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LETTERS

TO A

TRAVELLER

AMONG THE ALPS.

LETTER XXXII.

THE philosopher who turns his mind to the contemplation of the general system of nature, too frequently fancies a quickness and impetus of operation, which probably bear no more analogy to the thing itself, than the energy of his own feeble powers do, to the all actuating universal cause. Nature is slow in her operations. She proceeds by insensible gradations. Man, on the contrary, would be as momentary as his thoughts. Ages, probably, are necessary to the consolidation of metals ; ages we can readily believe, to be required for the formation of precious stones. But, these are all imitated by art,

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and are even brought to a certain degree of perfection, in very inconsiderable spaces of time. This makes us assuming: But look into yon sparry cavern in the mountain; remark that grotesque indurated mass; it is the growth of a period so unlimited, as to afford us no room even for conjecture, as to the æra of its origin : and yet, in the chymist's laboratory, he could produce you a stone, for the formation of which, a few hours would be more than sufficient. Let us not, however, argue hence, that nature proceeds in the manner we do : it is too great a degree of rashness, to assume the extent of the power of the artist, as a limit for that of the Creator ; and to imagine, that the state of our acquisitions, is the state of absolute information. With sure, but gentle pace, nature pursues her ends. She composes and decomposes with measured step. We may think ourselves possessed of her secrets : the difference, however, may be as great, as eternity is to a moment, or as an atom is to a world.

In no instance is this reflection more applicable, than in the supposed formation of the very mountains and vallies, which we have now under consideration. The corresponding angles of hills, (convex ones being supposed to be con

stantly stantly opposite to concave ones, or when one exhibits a cape or a salient angle, the other is to present a bay or an obtuse one) was an opinion, which led M. Bourguiet, and after him, many other respectable men into the error, that vallies had been dug out by rivers and torrents, either when the waters retired from the earth, or subsequent to that period. But the truth is, that the great longitudinal vallies of the Alps, whose existence is as ancient as that of the mountains, frequently present the inost contradictory prominencies and contractions, and are closed almost universally at one, if not at both ends. At the same time, however, it must be confessed, that hills are not unfrequently steep and precipitated on one side, and gently declining on the other; as if the action and direction of the motion of the waters, had been greater on the one side than on the other. But, in order to find a key to the theory of the earth, as relative to the currents of the ancient ocean, in which the mountains have been formed, it niust be sought for in the direction of the beds of mountains, and in their varieties : moreover, the compositions of the sides of the very same mountain, are frequently so different, that from the suinmit to the bottom on the one side, there shall be nothing but calcareous rock, while on A 2

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