Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

which nature must exercise upon nations, in a more marked degree indeed than upon individual men, because, as it were, masses act upon masses, and the personality of the nation predominates over that of the man. Nature is everywhere gentle in its influences, working rather in secret than in open day. Is it not then worth while, for the sake of the history of man and of nations, to study the surface of the earth in its relation to its inhabitants ?

Independent of man, he proceeds to say, the earth is a theater for the occurrences of nature; the laws of its formation cannot proceed from man. In a science of the Earth, the earth itself must be questioned in respect to its laws. The · monuments which nature has erected upon it and their hieroglyphic language, must be examined, described, and their construction deciphered. The high lands, the low lands, the mountains must be measured, their forms arranged according to their essential characteristics; and the observers of every age and nation, yes, even the people themselves, must be consulted and understood in respect to what they have learned from the world in which they dwell. All the facts thus gathered must be reduced to a comprehensive whole. Then from every member, from every series, proceeds a resnlt the truth of which is manifested in the localized phenomena of nature, and as a reflection in the life of those nations whose existence and whose peculiarities coincide with this or that combination in the characteristic earth formation.

Thus controlled by a higher law, nations, like individual men, are developed under the simultaneous influence of nature and mind, that is by spiritual and physical powers.

We are aware that to some of our readers these ideas of Ritter will appear to be thoroughly German, and possibly vague, but we prefer to present as nearly as possible his own words, rather than in a paraphrase of our own. It must be borne in mind not only that in common with most of his conntrymen he clothes abstract ideas with personality in a manner to which we are unaccustomed, but he is avowedly presenting an old subject in a new light, so that for many of his expres

sions, the English phrases, like coin from a new die, have not as yet become current.

At a later period, when Ritter comes to apply these principles to the geography of Asia, he remarks that the method which he follows differs from all which have previously been adopted. The reader, he says, must abandon himself completely to the subject, and follow the work from its beginning onward in order to perceive the true connection of the parts, the arrangement, and the progressive thought, and so enlarge more and more his insight into details by a study of the general laws of nature. He calls especial attention to the fact that his method is not to proceed a priori, or from the arbitrary and old fashioned divisions and subdivisions, which have generally been adopted in a most erroneons manner.

Our method, he says, consists rather in beginning with the main trunk of the continent, presenting such considerations as can be derived from a general survey, and then proceeding by special investigations to make ourselves at home in those localities which are separated by nature into distinct and differing territories, in order to arrange these in connected groups according to their individual phenomena, relations, and predominant laws. By connecting these different groups we shall again proceed to general descriptions, relations, and laws of construction, not only respecting the physical nature of every locality, but also its organic productions and life. This will be facilitated by the arrangement of paragraphs, each of which, with its subdivisions and notes, will concentrate as it were in a focus all positive data. If this end is attained, each paragraph will present a true outline of a geographical member or link, which will not be without its value to the physical sciences, as well as to history.

It is this exhaustive and comprehensive method which gives to every portion of Ritter's writings its value. Balancing, as he was accustomed to do, the assertions of one writer with those of another, basing all his theories upon positive knowledge, and then availing himself of his generalizations in the elucidation of new phenomena, he has prepared a work on Asia, valuable not only in its entirety, but also as a succession of monographs, each perfect and complete in itself, and often sparkling with brilliant displays of genius.

The proper limits of this Article will not allow us to do more than give a summary of the views which are presented by Ritter in the discussion of Asia, the largest and most diversified of the continents and the oldest in historical development.

He recognizes in that grand division of the earth one fredominant trunk, to which many members are attached, members which are indeed subordinate in extent to the main body, but which especially toward the south and west display a marked importance,-while in the east and southeast the prominent feature is isolation, evinced in the entirely separated and very numerous groups of islands. The trunk is characterized by one immense central plateau, divided in two, the high-land of Eastern Asia, and the high-land of Western Asia, of different geometrical figures and absolute hights, the one more rough, the other more even. There is a maxi. mum elevation of land with predominant and moderately high plateau-systems and border mountains of various form surrounded by alps with inexhaustible supplies of water; enclosing elevations of various character; and independent and diverging mountain chains which ramify like a profusion of arms; so that thus the division into limbs and members (the articulation, to adopt an anatomical term) is displayed in the most manifold formations, which are never repeated.

But beside all this should be mentioned the remarkable formation of the peninsulas in the south, which consist of highlands and plateau-systems, more easily understood than the intricate and complex combinations of the main continent, because more accessible, less extended also, and lower. These peninsulas, made cooler by their elevation, and otherwise highly favored, doubly enrich the south of Asia. They are important not only in themselves, but as tending to form and to protect the low-lands, which lie in the valleys of the water courses, and between them and the higher mountains at the north. These valleys correspond in their functions to those of Southern Europe, where between the Appenines of Italy

and the Alps of Switzerland, the granaries of Lombardy derive their abundance from the irrigation imparted to them by the surrounding high-lands. The terraces, which connect the high-lands with the low-lands, descend from the common center in at least twelve colossal formations. The valleys which they enclose are the great natural lines of communication for the winds and waters, the flora and fauna, as well as for the people themselves, whose civilization they favor. These valleys descend by the deepest depressions into at least six large low plains, forming as many naturally disconnected districts. These six low-lands display a regular progression from those portions which are chiefly oceanic, to those which are completely removed from the sea, and are truly continental, exerting in consequence a strong influence upon the neighboring grand divisions of the earth.

Thus, in Asia, we recognize two great plateaux or high-lands, (those of Iran and Eastern Asia,) and four of a subordinate character with manifold other mountain systems, twelve great transition forms, (the terraces between the high-lands and the low-lands,) and six naturally separated low-lands, making in all four and twenty principal and peculiar natural types, which are so grouped that in their combination the characteristics of the entire world are made apparent. With this system of plastic formation, the animated nature is closely connected, not only in its regnlar and dependent, but in its free and independent manifestations.

In attempting to trace these natural subdivisions of Asia on an ordinary map of that continent, the reader will experience some difficulty. To appreciate as it deserves the value of such general statements, he must consult a physical map which presents to the eye not only horizontal but vertical dimensions, and in which not only the coast of a country are given, the course of rivers and the direction of mountain chains, but in which also by means of different tints the lowlands are distingnished from the plateaux, and they froin the monntain chains. It is much to be regretted that these maps are not to be found in every school and in every private library. The cost of such comprehensive atlases as the larger

works of Berghaus and Johnston need not deter the student from owning the smaller atlases which are prepared for use in Gerinany with great accuracy and beauty and at very low prices. It is desirable, we acknowledge, that in our own country such maps should be edited and published; but until they can be prepared in a truly scientific way, it is better for us still to depend upon transatlantic cartographers.

This presentation of the geography of Ritter can hardly fail to be tedious to those who are not already familiar with the subject, and unsatisfactory to those who are. The latter class of readers will support us, however, in saying that the originality of Ritter's views, the technicality of his expressions, and the complicated structure of his sentences, renders the task of translation by no means easy. Indeed, it is to these circumstances that we must attribute the fact that only one translation of the Erdkunde has been made in Europe. That was made into the Russian language,—the relations of the great Slavonic empire to the continent of Asia being already so extended, and, at the same time, so progressive, that such a key to power as Ritter offered them was seized with the greatest eagerness.

We had intended in this Article to go more fully into the several parts of the Erdkunde, and to show how the author conducted his investigation in some particular country, the great peninsula of Arabia, for example; but we must defer for the present that purpose, and content ourselves with having brought forward the characteristics of the work. We cannot doubt that followers of Ritter in this country and in England will lay before the public his profound and comprehensive views, worked out, illustrated, and made intelligible to every mind. Already in Switzerland and Germany the text-books in geography are based on the principles of Ritter, and while his own words have been read by narrow circle, his views have been taught in every school-room. They have had an influence on a multitude of scholars, and have led to the discussion both of nature and of history, in a manner before unknown, but sure to produce the most advantageous results in the culture of the mind and the promotion of true civilization.

« AnteriorContinuar »