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as it were two mountains of water, right and left, to receive him according to ancient and immemorial usage; after which he has a view of those vast and beautiful grottoes through which flow all the rivers of the earth; the Po, which descends from mount Viso in Piedmont and traverses Italy; the Teveron, which comes from the Appennines; the Phasis, which issues from mount Caucasus and falls into the Black Sea ; and numberless others.
Virgil in this instance adopted a strange system of natural philosophy, in which certainly none but poets can be indulged.
Such however was the credit and prevalence of this system, that fifteen hundred years afterwards Tasso completely imitated Virgil in his fourteenth canto, while imitating at the same time with far greater felicity Ariosto. An old christian magician conducts under ground the two knights who are to bring back Rinaldo from the arms of Armida, as Melissa had rescued Rogero from the caresses of Alcina. This venerable sage makes Rinaldo descend into his grotto, from which issue all the rivers which refresh and fertilise our earth. It is a pity that the rivers of America are not among the number. But as the Nile, the Danube, the Seine, the Jordan, and the Wolga, have their source in this cavern, that ought to be deemed sufficient. What is still more in conformity to the physics of antiquity, is the circumstance of this grotto or cavern being in the very centre of the earth. Of course it is here that Maupertuis wanted to take a tour.
After admitting that rivers spring from mountains, and that both of them are essential parts of this great machine, let us beware how we give in to varying and vanishing systems.
When Maillet imagined that the sea had formed the mountains, he should have dedicated his book to Cyrano de Bergerac. When it has been said also, that the great chains of mountains extend from east to west, and that the greatest number of rivers also flow always to the west, the spirit of system has been more consulted than the truth of nature.
With respect to mountains, disembark at the Cape of Good Hope, you will perceive a chain of mountains from the south as far north as Monomotapa. Only a few persons have visited that quarter of the world, and travelled under the line in Africa. But Calpe and Abila are completely in the direction of north and south. From Gibraltar to the river Guadiana, in a course directly northward, there is a continuous range of mountains. New and Old Castile are covered with them, and the direction of them all is from south to north, like that of all the mountains in America. With respect to the rivers, they flow precisely according to the disposition or direction of the land.
The Guadalquiver runs straight to the south from Villanueva to San Lucar. The Guadiana the same, so far as Badajos. All the rivers in the Gulf of Venice, except the Po, fall into the sea towards the south. Such is the course of the Rhone from Lyons to its mouth. That of the Seine is from the north-northwest. The Rhine, from Basle, goes straight to the north. The Meuse the same, from its source to the territory overflowed by its waters. The Scheldt also the same.
Why then should men be so assiduous in deceiving themselves, just for the pleasure of forming systems, and leading astray persons of weak and ignorant minds? What good can possibly arise from inducing a number of people (who must inevitably be soon undeceived) to believe that all rivers and all mountains are in a direction from east to west, or from west to east; that all mountains are covered with oyster-shells (which is most certainly false); that anchors have been found on the summit of the mountains of Switzerland; that these mountains have been formed by the currents of the ocean; and that lime-stone is composed entirely of sea-shells ?* What! shall we, at the present day, treat philosophy as the ancients formerly treated history?
To return to streams and rivers. The most important and valuable things that can be done in relation to
* See a work entitled “ Singularities of Nature," vol. xxxii. VOL. VI.
them is preventing their inundations, and making new rivers (that is canals) out of those already existing, wherever the undertaking is practicable and beneficial. This is one of the most useful services that can be conferred upon a nation. The canals of Egypt were as serviceable as its pyramids were useless.
With regard to the quantity of water conveyed along the beds of rivers, and everything relating to calculation on the subject, read the article River," by M. d'Alembert. It is, like everything else done by him, clear, exact, and true; and written in a style adapted to the subject: he does not employ the style of Telemachus to discuss subjects of natural philosophy.
It was not until lately that the modern nations of Europe began to render roads practicable and convenient, and
to bestow on them some beauty. To superintend and keep in order the roads, is one of the most important cares of both the Mogul and Chinese emperors. But these princes never attained such eminence in this department as the Romans. The Appian, the Aurelian, the Flaminian, the Emilian, and the Trajan ways subsist even at the present day. The Romans alone were capable of constructing such roads, and they alone were capable of repairing them.
Bergier, who has written an otherwise valuable book, insists much on Solomon's employing thirty thousand Jews in cutting wood on mount Lebanon, eighty thousand in building the temple, seventy thousand on carriages, and three thousand six hundred in superintending the labours of others. We will for a moment admit it all to be true; yet still there is nothing said about his making or repairing high roads.
Pliny informs us, that three hupdred thousand men were employed for twenty years in building one of the pyramids of Egypt; I am not disposed to doubt it; but surely three hundred thousand men might have been much better employed. Those who worked on the canals in Egyp, or on the great wall, the canals,
or highways of China; or those who constructed the celebrated ways of the Roman empire,—were much more usefully occupied than the three hundred thousand miserable slaves in building a pyramidal sepulchre for the corpse of a bigoted Egyptian.
We are well acquainted with the prodigious works accomplished by the Romans, their immense excavations for lakes of water, or the beds of lakes formed by nature filled up, hills levelled, and a passage bored through a mountain by Vespasian, in the Flaminian way, for more than a thousand feet in length, the inscription on which remains at present. Pausilippo is not to be compared with it.
The foundations of the greater part of our present houses are far from being so solid as were the highways in the neighbourhood of Rome; and these public ways were extended throughout the empire, although not upon the same scale of duration and solidity. To effect that would have required both more men and money than could possibly have been obtained.
Almost all the highways of Italy were erected on a foundation four feet deep; when a space of marshy ground or bog was on the track of the road, it was filled up;
and when any part of it was mountainous, its precipitousness was reduced to a gentle and trifling inclination from the general line of the road. In many parts the roads were supported by solid walls.
Upon the four feet of masonry were placed large hewn stones of marble, nearly one foot in thickness, and frequently ten feet wide; they were indented by the chisel to prevent the slipping of the horses. It was difficult to say which most attracted admiration--the utility, or the magnificence, of these astonishing works.
Nearly all of these wonderful constructions were raised at the public expense. Cæsar repaired and extended the Appian way out of his own private funds; those funds however consisted of the money of the Republic.
Who were the persons employed upon these works? Slaves, captives taken in war, and provincials that not admitted to the distinction of Roman citizens. They worked by corvée,' as they do in France and elsewhere; but some trifling remuneration was allowed them.
Augustus was the first who joined the legions with the people in labours upon the high roads of the Gauls, and in Spain and Asia. He penetrated the Alps by the valley which bore his name, and which the Piedmontese and the French corruptly call the Valley of Aöste.' It was previously necessary to bring under subjection all the savage hordes by which these cantons were inhabited. There is still visible, between Great and Little St. Bernard, the triumphal arch erected by the senate in honour of him after this expedition. He again penetrated the Alps on another side leading to Lyons, and thence into the whole of Gaul. The conquered never effected for themselves so much as was effected for them by their conquerors.
The downfall of the Roman empire was that of all the public works, as also of all orderly police, art, and industry. The great roads disappeared in the Gauls, except some causeways, 'chaussées,' which the unfortunate queen Brunehault kept for a little time in repair. A man could scarcely move on horseback with safety on the ancient celebrated ways, which were now become dreadfully broken up, and impeded by masses of stone and mud. It was found necessary to pass over the cultivated fields; the ploughs scarcely effected in a month what they now easily accomplish in a week. The little commerce that subsisted was limited to a few woollen and linen cloths, and some wretchedly-wrought hardwares, which were carried on the backs of mules to the fortifications or prisons called 'chateaux,' situated in the midst of marshes, or on the tops of mountains covered with snow.
Whatever travelling was accomplished (and it could be but little) during the severe seasons of the year, so long and so tedious in northern climates, could be effected only by wading through mud or climbing over rocks. Such was the state of the whole of France and Germany down to the middle of the seventeenth century. Every individual wore boots; and in many of the cities