Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/564

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
548
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

GEOGRAPHICAL EVOLUTION.[1]
By Professor ARCHIBALD GEIKIE, F. R. S.
I.

IN the quaint preface to his "Navigations and Voyages of the English Nation," Hakluyt calls geography and chronology "the sunne and moone, the right eye and the left of all history." The position thus claimed for geography three hundred years ago by the great English chronicler was not accorded by his successors, and has hardly been admitted even now. The functions of the geographer and the traveler, popularly assumed to be identical, have been supposed to consist in descriptions of foreign countries, their climate, productions, and inhabitants, bristling on the one hand with dry statistics, and relieved on the other by as copious an introduction as may be of stirring adventure and personal anecdote. There has, indeed, been much to justify this popular assumption. It was not until the keynote of its future progress was struck by Karl Ritter, within the present century, that geography advanced beyond the domain of travelers' tales and desultory observation into that of orderly, methodical, scientific progress. This branch of inquiry, however, is now no longer the pursuit of mere numerical statistics, nor the chronicle of marvelous and often questionable adventures by flood and fell. It seeks to present a luminous picture of the earth's surface, its various forms of configuration, its continents, islands, and oceans, its mountains, valleys, and plains, its rivers and lakes, its climates, plants, and animals. It thus endeavors to produce a picture which shall not be one of mere topographical detail. It ever looks for a connection between scattered facts, tries to ascertain the relations which subsist between the different parts of the globe, their reactions on each other and the function of each in the general economy of the whole. Modern geography studies the distribution of vegetable and animal life over the earth's surface, with the action and reaction between it and the surrounding inorganic world. It traces how man, alike unconsciously and knowingly, has changed the face of nature, and how, on the other hand, the conditions of his geographical environment have molded his own progress.

With these broad aims, geography comes frankly for assistance to many different branches of science. It does not, however, claim in any measure to occupy their domain. It brings to the consideration of their problems a central human interest, in which these sciences are sometimes apt to be deficient; for it demands first of all to know how the problems to be solved bear upon the position and history of man and of this marvelously ordered world wherein he finds himself undisputed lord. Geography freely borrows from meteorology, physics, chemistry,

  1. A Lecture delivered at the Evening Meeting, March 24, 1879.