Ahoy readers! A minor window has at present come to open – merely enough that I may fold and slip this missive through it by the use of two hands on a body that indeed requires at best a doubling of such; for I am constantly awash in multiple disciplines, each owning seemingly infinite demands. Let us not joke about then, and tackle directly question four of the literary questions existing in the back of Of Woodbridge and Hedgly, after the story has concluded. This will be my second shot at the questions; the first – my examination of the seventh question – can be found here.
4. Throughout the novel, the antagonists – a faction of Hedgely Particular Baptists and their agrarian laborers – have latched onto geological hypotheses and theories that were in the process of falling out of favor at the time (ex. Werner’s Neptunism). Why did these men hold so fervently to these ideas? Did each individual and socioeconomic class have its own reasons for this?
In addressing question four, we shall sail to the head of chapter four in the novel, which serves as an introduction to the antagonists’ propagandistic designs – those that confound Mr. Winter and Parson Moore throughout the story. It is here that they – the antagonists, Preacher Edwards, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Wyatt – start to enthusiastically clap hold of obsolete geological theories, that, were these men not in the throes of rivalry, would have been found to be of little good by any of them. Their tutor, and fellow they’ve hired to incorporate these weary ideas into counterarguments against our protagonists, goes by the name Princep – a man with credible talent for understanding natural philosophy but who possesses none of such regarding personal contributions to the discipline:
Mr. Princep was something of a fading grey dandy, haggard but well shaved, and missing a hand’s area of hair his junior self did once possess atop his forehead. More importantly to his company though, was that he was a natural philosopher and Fellow of the Royal Society of London – the title everything to their wants – and it was neither here nor there that he was a most unproductive member, having contributed no articles to the Philosophical Transactions along his tenure.
Mr. Princep represents those which are known in our modern era as ‘fake experts’: Men that antagonize a right scientific theory with sophistry and who hold no viable alternative against it, but who gain a large misguided following for being highly advertised in the media, which is complicit in the manifestation of this antiscience propaganda. An example of such is Professor Richard Lindzen who teaches atmospheric sciences at MIT. His Lindzen and Choi ‘series’ (in quotations as he has rewritten this selfsame paper multiple times, trying to sneak it past peer review, which does never occur) entitled On the Observational Determination of Climate Sensitivity and Its Implications seeks to argue climate sensitivity (the steady state temperature the air close to the surface of the Earth will own upon a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere) is much lower than what the rest of his colleagues propose. In the version I’ve linked above, the professor admits (after colleagues point such out during peer review) in the Feedback Formalism section of the paper that previous versions of the paper contained a novice error in the basic construction of his feedback algorithm. Further the paper is riddled with unbacked assumptions which are explained by Skeptical Science here. Lindzen is the most unsuccessful climate scientist of the modern era, and my character Mr. Pricep is in this respect modeled on him; he too having failed to publish anything substantial in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, the prestigious journal cataloguing the scientific discoveries of the day. And just as science denialists prop up Lindzen by way of his position as a MIT professor, our antagonists wish to prop up Mr. Princep by way of his position as a member of the Royal Society – an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy.
Let us hear what Mr. Princep has to say in our chapter of interest:
‘It is natural that he would be a champion of Hutton, having cut his teeth in Edinburgh’, said Mr. Princep to his dinner companions, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Wyatt. ‘But it is poor form not to allow Cuvier and Werner their proper places, foreign as they are, and may I also note that Comte de Buffon retracted his findings regarding the age of the earth?’
Here we will break to note that Comte de Buffon only retracted his written ideas on an ‘aged earth’ – an earth he calculated to be 75,000 year old – because of pressure put on him by the powerful religious component that occupied Sorbonne (the former University of Paris), and not from some scientific revelation. But our propagandist has communicated such to his audience in a manner that makes it seem as though the latter could indeed be the true reason, and that their rival, who continues to use the retracted number, is in the wrong. Mr. Princep is using the selfsame propaganda technique Fox News, or any of the climate denial blogs use: They give the audience the rest of the story in a simple, quick, and elegant package, piquing their arrogance that they know something the others – the simpletons – do not; agitating them in the process, that they may become active in the political process against the ‘charlatans’.
Mr. Princep continues to reel the men in with more on the Comte and age of the earth:
‘But the spots in the pudding have to do with this three million year number, supposedly entered into Buffon’s manuscript, based on his sediment observations; not because that too was self removed, as it did not appear in the published addition of Les époques de la nature, but because it varies so much from his first number, such that it is the like to an admission that he knows not a true figure. Which is it? Seventy five thousand or three million years? If we subtract the latter by the former we have two million nine hundred and twenty five thousand years. And if we subtract the former by the age of the earth then we have sixty nine thousand one hundred and seventy six. There is a greater discrepancy between the man’s two numbers than there is between his formerly published number and the true age of the earth! Would I had a quill and paper I could show you that the fractional difference between the division of his lesser and greater numbers and the true age and the greater number is quite insignificant. He could just as well claim the earth to be but fifty years old and there would be little difference in such and what he has thus put forth.’
Here Princep offers some mathematical non sequiturs. He tries to dismiss the growing evidence that the earth is older than what the Biblical generations infer by illuminating the large discrepancies in the earliest calculations on the subject. As I was authoring this section of the novel, I was recollecting a particular mathematical non sequitur that was making the rounds in the low information climate denial community four or five years ago, which presented as the following: ‘The difference in atmospheric concentration of CO2 concerning today’s readings and those of the preindustrial era only amounts to a 0.013% change.’ This number was billed as the ‘real’ number to ‘debunk’ the actual rise in concentration from 270 to 400 ppm (which works out to be 400-270/270 = 48%). What the propagandists had done then was simply subtract the original atmospheric percentage from the present one: 400/1,000,000 – 270/1,000,000 x 100 = 0.013% (with respect to atmospheric diluent), or in other words, the CO2 concentration was 0.027% and now it is 0.040% (and this was supposed to ‘feel’ like a small, insignificant change to those without the capacity to question the effects of such).
After Princep riles the antagonists up into a righteous fever, he offers this:
‘You’ve told me of your parson’s account of Hutton, and now I will tell you of two equally compelling philosophical explanations of the origin of our world that vary considerably from The Theory of the Earth; one by each of these men:
‘First I must say that Steno’s superposition does govern all these men’s work – Smith, Cuvier,…; in this there is no divergence with the parson’s offerings. Indeed, it can be rightly supposed that all these respective philosophers agree that stratification requires some measure of time to be accomplished. But let us examine Werner who offers that all rock was indeed precipitated or deposited from a receding ocean, originally stocked with all the necessary elements that our strata presently contain. On Werner’s earth, we start with an irregular solid body surrounded completely with a primitive ocean that is heavily saturated with these elements or minerals, who over time fall out in series based upon their particular qualities: the primitive series precipitates first, still underwater, which contains our primeval rock – granite, granite gneiss and the like; a transition series then follows, universally depositing our most indurated limestone and seemingly intrusive interstices, by Hutton’s eye at least; after such comes our stratified series with our fossils, and then our sands, gravels, and clays which were deposited on land as the ocean permanently retreated; and lastly local lava flows. I should add that these lava flows are not the product of some unproven, universal underground heat source, invented by a sprightly imagination to confound the sweeping of Hutton’s erroneous assumptions out the door. Instead they are the consequence of local coal bed burning, which any man who’s warmed his hands by the material can readily understand: I fancy the least burdensome explanation is quite often the most true, that I stand by such dogma fearlessly!’
‘Hear him!’ Mr. Wyatt generously applied to the room. ‘Mr. Princep, a glass!’ he added emptying the decanter into each of the men’s glasses, they all suffering a boiling excitation arising from the discourse. It wasn’t that the two staunch Baptists were suddenly great enthusiasts of Werner’s hypothesis, but that there existed such articulate opposition to what indeed was flowing out of the Woodbridge parish every other week. ‘To ease in explanation’ was jollily toasted at such a barking fortissimo, that the serving maid presented some moment later, unprovoked, with a new decanter.
After glasses were replenished, Mr. Edwards and Wyatt then reinvented conversations first had a few decades before, concerning the similarity of Werner’s all encompassing ocean and the Noahic Flood, each convincing the other that the hypothesis was evidence for the event and visa versa. Mr. Princep then added a secondary piece of evidence by regaling the men of Cuvier’s interpretations of what he had found in the geologic column around Paris – a series of strata with alternating sea and freshwater fossils consistently ordered in the rock: such he found was the residuum of multiple singular and catastrophic events, each being followed by periods of stability in which a new succession of flora and fauna would repopulate the land. The last of these catastrophic events, the naturalist explained, was what Cuvier believed to be the founding of Genesis, for the abrupt nature in which each series of fossil did appear over stratigraphic time, gave him cause to find no fault with biblical creation.
It should be noted here that Cuvier did not accept evolution (which is why he is plopped upon Princep’s dinner table), and at one point argued against his colleagues with respect to such by offering that they were relying too heavily on deep time to satisfy their desire for the success of the concept. This has been wrongly inferred to mean that Cuvier was a proponent of the young earth hypothesis (derived from Archbishop Usher). Indeed the father of modern geology, Charles Lyell, actively promoted this untruth, which one may read about here: Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century (page 174).
But the plum in the pudding regarding Princep’s lecture is that the antagonists joyfully devour these ideas as they are presented, for they find merit in the function of their existence on a few counts: Firstly, that they are in eloquent opposition to their rival’s position, and secondly, they can be sold in a facile fashion to not only their Hedgely flock, but to the Woodbridge community as well, as seemingly valid counterarguments against Mr. Moore’s scientific lectures, causing individuals to confusedly question the merit of the material from the parson. That these outdated hypotheses are true or not is neither here nor there for their – the antagonists – part: When immortal souls are at stake, or other issues of great importance, necessity compels the use of any devilish means. This is the tragedy of holding fast to any rigid ideology, whether it be the religious conviction that Archbishop Usher was correct in his methodology and calculation of the age of the earth, or the religious conviction that greenhouse gas concentrations don’t affect the energy budget of the planet – at some point one will have to ally themselves with not merely untruths, but widely known and settled untruths, and look like a flat for doing so.
I’ll be back later to talk of each antagonist’s motivations for conspiring against the Enlightenment, whether these be rigid ideologies, indifference to change, or perhaps a bit of romantic and business related rivalry for the part of one man.
Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is a satire on the phenomenon of science denial, born from my observations and interactions with climate change deniers and propagandists. Indeed, though the novel focuses on early natural history and agricultural science, I’ve included several allusions to climate security and climate change throughout it. Below, I’ve posted several extracts from the book to highlight some of my satire and science commentary, so that reviewers may form an opinion on the merit of such. I’ve included brief explanations on the context of each, but I’m sure most of the climate science communication community, already familiar enough with the mechanics of denial, will get the gist of it. I invite you to scroll down through the post and examine these summaries marked in bold, and pick out a few to review the text underneath.
The Historical Lens
I’ve given the book an early 19th century setting, creating a historical lens designed to sharpen the reader’s examination of the subject, as it allows my antagonists to take anti-science positions on topics that are very much settled today, starkly revealing their absurdity. For example, there was a debate in the late 18th century on whether or not igneous rock, like granite, could be continually formed, because some thought only the Christian God could create this ‘primordial’ rock. Some people dismissed volcanic activity as merely coal seam fires that had gotten out of control and melted a little ‘primordial’ rock. James Hutton tried to put the notion to rest by his examples of molten injections of rock and minerals into older material, the most famous of these being his Glen Tilt set, where pink granite had been injected into metamorphic sandstone, near the joining of two large waterways:
Grammar and Dialectal Artifacts
Grammar Trigger Warning – The book’s dialect and prose are mildly variant from modern English in order to place the reader back into the early 19th century. Also, I constantly use the word ‘that’ in place of the phrase ‘so that’, to give a ‘biblical’ or ‘Shakespearean’ effect to the prose. For example: ‘He grabbed a pen from his desk, so that he could write a note,’ becomes, ‘He grabbed a pen from his desk, that he could write a note’. [There is also a vocabulary section on the last two pages of the book in order to help the non-Austen or non-Regency readers.]
Satirical Moments and Scientific Commentary
Pg. 24 – 25 (agricultural rotation and importance of ecological diversity):
His thoughts ran upon ancient times well before Christ, when it was found that a monoculture crop planted continuously from one growing season to the next would exhaust the soil of its liveliness and promote the chronic lingering of disease, that farmers eventually adopted yearly or seasonal pauses which diminished these phenomena; during which their crops were grown on alternate sections of land. By the time of Charlemagne such had transformed into a three-field rotation, where one section of land was designated for wheat or rye during the autumn planting, whilst another was spring planted with legumes – peas, lentils, beans, or the like – and a third section was left fallow. Variants upon this and manuring followed as man strived further to impress upon the land that it should produce even greater yields that he, his brethren, and his animals may be better nourished.
But the forest needed no such attention: the thirsty Willow arranged itself by water courses; the autumn leaves and the offerings of the birds, squirrels, and every other creature present manured the soil and enlivened it, that there were no areas fallow or need be so. Pestilence was held in check, Mr. Winter rationalized, as function of the rich variation of flora and fauna of the wood, for just as agrarian fields were less susceptible to disease as their contents became more varied season by season through the introduction of rotation, such manifested exponentially here, though he admitted that the mechanics of this were still partly a mystery. And acts of man, be they structures, paths, or otherwise, if left in want of attention would be reclaimed by the forest, similar to the body’s reaction to a minor cut or wound. It was as if the wood was a great perpetual clock having hundreds to thousands of working parts which were self-righting and self-tinkering, that all gave and received from each other purpose.
Pg. 79 (on how a theory may be robust, without every last, miniscule detail of it being known):
Impressed by his audience at this, he further gave an example of how a thing can be known generally, even as what is known of the details is limited: In fair, summer weather it may take a carriage traveling from Edinburgh to London a good ten days to accomplish its route, he argued; and in poor winter weather it may take twenty days or longer; so it may be known that such a venture could take between ten and twenty days or longer, though for any one particular trip, it cannot be known – the precise time of arrival; such being dependent upon the weather, the vitality of horses and carriage wheels, the health of the passengers, etcetera. Again, this was well taken, which prompted him further toward the meat of his lecture.
Pg. 105 (use of fake science experts):
‘My word! Our man said he read several passages of the Comte, professing the seventy five thousand years as were he immersed in the Bible at quarter to noon on Sunday. It appears he has not represented the author at all on the matter – oh, such sharp practice!’, cried Mr. Edwards as he looked over his new hire: Mr. Princep was something of a fading grey dandy, haggard but well shaved, and missing a hand’s area of hair his junior self did once possess atop his forehead. More importantly to his company though, was that he was a natural philosopher and Fellow of the Royal Society of London – the title everything to their wants – and it was neither here nor there that he was a most unproductive member, having contributed no articles to the Philosophical Transactions along his tenure.
Pg. 101 – 102 (commentary on free market practice and climate):
‘By the by, when was the last time you limed any of your land, Mr. Arnold?’
‘Sir I’ve never done so: I’ve never had the need’, the farmer said, then after a moment’s hesitation, he added, ‘There was a young man I used to let the western part of my property to, who did attempt some like improvement in the poverty year by way of the set of wicked quarry men, which I’m sure your Mr. Parkinson would have a few descriptions for…’
‘Yes’, said Mr. Winter, recalling his first evening at the Agricultural Society, ‘The laissez-faire men who could not defeat the climate’.
‘Those exact! Well, considering them, and considering the number of instances here and about where no real benefit has come of it…’
Pg. 108 (on the implementation of propaganda, Bernays’s style):
‘Mr. Princep, I believe we understand each other well enough’, said Mr. Edwards when their conversational zeal began to ebb. ‘Please allow me to elaborate more upon the subject I put in my original calling: We have decided that appealing to the town through my person alone would not be efficacious, for it is too coincidental with that of a simple, personal contest between two local men. We thus find it more attractive were a seemingly unattached third party with some measure of authority, as you have – being of the Royal Society – to intervene in a discrete format, which would allow our town’s members to perceive that they were active participants in the countering of Mr. Winter’s and Mr. Moore’s nonsense. We propose a pamphlet series to be that very format, which may be sold at our local bookstore, that our brethren could read and decide for themselves what is right, true and just, profess it to others among their circles, and perhaps be brave enough to contradict these men’s followers when proper circumstances call to do so.
Pg. 112 (‘It’s the sun; not us’ crock; and Bill O’Reily’s ‘Tide goes in, tide goes out; you can’t explain that’ comment):
‘Mr. Langly’s fields have all to do with the work o’ the sun and little else, sir! All the like, sloped grounds don’t see it well and thusly suffer production!’, Mr. Weston griped in a tone confident he had smoked the trouble as easy as kiss his hand. Indeed he was ecstatic that Winter had not, being the ‘philosophical flat’ which he and his brethren now took him for; this notion ringing clearly with the quick lesson, that his colleagues’ mouths were instantly wetted in hopes that their fellow would deliver more of his superior knowledge down onto the man.
‘Amen – hear him!’, cried his lackey, Mr. Smith. ‘The sun alone does giveth and taketh, like the river’s tide and ocean’s ebb and flow; and not a mortal to explain it!’
Pg. 113 (on cherry picking and pulling scientists words out of context, Lord Monckton style):
The explanation did little to calm the gentlemen. Indeed it seemed to rouse his antagonists further, as another stood up and coarsely injected, ‘The gentleman praises Sir Humphrey Davy’s book often enough that we may allow him well versed. Why then does he pay no mind to the professor’s follies or those in the many anecdotes that mark the lectures? Let me provide the room with a taste:
‘On page two hundred and eighty three, Davy does state:
‘Quicklime in its pure state, whether in powder or dissolved in water is injurious to plants. – I have in several instances killed grass by watering it with lime water!
‘Whilst on page two hundred and eighty nine, the man confesses:
‘I took four portions of the same soil: with one I mixed a fraction of its weight with caustic magnesia; barley was sown into it. In this soil containing this magnesia, it rose very feeble and looked yellow and sickly!
‘On the selfsame page he – I venture a little mad – admits to repeating the same procedure with the expected result, finally concluding, as he had previously on page two eighty eight, that magnesian lime is poison – the very stuff that you, sir, have offered as one of your remedies to Mr. Arnold!’
Mr. Winter motioned to object, for Davy’s words had been partially disassembled from their context, confounding the perception of the chemist’s abilities. Whether the cause was insincerity or ineptitude, he couldn’t tell at present, but he did note that the man was reading from a thin, printed parchment, and not from the author’s official publication. And before he did scarcely breath in to issue a proper return, he was cut short; the farmer crescendoing his voice preemptively:
Pg. 117 (birth of an anti-science conspiracy in which the scientist is accused of a tax money grab; reinforcing nature of rightwing bubble, regarding talking points):
I am a great marauder of farmland whose prime desire is to cover its fields completely with iron and glass that I may take part in the tax money incurred by such extravagance, my father of course adjudicating deal, and with the secondary benefit that it confuses its laborers: ‘that not a ploughman may plough, a tiller may till, a roller may roll, or a wife may gavel the corn’. At least this is how I am thought of in lower Hedgely, its constituents having been unilaterally poisoned by such a supposition; this – among other absurdities discovered at last Sunday’s Society meeting – seemingly producing a social return inside this set as each player reinforced the notion to the group.
[In 1820’s England, there was a window property tax based on the number of windows a building had. The protagonist speaking has erected a greenhouse to run botany experiments, naturally full of windows in his backyard – one of just a handful in England at the time – which gives rise to the antagonists’ tax mythology.]
Pg. 171 (comment on food scarcity and the climate):
The protraction of winter had in fact so encroached upon the spring that Mr. Winter, sitting at his writing desk, mused upon the elasticity of the seasons which distinguished such from the strictness of the calendar, and the utter dependency the industrious quality of a farmer’s existence was upon the climate.
Pg. 174 (epiphany that agricultural land is in an artificial, destructive state; epiphany of modern artificial fertilization):
What I will instead employ my pen to reveal are thoughts incidental to such I’ve formulated over the winter’s recess: that the most prime state of farming may exist by affording a piece of land more manure than it can indeed produce, and not by merely reimbursing that land with what our poor powers perceive as having been taken. In accepting this one must concede that mankind is disruptive to the land he tends: he pars and burns woodland – which is in a harmonious state of cyclical nutriment that it may exist to infinitum as long as providence, the earth’s mechanical forces, or the climate are willing – in order to produce a plot whose nutriment is a delicate function of the tireless work he does upon it. And in not mistaking farmland as existing in a natural state, one can accept that enriching a land past what nature could provide may be beneficial to his industry.
Pg. 179 (integrating the ‘wind turbines cause disease’ crock, alongside the repetitive nature of the anti-science propaganda):
George Moore has naturally taken some complaints concerning my engineering endeavors – firstly against my pools, for as soon as my hires had presented to the fields the ridiculous notion that I was to glaze over the land and take backdoor payments on tax collections sprung up again, causing time to be wasted on the part of all involved. And as quick as the howling of these dogs quieted down after having been satisfied in our suffering of time, they started up again upon the recent deployment of my water wheel pumps: Claims that they were a blight on the countryside, ruining its continuity and picturesque quality, became a pounding point by this same set of men at the latest Society meeting. No doubt they further authored the misinformation that the pumps would be uncommon loud, like steam pumps when they ran at full capacity, and that the noise and vibration would cause those proximal to suffer “headaches, dyspepsia, shortened tempers, and any other manner of nervous attitude putting them and their offspring in the way of infectious sequelae”, those specifically mentioned being pox, influenza, measles, whooping cough and even the nefarious marthambles. I’m now obliged to dispel these charges through demonstrations, again dampening my schedule whilst these few wag their tales and salivate at having further antagonized me. [Note: the marthambles, was a mythological disease from the early 19th century.]
Pg. 189 (science deniers ignorant views on the progress of energy technology):
‘And certainly it is not just the material philosopher that suffers: The coal gas the chemical philosophers implement in London and our larger towns can only be made to burn so bright before the flame becomes injurious to the contents of a dwelling it is supposed to illuminate, or the material on which it is delivered; again an unsatisfactory limitation in comparison to that which already exists – in this case a fine set of candles or a whale lamp. The coal supply itself will surely be expended at some point, and if not that, then the other chemicals used to wash it, that it be less noxious to its users.
‘But the argument then is further solidified as we turn to those that are mere theorists who offer no practical implements in their art. Here lies the realm of transmutation and old earths with molten innards, which are at best, silly curiosities for university dandies to ponder upon but do little with…’ [Here, the character fails to anticipate geothermal energy, as he denies a fundamental aspect of modern geology.]
Pg. 191 (on science deniers’ debating and propaganda techniques):
‘Whilst I know not of any one piece of philosophical information that can comprehensively break their entire lot, we must however constantly strive to create the perception that such can be done, or has already been done. Indeed in a contradistinguishing fashion to one sole, all-smiting stroke, we, to the greatest effect, thus work in the realm gratuitous rhetoric, the like to a London barrister weaving a case by multiple strands, the greater of these appealing to an audience not necessarily on any logical ground, but in a manner rhetorical, political, emotive, or otherwise. To be sure, we will have our moments for a given strand: we may find a careless error in our adversary’s argument and work to turn such into a very great thing indeed. But the better part must be attractive enough, even in cases of broken reason, that it remains effective; in fact it’s probably most efficacious not to subject any strand to the focus on first principles or evidence. By this style of argument, several strands may buckle or break, but if the majority stay intact then we give ourselves the finest cause to be the victors. And for every strand our adversary produces, we need only continuously produce two against it to legitimize our stand against him’…
…‘For the material that is relevant to your particular country towns sirs, sharp wit is not our instrument; rather the opposite: We must solicit the admiration of dullards that hold the way of the world, not in long drawn out passages, but in quick bites of ‘truths’ that are easily clapped onto: casual observances that work more times than not, even if but near half of those, yet which they will grasp onto most angrily on all occasion as a function of they being so readily understood, and by their holder’s frailty of mind in the presence of the unfamiliar, or that which is troublesome to smoke…’
Pg. 201 (illustrating uneducated farmhands’ unprogressive social stance with regard to race in 1821 (and beyond; these men representing modern ‘country’ conservatives), and also giving a hat tip to Potholer54 and his golden crock-a-duck award):
‘I heard ‘ems was of a rather strange physique and colour, but on account o’ their savagery an’ not more. Oh, oh, oh!’, the Hedgely cried in alarm as he pointed over the heads of the Woodbridge’s at their table, causing them to turn around only to find the keep with their scrumpy. ‘My apologies, sirs: I reckoned it were a winged boar or a crocodilian-duck! Ha, ha, ha!’
Pg. 201 (an appeal to scientific authority, when its practitioners adhere to the scientific method):
‘Sir, does it not occur that when you have a swing at us, you’re not in the least injuring Mr. Darwin or Mr. Moore?; that whilst there are those among us which concede that the gentleman could well be onto something beyond our poor minds, we do not erect his every notion to gospel with which to populate our standards, falling any variant? We only commit that there are men more expert upon these scientific notions than us or you, and when they provide credible work sufficient for their peers, such must be respected; and no amount of words nor bruises does tear it’.
Pg. 232 (on sustainability and finiteness of earth’s resources):
Yet as one member casually looked back, over his shoulder, at the Hedgely fields south of Mr. Arnold’s, he was reminded of those that felt stewardship entailed taking from the land with no notion of return – convictions that could only be held in the short interval, for by the application of deep time – rather the depth felt on man’s generational scale – such perceptions of morality and principle are overruled by the ungovernable work of reality and its finiteness.
‘Never mind the Baptists’, called out Mr. Winter at the man, having caught him looking rather thoughtful at the other fields kept by such men. ‘For sure as they presently find folly and ridicule in our practice, as its benefits come to fruition and build in magnitude with successive rotations, it will come to pass that they will bestow upon it virtues it certainly does not keep, they but existing, naturally, in a perpetual state of error; and I will indeed have to then caution them against injurious applications of marle and the like. But let them continue to apply their stable dung and urine to their acidic plots for the present…’
Pg. 241 (on witch hunting, religious or otherwise):
‘…Further, I kept little doubt – as did we all, I believe – that from its detail of our labors, there were retained a few local loyalists whose initial reporting perhaps accelerated into the witch hunt we’ve thusly suffered. Such is not an uncommon tool held by some of these fanatical groups, in that it secures their positions, rallies their brethren in number, and perhaps justifies the endogenous perceptions of their existence: that they are moral warriors crusading against evil, salivating at its collapse from the abstract to a worldly embodiment that they may prick with their swords or the like’.
‘I would venture further, Mr. Winter, and submit that some of the fellows with the swords at times have property or status to be gained or maintained by the puncturing of their antagonists. Did you at all smoke the loyalists then?’
Pg. 243 (propaganda meant to confuse people into inaction; and the use of biblical references to justify a person’s desired actions):
‘It is hard to say without having attended the men’s tables. Princep naturally had to author the counterarguments against Hutton, Davy, and Darwin, etcetera, by his own ingenuity, often having to summarize either side’s positions that the Hedgely’s could thus follow their own mischief. Yet he did state that he was commissioned to ‘but politely butcher’ us – to ‘broadcast doubt simply to the point of confused inaction’ concerning my manuring of the fields; Edward’s having the selfsame reservations about its efficacy as Smith and Weston openly did; indeed feeding them further in their convictions by the offering of apparently supportive scripture’.
Pg. 243 (again satire on people like Lindzen who are propped up by their professorship status as authorities):
‘The man’s greatest trick was that he was a Royal Society member, that readers of the instrument may bask in his authority, whilst those that sought to apply his guff to the towns could to such defer – never mind he hadn’t but even one article in the Philosophical Transactions, nor the Annals of Philosophy, nor any other scientific journal; I’ve confirmed it with the man himself – he is indeed the least successful natural philosopher in London; the irony being that Davy – the man he sought to diminish – has had three papers accepted to this year’s Transactions alone, and as of last November has been the elected president of the Royal Society. But beyond such, Mr. Princep seems to have only offered what Mr. Edwards was so sharp set to hear, despite the spoon feeding. You are having difficulty with Mr. Edward’s motive?’
Pg. 248 (Baptist holds a false belief that the 1816 ‘Year Without a Summer’, where the volcanic winter produced from the eruption of Mount Tambora caused food shortages in Europe, is a punishment from God for the wrongdoings of his Anglican rival, four years later, in 1820 and 21. He intends to shoot him in a pistol duel in order to make sure the climate doesn’t get any worse):
‘Sir, there are consequences from such utter abandonment, where He is not welcome upon our countryside, inside our towns, schools, and – heavens! – even in Woodbridge’s place of worship every other Sunday! Men of the lower cast perpetuate physical disagreements with one another; others of all stations wake from Spring with no design for revival of their spirits and stay but in their gardens on Sundays, in hope of avoiding like conflicts boiling up from the voids He has left; armed watchmen whom worship only the moon and the night take shots at good Christians that only wish to deliver them a pot of coffee and a crust of bread as they shepherd over their pagan contraptions and artificial fields of wheat. I will not go further, but further it goes.
‘It is my belief this was all foretold in the year eighteen sixteen with the failing of summer and our crops, that we suffered so over the following winter. Considering all which has come to pass, it cannot be reconciled otherwise, but that such was a providential message of warning and preemptive punishment for that now upon us, in which sir, you’ve performed an ample part. The winter was again this year cruel, and for good reason. I am sorry Parson Moore, but I do not wish to see a decade without a summer which I feel is upon us, were I not to do God’s bidding this morn’.
A long silent pause occurred where only the gurgling of the river and the calling of nocturnal birds was observed.
‘Mr. Edwards, have you considered that one man’s follies alone do not change the English climate? That if such a thing were possible, it would arise from concerted effort?’, asked Mr. Moore, yet the only answer he received was from the river.
Pg. 261 – 62 (notion of false balance in the media and that the rich are rarely held accountable for their mischief):
‘Oh Lord – Mr. Winter!’, cried Charlotte. ‘I’ve just smoked the significance! Oh cousin, forgive me! Forgive me; I did not know! That is to say I did not accept the servants’ opinions of him anymore than I did the ill talk of Mr. Winter that came up from Hedgely on occasion. My goodness – the irony: that it was he who caused such menacing to begin with, and by its existence, such eventually gentled his own character for my part, when the towns did turn on him, by way of our inherent desire for balance where none does truly exist! What may become of him, do you think?’
‘He is a well situated landowner. Were he not to suffer an uncommon many gross errors of business, then his rents will continue as they have done for his uncle; and whilst he’s in want of age and finds no sore neck or crackled bones by the ready use of his carriage, he will maintain his weekly place at the Edward’s dinner table; but were he at all to be called out on his recent delinquency, it would be in the most genial manner with no good friends won or lost on it, save the Moore’s I suppose, though I hesitate in elevating his status so at Woodbridge Manor. I suspect in time he will marry a lesser woman or an impoverished aristocrat, have many a dull child, and oblige them all to endure his evening reading’, said Harriet, regretting her final speculation, as it unmade the little improvement Charlotte had been taking as they longer conversed.
Pg. 268 – 69 (more on the notion of failure to adopt new technology for religious reasons):
From such concerns, and from thoughts on Mr. Winter’s ventures those last nine months, a broader notion too was tacitly born: Though Mr. Weston, and Mr. Smith beside him, did own their own land and could afford to produce two or three bushels of grain less per acre than the farmers who worked on let land, their companions in the latter situation could not, and were thusly obliged to struggle some day, would they continue to idolize these men in their practice. How long would they stubbornly refuse to marl or otherwise enrich their lands by artificial means, but instead place the entire responsibility onto God, and let His sun, rain, and providence alone define their yields? Such rigid ideology did not seem compatible with sustained survival on the generational time scale, nor even the decadal; indeed, they were yearly spared but from the tradition of animal husbandry and dung heaps they were born into; as well their forefather’s better care and smaller demand of the land, that they inherited in it credible reserves of nutriment. It was with such in mind, of those who had indeed recently adopted Mr. Winter’s more pragmatic approach to improvement after touring his fields, that there was a resuscitation of spirit when the man himself was called to the front of the room: for in his report there would be evidence that the Baptists could not so readily dismiss. Still his detractors clasped hard to their well worn disdain for him, and as he arose from his chair, made his way forward, and was observed to carry a set of parchment in his hand, such thusly triggered a set of loud, objectionable whispers:
Pg. 274 – 75 (Fox News’ ‘Some say’ line; and Dave Burton’s angle of incidence arguments on the Arctic ocean’s solar absorption conflated with Willie Soon’s ‘It’s the Sun’ argument):
Never heard o’ such a thing – doin’ the Lord’s work, waterin’ fields by ladle – the surplus waterin’ alone is what done it!’, a voice did state, cutting down the room’s ambient conversation that he would have undivided attention during his query. He then let fly his full throat, and in an accusatory tone asked, ‘What say you, sir – that some say your success at the Foster plots was on account o’ the steady waterin’, givin’ an advancement to the fields, durin’ last month’s dry spell, that other men did not have?’
Mr. Winter squinted his eyes and wrinkled his nose in observing the man, and after a small pause did answer, ‘Sir, I believe it was you, was it not, that just a while ago, when I was moving toward the front of the room, whispered to your mate that I would surely take credit for the fine summer weather?’
The room turned on the man, insisting there was no dry spell to speak of and that fifty bushels per acre of wheat was no fool’s accident. And conceding defeat by the quick changing of the subject, Mr. Smith then took his turn:
‘Alright Mr. Winter, but what us right scientific husbandm’n do question is your Langley field, that slopes down at th’ river: When it was heavy dress’d in marle an’ dung, did this not change th’ plot to a less injurious angle for th’ sun to hit against? For, as we said all along, ‘twas the lack o’ sun that confound’d the field’.
Mr. Winter scrolled his eyes over the room, observing much too much desire in the red countenances cocked toward him and bodies leaning the selfsame direction, that he may answer the man with not a word lost from lack of attentiveness.
Pg 290 – 91 (on the nature of science disinformation and presentation of propaganda):
On and on it did go: The ill found nuggets of deception that Mr. Princep had long ago formulated were presented, and for every quarter minute it would take to recite one, it would take a quarter of an hour to push back on it with equal force. Counterarguments then followed, questioning everything that was not commonly understood or known in the plebian ranks, all of which too took an unproportional amount of time to dispel. Credible men unjustly suffered being stripped of their credibility, which had to be slowly rebuilt at the table. And when all possible avenues had been exhausted in exploding one particular subject, another was jumped upon in which the antagonist felt it was fair game to continue to use his formerly destroyed ideas as support of such. It was a war of attrition where patience was the commodity being targeted. The format of the debate – where a man may say anything he wished without the necessity of a reference to weight him down – also favored the men who sought not the truth, but instead only to win the argument. Indeed they took the greatest pleasure in a cheering onlooker or a passerby calling out to them that they were doing the Lord’s work.
As the conversational structures at the table gave way to blurry, chaotic chatter, the lass reviewed in her mind their previous thoughts on the glasshouses. It didn’t seem likely that her father would give up his trade to farm a row of glasshouse gardens, even if there were room out back of their cottage for such. And by now, most others in the towns too realized such rumors were merely that, and that they were derived from Mr. Wyatt’s malicious motives, and Mr. Edward’s benevolent fears of secularism and that his towns’ farmland could have been again subjected to the like of the nefarious quarryman’s actions of the year eighteen sixteen. Further, a fair amount had of recent read Mr. Princep’s words in The Country Anglican, and knew exactly what they implied.
Nevertheless, several pockets of men in Hedgely, like the two before her one table removed, kept a refractory attitude toward the myths, as were it their religion to do so. Such did spring from an amalgam of deficiencies in their characters which included proportions of misguided allegiance to Mr. Edwards, or perhaps even to Mr. Wyatt, and conflation of their uncommon beliefs and those of the local Particular Baptists; some general fear that other men might get the better on them, and thusly of over taxation; fear of change; of not being in the right, always; of loss of identity or habit of thought, and even fear of disease. Yet for all their insecurities and pettiness, they were in fact the most vicious of denialists, who ironically lacked the capacity of self examination, that they proudly rallied around the skeptic’s standard.
Pg. 291 (the repetitive pushing of lies, even long after they are debunked):
‘And what of these water pumps on Mr. Foster’s property?’, started the secondary antagonist at the table, referring to Mr. Winter’s pumps – another classical favorite in these men’s repertoire. ‘For just yesterday more ailments have been reported from the set of cottages on Lion’s Head Lane, quite near the vexing things: Another girl and her brother have taken to fevers most similar in nature to the few we had had word of from the place but last week. When for the children’s sake will it be recognized that the contraptions’ screeches and scrapings attract the more malignant of vapors that cause these feverish diseases, and weaken the constitutions of any such creature within earshot?’
Pg. 293 – 94 (hat tip to Climate Crocks and Skeptical Science):
‘One could imagine an article devoted solely to dissolving these claims concerning my water pumps’, continued Mr. Winter. ‘We might visit the doctor and beg for records that we may assemble illness rates about the towns, and compare them against the areas nebulous my pumps; further looking at rates before and after they were installed. If the doctor is not keen, then we shall take surveys’.
‘And we would not expect to find any differences?’
‘Just so – and thusly we give the towns fair proof of such during a particular week; and then the week after, we clap onto another nugget of disinformation; and then another the week after, etcetera, etcetera, until the men that presently take pleasure in stoking these notions are demoted to the rank of silly little girls in the eyes of the public’.
‘And these too shall be published in The Anglican, alongside our others?’
‘Indeed Mr. Princep, for I believe we’ve discussed the current cost of paper on a previous occasion, which Mr. Moore suffers to pay, that the towns may keep their news. It would be the most economic manner of presenting them. We would have it a regular column; perhaps call it Woodbridge’s Weekly Whitewash, or Woodbridge and Hedgely’s Sham of the Week, or The Skeptical Woodbridger, or something the like’.
Pg. 303 (Sir Humphry Davy’s Conclusion to his book Elements of Agricultural Chemistry which also acts as the conclusion of my book):
…I have now exhausted all the subjects of discussion which my experience or information have been able to supply on the connection of chemistry with agriculture. I venture to hope that some of the views brought forward may contribute to the improvement of the most important and useful of the arts. I trust that the enquiry will be pursued by others; and that in proportion, as chemical philosophy advances towards perfection, it will afford new aids to agriculture.
There are sufficient motives connected with both pleasure and profit, to encourage ingenius men to pursue this new path of investigation. Science cannot long be despised by any persons as the mere speculation of theorists; but must soon be considered by all ranks of men in its true point of view, as the refinement of common sense, guided by experience, gradually substituting sound and rational principles, for vague popular prejudices…
In my last post, I produced a summary of a natural history lecture series that the novel’s character, Jonathan Moore, provides to a relatively voluntary group of simple, uneducated, Anglican church goers. The very first of these revolves around 1) elementary ideas on the subject of knowledge. [I don’t believe by 1820, the year of the novel’s setting, a solid definition of the scientific method was yet in place]; 2) the notion that an idea can be compelling and probable without every last miniscule detail of it having been worked out. [This is actually commentary on the science of climate change, but is relevant to what was known about the age of the earth in the early 19th century]; and 3) an elementary introduction to James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth.
Here I would like to share those passages from the book in which I’ve summarized the first part of Hutton’s geologic observations. I spent a week and read through his often rambling, disorganized and redundant writing (it was written near the end of his life, and there wasn’t any computerized, word processor editing back then), and then tried to organize particular parts I found compelling:
Grammar Nazi Trigger Warning: ‘that’, in many cases in the novel, substitutes for ‘so that’, and ‘would’ sometimes substitutes for ‘if’, to give the prose a more ‘biblical’ or Shakespearean feel.
[Note: This is a re-posting of an article I originally published in February of 2015. Since then, I’ve edited a few sentences in this particular section of the novel, so that what is published below it a tad less polished than what you get from the most recent edition available at Amazon and Lulu.]
Of Woodbridge and Hedgely; Pg. 79-88:
‘And so with that introduction, I will now entertain you along a subject that has caused an amount of uproar in Edinburgh – one which has afforded both criticism and defense, where arguments on particular details may be shewn to be just in some cases, but still fail to refute the general idea, for it is hardy with much evidence lending it support; one which my brother did staunchly champion. It will be of some interest here, I believe, as it is intimately concerned with the properties of the soils, yet there is a much greater goose to be cooked:
‘In the year seventeen eighty five, a philosopher, expert on the workings of the earth, did present to the Royal Society of Edinburgh a theory based upon the findings of both his eye and mind. James Hutton was the man’s name and he called his idea the Theory of the Earth which he later published at the end of the century. I do indeed own a copy, and it is rambleously profound. Let us begin to understand it:
‘Hutton starts his book with the following observation:
“When we trace the parts of which this terrestrial system is composed, and when we view the general connection of those several parts, the whole presents a machine of a peculiar construction by which it is adapted to a certain end. We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom, to obtain a purpose worthy of the power that is apparent in the production of it.”
‘and goes onto pronounce:
“We shall thus also be led to acknowledge an order, not unworthy of Divine wisdom, in a subject which, in another view, has appeared as the work of chance, or as absolute disorder and confusion.”
‘You see Hutton had found that the earth is a machine made up of many parts: rock, soil, heat, water, air, ocean, plants and animals which, through particular observation of such, he concluded is in a constant motion that brings about both the destruction and renewal of rock, sand and soil, that we farmers many never be in want of it. Let us enjoy his reason:
‘We must first concede the man had a proficient understanding of the classification of minerals – feldspar, gypsum, etcetera – and what he did not know, just as I’ve previously stated concerning the interconnectedness of science, he found in a book by a right man of minerals by the name of Cronsted. Now we may address his first point: that across our earth, whether it be along the shore or as high up as the Alps or Andes mountains – soaring features of the new world – it is found that the rock is inundated with the relics of sea creatures of long ago! He further found that our calcareous rocks, soil, chalk and the like are indeed made up of the shells and bodies of a particular set of these creatures – coral or cockle shells as examples – for it is quite uncommon to find a stratum of such without having these relics embedded, and they are of the selfsame elements, shewn by our men of chemistry. Here again I will refer to his writing:
“But that which renders the original of our land clear and evident, is the immense quantities of calcareous bodies which had belonged to animals, and the intimate connection of these masses of animal production with the other strata of the land. For it is to be proved, that all these calcareous bodies, from the collection of which the strata were formed, have belonged to the sea, and were produced in it.”
‘He then had reckoned a mechanism for how it became that these creatures of long ago had transformed into our fine rock of lime. He did so by contemplating the following: firstly – that inside these marbles, these chalks and marles there exists, by his words, a ‘sparry structure’ or a crystalline expression of the limestone that may only be born from a state of fluidity; secondly – that as glass or iron may be molten, so too may be rock, as shewn by the work of volcanoes; thirdly – that the interstices of our rock’s strata, each articulate in its particular mineral composition, are consolidated upon each other in a manner that only can occur by a state of molten fluidity, whilst there are examples of calcareous regions, such as those of the Isle of Wight, whose hardness is a feature of their strata’s depth: soft and crumbly atop, graduating to well consolidated below; and lastly – the general observance of what one would conclude was the attrition of rock, gravel and sand by the work of water against them, inland or along the shore, and the taking of soil by a flooded stream or ditch away from its original position upon the land.
‘And from these he offered that as the marine animals shells accumulate upon the sea floor at their deaths, their structures are worn by attrition, motivated by the ocean’s inexhaustible currents, so that most of their matter becomes finer particulates, just as we may break apart a marle or limestone into an impalpable substance to manure our fields. This broken shell is then covered by even more of such, or thusly by sand or soils being deposited into our oceans from river outlets, having been taken and carried there from inland. The process continues until what was once the floor of the ocean now is quite underneath! Here I will demonstrate how the accumulation forms particular interstices of the strata’.
Mr. Moore visited his table, held up his rummer that was resting atop it to show his audience, then filled it partly with a chalky soil from a bag underneath. Once again displaying the object, he continued to fill it with a darker, sandy material from a second bag, then topped it off with the original entity, that the effect was three layers of material, shown through the clear wall of the cup. A few smiles, a few inquisitive faces, and a few blinking eyes replied to the display, yet the lack of nods compelled the lecturer, with his other hand, to hold up a shale specimen with many thin strata, as a comparator to the rummer.
‘How does this become this? To answer, Hutton apprises the lurid toil of the volcano whose many instances occur both on land and in the ocean; Mount Aetna and the ancient Mount Vesuvius being right examples. He argues they are not but isolated events, but express a regular and extensive heat of unfathomable power that occurs deep within the earth. And just as this heat produces fluid rock that ejects from the mouths of these mountains, it too causes a general fluidity in the material deep inside the earth, that bakes and consolidates our poor shells, sands and soils, which when cooled creates the hardened rocks of strata; pieces of which now lie on this table. Take care not to drop them when passing them around. Let us hear again from Hutton as we do so, who further presented many cases that this fluidity is not of an aqueous origin, but solely heat:
“We have strata consolidated by calcareous spar, a thing perfectly distinguishable from the stalactical concretion of calcareous earth, in consequence of aqueous solution. We have strata made solid by the formation of fluor, a substance not soluble, so far as we know, by water. We have strata consolidated with sulphureous and bituminous substances, which do not correspond to the solution of water. We have strata consolidated with siliceous matter, in a state totally different from that under which it has been observed, on certain occasions, to be deposited by water. We have strata consolidated by feldspar, a substance insoluble in water. We have strata consolidated by almost all the various metallic substances, with their almost endless mixtures and sulphureous compositions; that is to say, we find, perhaps, every different substance introduced into the interstices of strata which had been formed by subsidence at the bottom of the sea.”
‘Here too is a Spanish pudding stone – a marble – in which gravel also has been caught up in this baking process and is made to perfectly conform to the calcareous material around it – see how well it takes polish! And note the fusion of the two species of mineral on this piece – feldspar and quartz, I believe – and contemplate how this feature could ever exist without but the fluidity found in heat and pressure.
‘Yet Hutton did not desist at the horizon of these ideas and retire, to the comfort of his colleagues; no, he exploded their comfort by further offering that this heat not only affords molten lava from fiery mountain summits, but does inject our strata, when in a relatively cooler state (that endeavoring to become, from the ocean, dry land), with veins of liquid mineral and metal, sometimes by violent fracturing, exemplifying the immortal power of the bowls of the earth. His reasons that did oblige him to torment these learned men are that such hardened venous injections are found on land who has known no volcano, ancient or not; that they do contain fractured shards of the impregnated strata, attributed to the sudden nature of the operation; and too the same crystalline and fusion features we’ve thus covered are there present. Here I’ve a capital stone that has been collected by a naturalist retracing Hutton’s journey to Glen Tilt in the Cairngorm mountains: observe this pinked granite injected into this dull sandstone. This stone puts to rest the notions that granite is a primeval substance – for here it is clearly injected into, by plain reason, an older piece of sandstone – and the foolishness that granite was original of sedimentation or chemical precipitation from an aqueous fluid.
‘Now let us to the goose: This unimaginable heat does not but consolidate material to stone, and fracture and inject new land into the ground; it has a mechanical force of equally inhuman magnitude: Hutton says “we are not to limit nature with our imbecility, or estimate the powers of nature by the measure of our own”. Wherefore does it come to pass that the remnants of marine animals do appear in the bodies of the great Alps? It is this force that compels the land from the oceans to rise, dry out and continue its journey upward. The motive power of this heat is shewn by strata found twisted from their horizontal, sedimentary position in the abyss, into every possible position, be it vertical, bent, doubled over from their plane position, and even broken. One plate in his book does shew a drawing of strata from Jedburgh, Scotland in which horizontal layers sit atop vertical layers – a proposition Hutton called “angular unconformity”, and by its sight one is struck with terrible appreciation for this motive power. Further he proposed that none of all which I’ve addressed this day is of limited accident in the system. Rather, these operations occur in uniform fashion, with regard to the global system, that not one nook or cranny lies untouched, for he does say:
“…but from the accounts of travellers, and from the specimens which are brought to us from distant parts, we have reason to believe, that all the rest of the earth is of the same nature with that which has been now considered. The great masses of the earth are the same every where; and all the different species of earths, of rocks or stone, which have as yet appeared, are to be found in the little space of this our island.”
‘And just as the earth – this perpetual apparatus – reinvigorates itself by the formation of new land, it does so by the destruction of old land, decayed by attrition through the work of water – rain, flood, tide and current – that rock begets gravel, gravel begets sand, sand begets impalpable clay, and these are carried back to the oceans as nutrients that continue the process; all the while, by our relic evidence, plants and animals do thrive – the selfsame species, in fact, and perhaps a few that we are not yet acquainted. Let me reemphasize this: the land we do set foot upon, was once the floor of the abyss, and before it was so, was olden land from a world that does no longer exist, save the species of animals and plants that are more indifferent to the process, and that olden land is thus begotten from that proficiently older. Hutton also puts to the point that the forces which cause such change do still exist at present, undiminished in their power! I will further emphasize that these suppositions are not prophesy derived from a vast imagination: they fully rest upon the merits of observation and reason. In the man’s words:
“It must not be imagined that this undertaking is a thing unreasonable in its nature; or that it is a work necessarily beset with any unsurmountable difficulty; for, however imperfectly we may fulfill this end proposed, yet, so far as it is to natural causes that are to be ascribed the operations of former time, and so far as, from the present state of things, or knowledge of natural history, we have it in our power to reason from effect to cause, there are, in the constitution of the world, which we now examine, certain means to read the annals of a former earth”
‘Yes, Mr. Orton – you’ve something for us?’, he called upon a man – indeed a well respected ploughman – whom the parson had known first as a young scarer of birds, then a cow boy, and presently as a devout Christian man. The laborer had heard every word of the lecture, that he felt the ominous prodrome of a splenic fever derived from the gross disparity between what he knew of the world – which had indeed been impressed upon him in that very church – and that which Mr. Hutton, and now seemingly Mr. Moore did know. This, and his familiarity with Mr. Moore, compelled him speak:
‘Beh, beg pardon sir! Beg pardon Mr. Moore, but we none of us simple folk have ever heard any account of land rising up from the ocean, and perhaps it’s on account that we are so very far from it, yet we further do neither see rocks turn to soil, at least in any quantity needed to remake an entire stretch of land!’ This caused some break of propriety, and muddled agreement and exclamation within the room.
‘Ah, and neither do I, Mr. Orton. And there are no accounts that the natural features observed around sea ports as far back as ancient Greece or Rome are worn in any measurable way through attrition, yet the land plainly tells us it is true. This illuminates the most profound feature of this earthly system: that the interval between ancient Rome and present is but a grain of time inside a heavenly glass keeping an indefinite quantity of such.
‘Again here in lies the matter concerning generality and detail: just as we do not know the exact moment that it will take for any one carriage to arrive in London from Edinburgh, it is not known – the age of our earth. We may only say the time between our cities is a good, long time, and hence we may only say the earth has existed a great, long time – much longer than we’ve been told by many a scholar who insists on adding up ages of the men of Genesis and so forth. A man of the last century – a Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon – did observe the time in which globes of white-hot iron and rock took to cool, then deciding upon a mathematical relationship between their sizes and cooling times, he was able to calculated the cooling time of an earth sized globe, and from such he pronounced the earth to be seventy five thousand years of age. Naturally this was retracted to comfort the authorities of the University of Paris’.
Mr. Moore’s last remark was drowned out by the most abhorrent destruction of silence his church had known; several attacks on the qualities of French character leapt out – embers of the fire he had stoked with his extravagant but indefinite number of grains in the glass of deep time. And as this rabble blazed on, he quietly repeated Hutton’s final sentiments issued some thirty five years removed from the present, at the closing of the man’s lecture in Edinburgh:
“We have now got to the end of our reasoning; we have no data further to conclude immediately from that which actually is: But we have got enough; we have the satisfaction to find, that in nature there is wisdom, system, and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for any thing higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end.”
Throughout the novel, the parson Jonathan Moore issues a series of eight science lectures to his towns, in the late Fall and Spring seasons of 1820 and 21, occurring every other Sunday, after church services. Two of these lectures are featured in the novel, and the other six are only alluded to, usually inside readings of the antagonists’ propaganda pamphlet called The Balanced Scale, whose title is derived from Fox New’s ‘Fair and Balanced’ motto, or the phenomenon of false balance that the corporate media spills onto the public, where both a settled scientific stance is ‘balanced’ against a non-scientific one, in order to create the illusion that the scientific position is less credible than it is.
The first quarter of the 19th century was something of a drag regarding geology and evolution: the unifomitarianism and transmutation hypotheses had been put in place in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology from the 1830’s, and Charles Darwin’sOn the Origin of Speciesfrom the late 1850’s before cohesive and well polished theories on these subjects would emerge (discounting Lamarck’s Philosophie zoologique (1809): the debut of a formal theory on the subject of transmutation). Along the way, Werner’s Neptunism, Cuvier’s Catastrophism, and perhaps even some vestige of Newton’s Christianic belief in a young earth confounded their placement onto the historical timeline. If history is any guide, then perhaps Global Warming’s Standard Greenhouse Gas Theory will too be settled in the minds of the public by 2050 or 2100 (though to be fair, it’s been around a lot longer than its present detractors would have one believe). [All these ‘-ism’ titles were coined by William Whewell long after their principles were introduced, by the way.]
Anyway, I’ve constructed a companion for readers that shows the subject matter addressed in all of J. Moore’s lectures, in order to garner a deeper understanding of the flow of novel:
~ Mr. Moore’s Lectures ~
Lecture I. – Given Sept. 17th, 1820
James Hutton: Theory of the Earth Volume I. (1795); Summary of Part I., Chapter I. – an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: incidental mention of iron globe cooling experiment in search of the true age of the earth.
Lecture II. – Given Oct. 1st, 1820
Nicholas Steno: De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus (1669): Introduction to the Law of Superposition, Principle of Original Horizontality, and Principle of Lateral Continuity.
William Smith & Georges Cuvier: understanding relative antiquity, the Principle of Faunal Succession and the use of fossils to help indentify sedimentary strata with respect to their time of formation; Mr. Cuvier’s lost species (extinct species) and the examination between his Siberian elephants (mammoths) and those of India and Africa.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: application of Newtonian concepts to discovering age and origin of the earth; globe cooling experiment showing the earth to be 74,832 years old by defining cooling time as a function of sphere volume; sedimentation observation in which he decides the earth might be 3,000,000 years old; “[Of the age of the earth], the more we extend time, the closer we shall be to the truth”: (Époques de la nature, p. 40; (1778)).
Lecture III. – Given Oct. 15th, 1820
Carl Linnaeus: Philosophia Botanica – Introduction to binomial nomenclature: the coupling of the generic name and nomen triviale to form the species name; the convenience of this system in comparison to that of the nomen specificum, which often entailed laborious polynomials, subject to change as more discoveries and observations accumulated; distinctions from biblical nomenclature (Latin Vulgate); Species Plantarum (1753) – the historical significance of this work in that it published a comprehensive list of all species known to Europe, applying the botanist’s binomina throughout; Systema Naturae (10th ed.; 1758) – introduction to Linnaean classification, taxonomic ranking, aggregation of taxa, and rules that instructed such; balancing the dispositio theoretica against empiricism; the ‘sexual system’ of plant classification.
Lecture IV. – Given Oct 29th, 1820
Georges Cuvier: briefly mentions Cuvier’s thoughts on multiple, ‘revolutionary upheavals’ (large crustal changes having a significant vertical component to them) of the earth secondary to sudden, catastrophic events, perhaps involving climactic changes, which gave rise to mass extinctions.±
Erasmus Darwin: Zoonomia, Or the Laws of Organic Life, Vol. I; Summary of Section XXXIX.: Of Generation
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: rebutting local criticism that relies on ‘mathematical distractions’; any retractions regarding age of the earth were secondary to pressure from theological department at the local university in Paris.
Abraham Gottlob Werner: Criticism of the mineralogist’s Neptunism: To where did all the receding ocean water exit?; James Hutton’s examination of basalt shows no signs of fossils, and further, that the rock was insoluble, of hard crystalline material, and often intrusive in a manner inconsistent with sedimentation.
James Hutton: rebuttal of local criticism derived from Mr. Kirwan’s Examination of the Supposed Igneous Origin of Stony Substances
Lecture V. – Given April, 1821
Erasmus Darwin: Reexamination of transmutation as it applies to man – an unexpected and improvised question and answer session; rebuttal to local criticism regarding the application of mathematical chance to transmutation and deep time.
Lecture VI. – Given May, 1821
James Hutton: An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy, Book 2, Chapter 3, Section 13 – Principle of variation of organized bodies of plants and animals: the power of variation instilled in creatures that both local habitat and climate, as well as the hand of man, may influence the properties of such by preferred selection of those with the most advantageous characteristics to produce their next generation who own the selfsame characteristics.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: Philosophie zoologique (1809): the debut of a formal theory on the subject of transmutation; Le pouvoir de la vie or la force qui tend sans cesse à composer l’organisation – the tendency for transmutation to create complexity through graduation; L’influence des circonstances: influence of habitat upon a plant or animal through local pressures or absences of such upon individual organs; the preservation of acquired characteristics through reproduction; notable reiterations of Hutton and Darwin’s sentiments.
Lecture VII. – Given May, 1821
Archbishop James Usher and Sir Isaac Newton: on these men’s methodologies for calculating the age of the earth using solely biblical references, and criticism of such.
William Paley: criticism of Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, (1802).
General thoughts on rationalism and empiricism, and the propriety in accepting a claim, theory or otherwise as being the most reasonable explanation of that which is in focus. The robust nature of multiple lines of reproducible evidence derived from such philosophies, converging upon a particular claim. The confounding nature of contradictory evidence upon a claim. Simple fallacies to be avoided. Reiteration of what can and cannot be known, and what can and cannot be said to be likely in the presence of ambiguity and want of further experimentation and discovery.
Lecture VIII. – Given June, 1821
Recapitulation of all previous lectures.
James Hutton and Georges Cuvier: gradualism (uniformitarianism) versus catastrophism: Which is most likely? Is there a chance they both may have merit and not detract from one another?; The lecturer’s thoughts on the former’s hospitable nature with regard to mankind and agriculture.
General remarks on the Enlightenment and the betterment of society through the practice of science and engineering. Briefing on other current topics of interest.
Closing remarks and formal dedication of lectures to Charles Moore.
± These particular thoughts of Cuvier were derived from his 1825 Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Globe and on the Changes They Have Produced in the Animal Kingdom. Mr. Moore’s lecture predates this particular reference, but there is no cause to believe the philosopher’s hypotheses were of a secretive nature prior to the discourse.