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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/178

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

early school days, somewhat enlarged by a more mature variety of adjectives, is usually the stock of words with which the explorer tries to reproduce the features of the landscapes that he crosses, and as a result his descriptions are often unintelligible; the region has to be explored again before it can become known to those who do not see it. The longitudinal relief of certain well-dissected coastal plains, or the half-buried ranges of certain interior aggraded basins, may be taken as examples of forms which are easily brought home and familiarized by explanation, but which commonly remain remote and unknown under empirical description.

It may be urged that in many geological discussions from which geography has taken profit, consideration is given to form-producing processes rather than to the forms produced. This was natural enough while the subject was in the hands of geologists; but geographers should take heed that they do not preserve the geological habit. The past history of land forms and the action upon them of various processes by which existing forms have been developed, are pertinent to geography only in so far as they aid the observation and description of the forms of to-day.

Further illustration of the growing recognition of form as the chief object of the physiographic study of the lands is seen in the use of the term, 'geomorphology' by some American writers; but more important than the term is the principle which underlies it. This is the acceptance of theorizing as an essential part of investigation in geography, just as in other sciences. All explanation involves theorizing. When theory is taken piecemeal and applied only to elementary problems, such as the origin of deltas, it does not excite unfavorable comment among geographers. But when the explanation of more complicated features is attempted, and when a comprehensive scheme of classification and treatment, in which theorizing is fully and frankly recognized, is evolved for all land forms, then the conservatives recoil, as if so bold a proposition would set them adrift on the dangerous sea of unrestrained imagination. They forget that the harbor of explanation can only be reached by crossing the seas of theory. They are willing to cruise, like the early navigators, the empirical explorers, only close along shore; not venturing to trust themselves out of sight of the land of existing fact; but they have not learned to embark upon the open ocean of investigation, trusting to the compass of logical deduction and the rudder of critical judgment to lead them to the desired haven of understanding of facts of the past.

One of the bolder explorers of the high seas of theory is Powell, who defined in the term 'baselevel' an idea that had long been more or less consciously present in the minds of geologists, and which has been since then of the greatest service to physiographers. Powell and