Page images

degree of moral advancement, and the comparative political power of our own and many other countries is thus shown to be connected with the former existence of a race of plants now extinct, which bore but a faint analogy to living species, and flourished at periods of immense antiquity, probably under a climate and in a state of the earth widely distinct from the present, the mind is elevated to an exalted conception of the magnificent extent of the whole system of nature, and of the wonderful relations subsisting between its remotest parts. The present disposition of the strata in the carboniferous series, and indeed in every other formation, is the best, if not the only conceivable, arrangement, by which each might be made to rise in succession to the surface, and present in its turn a variety of useful minerals or of soils adapted for different agricultural purposes. Had the strata been permitted to remain horizontal, they would have invested the nucleus of the earth,' as Dr. Buckland has justly observed,' in concentric coats, and the inferior must have been buried for ever beneath the highest.'* Now it scarcely admits of a doubt that the agents employed in effecting this most perfect and systematic arrangement have been earthquakes, operating with different degrees of violence and at various intervals of time during a lapse of ages. The order that now reigns has resulted therefore from causes which have generally been considered as capable only of defacing and devastating the earth's surface, but which we thus find strong grounds for suspecting were, in the primeval state of the globe, and perhaps still are, instrumental in its perpetual renovation. The effects of these subterranean forces prove that they are governed by general laws, and that these laws have been conceived by consummate wisdom and forethought. Their consequences were formerly enumerated amongst the signs of anarchy and misrule, whence the Epicurean hypothesis originated that the earth was first formed, and has been since maintained, by Chance; and in later times they have been appealed to as the visible manifestations of God's wrath and of a penal dispensation.

After the unexpected discoveries, for which we may already thank the Science of Geology, it can no longer be matter of surprize, that we remain in ignorance of the ends answered by many of the operations of nature and of her living works, in whose form and structure such infinite variety, contrivance and beauty are displayed. The zoophytes and testacea, whose exuvia are entombed by millions in stratified rocks, contribute to our wants and enjoyments perhaps in a far greater degree than the analogous races that now fill the great deep with life. The fossil species have

* Inaugural Lecture, p. 11. Oxford. 1819.


was far more intense than is now experienced even between the tropics; and however astonishing this inference may seem, it can scarcely be rejected until some ground is shown for distrusting all evidence derived from analogy on these subjects. That we by no means comprehend all the laws that regulate the geographical distribution of living plants over the globe must be confessed. That there are some causes hitherto undiscovered, capable, in co-operation with temperature, of promoting or retarding the development of certain forms and characters of vegetation, is more than probable; but that temperature is at present the most powerful of all, is unquestionable; and that it was so when the Plants of the coal were in being we must presume, until reasons are adduced for believing that the system of nature has, in this respect, been entirely changed.

As to the manner in which so surprizing a revolution in the temperature of the globe has been effected, no conjecture deserving much consideration has yet been made known; and if a satisfactory explanation of so difficult a problem is ever obtained, we shall probably be indebted to astronomy for it. Geology can only account for local fluctuations of climate in the same latitudes, by furnishing us with evidence almost conclusive, that, during the deposition of stratified rocks, changes in the distribution of land and sea were frequent and considerable. In consequence of these changes the relative extent of superficial land and water may often have differed greatly. Continents or open seas may have alternately existed at the poles or at the equator. The land, according to its varying form, would necessarily determine in particular directions warm currents from tropical towards arctic seas, or cold currents bearing floating ice from arctic towards tropical latitudes. But these causes, though far too important to be kept out of view whenever this question is considered, are essentially partial in their operation and limited in degree; whereas the phenomena indicate most signal and remarkable alteration in climate, and that co-extensive with every part of the northern hemisphere hitherto examined in America, Europe, and Asia.

Some modern authors conceive that a comparison of the fossils of Bengal, the Carnatic and other equatorial countries, with those of Europe and North America, warrants the conclusion that the former temperature of the earth was more uniform as well as more elevated than the present; and they endeavour to explain this circumstance by supposing that climate was formerly independent, in a great degree, of solar heat, deriving warmth from the interior of the earth itself, which, since the original oxydation of its metallic nucleus, has been (say they) in a state of gradual refrigeration. We should not have ventured to amuse our readers

brated; and, ascending in the scale from the lowest of the vertebrated class to the most perfect, we find at length, in the mammalia, all the most striking characters of osteological structure, and all the leading features of the physiology of the human frame fully displayed. When we have ascertained that animals of that class in which the type of our physical organization is so unequivocally developed, existed at distant, though not the most remote, periods in the history of this planet, and that a scheme, of which man forms an inseparable part, is of such high antiquity, the remarks of Bishop Butler on the connection of the course of things which come within our view, with the past, the present, and the future, are forcibly recalled to our recollection:

"We are placed (he observes) in the middle of a scheme, not a fixed but a progressive one, every way incomprehensible-incomprehensible in a manner equally with respect to what has been, what now is, and what shall be hereafter.' '*

Indeed no department of science has ever illustrated and confirmed the line of argument adopted by that truly philosophical writer in a more satisfactory manner than geology. Relations between different portions of the system, however distant, are proved sometimes to subsist, and to extend even from extinct to living races of plants and animals. Sources of apparent derangement in the system appear, when their operation throughout a series of ages is brought into one view, to have produced a great preponderance of good; and to be governed by fixed general laws, conducive, perhaps essential, to the preservation of the habitable state of the globe. If the analogy between the constitution and government of the natural and moral worlds, supposed by Butler, be admitted as highly credible, the certainty that the former, so far as regards this planet, is a scheme of infinitely greater extent than we before had reason to imagine, greatly strengthens the presumption that of the latter also we as yet survey but an insignificant part; and that if the whole could be seen and comprehended by us, difficulties insurmountable by human reason, which now present themselves to every contemplative mind, would disappear; for things which we call irregularities may not be so at all; 'some unknown relation, or some unknown impossibility, may render what is objected against, just and good; nay, good in the highest practicable degree.'‡

[ocr errors]


In a word, the farther we advance in the study of each branch of natural philosophy, the more our admiration of the grandeur and variety of nature's operations is called forth, while proofs of design and contrivance in all her works are multiplied. We are

* Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, p. 167.
† Ibid. p. 159.

Ibid. p. 158.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

moreover continually rendered sensible how insignificant is the sum of all we know, in comparison with what remains unknown; and this observation applies with peculiar force to the investigations of geology, constituting indeed one of the main attractions which recommend that study to our attention. It is not easy,' says Butler, even for the most reasonable men, always to bear in mind the degree of our ignorance.* That ignorance affords a full and satisfactory answer to all objections against the perfection of the scheme, whether of the natural or of the moral world, and thence against the wisdom, justice and benevolence of the common Parent and Preserver of them both.

ART. X.-Observations on the actual State of the English Laws of Real Property; with the Outline of a Code. By James Humphreys, Esq. of Lincolns Inn, Barrister. London. ‹. 8vo. 1826.

AN opinion that the jurisprudence of this kingdom is in a

state, which requires a strong interference of the legislature to remedy its defects and abuses, and to produce a new and better administration of justice, has, for some time, been very prevalent in this country, among all classes of people.

Government has not been heedless of it; nor has it disdained to take up the work of amelioration by whomsoever commenced. A bill for the improvement of our criminal law has at length passed both houses of parliament, without any opposition, and has received the royal sanction; nor have we yet heard a voice raised against the wisdom or the policy of its provisions. The Court of Chancery had long been the theme of unrestrained and unqualified censure, the tone of which, not unfrequently, was such, as to manifest a degree of ignorance most extraordinary and reprehensible in those who ought to have been better acquainted with its principles and forms of proceeding, considering how extensively these apply, and how considerable a part of the landed and commercial interest of the country is, at all times, of necessity more or less subject to their controul and influence. During the session of 1824, a commission was issued by his Majesty, having for its principal object' to inquire whether any and what alterations could be made in the practice established in the Court of Chancery-or in the several offices of that court, whereby the expenses attending such proceedings, and the time during which they depend in court, may be usefully and beneficially abridged.' A Report has recently been made under that commission, and a copy of it presented to the House of Com


Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, p. 158.


mons, on which it is not our present intention to say more than that, no less from the importance and wide scope of the subject, than from the character of the individuals composing the commission, accompanied as it is by a very voluminous Appendix, consisting of ample returns from the several officers of the court of the nature and amount of the business transacted in their several departments, and of the examinations at great length of several of the most eminent practitioners, solicitors, as well as barristers and judges, it cannot fail to excite great and anxious attention, and, to lead to considerable immediate improvement, and, in the end, to yet more important and beneficial results. It has exposed to the public eye the whole machinery of the Court of Chancery; the wheels which impel or retard the progress of its proceedings; the means which it affords to honourable practitioners for effecting, and to dishonourable practitioners for defeating, the ends of justice; the circumstances under which it holds out a full, or only an imperfect relief to its suitors, and those under which it is incapable of yielding them. any redress whatever; the cases in which delay and expense are unavoidable; and those, in which these are occasioned by dishonesty, or idleness. On all these heads, it cannot be denied, that the Report has brought forward a mass of valuable information; and although, if the commission had been formed on a more extensive plan, it might perhaps have done greater good; yet, such as it is, the public has reason enough to be thankful for its appearance. The great number and length of the returns and examinations render it, however, an operose and irksome task to acquire any distinct or accurate view of the contents of this Report. An analytical or arranged digest, such as that which has been published of the examinations concerning the state of Ireland, is therefore highly necessary;-indeed, without some aid of this kind, few, we apprehend, will be able to master its tenour; and thus much of the benefit to be expected from free and open discussion will be lost to the public.

[ocr errors]

It is indeed somewhat surprizing that, with (we believe) one single exception, this document, so valuable from the nature of its contents, and so repeatedly and anxiously called for, has as yet drawn forth no comment or criticism of the slightest importance. This solitary exception, however, is in itself equivalent in importance to a host of minor notices; for we cannot help believing the rumour to be correct, which assigns a recent pamphlet, entitled 'Considerations suggested by the Report made to his Majesty under a Commission,' &c., to a late lord chancellor of Ireland, who was himself a member of that commission, but who withheld his signature from the Report, for reasons which


« PreviousContinue »