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WHAT OF THE FUTUKE?
POSSIBILITY OF INDICATING THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET—OPINION OF DR HUTTON—EVERYTHING IN NATURE, PHYSICAL AND VITAL, PASSING ON TO NEWER FORMS AND CONDITIONS—NEW DISTRIBUTIONS OF SEA AND LAND — NEW CLIMATES AND PHYSICAL SURROUNDINGS—NEW ARRANGEMENTS OF PLANTS AND ANIMALS —NEW DEVELOPMENTS, OR HIGHER AND HIGHER LIFE-FORMS— MAN SUBJECT TO THE SAME LAW OF PROGRESSION—INFLUENCE OF MAN ON THE FUTURE—SLOW AND GRADUAL RATE OF NATURE'S OPERATIONS—EXALTED CONCEPTIONS OF THE UNIVERSE INSPIRED BY THE BELIEF IN A LAW OF INCESSANT DEVELOPMENT AND PROGRESS.
"Man," says Dr Hutton in his celebrated 'Theory,' "first sees things upon the surface of the earth no otherwise than the brute, who is made to act according to the mere impulse of his sense and reason, without inquiring into what had been the former state of things, or what will be the future. But man does not continue in that state of ignorance or insensibility to truth; and there are few of those who have the opportunity of enlightening their minds with intellectual knowledge, that do not wish at some time or another to be informed of what concerns the whole, and to look into the transactions of time past, as well as to form some judgment with regard to future events. It is only from the examination of the present state of things that judgments may be formed, in just reasoning, concerning what had been transacted in a former period of time; and it is only by seeing what had been the regular course of things that any knowledge can be formed of what is afterwards to happen; but having observed with accuracy the matter of fact, and having thus reasoned as we ought, without supposition or misinformation, the result will be no more precarious than any other subject of human understanding." No more precarious than any other subject, and a great deal more certain, indeed, than most of the topics with which the human understanding is apt to busy itself! Here is a world, Physical Geography informs us, having certain ordainings at present; here is a world, Geology informs us, which has had a strange and varied history in the past; and combining our knowledge of past and present, with faith in the uniformity of nature's operations, we are surely entitled to speculate with some degree of certainty as to the fate that awaits it in the future. Such speculation forms the subject of the present Sketch, and guided by the spirit of the Huttonian philosophy as above expressed, we do not despair of arriving at something like an intelligible indication. This indication may not exactly carry us forward to positive appearances, but it will show us, at least, what cannot continue, and thus the better prepare us for the perception and admission of the changes that must follow. No doubt, the changes in the natural world are so multiform and complex, and their producing causes act and react so unequally upon each other, that man, limited in his faculties and imperfect in his knowledge, can never hope to forecast either their exact order or amount; still, by adhering to right methods, ho can sketch an outline of the future, just as he has been enabled to trace the vestiges of the past; and this outline, shadowy as it may be, is something at least for Geology to boast of. It is true that it will add no new fact to our knowledge, for facts are things that have been accomplished; but its tracing gratifies the intellect, and the belief in its certainty exalts our conceptions of the course and continuity of creation.
And, first, we may safely assert that the present distribution of sea and land, with all its diversity of continent and island, will not be the prevailing arrangement in future ages; and that the more remote the period, the greater in all likelihood the difference. All that Geology teaches of the past shows that sea and land have repeatedly changed places; all that Physical Geography tells of the present declares that similar changes are incessantly in progress. Every wind that blows, every frost that freezes, every shower that falls, river that runs, and wave that strikes, is wasting and wearing down the framework of the existing continents; and the eroded material, borne down to lakes and estuaries and seas, is gradually displacing so much of the water and creating newer lands. This waste is so apparent on every cliff, and on every ravine and river-glen, that its truth requires no further enforcement; and the same holds good of every shore against which the waves dash, or the tidal currents scour. But while loss goes forward in one region, gain takes place in another; and thus most of our river plains are but the sites of silted-up lakes, just as all our deltas, occupying millions of square miles, are recent and still progressing acquirements from the sea. Nor is it alone to forces from without that the surface of our earth is subjected. The forces from within—the volcano, earthquake, and crust-motions, described in Sketch No. 3—are equally active and incessant; here piling up new hills, there throwing up the sea-bed into dry land, and here, again, submerging terrestrial surfaces beneath the waters of the ocean. If, then, such changes are unmistakably taking place at the. present day, and if by a parity of reasoning we can show that kindred changes took place in times past, we are surely entitled to rely on the uniformity of nature's operation, and to believe that similar "changes will continue to be effected. The conclusion is irresistible, and thus must be admitted the truth of our first proposition, that the future distributions of sea and land must differ from the present, and that as time rolls on the divergence will become greater and greater, till all the existing continents disappear, and new ones arise, with other contours, other surfaces, and other climates, but all fluctuating and progressive as those that went before. The whole history of the past, as interpreted by Geology, has been one incessant round of terraqueous change; the forces of nature are still as active and unabated in operation; and the inevitable results must be a round of terraqueous changes in the future, as incessant in their recurrence and as extensive in their range.
In the second place, it is equally clear that if the lands of the current era are gradually disappearing, and newer ones as gradually in course of formation, the latter must occupy different positions on the earth's surface, and, as a consequence, must enjoy different climates and different geographical surroundings. They may be more continental or more insular, more tropical, more temperate, or more arctic; but however this may be, it is quite evident they must differ in these respects from the existing. In ignorance of the law which regulates the great crust-motions of the globe—those slow upheavals and submergences of extensive tracts—we can scarcely indicate the position of the lands that will immediately succeed the existing; though, judging from the directions of most of the great delta-forming rivers, it would seem that they will he more within the warmer zones of the globe. The great rivers of the New World—the Mississippi, Orinocco, Amazon, and La Plata —are all projecting their vast deltas within these warmer zones; so also are the larger rivers of Europe and Africa, for though the Nile has a northerly trend, its delta is still within these warmer limits; and so also are the more important delta-formers of Asia—the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, Ganges, Irawaddy, Menam, Kong, Yang-tse-Kiang, and Hoang-ho. One has only to cast his eye over a map of the "river-systems," to perceive the truth of this assertion; for though Siberia and Arctic America are also possessed of large rivers, their ice-bound character and other conditions render their land-forming powers comparatively unimportant. To this southerly projection of the great rivers must also be added the fact, that vulcanic agency is much more active in its accumulations within tropical and sub-tropical than within arctic or antarctic zones. Appeal to any volcanic map of the world, and see how blank and quiescent are the great tracts of North America, Northern Europe, and Northern Asia, as compared with the warmer and more southerly zones, and then judge how much this may have to do with the formation and disposition of the future continents. In all the formations of newer lands vulcanicity has played an essential part; can we fail to infer that the vast cincture of volcanic action that surrounds the Pacific, as well as the numerous centres that stud its basin, are intimately connected with the elaboration of future land-masses within its area 1 It is true that the gradual elevation noted' by voyagers among the Arctic Islands, Northern Greenland, Spitzbergen, Scandinavia, and Siberia, would seem to point to a more continuous massing of the land in that direction; but though this were to be the case, it would not interfere with the likelihood of our previous surmise, that the dry lands more immediately succeeding the existing will lie within more