Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/The work of time

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


The work of time is seen in many ways. Men come and go; empires rise, flourish, and fade, and even their memories are swept away under the devastating influence of time; but of what time? An acknowledged authority says: “There is no more an absolutely long or short time than there is an absolutely great or little space.” The historian, taking the lifetime of a man as a scale of measurement, regards Babylon as an ancient empire; the pyramids as ancient structures; and some of our own cathedrals and ruined castles as “very old.” As time, it has been said, can only be recognised by change, which involves a succession of events, our idea of time is entirely governed by the unit we adopt. The palæontologists, or students of ancient life, form their notion of the lapse of time, not from the lives of individuals, or the duration of empires; but from the duration of species. Hence what the historian might call “very old,” the palæontologist or the geologist would call “very recent,” and consequently they are as great in their demands for time as the astronomer is for space. The geologist does not ask for so much space, but is quite contented with a whole globe.

We cannot roam all over the globe, or fathom the abysses of geological time, but the interest and scope of the inquiry into the mode in which organisms are grouped together may, perhaps, be imparted if we confine ourselves to some of the more recent fluctuations of plants and animals in point of space and time. We shall also have occasion to note a few of the changes that have taken place in time; and we would repeat that the rapidity or slowness of change is entirely a relative term. As the grub in the nut might think that nut trees never blossomed, but always bore nuts, so man, if he judged by the experience of his own lifetime, might think the hills of his boyhood unchangeable, his native land unmoveable, and his animated playmates, such as the dog, &c., destined to exist as a species, unalterable in their form, habits, and other peculiarities, for an indefinite period. He might think that as the dog, the cat, the donkey, and numerous other familiar friends exist together now, so they will continue to do until the destruction of the world. But as he does not depend for information solely upon the experience of a lifetime, having his reason to guide him in his inferences as to the former states of our globe, he learns that from the earliest period of the world’s history there ever has been change, not only in the organic world, but also in the inorganic, even in the very hills which the poet fondly calls everlasting. And it is chiefly in consequence of this change that the great diversity of the organisms of different countries have arisen.

We find that the faunas of two closely contiguous countries very much resemble each other, the one containing a few species not possessed by the other. When, however, two countries are separated by a narrow belt of sea, a greater difference frequently prevails, as is exemplified by almost every island. In Belgium, for example, there are a certain number of reptilian species: nearly, if not Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/541 Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/542 Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/543 Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/544 Page:Once a Week Jun to Dec 1864.pdf/545