Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/December 1875/Geography and Evolution

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

By Lieutenant-General R. STRACHEY, F. R. S.

IN accordance with the practice followed for some years past by the presidents of the sections of the British Association, I propose, before proceeding with our ordinary business, to offer for your consideration some observations relative to the branch of knowledge with which this section is more specially concerned.

My predecessors in this chair have, in their opening addresses, viewed geography in many various lights. Some have drawn attention to recent geographical discoveries of interest, or to the gradual progress of geographical knowledge over the earth generally, or in particular regions. Others have spoken of the value of geographical knowledge in the ordinary affairs of men, or in some of the special branches of those affairs, and of the means of extending such knowledge. Other addresses, again, have dwelt on the practical influence produced by the geographical features and conditions of the various parts of the earth on the past history and present state of the several sections of the human race, the formation of kingdoms, the growth of industry and commerce, and the spread of civilization.

The judicious character of that part of our organization which leads to yearly changes among those who preside over our meetings, and does not attempt authoritatively to prescribe the direction of our discussions, will no doubt be generally recognized. It has the obvious advantage, among others, of insuring that none of the multifarious claims to attention of the several branches of science shall be made unduly prominent, and of giving opportunity for viewing the subjects which from time to time come before the Association in fresh aspects by various minds.

Following, then, a somewhat different path from those who have gone before me in treating of geography, I propose to speak of the physical causes which have impressed on our planet the present outlines and forms of its surface, have brought about its present conditions of climate, and have led to the development and distribution of the living beings found upon it.

In selecting this subject for my opening remarks, I have been not a little influenced by a consideration of the present state of geographical knowledge, and of the probable future of geographical investigation. It is plain that the field for mere topographical exploration is already greatly limited, and that it is continually becoming more restricted. Although no doubt much remains to be done in obtaining detailed maps of large tracts of the earth's surface, yet there is but comparatively a very small area with the essential features of which we are not now fairly well acquainted. Day by day our maps become more complete, and with our greatly-improved means of communication the knowledge of distant countries is constantly enlarged and more widely diffused. Somewhat in the same proportion the demands for more exact information become more pressing. The necessary consequence is an increased tendency to give to geographical investigations a more strictly scientific direction. In proof of this I may instance the fact that the two British naval expeditions now being carried on, that of the Challenger and that of the arctic seas, have been organized almost entirely for general scientific research, and comparatively little for topographical discovery. Narratives of travels, which not many years ago might have been accepted as valuable contributions to our then less perfect knowledge, would now perhaps be regarded as superficial and insufficient. In short, the standard of knowledge of travelers and writers on geography must be raised to meet the increased requirements of the time.

Other influences are at work tending to the same result. The great advance made in all branches of natural science limits more and more closely the facilities for original research, and drawls the observer of Nature into more and more special studies, while it renders the acquisition by any individual of the highest standard of knowledge in more than one or two special subjects comparatively difficult and rare. At the same time the mutual interdependence of all natural phenomena daily becomes more apparent; and it is of ever-increasing importance that there shall be some among the cultivators of natural knowledge who specially direct their attention to the general relations existing among all the forces and phenomena of Nature. In some important branches of such subjects, it is only through study of the local physical conditions of various parts of the earth's surface and the complicated phenomena to which they give rise that sound conclusions can be established; and this study constitutes physical or scientific geography. It is very necessary to bear in mind that a large portion of the phenomena dealt with by the sciences of observation relates to the earth as a whole in contradistinction to the substances of which it is formed, and can only be correctly appreciated in connection with the terrestrial or geographical conditions of the place where they occur. On the one hand, therefore, while the proper prosecution of the study of physical geography requires a sound knowledge of the researches and conclusions of students in the special branches of science, on the other, success is not attainable in the special branches without suitable apprehension of geographical facts. For these reasons it appears to me that the general progress of science will involve the study of geography in a more scientific spirit, and with a clearer conception of its true function, which is that of obtaining accurate notions of the manner in which the forces of Nature have brought about the varied conditions characterizing the surface of the planet which we inhabit.

In its broadest sense science is organized knowledge, and its methods consist of the observation and classification of the phenomena of which we become conscious through our senses, and the investigation of the causes of which these are the effects. The first step in geography, as in all other sciences, is the observation and description of the phenomena with which it is concerned; the next is to classify and compare this empirical collection of facts, and to investigate their antecedent causes. It is in the first branch of the study that most progress has been made, and to it indeed the notion of geography is still popularly limited. The other branch is commonly spoken of as physical geography, but it is more correctly the science of geography.

The progress of geography has thus advanced from first rough ideas of relative distance between neighboring places, to correct views of the earth's form, precise determinations of position, and accurate delineations of the surface. The first impressions of the differences observed between distant countries were at length corrected by the perception of similarities no less real. The characteristics of the great regions of polar cold and equatorial heat, of the sea and land, of the mountains and plains, were appreciated; and the local variations of season and climate, of wind and rain, were more or less fully ascertained. Later, the distribution of plants and animals, their occurrence in groups of peculiar structure in various regions, and the circumstances under which such groups vary from place to place, gave rise to fresh conceptions. Along with these facts were observed the peculiarities of the races of men—their physical form, languages, customs, and history—exhibiting on the one hand striking differences in different countries, but on the other often connected by a strong stamp of similarity over large areas.

By the gradual accumulation and classification of such knowledge the scientific conception of geographical unity and continuity was at length formed, and the conclusion established that while each different part of the earth's surface has its special characteristics, all animate and inanimate Nature constitutes one general system, and that the particular features of each region are due to the operation of universal laws acting under varying local conditions. It is upon such a conception that is now brought to bear the doctrine, very generally accepted by the naturalists of our own country, that each successive phase of the earth's history, for an indefinite period of time, has been derived from that which preceded it, under the operation of the forces of Nature as we now find them; and that, so far as observation justifies the adoption of any conclusions on such subjects, no change has ever taken place in those forces, or in the properties of matter. This doctrine is commonly spoken of as the doctrine of evolution, and it is to its application to geography that I wish to direct your attention.

I desire here to remark that, in what I am about to say, I altogether leave on one side all questions relating to the origin of matter, and of the so-called forces of Nature which give rise to the properties of matter. In the present state of knowledge such subjects are, I conceive, beyond the legitimate field of physical science, which is limited to discussions directly arising on facts within the reach of observation, or on reasonings based on such facts. It is a necessary condition of the progress of knowledge that the line between what properly is or is not within the reach of human intelligence is ill defined, and that opinions will vary as to where it should be drawn: for it is the avowed and successful aim of science to keep this line constantly shifting by pushing it forward; many of the efforts made to do this are no doubt founded in error, but all are deserving of respect that are undertaken honestly.

The conception of evolution is essentially that of a passage to the state of things which observation shows us to exist now, from some preceding state of things. Applied to geography, that is to say to the present condition of the earth as a whole, it leads up to the conclusion that the existing outlines of sea and land have been caused by modifications of preëxisting oceans and continents, brought about by the operation of forces which are still in action, and which have acted from the most remote past of which we can conceive; that all the successive forms of the surface—the depressions occupied by the waters, and the elevations constituting mountain-chains—are due to these same forces; that these have been set up, first, by the secular loss of heat which accompanied the original cooling of the globe; and second, by the annual and daily gain or loss of heat received from the sun acting on the matter of which the earth and its atmosphere are composed; that all variations of climate are dependent on differences in the condition of the surface; that the distribution of life on the earth, and the vast varieties of its forms, are consequences of contemporaneous or antecedent changes of the forms of the surface and climate; and thus that our planet as we now find it is the result of modifications gradually brought about in its successive stages, by the necessary action of the matter out of which it has been formed, under the influence of the matter which is external to it.

I shall state briefly the grounds on which these conclusions are based.

So far as concerns the inorganic fabric of the earth, that view of its past history which is based on the principle of the persistence of all the forces of Nature may be said to be now universally adopted. This teaches that the almost infinite variety of natural phenomena arises from new combinations of old forms of matter, under the action of new combinations of old forms of force. Its recognition has, however, been comparatively recent, and is in a great measure due to the teachings of that eminent geologist, the late Sir Charles Lyell, whom we have lost during the past year.

When we look back by the help of geological science to the more remote past, through the epochs immediately preceding our own, we find evidence of marine animals—which lived, were reproduced, and died—possessed of organs proving that they were under the influence of the heat and light of the sun; of seas whose waves rose before the winds, breaking down cliffs, and forming beaches of bowlders and pebbles; of tides and currents spreading out banks of sand and mud, on which are left the impress of the ripple of the water, of drops of rain, and of the tracks of animals; and all these appearances are precisely similar to those we observe at the present day as the result of forces which we see actually in operation. Every successive stage, as we recede in the past history of the earth, teaches the same lesson. The forces which are now at work, whether in degrading the surface by the action of seas, rivers, or frosts, and in transporting its fragments into the sea, or in reconstituting the land by raising beds laid out in the depth of the ocean, are traced by similar effects as having continued in action from the earliest times.

Thus pushing back our inquiries we at last reach the point where the apparent cessation of terrestrial conditions such as now exist requires us to consider the relation in which our planet stands to other bodies in celestial space; and, vast though the gulf be that separates us from these, science has been able to bridge it. By means of spectroscopic analysis it has been established that the constituent elements of the sun and other heavenly bodies are substantially the same as those of the earth. The examination of the meteorites which have fallen on the earth from the interplanetary spaces shows that they also contain nothing foreign to the constituents of the earth. The inference seems legitimate, corroborated as it is by the manifest physical connection between the sun and the planetary bodies circulating around it, that the whole solar system is formed of the same descriptions of matter, and subject to the same general physical laws. These conclusions further support the supposition that the earth and other planets have been formed by the aggregation of matter once diffused in space around the sun; that the first consequence of this aggregation was to develop intense heat in the consolidating masses; that the heat thus generated in the terrestrial sphere was subsequently lost by radiation; and that the surface cooled and became a solid crust, leaving a central nucleus of much higher temperature within. The earth's surface appears now to have reached a temperature which is virtually fixed, and on which the gain of heat from the sun is, on the whole, just compensated by the loss by radiation into surrounding space.

Such a conception of the earliest stage of the earth's existence is commonly accepted, as in accordance with observed facts. It leads to the conclusion that the hollows on the surface of the globe occupied by the ocean, and the great areas of dry land, were original irregularities of form caused by unequal contraction; and that the mountains were corrugations, often accompanied by ruptures, caused by the strains developed in the external crust by the force of central attraction exerted during cooling, and were not due to forces directly acting upward generated in the interior by gases or otherwise. It has recently been very ably argued by Mr. Mallet that the phenomena of volcanic heat are likewise consequences of extreme pressures in the external crust, set up in a similar manner, and are not derived from the central heated nucleus.

There may be some difficulty in conceiving how forces can have been thus developed sufficient to have produced the gigantic changes which have occurred in the distribution of land and water over immense areas, and in the elevation of the bottoms of former seas so that they now form the summits of the highest mountains, and to have effected such changes within the very latest geological epoch. These difficulties in great measure arise from not employing correct standards of space and time in relation to the phenomena. Vast though the greatest heights of our mountains and depths of our seas may be, and enormous though the masses which have been put into motion, when viewed according to a human standard, they are insignificant in relation to the globe as a whole. Such heights and depths (about six miles) on a sphere of ten feet in diameter would be represented on a true scale by elevations and depressions of less than the tenth part of an inch, and the average elevation of the whole of the dry land (about one thousand feet) above the main level of the surface would hardly amount to the thickness of an ordinary sheet of paper. The forces developed by the changes of the temperature of the earth as a whole must be proportionate to its dimensions; and the results of their action on the surface in causing elevations, contortions, or disruptions of the strata, cannot be commensurable with those produced by forces having the intensities, or by strains in bodies of the dimensions, with which our ordinary experience is conversant.

The difficulty in respect to the vast extent of past time is perhaps less great, the conception being one with which most persons are now more or less familiar. But I would remind you that, great though the changes in human affairs have been since the most remote epochs of which we have records in monuments or history, there is nothing to indicate that within this period has occurred any appreciable modification of the main outlines of land and sea, or of the condition of climate, or of the general characters of living creatures; and that the distance that separates us from those days is as nothing when compared with the remoteness of past geological ages. No useful approach has yet been made to a numerical estimate of the duration even of that portion of geological time which is nearest to us; and we can say little more than that the earth's past history extends over hundreds of thousands or millions of years.

The solid nucleus of the earth with its atmosphere, as we now find them, may thus be regarded as exhibiting the residual phenomena which have resulted on its attaining a condition of practical equilibrium, the more active process of aggregation having ceased, and the combination of its elements into the various solid, liquid, or gaseous matters found on or near the surface having been completed. During its passage to its present state many wonderful changes must have taken place, including the condensation of the ocean, which must have long continued in a state of ebullition, or bordering on it, surrounded by an atmosphere densely charged with watery vapor. Apart from the movements in its solid crust caused by the general cooling and contraction of the earth, the higher temperature due to its earlier condition hardly enters directly into any of the considerations that arise in connection with its present climate, or with the changes during past time which are of most interest to us; for the conditions of climate and temperature at present, as well as in the period during which the existence of life is indicated by the presence of fossil remains, and which have affected the production and distribution of organized beings, are dependent on other causes, to a consideration of which I now proceed.

The natural phenomena relating to the atmosphere are often extremely complicated and difficult of explanation; and meteorology is the least advanced of the branches of physical science. But sufficient is known to indicate, without possible doubt, that the primary causes of the great series of phenomena, included under the general term climate, are the action and reaction of the mechanical and chemical forces set in operation by the sun's heat, varied from time to time and from place to place, by the influence of the position of the earth in its orbit, of its revolution on its axis, of geographical position, elevation above the sea-level, and condition of the surface, and by the great mobility of the atmosphere and the ocean.

The intimate connection between climate and local geographical conditions is everywhere apparent; nothing is more striking than the great differences between neighboring places where the effective local conditions are not alike, which often far surpass the contrasts attending the widest separation possible on the globe. Three or four miles of vertical height produce effects almost equal to those of transfer from the equator to the poles. The distribution of the great seas and continents gives rise to periodical winds—the trades and monsoons—which maintain their general characteristics over wide areas, but present almost infinite local modifications, whether of season, direction, or force. The direction of the coasts and their greater or less continuity greatly influence the flow of the currents of the ocean; and these, with the periodical winds, tend ou the one hand to equalize the temperature of the whole surface of the earth, and on the other to cause surprising variations within a limited area. Ranges of mountains, and their position in relation to the periodical or rain-bearing winds, are of primary importance in controlling the movements of the lower strata of the atmosphere, in which, owing to the laws of elastic gases, the great mass of the air and watery vapor are concentrated. By their presence they may either constitute a barrier across which no rain can pass, or determine the fall of torrents of rain around them. Their absence or their unfavorable position, by removing the causes of condensation, may lead to the neighboring tracts becoming rainless deserts.

The difficulties that arise, in accounting for the phenomena of climate on the earth as it now is, are naturally increased when the attempt is made to explain what is shown by geological evidence to have happened in past ages. The disposition has not been wanting to get over these last difficulties by invoking supposed changes in the sources of terrestrial heat, or in the conditions under which heat has been received by the earth, for which there is no justification in fact, in a manner similar to that in which violent departures from the observed course of Nature have been assumed to account for some of the analogous mechanical difficulties.

Among the most perplexing of such climatal problems are those involved in the former extension of glacial action of various sorts over areas which could hardly have been subject to it under existing terrestrial and solar conditions; and in the discovery, conversely, of indications of far higher temperatures at certain places than seems compatible with their high latitudes; and in the alternations of such extreme conditions. The true solution of these questions has apparently been found in the recognition of the disturbing effects of the varying eccentricity of the earth's orbit, which, though inappreciable in the comparatively few years to which the affairs of men are limited, become of great importance in the vastly increased period brought into consideration when dealing with the history of the earth. The changes of eccentricity of the orbit are not of a nature to cause appreciable differences in the mean temperature either of the earth generally or of the two hemispheres; but they may, when combined with changes of the direction of the earth's axis caused by the precession of the equinoxes and nutation, lead to exaggeration of the extremes of heat and cold, or to their diminution; and this would appear to supply the means of explaining the observed facts, though doubtless the detailed application of the conception will long continue to give rise to discussions. Mr. Croll, in his book entitled "Climate and Time," has recently brought together with much research all that can now be said on this subject; and the general correctness of that part of his conclusions which refers to the periodical occurrence of epochs of greatly-increased winter cold and summer beat in one hemisphere, combined with a more equable climate in the other, appears to me to be fully established.

These are the considerations which are held to prove that the inorganic structure of the globe through all its successive stages—the earth beneath our feet, with its varied surface of land and sea, mountain and plain, and with its atmosphere which distributes heat and moisture over that surface—has been evolved as the necessary result of the original aggregation of matter at some extremely remote period, and of the subsequent modification of that matter in condition and form under the exclusive operation of invariable physical forces.

From these investigations we carry on the inquiry to the living creatures found upon the earth: what are their relations one to another, and what to the inorganic world with which they are associated?

This inquiry, first directed to the present time, and thence carried backward as far as possible into the past, proves that there is one general system of life, vegetable and animal, which is coextensive with the earth as it now is, and as it has been in all the successive stages of which we obtain a knowledge by geological research. The phenomena of life, as thus ascertained, are included in the organization of living creatures, and their distribution in time and place. The common bond that subsists between all vegetables and animals is testified by the identity of the ultimate elements of which they are composed. These elements are carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, with a few others in comparatively small quantities; the whole of the materials of all living things being found among those that compose the inorganic portion of the earth.

The close relation existing between the least specialized animals and plants, and between these and organic matter not having life, and even with inorganic matter, is indicated by the difficulty that arises in determining the nature of the distinctions between them. Among the more highly-developed members of the two great branches of living creatures, the well-known similarities of structure observed in the various groups indicate a connection between proximate forms which was long seen to be akin to that derived through descent from a common ancestor by ordinary generation.

The facts of distribution show that certain forms are associated in certain areas, and that as we pass from one such area to another the forms of life change also. The general assemblages of living creatures in neighboring countries easily accessible to one another, and having similar climates, resemble one another; and much in the same way, as the distance between areas increases, or their mutual accessibility diminishes, or the conditions of climate differ, the likeness of the forms within them becomes continually less apparent. The plants and animals existing at any time in any locality tend constantly to diffuse themselves around that local centre, this tendency being controlled by the conditions of climate, etc., of the surrounding area, so that under certain unfavorable conditions diffusion ceases.

The possibilities of life are further seen to be everywhere directly influenced by all external conditions, such as those of climate, including temperature, humidity, and wind; of the length of the seasons and days and nights; of the character of the surface, whether it be land or water; and whether it be covered by vegetation or otherwise; of the nature of the soil; of the presence of other living creatures, and many more. The abundance of forms of life in different areas (as distinguished from number of individuals) is also found to vary greatly, and to be related to the accessibility of such areas to immigration from without; to the existence, within or near the areas, of localities offering considerable variations of the conditions that chiefly affect life; and to the local climate and conditions being compatible with such immigration.

For the explanation of these and other phenomena of organization and distribution, the only direct evidence that observation can supply is that derived from the mode of propagation of creatures now living; and no other mode is known than that which takes place by ordinary generation, through descent from parent to offspring.

It was left for the genius of Darwin to point out how the course of Nature, as it now acts in the reproduction of living creatures, is sufficient for the interpretation of what had previously been incomprehensible in these matters. He showed how propagation by descent operates subject to the occurrence of certain small variations in the offspring, and that the preservation of some of these varieties to the exclusion of others follows as a necessary consequence when the external conditions are more suitable to the preserved forms than to those lost. The operation of these causes he called Natural Selection. Prolonged over a great extent of time, it supplies the long-sought key to the complex system of forms either now living on the earth, or the remains of which are found in the fossil state, and explains the relations among them, and the manner in which their distribution has taken place in time and space.

Thus we are brought to the conclusion that the directing forces which have been efficient in developing the existing forms of life from those which went before them are those same successive external conditions including both the forms of land and sea., and the character of the climate, which have already been shown to arise from the gradual modification of the material fabric of the globe as it slowly attained to its present state. In each succeeding epoch, and in each separate locality, the forms preserved and handed on to the future were determined by the general conditions of surface at the time and place; and the aggregate of successive sets of conditions over the whole earth's surface has determined the entire series of forms which have existed in the past, and have survived till now.

As we recede from the present into the past, it necessarily follows, as a consequence of the ultimate failure of all evidence as to the conditions of the past, that positive testimony of the conformity of the facts with the principle of evolution gradually diminishes, and at length ceases. In the same way positive evidence of the continuity of action of all the physical forces of Nature eventually fails. But inasmuch as the evidence, so far as it can be procured, supports the belief in this continuity of action, and as we have no experience of the contrary being possible, the only justifiable conclusion is, that the production of life must have been going on as we now know it, without any intermission, from the time of its first appearance on the earth.

These considerations manifestly afford no sort of clew to the origin of life. They only serve to take us back to a very remote epoch, when the living creatures differed greatly in detail from those of the present time, but had such resemblances to them as to justify the conclusion that the essence of life then was the same as now; and through that epoch into an unknown anterior period, during which the possibility of life, as we understand it, began, and from which has emerged, in a way that we cannot comprehend, matter with its properties, bound together by what we call the elementary physical forces. There seems to be no foundation in any observed fact for suggesting that the wonderful property which we call life appertains to the combinations of elementary substances in association with which it is exclusively found, otherwise than as all other properties appertain to the particular forms or combinations of matter with which they are associated. It is no more possible to say how originated or operates the tendency of some sorts of matter to take the form of vapors, or fluids, or solid bodies, in all their various shapes, or for the various sorts of matter to attract one another or combine, than it is to explain the origin in certain forms of matter of the property we call life, or the mode of its action. For the present, at least, we must be content to accept such facts as the foundation of positive knowledge, and from them to rise to the apprehension of the means by which Nature has reached its present state, and is advancing into an unknown future.

These conceptions of the relations of animal and vegetable forms to the earth in its successive stages lead to views of the significance of type (i. e., the general system of structure running through various groups of organized beings) very different from those under which it was held to be an indication of some occult power directing the successive appearance of living creatures on the earth. In the light of evolution, type is nothing more than the direction given to the actual development of life by the forces that controlled the course of the successive generations leading from the past to the present. There is no indication of any adherent or prearranged disposition toward the development of life in any particular direction. It would rather appear that the actual face of Nature is the result of a succession of apparently trivial incidents, which by some very slight alteration of local circumstances might often, it would seem, have been turned in a different direction. Some otherwise unimportant difference in the constitution or sequence of the substrata at any locality might have determined the elevation of mountains where a hollow filled by the sea was actually formed, and thereby the whole of the climatal and other conditions of a large area would have been changed, and an entirely different impulse given to the development of life locally, which might have impressed a new character on the whole face of Nature.

But further, all that we see or know to have existed upon the earth has been controlled to its most minute details by the original constitution of the matter which was drawn together to form our planet. The actual character of all inorganic substances, as of all living creatures, is only consistent with the actual constitution and proportions of the various substances of which the earth is composed. Other proportions than the actual ones in the constituents of the atmosphere would have required an entirely different organization in all air-breathing animals, and probably in all plants. With any considerable difference in the quantity of water either in the sea or distributed as vapor, vast changes in the constitution of living creatures must have been involved. Without oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, or carbon, what we term life would have been impossible. But such speculations need not be extended.

The substances of which the earth is now composed are identical with those of which it has always been made up; so far as is known it has lost nothing and has gained nothing, except what has been added in extremely minute quantities by the fall of meteorites. All that is or ever has been upon the earth is part of the earth, has sprung from the earth, is sustained by the earth, and returns to the earth; taking back thither what it withdrew, making good the materials on which life depends, without which it would cease, and which are destined again to enter into new forms, and contribute to the ever-onward flow of the great current of existence.

The progress of knowledge has removed all doubt as to the relation in which the human race stands to this great stream of life. It is now established that man existed on the earth at a period vastly anterior to any of which we have records in history or otherwise. He was the contemporary of many extinct mammalia at a time when the outlines of land and sea, and the conditions of climate over large parts of the earth, were wholly different from what they now are, and our race has been advancing toward its present condition during a series of ages for the extent of which ordinary conceptions of time afford no suitable measure. These facts have, in recent years, given a different direction to opinion as to the manner in which the great groups of mankind have become distributed over the areas where they are now found; and difficulties once considered insuperable become soluble when regarded in connection with those great alterations of the outlines of land and sea which are shown to have been goings on up to the very latest geographical periods. The ancient monuments of Egypt, which take us back perhaps seven thousand years from the present time, indicate that when they were erected the neighboring countries were in a condition of civilization not very greatly different from that which existed when they fell under the dominion of the Romans or Mohammedans hardly fifteen hundred years ago; and the progress of the population toward that condition can hardly be accounted for otherwise than by prolonged gradual transformations, going back to times so far distant as to require a geological rather than an historical standard of reckoning.

Man, in short, takes his place with the rest of the animate world, in the advancing front of which he occupies so conspicuous a position. Yet for this position he is indebted not to any exclusive powers of his own, but to the wonderful compelling forces of Nature which have lifted him, entirely without his knowledge, and almost without his participation, so far above the animals of whom he is still one, though the only one able to see or consider what he is.

For the social habits essential to his progress, which he possessed even in his most primitive state, man is without question dependent on his ancestors, as he is for his form and other physical peculiarities. In his advance to civilization he was insensibly forced, by the pressure of external circumstances, through the more savage condition, in which his life was that of the hunter, first to pastoral and then to agricultural occupations. The requirements of a population gradually increasing in numbers could only be met by a supply of food more regular and more abundant than could be provided by the chase. But the possibility of the change from the hunter to the shepherd or herdsman rested on the antecedent existence of animals suited to supply man with food, having gregarious habits, and fitted for domestication, such as sheep, goats, and horned cattle; for their support the social grasses were a necessary preliminary, and for the growth of these in sufficient abundance and naturally suitable for pasture was required. A further evasion of man's growing difficulty in obtaining sufficient food was secured by aid of the cereal grasses, which supplied the means by which agriculture, the outcome of pastoral life, became the chief occupation of more civilized generations. Lastly, when these increased facilities for providing food were in turn overtaken by the growth of the population, new power to cope with the recurring difficulty was gained through the cultivation of mechanical arts and of thought, for which the needful leisure was for the first time obtained when the earliest steps of civilization had removed the necessity for unremitting search after the means of supporting existence. Then was broken down the chief barrier in the way of progress, and man was carried forward to the condition in which he now is.

It is impossible not to recognize that the growth of civilization, by aid of its instruments, pastoral and agricultural industry, was the result of the unconscious adoption of defenses supplied by what was exterior to man, rather than of any truly intelligent steps taken with forethought to attain it; and in these respects man, in his struggle for existence, has not differed from the humbler animals or from plants. Neither can the marvelous ultimate growth of his knowledge, and his acquisition of the power of applying to his use all that lies without him, be viewed as differing in any thing but form or degree from the earlier steps in his advance. The needful protection against the foes of his constantly-increasing race—the legions of hunger and disease, infinite in number, ever changing their mode of attack or springing up in new shapes—could only be attained by some fresh adaptation of his organization to his wants, and this has taken the form of that development of intellect which has placed all other creatures at his feet and all the powers of Nature in his hand.

The picture that I have thus attempted to draw presents to us our earth carrying with it, or receiving from the sun or other external bodies, as it travels through celestial space, all the materials and all the forces by help of which are fashioned whatever we see upon it. We may liken it to a great complex living organism, having an inert substratum of inorganic matter on which are formed many separate organized centres of life, but all bound up together by a common law of existence, each individual part depending on those around it, and on the past condition of the whole. Science is the study of the relations of the several parts of this organism one to another, and of the parts to the whole. It is the task of the geographer to bring together from all places on the earth's surface the materials from which shall be deduced the scientific conception of Nature. Geography supplies the rough blocks wherewith to build up that grand structure toward the completion of which science is striving. The traveler, who is the journeyman of science, collects from all quarters of the earth observations of fact, to be submitted to the research of the student, and to provide the necessary means of verifying the inductions obtained by study or the hypotheses suggested by it. If, therefore, travelers are to fulfill the duties put upon them by the division of scientific labor, they must maintain their knowledge of the several branches of science at such a standard as will enable them thoroughly to apprehend what are the present requirements of science, and the classes of fact on which fresh observation must be brought to bear to secure its advance. Nor does this involve any impracticable course of study. Such knowledge as will fit a traveler for usefully participating in the progress of science is now placed within the reach of every one. The lustre of that energy and self-devotion which characterize the better class of explorers will not be dimmed by joining to it an amount of scientific training which will enable them to bring away from distant regions enlarged conceptions of other matters besides mere distance and direction. How great is the value to science of the observations of travelers endowed with a share of scientific instruction is testified by the labors of many living naturalists. In our days this is especially true; and I appeal to all who desire to promote the progress of geographical science as explorers, to prepare themselves for doing so efficiently, while they yet possess the vigor and physical powers that so much conduce to success in such pursuits.


  1. Address of the President of Section E, at the Bristol Meeting of the British Association.