature, morality and religion of European peoples. And we cannot doubt that, in the same manner, the native Australians, or the Bushmen of the Cape of Good Hope, have human faculties and human capacities; however difficult it might be to unfold these, in one or two generations, into a form of intelligence and civilization in any considerable degree resembling our own.

7. It is not requisite for us, and it might lead to unnecessary difficulties, to fix upon any one attribute of man, as peculiarly characteristic, and distinguishing him from brutes. Yet it would not be too much to say that man is, in truth, universally and specifically characterized by the possession of _Language_. It will not be questioned that language, in its highest forms, is a wonderful vehicle and a striking evidence of the intelligence of man. His bodily organs can, by a few scarcely perceptible motions, shape the air into sounds which express the kinds, properties, actions and relations of things, under thousands of aspects, in forms infinitely more general and recondite than those in which they present themselves to his senses;–and he can, by means of these forms, aided by the use of his senses, explore the boundless regions of s.p.a.ce, the far recesses of past time, the order of nature, the working of the Author of nature. This man does, by the exercise of his Reason, and by the use of Language, a necessary implement of his Reason for such purposes.

8. That language, in such a stage, is a special character of man, will not be doubted. But it may be thought, there is little resemblance between Language in this exalted degree of perfection, and the seemingly senseless gibberish of the most barbarous tribes. Such an opinion, however, might easily be carried too far. All human language has in it the elements of indefinite intellectual activity, and the germs of indefinite development. Even the rudest kind of speech, used by savages, denotes objects by their kinds, their attributes, their relations, with a degree of generality derived from the intellect, not from the senses.

The generality may be very limited; the relations which the human intellect is capable of apprehending may be imperfectly conveyed. But to denote kinds and attributes and actions and relations _at all_, is a beginning of generalization and abstraction;–or rather, is far more than a beginning. It is the work of a faculty which can generalize and abstract; and these mental processes once begun, the field of progress which is open to them is indefinite. Undoubtedly it may happen that weak and barbarous tribes are, for many generations, so hard pressed by circ.u.mstances, and their faculties so entirely absorbed in providing for the bare wants of the poorest life, that their thoughts may never travel to anything beyond these, and their language may not be extended so as to be applicable to any other purposes. But this is not the standard condition of mankind. It is not, by such cases, that man, or that human nature, is to be judged. The normal condition of man is one of an advance beyond the mere means of subsistence, to the arts of life, and the exercise of thought in a general form. To some extent, such an advance has taken place in almost every region of the earth and in every age.

9. Perhaps we may often have a tendency to think more meanly than they deserve, of so-called barbarous tribes, and of those whose intellectual habits differ much from our own. We may be p.r.o.ne to regard ourselves as standing at the summit of civilization; and all other nations and ages, as not only occupying inferior positions, but positions on a slope which descends till it sinks into the nature of brutes. And yet how little does an examination of the history of mankind justify this view! The different stages of civilization, and of intellectual culture, which have prevailed among them, have had no appearance of belonging to one single series, in which the cases differed only as higher or lower. On the contrary, there have been many very different kinds of civilization, accompanied by different forms of art and of thought; showing how universally the human mind tends to such habits, and how rich it is in the modes of manifesting its innate powers. How different have been the forms of civilization among the Chinese, the Indians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Mexicans, the Peruvians! Yet in all, how much was displayed of sagacity and skill, of perseverance and progress, of mental activity and grasp, of thoughtfulness and power. Are we, in thinking of these manifestations of human capacity, to think of them as only a stage between us and brutes? or are we to think so, even of the stoical Red Indians of North America, or the energetic New Zealanders, and Caffres?

And if not, why of the African Negroes, or the Australians, or the Bushmen? We may call their Language a jargon. Very probable it would, in its present form, be unable to express a great deal of what we are in the habit of putting into language. But can we refuse to believe that, with regard to matters with which they are familiar, and on occasions where they are interested, they would be to each other intelligible and clear? And if we suppose cases in which their affections and emotions are strongly excited, (and affections and emotions at least we cannot deny them,) can we not believe that they would be eloquent and impressive? Do we not know, in fact, that almost all nations which we call savage, are, on such occasions, eloquent in their own language? And since this is so, must not their language, after all, be a wonderful instrument as well as ours? Since it can convey one man’s thoughts and emotions to many, clothed in the form which they a.s.sume in his mind; giving to things, it may be, an aspect quite different from that which they would have if presented to their own senses; guiding their conviction, warming their hearts, impelling their purposes;–can language, even in such cases, be otherwise than a wonderful produce of man’s internal, of his mental, that is, of his peculiarly _human_ faculties? And is not language, therefore, even in what we regard as its lowest forms, an endowment which completely separates man from animals which have no such faculty?–which cannot regard, or which cannot convey, the impressions of the individual in any such general and abstract form? Probably we should find, as those who have studied the language of savages always have found, that every such language contains a number of curious and subtle practices,–_contrivances_, we cannot help calling them,–for marking the relations, bearings and connections of words; contrivances quite different from those of the languages which we think of as more perfect; but yet, in the mouths of those who use such speech, answering their purpose with great precision. But without going into such details, the use of any _articulate_ language is, as the oldest Greeks spoke of it, a special and complete distinction of man as man.

10. It would be an obscure and useless labor, to speculate upon the question whether animals have among themselves anything which can properly be called _Language_. That they have anything which can be termed Language, in the sense in which we here speak of it, as admitting of general expressions, abstractions, address to numbers, eloquence, is utterly at variance with any interpretation which we can put upon their proceedings. The broad distinction of Instinct and Reason, however obscure it may be, yet seems to be most simply described, by saying, that animals do not apprehend their impressions under general forms, and that man does. Resemblance, and consequent a.s.sociation of impressions, may often show like generalization; but yet it is different. There is, in man’s mind, a germ of general thoughts, suggested by resemblances, which is evolved and fixed in language; and by the aid of such an addition to the impressions of sense, man has thousands of intellectual pathways from object to object, from effect to cause, from fact to inference. His impressions are projected on a sphere of thought of which the radii can be prolonged into the farthest regions of the universe.

Animals, on the contrary, are shut up in their sphere of sensation,–pa.s.sing from one impression to another by various a.s.sociations, established by circ.u.mstances; but still, having access to no wider intellectual region, through which lie lines of transition purely abstract and mental. That they have their modes of communicating their impressions and a.s.sociations, their affections and emotions, we know; but these modes of communication do not make a language; nor do they disturb the a.s.signment of Language as a special character of man; nor the belief that man differs in his Kind, and we may say, using a larger phrase, in his Order, from all other creatures.

11. We may sometimes be led to a.s.sign much of the development of man’s peculiar powers, to the influence of external circ.u.mstances. And that the development of those powers is so influenced, we cannot doubt; but their development only, not their existence. We have already said that savages, living a precarious and miserable life, occupied incessantly with providing for their mere bodily wants, are not likely to possess language, or any other characteristic of humanity, in any but a stunted and imperfect form. But, that manhood is debased and degraded under such adverse conditions, does not make man cease to be man. Even from such an abject race, if a child be taken and brought up among the comforts and means of development which civilized life supplies, he does not fail to show that he possesses, perhaps in an eminent degree, the powers which specially belong to man. The evidences of human tendencies, human thoughts, human capacities, human affections and sympathies, appear conspicuously, in cases in which there has been no time for external circ.u.mstances to operate in any great degree, so as to unfold any difference between the man and the brute; or in which the influence of the most general of external agencies, the impressions of several of the senses, have been intercepted. Who that sees a lively child, looking with eager and curious eyes at every object, uttering cries that express every variety of elementary human emotion in the most vivacious manner, exchanging looks and gestures, and inarticulate sounds, with his nurse, can doubt that already he possesses the germs of human feeling, thought and knowledge? that already, before he can form or understand a single articulate word, he has within him the materials of an infinite exuberance of utterance, and an impulse to find the language into which such utterance is to be moulded by the law of his human nature? And perhaps it may have happened to others, as it has to me, to know a child who had been both deaf, dumb, and blind, from a very early age. Yet she, as years went on, disclosed a perpetually growing sympathy with the other children of the family in all their actions, with which of course she could only acquaint herself by the sense of touch. She sat, dressed, walked, as they did; even imitated them in holding a book in her hand when they read, and in kneeling when they prayed. No one could look at the change which came over her sightless countenance, when a known hand touched hers, and doubt that there was a human soul within the frame.

The human soul seemed not only to be there, but to have been fully developed; though the means by which it could receive such communications as generally const.i.tute human education, were thus cut off. And such modes of communication with her companions as had been taught her, or as she had herself invented, well bore out the belief, that her mind was the constant dwelling-place, not only of human affections, but of human thoughts. So plainly does it appear that human thought is not produced or occasioned by external circ.u.mstances only; but has a special and indestructible germ in human nature.

12. I have been endeavoring to ill.u.s.trate the doctrine that man’s nature is different from the nature of other animals; as subsidiary to the doctrine that the Human Epoch of the earth’s history is different from all the preceding Epochs. But in truth, this subsidiary proposition is not by any means necessary to my main purpose. Even if barbarous and savage tribes, even if men under unfavorable circ.u.mstances, be little better than the brutes, still no one will doubt that the most civilized races of mankind, that man under the most favorable circ.u.mstances, is far, is, indeed, immeasurably elevated above the brutes. The history of man includes not only the history of Scythians and Barbarians, Australians and Negroes, but of ancient Greeks and of modern Europeans; and therefore there can be no doubt that the period of the Earth’s history, which includes the history of man, is very different indeed from any period which preceded that. To ill.u.s.trate the peculiarity, the elevation, the dignity, the wonderful endowments of man, we might refer to the achievements, the recorded thoughts and actions, of the most eminent among those nations;–to their arts, their poetry, their eloquence; their philosophers, their mathematicians, their astronomers; to the acts of virtue and devotion, of patriotism, generosity, obedience, truthfulness, love, which took place among them;–to their piety, their reverence for the deity, their resignation to his will, their hope of immortality. Such characteristic traits of man as man, (which all examples of intelligence, virtue, and religion, are,) might serve to show that man is, in a sense quite different from other creatures, “fearfully and wonderfully made;” but I need not go into such details. It is sufficient for my purpose to sum up the result in the expressions which I have already used; that man is an intellectual, moral, religious, and spiritual being.

13. But the existence of man upon the earth being thus an event of an order quite different from any previous part of the earth’s history, the question occurs, how long has this state of things endured? What period has elapsed since this creature, with these high powers and faculties, was placed upon the earth? How far must we go backward in time, to find the beginning of his wonderful history?–so utterly wonderful compared with anything which had previously occurred. For as to that point, we cannot feel any doubt. The wildest imagination cannot suggest that corals and madrepores, oysters and sepias, fishes and lizards, may have been rational and moral creatures; nor even those creatures which come nearer to human organization; megatheriums and mastodons, extinct deer and elephants. Undoubtedly the earth, till the existence of man, was a world of mere brute creatures. How long then has it been otherwise? How long has it been the habitation of a rational, reflective, progressive race? Can we by any evidence, geological or other, approximate to the beginning of the Human History?

14. This is a large and curious question, and one on which a precise answer may not be within our reach. But an answer not precise, an approximation, as we have suggested, may suffice for our purpose. If we can determine, in some measure, the order and scale of the period during which man has occupied the earth, the determination may serve to support the a.n.a.logy which we wish to establish.

15. The geological evidence with regard to the existence of man is altogether negative. Previous to the deposits and changes which we can trace as belonging obviously to the present state of the earth’s surface, and the operation of causes now existing, there is no vestige of the existence of man, or of his works. As was long ago observed,[3]

we do not find, among the sh.e.l.ls and bones which are so abundant in the older strata, any weapons, medals, implements, structures, which speak to us of the hand of man, the workman. If we look forwards ten or twenty thousand years, and suppose the existing works of man to have been, by that time, ruined and covered up by ma.s.ses of rubbish, inundations, mora.s.ses, lava-streams, earthquakes; still, when the future inhabitant of the earth digs into and explores these coverings, he will discover innumerable monuments that man existed so long ago. The materials of many of his works, and the traces of his own mind, which he stamps upon them, are as indestructible as the sh.e.l.ls and bones which give language to the oldest work. Indeed, in many cases the oldest fossil remains are the results of objects of seemingly the most frail and perishable material;–of the most delicate and tender animal and vegetable tissues and filaments. That no such remains of textures and forms, moulded by the hand of man, are anywhere found among these, must be accepted as indisputable evidence that man did not exist, so as to be contemporary with the plants and animals thus commemorated. According to geological evidence, the race of man is a novelty upon the earth;–something which has succeeded to all the great geological changes.

16. And in this, almost all geologists are agreed. Even those who hold that, in other ways, the course of change has been uniform;–that even the introduction of man, as a new species of animal, is only an event of the same kind as myriads of like events which have occurred in the history of the earth;–still allow that the introduction of man, as a moral being, is an event entirely different from any which had taken place before; and that event is, geologically speaking, recent. The changes of which we have spoken, as studied by the geologist in connection with the works of man, the destruction of buildings on sea-coasts by the incursions of the ocean, the removal of the sh.o.r.e many miles away from ancient harbors, the overwhelming of cities by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions; however great when compared with the changes which take place in one or two generations; are minute and infinitesimal, when put in comparison with the changes by which ranges of mountains and continents have been brought into being, one after another, each of them filled with the remains of different organic creations.

17. Further than this, geology does not go on this question. She has no chronometer which can tell us when the first buildings were erected, when man first dwelt in cities, first used implements or arms; still less, language and reflection. Geology is compelled to give over the question to History. The external evidences of the antiquity of the species fail us, and we must have recourse to the internal. Nature can tell us so little of the age of man, that we must inquire what he can tell us himself.

18. What man can tell us of his own age–what history can say of the beginning of history–is necessarily very obscure and imperfect. We know how difficult it is to trace to its origin the History of any single Nation: how much more, the History of all Nations! We know that all such particular histories carry us back to periods of the migrations of tribes, confused mixtures of populations, perplexed and contradictory genealogies of races; and as we follow these further and further backwards, they become more and more obscure and uncertain; at least in the histories which remain to us of most nations. Still, the obscurity is not such as to lead us to the conviction that research is useless and unprofitable. It is an obscurity such as naturally arises from the lapse of time, and the complexity of the subject. The aspect of the world, however far we go back, is still historical and human; historical and human, in as high a degree, as it is at the present day. Men, as described in the records of the oldest times, are of the same nature, act with the same views, are governed by the same motives, as at present. At all points, we see thought, purpose, law, religion, progress. If we do not find a beginning, we find at least evidence that, in approaching the beginning, the condition of man does not, in any way, cease to be that of an intellectual, moral, and religious creature.

19. There are, indeed, some histories which speak to us of the beginning of man’s existence upon earth; and one such history in particular, which comes to us recommended by indisputable evidence of its own great antiquity, by numerous and striking confirmations from other histories, and from facts still current, and by its connection with that religious view of man’s condition, which appears to thoughtful men to be absolutely requisite to give a meaning and purpose to man’s faculties and endowments. I speak, of course, of the Hebrew Scriptures. This history professes to inform us how man was placed upon the earth; and how, from one centre, the human family spread itself in various branches into all parts of the world. This genealogy of the human race is accompanied by a chronology, from which it results that the antiquity of the human race does not exceed a few thousand years. Even if we accept this history as true and authoritative, it would not be wise to be rigidly tenacious of the chronology, as to its minute exactness. For, in the first place, of three different forms in which this history appears, the chronology is different in all the three: I mean the Hebrew, the Samaritan, and the Septuagint versions of the Old Testament. And even if this were not so, since this chronology is put in the form of genealogies, of which many of the steps may very probably have a meaning different from the simple succession of generations in a family, (as some of them certainly have,) it would be unwise to consider ourselves bound to the exact number of years stated, in any of the three versions, or even in all. It makes no difference to our argument, nor to any, purpose in which we can suppose this narrative to have a bearing, whether we accept six thousand or ten thousand years, or even a longer period, as the interval which has now elapsed since the creation of man took place, and the peopling of the earth began.

20. And, in our speculations at least, it will be well for us to take into account the view which is given us of the antiquity of the human race, by other histories as well as by this. A satisfactory result of such an investigation would be attained if, looking at all these histories, weighing their value, interpreting their expressions fairly, discovering their sources of error, and of misrepresentation, we should find them all converge to one point; all give a consistent and harmonious view of the earliest stages of man’s history; of the times and places in which he first appeared as man. If all nations of men are branches of the same family, it cannot but interest us, to find all the family traditions tending upwards towards the same quarter; indicating a divergence from the same point; exhibiting a recollection of the original domicile, or of the same original family circle.

21. To a certain extent at least, this appears to be the result of the historical investigations which have been pursued relative to this subject. A certain group of nations is brought before us by these researches which, a few thousands of years ago, were possessed of arts, and manners, and habits, and belief, which make them conspicuous, and which we can easily believe to have been contemporaneous successors of a common, though, it may be even then, remote stock. Such are the Jews, Egyptians, Chaldeans, and a.s.syrians. The histories of these nations are connected with and confirm each other. Their languages, or most of them, have certain affinities, which glossologists, on independent grounds, have regarded as affinities implying an original connection. Their chronologies, though in many respects discrepant, are not incapable of being reduced into an harmony by very probable suppositions. Here we have a very early view of the condition of a portion of the earth as the habitation of man, and perhaps a suggestion of a condition earlier still.

22. It is true, that there are other nations also, which claim an antiquity for their civilization equal to or greater than that which we can ascribe to these. Such are the Indians and the Chinese. But while we do not question that these nations were at a remote period in possession of arts, knowledge, and regular polity, in a very eminent degree, we are not at all called upon to a.s.sent to the immense numbers, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of years, by which such nations, in their histories, express their antiquity. For, in the first place, such numbers are easily devised and transferred to the obscure early stages of tradition, when the art of numeration is once become familiar. These vast intervals, applied to series of blank genealogies, or idle fables, gratify the popular appet.i.te for numerical wonders, but have little claim on critical conviction.

23. And in the next place, we discover that not enumeration only, but a more recondite art, had a great share in the fabrication of these gigantic numbers of years. Some of the nations of whom we have thus spoken, the Indians, for example, had, at an early period, possessed themselves of a large share of astronomical knowledge. They had observed and examined the motions of the Sun, the Moon, the Planets, and the Stars, till they had discovered Cycles, in which, after long and seemingly irregular wanderings in the skies, the heavenly bodies came round again to known and regular positions. They had thus detected the order that reigns in the seeming disorder; and had, by this means, enabled themselves to know beforehand when certain astronomical events would occur; certain configurations of the Planets, for instance, and eclipses; and knowing how such events would occur in future, they were also able to calculate how the like events had occurred in the past.

They could thus determine what eclipses and what planetary configurations had occurred, in thousands and tens of thousands of years of past time; and could, if they were disposed to falsify their early histories, and to confirm the falsification by astronomical evidence, do so with a very near approximation to astronomical truth. Such astronomical confirmation of their a.s.sertions, so incapable in any common apprehension of being derived from any other source than actual observation of the fact, naturally produced a great effect upon common minds; and still more, on those who examined the astronomical fact, enough only to see that it was, approximately, at least, true. But in recent times the fallacy of this evidence has been shown, and the fabrication detected. For though the astronomical rules which they had devised were approximately true, they were true approximately only. The more exact researches of modern European astronomy discovered that their cycles, though nearly exact, were not quite so. There was in them an error which made the cycle, at every revolution of its period, when it was applied to past ages, more and more wrong; so that the astronomical events which they a.s.serted to have happened, as they had calculated that they would have happened, the better informed astronomer of our day knows would not have happened exactly so, but in a manner differing more and more from their statement, as the event was more and more remote.

And thus the fact which they a.s.serted to have been observed, had not really happened; and the confirmation, which it had been supposed to lend to their history, disappeared. And thus, there is not, in the a.s.serted antiquity of Indian civilization and Indian astronomy, anything which has a well-founded claim to disturb our belief that the nations of the more western regions of Asia had a civilization as ancient as theirs. And considerations of nearly the same kind may be applied to the very remote astronomical facts which are recorded as having been observed in the history of some others of the ancient nations above mentioned.

24. Still less need we be disturbed by the long series of dynasties, each occupying a large period of years, which the Egyptians are said to have inserted in their early history, so as to carry their origin beyond the earliest times which I have mentioned. If they spoke of the Greek nations as children compared with their own long-continued age, as Plato says they did, a few thousands of years of previous existence would well ent.i.tle them to do so. So far as such a period goes, their monuments and their hieroglyphical inscriptions give a reality to their pretensions, which we may very willingly grant. And even the history of the Jews supposes that the Egyptians had attained a high point in arts, government, knowledge, when Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was still leading the life of a nomad. But this supposition is not inconsistent with the account which the Jewish Scriptures give, of the origin of nations; especially if, as we have said, we abstain from any rigid and narrow interpretation of the chronology of those scriptures; as on every ground, it is prudent to do.

25. It appears then not unreasonable to believe, that a very few thousands, or even a few hundreds of years before the time of Abraham, the nations of central and western Asia offer to us the oldest aspect of the life of man upon the earth; and that in reasoning concerning the antiquity of the human race, we may suppose that at that period, he was in the earliest stages of his existence. Although, in truth, if we were to accept the antiquity claimed by the Egyptians, the Indians, or the Chinese, the nature of our argument would not be materially altered; for ten thousand, or even twenty thousand years, bears a very small proportion to the periods of time which geology requires for the revolutions which she describes; and, as I have said, we have geological evidence also, to show how brief the human period has been, when compared with the period which preceded the existence of man. And if this be so; if such peoples as those who have left to us the monuments of Egypt and of a.s.syria, the pyramids and ancient Thebes, the walls of Nineveh and Babylon, were the first nations which lived as nations; or if they were separated from such only by the interval by which the Germans of to-day are separated from the Germans of Tacitus; we may well repeat our remark, that the history of man, in the earliest times, is as truly a history of a wonderful, intellectual, social, political, spiritual creature, as it is at present. We see, in the monuments of those periods, evidences so great and so full of skill, that even now, they amaze us, of arts, government, property, thought, the love of beauty, the recognition of deity; evidences of memory, foresight, power.

If London or Berlin were now destroyed, overwhelmed, and, four thousand years hence, disinterred, these cities would not afford stronger testimony of those attributes, as existing in modern Europeans, than we have of such qualities in the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians. The history of man, as that of a creature pre-eminent in the creation, is equally such, however far back we carry our researches.

26. Nor is there anything to disturb this view, in the fact of the existence of the uncultured and barbarous tribes which occupy, and always have occupied, a large portion of the earth’s surface. For, in the first place, there is not, in the aspect of the fact, or in the information which history gives us, any reason to believe that such tribes exhibit a form of human existence, which, in the natural order of progress, is earlier than the forms of civilized life, of which we have spoken. The opinion that the most savage kind of human life, least acquainted with arts, and least provided with resources, is the state of nature out of which civilized life has everywhere gradually emerged, is an opinion which, though at one time popular, is unsupported by proof, and contrary to probability.[4] Savage tribes do not so grow into civilization; their condition is, far more probably, a condition of civilization degraded and lost, than of civilization incipient and prospective. Add to this, that if we were to a.s.sume that this were otherwise; if man thus originally and naturally savage, did also naturally tend to become civilized; this _tendency_ is an endowment no less wonderful, than those endowments which civilization exhibits. The capacity is as extraordinary as the developed result; for the capacity involves the result. If savage man be the germ of the most highly civilized man, he differs from all other animal germs, as man differs from brute. And add to this again, that in the tribes which we call savage, and whose condition most differs, in external circ.u.mstances, from ours, there are, after all, a vast ma.s.s of human attributes: thought, purpose, language, family relations; generally property, law, government, contract, arts, and knowledge, to no small extent; and in almost every case, religion. Even uncivilized man is an intellectual, moral, social, religious creature; nor is there, in his condition, any reason why he may not be a spiritual creature, in the highest sense in which the most civilized man can be so.

27. Here then we are brought to the view which, it would seem, offers a complete reply to the difficulty, which astronomical discoveries appeared to place in the way of religion:–the difficulty of the opinion that man, occupying this speck of earth, which is but as an atom in the Universe, surrounded by millions of other globes, larger, and, to appearance, n.o.bler than that which he inhabits, should be the object of the peculiar care and guardianship, of the favor and government, of the Creator of All, in the way in which Religion teaches us that He is. For we find that man, (the human race, from its first origin till now,) has occupied but an atom of time, as he has occupied but an atom of s.p.a.ce:–that as he is surrounded by myriads of globes which may, like this, be the habitations of living things, so he has been preceded, on this earth, by myriads of generations of living things, not possibly or probably only, but certainly; and yet that, comparing his history with theirs, he has been, certainly has been fitted to be, the object of the care and guardianship, of the favor and government, of the Master and Governor of All, in a manner entirely different from anything which it is possible to believe with regard to the countless generations of brute creatures which had gone before him. If we will doubt or overlook the difference between man and brutes, the difficulty of ascribing to man peculiar privileges, is made as great by the revelations of geology, as of astronomy. The scale of man’s insignificance is, as we have said, of the same order in reference to time, as to s.p.a.ce. There is nothing which at all goes beyond the magnitude which observation and reasoning suggest for geological periods, in supposing that the tertiary strata occupied, in their deposition and elevation, a period as much greater than the period of human history, as the solar system is larger than the earth:–that the secondary strata were as much longer than these in their formation, as the nearest fixed star is more distant than the sun:–that the still earlier ma.s.ses, call them primary, or protozoic, or what we will, did, in their production, extend through a period of time as vast, compared with the secondary period, as the most distant nebula is remoter than the nearest star. If the earth, as the habitation of man, is a speck in the midst of an infinity of s.p.a.ce, the earth, as the habitation of man, is also a speck at the end of an infinity of time. If we are as nothing in the surrounding universe, we are as nothing in the elapsed eternity; or rather, in the elapsed organic antiquity, during which the earth has existed and been the abode of life. If man is but one small family in the midst of innumerable possible households, he is also but one small family, the successor of innumerable tribes of animals, not possible only, but actual. If the planets _may_ be the seats of life, we know that the seas which have given birth to our mountains _were_ the seats of life. If the stars may have hundreds of systems of tenanted planets rolling round them, we know that the secondary group of rocks does contain hundreds of tenanted beds, witnessing of as many systems of organic creation. If the nebulae may be planetary systems in the course of formation, we know that the primary and transition rocks either show us the earth in the course of formation, as the future seat of life, or exhibit such life as already begun.

28. How far that which astronomy thus a.s.serts as possible, is probable:–what is the value of these possibilities of life in distant regions of the universe, we shall hereafter consider. But in what geology a.s.serts, the case is clear. It is no possibility, but a certainty. No one will now doubt that sh.e.l.ls and skeletons, trunks and leaves, prove animal and vegetable life to have existed. Even, therefore, if Astronomy could demonstrate all that her most fanciful disciples a.s.sume, Geology would still have a complete right to claim an equal hearing;–to insist upon having her a.n.a.logies regarded. She would have a right to answer the questions of Astronomy, when she says, How can we believe this? and to have her answers accepted.

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