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They are always one of the greatest physical blessings that Providence confers upon the land which they adorn.
The space they occupy varies in different countries, but amounts altogether to a very large aggregate.*
But although the river-courses have been formed by the forcing action of these massive waters, where natural causes would so operate, yet we must consider these as always acting in subordination and conformity to the directing will and purpose, and to the accomplishment of the designs of the general Creator. They are too important in their results to have been left anywhere to chance, and indeed could not be so ; for as they always flow from high ground to lower, they could not be everywhere, unless the surface had been previously so framed as to cause them to take place. If
* The following table has been made of some of the most considerable rivers on the globe, taking the length of the Thames as the fixed ratio of comparison :EUROPE.
Area of Basin
in English miles Thames
420,000 Kangtse, China
760,000 Amour, Ch. Tartary
900,000 I Lena, As. Russia
960,000 Oby... ditto
600,000 Mississippi .
2,177,000 Encyc Brit. s. p. 163.
the earth had been, as some ancient philosophers thought, a flat table, or a hollow dish, it would have been an immense swamp or inundation; but no rivers could have arisen to carry off the congregated waters. For these to be, it was necessary that the surface should be varied into high land and low land; and this variation requires due preceding foresight and adaptation, that it might be in such places, and of such local degrees and continuity, as would suit with the intended habitation, population, intercourse, destinations, insulation and welfare of mankind.
For as to the greater rivers, we may believe, from the magnitude of their effect and utility, that they were specially planned and appointed, and therefore, if natural causes were insufficient to produce their channels, such additional exertions of power as were necessary to cause them, were applied when required.
All these preparations and modifications have been admirably made and adjusted to each other; and from their well-arranged and well-proportioned provisions, earth is that serviceable and pleasing abode for both men and animals, which we find it to be. Such elevations and declivities have been everywhere produced, as would be subservient to this result; and these must have been in the contemplation of the Deity during the diluvian subsidence and deposite, and have been then effectuated by the superintending intelligence and commanding power.*
The effect and uses of the ocean are so intermingled with what the human race are essentially concerned with, that they could not have lived as they have done, if at all, without it. It forms a most important compartment of our
*“As very large rivers, with numerous tributary streams, necessarily occupy the lowest situations in all countries, it follows that their courses have a very small declivity. The surface of the Amazon at Jaen, 3000 miles from the sea, has only an elevation of 194 toises, which gives five inches per mile for the mean fall. In the last two hundred leagues from its course, the inclination is not believed to exceed eleven feet, or 9-10ths of an inch per mile. The GANGES, reckoning its sinuosities, has only a fall of four inches per mile from Hurdwan, where it leaves the Himalaya chain, to the sea. Humboldt thinks the declivity in the lower course of the Mississippi still smaller. The Wolga, from its course to the Caspian Sea, falls about five English inches per mile. The Nile, though it falls from a height of 10,000 feet at its head, according tu Bruce, has a very small inclination in the lower part of its course." -Enc. Brit. Suppl. 164.
terrestrial economy. It separates, and yet unites, mankind. It keeps nations apart from each other, and in mutual ignorance and seclusion, so long as they are to be unknown and unvisited by each other. But it also presents the easiest channel of their communications and intercourse together, as soon as the time arrives in which they are to have mutual dealings and intercourse. By the protracted separation, each is preserved in its distinctness, until grown up into its designed peculiarities; and is caused to remain in them until the diversity is sufficiently formed in body, habits, and in mind. Then when the variety is secured, they are, as the intended period arrives, brought, by a train of directed causes, or influencing incidents, into mutual contact and knowledge.
The ocean is likewise a vast agent in the production of clouds and winds, and all the electrical changes of the atmosphere; for the largest quantity of aqueous evaporation is ever rising from it. It is the home of the great fish world, and the natural bed and soil for all the testaceous genera and coral animals, for the cetaceous tribes, the marine animalculæ, and for classes of vegetation peculiarly its own.
For these innumerable myriads of organized life, it has, therefore, been created, as well as for the agencies and phenomena which it occasions to the inanimate departments of our earth.* Man only traverses it; he would, probably, inhabit it, with a large portion of his multiplying population, if its rolling billows, and currents, and agitating tempests, did not unfit it for any comfortable or permanent
* The following remarks on the ocean are just and intelligent:
"It is the great fountain of those vapours which replenish our lakes and streams, which dispense fertility to the soil, and clothe the surface with luxuriant vegetation. By its salutary action on the atmosphere, it tempers the extremes of opposite seasons and climates. It affords an inexhaustible supply of animal food and of salt, a substance of the utmost value to human life.
“ As the great highway of commerce, it connects the most distant parts of the globe ; and affords the advantages of free and abundant communication to nations, which mountains and deserts seem to have separated from each other. Its shores have been in every age the great seats of civilization: in all the great continents, rudeness and barbarism grow upon us as we advance into the interior. The central regions of Asia and Africa, from their want of inland seas like the Baltic, or navigable rivers like the Amazon, will be the last portion of the habitable globe over which the arts will extend their empire."--Enc. Brit. Suppl. 166.
inhabitation. Some birds of the aquatic kind resort to it for food and pleasure ; and the penguin, so curious for her arranged societies and vast colonial multiplication, is found to use and enjoy it more spaciously than a land bird could have been expected to venture.*
We find also many other species of birds hovering over the seas at considerable distances from land it and we know that the tortoise order navigate them to remote shores for parental purposes. A large species of the serpent class has also been noticed in several parts of it.Q
Facts like these indicate that the ocean has been made for the use and enjoyment of several orders of the animal kingdom, as well as for objects connected with human transactions and improvements; indeed far more for what is important and interesting to the other classes of animated nature, than for our race, though the king of all. It is associated with our convenience; but it is daily fulfilling designs and ends with which we have no immediate con
One grand purpose it is always promoting, and this is, that it kindles irresistibly in every mind which views it, the emotion and sentiment of sublimity ; a feeling of vastness of extent and moving power ; a perception of grandeur, combined with the most attractive beauty, when the sun
* Captain Beechey mentions, in traversing the Southern Ocean, “As we approached Falkland Islands from Rio Janeiro, some PENGUINS were seen upon the water at a distance of 340 miles from the nearest land.” -Voy. i. p. 16. ... Or this singular bird Mr. G. Bennett lately stated to the Zoological Society, that he had found a vast colony" at the north end of Macquarrie Island, in the South Pacific Ocean, which covers an extent of thirty or forty acres. The number of penguins collected on this spot is immense. During the whole of the day and night 30 or 40,000 of them are continnally landing, and as many going to sea. They are arranged, when on shore, in as compact a manner and in as regular ranks as a regiment of soldiers. They are classed with ihe greatest order. The young birds being in one situation; the moulting in another; the sitting hens in a third, and the clean birds in a fourth. So strictly do the birds in a similar condition congregate, that should a bird which is moulting intrude itself among those which are clean, it is immediately ejected from among them. While the female is hatching her eggs, the male bird goes to sea to collect food for her; after the young are hatched, both parents go to sea and brirg home food for them.”
† The presence of birds at sea is usually thought an indication that land is near; but it is not then in sight, and is frequently not reached till after one or two days' farther sailing. I Sac. Hist. vol. i. (Fam. Lib., No. XXXII.) p. 350. Ib. p. 450.
bright calm is adorning its radiant and slumbering waves ; and of terrific majesty and agitating horror, when the storm throws up its waves, and hurls their foaming masses with a resistless fury, as if destruction were acting in a living form, and rushing determinedly to overwhelm us. Nothing more fully impresses man with a conviction of his personal helplessness, and comparative feebleness, when confronted with the forces of surrounding nature ; nor more compels him to feel, that power, infinitely greater than his own, is ever subsisting above and about him, to which he is completely subjected, and against which he is impotent to struggle. He may give this never-dying power what denomination he chooses ; but it forces him, by the ocean tempest, by the aerial whirlwind, and by the appalling thunder, to feel the certainty of its existence, and the tremendous possibilities of its agency. If he be wise, he will recognise it as the herald, and representative, and proclaimer of the Deity himself, and as the sensorial proof that he exists, and reigns, and actuates, and providentially governs ; for the more terrible the agitation of the winds, and waves, and lightning appear, and by their effects prove themselves to be, the more evidence they give to our eysight and judgment, how speedily they would spread ruin and desolation through material nature, and over man's human world, if no superintending and controlling mind watched and limited their agency. The safety of our much-compounded globe, and of ourselves, depends every hour on the judgment and vigilance with which all the active forces of nature are coerced, guided, adjusted, and regulated, so that they never shall operate to produce general evil or universal destruction, or any more than the permitted portion of either; and yet without the guardian administrator, and according to their own ungoverned and unrestricted properties and natural restlessness, it is obvious that in no long series of time, these impetuosities and collisions, if self-actuated only, would shake and shatter all things into fractures, confusion, and death.*
* The ocean, like the rest of material nature, has been created with the same divine taste for beauty, and exhibition of beauty to us, even in the appearances beneath its mighty waters. The following picture has been given of the NorTHERN SEAS:
"Nothing can be more surprising and beautiful than the singular clearness of the water of the Northern Seas.
"As we passed slowly over the surface, the bottom, which here was