was the scholar of Montaigne, whose conception of America as the middle one of three island-continents which once lay westward of the Old World—the vanished Atlantis which gave its name to the Atlantic, the new-found America beyond it, and a third, still undiscovered, but probably soon to be revealed in the unknown expanses of the Pacific, and called by Bacon "New Atlantis," as bearing the same geographical relation to the New World which the earlier Atlantis had borne to the Old—underlies his noble philosophical romance bearing that name as its title. Bacon's habit of thought and study had induced in him a broader and profounder conception of the New World than that presented in the pages of his French predecessor. The phenomena of society, which chiefly attracted Montaigne, had for him only a secondary interest. Thirsting to know the Causes of Things, he aspired to comprehend nature in her entirety, to penetrate her secret, and to interpret her message: and the New World lent him opportune and unexpected help. The configuration of sea and land surfaces, the mountains, the tides and winds, the animals and plants of the New World, opened for the first time an enormous field of physical enquiry. The New World, for example, threw new light on the distribution of terrestrial and maritime areas. Like the continents of the Old World (Europe and Asia for the purpose of this comparison counting as one) both North and South America broadened out towards the north and tapered towards the south, the alternative principle of termination by variously shaped peninsulas being found here also to recur. What, Bacon asked, was the shape of that supposed continent lying south of the Strait of Magalhaes, and commonly called Terra Australis? The conflicting or according phenomena of the tides in different places; the water-spouts; the refrigeration of the air by icebergs on the Canadian coast; the balmy breezes blowing to seaward from Florida; the trade-winds, which had lent Europe wings to carry her across the Atlantic: the constant westerly or anti-trade winds blowing towards the Portuguese shore, from which, it was sometimes said, Colombo had inferred the existence of a western continent generating them; the comparatively cold climate of North America, the frozen expanse of Labrador being in the latitude of Britain, and the contradictory phenomena of the Peruvian coast, which lay almost under the Equator, while its ocean breezes, blowing hardest at the full moons, were said to produce a climate like that of Southern Europe; the strange inequalities of temperature experienced in different parts of the Peruvian Cordilleras; the alleged phenomenon that the peaks of the Andes remain destitute of snow, while it thickly covers their lower elevations, with the effects produced on man by their attenuated air, not so much cold as keen, piercing the eyes and purging the stomach;—such enquiries as these, never previously formulated, make Bacon the founder of modern physical geography. American man, in his physical and ethnological aspect, strongly attracted Bacon's attention.
Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/99
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