Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/540

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that reckless destruction of forest-trees which by its consequences has turned many of the most fruitful regions of ancient Europe into almost irreclaimable deserts. Rational agriculture became a tradition of the past; the culture of secular science was fiercely denounced from thousands of pulpits; improvidence, "unworldliness" and blind reliance on the efficacy of prayer were systematically inculcated as supreme virtues. A warning against the consequences of that infatuation would have been answered by the prompt anathemas of the miracle-mongers; but it would be a mistake to suppose that their rant imposed on any independent thinker, even of that ghost-ridden age. "When I consider the value of the least clump of trees" says Bernard Palissy, a persecuted dissenter of the sixteenth century, "I much marvel at the great ignorance of men, who, as it seems, do nowadays study only to fell and waste the fair forests which their forefathers did guard so carefully. I would think no evil of them for cutting down the woods, did they but replant again some part of them; but they care nothing for the consequences of their wastefulness, nor do they reck of the great damage done to their children which come after them." ("Œuvrès completes de Bernard Palissy," p. 88.)

The folly of the insane bigotry which left such protests unheeded was only too soon demonstrated by its natural consequences. When the highlands of the Mediterranean peninsulas had been deprived of their woods, the general failing of springs turned rivers into shallow brooks and brook valleys into arid ravines, which at last ceased to supply the irrigation canals by which the starving farmers hoped to relieve their distress. Vast tracts of once fertile lands had to be entirely abandoned. And while the summer droughts became more severe, winter floods became more frequent and destructive. The steep mountain-slopes, denuded of their vegetable mold, sent down torrents of snow-water, turning rivers into rushing seas and inundating their valleys in spite of protecting dikes. Hill-sides which once furnished pastures for thousands of herds were torn up by ever-deepening ravines and reduced to a state of desolation as complete as that of a volcanic cinder-field. Harbors once offering safe anchorage for the fleets of an empire became inaccessible from the accumulating deposits of the diluvium which had been swept down from the torrent-rent mountain-slopes, while a detritus of coarse sand and gravel covered the fields of the intermediate valleys.

On the shores of the Adriatic alone 250,000,000 cubic yards of highland soil are thus yearly deposited in the form of pestilential mud-banks. A million square miles of uplands in southern Europe and western Asia have become almost as arid as the mountains of the moon. The Rhône, the Loire, the Ebro, the Guadalquivir, the