Concerning the Chanel of the Sea, and the Original of it: The Causes of its irregular form and unequal depths: As also of the Original of Islands, their situation, and other properties.
WE have hitherto given an account of the Subterraneous Regions, and of their general form; We now come above ground to view the surface of the Globe, which we find Terraqueous, or divided into Sea and Land: These we must survey, and what is remarkable in them as to their frame and structure, we must give an account of from our Hypothesis, and shew to be inaccountable from any other.
As for the Ocean, there are two things considerable in it, the Water and the Chanel that contains it. The Water, no doubt is as ancient as the Earth and contemporary with it, and we suppose it to be part of the great Abysse wherein the World was drown’d; the rest lying cover’d under the hollow fragments of Continents and Islands. But that is not so much the subject of our present discourse as the Chanel of the Ocean, that vast and prodigious Cavity that runs quite round the Globe, and reacheth, for ought we know, from Pole to Pole, and in many places is unsearchably deep: When I present this great Gulf to my imagination, emptied of all its waters, naked and gaping at the Sun, stretching its jaws from one end of the Earth to another, it appears to me the most ghastly thing in Nature. What hands or instruments could work a Trench in the body of the Earth of this vastness, and lay Mountains and Rocks on the side of it, as Ramparts to enclose it?
But as we justly admire its greatness, so we cannot at all admire its beauty or elegancy, for ’tis as deform’d and irregular as it is great. And there appearing nothing of order or any regular design in its parts, it seems reasonable to believe that it was not the work of Nature, according to her first intention, or according to the first model that was drawn in measure and proportion, by the Line and by the Plummet, but a secondary work, and the best that could be made of broken materials. And upon this supposition ’tis easie to imagine, how upon the dissolution of the primæval Earth the Chanel of the Sea was made, or that huge Cavity that lies between the several Continents of the Earth; which shall be more particularly explain’d after we have view’d a little better the form of it, and the Islands that lie scatter’d by its shores.
There is no Cavity in the Earth, whether open or Subterraneous, that is comparably so great as that of the Ocean, nor would any appear of that deformity if we could see it empty. The inside of a Cave is rough and unsightly; The beds of great Rivers and great Lakes when they are laid dry, look very raw and rude; The Valleys of the Earth, if they were naked, without Trees and without Grass, nothing but bare ground and bare stones, from the tops of their Mountains would have a ghastly aspect; but the Sea-chanel is the complex of all these; here Caves, empty Lakes, naked Valleys are represented as in their original, or rather far exceeded and out-done as to all their irregularities; for the Cavity of the Ocean is universally irregular, both as to the shores and borders of it; as to the uncertain breadth and the uncertain depth of its several parts, and as to its ground and bottom and the whole mould: If the Sea had been drawn round the Earth in regular figures and borders, it might have been a great beauty to our Globe, and we should reasonably have concluded it a work of the first Creation, or of Nature's first production; but finding on the contrary all the marks of disorder and disproportion in it, we may as reasonably conclude, that it did not belong to the
first order of things, but was something succedaneous, when the degeneracy of Mankind, and the judgments of God had destroy’d the first World, and subjected the Creation to some kind of Vanity.
Nor can it easily be imagin’d, if the Sea had been always, and the Earth, in this Terraqueous form, broke into Continents and Islands, how Mankind could have been propagated at first through the face of the Earth, all from one head and from one place. For Navigation was not then known, at least as to the grand Ocean, or to pass from Continent to Continent; And, I believe, Noah's Ark was the first Ship, or Vessel of bulk, that ever was built in the World; how could then the Posterity of Adam overflow the Earth, and stock the several parts of the World, if they had been distant or separate then, as they are now, by the interposal of the great Ocean? But this consideration we will insist upon more largely in another place; let us reflect upon the irregularities of the Sea-chanel again, and the possible causes of it.
If we could imagine the Chanel of the Sea to have been made as we may imagine the Chanels of Rivers to have been, by long and insensible attrition, the water wearing by degrees the ground under it, by the force it hash from its descent and course, we should not wonder at its irregular form; but ’tis not possible it should have had any such original; whence should its waters have descended, from what Mountains, or from what Clouds? Where is the spring-head of the Sea? what force could eat away half the surface of the Earth, and wear it hollow to an immeasurable depth? This must not be from feeble and lingring causes, such as the attrition of waters, but from some great violence offer’d to Nature, such as we suppose to have been in the general Deluge, when the frame of the Earth was broken. And after we have a little survey’d the Sea-coast, and so far as we can, the form of the Sea-chanel, we shall the more easily believe that they could have no other original than what we assign.
The shores and coasts of the Sea are no way equal or uniform, but go in a line uncertainly crooked and broke; indented and jag’d as a thing torn, as you may see in the Maps of the Coasts and the Sea-charts; and yet there are innumerable more inequalities than are taken notice of in those draughts; for they only mark the greater Promontories and Bays; but there are besides those a multitude of Creeks and out-lets, necks of Land and Angles, which break the evenness of the shore in all manner of ways. Then the height and level of the shore is as uncertain as the line of it; ’Tis sometimes high and sometimes low, sometimes spread in sandy Plains, as smooth as the Sea it self, and of such an equal height with it, that the waves seem to have no bounds but the meer figure and convexity of the Globe; In other places ’tis rais’d into banks and ramparts of Earth, and in others ’tis wall’d in with Rocks; And all this without any order that we can observe, or any other reason than that this is what might be expected in a ruine.
As to the depths and soundings of the Sea, they are under no rule nor equality any more than the figures of the Shores; Shallows in some places, and Gulfs in others; beds of Sands sometimes, and sometimes Rocks under water; as Navigators have learn’d by a long and dangerous experience: And though we that are upon dry Land, are not much concern’d how the Rocks and the Shelves lie in
the Sea, yet a poor Ship-wreckt Mariner, when he hath run his Vessel upon a Rock in the middle of the Chanel, expostulates bitterly with Nature, who it was that plac’d that Rock there, and to what purpose? was there not room enough, saith he, upon the Land, or the Shore, to lay your great Stones, but they must be thrown into the middle of the Sea, as it were in spite to Navigation? The best Apology that can be made for Nature in this case, so far as I know, is to confess that the whole business of the Sea-chanel is but a ruine, and in a ruine things tumble uncertainly, and commonly lie in confusion: Though to speak the truth, it seldom happens, unless in narrow Seas, that Rocks or Banks or Islands lie in the middle of them, or very far from the Shores.
Having view’d the more visible parts of the Chanel of the Sea, we must now descend to the bottom of it, and see the form and contrivance of that; but who shall guide us in our journey, while we walk, as Job saithChap. 38. 16., in the search of the deep? Or who can make a description of that which none hath seen? It is reasonable to believe, that the bottom of the Sea is much more rugged, broken and irregular than the face of the Land; There are Mountains, and Valleys, and Rocks, and ridges of Rocks, and all the common inequalities we see upon Land; besides these, ’tis very likely there are Caves under water, and hollow passages into the bowels of the Earth, by which the Seas circulate and communicate one with another, and with Subterraneous waters; Those great Eddees and infamous Syrtes and Whirlpools that are in some Seas, as the Baltick and the Mediterranean, that suck into them and overwhelm whatever comes within their reach, show that there is something below that sucks from them in proportion, and that drinks up the Sea as the Sea drinks up the Rivers. We ought also to imagine the Shores within the water to go inclin’d and sloping, but with great inequality; there are many Shelves in the way, and Chambers, and sharp Angles; and many broken Rocks and great Stones lie tumbled down to the bottom.
’Tis true these things affect us little, because they are not expos’d to our senses; and we seldom give our selves the trouble to collect from reason what the form of the invisible and inaccessible parts of the Earth is; Or if we do sometimes, those Idea's are faint and weak, and make no lasting impression upon our imagination and passions; but if we should suppose the Ocean dry, and that we lookt down from the top of some high Cloud upon the empty Shell, how horridly and barbarously would it look? And with what amazement should we see it under us like an open Hell, or a wide bottomless pit? So deep, and hollow, and vast; so broken and confus’d, so every way deform’d and monstrous. This would effectually waken our imagination, and make us inquire and wonder how such a thing came in Nature; from what causes, by what force or engines could the Earth be torn in this prodigious manner? did they dig the Sea with Spades, and carry out the molds in hand-baskets? where are the entrails laid? and how did they cleave the Rocks asunder? if as many Pioneers as the Army of Xerxes, had been at work ever since the beginning of the World, they could not have made a ditch of this greatness. According to the proportions taken before in the Second Chapter, the Cavity or capacity of the Sea-chanel will amount to no less than 4639090 cubical miles. Nor is it the greatness only, but that wild and multifarious
confusion which we see in the parts and fashion of it, that makes it strange and inaccountable; ’tis another Chaos in its kind, who can paint the Scenes of it? Gulfs, and Precipices, and Cataracts; Pits within Pits, and Rocks under Rocks, broken Mountains and ragged Islands, that look as if they had been Countries pull’d up by the roots, and planted in the Sea.
If we could make true and full representations of these things to our selves, I think we should not be so bold as to make them the immediate product of Divine Omnipotence; being destitute of all appearance of Art or Counsel. The first orders of things are more perfect and regular, and this Decorum seems to be observ’d afterwards, Nature doth not fall into disorder till Mankind be first degenerate and leads the way. Monsters have been often made an argument against Providence; if a Calf have two heads, or five legs, streight there must not be a God in Heaven, or at least not upon Earth; and yet this is but a chance that happens once in many years, and is of no consequence at all to the rest of the World: but if we make the standing frame of Nature monstrous, or deform’d and disproportion’d, and to have been so not by corruption and degeneracy, but immediately by Divine Creation or Formation, it would not be so easie to answer that objection against Providence. Let us therefore prevent this imputation, and supposing, according to our Theory, that these things were not originally thus, let us now explain more distinctly how they came to pass at the Deluge, or upon the dissolution of the first Earth.
And we will not content our selves with a general answer to these observations concerning the Sea-chanel, as if it was a sufficient account of them to say they were the effects of a ruine; there are other things to be consider’d and explain’d besides this irregularity, as the vast hollowness of this Cavity, bigger incomparably than any other belonging to the Earth; and also the declivity of the sides of it, which lie shelving from top to bottom; For notwithstanding all the inequalities we have taken notice of in the Chanel or the Sea, it hath one general form, which may, though under many differences, be observ’d throughout, and that is, that the shores and sides within the water lie inclin’d, and you descend by degrees to the deepest part, which is towards the middle. This, I know, admits of many exceptions, for sometimes upon a rocky shore, or among rocky Islands the Sea is very deep close to the Rocks, and the deeper commonly the higher and steeper the Rocks are. Also where the descent is more leisurely, ’tis often after a different manner, in some Coasts more equal and uniform, in others more broken and interrupted, but still there is a descent to the Chanel or deepest part, and this in the deep Ocean is fathomless; And such a deep Ocean, and such a deep Chanel there is always between Continents. This, I think, is a property as determinate as any we can pitch upon in the Chanel of the Sea, and with those other two mention’d, its vast Cavity and universal irregularity, is all one can desire an account of as to the form of it; we will therefore from this ground take our rise and first measures for the Explication of the Sea-chanel.
Let us suppose then in the dissolution of the Earth when it began to fall, that it was divided only into three or four fragments, according to the number of our Continents; but those fragments being vastly great could not descend at their full
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breadth and expansion, or at least could not descend so fast in the middle as towards the extremities; because the Air about the edges would yield and give place easily, not having far to go to get out of the way; but the Air that was under the middle of the fragment could not without a very swift motion get from under the concave of it, and consequently its descent there would be more resisted and suspended; but the sides in the mean time would continually descend, bending the fragment with their weight, and so making it of a lesser compass and expansion than it was before: And by this means there would be an interval and distance made between the two falling fragments, and a good part of the Abysse, after their descent, would lie uncover’d in the middle betwixt them; as may be seen in this Figure, where the fragments A. B. bending downwards in their extremities, separate as they go, and after they are fain leave a good space in the Abysse betwixt them, altogether uncover’d; This space is the main Chanel of the great Ocean, lying betwixt two Continents; and the inclining sides shew the declivity of the Shores.
This we have represented here only in a Ring or Circle of the Earth, in the first Figure; but it may be better represented in a broader surface, as in the second Figure, where the two fragments A. B. that are to make the two opposite Continents, fall in like double Doors opening downwards, the Hinges being towards the Land on either side, so as at the bottom they leave in the middle betwixt them a deep Chanel of water, a. a. a. such as is betwixt all Continents; and the Water reaching a good height upon the Land on either side, makes Sea there too, but shallower, and by degrees you descend into the deepest Chanel.
This gives an account of two things that we mention’d to be consider’d and explain’d as to the Sea, how the great Cavity of its Chanel was made, and how it was made in that general form of declivity in its sides from the Land: The third thing was the irregularities of it, both as to its various depths, and as to the form of the shores and of the bottom. And this is as easily and naturally explain’d from the same supposition as the former two; for though we have hitherto represented the fragments A. B. as even and regular after their fall, because that was most simple, and there was no occasion then to represent them otherwise, yet we must suppose that as soon as in their fall they hit upon the top or bottom of the Abysse, that great force and weight with which they descended broke off all the Edges and extremities, and so made innumerable ruptures and inequalities in the shores, and as many within the Sea and at the bottom; where the broken Rocks and lumps of Earth would lie in all imaginable disorder; as you may conceive from the third Figure. For when the motion came on a sudden to be obstructed, the load of the fragment still pressing it forwards, such a concussion arise as made thousands of lesser fragments, of all shapes and magnitudes, and in all postures and forms, and most of them irregular. And by these fractions and secondary ruines the line of the shores was broken, and the level of them too; In some places they would stand high, in others low, sometimes rough and sometimes even, and generally crooked, with Angles and in-lets, and uncertain windings. The bottom also, by the same stroke, was diversifi’d into all manner of forms, sometimes Rocky with Pits and Gulfs, and sometimes spread in plain beds, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep; for those differences would depend only upon
the situation of the secondary fragments; and so it might come to pass, that some places near the shore might be excessive deep when a Rock or Rocks stood in a steep posture, as (Figure 3.) b. b. b. and, on the contrary, sometimes places much more advanc’d into the Ocean, might be less deep, where a fragment of Earth lay under water, or one bore up another, as c. c. c. but these cases would not be very frequent. To conclude, there are no properties of the Sea-chanel, that I know of, nor differences or irregularities in the form of it, which this Hypothesis doth not give a fair account of: And having thus far open’d the way, and laid down the general grounds for their Explication, other things that are more minute, we leave to the curiosity of particular Genius's; being unwilling to clog the Theory at first with things that may seem unnecessary. We proceed now to the consideration of Islands.
We must in the first place distinguish between Original Islands and Factitious Islands; Those I call factitious, that are not of the same date and Antiquity with the Sea, but have been made some at one time, some at another, by accidental causes, as the aggestion of Sands and Sand-beds, or the Sea leaving the tops of some shallow places that lie high, and yet flowing about the lower skirts of them; These make sandy and plain Islands, that have no high Land in them, and are but mock-Islands in effect. Others are made by divulsion from some Continent, when an Isthmus or the neck of a Promontory running into the Sea, sinks or falls in, by an Earthquake or otherwise, and the Sea entring in at the gap passeth through, and makes that Promontory or Country become an Island. Thus the Island Sicily is suppos’d to have been made, and all Africa might be an Island, if the Isthmus between the Mediterranean and the red Sea should sink down. And these Islands may have Rocks and Mountains in them, if the Land had so before. Lastly, there are Islands that have been said to rise from the bottom of the Sea; History mentions such in both the Archipelago's, Ægæan and Indian; and this seems to argue that there are great fragments or tracts of Earth that lie loose at the bottom of the Sea, or that are not incorporated with the ground; which agrees very well with our Explication of the Sea-chanel.
But besides these Islands and the several sorts of them, there are others which I call Original; because they could not be produc’d in any of the forementioned ways, but are of the same Origin and Antiquity with the Chanel of the Sea; and such are the generality of our Islands; They were not made of heaps of Sands, nor torn from any Continent, but are as ancient as the Continents themselves, namely, ever since the Deluge, the common Parent of them both. Nor is there any difficulty to understand how Islands were made at the dissolution of the Earth, any more than how Continents were made; for Islands are but lesser Continents, or Continents greater Islands; and according as Continents were made of greater masses of Earth or greater fragments standing above the Water, so Islands were made of less, but so big always, and in such a posture, as to bear their tops above the water. Yet though they agree thus far, there is a particular difference to be taken notice of as to their Origin; for the Continents were made of those three or four primary masses into which the falling Orb of the Earth was divided, but the Islands were made of the fractures of these, and broken off
by the fall from the skirts and extremities of the Continents; We noted before, that when those great masses and primary fragments came to dash upon the Abysse in their fall, the sudden stop of the motion, and the weighty bulk of the descending fragment broke off all the edges and extremities of it, which edges and extremities broken off made the Islands; And accordingly we see that they generally lie scatter’d along the sides of the Continents, and are but splinters, as it were, of those greater bodies. ’Tis true, besides these, there were an infinite number of other pieces broke off that do not appear, some making Rocks under water, some shallows and banks in the Sea; but the greatest of them when they fell either one upon another, or in such a posture as to prop up one another, their heads and higher parts would stand out of the water and make Islands.
Thus I conceive the Islands of the Sea were at first produc’d; we cannot wonder therefore that they should be so numerous, or far more numerous than the Continents; These are the Parents, and those are the Children; Nor can we wonder to see along the sides of the Continents several Islands or sets of Islands, sown, as it were, by handfuls, or laid in trains; for the manner of their generation would lead us to think they would be so plac’d. So the American Islands lie scatter’d upon the Coast of that Continent; the Maldivian and Philipine upon the East-Indian shore, and the Hesperides upon the Africk; and there seldom happen to be any towards the middle of the Ocean, though, by an accident, that also might come to pass. Lastly, it suits very well with out Explication, that there should be Mountains and Rocks, sometimes in clusters, sometimes in long chains, in all Islands; (as we find there are in all that are true and Original) for ’tis that makes them high enough to appear above the water, and strong enough to continue and preserve themselves in that high situation.
And thus much may suffice for a summary Explication of the causes of the Sea-chanel and Islands, according to our Hypothesis.