Slike stranica

Completely unlike the groups thus far considered, are the isolated mountain systems, with uniform slopes on all sides, and with a roof-like form, distinguishable to the base. The mountains of Europe are mostly of this class -the Ural, Carpathian, Scandinavian ranges, the Alps, Apennines, and, in part, the Pyrenees. They give rise to rivers, not on one side alone, as do the Himalayas and the Andes; they are rich in resources of all kinds for the student and the economist, and thus make up in part for their comparatively unimportant dimensions. Their double-sideness gives them a large influence on civilization, since rivers flow from them in all directions; while from the Himalayas they only flow to the south, and from the Andes to the east.

Plateaus and mountains, different as they are in appearance and characteristics, yet constitute, in their mutual action and reaction, and in their forms of transition from the one to the other, the highland system of the globe. Their relations are inexhaustible as Nature herself. We cannot study them without profit; but we can never come to a perfect knowledge of them all.

The Relations of Plateau Systems.

Like mountain systems, plateaus are not to be estimated in respect to elevated and superficial area alone, but in respect to form and position as well.

The American plateaus are elongated from north to south, but are of disproportionate breadth from east to west. The Asiatic plateaus, on the contrary, are not only of great length, but also of great breadth. The Spanish plateau, that of the Atlas system, and that of Asia Minor have their length and breadth nearly equal.

The surface of plateaus is exceedingly varied. It some

times assumes the aspect of elevated plains, sometimes of rolling land, sometimes of horizontal strata of naked rock, as in Patagonia and the western Sahara. In one place it displays sand-hills, as in parts of the Gobi Desert; in others barren steppes, as in portions of Persia. Sometimes we find a gradual ascent of minor plateaus or terraces; sometimes single mountains rising out of the pla teaus, as does Demavend; sometimes we find a chain of colossal peaks emerging from the heart of a plateau, like Thian-Shan and Bogdo-Oola. Sometimes there are plateaus broken up into crags and patches of level ground, like Persia; sometimes plateaus with deep valleys or river basins, like the plateau of Yoorkistan and Gobi, including the River Tarim, and reaching its greatest depression at Lake Lop, or, like the plateau of Afghanistan, including the River Hirmend and Lake Zareh; again, we have plateaus traversed by water-courses which forced their way in times of flood, and leave in the rainless seasons the traces of the former violence. Such are some of the less elevated plateaus of France and Bavaria.

Especially important are the combinations and groupings of plateaus, as well as their relation to adjacent lowlands.

In Africa the plateau form embraces the larger southern half of the continent. Low plains are, on the contrary, the prevailing form in the north, broken, however, by the Sahara, and the high coast plateaus of the Atlas range, and of Barca.

In Asia there is a vast central plateau with gradual declivities toward the east, toward Yoorkistan and Persia on the west, and toward Lakes Baikal and Zaisan on the north. On the south the descent is abrupt to the Indian lowlands.

In Europe there are, for the most part, scattered and disconnected plateaus of small size and little elevation, often passing by an imperceptible gradation to the other forms. The Spanish plateau is, however, a marked exception, and has the sharply-defined character of the northern African plateaus. In eastern Europe the central situation of the isolated Valdai plateau, whose elevation is very moderate, but 840 to 1080 feet, is remarkable, and is of very great influence in determining the hydrographical character of the great Russian lowlands. And in fact, he hydrographical influence of both mountains and plateaus is so great, that it is worthy of careful and special study.

The combinating and grouping of plateaus in different continents give rise to great contrasts, observable most distinctly in Asia and America.

Asia, with all its great internal depression from Cashgar to Lake Lop, yet displays such immense districts of plateaus, all ranges of elevation, low, moderate, and very great, that the very grandeur and extent of its colossal mountain chains are subordinate in comparison. Asia is the land pre-eminently of plateaus.

America displays, not in its central but on its western coast, the greatest chain of mountains on the globe, flanked by plateaus of great elevation, but of superficial area quite out of proportion to the length of the mountain. chain, and to the extent of the lowlands of both the northern and the southern divisions. And while in Africa the regions of depression are in the north, and in Asia around the great central plateau system, in the Americas, both North and South, they are thrown into the eastern portion.

Australia, in perfect contrast again, is, with the excep

tion of its southeastern corner, a vast tract of unbroken lowland. No diversity is possible there, no change in the condition of life, but a ceaseless uniformity of monotonous but prodigal gifts.

Is not the imposing grandeur of these harmonious, provisional arrangements for the use of man calculated to fill the soul with admiring wonder, and to lead us to suspect, above all this display of cause and effect, above all this working out of a manifestly preconceived plan, the exist ence of a great and active BEING, who has planned and executed it all with higher ends and a loftier purpose than to satisfy the mere earthly life of man?

Primeval Formation of Plateaus and Mountains.

To enter upon a discussion of the manner in which plateaus and mountains were formed, would make it necessary to resort to such judgments as we could draw from their external appearance and their internal structure. The rapid progress of geology does indeed afford us many probabilities thoroughly grounded. A few of these may have been briefly indicated in connection with some elevated regions, where the massiveness is striking, and where the axis of elevation is prolonged to a considerable extent. In such cases the influence exerted on the world is more evident than it could be elsewhere.

Origin of Plateaus.

Alexander von Humboldt has employed the term Intumescence, to indicate the manner in which plateaus have been upheaved. Plateaus appear as long, often wide, mostly level, sometimes rolling, sometimes hilly elevations, presenting an appearance as if the earth had swelled with confined gases, and with depressions here and there as if,

in the casting of the molten mass within, a natural external subsidence had followed. They have, therefore, viewed in their internal structure, an unbroken wholeness, and are free from those vast fissures which characterize mountains, rending the earth for hundreds of feet down. The utmost want of uniformity is seen in the gradual depressions which often harbor the large internal lakes found in great plateaus. Varied as they are in configuration, they always retain marks enough to indicate that they owe their upheaval to steady, gentle, and not tumultuous forces within, exerted at the time of the primeval cooling of the earth's crust; in contrast, therefore, with mountains, which were thrust up from beneath, through huge seams made by the bursting through of pent-up vapor and gases. These elevations of the earth's crust, whether in the form of mountain or plateau, must correspond, in order that the symmetry of the globe may be preserved, to the depressions found in lowlands and beneath the water of oceans and


It is observable that the great plateau upheaval of the Old World has taken the shape of a belt, which runs in a northeasterly direction along its whole southeastern shore, crossing the equator at an angle of 45°, broken, however, at some places, but never so much as to destroy the coherence of the belt. The diagonal of the rhomboidal plateau of eastern Asia, passing due northeast through the tableland of Thibet, indicates the direction of the whole band of highlands. This band drops toward the south in uniformly steep declivities; while toward the north it falls away with gradual steps of transition, reaching at length the regions of the greatest depression-Libya, northern Arabia, the Caspian, Siberia, and, at last, the low regions around the north pole

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