« AnteriorContinuar »
DESCRIPTION OF THE FRONTISPIECE.
The Frontispiece is intended to give an idea of what may probably have been the aspect of Vegetation in England during the Coal period. The trees introduced are chiefly those living forms which seem most analogous to extinct species. In the centre is a tree fern, which was certainly a common and characteristic plant. On the left is represented an ideal restoration of a Lepidodendron (see p. 85); on the right in the distance are the tops of Araucarias, coniferous trees nearly allied to which have been found in the coal-measures. The remaining trees and plants are inhabitants of Norfolk Island or Eastern Australia, but seem to have had representatives in ancient times.
EXPLANATORY AND INTRODUCTORY.
LONG, -very long ago, - many ages before the creation of Man, this world on which we dwell existed as the habitation of living beings, different from those now tenanting its surface, or inhabiting the ocean which covers so large a part of it; but yet sufficiently resembling them to admit of that degree of comparison by which the general form, the proportions, the peculiarities of structure, and even in some cases the habits of these ancient dwellers upon earth may be determined.
The history of the succession of these beings, in that part of the world now occupied by the British islands, happens to be traceable with remarkable facility and certainty, presenting few breaks in the succession, except those common to most parts of the land hitherto examined. It is a history of antiquity which ought not to be neglected ; it possesses a deep interest, although man does not figure among the dramatis persona; and the history is clearly made out by a chain of evidence, different indeed in kind from
that ordinarily resorted to for the establishment of historical views, but not for that reason less satisfactory or convincing. This history, too, is exceedingly important in its bearing on the wants and occupations of men; and upon the particular order and nature of the events it records have depended no inconsiderable proportion of the many physical advantages possessed by England over all the rest of the world.
The alternation of rich plains and hilly surface which characterizes our country, and which are so well adapted for cultivation-her valuable mineral resources of coal, and of iron and other metals—her insular position-her temperate climate-her capability of supplying almost all the wants of man ;-all these must be ranked among the advantages derived by England from happy peculiarities in the arrangement and ordering of the materials which make up her superficial crust of mineral matter; and all are conditions the causes of which may be investigated. And if it is thought discreditable to an educated person to be unacquainted with the history of the people of his own country, it ought surely to be considered of importance that he should possess some degree of knowledge also concerning this much wider range of history, involving as it does an account of the revolutions and changes on which so many important matters depend ; but yet how many people do we meet, otherwise well educated, who look with indifference, or even contempt, on this branch of knowledge!
In spite of the deep interest of the subject and its great importance, comparatively few are familiar even with the general nature of the successive events
which have modified the whole surface of the globe ; and I shall be glad if, in the following pages,
I can give my readers a distinct appreciation of what is actually known with certainty concerning this new kind of history. In doing so I shall, I am sure, be doing good service, not only to science, but also to general literature; exhibiting a link little thought of, and an analogy almost neglected ; and causing Natural History to appear, as it really is, an account of a succession of events, and not merely the description of the habits and structure of certain groups of animals and vegetables.
In thus undertaking to give an account of Nature and of her operations, from the earliest records not only of man but of Creation, I shall be somewhat in the condition of an author proposing to communicate the history of an ancient people who have left monuments of their existence in their ruined temples and mausoleums, but whose language is very imperfectly understood, and whose written documents are obscure and vague.
Now an historian in such a case would, doubtless, think it necessary first of all to make his readers aware of the kind of evidence he would have to adduce in attestation of his statements and descriptions; and it is manifest that, if there is an absence of the ordinary documentary evidence, it would be still more requisite that the credibility of his parrative should be supported by a constant and direct reference to facts, either evident in themselves or admitting of distinct proof.
There are not wanting instances, indeed, in which conclusions perfectly satisfactory have been arrived at, and histories prepared, without the existence of