4 FEBRUARY 1888, Page 19

M. RECLUS ON EARTH AND OCEAN.* WE cannot pretend to

be able to estimate the scientific value of these truly wonderful and delightful volumes. Nor, fortunately, is it necessary to do so. In the scientific world, they are already well-known and valued contributions to the recognised body of scientific authority. But we welcome them in their English dress because, unlike many valuable scientific works, they will be delightful and entertaining reading to all those who, while not pre- tending to anything that can be fairly called scientific knowledge, can appreciate the wonders in common things which science has shown us, and can take an intelligent interest in the mode in which this knowledge has been arrived at. By being translated into English, these books will, we hope, add to the enjoyment of many hundreds of people whom they otherwise could not have reached, and we congratulate Professor Keane on having successfully effected this transformation without spoiling that charm of style which belongs to the original, and is one of the rarest qualities in a scientific work. Professor Keane has attempted to put the general reader in England in the same situation with regard to these books as if they had been originally written for Englishmen ; and though it has not been possible to do this

with absolute success throughout, nor in all cases to translate the names and notes on the maps of which these volumes are

full, yet to as large an extent as any one could expect, the trans- formation has been successfully accomplished. Here and there, it is true, a word may be found which is not acclimatised in England, and which no one skilled in English style would have originally written. But any one who has tried to translate knows that to avoid this is always immensely difficult. We must add, for the benefit of those who have never seen the original volumes, that the illustrations and maps would alone make them most fascinating and valuable, and that in every respect they are beautifully got-up and finished.

There is one quality of M. Reclus which we take to be particularly valuable, and which pervades these volumes. In most scientific books which are meant to be entertaining to less strictly scientific readers, there is an amount of dogmatism which throws even dogmatic theology into the shade. The facts or theories stated may, as in the case of a real man of science writing a popular book, be scientifically correct, or, as in the case of some feather-pated dogmatist writing it, the most gratuitous assumptions. But in either case the reader is left in the greatest darkness as to how the facts or hypotheses were arrived at, and as to how far those facts and hypotheses are well established or only tentative. M. Reclus, on the other hand, gives his readers a great deal of light upon these points, and to any one who has really appreciated the truth that the explanation, even of the physical universe, cannot be enclosed in a neat and logical form between the four covers of two volumes labelled respectively Earth and Ocean, this is not a source of irritation, but a real delight. For instance, we believe that most people reading the article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on the origin of the planetary system, would come to the conclusion that Laplace's hypothesis was a clearly demon- strated fact. M. Reclus gives a very interesting description of this hypothesis, but takes care to add :—

" The human intellect is still compelled to be content with mere hypotheses as to the origin of our own and other planetary globes. All cosmogonies, from the legend of the savage, who imagined that

• (1.) The Earth : a Descriptive History of the Phenomena of the Life of the Globe. By Elia& Hooks. Edited by Professor A. H. Keane. London : J. B. virtue and Co.—(2.) The Ocean, Atmosphere, and Life: a Descriptive History of the Phenomena of the Life of the Globe. By Eliseo Keehn. Edited by Professor A. H. Keane. London : j. S. virtue and Co.

the earth sprang from a sneezing fit of his god, down to the theory of the great Buffon, according to which the planets of the solar system are the fragments launched into space by a collision between a comet and the sun, the vague conjectures of the ancients, and the ideas struck out by modern science, are all alike, mere suppositions, more or less plausible and ingenious."

As we turn through these volumes again, we feel it impossible

to do anything like justice to their interest in the course of an article like the present, even by quotation. If any one wants to know his favourite haunts in Switzerland and the Tyrol from a new and intensely fascinating point of view, he has nothing to do but turn to the chapter on mountains, and the chapter which describes the phenomena of snow. There are, for instance, beautiful plans of the Mer-de-Glace, and of the Veruagt Glaciers in CEtzthal, though we are afraid M. Reclus's book is some- what too heavy to go into the knapsack of the true mountaineer. In several cases, also, figures or plans of the same glaciers are given as they appeared at different dates. Or, turning to the

embankment of rivers, we find a plan of the shifting beds of the Hoang-Ho since A.D. 1651, with a note of a tradition that

200,000 people were drowned by the cutting of its banks during a civil war, a tradition which has become more credible than M. Reeks has allowed, since the recent terrible disaster. Or, again, the comparison between the upheaval of Scandinavia, Scotland, and Wales is all the more valuable in England because so many readers will have in their mind practical illustrations gained by a knowledge of the scenery of at least two of these countries.

We feel we have not done justice to the volume on the Earth, and we have hardly alluded to the volume on the Ocean, which includes the ocean of the air as well as the ocean of water. We can only say that it is quite equal in every respect to the other volume. One quotation (from the end of the volume on the Earth) will serve as some indication both of M. Reclus's style, the success of the translator, and the rare tone of these books :-

"In the universe, everything is changing and everything is in motion, for motion itself is the first condition of vitality. The firm ground, long thought to be immovable, is subject to incessant motion ; the very mountains rise or sink ; not only do the winds and ocean currents circulate round the planet, but the continents themselves, with their summits and their valleys, are changing their places, and slowly travelling round the circle of the globe. In order to explain all these geological phenomena, it is no longer necessary to imagine alterations in the earth's axis, ruptures of the solid crust, or gigantic subterranean downfalls. This is not the mode in which Nature generally proceeds ; she is more calm and more regular in her opera- tions, and, chary of her might, brings about changes of the grandest character without even the knowledge of the beings that she nourishes. She npheaves mountains and dries up seas without dis- turbing the flight of the gnat. Some revolution which appears to us to have been produced by a mighty cataclysm, has perhaps taken thousands of years to accomplish. Time is the earth's attribute. Year after year, she leisurely renews her charming drapery of foliage and flowers ; just as during the long lapse of ages, she reconstitutes her seas and her continents, and moves them slowly over her surface."