First-born among the Continents, though so much later in culture and civilization than some of more recent birth, America, so far as her physical history is concerned, has been falsely denominated the New World. Hers was the first dry land lifted out of the waters, hers the first shore washed by the ocean that enveloped all the earth beside; and while Europe was represented only by islands rising here and there above the sea, America already stretched an unbroken line of land from Nova Scotia to the Far West.
In the present state of our knowledge, our conclusions respecting the beginning of the earth’s history, the way in which it took form and shape as a distinct, separate planet, must, of course, be very vague and hypothetical. Yet the progress of science is so rapidly reconstructing the past that we may hope to solve even this problem; and to one who looks upon man’s appearance upon the earth as the crowning work in a succession of creative acts, all of which have had relation to his coming in the end, it will not seem strange that he should at last be allowed to understand a history which was but the introduction to his own existence. It is my belief that not only the future, but the past also, is the inheritance of man, and that we shall yet conquer our lost birthright.
Even now our knowledge carries us far enough to warrant the assertion that there was a time when our earth was in a state of igneous fusion, when no ocean bathed it and no atmosphere surrounded it, when no wind blew over it and no rain fell upon it, but an intense heat held all its materials in solution. In those days the rocks which are now the very bones and sinews of our mother Earth—her granites, her porphyries, her basalts, her syenites—were melted into a liquid mass. As I am writing for the unscientific reader, who may not be familiar with the facts through which these inferences have been reached, I will answer here a question which, were we talking together, he might naturally ask in a somewhat sceptical tone. How do you know that this state of things ever existed, and, supposing that the solid materials of which our earth consists were ever in a liquid condition, what right have you to infer that this condition was caused by the action of heat upon them? I answer, Because it is acting upon them still; because the earth we tread is but a thin crust floating on a liquid sea of molten materials; because the agencies that were at work then are at work now, and the present is the logical sequence of the past. From artesian wells, from mines, from geysers, from hot springs, a mass of facts has been collected, proving incontestably the heated condition of all substances at a certain depth below the earth’s surface; and if we need more positive evidence, we have it in the fiery eruptions that even now bear fearful testimony to the molten ocean seething within the globe and forcing its way but from time to time. The modern progress of