[This electronic text was prepared by Ian Johnston, originally formatted for the Victorian Web c. 2001 by John van Wyhe, and reformatted by George P. Landow in 2012.]

Art XXI--Essay on the Theory of the Earth, translated from the French of M. Cuvier, perpetual Secretary of the French Institute, Professor and Administrator of the Museum of Natural History, &c. &c.by Robert Kerr, F. R. S. and F. S. S. Edinburgh. With mineralogical Notes, and an Account of Cuvier's geological Discoveries. By Professor Jameson. Edinburgh. 1813.

The internal formation of the earth, and the deep though marvellous traces of design in its disordered mass, have been almost the last in the succession of scientific objects, which have engaged the speculations of mankind. The dazzling brightness of the canopy which overspreads this globe, and the endless varieties of animal and vegetable life which cover its surface, presented attractions with which it was long before the interior examination of its substance could stand in any competition. The treasures of the mine, indeed, were too much connected with selfish and ambitious desires to remain long in obscurity, but the laborious operations of their extraction afforded little leisure or encouragement to philosophic research. The speculative observation of phenomena indicating the agency of stupendously powerful causes was reserved for an advanced age of scientific enquiry. Even the distinction of simple minerals into genera and species was unknown to the ancients. Pliny and Theophrastus have left the only records of research in the third great kingdom of nature, but these records present nothing but some imperfect attempts to describe a few varieties of stones. We live in an age, however, in which the attention of the curious has been directed to this pursuit, and the value of the study of geology has been duly appreciated. But the rapid advance of natural knowledge in general, during the eighteenth century, in which period geology assumed its rank among the sciences, involved some consequences which may be considered as rather injurious to its advancement upon sound philosophical principles. The sublime speculations of Newton, the extensive classifications of Linnaeus, and the comprehensive theory of Lavoisier, had induced a too prevailing habit of generalization. The soil was too forcing for the first buddings of the tender plant, and the value of a few facts was nearly smothered by a premature ardour for hypothesis. Gratuitous and fanciful theories, disclaiming all dependence upon experiments, began, very soon after the study was introduced, to bend it in subservience to a sort of philosophical faction. Truths of the highest concern became involved in geological disputes, and the sacred history of revelation, the inspired account of the design and progress of creation, was called into question in the arbitrary explanations of natural appearances.

"Coelum ipsum petimus stultitia"

Thus the title of geologist became, in many instances, synonymous with deist, and a kind of unholy stain polluted the birth of this infant science. The zeal of some who undertook to defend, upon their adversaries' ground, the tenets of their faith, was not less injurious to science, and was more detrimental to the cause which they espoused. They, in their turn, invented hypothetical explanations of appearances, and distorted both fats and reasoning to answer their particular purpose. The refutation of these zealous absurdities was easy, but there are always those who are ready to confound the credit of a righteous cause with the imbecility of its advocates.

The first observations of geological phenomena were rude and accidental, as must be the case with all new studies before the process of spontaneous developement begins. Gradual discoveries of arrangement lead to profounder observations and juster conclusions. System and order arise in the place of confusion; not such as belong to the products of fancy and the visions of possibility but to the forms of reality and the objects of the senses.

One of the first observations which were made after the distinction of rocky masses in reference to their component parts, was the invariable order of relative position which the different species maintain with respect to each other. Different rocks are seen piled upon one another in mountain ranges; and in digging into the depths of the earth a perpetual and varying succession of strata is discovered. But no change of place is ever found between the upper and lower orders of the series. The lines of junction of the different species, and the strata into which they are individually divided, are parallel to one another. From hence the conclusion is striking; first, that their component parts must formerly have been in a state of fluidity; and, secondly, that the lower rocks in position must have been the first in formation. Their division, therefore, into two grand classes, distinguished no less by their relative position than by the obvious characters of their composition is highly scientific. A crystalline texture, and the absence of extraneous fossils, mark the series which is lowest in position, and justify the name of primordial; while the earthy composition of the higher series, and the different bodies which they envelop, from fragments of the preceding class to remains of organized bodies, authorize no less for these the appellation of secondary. Both these divisions of rocks are traversed by fissures which are filled with matters wholly foreign to their constitution. These veins are allowed by all to be of posterior formation to the masses between which they are interposed. Sometimes veins of different substances cut through each other, and in this case it is obvious that the one which is cut must have been of older formation than the one which traverses it. The disorder and various degrees of inclination of the planes of the strata point to some great revolution which must have broken their surfaces by the elevation of the upper, or the depression of the lower ridge. Geologists all agree in this unavoidable inference, though they differ from each other as to the nature of the cause.

The existence of marine exuviae upon the summits of many of the highest mountains is a fact of the utmost interest; as thence arises the uncontroverted conclusion, that at some former period the ocean had covered their lofty pinnacles, which have subsequently been exposed by the reflux of its waters, or by their gradual elevation above its level.

Thus far do all systems of geology agree, and such are the observations which have formed the basis of their several theories. Two rival systems have of late divided the attention of geologists, both of which profess to appeal to facts as the foundation of their deductions.

One of these, finding the causes which are at resent in action upon the surface of the globe sufficient for the operation of all the changes which are visibly stamped upon its form, compensates the imbecility of these ordinary means by an arbitrary extension of time, and carries back the commencement of their operation to millions of ages; or, rather, it supposes an indefinite power of renovation, which scorns the idea of a beginning, as it precludes the expectation of an end. According to this hypothesis, the continents of the present world have been formed from the detritus of pre-existing lands; the causes which destroyed the preceding mass are now in full action upon the p resent, and the slow disintegration of rocks by weather and storms, and the gradual abrasion of their surfaces by water, are preparing the birth of new lands, as they ensure the destruction of the old. the hollows of the valleys have been worn to their present depths by the action of the rivers, which originally ran at the level of the highest mountains, and the incessant attacks of the ocean perpetually encroach upon the barriers of the earth, the materials of which it washes away and buries in the depths of its waters. But these depths are the grand laboratory where new combinations are forming from the fragments of a former world, which, being deposited in quiet succession, are modified by the action of an internal fire, which, having melted the lower deposits by the help of the compression of the incumbent weight of waters, will finally raise its new creation into light by its expansive powers. The same causes are a gain to act upon this new earth, the waters of the atmosphere are again to commence their course from the summits of the mountains, and the sea attacking its new barrier with undiminished force will again precipitate its spoils into the furnaces of the deep.

Such is the geological theory of Dr. Hutton. Its chief support has been derived from the ingenious illustrations of Professor Playfair. Under his auspices the igneous origin of the present order of things, and the doctrine of their incalculable and unimaginable antiquity, have derived an importance which has saved them from the merited oblivion which involves many other speculations at least as worthy of being preserved.

The writings of the disciples of the rival school most triumphantly point out the absurdities of the Plutonian theory. Although it is impossible to deny the traces of the agency of fire upon the surface of our planet, proofs of which are even now visible in the dreadful effects of volcanoes and earthquakes, yet the facts relied upon to shew the universality of this agent are completely disproved. The experimental form which the idea seemed to assume from the well conducted experiments of Sir James Hall vanishes before the very data necessary to their success. The pressure of a resisting solid may prevent the escape of carbonic acid gas when limestone is acted upon by heat, but it would necessarily permeate every part of an incumbent fluid, and escape unchanged. Moreover, the now established stratification of granite, and the proofs of the newer construction of granite veins, which run into upper formations, are destructive of another of its essential arguments. But had not this been the case, we must confess that we are such old fashioned folks, and so bigoted to certain superstitions which we have imbibed in our youth, that the incompatibility of Dr. Hutton's hypothesis with our faith in the sacred volumes would have been alone conclusive against his arguments, and we should have still been content to have remained in unphilosophical ignorance of the solution of an intricate problem, rather than adopt conclusions so glaringly inconsistent with the concurrent testimony of recorded facts and traditional history.

The theory of Werner not only boasts the best connected series of facts for its illustration, but the greatest number of able supporters. The talents and sagacity of the founder himself are the of the first class; and it will ever be matter of regret that no account of his labours from his own en enrich the records of science. Professor Jameson has ably filled the place of expositor and annotator; but it is to the labours of the indefatigable De Luc that we are chiefly indebted not only for illustrations but judicious modifications. This acute philosopher has spent the greater part of a long life in geological pursuits; and the volumes of his travels, with the theoretical application of his observations to the support of the Wernerian, and the refutation of the Huttonian hypotheses, are monuments of logical exactness, and of unwearied assiduity of research.

This theory sets out with a distinction between the effects of causes obviously now in operation, and of others which have ceased to act. Carried back to the formation of granite as the first discernible effect which can be traced, it supposes that all the elements of the globe were held together in one chaotic mass. This mass became fluid by the extrication of the matter of heat, whereby the reciprocal power of the affinities of the different substances was brought into action. the granite strata were the first deposits from this disordered fluid, and the rest of the primitive rocks in the order of their succession. While this operation was in progress, the new-formed strata were fractured by the power of the expansive fluids which were produced by the different actions of affinity, and sinking into the caverns which were thus formed beneath them, rested in an inclined position. Other formations were again deposited upon these from the remaining fluid, influenced possibly by new affinities brought into action by the extrication of the gaseous matters. Such catastrophes occurred at different intervals, fracturing the rocks by the violence of the commotion. Their fragments were rounded by the tumultuous action of the waters, and gave birth to those immense deposits of water-worn stones which are so often met with in the newer formations. The organic remains which occur in these latter testify the different periods at which the earth was clothed with vegetation, and furnished with its various kinds of animated beings.

There is something more than beautiful in the correspondence of this explanation of the appearances of nature with the inspired account of the creation of the world by the great historian of the Jews. In the emphatic command of "Let there be light," we indistinctly trace a part of that comprehensive design which embraced at once all the beneficial consequences of its fulfilment--"There was light:" heat the concomitant, and possibly only a modification of light, loosed at once the bands of nature. The spirit of God, indeed, moved upon the face of the waters; the powers of affinity, which we are never tired of admiring in our closets in a small scale, were let loose in the great deep, and dry land appeared, the product of the new combinations. But further still, in the relics of a former world, preserved to us in the bosoms of the rocks, we may trace the order and succession of the creation of organic forms, as recorded in the same history. The older classes of secondary rocks contain remnants of vegetable forms alone; a second and a newer division are rich in the remains of all that the waters brought forth abundantly, while the skeletons and impressions of cattle, creeping things, and beasts of the earth, are discovered only in the newest alluvial formations.

The succession of catastrophes which dislocated the strata in the striking manner which we now trace, wherever their sections are exposed to view, was closed by that last subsidence which brought the waters of the ocean upon the habitations of men. The fountains of the deep were opened, the bed of the sea was changed, and our present continents rose above the retiring flood.

It is not the least ingenious and interesting part of the theory which we are contemplating, that it helps us to infer from the effects of causes which are now in action, and which commenced their course from the period of the last catastrophe of the surface of the earth, the time which has elapsed from that period. The bold outline of the boundaries of the seas in most places broken down by the perpetual agitation of the waves. After every storm fragments of the broken strata fall down upon the gradually accumulating beach, and being rounded by the action of the water, are deposited in heaps at the feet of the rocky cliffs. These heaps increase gradually, and modifying the action of the waves, repel their attacks, and in the lapse of time become covered with the earthy deposits of the land waters, and overspread with vegetation. Thus a kind of chronometer is formed, which with little observation and calculation will give us the probably length of time since first the waves began to act upon the rugged outline of the rock.

The accumulation of sand upon different coasts, the gradually increasing deposits of mud at the mouths of rivers, the progress of new lands, the filling up of lakes, and the raising of marshes by the slow depositions of the sediments of water, together with the formation of stalactitical incrustations, are similar measures of the like period. All these concurrent testimonies prove that the time from the formation of our present continents cannot have exceeded a very few thousand years, affording another proof of the authenticity of that history which relates the stupendous story of the universal deluge.

Such is the outline of the Wernerian theory. It must be allowed to be consistent with the known laws of chemical and mechanical philosophy; and although in many instances it may be thought to have ventured too far into the regions of fancy, yet its speculations have imported from thence no arts to disguise inconsistency, or arms to assist presumption.

Geology within this year or two has assumed a different mien. Observation has superseded useless speculation, and the classification of the different formations of the earth's surface, the distinction and description of different individuals in a series, the analysis of minerals and the investigation of their properties, have taken the place of useless cavils about remoter causes. It is by such gradual means that we may hope to penetrate the secrets of time;--step by step to unravel the long series of past events;--to harmonize philosophy with divinity.

In adverting to this revolution in the science we have been considering, we are happy in an opportunity of directing attention to the exertions of a body of scientific men, who have lately formed themselves into a society in this country for the advancement of geology. Attached to no particular system, they meet together for the purpose of encouraging and facilitating inquiry, and by the discussions of opinions to elicit truth. Their early labours have been crowned with merited success, and the first volume of their transactions is replete with original, well-described, and highly interesting observations. Their later proceedings we shall hope shortly to see recorded; and it will be, we trust, not the least instructive part of our labours, either to ourselves or to our readers, to watch from time to time the progress of researches which we are convinced will contribute most essentially to erect upon a rational basis a true system of geology.

But we must abridge our observations upon the present state of the science in general, for the sake of the book which we have named at the head of this article, and which is of too interesting a character, both from the names of its author and annotator, and the contents of its pages, not to claim some space for its analysis.

An Essay upon the Theory of the Earth by Cuvier, one of the first geologists of France, with mineralogical notes by Jameson, who hold a parallel situation among British naturalists, is well calculated to excite attention; and we do not scruple to say that it will be read with satisfaction by the numerous students of this interesting science. It may be considered as a condensed view of the various discoveries with which its eminent author has enriched geology; and more particularly that department of it which relates to the history of the fossil remains of organized bodies. These remains of animal and vegetable substances vary as to the state in which they are found as much as they do in their respective species. Sometimes the most delicate bodies are little changed by the processes which they have undergone; sometimes they are completely impregnated with stony matter; and often they exhibit mere casts of the original substance. It has been the arduous undertaking of M. Cuvier not only to class the different species, and compare them with their existing analogues, but carefully to ascertain the superpositions of the strata in which their remains occur, and their connexion with the different animals and plants which they enclose. A condensed and highly interesting view of these observations in general is given in the notes; but the peculiar subject of the essay before us consists in the investigation of the fossil remains of quadrupeds.

The highest degree of importance attaches to this class of extraneous fossils. They indicate more clearly than others the nature of the revolutions they have undergone. The important fact of the repeated irruptions of the sea upon the land is by them placed beyond a doubt. The remains of shells and of other bodies of marine origin might merely indicate that the sea had once existed where these collections are found. Thousands of aquatic animals may have been left dry by a recess of the waves, while their races may have been preserved in more peaceful parts of the ocean. But a change in the bed of the sea, and a general irruption of its waters must have destroyed all the quadrupeds within the reach of its influence. Thus entire classes of animals, or at least many species, must have been utterly destroyed. Whether this actually has been the case we are more easily able to determine from the greater precision of our knowledge with respect to the quadrupeds, and the smaller limits of their number. It may be decided at once whether fossil bones belong to any species which still exits, or to one that is lost; but it is impossible to say whether fossil testaceous animals, although unknown to the zoologist, may not belong to genera yet undiscovered in the fathomless depths of the sea.

This indefatigable observer of nature, from a mature consideration of the subject, after a display of the most complete knowledge of the osteology of comparative anatomy, and after a learned comparison of the description of the rare animals of the ancients, and the fabulous products of their imaginations, draws the following instructive conclusion.

None of the larger species of quadrupeds, whose remains are now found imbedded in regular rocky strata, are al all similar to any of the known living species. This circumstance is by no means the mere effect of chance, or because the species to which these fossil bones have belonged are still concealed in the desert and uninhabited parts of the world, and have hitherto escaped the observation of travellers, but this astonishing phenomenon has proceeded from general causes; and the careful investigation of it affords one of the best means for discovering and investigating the nature of those causes.

The method of observation adopted is susceptible of the utmost accuracy, and affords a specimen of induction from facts highly honourable to human reason.

Every organized individual forms an entire system of its own, all the parts of which mutually correspond and concur to produce a certain definite purpose by reciprocal re-action, or by combining towards the same end. Hence none of these separate parts can change their forms without a corresponding change on the other parts of the same animal, and consequently each of these parts taken separately indicates all the other parts to which it has belonged. Thus, if the viscera of an animal are so organized as only to be fitted for the digestion of recent flesh, it is also required that the jaws should be so constructed as to fit them for devouring their prey; the claws must be constructed for seizing and tearing it to pieces; the teeth for cutting and dividing the flesh; the entire system of limbs, or organs of motion, for pursuing and overtaking it; and the organs of sense for discovering it at a distance. Hence any one who observes merely the print of a cloven foot, may conclude that it has been left by a ruminant animal; and regard the conclusion as equally certain with any other in physics or in morals. Consequently, this single foot-mark clearly indicates to the observer the forms of the teeth, of the jaws, of the vertebrae, of all the leg bones, thighs, shoulders, and of the trunk of the body of the animal that left the mark.

It is from this connexion of all the different parts of an animal that the smallest piece of one may become the sure index of the class and species of animal to which it has belonged; and it is from an indefatigable and ingenious application of this rule that our author has been enabled to class the fossil remains of seventy-eight different quadruped, of which forty-nine are distinct species, hitherto unknown to naturalists. The bones are generally dispersed, seldom occurring in complete skeletons, and still more rarely is the fleshy part of the animal preserved. We extract the following interesting instance of the preservation of the carcase of the mammoth, which is given by Professor Cuvier as taken from a report in the supplement to the Journal du Nord, by M. Adams, a member of the academy of St. Petersburg.

In the year 1799, a Tungusian fisherman observed a strange shapeless mass projecting from an ice-bank, near the mouth of a river in the north of Siberia, the nature of which he did not understand, and which was so high in the bank as to be beyond his reach. He next year observed the same object, which was then rather more disengaged from among the ice, but was till unable to conceive what it was. Towards the end of the following summer, 1801, he could distinctly see that it was the frozen carcase of an enormous animal, the entire flank of which, and one of its tusks, had become disengaged from the ice. In consequence of the ice beginning to melt earlier and to a greater degree than usual in 1803, the fifth year of this discovery, the enormous carcase became entirely disengaged, and fell down from the ice-crag on a sand-bank, forming part of the coast of the Arctic ocean. In the months of March in that year the Tungusian carried away the two tusks, which he sold for the value of fifty rubles; and at this time a drawing was made of the animal, of which I possess a copy.

Two years afterward, or in 1806, Mr. Adams went to examine this animal, which still remained on the sand-bank where it had fallen from the ice, but is body was then greatly mutilated. The Jukuts of the neighbourhood had taken away considerable quantities of its flesh to feed their dogs; and the wild animals, particularly the white bears, had also feasted on the carcase; yet the skeleton remained entire, except that one of the fore legs was gone. The entire spine, the pelvis, one shoulder-blade, and three legs were still held together by their ligaments and by some remains of skin; and the other shoulder-blade was found at a short distance. The head remained covered by the dry skin; and the pupil of the eyes was still distinguishable. The brain also remained within the skull, but a good deal shrunk and dried up; and one of the ears was in excellent preservation, still retaining a tuft of strong bristly hair. The upper lip was a good deal eaten away, and the under lip was entirely gone, so that the teeth were distinctly seen. The skin was extremely thick and heavy, and as much of it remained as required the exertions of ten men to carry it away, which they did with considerable difficulty. More than thirty pounds weight of the hair and bristles of this animal were gathered from the wet sand-bank, having been trampled into the mud by the white bears while devouring the carcase. Some of the hair was presented to our Museum of Natural History by M. Targe, censor in the Lyceum of Charlemagne. It consisted of three distinct kinds: one of these is stiff black bristles, a foot or more in length; another is thinner bristles, or coarse flexible hair of a reddish brown colour; and the third is a coarse reddish brown wool, which grew among the roots of the long hair. These afford an undeniable proof that this animal has belonged to a race of elephants inhabiting a cold region, with which we are now unacquainted, and by no means fitted to dwell in the torrid zone. It is also evident that the enormous animal must have been frozen up by the ice at the moment of its death.

But one of the most important and interesting of the observations for which we are indebted to the precision of the French naturalist is the distinction of two different formations amongst secondary strata. These consist of alternate deposits from salt and fresh water; and are characterized by the nature of the shells which are found imbedded in them. The country about Paris is founded upon chalk. This is covered with clay and a coarse limestone, containing marine petrifactions. Over this lies an alternating series of gypsum and clay, in which occur the remains of quadrupeds, birds, fish, and shells, all of land or fresh water species. Above this interesting stratum lie marl and sandstone, containing marine shells, which again contain petrifactions of fresh water remains. The upper bed of all is of an alluvial nature, in which trunks of trees, bones of elephants, oxen, and rein-deer, intermingled with salt water productions, seem to suggest that both salt and fresh water have contributed to its accumulation. This alternate flux and reflux of the two fluids is a most extraordinary phenomenon, and promises to lead to an important conclusion respecting the general theory of the earth.

We are inclined to think that something analogous to the process which produced these changes may be perceived in operations which are going on in our own time, and in gradual alterations which have been affected within the memory of one generation. The following extract from the accurate descriptions of the indefatigable De Luc will better explain our ideas upon this subject. We have selected one from among many instances where are afforded by an attentive examination of our own coasts.

;Slapton Lee occupies the lower part of a combe, which at first formed a recess in the bay, but the sea before it being shallow, the waves brought up the gravel from the bottom along the coast, and the beach thus produced passed at length quite across this recess, which it closed: since then, the fresh water proceeding from the combe has almost entirely displaced the salt water within this space, because the former arriving there freely, and passing through the gravel of the beach, repels the small quantity of the sea water which filtrates into it. Slapton Lee, which is about two miles in length and a quarter of a mile in its greatest breadth, is a little brackish, on account of its communications with the sea water, as well through the gravel in common seasons, as when there is any opening in the beach; however, it contains fresh water fish, carp, tench, and pike. The sediments of the land waters are tending to fill up this basin, and wherever the bottom is sufficiently raised the reeds are beginning to grow.

Such, we conceive, may have been the process which formed a fresh water deposit upon a marine basis. By extending the analogy further, we can have little difficulty in conceiving that the barrier thus raised by the action of the waves may have been easily destroyed again, even by an extraordinary exertion of the same power which raised it, or by some other of those violent revolutions whose effects are marked upon the face of the whole earth. Thus a way was opened for a return of the waters of the ocean, which again deposited their sediments and the remains of their living tribes, and thus gave rise to the upper salt water strata. The same causes again acting excluded one more the waves of the sea, and gave time for the deposit of the upper fresh water formation. Such an explanation appears to us simple and satisfactory. It accounts for the phenomena of nature by nature's laws. But however this may be, the sagacity which first pointed out the distinction cannot be too much praised. The discovery has already stimulated the exertions of others, and there is reason to suppose that the phenomenon is not only not confined to the environs of Paris, but is of pretty general occurrence in secondary countries. A similar formation has been lately observed in the Isle of Wight; and has been most scientifically described and compared with the French strata by a member of the Geological Society, in a most interesting paper lately laid before that body.

It is remarkable that those coarse limestone strata which are chiefly employed at Paris for building, are the last formed series which indicate a long and quiet continuance of the water of the sea above the surface of the continent. Above them indeed there are found formations containing abundance of shells and other productions of the sea, but these consist of alluvial materials, sand, marle, sand-stone, or clay, which rather indicate transportations that have taken place with some degree of violence than strata formed by quiet depositions; and where some regular rocky strata of inconsiderable extent and thickness appear above or below these alluvial formations they generally bear the marks of having been deposited from fresh water. All the known specimens of the bones of viviparous land quadrupeds have either been found in the formations from fresh water, or in the alluvial formations; whence there is every reason to conclude that these animals have only begun to exist, or at least to leave their remains in the strata of our earth since that retreat of the sea which was next before its last irruption. It has also been clearly ascertained, from an attentive consideration of the relation of the different remains with the strata in which they have been discovered, that oviparous quadrupeds are found in much older strata than those of the viviparous class. Some of the former have been observed in and even beneath the chalk. Dry land and fresh waters must therefore have existed before the formation of the chalk strata. No bones of mammiferous quadrupeds are to be found till we come to the newer formations, which lie over the coarse limestone strata incumbent on the chalk. Determinate order may also be observed in the success of these. The general which are now unknown are the lowest in position: unknown species of known genera are next in succession: and lastly, the bones of species, apparently the same with those which are now in existence, are never found but in the latest alluvial depositions.

The more we learn respecting the secondary strata of the globe, the more interesting becomes this investigation. The bold outline of the primitive ranges, their cloud-capt summits and majestic forms, are calculated to rivet the attention; but they rather force the fancy to speculate upon their formation, than lead the judgment by internal evidences to their origin. It is in the curious observations above recited that we seem to approach the history of our own state. The study of secondary formations is as yet scarcely commenced. The labours of Cuvier have thrown a new light upon their high importance; already by his exertions has the history of the most recent changes been ascertained, in one particular spot, as far as the chalk formation. This, which has hitherto been conceived to be of very modern origin, is shewn to have owed its deposition to causes connected with the revolution and catastrophe before the last general irruption of the waters over our present habitable world. Our author well observes that these posterior geological facts which have hitherto been neglected by geologists, furnish the only clue by which we my hope, in some measure, to dispel the darkness of the preceding times.

It would certainly be exceedingly satisfactory to have the fossil organic productions arranged in chronological order, in the same manner as we now have the principal mineral substances. By this the science of organization itself would be improved; the developments of animal life; the succession of its forms; the precise determinations of those which have been first called into existence, the simultaneous production of certain species and their gradual extinction;--all these would perhaps instruct us fully as much in the essence of organization as all the experiments that we shall ever be able to make upon living animals: and man, to whom only a short space of time is allotted upon the earth, would have the glory of restoring the history of thousands of ages which preceded the existence of the race, and of thousands of animals which never were contemporaneous with his species.

In giving praise generally to this little volume, from which we have derived both entertainment and instruction, we cannot but particularise the deference which is paid throughout to the authority of the sacred writings. In an inhabitant of that country which has lately been as much distinguished for its philosophical infidelity as for the signal punishment with which it has been attended, we hail this omen as doubly auspicious at the present moment. The time, we trust, is not far distant when a justly afflicted country is to be rescued from the grinding oppression of a despot, the chastisement of whose impiety appears to be fast accomplishing. His ill-omened rise was as the resistless and splendid ascension of a rocket--he falls with the accumulating velocity of its extinct remains.


Anon. 'Essay on the Theory of the Earth'. The British Review and London Critical Journal 5.10 (1813): 400-13.

Created c. 2001

Last modified 15 January 2020