Slike stranica

mote districts on the oceanic side of the globe has advanced with unprecedented rapidity. The course of development has been very different from what it was formerly. Distances, natural influences, natural productions even, yield always to the victorious march of man, and disappear before his tread; or, in other words, the human race is more and more freed from the forces of nature; man is more and more disenthralled from the dominion of the earth which he inhabits. The history of specific districts and of entire continents confirms this.

The first inhabitant of the sandy valley of the Nile was a dweller in a waste, as the nomadic Arab is to-day. But the later and more cultivated Egyptians transformed that waste, through the agency of irrigation and canals, into the most fruitful garden of the world. They not only rose themselves, but raised their own country, hitherto so sterile, into a place of the first importance, and did it by the simplest of means, the bringing the water and the land into more intimate relations. Through neglect and the tyranny of successive kings, the fruitful valley sank again into its waste condition. The district around Thebes became a desert, the fruitful Mareotis a swamp; similar phenomena occurred in many parts of Europe and Asia.

Another example of man's subjugation of nature is found in great mountain chains. During the first centuries after Christ, the cultivated south of Europe was separated from the uncultivated Celtic and Teutonic north by a great natural barrier, the unbroken, untraversed Alpine chain, which passed through all central Europe from west to east. At the south lay the rich states of the old world, beyond the Alps was the cold and barren north. But this old formidable barrier has vanished, as the thronged cantons of Switzerland and the crowded villages of the Tyrol

yearly bear witness; and they draw thousands of tourists instead of repelling them. What a mighty change! From Provence to Styria run the stately forms of the Alpine chain; but the deep recesses and the lofty highlands are thickly peopled, the forests are thinned, the obstructing rocks removed. No longer a barrier between the north and the south, as it was in the time of Julius and Augustus Cæsar, Switzerland has become a country of stupendous highways. The peaks which were once unapproachable, and around which merely eagles idly flew, are now the passes of Mount Cenis, the Simplon, Saint Gothard, the Splügen, and Saint Bernard; while the snowy heights of Ortler, in eastern Alps, now give place to a public road. Over the Semmering Alp a railway even passes. Just as the wild horse of Toorkistan has given up his freedom and has become the tame and useful servant of civilization, so this Alpine segment of the globe has changed all its relations to the adjacent countries. The influence of the most stupendous natural objects is weakened every year. The physical dimensions may and do remain unchanged, but their influence on life and on history is undermined by those new conditions which operate so powerfully in freeing man from the dominion of nature. The power of man makes him master of the earth, and gives even the key to the subjection of the grandest mountain chains into his hands.

In further illustration of this, take the Ural chain, which was and still is the eastern division line of one continent, and the western barrier of another, but which has become, since the days of Peter the Great, a grand center of labor and commerce, a great avenue of civilization in its return passage from Europe to Asia. And so everywhere, from the wild Caucasus and the Himalayas to the grand Cor

dilleras of America, the same progress is seen; man becomes more and more the conqueror over nature. And not in mountains alone, but in the great forest regions of central Europe, in the primitive wilderness of North America, and in the marshes of the Netherlands, does man vanquish the forces which once fettered him. The once fearful wastes of Sahara have become the track of caravans; the sterile plains of Australia and California have drawn great colonies to their gold mines; the ice seas at the north have become, through the efforts of Parry, Franklin, and others, the scene of heroic exploits and of grand struggles of man with nature; indeed, the greatest victories of modern civilization have been there, and the playgrounds of polar bears and walruses have witnessed. the noblest humanities, and the loftiest courage, and the most disinterested heroism of the age.

The continents and oceans have witnessed still greater transformations. The seas were once the impassable bar

riers of nations.

The birds of the air only traversed the great distances which separated shore from shore. The metallic stores of the earth, the vegetable and animal kingdoms were not transferred to any extent from place to place; the sea brought nothing from lands remotely foreign but drift-sand, cocoa-nuts, floating wood, ice masses, and seaweed, swept by the great currents from shore to shore. But now the seas are no barriers; they do not separate the continents but bind them together, and unite the destinies of nations in the closest manner. The great improvements in ocean navigation have entirely changed the relations of the entire globe. The isolated island of St. Helena, which was for centuries at the very confines of the known world, became, within the second decade of the present century, a prison-house for the great Europear


robber, and lay guarded under the eye of Europe. The Cape of Good Hope, which was for centuries the limit of Portuguese navigation, has become a mere halting-place for sailing ships and steamers. The voyage from England to China has been narrowed, within one hundred years, from an eight months' to a four months' sail. These great changes have been mainly effected by the agency of steam. Steam has transformed the smaller seas into mere bridges, and England and France are securely joined, Marseilles and Algiers; while Prussian Stettin is brought into proximity with Swedish Stockholm and Russian Petersburg. The voyage to America, that remote land, which before the days of Columbus was as inaccessible as the moon, was made by him in seventy days, but is now accomplished in ten. Even Australia cannot be said to be distant; a steamer needs but seventy-five days to reach it, and ten of those are consumed on the Isthmus of Suez. No island now lies beyond the world of commerce. The most active traffic exists between places the most remote. The wool and the wheat of Australia control the price of those commodities in London, and the value of cotton in America fixes that of woven goods and even of bread in Europe.

The great rivers too have been curtailed of their relative importance, and have been shortened by steam sixfold. They can be stemmed too, which is an immense gain, for in the primitive stages of navigation they could only be sailed upon downward, from source to mouth. In 1854, four hundred steamers traversed the Mississippi and its branches, and came into contact with a region one-third as large as Europe. The Indus, Ganges, Irrawaddy, Nile, La Plata, and even the Amazon, the monarch of rivers, which drains a country half as large as Europe,

are now more or less open to steam navigation. The great river systems of central Europe too are thoroughly navigated; and Southern Germany, Trebizond, Mayence, Cologne, and London may be grouped as neighbors. The land-locked seas are reduced to insignificance, and their shores are now covered with villages and cities, from the Platten-See of Hungary up to the Caspian and the great lakes of North America.

To sum all up in one word, the mighty influence of Time on the geographical development of the earth is displayed in the clearest manner. But this influence is not the same for all localities on the globe. While there are some people and some places which are left behind, there are others which have made wonderful progress, and have taken and now hold a foremost place. And such a position is that of Europe at the present moment. Europe, the most central of all continents, in relation to the great land-mass of the earth, and also the one most equally removed from the middle point of the great water-mass, touches the whole remaining world at the greatest number of points, and this, in conjunction with her remarkably broken coast-line, so favorable to the purposes of navigation, have given her her place of command, and have assigned to England her evident rôle of mistress of the


And looking from the present to the past, we see that as some great tribes of men have given the whole fruits of their natural existence to the world for its future use, so some places, and those of no insignificant size sometimes, have conferred upon the world, the trust which they once held, and now recede, as it were, from view. They were great in the past, and the results of their greatness are now incorporated in the world's life. The earth is one;

« PrethodnaNastavi »