Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

I have many times considered with myself that the occasion of every man's good or bad fortune consists in his correspondence and accommodation with the times. We see some people acting furiously, and with an impetus; others with more slowness and caution; and because both in the one and the other they are immoderate, and do not observe their just terms, therefore both of them do err; but their error and misfortune is least, whose customs suit and correspond with the times; and who comports himself in his designs according to the impulse of his own nature. Every one can tell how Fabius Maximus conducted his army, and with what carefulness and caution he proceeded, contrary to the ancient heat and boldness of the Romans, and it happened that grave way was more conformable to those times; for Hannibal, coming young and brisk into Italy, and being elated with his good fortune, as having twice defeated the armies of the Romans, that commonwealth having lost most of her best soldiers, and remaining in great fear and confusion, nothing could have happened more seasonably to them, than to have such a general who, by his caution and cunctation, could keep the enemy at bay. Nor could any times have been more fortunate to his way of proceeding; for that that slow and deliberate way was natural in Fabius, and not affected, appeared afterwards, when Scipio, being desirous to pass his army into Africa to give the finishing blow to the war, Fabius opposed it most earnestly, as one who could not force or dissemble his nature, which was rather to support wisely against the difficulties that were upon him, than to search out for new. So that had Fabius directed, Hannibal had continued in Italy, and the reason was because he did not consider the times were altered, and the method of the war was to be changed with them. And if Fabius at that time had been king of Rome, he might well have been worsted in the war, as not knowing how to frame his counsels according to the variation of the times. But there being in that commonwealth so many brave men, and excellent commanders, of all sorts of tempers and humours, fortune would have it, that as Fabius was ready, in hard and difficult times, to sustain the enemy and continue the war; so afterwards, when affairs were in a better posture, Scipio was presented to finish and conclude it. And hence it is that an aristocracy or free state is longer lived, and generally more fortunate, than a principality, because in the first they are more flexible, and can frame themselves better to the diversity of the times : for a prince, being accustomed to one way, is hardly to be got out of it, though perhaps the variation of the times require it very much. Piero Soderino (whom I have mentioned before) proceeded with great gentleness and humanity in all his actions; and he and his country prospered whilst the times were according ; but when the times changed, and there was a necessity of laying aside that meekness and humility, Piero was at a loss, and he and his country were both ruined.

Pope Julius XI., during the whole time of his papacy, carried himself with great vigour and vehemence; and because the times were agreeable, he prospered in every thing; but had the times altered, and required other counsels, he had certainly been ruined, because he could never have complied. And the reason why we cannot change so easily with the times, is twofold; first, because we cannot readily oppose ourselves against what we naturally desire; and next, because when we have often tried one way, and have always been prosperous, we can never persuade ourselves we could do so well any other; and this is the true cause why a prince's fortune varies so strangely, because she varies the times, but he does not alter the way of his administration. And it is the same in a commonwealth ; if the variation of the times be not observed, and their laws and customs altered accordingly, many mischiefs must follow, and the government be ruined, as we have largely demonstrated before ; but those alterations of their laws are more slow in a commonwealth, because they are not so easily changed, and there is a necessity of such times as may shake the whole state, to which one man will not be sufficient, let him change his proceedings, and take new measures as he pleases.

112.-THE GREAT DISMAL SWAMP OF AMERICA

LYELL. [We extract the following account of one of the most remarkable natural objects in the world, from the · Travels in North America,' of a distinguished geologist of our day, Mr. Charles Lyell.]

There are many swamps or morasses in this low, flat region, and one of the largest of these occurs between the towns of Norfolk and Weldon. We traversed several miles of its northern extremity on the railway, which is supported on piles. It bears the appropriate and very expressive name of the · Great Dismal,' and is no less than forty miles in length from north to south, and twenty-five miles in its greatest width from east to west, the northern half being situated in Virginia, the southern in North Carolina. I observed that the water was obviously in motion in several places, and the morass had somewhat the appearance of a broad inundated river-plain, covered with all kinds of aquatic trees and shrubs, the soil being as black as in a peatbog. The accumulation of vegetable matter going on here in a hot climate, over so vast an area, is a subject of such high geological interest, that I shall relate what I learnt of this singular morass. It is one enormous quagmire, soft and muddy, except where the surface is rendered partially firm by a covering of vegetables and their matted roots; yet, strange to say, instead of being lower than the level of the surrounding country, it is actually higher than nearly all the firm and dry land which encompasses it, and, to make the anomaly complete, in spite of its semi-fluid character, it is higher in the interior than towards its margin.

The only exceptions to both these statements is found on the eastern side, where, for the distance of about twelve or fifteen miles, the streams flow from slightly elevated but higher land, and supply all its abundant and overflowing water. Towards the north, the east, and the south, the waters flow from the swamp different rivers, which give abundant evidence, by the rate of their descent, that the Great Dismal is higher than the surrounding firm ground. This fact is also confirmed by the measurements made in levelling for the railway from Portsmouth to Suffolk, and for two canals cut through different parts of the morass, for the sake of obtaining timber. The railway itself, when traversing the Great Dismal, is literally higher than when on the land some miles distant on either side, and is six to seven feet higher than where it passes over dry ground near to Suffolk and Portsmouth. Upon the whole, the centre of the morass seems to lie more than twelve feet above the flat country round it. If the streams which now flow in from the west, had for ages been bringing down black fluid mire, instead of water, over the firm subsoil, we might suppose the ground so inundated to have acquired its present configuration. Some small ridges, however, of land must have existed in the original plain or basin, for these now rise like low islands in various places above the general surface. But the streams to the westward do not bring down liquid mire, and are not charged with any sediment. The soil of the swamp is formed of vegetable matter, usually without any admixture of earthy particles. We have here, in fact, a deposit of peat from ten to fifteen feet in thickness, in a latitude where, owing to the heat of the sun and length of the summer, no peat-mosses like those of Europe would be looked for under ordinary circumstances.

In countries like Scotland and Ireland, where the climate is damp, and the summer short and cool, the natural vegetation of one year does not rot away during the next in moist situations. If water flows into such land, it is absorbed, and promotes the vigorous growth of mosses and other aquatic plants, and when they die, the same water arrests their putrefaction. But, as a general rule, no such accumulation of peat can take place in a country like that of Virginia, where the summer's heat causes annually as large a quantity of dead plants to decay as is equal in amount to the vegetable matter produced in one year.

There are many trees and shrubs in the region of the Pine Barrens (and the same may be said of the United States generally) which, like our willows, flourish luxuriantly in water. The juniper trees, or white cedar (Cupressus thyoides), stand firmly in the softest part of the quag. mire, supported by their long tap-roots, and afford, with many other evergreens, a dark shade, under which a multitude of ferns, reeds, and shrubs, from nine to eighteen feet high, and a thick carpet of mosses, four or five inches high, spring up, and are protected from the rays of the sun. When these are most powerful, the large cedar (Cupressus disticha), and many other deciduous trees, are in full leaf. The black soil formed beneath this shade, to which the mosses and the leaves make annual additions, does not perfectly resemble the peat of Europe, most of the plants being so decayed as to leave little more than soft black mud, without any traces of organization. This loose soil is called sponge by the labourers; and it has been ascertained that, when exposed to the sun, and thrown out on the bank of a canal, where clearings have been made, it rots entirely away. Hence it is evident that it owes its preservation in the swamp to moisture and the shade of the dense foliage. The evaporation continually going on in the wet spongy soil during summer cools the air, and generates a temperature resembling that of a more northern climate, or a region more elevated above the level of the sea.

Numerous trunks of large and tall trees lie buried in the black mire of the morass. In so loose a soil they are easily overthrown by winds, and nearly as many have been found lying beneath the surface of the peaty soil, as standing erect upon it. When thrown down, they are soon covered by water, and keeping wet, they never decompose, except the sap-wood, which is less than an inch thick. Much of the timber is obtained by sounding a foot or two below the surface, and it is sawn into planks while half under water.

The Great Dismal has been described as being highest towards its centre. Here, however, there is an extensive lake of an oval form, seven miles long and more than five wide, the depth, where greatest, fifteen feet; and its bottom, consisting of mud like the swamp, but sometimes with a pure white sand, a foot deep, covering the mud. The water is transparent, though tinged of a pale brown colour, like that of our peat-mosses, and contains abundance of fish. This sheet of water is usually even with its banks, on which a thick and tall forest grows. There is no beach, for the bank sinks perpendicularly, so that if the waters are lowered several feet, it makes no alteration in the breadth of the lake.

Much timber has been cut down and carried out from the swamp by means of canals, which are perfectly straight for long distances, with the trees on each side arching over, and almost joining their branches across, so that th throw a dark shade on the water, which of itself looks black, being coloured as before mentioned. When the boats

emerge from the gloom of these avenues into the lake, the scene is said to be “ as beautiful as fairy land.”

The bears inhabiting the swamp climb trees in search of acorns and gum-berries, breaking off large boughs of the oaks in order to draw the acorns near to them. These same bears are said to kill hogs, and even

There are also wild cats, and occasionally a solitary wolf, in the

COWS.

morass.

That the ancient seams of coal were produced for the most part by terrestrial plants of all sizes, not drifted, but growing on the spot, is a theory more and more generally adopted in modern times; and the growth of what is oalled sponge in such a swamp, and in such a cli

« PředchozíPokračovat »