Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/576

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560
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

LITERARY NOTICES.

Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel. By Ignatius Donnelly, author of "Atlantis: the Antediluvian World." Illustrated. D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 452. Price, $2.

This must rank, we suppose, as a book of science, though it is of a quite peculiar kind. It is something like what one of Jules Verne's books would be if that author should stoutly protest that the story was all true. The author put forth a work not long since, entitled "Atlantis: the Antediluvian World," in which he maintained that there is a good deal more truth than poetry about the old story of the fabled island. The book was readable and popular; and, encouraged by its success, he has now struck out more boldly, and given us in "Ragnarok" perhaps the most stunning and stupendous romance of science that has ever been perpetrated.

Opinions will be divided as to whether the author is practicing upon public credulity by an enormous joke, or whether he does not really himself half believe half that he says. He is probably a lawyer, and at all events a politician; and it would, therefore, not be fair to him to raise any question of the sincerity of his views. Nor is it at all important how this point is regarded by the reader, for this is just the peculiar kind of science that escapes all perplexing and stupid inquiry about its truth.

The work is geological, astronomic, and religious, because it falls back upon these three subjects for the materials of the author's theory. This theory has two aspects, a negative and critical, and a positive and constructive aspect. It first maintains that the loose materials of the earth's surface—gravel, pebbles, stones, sand, clay, bowlders, and the miscellaneous mineral stuff which makes up the drift or diluvial deposits upon the earth's surface—are not derived from the rocks that make up the earth's crust, as taught by geology. The author has read over all the geological treatises and speculations on the origin of these superficial formations, and devotes his first eight chapters to a very ingenious presentation of the insufficiency of all existing theories upon the subject. Evidently knowing little about it himself, in the real sense of knowing (that is, as a first-hand observer of facts), and addressing an audience in a quite similar state of mind, he has no difficulty in making out a wonderfully plausible case. If the experts in "evidence" can often convict innocent men and get scoundrels acquitted in the very teeth of opposing representations, it is easy to get up a telling case where there are many gaps and discrepancies in our knowledge of a new, extensive, and very complex subject.

Having thus impeached the geologists, our author has a clear field. If the loose mineral materials under our feet are not from the rocks, then pray where do they come from? The human intellect can not stand still, as if struck with paralysis, and wait forever for the geologists to settle their disputes; we must have an answer, and be at peace. Mr. Donnelly then proceeds to supply the answer. He here strikes off into astronomy, and maintains that this mineral débris is of meteoric origin. Stones are known to fall from the heavens, and spectrum analysis proves that the celestial bodies are composed of the same mineral constituents that are found upon the earth. There being, as old Kepler says, more comets in the heavens than fishes in the sea, and their movements being so apparently capricious and irregular that they dash about through the solar system with the greatest liability of striking its steady-going members, it is maintained that the earthly drift has been dropped upon this globe by one of these incontinent wanderers, as, perhaps, the earth went through its tail.

The author propounds this idea as an hypothesis, insufficient it may be at first blush, but admissible when all others have broken down. But he does not by any means leave the question in this speculative condition; he proceeds to summon the proofs that his hypothesis must take rank among great scientific truths. For this purpose he enters the vast field of legendary lore, and shows by the myths, traditions, fables, allegories, and obscure imaginative inventions of all peoples and nations, that something prodigious once happened to this globe, which he claims was nothing else than the deposit of the drift formation