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Excerpts from Hugh Miller’s “The Testimony of the Rocks”, 1857.
by Andrew MacRae

[Comments in square brackets are mine.  Comments in braces, “{}” are Miller’s]


There are events so striking in themselves or from their accompaniments, that they powerfully impress the memories of children but little removed from infancy, and are retained by them in a sort of troubled recollection ever after, however extended their term of life. Samual Johnson was only two and a half years old when, in accordance with the belief of the time, he was touched by Queen Anne for the “Evil;” but more than seventy years after, he could call up in memory a dream-like recollection of the lady dressed in a black hood, and glittering with diamonds, into whose awful presence he had been ushered on that occasion, and who had done for the cure of his complaint all that legitimate royalty could do. And an ancient lady of the north country, who had been carried, when a child, in her nurse’s arms, to witness the last witch execution that took place in Scotland, could distinctly tell, after the lapse of nearly a century, that the fire was surrounded by an awe-struck crowd, and that the smoke of the burning, when blown about her by a cross breeze, had a foul and suffocating odor. In this respect the memory of infant tribes and nations seems to resemble that of individuals. There are characters and events which impress it so strongly, that they seem never to be forgotten, but live as traditions, sometimes mayhap very vague, and much modified by the [p.284]
inventions of an after time, but which, in floating downwards to late ages, always bear about them a certain strong impress of their pristine reality. They are shadows that have become ill defined from the vast distance of the objects that cast them, — like the shadows of great birds flung, in a summer’s day, from the blue depths of the sky to the landscape far below, — but whose very presence, however diffused they may have become, testifies to the existence of the remote realities from which they are thrown, and without which they could have had no being at all. The old mythologies are filled with shadowy traditions of this kind, — shadows of the world’s “gray fathers,” — which, like those shadows seen reflected on clouds by travellers who ascend lofty mountains, are exaggerated into the most gigantic proportions, and bear radiant glories around their heads.

There is, however, one special tradition which seems to be more deeply impressed and more widely spread than any of the others. The destruction of well nigh the whole human race, in an early age of the world’s history, by a great deluge, appears to have so impressed the minds of the few survivors, and seems to have been handed down to their children, in consequence, with such terror-struck impressiveness, that their remote descendants of the present day have not yet forgotten it. It appears in almost every mythology, and lives in the most distant countries, and among them the most barbarous tribes. It was the laudable ambition of Humboldt, — first entertained at a very early period of life, — to penetrate into distant regions, unknown to the natives of Europe at the time, that he might aquaint himself, in the fields of research altogether fresh and new, with men and with nature in their most primitive conditions. In carrying out his design, he journeyed far into the woody wilderness that surrounds the Orinoco [a river in northern Venezuela], and found himself [p.285]
among tribes of wild Indians whose very names were unknown to the civilized world. And yet among even these forgotten races of the human family he found the tradition of the deluge still fresh and distinct; not confined to single tribes, but general among the scattered nations of that great region, and intertwined with curious additions, suggestive of the inventions of classic mythology in the Old World. “The belief in a great deluge,” we find him saying, “is not confined to one nation singly, — the Tamanaes: it makes part of a system of historical tradition, of which we find scattered notions among the Maypures of the great cataracts; among the Indians of the Rio Erevato, which runs into the Caura; and among almost all the tribes of the Upper Orinoco. When the Tamanaes are asked how the human race survived this great deluge, — `the age of water‘ of the Mexicans, — they say, a man and a woman saved themselves on a high mountain called Tamanaeu, situated on the banks of the Asiveru, and, casting behind them over their heads the fruits of the mauritia palm-tree, they saw the seeds contained in these fruits produce men and women, who re-peopled the earth. Thus,” adds the philosophic traveller, “we find in all simplicity, among nations now in a savage state, a tradition which the Greeks embellished with all the charms of imagination.” The resemblance is certainly very striking. “Quit the temple,” said the Oracle to Deucalion and Pyrrha, when they had consulted it, after the great deluge, regarding the mode in which the earth was to be re-peopled, — “vail your heads, unloose your girdles, and throw behind your backs the bones of your grandmother.” Rightly interpreting what seemed darkest and most obscure in the reply, they took “stones of the earth,” and , casting them behind them, the stones flung by Deucalion became men, and those by Pyrrha became women, and [p.286]
thus the disfurnished world was peopled anew. The navigator always regards himself as sure of his position when he has two landmarks to determine it by, or when in the open ocean he can ascertain, not only his latitude, but his longitude also. And this curious American tradition seems to have two such marks, — its two bisecting lines of determination, — to identify it with the classic tradition of the Old World that refers evidently to the same great event.

There are other poritions of America in which the tradition of the Flood is still more distinct than among the forests of the Orinoco. It is related by Herrera, one of the Spanish historians of the America, that even the most barbarous of the Brazilians had some knowledge of a general deluge; that in Peru the ancient Indians reported, that many years before there were any Incas, all the people were drowned by a great flood, save six persons, the progenitors of the existing races, who were saved on a float; that among the Mechoachans it was believed that a single family was preserved, during the outburst of the waters, in an ark, with sufficient number of animals to replenish the new world; and, more curious still, that it used to be told by the original inhabitants of Cuba, that “an old man, knowing the deluge was to come, built a great shiip, and went into it with his family and abundance of animals; and that, wearying during the continuance of the flood, he sent out a crow, which at first did not return, staying to feed on the dead bodies, but afterwards returned bearing with it a green branch.” The resemblance borne by this last tradition to the Mosaic [i.e. Old Testament] narrative is so close as to awaken a doubt whether it may not have been but a mere recollection of the teaching of some early missionary. Nor can its genuineness now be tested, seeing that the race which cherished it has been long since extinct. It may be stated, [p.287]
however, that a similar suspicion crossed the mind of Humboldt when he was engaged in collecting the traditions of the Indians of the Orinoco; but that on further reflection and inquiry he dismissed the doubt as groundless. He even set himself to examine whether the district was not a fossiliferous one, and whether beds of sea shells, or deposits charged with the petrified remains of corals or fishes, might not have originated among the aborigines some mere myth of a great innundation sufficient to account for the appearances in the rocks. But he found that the region was mainly a primary one [i.e. probably what is now called Precambrian], in which he could detect only a single patch of sedimentary rock, existing as an unfossiliferous sandstone. And so, though little prejudiced in favor of the Mosaic record, he could not avoid arriving at the conclusion, simply in his character as a philosophic inquirer, who had no other object than to attain to the real and the true, that the legend of the wild Maypures and Tamanacs regarding a great destructive deluge was simply one of the many forms of that oldest of traditions which appears to be well nigh coextensive with the human family, and which, in all its varied editions, seems to point at one and the same single event. Very varied some of these editions are. The inhabitants of Tahiti tell, for instance, that the Supreme God, a long time ago, being angry, dragged the earth through the sea, but that by a happy accident their island broke off and was preserved; the Indians of Terra Firma believe, that when the great deluge took place, one man, with wife and children, escaped in a canoe; and the Indians of the North American lakes hold, that the father of all their tribes being warned in a dream that a flood was coming, built a raft, on which he preserved his family, and pairs of all the animals, and which drifted about for many months, until at a length a [p.288]
new earth was made for their reception by the “Mighty Man above.”

 In that widely extended portion of the Old World over which Christianity has spread in its three great types, — Greek, Romish, and Protestant, — and in the scarce less extended portion occupied by the followers of Mohammed, the Scriptural account of the deluge, or the imperfect reflection of it borrowed by the Koran, has, of course, supplanted the old traditions. But outside these regions we find the traditions existing still. One of the sacred books of the Parsees (representatives of the ancient Persians) records, that “the world having been corrupted by Ahriman the Evil One, it was thought necessary to bring over it a universal flood of waters, that all impurity might be washed away. Accordingly the rain came down in drops as large as the head of a bull, until the earth was wholly covered with water, and all the creatures of the Evil One perished. And then the flood gradually subsided, and first the mountains, and next the plains, appeared once more.” In the Scandinavian Edda, between whose wild fables and those of the sacred books of the Parsees there has been a resemblance traced by accomplished antiquaries such as Mallet, the tradition of the deluge takes a singularly monstrous form. On the death of the great giant Ymir, whose flesh and bones form the rocks and soils of the earth, and who was slain by the early gods, his blood, which now constitutes the ocean, rushed so copiously out of his wounds, that all the old race of the lesser giants, his offspring, were drowned in the flood which it occasioned, save one; and he, by escaping on board his bark with his wife, outlived the deluge. The tradition here is evidently allegorized, but it is by no means lost in the allegory.

Sir William Jones, perhaps the most learned and [p.289]
accomplished man of his age (such at least was the estimate of Johnson), and the first who fairly opened up the great storehouse of eastern antiquities, describes the tradition of the deluge as prevalent also in the vast Chinese empire, with its three hundred millions of people. He states that it was there believed that, just ere the appearance of Fohi in the mountains, a mighty flood, which first “flowed abundantly, and then subsided, covered for a time the whole earth, and separated the higher from the lower age of mankind.” The Hindu tradition, as related by Sir William, though disfigured by strange additions, is still more explicit. An evil demon having purloined the sacred books from Brahma, the whole race of men became corrupt except the seven Nishis, and in especial the holy Satyavrata, the prince of a maritime region, who, when one day bathing in a river, was visited by the god Vishnu in the shape of a fish, and thus addressed by him: — “In seven days all creatures who have offended me shall be destroyed by a deluge; but thou shalt be secured in a capacious vessel, miraculously formed. Take, therefore, all kinds of medicinal herbs, and esculant grain for food, and, together with the seven holy men, your respective wives, and pairs of all animals, enter the ark without fear: then shalt thou know God face to face, and all thy questions shall be answered.” The god then disappeared; and after seven days, during which Satyavrata had conformed in all respect to the instructions given him, the ocean began to overflow the coasts, and the earth to be flooded by constant rains, when a large vessel was seen coming floating shorewards on the rising waters; into which the Prince and the seven virtuous Nishis entered, with their wives, all laden with plants and grain, and accompanied by the animals. During the deluge Vishnu preserved the ark by again taking the form of a fish, and tying it fast to himself; and [p.290]
when the waters had subsided, he communicated the contents of the sacred books to the holy Satyavrata, after first slaying the demon who had stolen them. It is added, however, that the good man having, on one occasion long after, by “the act of destiny,” drunk mead, he became senseless, and lay asleep naked, and that Charma, one of three sons who had been born to him, finding him in that sad state, called on his two brothers to witness the shame of their father, and said to them, What has now befallen? In what state is this our sire? But by the two brothers, — more dutiful than Charma, — he was hidden with clothes, and recalled to his senses; and, having recovered his intellect, and perfectly knowing what had passed, he cursed Charma, saying, “Thous shalt be a servant of servants.” It would be difficult certainly to produce a more curious legend, or one more strikingly illustrative of the mixture of truth and fable which must ever be looked for in that tradition which some are content to accept even in religion as a trustworthy guide. In our ever varying tradition, as in those difficult problems in physical science which have to be wrought out from a multitude of differing observations, it is, if I may so express myself, the mean result of the whole that must be accepted as approximately the true one. And the mean result of those dim and distorted recollections of the various tribes of men which refer to the Flood is a result which bears simply this effect, — that in some early age of the world a great deluge took place, in which well nigh the whole human family was destroyed.

 The ancient traditions which have come down to us embalmed in classic literature form but a small portion of what seems once to have existed in the wide region now overspread by Christianity and Mohammedanism. A second deluge, more fatal to at least the productions of the human mind than the first had been, overspread the earth during [p.291]
what are known as the Middle Ages; and no signal was the wreck which it occasioned, that of seven heathen writers* {*footnote: Berosus, Hieronymus, Mnaseas, Nicholaus, Manetho, Mochus, and Hestaeus.} whose testimony regarding the Flood Josephus cites as corroborative of his own, not one has descended in his writings to these later times. We learn, however, from the Jewish historian, that one of their number, Berosus, was a Chaldean; that two of the others, Hieronymus and Manetho, were Egyptians; and that a third, Nicolaus, whose history he quotes, was a citizen of Damascus. “There is,” said this latter writer, in his perished history, “a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore on the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a while preserved. This might be the man,” added this forgotten writer, “about whom Moses, the legislator of the Jews, wrote.” The works of the Chaldean, Berosus, have long since been lost, all save a few extracts preserved by the Patristic writers. One of these, however, which embodies the Chaldean tradition of the flood, is very remarkable. Like the Scandinavian legend, it represents the antediluvians as giants, all of whom, save one, became exceedingly impious and depraved. “But there was one among the giants,” says Berosus, “that reverenced the gods, and was more wise and prudent than all the rest. His name was Noa; he dwelt in Syria, with his three sons, Sem, Japet, Chem, and their wives, the great Tidea, Pandora, Noela, and Noegla. This man, fearing the destruction which, he forsaw from the stars, would come to pass, began, in the seventy-eighth year before the inundation, to build a ship covered like an [p.292]
ark. Seventy-eight years from the time he began to build this ship, the ocean of a sudden broke out, and all the inland seas and the rivers and fountains bursting from beneath (attended by the most violent rains from heaven for many days), overflowed all the mountains; so that the whole human race was buried in the waters, except Noa and his family, who were saved by means of the ship, which, being lifted up by the waters, rested at last upon the top of the Gendyae or Mountain, on which, it is reported, there now remaineth some part, and that men take away the bitumen from it, and make use of it by way of charm or expiation, to avoid evil.” A more general Assyrian tradition, somewhat different in its details, also survives.* {*footnote: See Cory’s “Ancient Fragments.”}  The god Chronus, it was said, appeared in a vision to Xisuthrus, the tenth king of Babylon; and, warning him that on a certain day there would be a great flood upon the earth, by which mankind would be destroyed, he enjoined him to build a vessel, and to bring into it his friends and relatives, with everything necessary to sustain life, and all the various animals, birds, and quadrupeds. In obedience to the command, the king built a vessel about three quarters of a mile in length and half a mile in breadth, which he loaded with stores and the different kinds of animals; and into which, on the day of the flood, he himself entered, accompanied by his wife and children, and all his friends. The flood broke out. After, however, accomplishing its work of destruction, it abated; and the king sent out birds from the vessel, which, at first finding no food or place of rest, returned to him; but which, when, after the lapse of some days, he sent them forth again, came back to him which their feet tinged with mud. On a third trial they returned no more; upon which, judging [p.293]
that the surface of the earth was laid dry, he made an opening in the vessel, and, looking forth, found it stranded on a mountain of the land of Armenia.

There seems to exist no such definite outline of the Egyptian tradition referred to by Josephus as that preserved of the Chaldean one. Plato, in his “Timaeus,” makes the Egyptian priest whom he introduces as discoursing with Solon, to attribute that clear recollection of a remote antiquity which survived in Egypt, to its comparative freedom from those great floods which had at various times desolated Greece, and destroyed the memory of remote events by the destruction of the people and their records; and Bacon had evidently this passage in view when he poetically remarked, in his magnificent essay on “Vicissitude of Things,” that “the great winding sheets that bury all things in oblivion are two, — deluges and earthquakes; from which two destructions is to be noted,” he adds, “that the remnant of people that happen to be preserved are commonly ignorant and mountainous people, that can give no account of the time past.” Even in Egypt, however, the recollection of the deluge seems to have survived, though it lay entangled amid what seem to be symbolized memories of unusual floodings of the river Nile. “The Noah of Egypt,” says Professor Hitchcock, in his singularly ingenious essay (Historical and Geological Deluges Compared), “appears to have been Osiris. Typhon, a personification of the ocean, enticed him into an ark, which, being closed, he was forced to sea; and it was a curious fact, that he embarked on the seventeenth day of the month Athyr, — the very day, most probably, when Noah entered the ark.” The classical tradition of Greece, as if the events whence it took its rise had been viewed through a multiplying glass, appears to have been increased from one to many. Plutarch [p.294]
enumerates no fewer than five great floods; and Plato makes his Egyptian priest describe the Greek deluges as oft repeated and numerous. There was the flood of Deucalion, the flood of Ogyges, and several other floods; and no little time and learning have been wasted in attempting to fix their several periods. But, lying far within the mythologic ages, — the last of them to which any determining circumstances are attached, in the days of that Prometheus who stole fire from heaven, and was chained by Jupiter to Mount Caucasus, — it appears greatly more probable that the traditions respecting them should be the mere repeated and re-repeated echos of one signal [sic] event, than that many wide-spread and destructive floods should have taken place in the obscure, fabulous ages of Grecian story, while not one such flood has happened during its two thousand five hundred years of authentic history. Nor is it difficult to conceive how such repetitions of the original tradition should have taken place. The traditions of the same event preserved by tribes living in even the same tract of country come in course of time considerably to differ from each other in their adjuncts and circumstances; those, for instance, of the various tribes of the Orinoco do so; and should these tribes come to be fused ultimately into one nation, nothing seems more probable than that their varying editions, instead of being also fused together, should remain distinct, as the recollections of separate and independent catastrophes. And thus the several deluges of Grecian mythology may in reality testify, not to the occurrence of several floods, but to the existence merely of several independent tribes, among whom the one great tradition has been so altered and modified ere they came to possess a common literature, that when at length they became skillful enough to place it on record, it appeared to them [p.295]
not as one, but as many. The admirable reflection of Humboldt suggested by the South American traditions seems, incidentally at least, to bear out this view. “Those ancient traditions of the human race,” he says, “which we find dispersed over the whole surface of the globe, like the relics of a vast shipwreck, are highly interesting in the philosophical study of our own species. How many different tongues belonging to branches that appear totally distinct transmit to us the same facts! The traditions concerning races that have been destroyed, and the renewal of nature, scarcely vary in reality, though every nation gives them local coloring. In the great continents, as in the smallest islands of the Pacific Ocean, it is always on the loftiest and nearest mountain that the remains of the human race have been saved; and this event appears to more recent in proportion as the nations are uncultivated, and as the knowledg they have of their own existence has no very remote date.” And it seems at least not improbable, that the several traditions of apparently special deluges, — deluges each with its own set of circumstances, and from which the progenitors of one nation were saved on a hill-top, those of another on a raft, and those of yet another on an ark or canoe, and which in one instance destroyed only giants, and had in another the loss which they occasioned repaired by datestones, and in yet another by stones of the earth, — should come to be regarded among a people composed of various tribes, and but little accustombed to sift the evidence on which they founded, rather as all diverse narratives of diverse events, than as in reality but varied accounts of one and the same tremendous catastrophe.

Taking it for granted, then, that the several Greek traditions refer to but one great event, let us accept that [p.296]
which records what is known as the flood of Deucalion, as more adequately representative of the general type of its class, especially in the edition given by Lucian (in his work “De Dea Syria”), than any of the others. “The present world,” says the writer, “is peopled from the sons of Deucalion. In respect to the former brood, they were men of violence, and lawless in their dealings; they regarded not oaths, nor observed the rites of hospitality, nor showed mercy to those who sued for it. On this account they were doomed to destruction; and for this purpose there was a mighty eruption of water from the earth, attended with heavy showers from above, so that the rivers swelled and the sea overflowed, till the whole earth was covered with a flood, and all flesh drowned. Deucalion alone was preserved, to people the world. This mercy was shown him on account of his justice and piety. His preservation was effected in this manner: — He put all his family, both his sons and their wives, into a vast ark which he had provided, and he then went into it himself. At the same time, animals of every species, — boars, horses, lions, serpents, — whatever lived upon the face of the earth, — followed him by pairs; all which he received into the ark, and experienced no evil from them.” Such is the tradition of Deucalion, as preserved by Lucian. It is added by his contemporary Plutarch, that “Deucalion, as his voyage was drawing to a close, sent out a dove, which coming in a short time back to him, indicated that the waters still covered the earth; but which on a second occasion failed to return; or, as some say, returned to him with mud-stained feet, and thus intimated the abatement of the flood.” It cannot, I think, be rationally doubted that we have in this ancient legend one other tradition of the Noachian Deluge. Even as related by [p.297]
Ovid, with all the license of the poet, we find in it the great leading traits that indicate its parentage. I quote from the vigorous translation of Dryden.

 “Impetuous rain descends; Nor from his patrimonial heaven alone Is Jove content to pour his vengeance down; But from his brother of the seas he craves To help him with auxiliary waves. Then with his mace the monarch struck the ground; With inward trembling earth received the wound, And rising streams a ready passage found. Now seas and earth were in confusion lost,– A world of waters, and without a coast. A mountain of tremendous height there stands Betwixt the Ahtenian and Boeotian lands: Parnassus is its name, whose forky rise Mounts through the clouds, and mates the lofty skies. High on the summit of this dubious cliff, Deucalion, wafting, moored his little skiff: He, with his wife, were only left behind Of perished man; they two were human kind: The most upright of mortal men was he,– The most serene and holy woman she.”

 Such are some of the traditions of that great catastrophe which overtook the human family in its infancy, and made so deep an impression on the memories of the few awe-struck survivors, that the race never forgot it. Ere the dispersal of the family it would have of course existed as but one unique recollection, — a single reflection on the face of an unbroken mirror. But the mirror has since been shattered into a thousand pieces; and we now find the object, originally but one, pictured in each broken fragment, with various degrees of distinctness, according to the various degrees of injury received by the reflecting medium. Picture, too, scarce less certainly than language spoken and written, testifies to the wide extent of the [p.297]
tradition. Its symbols are found stamped on coins of old classical Greece; they have been traced amid the ancient hieroglyphies of Egypt, recognized in the sculptured caves of Hindustan, and detected even in the far west, among the picture writings of Mexico. The several glyphic representatives of the tradition bear, like its various written or oral editions, a considerable resemblance to each other. Even in the rude paintings of the old Mexican, the same leading idea may be traced as in the classic sculpture of the Greek. On what is known to antiquaries as the Apamaean medal, struck during the reign of Philip the elder, we find the familiar name of Noe inscribed on a floating


chest or ark, within which a man and woman are seen seated, and to which a bird on the wing is represented as bearing a branch.* {*footnote: As was common in Bible illustrations published in our own country a century and a half ago, the old Greek artist has introduced into his medal two points of time. Two of the figures represent Noe and his wife quitting the ark; while the other two exhibit them as seated within it. An English print of the death of Abel, now before me, which dates a little after the times of the Revolution, shows, on the same principle, thw two brothers, represented by four figures, — two of these quietly offering up their respective sacrifices in the background, and the other two grappling in deadly warfare in front.} And in an ancient Mexican [Mayan?] painting, [p.299]
figured by Humboldt, “the man and woman who survived the age of water” are shown similarly inclosed in a leaf-tufted box, or hollow trunk of a tree; while a gigantic female, — Mataleueje, the goddess of water, — is seen pouring down here floods around them, and upon an overwhelmed human figure, representative apparently of the victims of the catastrophe. All is classical in the forms of the one representation, and uncouth in those of the

{Fig. 110. OLD MEXICAN PICTURE. (Humboldt.)}

other. They bear the same sort of artistic relation to each other that the rude Tamanae tradition bears, in a literary point of view, to the well constructed story and elegant verse of Ovid; but they are charged apparently with the same meaning, and shadow forth the same event.

 The tradition of the Flood may, I repeat, be properly regarded as universal; seeing there is scarce any considerable race of man among which, in some of its many forms, it is not to be found. Now, it has been argued by some of the older theologians, with a not very cogent logic, that the universality of the tradition establishes the [p.300]
universality of the Flood, — that where the tradition is to be found, the Flood must have been; — an argument which would have force if it could also be shown that each tribe had had its own Noah, saved by ark, raft, or canoe, or on some tall mountain summit, in the region in which his descendants continued to reside; but of no force whatever if the Noah of the race was but one, and if the scene of his danger and deliverance was restricted, as of necessity if it must have been in that case, to a single locality. Further, if, as we believe, there was but one Noah, — if, according to Scriptural account, condensed into a single sentence by the Apostle, only “eight souls” were saved in the great catastrophe of the race, — there could have existed no human testimony to determine whether the exterminating deluge that occasioned their destruction was a universal deluge, or merely a partial one. It could not be konwn by men shut up in an ark, nor even though from a mast top they could have swept the horizon with a telescope, whether the waters that spread out on every side of them, covering the old familiar mountains, and occupying the entire range of their vision, extended all around the globe, or found their limits some eight or ten hundred miles away. The point is one respecting which, as certainly as respecting the creation of the world itself, or of the world’s inhabitants, there could have existed no human witness-bearing: contemporary man, left to the unassisted evidence of his senses, must of necessity have been ignorant of the extent of the deluge. True, what man could never have known of himself, God could have told him, and in many cases has told him; but then, God’s revelations have in most instances been made to effect exclusively moral purposes; and we know that those who have perilously held that, along with the moral facts, definite physical facts, geographic, geologic, or astronomical, had also [p.301]
been imparted, have almost invariably found themselves involved in monstorous error. And in this matter of the Flood, though it be a fact of great moral significancy that God in an early period of the human history destroyed the whole race for their wickedness, — all save one just man and his family, — it is not in the least a matter of moral significancy whether or no the deluge by which the judgement was effected covered not only the parts of the earth occupied not only the parts of the earth occupied by man at the time, but extended also to Terra del Fuego [the southern tip of South America], Tahiti, and the Falkland Islands. In fine, though the question whether the Noachian deluge was universal, or merely partial, is an interesting question in physics, it is in no higher degree a moral one than those questions which relate to the right figure or age of the earth, or to the true motions of the heavenly bodies. And it will be found that the only passages in Scripture which refer to this strictly physical subject, instead of determining the geographic extent of the Flood, serve only to raise a question regarding their own extent of meaning.

 It is known to all students of sacred writings, that there is a numerous class of passages in both the Old and New Testaments in which, by a sort of metonymy common in the East, a considerable part is spoken of as the whole, though in reality often greatly less than a moiety of the whole. Of this class are the passages in which it is said, that on the day of the Pentecost there were Jews assembled at Jerusalem “out of every nation under heaven;” that the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom of Solomon from the “uttermost parts of the earth;” God put the dread and fear of the children of Israel upon the nations that were “under the whole of heaven; and that “all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn.” And of course the universally admitted existence [p.302]
of such a class of passages, in which words are not to be accepted in their rigidly literal meaning, but with certain great modification, renders the task of determining and distinguishing such passages from others in which the meaning is definite and strict, not only legitimate, but also laudable; and justifies us in inquiring whether those passages descriptive of the Flood or its effects, in which it is said that the “waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth,” so that “all the high hills that were under the whole heavens were covered,”../graphics/ or that “all flesh died that moved upon the earth,” belong to their number or no. There are some instances in which the Scriptures themselves reveal the character and limit the meaning of the metonymic passages. They do so with respect to the passage already quoted regarding the stranger Jews assembled in Jerusalem at the Pentecostal feast, — “out of every nation under heaven.” For further on we read that these Jews had come from but the various countries extending around Judea, as far as Italy on the one hand, and the Persian Gulf on the other; — an area large, indeed, but scarce equal to a one fiftieth part of the earth’s surface. But there is no such explanation given to limit or restrict most of the other passages; the modifying element must be sought for outside the sacred volume, — in ancient history or ancient geography. The reader must, for instance, acquaint himself with the progress of discovery in early ages, or the boundaries of the Roman Empire under the first Caesars, ere he can form a probable conjecture regarding the extent of that “all the earth” which sought the presence of Solomon, or a correct estimate respecting the limit so fhtat “all the world” which Caesar Augustus could have taxed. And to this last class, which fail to explain themselves, the passages respecting the Flood evidently belong. Like the passages cited, and, with these, almost all the texts of [p.303]
Scripture in which questions of physical science are involved, the limiting, modifying, explaining facts and circumstances must be sought for in that outside region of secular research, historic and scientific, from which of late years so much valuable biblical illustration has been derived, and with which it is so imperatively the duty of the Church to keep up an acquaintance at least as close and intimate as that maintained with it by her gainsayers and assailants.

 That the Noachian deluge might have been but partial, not universal, was held, let me here remark, by distinguished theologians in our own country, at least as early as the seventeenth century. It was held, for instance, by the learned biblical commentator, old Matthew Poole, whom we find saying, in his Synopsis on Genesis, that “it is not to be supposed that the entire globe of the earth was covered with water;” for “where,” he adds, “was the need of overwhelming those regions in which there were no human beings?” It was held also by that distinguished Protestant churchman of the reign of Charles II., Bishop Stillingsfleet, whom Principal Cunningham of Edinburgh well describes, in his elaborate edition of the Bishop’s work, “The Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome,” as a divine of “great talents and prodigious learning.” “I cannot see,” says the Bishop, in his “Origines Sacra,” “any urgent necessity from the Scriptures to assert that the Flood did spread over all the surface of the earth. That all mankind, those in the ark excepted, were destroyed by it, is most certain, according to the Scriptures. The Flood was universal as to mankind; but from thence follows no necessity at all of asserting the universality of it as to the globe of the earth, unless it be sufficiently proved that the whole earth was peopled before the Flood, which I despair of ever seeing proved.” It was not, however, until the [p.304]
comparatively recent times in which the belief entertained by Poole and Stillingfleet was adopted and enforced by writers such as Dr. Pye Smith, and Professor Hitchcock of the United States, that there was any show of argument displayed against the theory of a partial deluge which would now be deemed worthy of consideration. And these modern objections may be found ingeniously arrayed by the late Dr. John Kitto, in his “Daily Bible Illustrations,” published only six years ago (in 1850), and by the learned Dr. William Hamilton of Mobile, in his “Friend of Moses,” published in 1852. Both these writers, however, virtually agree with their opponents in holding that the strict meaning of the terms employed by Moses in describing the deluge is to be determined on considerations apart from the mere philosophical ones. After marshalling his objections to the theory of a local flood, Dr. Kitto goes on to say, “We yield our judgement to what appears to us the force of these arguments as to the meaning of Scripture;” and we find Dr. Hamilton prefacing his objections as follows: — “Were the mere universality of some of the terms employed in the Mosaic narrative the sole ground of objection to the hypothesis of a local inundation only in the days of Noah, that hypothesis might perhaps be deemed admissible. But there are,” he adds, “other and more serious difficulties attending it.” Let us, then, briefly examine these supposed difficulties and objections; and as they have been better and more amply stated by Dr. Kitto than by any other writer with whom I am acquainted, — for Dr. Hamilton take up rather the arguments in favor of a universal, than the objections against a merely partial flood, — let us take them as they occur in his writings, especially in the excellent work now before me, — his “Daily Bible Illustrations.” It will scarce be suspected that such an accomplished writer, who did so [p.305]
much for Biblical Illustration, and whose admirable Pictorial Bible formed, with but four works more, what Chalmers used to term with peculiar emphasis his “Biblical Library,”* {*footnote: “In preparing the `Horae Biblicae Quotidiannae,’ he [Dr. Chalmers] had beside him, for use and reference, the Concordance, the Pictorial Bible, Poole’s Synopsis, Henry’s Commentary, and Robertsons’ Researches in Palestine. These constituted what he called his Biblical Library. `There,’ said he to a friend, pointing, as he spoke, to the above named volumes as they lay together on his library table, with a volume of the `Quotidianae,’ in which he had just been writing, lying open beside them, — `these are the books I use: all that is Biblical is there.'” — Dr. Hanna’s Preface to “../graphics/Daily Scripture Readings.”} would do injustice to any cause, or any line of argument which he adopted, if it was in reality a good and sound one.

 It may be well, however, not to test too rigidly the value of the remark, — meant to be at least of the nature of argument, — when we find him saying that “a plain man sitting down to read the Scripture account of the deluge would have no doubt of its universality.” Perhaps not. But it is at least equally certain, that plain men who set themselves to deduce from Scripture the figure of the planet we inhabit had as little doubt, until corrected by the geographer, that the earth was a great plane, — not a sphere; that plain men who set themselves to acquire from Scripture some notion of the planetary motions had no doubt, in some way, until corrected by the astronomer, that it was the earth that rested, and the sun that moved round it; and that plain men who have sought to determine from Scripture the age of the earth have had no doubt, until corrected by the geologist, that it was at most not much more than six thousand years old. In fine, when plain men, who, according to Cowper, “know, and know no more, their Bible true,” have in perhaps in every instance learned from it what it was in reality intended to teach, — [p.306]
the way of salvation, — it seems scarce less certain, that in every instance in which they have sought to deduce from it what it was not intended to teach, — the truths of physical science, — they have fallen into extravagant error. And as any question which, bearing, not on the punitory extent and ethical consequences of the Flood, but merely on its geographic limits and natural effects, is not a moral, but a purely physical question, it would be but a fair presumption, founded on the almost invariable experience of ages, that the deductions from Scripture of the “plain men” regarding it would be, not true, but false deductions. Of apparently not more real weight and importance is the doctor’s further remark, that there seems, after all, to be a marked difference between the terms in which the universality of the deluge is spoken of, and the terms employed in those admittedly metonymic passages in which the whole is substituted for a part. “What limitation,” he asks, “can we assign to such a phrase as this: — `all the high hills that were UNDER THE WHOLE HEAVENS were covered?’ If here the phrase had been, `upon the face of the whole earth,’ we should have been told that `the whole earth’ had sometimes the meaning of `the whole land;’ but, as if designedly to obviate such a limitation of meaning, we have here the largest phrase of universality which the language of man affords, — `under the whole heavens!'” So far Dr. Kitto. But his argument seems to be not more valuable in this case than in the other. It was upon the nations that were “UNDER THE WHOLE HEAVENS” that Deity represented himself as putting the fear and dread of the children of Israel; but he would be certainly a very “plain man” who would infer from the universality of a passage so evidently metonymic, that the fear extended to the people of Japan on the one hand, or to the Red Indians of the Rocky Mountains on the other. The phrase “under [p.307]
the whole heavens” the phrase “upon the face of the whole earth.” The “whole earth” is evidently tantamount to the whole terrestrial floor, — the “whole heavens,” to the whole celestial roof that arches over it; and on what principle the whole terrestrial floor is to be deemed less extensive than the floor under the whole celestial roof, really does not appear. Further, nothing can be more certain than that both the phrases constrasted by Dr. Kitto are equally employed in the metonymic form.

 When, however, the doctor passes to an argument based upon natural science, we find what he adduces worthy of our attention, were it but for the inquiries which it suggests. “If the deluge were but local,” we find him saying, “what was the need of taking birds into the ark; and among them birds so widely diffused as the raven and the dove? A deluge which could overspread the region which these birds inhabit could hardly have been less than universal. If the deluge were local, and all the birds of these kinds in that district perished, — though we should think they might have fled to the uninundated regions, — it would have been useless to encumber the ark with them, seeing that the birds of the same species which survived in the lands not overflowed would speedily replenish the inundated tract as soon as the waters subsided.” It will be found that the reasoning here is mainly based upon an error in natural science, into which even naturalists of the last century, such as Buffon, not unfrequently fell, and which was almost universal among the earlier voyagers and travellers, — the error of confounding as identical the merely allied birds and beasts of distant countries, and of thus assigning to species wide areas in creation which in reality they do not occupy. The grouse, for instance, is a widely spread genus, or rather family; for it consists of [p.308]
more genera than one. It is so extensively present over the northern hemisphere, that Siberia, Norway, Iceland, and North America, have all their grouse, — the latter continent, indeed, from five to eight different kinds; and yet so restricted are some of the species of which they consist, that, were the British islands to be submerged, one of the best known of the family, — the red grouse, or moor-fowl (Lagopus Scoticus), — would disappear from creation. This bird, which, rated at its money value, is one of the most important in Europe, — for the barren moors which it frequents in the Highlands of Scotland alone are let every season almost entirely for its sake for hundreds of thousands of pounds, — is exclusively a British bird; and, unless by miracle a new migratory instinct were given to it, a complete submersion of the British islands would secure its destruction. If the submergence amounted to but a few hundred miles in lateral extent, the moor-fowl would to a certainty not seek the distant uninundated land. Nor is it at all to be inferred, that in a merely local but wide spread deluge, birds occupying a more extensive area than that overspread by the Flood would, according to Dr. Kitto, “speedily replenish the inundated tract as soon as the waters had subsided.” The statement must have been hazarded in ignorance of the peculiar habits of many of the non-migratory birds. Up till about the middle of the last century, the capercailzie, or great cock of the woods, was a native of Scotland. It was exterminated, however, about the time of the last Rebellion, or not long after: the last specimen seen among the pine forests of Strathspey was killed, it is said, in the year 1745: the last specimen seen among the woods of Strathglass survived till the year 1760. Pennant relates that he saw in 1769 a specimen, probably a stuffed one, that had been killed shortly before in the neighborhood of Inverness. But from [p.309]
at least that time the species disappeared from the British islands; and, though it continued to exist in Norway, did not “replenish the tracts from which it had been extirpated.” The late Marquis of Breadalbane was at no small cost and trouble in re-introducing the species, and to some extent he succeeded; but the capercailzie is, I understand, still restricted to the Breadalbane woods. I have seen the golden eagle annihilated as a species in more than one district of the north of Scotland; nor, though it still exists in other parts of the kingdom, and is comparatively common among the mountains of Norway, have I known it in any instance to spread anew over the tracts from which it had been extirpated. So much for the general reasonings of Dr. Kitto. Further, we find him stating, that a deluge which could overspread the region inhabited by birds so widely diffused as the raven and the dove, could hardly have been less than universal. The doctor, however, ought to have known that the dove is a family, not a species. All the American species of doves, for example, differ from the six European species, three of which are to be found in Scotland. Of even the American passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratoria) [now extinct!], which occur in such numbers in their native country as actually to eclipse, during their migratory flights, the light of day, only a single straggler, — the one whose chance visit has been recorded by Dr. Fleming, — seems to have been ever seen in Britain. And the East has also its own peculiar species, unknown to Europe. The golden green pigeons and the great crowned pigeons of the Indian isles are never seen in northern and western latitudes, save in stuffed specimens in a museum. The Vinago pigeons, with their vividly bright plumes, though they exist in several species, are all restricted to the woods of the torrid zone. Even the collared dove of Africa and the Levant rarely visits, and then only as a straggler, the western [p.310]
and northern parts of Europe. The blue-capped turteline pigeon is restricted, as a species, to the island of Celebes; the blue and green turteline pigeon is a native of New Guinea; the Cape turtle occurs in but the southern parts of Africa; the Nicobar ground pigeon in but the Indian Archipelago; the magnificent fruit pigeon in the eastern parts of Australia; and the crowned goura pigeon, the giant of the family, in the Molucca Islands. No single species of dove seems to be so widely spread but that it might be exterminated in a merely partial deluge; and of course conjecture may in vain weary itself in striving to determine what that particular species was which Noah sent forth as a messenger from the ark, or in inquiring what was the extent of the area which it occupied? The common raven is more widely spread than any single species of pigeon. Even the raven, however, seems restricted to the northern hemisphere. India and Southern Africa have both their ravens; but the species differ from each other, and from the widely-spread northern one. It is a question whether even the pied raven of the Faroe Isles be not a distinct bird from the black raven of our own country: If not an independent species, it is at least a very remarkable variety. Further, when extirpated in a district, it is found that, as in the case of the capercailzie and the golden eagle, the neighboring regions in which the raven continues to exist fail for ages to furnish a fresh supply. There are counties in England in which the raven is now never seen; and I am acquainted with a district in the north of Scotland from which, when a pair that were known to breed for more than a century in a tall cliff were destroyed by the fowler, the species disappeared.* {*footnote: The raven is said to live for more than a hundre years. I am, however, not prepared to say that it was the same pair of birds that used, year after year, to build on the same rock-shelf among the precipices of Navity, from the times of my great-grandfather’s boyhood to those of my own.} Such, [p.311]
when examined, are the arguments drawn by Dr. Kitto from natural science; nor is he in any degree happier when he resorts to arguments more restrictedly physical. “If,” we find him saying, “the waters of the Deluge rose fifteen cubits above all the mountains of the countries which the raven and the dove inhabit, the level must have been high enough to give universality to the Deluge.” The only point here not already dealt with, — for I have just shown that certain species of the dove and the raven might have of necessity been inmates of the ark, though the Flood had been only a partial one, — is that which refers to the submergence of the hills over at least an extensive tract, and to the inference, evident in the passage, that if lofty mountains were covered in one portion of the globe, mountains of similar altitude must have been equally covered in every other portion of it.

 The inference here seems to be founded on a common but altogether mistaken view of some of the grandest operations of nature with which modern science has brought us acquainted. It has been well remarked, that when two opposing explanations of extraordinary natural phenomena are given, — one of a simple and seemingly common sense character, the other complex and apparently absurd, — it is almost always safer to adopt the apparently absurd than the seemingly common sense one. Dr. Kitto’s “plain man,” yielding to the dictates of what he would deem common sense, — which, of course, in questions of natural science is tantamount to common nonsense, — would be sure to go wrong. And we find the remark not inaptly illustrated by the now well established fact, that while the medium level of the ocean is one of the most fixed lines in nature, the [p.312]
level of the great continents, with their table-lands and mountains, is an ever fluctuating line. It may seem strange that land should be less stable than water. We see the tide rising and falling twice every twenty-four hours, and the rock ever remaining in its place; — we speak of the fixed earth and the unstable sea. And yet, while we have no evidence whatever that the sea level has changed during at least the ages of the Tertiary formations [i.e. approximating the Tertiary Period in current usage], and absolutely know that it could not have varied more than a few yards, or at most a few fathoms [this is now known to be incorrect — sea level has varied more in this time interval, by about 100m, enough to expose the continental shelves], we have direct evidence that during that time great mountain chains, many thousand feet in height, such as the Alps, have arisen from the bottom of the ocean, and that great continents have sunk beneath it and disappeared. The larger part of northern Europe and America have been covered by the sea since our present group of shells began to exist; and it seems not improbable that the lower portion of the valley of the Jordan was depressed to its present low level of thirteen hundred feet beneath the Mediterranean since the times of the deluge. On several parts of the coasts of Britain and Ireland the voyager can look down through the clear sea, in depths to which the tide never falls, on the remains of submerged forests; and it is a demonstrable fact, that even during the present age there are certain extensive tracts of land which have sunk beneath the sea level, while certain other extensive tracts have been elevated over it. In 1819, a wide expanse of country in the delta of the Indus, containing fully two thousand square miles of flat meadow, was converted by a sudden depression of the land, accompanied by an earthquake, into an inland sea; and the tower of a small fort, which occupied nearly the middle of the sunken area, and on which many of the inhabitants of a neighboring village succeeded in saving themselves, may still be seen raising its shattered head over the surface, — [p.313]
the only object visible in a waste of waters of which the eye fails to determine the extent. About three years after this event, a tract of country, interposed between the foot of the Andes and the Pacific, more than equal in area to all Great Britain, was elevated from two to seven feet over its former level, and rocks laid bare in the sea, which the pilots and fishermen of the coast had never before seen. On the Indian coast the sea seemed to be rising at nearly the same time when it appeared to be falling on the American one; and on the latter such was the actual impression entertained by the people. It is stated by Sir Charles Lyell, in his “Elements [of Geology],” that he was informed by Mr. Cruickshanks, an English botanist who resided in Chili at the time, “that it was the general belief of the fishermen and inhabitants, not that the land had risen, but that the ocean had permanently retreated.” But if it had retreated from the Chilian shore, how could it have risen on the Indian one? In like manner the sea appears to be receding from the north-eastern shores of Sweden at the rate of nearly fourth vertical feet in the century; while it seems to be advancing on the western coasts of Greenland at apparently a rate more considerable, though there the ratio of its rise has not been marked with equal care. It seems to be rising on even the Swedish province of Scania; while all the time, however, the actual motion, — upwards in one region, downwards in another, — is in the solid earth, — not in the unstable water, which merely serves as a sort of hydrostatic level, to indicate this fact of subsidence or elevation of the land. And of course all the reasoning, founded on mere appearances, that would reverse the process by assigning permanency to the level of the land, and fluctuation to that of the sea, would lead to inevitable error.

 Let us, for illustration sake, suppose that the British [p.314]
islands had been the scene of the Deluge; and that it had been occasioned by a gradual depression in the earth’s surface of about fifteen hundred miles in length, a thousand miles in breadth, five thousand feet in depth in its centre, and which gradually trended all around towards the sides. Such a depression would form a scarce appreciable inequality on the surface of even a three feet globe; in a twelve inch globe it might be represented by the abrasion of a small patch of the varnish [probably even less — to scale, the Earth is topographically smoother than the polish on a typical billiard ball]; nor would it have in nature one sixth the depth, or one sixteenth the area, or the bed of the Atlantic Ocean. Let us suppose further, that it had been produced by an equable sinking of the surface, prolonged for forty days at the rate of one hundred and twenty-five feet per day, — a motion not equal to that of the minute-hand of a clock whose dial plate measures two feet in diameter. Further, let us suppose that a thoroughly intelligent man, — let us say Dr. Kitto himself, — secure from all personal danger in an ark perched on some such commanding eminence as Arthur’s Seat, had been a witness of the catastrophe; and that, instead of having merely to reason respecting it after the lapse of more than four thousand years, he had been enabled to bear testimony regarding it from the evidence of his senses. In the first place, let me remark that the sinking or downward motion of the earth’s crust would be altogether inappreciable by sense; in the next, that the depression, even when it had reached its acme, would in no sensible degree affect the contour of surrounding objects. Even at the end of the forty days, when the five thousand feet of depression had been reached, the gradient of declination across the sunken area would not exceed ten feet per mile [0.11 degrees], and across the larger diameter would amount to but six feet eight inches per mile [0.07 degrees]. Of course, at the end of the twentieth day the gradients would be represented by but one half these sums, [p.315]
and would be altogether inappreciable in the landscape; the hills would seem quite as high as before, and the valleys not more profound. The only sensible sign felt or visible of what was taking place would be simply a persistent rising of the sea at somewhat less than twice its rate of flow during stream tides. Ocean, as if forgetful of its ancient bounds, would continue to encroach upon the land. On the second day the greater part of what is now the site of Edinburgh would be covered; on the seventh day the tide would have reached the vessel perched on top of the hill now known as Arthur’s Seat; on the sixteenth day the highest peak of the Pentlands would have disappeared; and in nine days more the distant summit of Ben Lomond. From the roof of the slowly drifting ark nothing would then have appeared save a shoreless ocean. But it would have taken yet another eleven days ere the proud crest of Ben Nevis, the highest land in the British islands, would have been submerged; and the eve of the fortieth day would have seen it covered by little more than five hundred feeth of water. An actual witness, in such circumstances, however intelligent, could have but testified to the persistent rise of the sea, accompanied mayhap by rain and tempest; he could but tell how that for many days together it had been flood without ebb, as if the fountains of the great deep had been broken up; and that at length he was encompassed by what seemed a shoreless ocean. But he would certainly depart perilously from his position as a witness-bearer, were he to argue, that when his ark had begun to float on a hill eight hundred feet in height, all hills upon the surface of the globe of a corresponding altitude must have been also covered; or that, from what was in reality but a local depression, a universal deluge might be legitimately inferred. His error would be of the same nature (though of course immensely greater) as that of the [p.316]
native of Chili who held, that because the ocean had retreated from the coasts of his own country, it had of necessity also retreated from the delta of the Indus; or as that of the inhabitant of Cutch who held, that as the sea had risen high over his native districts, it had also of necessity overflowed the coasts of Chili and Aracan.

 Dr. Kitto brings forward but one other objection to a Flood only partial, and that the one virtually disposed of by Bishop Stillingfleet in the terminal half of a short sentence. The Bishop “despaired,” as he well might, “of ever seeing it proved that the whole earth had been peopled before the Deluge.” “It has been much urged of late,” says Dr. Kitto, “that the Deluge was not universal, but was confined to a particular region, which man inhabited. It may be freely admitted that, seeing the object of the Flood was to drown mankind, there was no need that it should extend beyond the region of man’s habitation. But this theory necessarily assigns to the world before the Flood a lower population, and more limited extension of it, than we are prepared to concede.” He then goes on to argue, that, as the species increased very rapidly immediately after the Deluge, it must have increased in a ratio at least equally rapid before that catastrophe took place. But how gratuitous the assumption! It would be quite as safe to infer, that as the human race multiplied greatly in Ireland during the first half of the present century, it must have also multiplied greatly in Italy, a much finer country, during the first half of the fifth century, or in the wealthier portions of Kurdistan during the first half of the thirteenth. Ere applying, however, the Irish ratio of increase to either the Italy of thirteen hundred years ago, or to the Kurdistan of five hundred years ago, it would surely be necessary to take into account the important fact, that these were the ages of Zingis Khan and [p.317]
of Attila; of Zingis Khan, who, on possessing himself of the three capitals of the one country, coolly butchered four millions three hundred and forty-seven thousand persons, their inhabitants; and of that Attila, “the scourge of God,” who used to say, more especially in reference to the other country, that “wherever his horse-hoofs had once trod, the grass never afterwards grew,” and before whose ravages the human race seemed melting away. The terms in which the great wickedness of the antediluvians is described indicate a period of violence and outrage; — the age which preceded the Flood was an age of “giants” and of “mighty men,” and of “men of renown,” — forgotten Attilas, Alaries, and Zingis Khans, mayhap, — “giants of mighty bone and bold emprise,” who became famous for their “infinite manslaughter,” and the thousands whom they destroyed. Such is decidedly the view which the brief Scriptural description suggested to the poets; and certainly, when a question comes to be one of guess work, no other class of persons guess half so sagaciously as they. It has not unfrequently occurred to me, — and in a question of this kind one suggestion may be quite as admissable as another, — that the Deluge may have been more a visitation of mercy to the race than of judgement. Even in our own times, as happened in New Zealand during the present century, and in Tahiti about the close of the last, tribes restricted to one tract of country, when seized by the madness of conquest, have narrowly escaped extermination. We know that in some instances better have been destroyed by worse races, — that the more refined have at times yielded to the more barbarous, — yielded so entirely, that all that survived of vast populations and a comparatively high civilization have been broken temples, and great burial mounds locked up in the solitudes of deep forests; and further, that whole peoples, exhausted by [p.318]
their vices, have sunk into such a state of depression and decline, that, unable any longer to supply the inevitable waste of nature, they have dropt into extinction. And such may have been the condition of the human race during that period of portentous evil and violence which preceded the deluge. We know that the good came at length to be restricted to a single family; and even the evil, instead of being numbered, as now, but hundred of millions, may have been comprised in a few thousands, or at most a few hundred thousands, that were becoming fewer every year, from the indulgence of fierce and evil passions, in a time of outrage and violence. The Creator of the race may have dealt with it on this occasion of judgment, as a florist does with some decaying plant, which he cuts down to the ground in order to secure a fresh shoot from the root. At all events, the proof of an antediluvian population at once enormously great and very largely spread must rest with those who hold, with Dr. Kitto, that its numbers and extent were such as to militate against the probability of a deluge merely partial; and any such proof we may, with the good old Bishop of Worcester, well “despair of ever seeing” produced. Even admitting, however, for the argument’s sake, that the inhabitants of the Old World may have been as numerous as those of China are now, — a number estimated by the recent authorities at more than three hundred and fifty millions, — and the admission is certailhy greatly larger than there is argument enough on the other side to extort, — a comparatively partial deluge would have been sufficient to secure their destruction. In short, it may be fairly concluded, that if there be a show of reason against the theory of a flood merely local, it has not yet been exhibited. Even Dr. Kitto, with all his ingenuity and learning, has failed to array against it arguments of any real weight or cogency; and [p.319]
in my next address I may be perhaps able to show you that the objections which, on the other hand, bear against the antagonist hypothesis, are at once solid and numerous. I may be mistaken in my estimate; but for some years past I have regarded them as altogether insurmountable.

Forward to next chapter,  “LECTURE EIGHTH”

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