Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/403

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THE CLIMATIC INFLUENCE OF VEGETATION.

population lays violent hands upon it. In Northern Africa, Dalmatia, and the larger islands of the Grecian Archipelago, the same evil has made terrible advances. The Mediterranean Sea, once a forest-lake of paradise, is now a dead sea, surrounded by dusty and burning coasts, often for hundreds of miles without a vestige of organic life.

The present appearance of the Troad, the neighborhood of Lake Tiberias, the valley of the Euphrates, and other districts that were once teeming with population, can actually make us doubt if there ever was such a thing as an original desert. On the plateau of Sidi-Belbez, in the very centre of the Sahara, Champollion traced the course of former rivers and creeks by the depressions in the soil and the shape of the smooth-washed pebbles. He also found tree-stumps, now almost petrified, and covered by a six-foot stratum of burning sand.

"And so the astounding truth dawns upon us," he says, "that this desert may once have been a region of groves and fountains, and the abode of happy millions. Is there any crime against Nature which draws down a more terrible curse than that of stripping our Mother Earth of her sylvan covering? The hand of man has produced this desert, and I verily believe every other desert on the surface of this earth. Earth was Eden once, and our misery is the punishment of our sins against the world of plants. The burning sun of the desert is the angel with the flaming sword who stands between us and paradise."

That the inhabitants of these artificial deserts have failed to recognize the cause of their misery implies a degree of infatuation and mental blindness which may appear even more incredible to future generations than the thousand years' belief in witchcraft and the patient submission of 80,000,000 able-bodied men to a juggler-guild of priests. Even frogs and fishes become uneasy if the plug-hole of their tank is opened and their life-element begins to ebb away; and it should be supposed that, without any scientific aids to reflection, the sheer instinct of self-preservation could have suggested the simple remedy before the evil attained its present proportions.

But this blindness of the Latin races and the devotees of Islam, if not justified, is at least partly explained by the fatalism of their religion. Their belief in supernatural agencies, and a meddlesome Providence that ruled the world in spite of man, naturally produced indifference to all physical sciences whatever. The three Semitic religions have done more to divorce man from Nature than all his inborn vices and the "necessary decay of civilized races" that is so often preferred as an explanation. "Though our mortal eyes have failed to penetrate the depths of heaven," says Erasmus, "we have succeeded in losing sight of our own earth." If this earth was a vale of tears, and heaven our proper home, all attention to earthly affairs seemed so much lost time, and in the souls of men who were taught to consider their natural feelings as antagonistic to the will of God the warning voice of instinct was raised in vain.