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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 453 Volume 18, New Series, September 4, 1852   By:

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No. 453. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


Occupied as most of us are with our respective worldly concerns, and accustomed to see the routine of common events going on smoothly from age to age, we are little apt to reflect on natural events of a tremendous character, which modern science shews might possibly happen, and that on any day of any year. We think of the land as a firm and solid thing as terra firma , in short not recollecting that geology shews how it may rise or sink, so as to pass into new relations to the enveloping sea; how it may be raised, for instance, to such an extent as to throw every port inland, or so far lowered as to submerge the richest and most populous regions. No doubt, the relations of sea and land have been much as they are during historical time; but it is at the same time past all doubt, that the last great geological event, in respect of most countries known, was a submergence which produced the marine alluvial deposits; and when we find that Scandinavia is slowly but steadily rising in some parts at this moment, and that a thousand miles of the west coast of South America rose four feet in a single night only thirty years ago, we cannot feel quite assured, that the agencies which produced that submergence, and the subsequent re emergence, are at an end. We likewise forgot, in these cool districts of the earth, that we are not quite beyond the hazard of subterranean fire. There are numberless extinct volcanoes in both Britain and France; there are some on the banks of the Rhine; indeed, they are thick sown everywhere. Now, an extinct volcano is not quite so safe a neighbour as many may suppose. Vesuvius was an extinct volcano from time immemorial till the year 63, when it suddenly broke out again, and soon after destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum; since which time it has never again subsided into entire inactivity. Suppose Arthur's Seat, which is 'within a mile of Edinburgh town,' were to recommence business in like manner, we should like to know at how many years' purchase house property in that beautiful New Town would be selling next day. Yet what is there about an old volcano here more than an old volcano in Italy, to give assurance that its means of annoyance and destruction are absolutely extinguished?

There is, however, in the showings of science, a more serious danger than any of these. Comets were once regarded as most terrific objects, but only in a superstitious way, perplexing nations with fear of change, and shaking pestilence from their horrid hair. During an intermediate enlightened time, these notions passed away; and we have even come to think, that such a visitant of our skies may exercise a beneficial influence. We at least recollect when old gentlemen, after dinner, brightened up at the mention of 'claret 1811,' merrily attributing the extraordinary merits of the liquor to the comet of that year. But comets, in the cool eye of modern science, are not without their terrors. Crossing as they often do the paths of the planets in their progress to and from their perihelia, it cannot but be that they should now and then come in contact with one of these spheres. One, called Lexell's, did come athwart the satellites of Jupiter in 1769, and once again in 1779, so as to be deranged in its own course. It made, indeed, no observable change in the movements of the Jovian train, being of too light a consistence for that; but can we doubt, that it might nevertheless seriously affect the condition of their surfaces, and especially any animal life existing thereon? This very comet, on the 28th of June 1770, passed the earth at a distance only six times that of the moon. There is another called Biela's, which revisits the sun every six years, or a little more; and this busy traveller actually crossed our orbit in 1832, only a month before we passed through the same point in space! Another, which made a grand appearance in the western sky in March 1843, would have involved us in its tail, if we had been only a fortnight earlier at a particular place! Rather fine shaving that in the celestial economics... Continue reading book >>

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