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"It is evident from the fact of footmarks being found, that creatures capable of existing on dry land were formed about this time, and we accordingly find the remains of a new order —Reptiles. These animals, which now constitute but a small family among existing quadrupeds, then flourished in great size and numbers. Crocodiles and lizards of various forms and gigantic stature, roamed through the earth. Some of the most remarkable are those which belong to the genus Ichthyosaurus, or fish lizard, so called from the resemblance of their vertebrte to those of fishes. This saurian, Dr. Buckland describes as something similar in form to the modern porpoise: it had foui broad feet, and a long and powerful tail; its jaws were so prodigious that it could probably expand them to the width of five or six feet, and its powers of destruction must have been enormous. The length of some of these reptiles exceeded thirty feet.
"Another animal which lived at this period was the Plesiosaurus. It lived in shallow seas and estuaries, and would seem from its organs of respiration, to have required frequent supplies of fresh air. Mr. Conybeare describes it as 'swimming upon, or near the surface, arching its long neck like the swan, and occasionally darting down at the fish which happened to float within its reach.'
"This reptile, which was smaller than the Ichthyosaurus, has been found as long as from twelve to fifteen feet. Its appearance and habits differed from the latter materially. The Ichthyosaurus, with its short neck, powerful jaws, and lizardlike body, seems admirably suited to range through the deep waters, unrivaled in size or strength, and monarch of the then existing world; the Plesiosaurus, smaller in size and inferior in strength, shunned its powerful antagonist, and, lurking in shallows and sheltered bays, remained secure from the assaults of its dangerous foe, its long neck and small head being well adapted to enable it to dart on its prey, as it lay concealed amid the tangled sea-weed.
"This has been called by geologists the 'age of reptiles'; their remains are found in great numbers in the lias, oolite, and wealden strata. These creatures seem to form a connecting link between the fishes of the previous era and the mammalia of the Tertiary age; the Ichthyosaurus differed little from a fish in shape, and its paddles, or feet, are not unlike fins; the Plesiosaurus on the contrary, as its name denotes, partook more of the quadruped form. Dr. Buckland, in describing it, says: 'To the head of a lizard it united the teeth of a crocodile; a neck of enormous length, resembling the body of a serpent ; a trunk and tail having the proportions of an ordinary quadruped; the ribs of a camelon, aud the paddle of a whale.' Besides these animals we find the Pterodactyle, half bird and half reptile; the Megalosaurus, or gigantic lizard, the Hyheosaurus, or forest lizard; the Geosaurus, or land lizard, and many others, all partaking more or less of affinity to both the piscatory and saurian tribes.
"Passing now to the period when the great chalk rocks which prevail so much in the south-eastern counties of Great Britain were deposited, we find the laud in a great many places submerged; the fossil remains are eminently marine in character, and the earth must literally have presented a 'world of waters' to the view. Sponges, corals, star-fish, and marine reptiles inhabited the globe, and plants, chiefly of marine types grew on its surface. Although, however, a great portion of the earth was under water, it must not therefore be supposed that it returned to its ancient desolation and solitude. The author whom we last quoted, in speaking of this subject, says: 'The sterility and solitude which have sometimes been attributed to the depths of the ocean, exist only in the fictions of poetic fancy. The great mass of water that covers nearly three-fourths of the globe, is crowded with life, perhaps more abundantly than the air and the surface of the earth ; and the bottom of the sea, within a certain depth accessible to light, swarms with countless hosts of worms and creeping things, which represent the kindred families of low degree which crawl upon the land.'
"This era seems to have been one of peculiar tranquility, for the most part undisturbed by earthquakes or other igneous forces. The prevailing characteristic of the scenery was flatness, and low continents were surrounded by shallow seas. The earth is now approaching a state when it will be fit for the reception of man, and in the next era we find some of the existing species of animals.
"It is worthy of observation, that at the different periods when the world had attained a state suitable for their existence, the various orders of animal and vegetable life were ere. ated. In the 1 dark ages' of geological history, when the globe had comparatively lately subsided from a state of fusion, it was barren, sterile, and uninhabited; next, the waters having become cool enough, some of the lowest order of shell-fish and zoophytes peopled them; subsequently, fishes were formed, and for ages constituted the highest order of animal life; after this we enter on the age of reptiles, when gigantic crocodiles and lizard-like forms dwelt in fenny marshes, or reposed on the black mud of slow moving rivers, as they crept along toward the ocean betwixt their oozy banks ; and we now reach the period when the noblest order of animal life, the class to which man himself belongs, Mammalia, began to people the earth."
In this primeval history of the earth is contained a beautiful illustration of the principle of progressive development; and the thought will be naturally introduced in the mind of the reader, that the series of gradations which are here explained, must tend toward some grand ultimate, which may be viewed as representing the use and design of creation. The same law of progress which develops the vegetable from the mineral production, also developed the animal from the vegetable; and the same law is likewise sufficient to unfold Man from the inferior orders of being. Hence, as the rock, the plant, or the animal were not separate and independent creations, but were the result of a natural development of the earth, so Man himself was not formed out of the dust of the ground by the special action of the Creator, but was an ultimate form, standing on the lofty pyramid of being, toward which all other forms are aspiring, and with which they are all in some degree connected. Nature thus presents a vast and mighty scale, in which all the variety of unfolding forms are caused to occupy an appropriate position; and in this scale the soul may behold the wonders of that Wisdom, which, in a ceaseless and harmonious spiral ascension, bears all forms and beings toward the pure atmosphere of the Divinity.
The design of this volume does not include a specific and detailed account of the creation of Man; but enough has already been said to disclose the true principles which were involved in his development. If Deity did not stretch forth his hand, or issue a special mandate, to create the minerals of the earth, the flowers of the field, or the various animals that inhabit the land and sea, then we have no reason to conclude that He exercised any miraculous power, or, to be explicit, a power which is above the laws of Nature, in the creation of Man. Neither does the existence of Man on the earth present in itself any more a miracle, than the existence of any inferior being ; and it is as easy to conceive that he forms the ultimate link in the chain of development, as that other beings of less exalted nature are intermediate links in this chain. It is admitted that Man is possessed of glorious and godlike powers— that he occupies a position far superior to the brute, and has within him a principle of intelligence which claims a relation with the Divine Mind. But this admission does not destroy the connection which must subsist between him and all the lower orders of creation—it does not place him aside from, or make him independent of, the regular and systematic unfoldings of Nature; but it rather shows that in him is contained the final embodiment of material elements, and the divine expression of their interior life. Man is in himself a miniature universe; the forces, essences, and elements which made the worlds, are all concentrated in his perfected constitution, and in his birth upon this planet was exemplified the same general principles which primarily gave form and being to the suns and systems of space.