Think, then, how much we owe to these plants which lived and died so long ago! If they had been able to reason, perhaps they might have said that they did not seem of much use in the world. They had no pretty flowers, and there was no one to admire their beautiful green foliage except a few croaking reptiles, and little crickets and grasshoppers; and they lived and died all on one spot, generation after generation, without seeming to do much good to anything or anybody. Then they were covered up and put out of sight, and down in the dark earth they were pressed all out of shape and lost their beauty and became only black, hard coal. There they lay for centuries and centuries, and thousands and thousands of years, and still no one seemed to want them.
At last, one day, long, long after man had been living on the earth, and had been burning wood for fires, and so gradually using up the trees in the forests, it was discovered that this black stone would burn, and from that time coal has been becoming every day more and more useful. Without it not only should we have been without warmth in our houses, or light in our streets when the stock of forest-wood was used up; but we could never have melted large quantities of iron-stone and extracted the iron. We have proof of this in Sussex. The whole country is full of iron-stone, and the railings of St. Paul’s churchyard are made of Sussex iron. Iron-foundries were at work there as long as there was wood enough to supply them, but gradually the works fell into disuse, and the last furnace was put out in the year 1809. So now, because there is no coal in Sussex, the iron lies idle, while in the North, where the iron-stone is near the coal-mines, hundreds of tons are melted out every day.
Again, without coal we could have had no engines of any kind, and consequently no large manufactories of cotton goods, linen goods, or cutlery. In fact, almost everything we use could only have been made with difficulty and in small quantities; and even if we could have made them it would have been impossible to have sent them so quickly all over the world without coal, for we could have had no railways or steamships, but must have carried all goods along canals, and by slow sailing vessels. We ourselves must have taken days to perform journeys now made in a few hours, and months to reach our colonies.
In consequence of this we should have remained a very poor people. Without manufactories and industries we should have had to live chiefly by tilling the ground, and everyone being obliged to toil for daily bread, there would have been much less time or opportunity for anyone to study science, or literature, or history, or to provide themselves with comforts and refinements of life.