for the possession of which they have sacrificed the lives of so many thousand men, and have spent their own in hurry and trouble. Men have before them vast tracts of land uninhabited and uncultivated; and they turn mankind topsy-turvy for one nook of that neglected ground in dispute. The earth, if well cultivated, would feed a hundred times more men than now she does. Even the unevenness of ground which at first seems to be a defect turns either into ornament or profit. The mountains arose and the valleys descended to the place the Lord had appointed for them. Those different grounds have their particular advantages, according to the divers aspects of the sun. In those deep valleys grow fresh and tender grass to feed cattle. Next to them opens a vast champaign covered with a rich harvest. Here, hills rise like an amphitheatre, and are crowned with vineyards and fruit trees. There high mountains carry aloft their frozen brows to the very clouds, and the torrents that run down from them become the springs of rivers. The rocks that show their craggy tops bear up the earth of mountains just as the bones bear up the flesh in human bodies. That variety yields at once a ravishing prospect to the eye, and, at the same time, supplies the divers wants of man. There is no ground so barren but has some profitable property. Not only black and fertile soil but even clay and gravel recompense a man’s toil. Drained morasses become fruitful; sand for the most part only covers the surface of the earth; and when, the husbandman has the patience to dig deeper he finds a new ground that grows fertile as fast as it is turned and exposed to the rays of the sun.
There is scarce any spot of ground absolutely barren if a man do not grow weary of digging, and turning it to the enlivening sun, and if he require no more from it than it is proper to bear, amidst stones and rocks there is sometimes excellent pasture; and their cavities have veins, which, being penetrated by the piercing rays of the sun, furnish plants with most savoury juices for the feeding of herds and flocks. Even sea-coasts that seem to be the most sterile and wild yield sometimes either delicious fruits or most wholesome medicines that are wanting in the most fertile countries. Besides, it is the effect of a wise over-ruling providence that no land yields all that is useful to human life. For want invites men to commerce, in order to supply one another’s necessities. It is therefore that want that is the natural tie of society between nations: otherwise all the people of the earth would be reduced to one sort of food and clothing; and nothing would invite them to know and visit one another.
SECT. XII. Of Plants.
All that the earth produces being corrupted, returns into her bosom, and becomes the source of a new production. Thus she resumes all she has given in order to give it again. Thus the corruption of plants, and the excrements of the animals she feeds, feed her, and improve her fertility. Thus, the more she gives the more she resumes; and she is never exhausted, provided they who cultivate her restore to her what she has given. Everything comes from her bosom, everything returns to it, and nothing is lost in it. Nay, all seeds multiply there. If, for instance, you trust the earth with some grains of corn, as they corrupt they germinate and spring; and that teeming parent restores with usury more ears than she had received grains. Dig into her entrails, you will find in them stone and marble for the most magnificent buildings. But who is it that has laid up so many treasures in her bosom, upon condition that they should continually produce themselves anew? Behold how many precious and useful metals; how many minerals designed for the conveniency of man!
Admire the plants that spring from the earth: they yield food for the healthy, and remedies for the sick. Their species and virtues are innumerable. They deck the earth, yield verdure, fragrant flowers, and delicious fruits. Do you see those vast forests that seem as old as the world? Those trees sink into the earth by their roots, as deep as their branches shoot up to the sky. Their roots defend them against the winds, and fetch up, as it were by subterranean pipes, all the juices destined to feed the trunk. The trunk itself is covered with a tough bark that shelters the tender wood from the injuries of the air. The branches distribute by several pipes the sap which the roots had gathered up in the trunk. In summer the boughs protect us with their shadow against the scorching rays of the sun. In winter, they feed the fire that preserves in us natural heat. Nor is burning the only use wood is fit for; it is a soft though solid and durable matter, to which the hand of man gives, with ease, all the forms he pleases for the greatest works of architecture and navigation. Moreover, fruit trees by bending their boughs towards the earth seem to offer their crop to man. The trees and plants, by letting their fruit or seed drop down, provide for a numerous posterity about them. The tenderest plant, the least of herbs and pulse are, in little, in a small seed, all that is displayed in the highest plants and largest tree. Earth that never changes produces all those alterations in her bosom.
SECT. XIII. Of Water.
Let us now behold what we call water. It is a liquid, clear, and transparent body. On the one hand it flows, slips, and runs away; and on the other it assumes all the forms of the bodies that surround it, having properly none of its own. If water were more rarefied, or thinner, it would be a kind of air; and so the whole surface of the earth would be dry and sterile. There would be none but volatiles; no living creature could swim; no fish could live; nor would there be any traffic by navigation. What industrious and sagacious hand has found means to thicken the water, by subtilising the air, and so well to distinguish those two sorts of fluid bodies? If water were somewhat more rarefied, it could no longer sustain those prodigious floating buildings, called ships. Bodies that have the least ponderosity would presently sink under water. Who is it that took care to frame so just a configuration of parts, and so exact a degree of motion, as to make water so fluid, so penetrating, so slippery, so incapable of any consistency: and yet so strong to bear, and so impetuous to carry off and waft away, the most unwieldy bodies? It is docile; man leads it about as a rider does a well-managed horse. He distributes it as he pleases; he raises it to the top of steep mountains, and makes use of its weight to let it fall, in order to rise again, as high as it was at first. But man who leads waters with such absolute command is in his turn led by them. Water is one of the greatest moving powers that man can employ to supply his defects in the most necessary arts, either through the smallness or weakness of his body. But the waters which, notwithstanding their fluidity, are such ponderous bodies, do nevertheless rise above our heads, and remain a long while hanging there. Do you see those clouds that fly, as it were, on the wings of the winds? If they should fall, on a sudden, in watery pillars, rapid like a torrent, they would drown and destroy everything where they should happen to fall, and the other grounds would remain dry. What hand keeps them in those pendulous reservatories, and permits them to fall only by drops as if they distilled through a gardener’s watering-pot? Whence comes it that in some hot countries, where scarce any rain ever falls, the nightly dews are so plentiful that they supply the want of rain; and that in other countries, such as the banks of the Nile and Ganges, the regular inundation of rivers, at certain seasons of the year, never fails to