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observe here, that they are so peculiarly calculated to inspire a lasting terror, and are so often fatal in their consequences to great multitudes of people, that it scarcely requires the passion for the marvellous, so characteristic of rude and hals-civilized nations, still less the exuberant imagination of eastern writers, to augment them into general cataclysms and conflagrations. The great flood of the Chinese, which their traditions carry back to the period of Yaou, something more than 2000 years before our era, has been identified by some persons with the universal deluge described in the Old Testament; but according to Mr. Davis, who accompanied two of our embassies to China, and who has carefully examined their written accounts, the Chinese cataclysm is therein described as interrupting the business of agriculture, rather than as involving a general destruction of the human race. The great Yu was celebrated for having “opened nine channels to draw off the waters,” which “covered the low hills and bathed the foot of the highest mountains.” Mr. Davis suggests that a great derangement of the waters of the Yellow River, one of the largest in the world, might even now cause the flood of Yaou to be repeated, and lay the most fertile and populous plains of China under water. In modern times the bursting of the banks of an artificial canal, into which a portion of the Yellow River has been turned, has repeatedly given rise to the most dreadful accidents, and is a source of perpetual anxiety to the government. It is easy, therefore, to imagine how much greater may have been the inundation, if this valley was ever convulsed by a violent earthquake.” Humboldt relates the interesting fact that aster the annihilation of a large part of the inhabitants of Cumana, by an earthquake in 1766, a season of extraordinary fertility ensued, in consequence of the great rains which accompanied the subterranean convulsions. “The Indians,” he says, “ celebrated, after the ideas of an antique superstition, by sestivals and dancing, the destruction of the world and the approaching epoch of its regeneration.”t The existence of such rites among the rude nations of South America is most important, for it shows what effects may be produced by great catastrophes of this nature, recurring at distant intervals of time, on the minds of a barbarous and uncultivated race. The superstitions of a savage tribe are transmitted through all the progressive stages of society, till they exert a powerful influence on the mind of the philosopher. Ile may find, in the monuments of former changes on the earth's surface, an apparent confirmation of tenets handed down through successive generations,
* See Davis on “The Chinese,” published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol. i. p. 128. t Humboldt et Bonpland, Voy. Relat. Hist, vol. i. p. 30.
from the rude hunter, whose terrified imagination drew a false picture of those awful visitations of floods and earthquakes, whereby the whole earth as known to him was simultaneously devastated. Egyptian Cosmogony.—Respecting the cosmogony of the Egyptian priests, we gather much information from writers of the Grecian sects, who borrowed almost all their tenets from Egypt, and amongst others that of the former successive destruction and renovation of the world.” We learn from Plutarch, that this was the theme of one of the hymns of Orpheus, so celebrated in the fabulous ages of Greece. It was brought by him from the banks of the Nile; and we even find in his verses, as in the Indian systems, a definite period assigned for the duration of each successive world.t The returns of great catastrophes were determined by the period of the Annus Magnus, or great year, a cycle composed of the revolutions of the sun, moon, and planets, and terminating when these return together to the same sign whence they were supposed at some remote epoch to have set out. The duration of this great cycle was variously estimated. According to Orpheus, it was 120,000 years; according to others, 300,000; and by Cassander it was taken to be 360,000 years.f We learn particularly from the Timaeus of Plato, that the Egyptians believed the world to be subject to occasional conflagrations and deluges, whereby the gods arrested the career of human wickedness, and purified the earth from guilt. After each regeneration, mankind were in a state of virtue and happiness, from which they gradually degenerated again into vice and immorality. From this Egyptian doctrine, the poets derived the fable of the decline from the golden to the iron age. The sect of Stoics adopted most fully the system of catastrophes destined at certain intervals to destroy the world. These they taught were of two kinds:— the Cataclysm, or destruction by deluge, which sweeps away the whole human race, and annihilates all the animal and vegetable productions of nature; and the Ecpyrosis, or conflagration, which dissolves the globe itself. From the Egyptians also they derived the doctrine of the gradual debasement of man from a state of innocence. Towards the termination of each era the gods could no longer bear with the wickedness of men, and a shock of the elements or a deluge overwhelmed them; after which calamity Astrea again descended on the earth, to renew the golden age.; The connection between the doctrine of successive catastrophes and repeated deteriorations in the moral character of the human race, is more intimate and natural than might at first be imagined. For, in a rude state of society, all great calamities are regarded by the people as judgments of God on the wickedness of man. Thus in our own time, the priests persuaded a large part of the population of Chili, and perhaps believed themselves, that the fatal earthquake of 1822 was a sign of the wrath of Heaven for the great political revolution just then consummated in South America. In like manner, in the account given to Solon by the Egyptian priests, of the submersion of the island of Atlantis under the waters of the ocean, after repeated shocks of an earthquake, we find that the event happened when Jupiter had seen the moral depravity of the inhabitants.” Now, when the notion had once gained ground, whether from causes before suggested or not, that the earth had been destroyed by several general catastrophes, it would next be inferred that the human race had been as often destroyed and renovated. And since every extermination was assumed to be penal, it could only be reconciled with divine justice, by the supposition that man, at each successive creation, was regenerated in a state of purity and innocence. A very large portion of Asia, inhabited by the earliest nations whose traditions have come down to us, has been always subject to tremendous earthquakes. Of the geographical boundaries of these, and their effects, I shall speak in the proper place. Egypt has, for the most part, been exempt from this scourge, and the tradition of catastrophes in that country was perhaps derived from the East. One extraordinary fiction of the Egyptian mythology was the supposed intervention of a masculo-seminine principle, to which was assigned the development of the embryo world, somewhat in the way of incubation. For the doctrine was, that when the first chaotic mass had been produced, in the form of an egg, by a self-dependent and eternal Being, it required the mysterious functions of this masculo-feminine artificer to reduce the component elements into organized forms. Although it is scarcely possible to recall to mind this conceit without smiling, it does not seem to differ essentially in principle from some cosmological notions of men of great genius and science in modern Europe. The Egyptian philosophers ventured on the perilous task of seeking from among the processes now going on, something analogous to the mode of operation employed by the Author of Nature in the first creation of organized beings, and they compared it to that which governs the birth of new individuals by generation. To suppose that some general rules might be observed in the first origin of created beings, or the first introduction of new species into our system, was not absurd, nor inconsistent with any thing known to us in the economy of the universe. But the hypothesis, that there was any analogy between such laws and those employed in the continual reproduction of species, was purely gratuitous
* Prichard's Egypt. Mythol. p. 177.
f Plut. de Defectu Oraculorum, cap. 12. Censorinus de Die Natali. See also Prichard's Egypt. Mythol. p. 182.
; Prichard's Egypt. Mythol. p. 182. § Ibid. p. 193.
In like manner, it is not unreasonable, nor derogatory to the attributes of Omnipotence, to imagine that some general laws may be observed in the creation of new worlds; and if man could witness the birth of such worlds, he might reason by induction upon the origin of his own. But in the absence of such data, an attempt has been made to fancy some analogy between the agents now employed to destroy, renovate, and perpetually vary the earth's surface, and those whereby the first chaotic mass was formed, and brought by supposed nascent energy from the embryo to the habitable state. By how many shades the elaborate systems, constructed on these principles, may differ from the mysteries of the “Mundane Egg” of Egyptian fable, I shall not inquire. It would, perhaps, be dangerous ground; and some of our contemporaries might not sit as patiently as the Athenian audience, when the fiction of the chaotic egg, engrasted by Orpheus upon their own mythology, was turned into ridicule by Aristophanes. That comedian introduced his birds singing, in a solemn hymn, “How sable-plumaged Night conceived in the boundless bosom of Erebus, and laid an egg, from which, in the revolution of ages, sprung Love, resplendent with golden pinions. Love fecundated the dark-winged chaos, and gave origin to the race of birds.” Pythagorean Doctrines.—Pythagoras, who resided for more than twenty years in Egypt, and, according to Cicero, had visited the East, and conversed with the Persian philosophers, introduced into his own country, on his return, the doctrine of the gradual deterioration of the human race from an original state of virtue and happiness: but if we are to judge of his theory concerning the destruction and renovation of the earth from the sketch given by Ovid, we must concede it to have been far more philosophical than any known version of the cosmologies of oriental or Egyptian sects. Although Pythagoras is introduced by the poet as delivering his doctrine in person, some of the illustrations are derived from natural events which happened after the death of the philosopher. But notwithstanding these anachronisms, we may regard the account as a true picture of the tenets of the Pythagorean school in the Augustan age ; and although perhaps partially modified, it must have contained the substance of the original scheme. Thus considered, it is extremely curious and instructive ; for we here find a comprehensive and masterly summary of almost all the great causes of change now in activity on the globe, and these adduced in confirmation of a principle of perpetual and gradual revolution inherent in the nature of our terrestrial system. These doctrines, it is true, are not directly applied to the explanation of geological phenomena; or, in other words, no attempt is made to estimate what may have been in past ages, or what may hereafter be, the aggregate amount of change brought about by such never-ending fluctuations. Had this been the case, we might have been called upon to admire so extraordinary an anticipation with no less interest than astronomers, when they endeavour to divine by what means the Samian philosopher came to the knowledge of the Copernican system. Let us now examine the celebrated passages to which we have been adverting:* “Nothing perishes in this world; but things merely vary and change their form. To be born, means simply that a thing begins to be something different from what it was before ; and dying, is ceasing to be the same thing. Yet, although nothing retains long the same image, the sum of the whole remains constant.” These general propositions are then confirmed by a series of examples, all derived from natural appearances, except the first, which refers to the golden age giving place to the age of iron. The illustrations are thus consecutively adduced. 1. Solid land has been converted into sea. 2. Sea has been changed into land. Marine shells lie sar distant from the deep, and the anchor has been sound on the summit of hills. 3. Valleys have been excavated by running water, and floods have washed down hills into the sea.f 4. Marshes have become dry ground. 5. Dry lands have been changed into stagnant pools. 6. During earthquakes some springs have been closed up, and new ones have broken out. Itivers have deserted their channels, and have been reborn elsewhere ; as the Erasinus in Greece, and Mysus in Asia. 7. The waters of some rivers, formerly sweet, have become bitter, as those of the Anigris in Greece, &c.1 8. Islands have become connected with the main land, by the growth of deltas and new deposits, as in the case of Antissa joined to Lesbos, Pharos to Egypt, &c. 9. Peninsulas have been divided from the main land, and have become islands, as Leucadia; and according to tradition Sicily, the sea having carried away the isthmus. 10. Land has been submerged by earthquakes: the Grecian cities of Helice and Buris, for example, are to be seen under the sea, with their walls inclined.
* Aristophanes, Birds, 694.
* Ovid's Metamor. lib. 15.
f Eluvie mons est deductus in aequor, v. 267. The meaning of this last verse is somewhat obscure, but, taken with the context, may be supposed to allude to the abrading power of floods, torrents, and rivers.
: The impregnation from new mineral springs, caused by earthquakes in volcanic countries, is, perhaps, here alluded to.