Page images
PDF
EPUB

If, from chemistry, we turn to natural philosophy, we need not despair of seeing this department of science made subservient to the same important object. It is known, for example, that the electric fluid, that mysterious but

the nipples. On the twenty-second day these appearances were more elevated and distinct, and on the twenty-sixth day each figure assumed the form of a perfect insect standing erect on a few bristles which formed its tail. Until this period, Mr. Crosse had no notion that these appearances were any other than an incipient mineral formation, but it was not until the twenty-eighth day, when he plainly perceived the little creatures move their legs, that he felt any surprise; and when this occurred, as may easily be imagined, he was not a little astonished. Mr. Crosse endeavored to detach, with the point of a needle, one or two of them from their position on the stone, but they immediately died, and he was obliged to wait patiently for a few days longer, when they separated themselves from the stone, and moved about at pleasure, although they had been, for some time after their birth, apparently averse to motion. In the course of a few weeks, about a hundred of them made their appearance on the stone. At first each of them fixed itself for a considerable time in one spot, appearing to feed by suction, but when a ray of light from the sun was directed upon it, it seemed disturbed, and removed itself to the shaded part of the stone. Out of about a hundred insects, not above five or six were born on the south side of the stone. On being examined with a microscope, the smaller ones appeared to have only six legs, but the larger ones eight. Mr. Crosse states, that it would be superfluous to attempt a description of these insects, when so able a one has been transmitted from Paris. It seems they are of the genus acarus, but of a species not hitherto observed.' They have been seen and examined by many scientific men and eminent physiologists, who all coincide with the opinion of M. Turpin, and the members of the Academie des Sciences, as to their genus and species." Mr. Crosse himself has never ventured to give an opinion as to the cause of the production of these extraordinary animalcules, but the general opinion is, that the phenomenon may be accounted for without departing from the received opinion respecting animal generation. "It is monstrous,' says Mr. Murray, "to suppose that any physical power known to man, whether electricity or any other, could not only build up a curious and complicated structure, but infuse into its mechanism the vis vitæ." "The sum of the whole matter, as far as Mr. Crosse's experiments are concerned, is simply this-the ova of the acarus derived from some of the sources mentioned are hatched by the electricity of the galvanic battery." "It ought never to be forgotten, in our estimate of these phenomena, that similar organized beings invariably make their appearance under similar circumstances such as the eels in paste, and the fork-tailed eels in vinegar-infusions of pepper, hay, &c., ' each after its kind.' This is also shown in specimens of water obtained from various sources, and seen in the solar, or in the oxy-hydrogen microscope."-Murray on the Vital Principle.

""

universal agent, is intimately connected with the vegetable process. Will it be supposed incredible, that the astonishing investigations which are at present in progress, with the assistance of this principle, may lead to some great revolution in the cultivation of the soil? It has been already proposed, by means of thunder-rods, to collect the electric fluid, and distribute it over the soil; and although this scheme may fail, it would be rash to aver that some other mode of adding fertility to vegetation, by the application of this agent, may not be found effectual.

Again, if we attend to mechanical contrivances, we shall here find a new opening for agricultural improvement. The instruments employed in tilling the soil, and in other departments of the farmer's employment, are confessedly imperfect. Improvements have of late been proceeding in an accelerated ratio, which, while they show the defects of former implements, afford the promise of still further advances. That there is room for such advances, there can be no doubt. Compare, for example, the husbandry of the plough with that of the spade. The former is more speedy, the latter more effectual; so that what is gained in the one case, is, at least to a certain extent, lost in the other. An instrument is therefore still a desideratum that shall combine the speed of the one with the efficiency of the other. A similar observation may be made with regard to other farming implements. What the power of mechanism may effect, is partly seen in the invention of the threshing-machine. The application of the steam-engine to the purposes of agriculture is a probable method by which this department of the arts may again be advantageously employed to bestow additional power on the cultivator of the soil, and increase the quantity of human food.* "There is such a spirit of enterprise and

* Lord Henniker stated, at the Suffolk agricultural dinner on 8th September, 1836, that in Lincolnshire they had already a steam-plough, which could harrow thirty, and plough eight, acres in a day. The author witnessed the operation of this steam-plough, (Mr. Heathcoat's,) exhibited at the meeting of the Highland Society, in Dumfries, in October, 1837. Its work on a large area of moss land, through which the Lochar flows, was very surprising: but much improvement must be effected before it can prove practically useful. The expense alone is

X.

IV.

10

intelligent ingenuity among our countrymen," says Mr. Turner, truly," that we may expect that all improvements which can be invented and brought to bear usefully on this point, will in time occur, as our population enlarges, because that increase will bring more acting minds into existence, and stimulate their activity."

These views are thrown out, not with any other intention than that of addressing an argument to our ignorance. I speak of possibilities, not certainties, nor even, perhaps, probabilities, in some of the instances mentioned; and the inference I would draw, is this,-that the boundaries of agricultural improvement are far from being capable of distinct definition, and may be placed at a distance far more remote than our present knowledge can warrant us to assign. From past experience, we have reason to conclude, that the field will gradually open, as the necessities of man require. Such is the undeviating system; and as this system is not the result of chance, but the appointment of an infinitely intelligent and all-powerful Mind, we may rest assured, that it will continue to fulfil its high destination to the very last. The power of producing additional food, by whatever means it may be acquired, will undoubtedly prove coextensive with the increasing propagation of our species. Both shall have an end,-so the Divine oracles declare,-but they will end together.

On the preceding conjectures, however, I am far from resting the case. There are, at present, powers at work, and materials in existence, which sufficiently indicate a vast future accession of the means of subsistence, and prove the beneficent intentions, and the wise arrangements, of Providence. To these, I shall advert in the next paper.

Meanwhile, I conclude at present with the following pi

sufficient to prevent its employment; and it is only fit to be used on such a locality as the Lochar Moss. The saving of food in the article of horses alone, would be immense were this experiment to succeed. It is calculated by Mr. Brown, in the New Farmer's Journal, (1st November, 1833,) that the horses now used in husbandry alone are maintained at a yearly expenditure of thirty millions. This expenditure is, of course, chiefly in food. Each horse is said by him to require eight times the soil and substance which would supply food for a man.

ous observations of the well-informed writer, whom, on this part of my subject, I chiefly consult, and whose spirit I would gladly infuse into my own pages :-"Let us repose calmly on the fact, that society has hitherto been supplied, regularly, from the natural system of things, with the food it has required. We have, in this advanced period of the world, enough for our present wants; and all the providing causes from which this sufficiency has resulted to us, are still in their efficacious operation, and discover no sign of diminution, of general failure, or of distressing insufficiency. The same benevolent plan, and all its associated purposes, are in steady execution; and the true principle of our trust and hope, has been delivered to us from the highest authority. Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.' As long as He means us to exist on earth, Nature will be made to yield the surplus which that existence will require. He must be expunged from his creation, before the result can be otherwise."*

FOURTH WEEK-WEDNESDAY.

HUMAN FOOD.-PROVISION FOR THE FUTURE-MEANS NOW IN EXISTENCE.

In a former paper, the conclusion has been drawn, that, were the inhabitants of the earth to increase, at the rate which has been experienced in England for the last century, supposing agricultural skill meanwhile to be stationary, it would be, at least, three centuries before the whole improvable land on our globe could be fully occupied. This supposition, however, is far more unfavorable than existing facts seem to warrant ; and many reasons might be advanced to prove, that, events continuing to proceed as they have hitherto done, it would require an immensely longer period, before the soil capable of raising human

* Sacred History of the World, vol. iii. Letter 30.

subsistence would be exhausted. Taking for granted, however, that the calculations already made are just, and descending from conjecture and speculation to existing facts, let us see if there are not in the powers of Nature with which we are acquainted, indications of a provision for the existence of a far more numerous population, than would result from the mere cultivation of an additional extent of surface.

I have, in the 'Summer' volume, instanced the banana tree, as a vegetable product, which might be cultivated to such an extent, as to increase, in a very extraordinary degree, the amount of human food. It is said, by Humboldt, to be capable of supporting twenty-five individuals, on a patch of ground, which, if sown in wheat, would only support a single person. It is propagated with the utmost ease; it is a native of every tropical region; and flourishes freely, wherever the mean heat exceeds 75° of Fahrenheit. All hot countries seem equally to favor the growth of its fruit; and it has been cultivated in Cuba, in situations where the thermometer descends so low as 45°. Now, this tree, which yields a nutritive and grateful food,* might be cultivated to an extent immensely greater than has yet taken place. Humboldt remarks, that a European, newly arrived in the torrid zone, is struck with nothing so much as the extreme smallness of the spots under cultivation, round a cabin which contains a numerous family of Indians. He mentions this circumstance, to confirm his statement of the prolific and nutritive qualities of the tree; but it, at the same time, indicates the vast extent of ground which might yet be brought into cultivation, and, as a necessary consequence, the amazing accession which, by this means alone, might be made to the population of the tropics.

In temperate climates, the recent introduction of the potato, as an article of husbandry, shows, in one instance,

* "The ripe fruit of the banana is preserved, like the fig, by being dried in the sun. This dried banana is an agreeable and healthy aliment. Meal is extracted from the fruit, by cutting it in slices, drying it in the sun, and then pounding it."-Library of Entertaining Knowledge-Vegetable Substances.

« PreviousContinue »