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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/252

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE GEOLOGY OF NATURAL SCENERY.
By FREDERICK J. H. MERRILL, Ph. D.

IN this age of scientific progress, poets and prose writers may-no longer tell us of "eternal hills" and streams which "flow on forever." The science of earth-knowledge shows that the mountains are but creatures of yesterday in geologic time, and to-morrow may be cast into the sea through the agency of that wondrous source of power, the sun. Moreover, as the study of Nature advances, the veil of superstition is torn aside and the mystery is dispelled in which ignorance involves the causes of natural phenomena; so that to the mind a broader field of view is opened, while the knowledge of the changes which have occurred and are taking place about us on the earth adds much to the inspiration which beautiful scenery gives, without detracting from the poetic quality of the feelings it excites.

Foremost among the minds which have felt this inspiration and expressed their pleasure in the English tongue are those of Byron and Sir Walter Scott. But, in their time, truth in description of natural phenomena was not expected. The poet interpreted at will the scenes which impressed him, and the reader, charmed with the rhythmic cadence of the lines, was content to admire the beautiful clothing of the writer's thought, little caring whether the phenomena were truthfully described or properly explained. But from the writers of the future we must expect a reconciliation between scientific truth and poetic fancy.

It is fallacious to claim that natural science bridles too closely the poetic mind. Science is but truth, and what is not true has no part in science. Surely, in the presence of the most famous works of man the knowledge of their history in no way detracts from the interest which they inspire. Mountain and valley, hill and plain, river, lake, and sea, have each their history for the observer to read; and-instead of imagining convulsions of Nature and picturing speculative catastrophes, the mind may dwell on the action of simple and familiar agents working through long ages and bringing about by slow degrees that beauty and grandeur of terrestrial form which is never caused by cataclysms.

To instance this hypothesis we need not journey far; our own land is rich in scenery unsurpassed, and whether we seek our illustrations in Rhineland or the valley of the Hudson, among the Alps or the Sierras, we are only turning the pages of one great book. But though the turning of those pages might go on forever, and though the most earnest student can never know their number, the history which they contain is intelligible to all