Young Folks' Library: Wonders of Earth, Sea and Sky HTML version

The Marvels Of Nature
The Earth, the Sea, the Sky, and their wonders—these are the themes of this volume. The
volume is so small, and the theme so vast! Men have lived on the earth for hundreds of
the sands of years; and its wonders have increased, not diminished, with their experience.
To our barbarous ancestors of centuries ago, all was mystery—the thunder, the rainbow,
the growing corn, the ocean, the stars. Gradually and by slow steps they learned to house
themselves in trees, in caves, in huts, in houses; to find a sure supply of food; to provide a
stock of serviceable clothing. The arts of life were born; tools were invented; the
priceless boon of fire was received; tribes and clans united for defence; some measure of
security and comfort was attained.
With security and comfort came leisure; and the mind of early Man began curiously to
inquire the meaning of the mysteries with which he was surrounded. That curious inquiry
was the birth of Science. Art was born when some far-away ancestor, in an idle hour, [pg xi v]
scratched on a bone the drawing of two of his reindeer fighting, or carved on the walls of
his cave the image of the mammoth that he had but lately slain with his spear and arrows.
In a mind that is completely ignorant there is no wonder. Wonder is the child of
knowledge—of partial and imperfect knowledge, to be sure, but still, of knowledge. The
very first step in Science is to make an inventory of external Nature (and by and by of the
faculties of the mind that thinks). The second step is to catalogue similar appearances
together. It is a much higher flight to seek the causes of likenesses thus discovered.
A few of the chapters of this volume are items in a mere catalogue of wonders, and
deserve their place by accurate and eloquent description. Most of them, however,
represent higher stages of insight. In the latter, Nature is viewed not only with the eye of
the observer, but also with the mind's eye, curious to discover the reasons for things seen.
The most penetrating inward inquiry accompanies the acutest external observation in
such chapters as those of Darwin and Huxley, here reprinted.
Now, the point not to be overlooked is this: to Darwin and Huxley, as to their remote and
uncultured ancestors, the World—the Earth, the Sea, the Sky—is full of wonders and of
mysteries, but the wonders are of a higher order. The problems of the thunder [pg xv] and of the
rainbow as they presented themselves to the men of a thousand generations ago, have
been fully solved: but the questions; what is the veritable nature of electricity, exactly
how does it differ from light, are still unanswered. And what are simple problems like
these to the questions: what is love; why do we feel a sympathy with this person, an
antipathy for that; and others of the sort? Science has made almost infinite advances since
pre-historic man first felt the feeble current of intellectual curiosity amid his awe of the
storm; it has still to grow almost infinitely before anything like a complete explanation
even of external Nature is achieved.
Suppose that, at some future day, all physical and mechanical laws should be found to be
direct consequences of a single majestic law, just as all the motions of the planets are
(but—are they?) the direct results of the single law of gravitation. Gravitation will,
probably, soon be explained in terms of some remoter cause, but the reason of that single
and ultimate law of the universe which we have imagined would still remain unknown.