Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

down the fibre and the tissue of the plant, or the nutritious store that has been laid up within its cells, and converts these into the substance of which its own 'organs are composed. The plant acquires the

organs and nutritious store, thus yielded up as food to the animal, from the invulnerable air surrounding it.

But animals are furnished with the means of locomotion and of seizure—they can approach their food, and lay hold of and swallow it; plants must wait till their food comes to them. No solid particles find access to their frames ; the restless ambient air which rushes past them loaded with the carbon, the hydrogen, the water-everything they need in the shape of supplies is constantly at hand to minister to their wants ; not only to afford them food in due season, but in the shape and fashion in which alone it can avail them.

There is no more worthy or suitable employment of the human mind than to trace the ev ences of design and purpose in the Creator, which are visible in many parts of the creation. Hence, to the right-minded mariner, and to him who studies the physical relations of earth, sea, and air, the atmosphere is something more than a shoreless ocean, at the bottom of which his bark is wafted or driven along. It is an envelope or covering for the dispersion of light and heat over the surface of the earth ; it is a sewer into which, with every breath we draw, we cast vast quantities of dead animal matter ; it is a laboratory for purification, in which that matter is recompounded, and wrought again into wholesome and healthful shapes; it is a machine for pumping up all the rivers from the sea, and conveying the waters from their fountains on the ocean to their sources in the mountains.

Upon the proper working of this machine depends the wellbeing of every plant and animal that inhabits the earth ; therefore the management of it, or its movement, or the performance of its offices, can not be left to chance. They are, we may rely upon it, guided by laws that make all parts, functions, and movements of the machinery as obedient to order, as are the planets in their orbits.

Physical Geography of the Sea.

A BURNING PRAIRIE.

AUDUBON. AFTER toiling for an hour, through a wide bottom of tall weeds and matted grass, I reached the grove—erected a small shed of boughs after the manner of the Indians, and lying down, was soon asleep, before a huge fire, which I built against the trunk of a fallen tree. I was awakened by the increasing violence of the gale. At times it sank into low wailings, and then would swell again, howling and whistling through the trees. After sitting by the fire for a short time, I again threw myself upon my pallet of dried grass, but could not sleep. There was something dismal and thrilling in the sound of the wind. At times, wild voices seemed shrieking through the woodland. It was in vain that I closed my eyes ; a kind of superstitious feeling came over me, and, though I saw nothing, my ears drank in every sound. I gazed around in every direction, and sat with my hand on my gun-trigger, for my feelings were so wrought up, that I momentarily expected to see an armed Indian start from behind each bush. At last I rose up, and sat by the fire. Suddenly, a swift gust swept through the grove, and whirled off sparks and cinders in every direction. In an instant fifty little fires shot their forked tongues in the air, and seemed to flicker with a momentary struggle for existence. There was scarcely time to note their birth before they were creeping up in a tall tapering blaze, and leaping lightly along the tops of the scattered clumps of dry grass. In another moment they leaped forward into the prairie, and a waving line of brilliant flame quivered high up in the dark atmosphere.

Another gust came rushing along the ravine. It was announced by a distant moan ; as it came nearer a cloud of dry leaves filled the air ; the slender shrubs and saplings bent like weeds—dry branches snapped and crackled. The lofty forest trees writhed, and creaked, and groaned. The next instant the furious blast reached the flaming prairie. Myriads and myriads of bright embers were flung wildly in the air: flakes of blazing grass whirled like meteors through the sky. The flame spread into a vast sheet that swept over the prairie, bending forward, illumining the black waste which it had passed, and shedding a red light far down the deep vistas of the forest ; though all beyond the blaze was of a pitchy blackness. The roaring flames drowned even the howling of the wind. At each succeeding blast they threw long pyramidal streams upwards in the black sky, then flared horizontally, and seemed to bound forward, lighting at each bound a new conflagration. Leap succeeded leap ; the flames rushed on with a race-horse speed. The noise sounded like the roar of a stormy ocean, and the wild tumultuous billows of the flame were tossed about like a sea of fire. Directly in their course, and some distance out in the prairie, stood a large grove of oaks—the dry leaves still clinging to the branches. There was a red glare thrown upon them from the blazing flood. A moment passed, and a black smoke oozed from the nearest tree—the blaze roared among their branches, and shot up for one hundred feet in the air, waving as if in triumph. The effect was transient. In a moment had the fire swept through a grove, covering several acres. It sank again into the prairie, leaving the limbs of every tree scathed and scorched to an inky blackness, and shining with a bright crimson light between their branches. In this way the light conflagration swept over the landscape : every hill seemed to burn it own funeral pyre, and the scorching heat licked every blade in the hollows. A dark cloud of grey smoke, filled with burning embers, spread over the course of the flames, occasionally forming not ungraceful columns, which were almost instantly shattered by the wind, and driven in a thousand different directions.

For several hours the blaze continued to rage, and the whole horizon became girdled with a belt of living fire. As the circle extended, the flames appeared smaller and smaller, until they looked like a slight golden thread drawn around the hills. They then must have been nearly ten miles distant. At length the blaze disappeared, although the purple light, that for hours illumined the night sky, told that the element was extending into other regions of the prairies.

It was sunrise when I rose from my resting-place and resumed my journey. What a change! All was waste. The sun had set upon a prairie still clothed in its natural garb of herbage. It rose upon a scene of desolation. Not a single weed—not a blade of grass was left. The tall grove, which at sunset was covered with withered foliage, now spread a labyrinth of scorched and naked branches—the very type of ruin. A thin covering of grey ashes was sprinkled upon the ground beneath, and several large dead trees, whose dried branches had caught and nourished the flame, were still blazing or sending up long spires of smoke. In every direction, barrenness marked the track of the flames. It had even worked its course against the blast, hugging to the roots

of tall grass.

The wind was still raging ; cinders and ashes were drifting and whirling about in almost suffocating clouds, sometimes rendering it impossible to see for more than one or two hundred yards.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.

FREDERIC MYERS, M.A. The cause of Columbus being again pleaded before the Queen, and the advantages and glories which would arise to the Gospel and the Church vividly pictured,—her princely soul is all warmed with the thought of the probable conquests of the Cross, and she at length enters into it with enthusiasm, and even offers to pledge her jewels for the cost. All is now changed, Columbus is recalled, and there in that proud city of Granada, while the flush of victory is yet fresh, do the sovereigns of Arragon and Castile sign the stipulations of a treaty, which secured to their crown at once the discovery and the dominion of a world.

Columbus is now a free man ; free to act, free to prove what is in him ; with a clear stage and room every way ; having no outward hindrances, but with full liberty to do what he can to realize his idea. What he can, and whether his idea was a reality or a phantasy merely, we now to

Is the unlearned mariner wiser than all the doctors of Salamanca ? Is the dreamy adventurer a visionary or a seer ? Is Columbus a madman or a great man ? This is the question.

Columbus has orders to fit out two small ships at that very Palos, near which the convent of La Rabida was. He returns to be the Prior's guest, with feelings marvellously different from those which he had, when he first enjoyed his hospitality. He finds, however, the greatest difficulty in getting crews. will serve with him willingly : all think his attempt nothing less than madness—a desperate crusade with no probable issue

are

see.

No one

but death. But all difficulties are overcome by his zeal; and, after taking a solemn leave of Spain, he goes on board. And thus with three small ships (called caravels) of about fifty or seventy tons burden—something like our river or coasting craft, with no deck to two of them--crazy, leaky, scarce seaworthy ; with a crew of only a hundred and twenty, pressed men most of them, all hating the service, did Columbus set sail from the port of Palos, amid the sullen murmurs and burning tears of its people. That memorable day was Friday, the 3rd of August, 1492.

On the 9th of September they lose sight of Ferro—the last of the Canary Islands—the last known point of land. Here begins the trial of Columbus's faith—here too the unquestionable evidence of his greatness. Just think for a moment what the peculiarity of his daring and his difficulty was. To venture into an ocean without

any

known shore : to go on and on away from land, with nothing but faith in an idea to lure him on : to risk the lives of a hundred and twenty men and his own, on that which he believed merely, and which he was the only man in the world who did believe, and which the learnedest and most reverend men of his day had solemnly pronounced, after seven years' deliberation, absurd and impracticable, and even impious. I say this is no mean doing. It was as great an example of the force which there is in an idea, and of the power which there is in faith, as one can well produce. His main difficulty was simply to keep alive long enough : long enough to give himself the opportunity of ascertaining what the world was made of : how large it was, and of what shape it was. To keep his crew from turning back, as soon as half their provisions should be expended, this was a main point with him. At the very outset, four days only after they lost sight of land—he begins to meet with difficulties of this kind. The needle is found to vary five or six degrees N.W.-a mysterious proceeding on its part, which neither Columbus nor ourselves can account for. The crew tremble. Imaginative old legends had painted in the most vivid colours all kinds of imaginable and unimaginable horrors as connected with these seas ; and here seems to be a confirmation of some of them, inasmuch as the very laws of nature seem changing They soon, however, discover birds, which gives them hope of land ; but, as it could not be the land he

« ПредишнаНапред »