[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

appreciate this and similar attempts to | enough to paint the horrors of that account for the shapes and grouping repulsive mountain-world into which of these still enigmatical mounds and they ventured with some misgivings, ridges.

and from which they escaped with unThe progress of Christianity extir- disguised satisfaction. Even when we pated the pagan gods and giants, but make every allowance for the physical failed to destroy the instinctive craving discomforts inseparable from such jourafter a supernatural origin for striking neys at that time, when neither practiphysical features. This surviving pop- cable roads nor decent ions had been ular demand consequently led to gradual built, it is clear that mountain scenery modification of the older legends. In not only had no charm for intelligent Catholic countries the deeds of prowess and observant men, but filled them were not infrequently transferred to the with actual disgust. Not until the preshands of the Virgin or of saints. Thus ent century did these landscapes come at Saintfort, in the Charente region, a into vogue with ordinary sight-seers. huge stone that lies by the river Ney is Only within the last two or three genersaid to mark where the Virgin dropped ations have mountains begun to attract from her apron one of four pillars which a vastly larger annual band of appreshe was carrying across. In Britain, ciative pilgrims than ever crowded last and especially in Scotland, the devil of century along what was called the the Christian faith appears to have in “grand tour.” For this happy change large measure supplanted the warlocks we are largely indebted to the Alpine and carlines of the earlier beliefs, or at ascents and admirable descriptions of least to have worked in league with the illustrious De Saussure on the Conthem as their chief. All over the coun- tinent, and to the poetry of Scott and try "devil's punchbowls," "devil's Wordsworth in this country. cauldrons,” “devil's bridges,!! mark It is interesting to inquire how, after how his prowess has been invoked to the popular feeling has thus been account for natural features which in so entirely transformed, mountainous those days were deemed to require some scenery now affects the imagination of more than ordinary agency for their cultivated people who visit it, whether production.

impelled by the mere love of change or These popular efforts to explain by that haunting passion which only the physical phenomena which, from the true lover of mountains can feel and earliest days of human experience, appreciate. Even under the entirely have appealed most forcibly to the changed conditions of modern travel imagination, have survived longest in and general education, we can detect the more rugged and remote regions, the working of the same innate cravpartly, no doubt, because these regions ing for some explanation of the more have lain furthest away from the main salient features of mountain-landscape onward stream of human progress, but that shall satisfy the imagination. The partly also because it is there that the supernatural has long been discarded in most impressive topographical features such matters. Even the most unlearned exist. The natural influence of moun- traveller would demand that its place tain scenery upon the mind is probably must be taken by scientific observation of an awe-inspiring, depressing kind. and influence. But the growth of a We all remember the eloquent language belief in the natural origin of all the in which Mr. Ruskin depicts what he features of the earth has grown faster calls the mountain gloom." Man than the capacity of science to guide it. feels his littleness face to face with the Nowhere may the lasting influence of mighty elementary forces that have scenery on the imagination be more found there their dwelling-place. Even strikingly recognized than in the vague so near our own time as the later dec- tentative efforts of the popular mind to ades of last century men of culture apply what it supposes to be scientific could hardly find language strong method to the elucidation of these more

[ocr errors]

impressive elements of topography. | are the record, before they seriously set The crudest misconceptions have been themselves to study the story of the started and implicitly accepted, which, present surface of the land. And thus though supposed to be based on obser- what was one of the earliest problems vation of nature, are in reality hardly to interest mankind has been one of the less unnatural thau the legends of an latest to engage the attention of modern older time. They have nevertheless science. gained a large measure of popular ac- This slowness of development, though ceptance because they meanwhile sat- it has allowed much misconception to isfy the demands of the imagination. grow up rank and luxuriant, has been

To the geologist whose duty it is attended with one compensating advanto investigate these questions in the tage, inasmuch as the various branches calm, dry light of science there is no of inquiry into which the discussion of task more irksome than to combat and the problem resolves itself have made dislodge these popular, preconceived rapid progress in recent years. We are opinions, and to procure an honest, in- thus in a far better position to enter telligent survey of the actual evidence on a consideration of the subject than of fact upon which alone a solid judg- we were a generation ago. And thouglı ment of the whole subject can be based. one may still hear a man gravely exIt is not that the evidence is difficult pounding familiar topographical feato collect or hard to understand. But lures much as his grandfather would so vividly does striking topography still have done, as if in the meanwhile no appeal to the imagination, so inveterate thoughtful study had led to a very has the habit become of linking each clifferent interpretation, these popular sublime result with the working of some fallacies, which manifest such vitality, stupendous cause, and of choosing in can now be combated with a far wider this way what is supposed to be the experience, and a much ampler wealth simplest and grandest solution of a of illustration from all parts of the problem, that men will hardly listen to globe. any sober presentation of the facts. The various elements of a landscape They refuse to believe that the inter- appear to the ordinary eye so simple, pretation of the earth's surface, like so obviously related to each other, and that of its planetary motion, is a phys- often so clearly and sharply defined, ical question which cannot be guessed that they are not unnaturally regarded at or decided a priori, but must be an- as the effects of some one general operaswered by an appeal to the evidence tion that acted for their special producfurnished by nature herself.

tion ; and where they include abrupt For this antagonism geologists are, features, such as a ravine or a precipice, no doubt, chiefly themselves to blame. they are still popularly believed to bo While the growth of a love of natural in the main the work of some sudden scenery, and especially of that which is potent force, such as an earthquake or lofty and rugged, has been late and volcanic explosion. There is a general slow, the desire to ascertain the origin and perfectly intelligible unwillingness and history of the various inequalities to allow that scenery which now appears of surface on which the charms of scen- so complete and connected in all its ery so largely depend, and by careful parts was not the result of one probably scrutiny to refer these inequalities to sudden or violent cause. Yet the simthe operation of the different natural plest explanation is not always necesagencies that produced them, has been sarily the correct one. In reality, the later and slower still. Men had for problems presented to us by the existseveral generations explored the rocks ing topography of the land, fascinating that lie beneath their feet; and had, by though they are, become daily more laborious and patient effort, deciphered complex, and demand the whole rethe marvellous history of organic and sources of geological science. They inorganic changes of which these rocks I cannot be solved by any rough-and

[ocr errors]

ready process. They involve not only and the more powerfully does it make an acquaintance with the recent op- its mute appeal to all that is highest erations of nature, but an extensive and best within us. And, after all, research into the history of former geo- how little have we yet learned! How logical periods. The surface of every small is the sum of all our knowledge ! country is like a palimpsest which has it is still and ever must be true that, been written over again and again in in the presence of the Infinite, “the different centuries. How it has come greater our circle of light, the wider to be what it is cannot be told without the circumference of darkness that surmuch patient effort. But every effort rounds it.” When the man of letters that brings us better acquainted with complains that we have dethroned the the story of the ground beneath our old gods, discarded the giants and feet, and at the same time gives an witches, and erected in their place a added zest to our enjoyment of the system of cold and formal laws that scenery at the surface, is surely worthy can evoke no enthusiasm, and must to be made.

repress all poetry, has he never perThese remarks lead me naturally to ceived how a true poet can pierce, as the concluding section of my subject, our late laureate could, through the in which I propose to inquire how far mere superficial technicalities into the the discoveries of science have affected deeper meaning of things, and can the relation of scenery to the imagina- realize and express, in language that tion. It has often been charged against appeals to the soul as well as to the scientific men that the progress of sci- ear, the divine harmony and progressive ence is distinctly hostile to the culti- evolution which it is the aim of science vation alike of the fancy and of the to reveal ? Let me ask such a critic to imagination, and that some of the ponder well the sonnet of Lowell's : choicest domains of literature must I grieve not that ripe knowledge takes away necessarily grow more and more neg- The charm that nature to my childhood lected as life and progress are brought wore, more completely under the sway of con- For, with that insight, cometh, day by day, tinued discovery and invention. We A greater bliss than wonder was before : hear these complaints now in the form The real doth not clip the poet's wings ; of a helpless and hopeless wail, now as To win the secret of a weed's plain heart an angry and impotent protest. That Reveals some clue to spiritual things, they are made in good faith, and are And stumbling guess becomes firm-footed often the expression of deep regret and

art. anxious solicitude for the future of some It will not, I think, be hard to show parts of our literature cannot be doubted, that in dissipating the popular misconand in so far they deserve to be treated ceptions which have grown up around by scientific men with hearty respect the question of the origin of scenery, and sympathy. But is there really any- science has put in their place a series thing in the progress of science that is of views of nature which appeal infiinimical to the cultivation of the imag- nitely more to the imagination than inative faculty and the fullest blossom- anything which they supplant. While ing of poetry ? The problems of life in no way lessening the effect of human love and hope, joy and sorrow, toil and association with landscape, science lifts rest, peace and war, here and hereafter the veil that bides the past from us, - will be with us always. From the and in every region calls up a uccession days of Homer they have inspired the of visions which, by their contrast with sweet singers of each successive gener- what now presents itself to the eye and ation of men, and they will continue to by their own unlooked-for marvels, rivet be the main theme of the poets of the our attention. Scenes long familiar are future. As for the outer world in illumined by “a light that never was on which we live, the more we learn of it land or sea.” We view them as if :11] the more marvellous does it appear, enchanter's wand were waving over

[ocr errors]

us, and by some strange glamour were from this lofty summit, which is known blending past and present into one. as Slieve League, the ground plunges

Let me try to illustrate these remarks down on the other side in a succession by three examples culled from the of precipices into the Atlantic Ocean, scenery of each of the three kingdoms. which stretches from the far western First, I would transport the reader in horizon up to the very base of the crags imagination to a lonely valley in the far beneath our feet. We have in truth west of the county of Donegal. The been climbing a mountain whereof onemorning light is sparkling in diamonds half has been cut away by the sea. from the dewdrops that cluster on the What a picture of decay here presents bent and heather, and is throwing a itself! We peer over the verge of the rainbow sheen across each web of gos- cliffs, still wrapped in their morning samer that hangs across our path as we shadows, and mark how peak, ridge, climb the long, rough slope in front. and wall of flinty quartzite, glowing in Around are bare, bleak moorlands, too tints of orange, yellow, and red, uprear high and infertile for cultivation, from themselves from the face of the declivthe sides and hollows of which the peas- ity, like the muscles on the limb of ants dig their fuel. The signs of human some sculptured Hercules, as if the occupation grow fewer and fainter as we mountain had gathered up its whole ascend. The barking of the village dogs strength and knit its frame together to and the shouts from the school play- defy the fiercest assaults of the eleground no longer reach our ears. And ments.

But look how every crag: is while we thus retire from the living splintered, how every jutting buttress world of to-day, it almost seems as if we is rent and creviced, how every ledge enter into progressively closer commun- is strewn with blocks that have fallen ion with the past. Yonder, only a few from the naked wall above it ! If we miles to the north, lies the deep hollow detach one of these loosened blocks and of Glen Columbkill — the western se- set it in downward motion, we may clusion where tradition records that St. watch it plunge into the abyss, flash Columba, the great apostle of the Scots, from crag to crag, career down the in his earlier years, loved to bury him- screes of rubbish and make no pause self for meditation and prayer. Mould- until, if it survive so far, it dashes into ering cross and crumbling cairn, to the surge below. What we can thus which latter every pious pilgrim adds a carelessly do in a few moments is done stone, keep his memory green through deliberately every winter by the hand the centuries. It is with him and his of nature. Slowly but ceaselessly this courageous friends and disciples, rather vast sea-wall, swept by Atlantic storm, than with sights and sounds of the sapped by frost, soaked with rain, dried present time, that we feel ourselves in and beaten by sun and wind, is being contact here. And when, high up on battered down under the fire of nature's this bare mountain-side, we come upon resistless artillery. the ruined cells which these devoted So far the scene is one that requires men built with their own hands out of no special acquaintance with science the rough stones of the crest, and to for its appreciation. The man of literwhich they betook themselves for quiet ature, who may most disparage the intercourse with Heaven, amid the man of science, may well affirm that wild winds and driving rains of these here they meet ou common ground and western hills, the halo of human cour- have equal powers of reception and age and self-denial falls for us on this enjoyment. Nor will he be gainsaid if solitude to heighten its loneliness and he claims that for the enjoyment of the desolation.

distant view he is likewise quite as well Musing on these memories of the equipped as the other. His eye, too, past, we find ourselves at last at the can range over the whole glorious pantop of the slope, nearly two thousand orama of sea and land, across the wide feet above the sea, and discover that I bays to the hills of Mayo, among which

[ocr errors]


By way of species ca

the noble cone of Nephin rises like a patriot can lay the blame on the invad. distant Vesuvius ; southward to the ing Saxon. terraced heights of Sligo, with their That little cake of grit on the top of green tablelands and gleaming cliffs, Slieve League stands as a monument of which look away to the western ocean ; waste so continued and so stupendous eastward and northward, over the bil- as to be hardly conceivable. It proves lowy sea of hills that stretch through that the north-west of Ireland Donegal round again westward to the buried under a sheet of strata many Atlantic. What is there of note in hundreds of feet thick, and that, inch such a landscape, he may demand, by inch, this overlying mantle of solid which he, ignorant of science, misses ? stone has been worn away, until it has What added pleasure, what brighter been reduced at last to merely a few light, can science cast over it ?

scattered patches of which that of Slieve reply to these queries, let League is the most westerly. Not only me ask the reader who has thus far so, but the present system of hill and accompanied me to turn from the dis- valley is thus demonstrated not to be tant view to what lies beneath his feet part of the primeval architecture of on the bare, stony, wind-swept summit the earth, but to have come into being of Slieve League. Never shall I forget after that upper envelope of Carbonifmy own astonishment and enthusiasm erous rock had begun to be removed. when, in company with some of my What a marvellous series of pictures is colleagues of the Geological Survey, Ithus presented to our imagination. found the splintered slabs of stone lying Standing on that bare mountain-top, we there to be full of stems of fossil trees, think of the ages represented by the belonging to kinds which occur abun- quartzite of those craggy precipices bedantly in the sandstones below our low, then of the time when the region coal-measures. The geologist will at lay beneath the waters in which the once appreciate the full meaning of this coal jungles spread over a large part of discovery. It showed that, perched on Ireland. We try to realize how these the summit of this mountain, some two jungles sank foot by foot beneath the thousand feet above the sea, lay a cake, sea, how sand and silt were heaped only a few acres in extent, of that over them, and how, in course of ages, division of the Carboniferous rocks this submerged area was once more upcalled the Millstone grit - a formation raised into land. But we fail to form which spreads over a large tract of any adequate conception of the lapse of country farther to the east. Here, in time required for the long succession of the far west of Ireland, in the very changes that followed. We only know heart of the region of the ancient crys- that, slowly and insensibly, by the fall talline schists, and occupying the high- of rain, the beating of wind, the creepest ground of the district, lay a little ing of ice-fields, and the surging of the remnant, which demonstrated that a ocean, hollow and glen have been sheet of Millstone grit once stretched carved out, hill after hill has emerged, over the north-west of the island, and like forms from a block of marble unmay have extended much farther west- der the hand of a sculptor, that ravines ward over tracts where the Atlantic have been cut out here and crags have now rolls. And as the Millstone grit is been left there, until, at last, the whole followed by the coal-measures, the fur- landscape has been wrought into its ther inference could be legitimately present forms. drawn that the Irish coal-fields, now so We look once niore down the face of restricted in extent, once spread far the precipices, now lit up by the adand wide over the hills of Donegal, vancing sun, and, though everywhere from which they have since been grad- upon their ruined surface we mark ually denuded. Truly the woes of Ire- how land may be traced back to a very early Nature softening and concealing, time, when not even the most ardent Is busy with a hand of healing

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »