Imágenes de páginas

which Europe owes her variegated population. Had his pretensions been those of a mere novelist, we might have classed him with the author of Two Years ago, who, having laid his plot at Clovelly, in the north of Devon, takes it for granted, seemingly, in his concluding pages, that he has fairly illustrated the social and religious life of the Cornish people. Človelly herrings were, perhaps, familiar to him; and having heard of Cornish pilchards, he had confounded the species, and, in his confusion, innocently dealt with two counties as if they were one, both in character and race. Dr. Borlase, however, wrote as an antiquary, topographer, and historian, and should have distinguished races and religions when they really differ.

In certain states of the atmosphere, we have often looked out with delight from a promontory near the Doctor's house at Pendeen, upon the clustering islands of Scilly clearly sketched in blue outline against the bright western sky. Borlase, too, must often have seen them in this beautiful light, and in the days of his youth longed for the joy of reaching them. Nor can we wonder at the gaiety and youthful playfulness with which he describes his first voyage to the little group in the character of an explorer, and his curious and agreeable adventures during an island pilgrimage. Few things of the kind have we enjoyed more than his thin quarto volume of Observations on the Island of Scilly. We have wandered over the scene of his rambles, and it was all the more interesting from its association with the poetic taste, antiquarian zeal, artistic power, and quiet wit of the old parson who had been there before us, sketching the miniature landscapes, digging the

giants' graves,' measuring old castle walls, conjuring up Phenician tin traders, arch-Druids, lone monks, and old warriors, and speculating on the future destinies of the little sea-girt retreat.

But his Natural History of Cornwall appears, after all, to be the fairest and most interesting memorial of his genius. This book shows his versatile powers in their most successful action; and exhibits an amiable and instructive example of the happy, because loving, dependence of a lively intellect upon the resources of its own neighbourhood. Such an example, antiquated as it at first appears, may be usefully quoted in these days of morbid restlessness after far-away scenes of recreation and foreign lines of research. It is, indeed, refreshing to trace the quiet home studies of one who acted on the belief, that whatever concerns the interest and reputation of a province has a strong claim on the attention of those who are naturally related to it; that though it were of less concern to strangers 'whether the arts in a given country flourish, are at a stand, or decay, whether the several natural productions are well or ill arranged, Natural History of Cornuall.

411 understood or not, these things are most proper and interesting disquisitions for the inhabitants' themselves. As a student of the natural history of his natire county, the Doctor worked under the pressure of many difficulties; but he was happily prepared to make the best of the balancing advantages of his position. My situation,' says he,' was the most unfavourable; my distance from books, and those assemblies of the learned who had turned their studies into the same channel, was a discouraging and, in some particulars, an insuperable disadvantage; but, with regard to the natural productions, it enabled me to examine them all on the spot; and though I had not always before me what the literati had written on the same subject, I could better understand what nature had done.' Few things, however minute, could escape his eye. Every thing was examined to the very bottom. No difficulty was shirked. All evidence within his reach was sifted ; and the knowledge he had was always made the most of, in securing the enlargement of his stock. At the same time, he never seemed to be led astray by an overestimate of bis own powers; or to miss his mark for want of properly measuring the bounds of inquiry. In this respect he gives a judicious lesson to natural history students who see no limit to their own faculties, and are impatient at any check on their right of search. To banish all hypotheses,' he wisely remarks, would be to obstruct one of the avenues to knowledge. But an hypothesis may be too bold; and when authors pretend to account for everything, they are not aware how indecently they intrude into the counsels and peculiar province of their Maker. There are many secrets in nature which man had better let alone, and wisely own his ignorance. God has given us a sagacity to discern, and faculties to use, His works; but in a gross only and collective state. He has given no talents to track the first principles through their several migrations and meanders, to transmute, destroy, and recompose the works of

He did not design that we should presumptuously revise, mimic, or make; but use, revere, and celebrate His works. Natural history, therefore, has its bounds, which if it exceeds, it gets wilfully into the dark and consumes our time in endless and futile disquisitions. Natural history has its bounds, most apparent to those who know most of it. Among the rest of its uses, therefore, (upon proper intimacy,) it will certainly teach us a due estimate of our own weak abilities, short-sighted fancies, and, at the same time, the unlimited unfathomable depth and height of the works of God.' While exhibiting all that is distinctive in the natural history of his favourite western peninsula, he aims at making the philosophy of things plain to


his readers, so as to prepare them as far as possible for enjoying, as he did, the movements of nature around their own homes.; and he brings to his task the most pleasant temper and the power of catching the bright view of things, and of making them brighter, now and then, by a flash of humour. He always has an eye for the beautiful. Not even Ruskin himself, for instance, ever had happier excursions among the clouds' than our Pendeen genius, whose patience was sadly exercised by

those refined naturalists who hold that the antediluvian skies were without clouds, by which groundless fancy they stripped the poor atmosphere, and reduced it to a naked blank; forgetting nature in her gayest dress, nor considering that the richest streams of light and the finest tints which the eye can see, or the pencil imitate, are borrowed from clouds.'

In his descriptions of natural objects, Borlase is sometimes too particular, and makes distinctions where nature has made no difference; but in most cases he succeeds. Nothing can be more admirable, for instance, than his word-sketches of iron pyrites, or 'mundic, as found in Cornwall; they are sketches equally beautiful and scientific. Indeed, his book may be consulted for its descriptions of natural curiosities. And sometimes he closes a series of paragraphs, some of which might rival the clearness of the crystals they represent, with reflections highly illustrative of his fine taste, his verbal affluence, and his piety. As when he winds up an exhibition of what he calls 'stones of ornament, curiosity, and profit,' by asking, ‘But to what shall we attribute those freer strokes of art, whereby the curved lincs and lists are sometimes plain, sometimes curved ; now radiated, now plain; now wavy, more numerous, and exactly parallel ; now a mixture of straight and circular fillets. Trigonometry, now straightened, now spherical, and now the most elegant mixture of both. Now plain smooth globes ; wrought; now tubular and pendant; now wreathed and vermicular. Shall we attribute this to a plastic power superin. tending the congress of fossils, and sporting itself with natural or preternatural representations: or shall we rather say, that the great Power which contrived and made all things, needing no delegate, artfully throws the flexile liquid materials of the fossil (mineral) kingdom into various figures, to draw the attention of mankind to His works, and thence lead them, first to the acknowledgment, then to the adoration of an intelligent being, inexhaustibly wise, good, and glorious ? Doubtless these are the works of that same lover of shape, colour, and uniformity, that paints the peacock's"train, that veins the onyx, that streaks the zebra ; it is the same hand whose traces we may discover even


How wire


His Chemistry and Geology.

413 among the meanest and most obscure, fossils. God loves symmetry, gracefulness, elegance, and variety, and distributes them for His own complacency as well as glory; limits them not to plants, and animals, and open daylight, but, like a great master, habitually imparts them to all His works, though in the deepest ocean, and in the most secret parts of the earth.

Nor was Borlase's pencil less successful than his pen. We have never seen some of his drawings of minerals surpassed. He tried his hand at chemicals, too. He tested everything that he could test. Some modern chemists may smile at his experiments; nevertheless, they will not refuse to do homage to his scientific taste, and his original ingenuity. He was remarkably innocent of any acquaintance with the theories of modern geology; and in this respect his volumes serve to illustrate the rapid development of that still youthful science. In his logic he is quite equal to any geologist of later times; but, like many who have followed him in this department, he fails from the imperfection of his data. Then, as now, the range of observation was as yet too narrow to admit of final and settled conclusions. Time would fail us,

to follow the doctor, while he makes his curious medical estimates of Cornish trees and plants, or discusses the virtue of holy wells, or chants the praises of his favourite Cornish chough, or dreams amidst the clamours of the sea-fowl on his native coast, or careers among the shoals of its fish, anticipates thé rivalry between the clays of Cornwall and of China, or weighs the comparative claims of mining and agriculture, or sketches the character of his western fellow.countrymen, or traces the history of their distinctive callings, or unveils the mysteries of their subterranean and speculative life. With all his mistakes and oddities, we honour the old genius of Pendeen, as one who made it his life-task to show his neighbours that inexhaustible sources of wealth, happiness, and recreation, were to be found within their native province; who did his best to throw a charm over the scene of his parishioners' toil, and who took a leading part in giving a healthy stimulus to the intellect of Keltic Cornwall. It might have added joy to the doctor's last days, could he have foreseen that a 'Literary and Scientific Institution,' with its lecture hall, library, and museum, would grace the centre of his wild seaboard parish, and stand on that extreme shore as a witness to the mental vigour and intelligence of modern St. Just.

were we


[blocks in formation]

ART. V.-The Coal-Fields of Great Britain: their History,

Structure, and Duration. With Notices of the Coal Fields of other parts of the World. By EDWARD Hull, B.A., of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, Fellow of the Geological Society of London. With Illustrations. Loudon : Edward Stanford. 1861.

The soul must indeed be dead that does not thrill with emotion when standing amid the crumbling ruins of a disinterred city. To realize the centuries that have rolled by, pregnant with events, since those foundations were laid ; to read, in each sculptured slab and fluted column, the story of human vanity and of human mortality; in imagination, to recal the varying emotions of the workmen by whom each stone was carved; or to remember that within the once proud city were gathered all the passions and impulses that still ebb and flow in the human breast-to realize these things, and yet not to feel that time confers a mysterious dignity on even common things, is to lack some of the noblest qualities of heart and intellect.

But if we admit this to be true, we must go further, and acknowledge that there are yet more solemn scenes than the excavated mounds of Nineveh or Persepolis. Ancient though these ruins are, they are things of yesterday compared with what the geologist has brought to light. We take our stand with him amid the Crag-pits of Suffolk or of the London clay, and find ourselves surrounded by the wrecks of a submarine world, which were what they are now ages and aras before the foundations of Nineveh were laid, or even before our race sprang into being. Every shell and coral at our feet had an individual life and history. There was a moment in time when each individual began its existence; each passed through the varied phases of its peculiar life; and at another definite moment each one ceased to live. Who shall say where, and amidst what surrounding circumstances, these stages of life were accomplished? We leave the Crag, and enter a quarry of more ancient Cambridge chalk or Sussex weald. We are again surrounded by reliques of the dead, but of yet older age. Their graves formed the pasture-ground of the newer races we so lately left. Shadows of vast lizards seem to creep around us.

Some of them, nplifted on silky wings, are flitting through the air. We have visions of strange fish floating through surrounding waters, or shells of fantastic form crawl about our feet. We go yet deeper, and find our way into a quarry of Dorsetshire Lias;

« AnteriorContinuar »