Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/204

This page has been validated.

By Lieutenant-General R. STRACHEY, F. R. S.

IN accordance with the practice followed for some years past by the presidents of the sections of the British Association, I propose, before proceeding with our ordinary business, to offer for your consideration some observations relative to the branch of knowledge with which this section is more specially concerned.

My predecessors in this chair have, in their opening addresses, viewed geography in many various lights. Some have drawn attention to recent geographical discoveries of interest, or to the gradual progress of geographical knowledge over the earth generally, or in particular regions. Others have spoken of the value of geographical knowledge in the ordinary affairs of men, or in some of the special branches of those affairs, and of the means of extending such knowledge. Other addresses, again, have dwelt on the practical influence produced by the geographical features and conditions of the various parts of the earth on the past history and present state of the several sections of the human race, the formation of kingdoms, the growth of industry and commerce, and the spread of civilization.

The judicious character of that part of our organization which leads to yearly changes among those who preside over our meetings, and does not attempt authoritatively to prescribe the direction of our discussions, will no doubt be generally recognized. It has the obvious advantage, among others, of insuring that none of the multifarious claims to attention of the several branches of science shall be made unduly prominent, and of giving opportunity for viewing the subjects which from time to time come before the Association in fresh aspects by various minds.

Following, then, a somewhat different path from those who have gone before me in treating of geography, I propose to speak of the physical causes which have impressed on our planet the present outlines and forms of its surface, have brought about its present conditions of climate, and have led to the development and distribution of the living beings found upon it.

In selecting this subject for my opening remarks, I have been not a little influenced by a consideration of the present state of geographical knowledge, and of the probable future of geographical investigation. It is plain that the field for mere topographical exploration is already greatly limited, and that it is continually becoming more restricted. Although no doubt much remains to be done in obtaining detailed maps of large tracts of the earth's surface, yet there is

  1. Address of the President of Section E, at the Bristol Meeting of the British Association.