« AnteriorContinuar »
But with all this respect and reverence for our author, the man whom we delight to praise, truth and justice require us to say, that we have somewhat against him — which we declare with the more freedom, since the eminence already gained by the Professor is demonstration that he requires no critical dandling; and the fact that his writings compose a part of our national literature, has made it our duty to make known our sentiments on these subjects.
Our objections against the Professor are two fold; first, the enthusiasm which forms so large a portion of his composition in this particular — (as it ever must in the character of every real lover of science, and which he has so well described in his review of Cordier, Scrope, and D'Aubeny in the North American Review, No. 63,) — is not at all times sufficiently checked, by which he is led to mistake the imaginings of a prolific fancy for the conclusions drawn from facts; and second, he seems to be affected, somewhat, with the scribendi cacoelhes, evidences of which are rife in the memoir, the title of which stands at the head of this article, published in the American Journal of Science, vol. 29. We have seen occasional evidences of exaggeration in some of his former works, but we have set them to the account of a pardonable enthusiasm, but never until the appearance of his Ornithichnology, do we recollect to have seen conclusions in any natural science which were so altogether unsupported by the premises.
The principle facts on which this new science is based, are simply these: Impressions of a singular character were found in the new red sand stone, at Greenfield, Deerfield, Montague, South Hadley, and other places, which attracted the attention of the more curious, and were finally brought to the notice of Professor Hitchcock. In them he discovered, as he imagined, resemblances to the tracks of birds, and immediately set about a thorough investigation, which resulted in the discovery of numerous prints of a similar kind, varying in size from one inch to seventeen inches in length, and often following each other in a similar order, at about the same distance. From these tracks or prints, the Professor has inferred the existence of two orders of birds, which he denominates Pachydatyli, or thick-toed, and Leptodactyli, or slendertoed, in both of which he supposes he has discerned seven well characterized species, and three doubtful ones. From these facts, he thinks it impossible to doubt, that these tracks resulted from the continuous steps of some animal. The number of the toes seem, however, to have been as various as their size, for the O. giganttus had only two; while the O. diversus reckoned three, and the O. palmatus, four.
Thus far we are within the bounds of possibility, and were there no other facts in the case, we should not arraign the conclusions of the Professor as unauthorized.
But there are many facts, some of them detailed by the Professor himself, which render his inferences liable to suspicion. Some of these we shall enumerate.
1. 'These foot marks are found several hundred feet deep in the rock.' (American Journal of Science and Arts, vol. 29, p. 334.)
2. 'The sand and mud which filled the original track are more firmly concreted than the rock generally.' (p. 311.)
3. 'The silicious concretion, which fills the cavity made by the foot, differs somewhat from the surrounding rock.' (p. 318.)
4. The impression 'is much sooner lost in descending than in ascending from the layer where it is most perfect.' (p. 311.)
5. The curve caused by the impression 'often passes obliquely through the layers of the rock.' (p. 336.)
6. These tracks, if made at all, were made by Grallac, some of whose legs were covered with bristles to the toes, and that beneath the water,
ipp. 328, 336,) while all the waders of the present day have naked egs.
7. The plates accompanying the article on Ornithichnology 'do not present the appearance of any one specimen; but a connected view of the results obtained by an examination of all that have come under the author's notice.' (p. 326)
8. 'These tracks are not always in succession. Different species of animals, and different individuals have crossed one another's tracks so often, that all is confusion.' (p. 313.)
We have then, from the article itself, the following objections against the supposed formation of these tracks, by pre-Adamitic birds, viz. the immense depth of rock in which they occur — the fact that the cavity is filled with a silicious concretion, differing in hardness and in the quality of the materials of which it is composed, from the rock which surrounds it — that the impression extends up as well as down, often passing obliquely through the rock. To this it may be added, that no argument can be drawn from the plates, for reasons stated in one of the foregoing quotations.
These objections are, in our opinion, decisive against the Professor's hypothesis; but we will add a few other facts, from our own observation, which we consider conclusive on the subject.
The new red sand stone in the Conneticut Valley contains innumerable septaria and stria, often mistaken for impressions presenting the most fantastic figures and shape, of which the Ornithichnites of the Professor probably compose one family, the gigantic Gorgonia of eighteen feet by ten of his Geolog. Rep. Mass. (p. 237,) another, and in the very beautiful impressions of plants, we once supposed we had found a third. The regularity and precision of many of these channels and ridges, is truly remarkable; but the accurate test of Mr. Witham has never yet been able to detect any evidence of organized matter, and in the opinion of many of our ablest geologists there is none. Again, appearances precisely similar in character to those described by Professor Hitchcock occur in many of the clay beds in the same valley, the cavities being filled with septaria, or silicious concretions, differing in hardness and in the quality of the materials of which it is composed, from the layers of clay that surround it.
While on the subject of extravagancies, we will mention another, in which the Professor has rather fallen in with an old notion, than broached a new hypothesis, but which in our opinion is no less absurd, than that of the Ornithichnites. We allude to the supposition, that Mount Tom and Mount Holyoke were once united, and that the pass between them has been excavated by the waters of the Connecticut, or by the currents of a primitive lake. (Geolog. Rep. Mass., p. 79.)
To a person acquainted with the topography of that region, it will be unnecessary to premise, that the waters of the river would have passed around either end of the mountain, before it reached within some hundred feet of its summit, which alone is sufficient to show the impossibility of the supposition, to say nothing of the improbability of an excavation through a mountain mostly trap, and from eight hundred to a thousand feet in height, and the entire absence of all evidence of any such excavation.*
We might add other examples, to show that enthusiasm in making observations, and haste in drawing conclusions, exert a powerful influence over some of the Professor's compositions; but these are enough to establish the fact; and with the hope that these will serve as a kind of memento to remind him in future to examine with more care, and to conclude with less precipitancy, we forbear.
Our second objection to the Professor, was his love for, or rather we should say his haste in, writing.
This practice is a serious fault, and a growing evil — one which afflicts the Professor in common with his fellow citizens; but we think that the following sentence will work, in him at least, a thorough reformation.
'I include,' says he, 'all the varieties of tracks under the term Ornithichnites (opn<r and TMx>w) signifying stony bird tracks' (p. 315.)
In this short sentence, the reader will perceive no less than four egregious blunders, into which the Professor's precipitancy has betrayed him, and which, we doubt not, but for an unpardonable haste, would have been corrected. These mistakes are, first:
The use of the medial s, at the end ofornis (aoun,) instead of the final, as he should have done. The second is a like mistake in lichnos (ngnc) — the third in the use of tichnos (r<x»ot) for ichnos (ix'»«) there being no such word in the Greek language as tichnos; and the fourth in supposing he had made out the signification of' stony' from ichnos, which means simply a trace or track. The same haste led him to copy without alteration a no less ridiculous blunder from Granville Penn, into his article on Geology and the Mosaic History, in which he asserts that van in the Hebrew performs the office of all the conjunctions, copulative and disjunctive.' We tremble for our reputation, and for our language, if carelessness like this shall be tolerated in men of Professor Hitchcock's standing in the literary and scientific world; and it was not without surprise and regret that we beheld the able reviewers of the North American endorsing his works, faults and all, without so much as noticing them.
Aware of the disadvantages under which Professor Hitchcock early labored, admiring his determined resolution and indefatigable industry, and knowing that he possessed talent, the critics have ever viewed his works with partiality, until we fear that he gives himself more credit for accuracy, than he actually deserves, and that he is one of that small class who have been injured through excess of moderation. That this may serve him as a timely monition that the eye of the critic is upon him, and will expose the errors and fallacies of his favorite, and that it may cause him to give more heed to his composition, and to weigh more accurately his conclusions in science, is the object we desire to accomplish by this brief notice of his Ornithichnology.
* The pass of the Connecticut river at Northampton, between Tom and Holyoke, is undoubtedly a natural one, such too, as are frequent in the trap ranges of that valley. The Connecticut furnishes another example at its pass between Deerfield and Montague, and the Deerfield and Farmington rivers others of a similar kind. In the southern part of the valley these passes are abundant, and afford convenient openings for roads, between counties which would otherwise be inaccessible without great difficulty.
WRITTEN (UPON HEABTOO OF HIS DEATH) IK AUGUST, 1634.
• None knew tbe« but to love thee,
'twas his in manhood's blushing prime to tread
Imperial halls with coroneted head;
To bask in royal smiles, or lead the dance
Amid the gayest, gallantest of France;
Or, gladly loosed from grandeur's courtly thrall,
At gentle Hymen's sweet enticing call,
To seek his princely home, and fondly rest
His honored brow on wedded beauty's breast.
And never more the youthful lord shall leave
Far o'er the deep, with hopes unspurred by fame,
Hark 1 as the sighing gales from Europe sweep,
'Action and conflict are the conditions of our existence in the world. — Anoic. 'Riches take to themselves wings and fly away. — Bulb.
Far be from us the sin of inflict in? upon our readers a homily upon a theme that has waxed fat and multiplied, under the care of moralizing sages, in every period of time. If we mistake not, however, there is such a thing as intellectual riches, far more evanescent in its nature, and even more likely to fly away than its grosser counterpart. No one will pretend but that the treasures of the mind may be exhausted, while the vigor of the body is complete, and that he who was once the possessor of literary wealth may become, and that by the operation of no physical causes, poor indeed. Knowledge, so far from being indued with any necessary and permanent adhesiveness, will of itself, if not carefully guarded, drop off from the intellectual edifice it once adorned, until only the thinnest coating remains to remind us of the beauty that was once there. Numberless facts demonstrate that the most extensive attainments in literature, and the most cultivated powers of intellect, if not enriched by constant additions, and invigorated by unremitted exercise, will gradually disappear, or become metamorphosed into a dull mediocrity. Every reflecting man's experience will in a greater or less degree bear witness to the fundamental correctness of this remark. He cannot but be conscious that there is a principle of decay at work in his own mind, which, if not counteracted by incessant mental activity, both of exertion and accumulation, would infallibly strip him of all the results of his past labors, and what is worse, unfit him for future efforts. The busiest intellect finds, after all, ample reason to lament the vast disproportion that exists between what it has known and what it does know, and the constant disappearance of particles of its knowledge, once fairly acquired and highly valued. Like a general marching through an enemy's country, to whom every evening's muster reveals a new loss, the absence of some sturdy veteran, or valued officer, cutoff by a watchful and wary foe, so the intellectual itinerator will find, as the result of every faithful inspection, his list of missing swelling with every stage of his journey, and while he plumes himself upon new acquisitions, cannot but lament the loss of the old. Indeed it seems reasonable to suppose that, as we naturally lose our hold on one thing while attempting to grasp another, so the mind will almost of necessity experience an actual retrocession in knowledge on some subjects, as it makes farther and deeper advances in others. But if such is the case with the diligent and laborious cultivator of the field of literature, what ought we to expect from the lazy indifference, or mere passivity of the intellectual drone? What but the most pinching poverty of ideas, the most superficial attainments in science and literature?—his modicum of knowledge rapidly decreasing, and general inefficiency and ineptitude of intellect creeping upon him 1
As the territories of a mighty conqueror, gained at the price of immense expenditures of blood and treasure, demand, in order to be retained, a constant exercise of those qualities by which they were acquired, so our intellectual acquirements, made at the cost of so much time.