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have done before those convulsions, we should have had the use only of a few of the uppermost of the strata, the others lying too deep and too difficult to be come at; but the shell of the earth being broke, and the fragments thrown into this oblique position, the disjointed ends of a great number of strata of different kinds are brought up-to day, and a great variety of useful materials put into our power, which would otherwise have remained eternally concealed from us.
So that what has been usually looked upon as a ruin suffered by this part of the universe, was, in reality, only a preparation, or means of rendering the earth more fit for use, more capable of being to mankind a convenient and comfortable habitation.
To Mr. Bowdoin.
Queries and Conjectures relating to Magnetism and the Theory of the Earth.-Read in the American Philosophical Society January 15, 1790.
I received your favours by Messrs. Gore, Hilliard, and Lee, with whose conversation I was much pleased, and wished for more of it; but their stay with us was too short. Whenever you recommend any of your friends to me, you oblige me.
I want to know whether your Philosophical Society received the second volume of our Transactions. I sent it, but never heard of its arriving. If it miscarried, I will send another. Has your Society among its books the French work sur les Arts et les Metiers? It is voluminous, well executed, and may be useful in our country. I have bequeathed it them in my will; but if they have it already, I will substitute something else.
Our ancient correspondence used to have something philosophical in it. As you are now free from public cares, and I expect to be so in a few months,
why may we not resume that kind of correspondence ? Our much regretted friend Winthrop once made me the compliment, that I was good at starting game for philosophers, let me try if I can start a little for you.
Has the question, how came the earth by its magnetism, ever been considered ?
Is it likely that iron ore immediately existed when this globe was at first formed; or may it not rather be supposed a gradual production of time?
If the earth is at present magnetical, in virtue of the masses of iron ore contained in it, might not some ages pass before it had magnetic polarity?
Since iron ore may exist without that polarity, and, by being placed in certain circumstances, may obtain it from an external cause, is it not possible that the earth received its magnetism from some such cause ?
In short, may not a magnetic power exist throughout our system, perhaps through all systems, so that if men could make a voyage in the starry regions, a compass might be of use? And may not such universal magnetism, with its uniform direction, be serviceable in keeping the diurnal revolution of a planet more steady to the same axis ?
Lastly, as the poles of magnets may be changed by the presence of stronger magnets, might not, in ancient times, the near passing of some large comet, of greater magnetic power than this globe of ours, have been a means of changing its poles, and there. by wrecking and deranging its surface, placing in different regions the effect of centrifugal force, so as to raise the waters of the sea in some, while they were depressed in others ?
Let me add another question or two, not relating indeed to magnetism, but, however, to the theory of the earth.
Is not the finding of great quantities of shells and bones of animals (natural to hot climates) in the
cold ones of our present world, some proof that its poles have been changed? Is not the supposition that the poles have been changed, the easiest way of accounting for the deluge, by getting rid of the old difficulty how to dispose of its waters after it was over? Since, if the poles were again to be changed, and placed in the present equator, the sea would fall there about fifteen miles in height, and rise as much in the present polar regions; and the effect would be proportionable if the new poles were placed anywhere between the present and the equator.
Does not the apparent wreck of the surface of this globe, thrown up into long ridges of mountains, with strata in various positions, make it probable that its internal mass is a fluid, but a fluid so dense as to float the heaviest of our substances? Do we know the limit of condensation air is capable of? Supposing it to grow denser within the surface in the same proportion nearly as does without, at what depth may it be equal in density with gold?
Can we easily conceive how the strata of the earth could have been so deranged, if it had not been a mere shell supported by a heavier fluid ? Would not such a supposed internal fluid globe be immediately sensible of a change in the situation of the earth's axis, alter its form, and thereby burst the shell and throw up parts of it above the rest ? As if we would alter the position of the fluid contained in the shell of an egg, and place its longest diameter where the shortest now is, the shell must break; but would be much harder to break if the whole internal substance were as solid and as hard as the shell.
Might not a wave, by any means raised in this supposed internal ocean of extremely dense fluid, raise, in some degree as it passes, the present shell of incumbent earth, and break it in some places, as in earthquakes. And may not the progress of such wave, and the disorders it occasions among the sol
ids of the shell, account for the rumbling sound being first heard at a distance, augmenting as it approaches, and gradually dying away as it proceeds ? A circumstance observed by the inhabitants of South America, in their last great earthquake, that noise coming from a place some degrees north of Lima, and being traced by inquiry quite down to Buenos Ayres, proceeded regularly from north to south at the rate of leagues per minute, as I was informed by a very ingenious Peruvian whom I met with at Paris.
To M. Dubourg.
ON THE NATURE OF SEACOAL.
I am persuaded, as well as you, that the seacoal has a vegetable origin, and that it has been formed near the surface of the earth; but, as preceding convulsions of nature had served to bring it very deep in many places, and covered it with many different strata, we are indebted to subsequent convulsions for having brought within our view the extremities of its veins, so as to lead us to penetrate the earth in search of it. I visited last summer a large coalmine at Whitehaven, in Cumberland; and in following the vein, and descending by degrees towards the sea, I penetrated below. the ocean where the level of its surface was more than eight hundred fathoms above my head, and the miners assured me that their works extended some miles beyond the place where I then was, continually and gradually descending under the sea. The slate, which forms the roof of this coalmine, is impressed in many places with the figures of leaves and branches of fern, which undoubtedly grew at the surface when the slate was in the state of sand on the banks of the sea. Thus it appears that this vein of coal has suffered a prodigious settlement.
CAUSES OF EARTHQUAKES.
The late earthquake felt here, and probably in all the neighbouring provinces, having made many people desirous to know what may be the natural cause of such violent concussions, we shall endeavour to gratify their curiosity by giving them the various opinions of the learned on that head.
Here naturalists are divided. Some ascribe them to water, others to fire, and others to air, and all of them with some appearance of reason. To conceive which, it is to be observed that the earth everywhere abounds in huge subterraneous caverns, veins, and canals, particularly about the roots of mountains; that of these cavities, veins, &c., some are full of water, whence are composed gulfs, abysses, springs, rivulets; and others full of exhalations; and that some parts of the earth are replete with nitre, sulphur, bitumen, vitriol, &c. This premised,
1. The earth itself may sometimes be the cause of its own shaking; when the roots or basis of some large mass being dissolved, or worn away by a fluid underneath, it sinks into the same, and, with its weight, occasions a tremour of the adjacent parts, produces a noise, and frequently an inundation of water.
2. The subterraneous waters may occasion earthquakes by their overflowing, cutting out new courses, &c. Add that the water, being heated and rarefied by the subterraneous fires, may emit fumes, blasts, &c., which, by their action either on the water or immediately on the earth itself, may occasion great succussions.
3. The air may be the cause of earthquakes; for