3 APRIL 1847, Page 15


THE object of this work is to present a succinct view of the history of the earth, so far as geology is as yet able to determine it ; to exhibit some of the more remarkable creatures that had a local habitation in the world during bygone ages ; and to endeavour to present a sketch of the earth as it appeared at the close of each great epoch, with some of the most singular creatures that inhabited it. Professor Ansted compares his undertaking to the late successful attempts to describe the manners, &c. of the ancient Egyptians and Etruscans, from the remains of' their paintings and monu- ments. The analogy is perfect as far as the absence of written records is concerned : but the remains of ancient art present us with entire exam- ples so far as they go,—though, except a few curiosities, they are only representatives or counterfeit presentments of things ; the geological fossils are the reality itself, but mostly fragmentary, always incom- plete. Induction in both cases is the main element of the work. In the case of Egypt or Etruria, however, the inference is so far obvious that common intelligence apprehends it as soon as it is pointed out. The conclusions of geology require a greater knowledge to understand the premises, a larger apprehension to follow the deductions. Like the truths of astronomy, fossil geology mast be taken upon trust by the world at large; though its inferences exhibit some of the nicest examples of knowledge and ingenuity that are to be found in science.

As Mr. Ansted is addressing readers who may be ignorant of geology,

he assumes geological facts for truths, without attempting to prove them, except in a few preliminary explanations or an occasional remark. His main purpose is to attract by displaying the striking facts and deduc- tions of geology marshalled in chronological order. For this purpose, the Professor's general plan is very good. Following the usual division of the ancient, the middle, and the modern epochs, with their several subdi- visions, he exhibits the more distinct strata and their contents, in the received order of their time. As the strata of Europe, and Great Britain especially, have been examined with most care, they naturally occupy the largest share of the author's attention ; and the history of what may truly be called Old England is displayed at large. Asia and South America are also surveyed, but more summarily, and perhaps for that reason more effectively.

As a compact and continuous exhibition of the history of the globe, a

view of the gradual order of creation in animal life, and an account of the different genera, with their most striking families, Ilse Ancient World is entitled to great praise. It will also be found useful as a popu- lar and " picturesque " introduction to geology ; furnishing the outlines of the science with distinctness, as well as its large masses and strikiug de- tails. As a book of merely popular reading, it is perhaps a little overdone. The broad survey of the ancient state of South America and Asia—the different sketches of the probable appearance of Europe, and the ancient Atalantis, submerged, it would seem, since the existence of man—the general pictures, or, in artist phrase, "compositions," of the different periods which Mr. Ansted exhibits, and the "restorations" of the more wonderful monsters of the ancient world—are all attractive. The smaller tribes are exhibited at rather too great length ; and being often substan- tially repetitions, they become somewhat fatiguing for continuous read- ing. However curious or wonderful the lesser creatures may be, both for their own economy and their reference to existing species, they are rather special than general, and required a more rapid treatment for popular purposes. As parts fitted for independent reading, the most effective sections of Mr. Ansted's volume are those which attempt to revive the appearance of the ancient world and show its inhabitants in action. They require, indeed, more space than we can devote to them ; but we will take some passages from the survey of the period of the Liu, that strike us as exhibiting a happy combination of knowledge and imagination.. "If we wish to pass in review the various groups most characteristic of this singular period, concerning whose natural history we have so many and such distinct facts recorded, we must imagine a wide tract of open sea, into which a quantity of fine sediment of calcareous mud was in some way earned and depo-

sited. From the distant land whence this mud was washed came also occa- sionally trunks of trees conveyed by marine or river currents. Attached to them, and also occasionally fastened to sea-weeds or other floating bodies, would appear in large clusters, (like the bunches of barnacles sometimes suspended from a ship's bottom,) the singular pentacrinites, their long stony column fringed thickly with branches of articulated stone, with a stony coat of mail surrounding the pouch or stomach, and a similar but more delicate defence covering the extensile i proboscis. With innumerable arms widely extended in a complicated fringe, this strange mass of living atone expanded itself, and drewswithin its cold embrace the floating bodies on which it fed. One might fancy that some marine Briarens, looking on the strife and carnage of this great reptilian period, whose horrors might well have had the fabled effect attributed to the snakes of Medusa's head, had suddenly become petrified; ; retaining, however, its vital powers, and, with its com- plicated skeleton, continuing to perform its office by cleansing the sea of an accu-

mulation of decaying animal matter. • • " But these shoals were alive with myriads of invertebrated animals; and crowds of sharks hovered about, feeding upon the larger forms. There were also nume- rous other animals, belonging to those remarkable groups which I have attempted to describe in some detaiL Imagine, then, one of these monstrous animals, a ple- siosaurus, some sixteen or twenty feet long, with a small wedge-shaped croco- dilian bead, a long arched serpent-like neck, a short compact body, provided with four large and powerful paddles, almost developed into hands; an animal not covered with brilliant scales, gut with a black slimy skin. Imagine for a mo- ment, this creature slowly emerging from the muddy banks, and half walking, half creeping along, making its way towards the nearest water. Arrived at the water, we can understand from its structure that it was likely to exhibit greater energy. Unlike the crocodile tribe, however, in all its proportions, it must have been equally dissimilar in habit. Perhaps, Instead of concealing itself in mud or among rushes, it would swim at once boldly and directly to the attack. Its enor- mous neck stretched out to its full length, and its tad acting as a rudder, the powerful and frequent strokes of its four large paddles would at once give it an impulse, sending it through the water at a very rapid rate. When within reach of its prey, we may almost fancy that we see it drawing back its long neck as it depressed as body in the water, until the strength of the muscular apparatus with which this neck was provided, and the great additional impetus given by the rapid advance of the animal, would combine to produce a stroke from the pointed head which few living animals could resist- The fishes, including per- haps even the sharks, the larger cuttle-fish, and innumerable inhabitants of the sea, would fall an easy prey to this monster. "But now let us see what goes on in the deeper abysses of the ocean, where a free space is given for the operations of that fiercely carnivorous marine reptile the ichthyosaurus. Prowling about at a great depth, where the reptilian struc- ture of its lungs and the bony apparatus of the ribs would allow it to remain for a long time without coming to the air to breathe, we may fancy we see this strange animal, with its enormous eyes directed upwards, and glaring like globes of fire; its length is some thirty or forty feet, its head being six or eight feet long; and it has paddles and a tail like a shark; its whole energies are fixed on what is going on above, where the plesiosaurus or some giant shark is seen devouring its prey. Suddenly, striking with its short but compact paddles, and obtaining a powerful impetus by flapping its large tail, the monster darts through the water at a rate which the eye can scarcely follow towards the surface. The vast jaws, lined with formidable rows of teeth, soon open wide to their fall extent; the object of attack is approached—is overtaken. With a motion quicker than thought, the jaws are snapped together, and the work is done. The monster, be- coming gorged, floats languidly near the surface, with a portion of the top of its bead and its nostrils visible, like an island covered with black mud above the water."

Though, we think, only once mentioning the work, Professor Ansted frequently alludes to the theory of development put forward in the Fes- tigee of the Natural History of Creation, with a view of combating its conclusions. The following passage may have been suggested to meet a heresy of the unknown author who has been frightening the scientific world from its propriety. At least, we see in the sixth edition of the Vestiges, an argument as to the necessity, under a general law, of animals destroying each other, but seeming to treat it as an " evil " in the case of an actively interfering Providence ; whereas Mr. Ansted repre-

sents violent death as the euthanasia of animals.

" Such scenes of horror and carnage, enacted at former periods of the earth's history, may perhaps induce some of my readers to question the wisdom that per- mitted, nay enacted them, and conclude rashly that they are opposed to the ideas we are encoaraged to form of the goodness of that Being, the necessary action of whose laws, enforced on all living beings, gives rise to them. By no means, how- ever, is this the case. These very results are perfectly compatible with the greatest wisdom and goodness • and, even according to our views of the course of nature, they may be ;hewn not to involve any needless suffering. To us men, constituted as we are, and looking upon death as a punishment which must be endured, premature and violent destruction seems to involve unnecessary pain. But such is not the law of nature as it relates to animal life in general. The very exuberance and abundance of life is at once obtained and kept within proper bounds by this rapacity of some great tribes. A lingering death—a natural de- cay of those powers which alone enable the animal to enjoy life—would, on the contrary, be a most miserable arrangement for beings not endowed with reason, and not assisting each other. It would be cruelty, because it would involve great and hopeless suffering. Death by violence is to all unreasoning animals the easiest death, for it is the most instantaneous; and therefore, no doubt, it has been or- dained that throughout large classes there should be an almost indefinite rate of increase, accompanied by destruction rapid and complete in a corresponding de- gree, since in this way only the greatest amount of happiness is insured, and the pain and misery of slow decay of the vital powers prevented. All nature, both living and extinct, abounds with facts proving the truth of this view; and it would be as unreasonable to doubt the wisdom and goodness of this arrangement, as it would be to call in question the mutual adaptation of each part in the great scheme of creation."

The volume abounds in wood-cuts, exhibiting the appearance of the fossils described, either as they are found, or the creatures as " restored." The binding is also of a quaint and peculiar kind, both in pattern and colours,—almost fit for a library of " the ancient world," had there been any readers.