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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/531

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

MARCH, 1874.


 

THE WORLD BEFORE THE INTRODUCTION OF LIFE.
By CHARLES H. HITCHCOCK, A. M., Ph. D.,

PROFESSOR OF GEOLOGY IN DARTMOUTH COLLEGE.

THE few hints afforded by geology respecting the earliest stages of the earth's history, when compared with studies into the nature of nebulæ, comets, and suns, suggest the existence of a series of mutations through which worlds destined for the occupation of intelligent beings must pass, in order to be properly fitted for the residence of mind. There is, first, existence as a nebula, or comet; second, the condition of a burning sun; third, a stage of refrigeration; fourth, a period, of habitation by the brute creation; fifth, a time of occupancy by reasoning, moral beings; and, perhaps, sixth, a stage of frigidity, impoverishment, and extinction of life. Our planet seems to have passed through four of these stages of growth, with the fifth well advanced toward its meridian.

The history of the world might be correlated with a certain species of organic cycle, the growth of grain. There is presented to us a kernel of corn containing within itself the elements of vital action. So long as it is stored in a granary it is quiescent, but when planted in the soil it germinates, producing first the tender blade, then the tasseled tops, the silky ears, and, finally, rows of mature kernels upon the spike, inclosed by a sheathy covering. As soon as the seed is properly situated for development, an inward impulse urges onward the growth till the process is completed.

Alike fraught with instinct has been the serial progress of the earth. It first presents itself to view simply as a mass of inorganic material, a heterogeneous mixture of elements, inert and motionless, the "chaos" of theological writers. But this material is endowed with activity; the atoms possess affinities for one another, and the mass cannot remain motionless in space, surrounded by worlds and systems. Gravitation causes the mass to rotate upon its axis and to