Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/374

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A Study of Influences


RATZEL in his illuminating work on "The History of Mankind," remarking upon the influence of the ocean on the life of primitive peoples, says:

The wide gap which the Atlantic Ocean opens in the zone of habitation has the effect of producing "fringe"-lands. Although a brisk intercourse from north to south, together with thickly-peopled regions at the back, and more favorable climates, have rendered these far less ethnographically destitute than the regions towards the poles, we still find that in Africa the highest development has been reached on the east coast, in America on the west, that is, on the inner sides or those farthest from the Atlantic.

In contrast with this "gap in the belt of human habitation" the island-dotted Pacific, with its narrowing shore lines to the north, is a habitable area. Its island clusters have ever been the homes of men, and its watery waste the highway of primitive navigators. Dwellers on the fringe-lands of the continents looked out upon the Atlantic as upon a great void, and it was not until the first thousand years of the present era had passed that Scandinavian peoples penetrated its gloomy mists and founded colonies in Iceland and the Faroes. This movement of the Northmen was an expression of that migratory impulse that earlier had brought the rude peoples of Europe to the confines of the land. Five hundred years passed before the "wide gap" was again crossed.

Such a forbidding "fringe," on the farther verge of the known world, was the landfall of the first voyagers, who, steering westward, solved the mystery of the western ocean. In their wake followed successive waves of migrating peoples from the shores of Europe, who sought to found colonies on these strange coasts. Whatever fanciful Eldorados they may have pictured were rudely dispelled by the wild solitudes of an unknown forest that, sphinx-like, stretched its front along the indented coast from the St. Lawrence to Florida. Between these peoples and the world of civilization lay the dissociating Atlantic. Once landed, they had set foot on the threshold of a new home. To the natural features of this threshold—forest, mountain, river, shore-line and climate—and its aboriginal life, we must look for those influences that went so largely to the making of a new type of civilized men.