Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/661

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plest terms and most elementary dimensions, has received many hard knocks from later astronomers, and has been a good deal bowled over, both on mathematical and astronomical grounds, by recent investigators of nebulæ and meteors. Observations on comets and on the sun's surface have lately shown that it contains in all likelihood a very considerable fanciful admixture. It isn't more than half true; and even the half now totters in places. Still, as a vehicle of popular exposition the crude nebular hypothesis in its rawest form serves a great deal better than the truth, so far as yet known, on the good old Greek principle of the half being often more than the whole. The great point which it impresses on the mind is the cardinal idea of the sun and planets, with their attendant satellites, not as turned out like manufactured articles, ready made, at measured intervals, in a vast and deliberate celestial orrery, but as due to the slow and gradual working of natural laws, in accordance with which each has assumed by force of circumstances its existing place, weight, orbit, and motion.

The grand conception of a gradual becoming, instead of a sudden making, which Kant and Laplace thus applied to the component bodies of the universe at large, was further applied by Lyell and his school to the outer crust of this one particular petty planet of ours. While the astronomers went in for the evolution of suns, stars, and worlds, Lyell and his geological brethren went in for the evolution of the earth's surface. As theirs was stellar, so his was mundane. If the world began by being a red-hot mass of planetary matter in a high state of internal excitement, boiling and dancing with the heat of its emotions, it gradually cooled down with age and experience, for growing old is growing cold, as every one of us in time, alas! discovers. As it passed from its fiery and volcanic youth to its staider and soberer middle age, a solid crust began to form in filmy fashion upon its cooling surface. The aqueous vapor that had floated at first as steam around its heated mass condensed with time into a wide ocean over the now hardened shell. Gradually this ocean shifted its bulk into two or three main bodies that sank into hollows of the viscid crust, the precursors of Atlantic, Pacific, and the Indian Seas. Wrinklings of the crust, produced by the cooling and consequent contraction, gave rise at first to baby mountain-ranges, and afterward to the earliest rough drafts of the still very vague and sketchy continents. The world grew daily more complex and more diverse; it progressed, in accordance with the Spencerian law, from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, and so forth, as aforesaid, with delightful regularity.

At last, by long and graduated changes, seas and lands, peninsulas and islands, lakes and rivers, hills and mountains, were wrought out by internal or external energies on the crust thus generally fashioned. Evaporation from the oceans gave rise to clouds and rain and hailstorms; the water that fell upon the mountain-tops cut out the valleys and river-basins; rills gathered into brooks, brooks into streams,