Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/April 1899/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


The study of the methods through which the topographical features and rock forms of particular districts have been worked out, as presented in numerous popular monographs, is a fascinating one; and we can hardly doubt that many persons who would never otherwise have thought of it have been made interested in geology by some of these masterly picturesque descriptions of regions with which they were superficially familiar. Other treatises on the origin of surface features, dealing with the subject more fundamentally, but likewise of limited scope, are not wanting. Yet, as Prof. James Geikie well says, there is no English work to which readers not skilled in geology can turn for a general account of the whole subject. Professor Geikie has therefore prepared his elaborate book on Earth Sculpture[1] to supply this want, to furnish an introductory treatise for those persons who may be desirous of acquiring some broad knowledge of the results arrived at by geologists as to the development of land forms generally. A vast number of geological questions are involved in the exhaustive treatment of the subject. All the forces with which geologists become acquainted in the study of the earth, and their operation, come into consideration. The effects of these forces assume aspects that vary according to the nature of the material on which they operate, and they are again modified according to the peculiar combinations of forces at work. The subject is therefore not the easy one it may be supposed at first sight to be, and the reader who peruses Professor Geikie's work with the intention of mastering it will find he has some studying to do. Yet Professor Geikie is clear, and it is only because he has gone deeper than the others that he may be harder. The first point he insists upon is that in the fashioning of the earth's surface no hard-and-fast line separates past and present. The work has been going on for a long time, and is still in progress, under a law of evolution as true for the crust of the globe as for the plants and animals. In setting out upon our inquiry we must in the first place know something about rocks and the mode of their arrangement, of the structure or architecture of the earth's crust. This leads to the distinction between the igneous and the subaqueous, the volcanic, plutonic, and metamorphic, and the derivative rocks on which epigene agencies have performed their shaping work. These rocks have been modified in various ways, and the surface appearance of the earth has been affected by forces operating from the interior, and by external factors, the work of which is called denudation. The agents of denudation are described—air, water, heat, frost, chemical action, plants, and animals—often so closely associated in their operations that their individual shares in the final result can hardly be determined. The various influences of these factors as exerted upon different forms of geological structure and different sorts of rocks are then taken up and described as applied to land forms in regions of horizontal, or gently inclined, and of highly folded and disturbed strata, and in regions affected by normal faults or vertical displacements. Land forms due directly or indirectly to igneous action and the influence of rock character on the determination of land forms are subjects of special chapters. Glacial action is one of the most important factors in modifying the forms of northern lands, and is treated with considerable fullness. Æolian action—of the air and wind—has peculiar and important effects in arid regions, and underground water in limestone districts, and these receive attention. Then come basins—those due to crustal deformation, crater lakes, river lakes, glacial basins, and others, and coast lines. Finally, a classification is given of these land forms as plains or plateaus of accumulation and of erosion, original or tectonic and subsequent or relict hills and mountains, original or tectonic and subsequent or erosion valleys, basins, and coast lines, and the conclusions are reached that we do not know, except as a matter of probability, whether we have still visible any original wrinkles of the earth's crust; and that some of the estimates of the time it has taken to produce the changes of which we witness the results have been very much exaggerated.

The curious conclusions obtained by Dr. Le Bon in his psychological investigations,[2] delivered to us in startling language, are said to be the fruit of extensive travel and of the personal measurement of thousands of skulls. His memoir on cervical researches, published in 1879, upholds the theory that the volume of the skull varies with the intelligence. This theory has perhaps suffered a permanent adumbration. Facts seem to prove that the bony structure of the skull, or even its cranial capacity, gives no positive indication of intellect.

In the present volume the theme of discussion is the soul of races. Anthropological classification is set aside and mankind is divided into four groups according to mental characteristics: the primitive, inferior, average, and superior races—the standard of judgment being the degree of their aptitude for dominating reflex impulses. It is perhaps worthy of note that while the Frenchman belongs to a superior race, the Semitic peoples are placed in the class below, or the average sort. For the primitive varieties it is not necessary to observe a South Sea islander, the lower strata of Europeans furnishing numerous examples. When greater differentiation is reached, the word "race" is used in a historical sense. It requires, however, more complete fusion than some nations exhibit to earn this title; for, although there are Germans and Americans, "it is not clear as yet that there are Italians." The race having been once evolved, acquires wondrous potentialities with Dr. Le Bon. He compares it to the totality of cells constituting a living organism, asserts that its mental constitution is as unvarying as its anatomical structure, that it is a permanent being independent of time and founded alone by its dead. It is a short step to endow this entity with a soul consisting of common sentiments, interests, and beliefs—what in brief, robbed of hyperbole, we should call national character. He states that the notion of a country is not possible until a national soul is formed. This, in time, like germ-plasm, becomes so stable that assimilation with foreign elements is impossible. Like natural species, it has secondary characteristics that may be modified, but its fundamental character is like the fin of the fish or the beak of the bird. The acquisition of this soul marks the apogee of the greatness of a people. Psychological species, however, are not eternal, but may decay if the functioning of their organs is troubled profoundly.

The soul of the race is best expressed in its art, not in its history or institutions, and, as it can not bequeath its soul, so it can not impress its civilization or art upon an alien race. It was on account of this incompatibility of soul that Grecian art failed to be implanted in India. The unaltering constituent of the soul corresponds to character, while intellectual qualities are variable. By character is meant perseverance, energy, power of self-control, also morality. The latter is hereditary respect for the rules on which a society is based. This definition would make polygamy a moral notion for Mormons. The knowledge of character "can be acquired neither in laboratories nor in books, but only in the course of long travel." Whence it is learned that different races can not have mutual comprehension. Luckily for the student who is unable to travel, the same phenomenon may be observed in the gulf that separates the civilized man and woman. Although highly educated, "they might converse with each other for centuries without understanding one another." These differences between races and individuals demonstrate the falsity of the notion of equality. Indeed, through science "man has learned that to be slaves is the natural condition of all human beings." Naturally he becomes dispirited, anarchy seizes upon the uneducated and sullen indifference the more cultivated. "Like a ship that has lost its compass, the modern man wanders haphazard through the spaces formerly peopled by the gods and rendered a desert by science." In France morality is gradually dying out, while the United States is threatened by a gigantic civil war. What to do is problematical, since we are informed "that people have never derived much advantage from too great a desire to reason and think," and what is most harmful to a people is to attain too high a degree of intelligence and culture, the groundwork of the soul beginning to decline when this level is reached. The remedy suggested to us is "the organization of a very severe military service and the permanent menace of disastrous wars." But if we fail to see the improving tendency of this advice, it is probably because we are like historians, "simple-minded," while Dr. Le Bon is much too complex for our understanding. According to his own theory, there is no hope that we may comprehend him, since the outpourings of a soul of the Latin race can not be transferred by a simple bridge of translation to the apprehension of an Anglo-Saxon mind, separated, as he would term it, by "the dead weight of thousands of generations."

  1. Earth Sculpture, or the Origin of Land Forms. By James Geikie. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 397. Price, $2.
  2. The Psychology of Peoples. By Gustave Le Bon. New York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 230. Price, $1.50.