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The general subsidence of the bottom still continued, and, after a deposit of full ninety feet had overlain the conglomerate, the depth became still more profound than at first. A fine semi-calcareous, semi-aluminous deposition took place in waters perfectly undisturbed. And here we first find proof that this ancient ocean literally swarmed with life—that its bottom was covered with miniature forests of alga, and its waters darkened by immense shoals of fish.
2. In middle autumn, at the close of the herring season, when the fish have just spawned, and the congregated masses are breaking up on shallow and skerry, and dispersing by myriads over the deeper seas, they rise at times to the surface by a movement so simultaneous that for miles and miles around the skiff of the fisherman nothing may be seen but the bright glitter of scales, as if the entire face of the deep were a blue robe spangled with silver.
3. I have watched them at sunrise at such seasons, on the middle of the Moray Frith, when, far as the eye could reach, the surface has been ruffled by the splash of fins, as if a light breeze swept over it, and the red light has flashed in gleams of an instant on the millions and tens of millions that were leaping around me, a handbreadth into the air, thick as hailstones in a thunder shower. The amazing amount of life which the scene included has imparted to it an indescribable interest.
4. On most occasions the inhabitants of ocean are seen but by scores and hundreds ; for, in looking down into their green twilight haunts, we find the view bounded by a few yards, or at most a few fathoms; and we can but calculate on the unseen myriads of the surrounding expanse by the seen few that occupy the narrow space visible. Here, however, it was not the few, but the myriads, that were seen— the innumerable and inconceivable whole — all palpable to the sight as a flock on a hill-side ; or, at least, if all was not palpable, . it was only because sense has its limits in the lighter as well
as the denser medium - that the multitudinous distracts it, and the distant eludes it, and the far horizon bounds it. If the scene spoke not of infinity in the sense in which Deity comprehends it, it spoke of it in at least the only sense in which man can comprehend it.
5. Now, we are much in the habit of thinking of such amazing multiplicity of being, when we think of it at all, with reference to but the later times of the world's history. We think of the remote past as a time of comparative solitude. We forget that the now uninhabited desert was once a populous city. Is the reader prepared to realize in connection with the lower old red sandstone - the second period of vertebrated existence — scenes as amazingly fertile in life as the scene just described — oceans as thoroughly occupied with being as our friths and estuaries when the herrings congregate most abundantly on our coasts ?
7. There are evidences too sure to be disputed that such must have been the case. I have seen the ichthyolite beds, where washed bare in the line of the strata, as thickly covered with oblong spindle-shaped nodules, as I have ever seen a fishing bank covered with herrings; and have ascertained that every individual nodule had its nucleus of animal matter,
- that it was a stone coffin, in miniature, holding enclosed its organic mass of bitumen or bone,-its winged or enameled or thorn-covered ichthyolite.
LXXVII.- DESTRUCTION OF ANCIENT FISHES.
HUGII MILLER. 1. At this period of our history, some terrible catastrophe involved in sudden destruction the fish of an area at least a
hundred miles from boundary to boundary, perhaps much more. The same platform in Orkney as at Cromarty is strewed thick with remains, which exhibit unequivocally the marks of violent death. The figures are contorted, contracted, curved; the tail in many instances is bent round to the head; the spines stick out, the fins are spread to the full, as in fish that die in convulsions. The pterichthys shows its arms extended at their stiffest angle, as if prepared for an enemy.
The attitudes of all the ichthyolites on this platform are attitudes of fear, anger and pain.
2. The remains, too, appear to have suffered nothing from the attacks of predaceous fishes; none such seem to have survived. The record is one of destruction at once widely spread, and total so far as it extended. There are proofs that whatever may have been the cause of the catastrophe, it must have taken place in a sea unusually still. The scales, when scattered by some slight undulation, are scattered to the distance of only a few inches, and still exhibit their enamel entire, and their peculiar fineness of edge.
3. The spines, even when separated, retain their original needle-like sharpness of point. Rays, well nigh as slender as horse-hairs, are enclosed unbroken in the mass. Whole ichthyolites occur, in which not only all the parts survive, but even the expression which the stiff and threatening attitude conveyed when the last struggle was over. Destruction must have come in the calm, and it must have been of a kind by which the calm was nothing disturbed.
4. In what could it have originated ? By what quiet but potent agency of destruction were the innumerable existences of an area, perhaps ten thousand square miles in extent, annihilated at once, and yet the medium in which they had lived, left undisturbed by its operations ? Conjecture lacks footing in grappling with the enigma, and expatiates in uncertainty over all the known phenomena of death. Diseases of mysterious origin break out at times in the animal kingdom, and well nigh exterminate the tribes on which they fall.
5. The present generation has seen a hundred millions of the human family swept away by a disease unknown to our fathers. Virgil describes the fatal murrain that once depopulated the Alps, not more as a poet than as a historian. The shell-fish of the rivers of North America died in such vast abundance during a year of the present century, that the animals, washed out of their shells, lay rotting in masses beside the banks, infecting the very air. About the close of the last century the haddock well nigh disappeared, for several seasons together, from the eastern coast of Scotland; and it is related by Creech, that a Scotch shipmaster of the period sailed for several leagues on the coast of Norway, about the time the scarcity began, through a floating shoal of dead haddocks.
6. But the ravages of no such disease, however extensive, could well account for some of the phenonena of this platform of death. It is rarely that disease falls equally on many different tribes at once, and never does it fall with instantaneous suddenness; whereas, in the ruin of this platform, from ten to twelve distinct genera seem to have been equally involved; and so suddenly did it perform its work that its victims were fixed in their first attitude of terror and surprise.
.7. I have observed, too, that groups of adjoining nodules are charged frequently with fragments of the same variety of ichthyolite; and the circumstance seems fraught with evidence regarding both the original habits of the creatures, and the instantaneous suddenness of the destruction by which they were overtaken. They seem, like many of our existing fish, to have been gregarious, and to have perished together ere their crowds had time to break up and disperse.
8. Fish have been found floating dead in shoals beside sub, marine volcanoes, killed either by the heated water or by mephitic gases. There are, however, no marks of volcanic activity in connection with the ichthyolite beds — no marks, at least, which belong to nearly the same age with the fossils. The disturbing granite of the neighboring eminences was not upheaved until after the times of the Oolite. But the volcano, if such was the destroying agent, might have been distant; nay, from some of the points in an area of such immense extent it must have been distant.
9. The beds abound, as has been said, in lime; and the thought has often struck me that calcined lime cast out as ashes from some distant crater, and, carried by winds, might have been the cause of the widely-spread destruction to which their organisms testify. I have seen the fish of a small trouting stream, over which a bridge was in course of building, destroyed in a single hour for a full mile below the erection, by the troughfuls of lime that fell into the water wher the centering was removed.
LXXVIII.—THE HERITAGE OF CULTURE. 1. Compare the condition of Christendom to-day with what it was when Roger Bacon's knowledge of mathematics was taken for witchcraft. Let the comparison include the physical condition and the intellectual and moral character of the people. The vast advance made since that period has required time. It has been the work of six centuries; and what one of the six has not made liberal contributions towards the grand result ?
2. One gave Europe the germ of those now ancient universities in which the hearts and intellects of nations have