These tales are, in short, as devoid of actual foundation as are the modern beliefs in the venomous properties of the toad, or the ancient beliefs in the occult and mystic powers of various parts of its frame when used in incantations. Shakespeare, whilst attributing to the toad venomous qualities, has yet immortalized it in his famous simile by crediting it with the possession of a “precious jewel.” But even in the latter case the animal gets but scant justice; for science strips it of its poetical reputation, and in this, as in other respects, shows it, despite fable and myth, to be zooelogically an interesting, but otherwise a commonplace member of the animal series.
A LECTURE TO WORKING MEN.
(Delivered in England.)
BY T.H. HUXLEY.
[Illustration: A CHALK CLIFF.]
If a well were to be sunk at our feet in the midst of the city of Norwich, the diggers would very soon find themselves at work in that white substance almost too soft to be called rock, with which we are all familiar as “chalk.”
Not only here, but over the whole county of Norfolk, the well-sinker might carry his shaft down many hundred feet without coming to the end of the chalk; and, on the sea-coast, where the waves have pared away the face of the land which breasts them, the scarped faces of the high cliffs are often wholly formed of the same material. Northward, the chalk may be followed as far as Yorkshire; on the south coast it appears abruptly in the picturesque western bays of Dorset, and breaks into the Needles of the Isle of Wight; while on the shores of Kent it supplies that long line of white cliffs to which England owes her name of Albion.
Were the thin soil which covers it all washed away, a curved band of white chalk, here broader, and there narrower, might be followed diagonally across England from Lulworth in Dorset, to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire—a distance of over two hundred and eighty miles as the crow flies.
From this band to the North Sea, on the east, and the Channel, on the south, the chalk is largely hidden by other deposits; but, except in the Weald of Kent and Sussex, it enters into the very foundation of all the south-eastern counties.
Attaining, as it does in some places, a thickness of more than a thousand feet, the English chalk must be admitted to be a mass of considerable magnitude. Nevertheless, it covers but an insignificant portion of the whole area occupied by the chalk formation of the globe, which has precisely the same general character as ours, and is found in detached patches, some less, and others more extensive, than the English.
Chalk occurs in north-west Ireland; it stretches over a large part of France—the chalk which underlies Paris being, in fact, a continuation of that of the London basin; it runs through Denmark and Central Europe, and extends southward to North Africa; while eastward, it appears in the Crimea and in Syria, and may be traced as far as the shores of the Sea of Aral, in Central Asia.